IN THE EARLY AUGHTS, I was in my late twenties, a writer with no formal education who was in-between jobs in a market that was “competitive,” to put it mildly. Let’s just say that all my writer friends with MFAs were vying for barista positions in the city’s myriad Starbucks, which did not bode well for a high school dropout such as myself. Especially since, I had no idea how to pour a decent cup of coffee.
I was living with five other people in a six-bedroom Victorian in a less-than-savory part of San Francisco’s Mission District, which was otherwise an up-and-coming neighborhood. I could sometimes hear gunshots nearby, sometimes from the residence across the way, and often had to shoo away the homeless guy who shot up on my doorstep.
The apartment was filled to capacity with a co-ed crew all hand-picked by the landlord, Real World-style: two gay guys, two straight gals, and two bisexual women (including myself). Being the oldest and, in a house full of drama queens, the most level-headed of the group, some of my roommates started referring to me as their father figure. That was when I decided it was time for me to get a place of my own. But first I’d need to find a job.
At this time, I was big on Craig’s List. This was before it was overrun with escorts and the men who dismember them. These were the salad days, when you could use the website to find your new best friend, sell your old roller skates, find affordable housing (even if you’re unemployed) and do your best to compete with hundreds of far more talented people than yourself. I did all of these things and more.
I spent a lot of time in my street-facing room, obsessively refreshing my browser, and hoping no stray bullets made it through my thin walls. Of course I wanted the perfect job, something that would justify the fact that I’d willingly quit my last lucrative position in a failing economy, but as time went by and I had to borrow rent from friends and family, my standards started to dip. On the day two friends of mine came by the apartment bearing gifts of food they’d scoured from their cupboards—dried and canned goods so that I wouldn’t starve to death—I knew it was getting serious. I was one drunk email away from answering an ad for an escort agency, when something slightly less precarious-sounding appeared on my feed. It was a writer position, with hints that only open-minded females need apply.
Warily, I concocted a charming cover letter, pasted in my resume, and crossed my fingers. As of late, very few of the companies I’d been querying had bothered to respond.
They wrote back soon, and it was much better than I’d hoped. The position was that of copywriter at a queer-owned sex toy company. This was great news. I had recently jumped on the womyn-power bandwagon, to the point that I was showing art in feminist art shows and forsaking men as sexual partners. This position suddenly became my dream job.
After a brief phone chat, I was invited to interview in person at their offices in Oakland. I imagined a warehouse lined with dildos and fancy BDSM paraphernalia, and was disappointed to find the environment far less interesting—a cluttered little room utterly devoid of controversial items.
The hiring manager was a friendly, soft butch lady with short, curly hair and a firm handshake. I was introduced to their small staff, all of whom seemed to be queer women. I wondered if they could tell I liked women too, and I hoped they did, but it seemed awkward to bring it up in a job interview. I thought if I could somehow fit that information in, it might increase my chances of getting the job, but I never managed to find a way. Even so, I left the office giddy and hopeful. The job was close to public transportation, I liked the people, and best of all, I was given a free bag of sex toys, about which I was supposed to write marketing copy. Best writing test ever!
But there was one issue. I was not very skilled at masturbation. I hadn’t pleasured myself to completion until I was sixteen, two full years after I became sexually active. By the time of this interview, the act hadn’t yet found its way into my daily routine, and my involvement with sex toys was even sparser. They included: (1) a Hello Kitty vibrator I got in Tokyo as a joke—its ears were far too sharp for it to actually be used near any delicate body parts, (2) some bondage gear I bought and promptly got bored with, and (3) a purple dildo I purchased with a boyfriend so I could peg him.
Now, being single, adventurous, and armed with the necessary tools, it seemed like a good time to get a handle on it.
When I got home, I opened my goodie bag to find (1) a vibrating pink-nubbed G-spot stimulator, (2) a small, intense vibrator the size of a lipstick holder, and (3), a tiny, bright-red butt plug. Until now I’d had years of sexual experience, easily navigating my way around a cock and balls. I could locate a new lover’s prostate within moments, but my knowledge of female anatomy was shaky. I hadn’t yet dated the woman who would show me exactly how to find the elusive G-spot. And even though, in theory, I was all about sexual empowerment and taking control, I was still somewhat uncomfortable with the concept of masturbation, especially when my roommates were only feet away. Which they almost always were, particularly the homebody who, despite her hobby of sewing pillows in the shape of vaginas, I suspected had a few sexual hang-ups of her own.
