Weapon or Toy?
July 6, 1999
Copyright © 1999 David Steinberg
WEAPON OR TOY?
On my way to board a flight back from a conference of sexologists in Seattle, I'm surprised to hear my carry-on sex-toy bag set off the airport's security metal detector. It usually does just fine as long as I leave my 8-inch long solid brass dildo -- a Kegel exerciser some people playfully call Robocop -- home, or remember to stash it in my checked luggage. But this time the machine is definitely beeping away, meaning that the airport security people are going to inspect my most personal effects to find out why.
The stern, older, black woman watching the screen backs up the belt and stops my bag under the x-ray. She points at the screen, showing her young, blonde assistant what to look for. I'm in a good mood, not too close to flight time, and find myself smiling to a friend who's taking the same flight and looking forward to a little good theatrical fun.
"Is it all right if I look in this bag?" the attendant asks with measured politeness.
"Sure, if you really want to," I answer.
I watch her face as she digs through the cuffs, the latex straps, the blindfold, the ziplock bag with condoms, rubber gloves and lube, the ziplock bag with cock rings, the ziplock bag with miscellaneous tit clamps, butt plug, and so forth, Mark Chester's wonderful spandex full-body bondage bag , the elegant soft leather scratch gloves with the sharp metal points scattered all over the palm and fingers. Her face stays 100% deadpan throughout, an impressive show of professionalism.
Other departing passengers flow by, grab their unoffending bags, and take various levels of note of the assorted toys the security guard has spread on the table. There was a time when I would have been unbearably embarrassed to have my sexualproclivities laid out for anyone in the Seattle airport to see. But it happens that this has been a wonderful weekend and I'm feeling unusually good about myself, so I'm not embarrassed at all, just wondering what it's like to be an airport security guard pawing through some stranger's bag of sexual equipment. I mean, she doesn't even have gloves on; how does she know if I've washed the latex dildo?
Finally she finds what she's looking for -- what I knew she would get to sooner or later -- my springy little whip with the 6" metal handle. She rather triumphantly lays it on the carpeted little counter, delighted that her search has come to a successful conclusion. (At this, the eyebrows on some of the passing passengers start to rise.) My friend shifts her weight from one foot to the other. I don't really know her very well and can't tell whether she's enjoying this little drama or feeling uncomfortable. I have my camera with me, but it's not until later that I realize I should have taken a minute to get a picture of the whole scene.
"You can't take this on the airplane," the security guard says definitively, looking me staunchly in the eye.
"Why not?" I ask in all innocence.
"It's a weapon," she informs me.
I roll my eyes for dramatic effect. "That's not a weapon," I object plaintively, "it's a toy."
She continues to look me in the eye, neither humored nor annoyed -- like I say, professional. "Whatever it is, you can't take it on the plane."
I'm tempted to go one step further, but I realize that it's starting to get a little close to departure time. The reality principle intercedes. I don't say, "What are you afraid of? That I'll rush into the cockpit and tell the pilot to take the plane to Havana or else I'll whip his nasty bare ass?" I don't say, "Are you afraid that I'll attack one of the flight attendants and whip her (him) into such a state of excitement that s/he will beg to help me hijack the plane?"
I do say, "All right, what can I do with it then?"
I'm told that I can take the whip back to the ticket counter and ask them to check it through as a separate piece of baggage. "Sometimes they'll do that, sometimes they won't," she warns. I pick up the bag, then the whip. For the first time, her face softens. She really doesn't hold it against me that I'm travelling with a whip. "Tell them that security said you couldn't take it on the plane," she offers. "That should help." I thank her for the advice.
Holding the whip in my hand so familiarly among hundreds of people in the middle of the Seattle airport gives me a fair dose of cognitive dissonance. (Some of the passengers' eyebrows are definitely up now.) I'm turned on in a Pavlovian sort of way, I'm in public, and I'm beginning to be worried about what to do if they won't check the whip. I remember when Betty Dodson, author of "Sex for One" and grande dame of masturbation, attempted to take her Robocop on a plane and set off an airport metal detector. The security guards called that a weapon too and confiscated it on the spot.
I'm also beginning to wonder if I'm going to miss the flight. I put aside all the conflicting feelings and force myself to get efficient. My friend says she'll go to the gate, save me a seat on the plane if I'm late for boarding. I fold the tails of the whip along the handle so I can carry it to the ticket counter without frightening too many people along the way.
There's a long line at the ticket counter but I go up to the front and interrupt, explaining that my plane is about to leave and that I need to check something that security won't let me take on the plane.
"What is it?" the ticket agent asks as she types someone else's flight information into her computer.
"It's a whip," I say matter-of-factly, holding it up to show her.
The ticket agent stops typing, looks at the whip, looks at me, looks back at the whip.
"I won't ask," she says, as if to herself.
"I'll tell you anything you want to know," I say with exaggerated solicitude.
"That's all right," she declines.
A college-age woman is at the counter, filling out a form. She has a warm (perhaps knowing) grin on her face, though she's pretending not to be paying attention to what's going on. I catch her eye and we exchange a comfortable smile while the ticket agent goes to get a plastic baggage bag for my whip. Now that I know I won't lose the whip and won't miss the flight, I'm back to having fun.
I lay the whip down affectionately on the counter. It becomes a lovely black and silver still-life against the very white, lacquered background. Several people waiting on line are checking it out, more curious than disturbed. Theater of the absurd has evolved into political education: A properly-dressed, politely-voiced, rather quiet-looking man is checking his whip. Call it normalization. The young woman finishes filling out her form. She scans the whip alertly, neutrally. I get the feeling this is not the first whip she's ever seen, but who knows.
I look at all the people and feel like the whole airport -- passengers, ticket agents, security guards -- are giving me the benefit of the doubt on this one, at least in part because I'm refusing to have it any other way. My lack of embarrassment, my lack of apology, is defining the moment and telling everyone how to respond. I feel surprisingly powerful. It is the liberated feeling of coming out, of refusing to be made wrong.
When the agent comes back, she holds the plastic bag open for me, waiting for me to put the whip in. Maybe she doesn't want to touch the whip, maybe she doesn't want to risk damaging it. My sense is that she's letting me put the whip in myself because she gets it that this is something special, something personal. Education morphs into ritual. I tuck the whip into the bag with slightly exaggerated care, as if to say, yes, this is something I would indeed like to have treated with respect, thank you very much. Putting my name and address on the baggage tag becomes an affirmation: This whip does indeed belong to me, this is my name, this is my address. The agent attaches the tag to the bag, pulls the drawstring closed, ties the string with several knots as if to reassure me that it is secure and will not come open. She places the bag lightly on the moving conveyor belt behind her. I watch its weightlessness get carried away, out of sight.
"When you pick up your luggage, don't forget that this one is a plastic bag," she says as I start to leave.
I look at her and we both smile. "Don't worry," I say, "I won't forget."
[This column was originally published in Spectator Magazine (see www.spectator.net). If you would like to receive Comes Naturally columns, and other writing by David Steinberg, regularly via email, send your name and email address to David at firstname.lastname@example.org. Columns are sent as blind carbon copies, meaning that no one will have access to your name or email address.]
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