So I waited until all my roommates were out, and locked myself in the upstairs bathroom, where I could run the shower to create some white noise. I didn’t want anyone hearing the buzzing if they were to walk in the front door at an inopportune moment, and what the hell, I might as well get in the shower, as the G-spot stimulator was waterproof. I sat in the tub carefully reading the instructions, then poured out some lube and started fiddling around. Does the bendy part go here? Do the nubs go there? The experience felt clinical, like a visit to the doctor, but my livelihood depended on getting off. During this trial and error, I resisted playing with my clit because wouldn’t that be cheating? But the more I mucked around, the more frustrated I became. That’s when I eyed the little lipstick vibrator. What if I used them simultaneously?
Within moments of pointing that thing in the right direction, it was as if an electrical current was pulsing through my body. I wouldn’t call it hot, exactly, but it was absolutely an orgasm. Jackpot! Who needed a lover when I could have easy orgasms and an employee discount?
Satisfied, I languished in the tub for a bit, letting the endorphins disseminate while I tried not to inhale shower water and wrote copy in my head.
But then came the challenge of the butt plug. Anal penetration was never my cup of tea. The times I’ve attempted it, I felt like I was reverse-pooping, so I thought it unlikely that I’d manage to get any pleasure from it now. How was I going to write copy that made such a thing seem enticing?
As I was getting dressed, I heard my roommate, Brian, come home. This apartment in San Francisco was his first time away from home, and as an outgoing young man with a penchant for butt sex, the city was his bivalve mollusk. A light bulb went on in my head. I grabbed the butt plug and knocked on his door.
I shyly presented the small red treasure to Brian with a request that he report back to me about it. To my delight, he was game, and enthusiastically so. He hadn’t disappeared into his room for more than twenty minutes before I heard a knock on my door, and he was standing in the hallway, red-faced and sweating.
“Good for use while being stimulated in other manners simultaneously,” he told me, panting. “Perfect size for a beginner. Highly recommended.”
“Thanks, Brian.” I said. I didn’t want to appear ungrateful, but I was feeling strangely uncomfortable.
“Do you want it back?” he asked me, still panting.
“That’s okay, you keep it.”
I spent hours in my bedroom, writing copy. I wanted to be concise but descriptive, sexy but not creepy, clever but not trite. I poured my heart into those words, read and reread them, then clicked “SEND” and watched them disappear into the ether. Then I spent the next several days constantly refreshing my email folder, waiting for news.
It came in the form of disappointment. The writing was good, she said (although looking back on it now, I think she was just being nice), but they gave the job to someone else. She apologized and told me that she thought I’d be a good fit for the company, and maybe another opportunity would present itself down the line. I mourned for a few hours, kicking myself for getting my hopes up, then went back to refreshing my browser, hoping for more opportunities that didn’t involve giving hand jobs.
A month later, I was working at a retail shop close to home. It was good to have an income, but I wasn’t fond of working with the public, so when I received an email from the sex toy company, all my prior excitement came flooding back. They really liked me! This was for a different position, one that was not quite as writing intensive, but something they thought I might be good for. Would I like to come in for another interview? Would I!
This time I was far less nervous, practically one of the gang now. I smiled easily, said “hello again” to familiar faces, and answered all the interview questions with grace. Yes, I was very good at project management, I said, and I gave multiple examples of when I’d done that sort of work in the past. And would there be writing responsibilities? I asked. She assured me they would work some writing into the position for my benefit, as she understood that that was my passion. I was so sure I had it in the bag that when she called me later and told me in apologetic tones that they’d chosen to hire someone internally, my heart broke a little. She said they really liked me, though, and hoped they could find a place for me someday.
“Always the bridesmaid, never the bride,” she lamented.
It was six months later when I received another email. The position was in accounting, she said, and would I be interested to interview for the job? By this time, I had another shit job, but one that I could live with for the time being. I couldn’t take anymore rejection from these people, I decided, so I did what I’d done with others who had gotten me off and then broke my heart. I ignored her email.
Eventually the economy picked up, and I moved on to get other jobs as well as, finally, my own apartment. None of the jobs involved orgasms, but now I had my own space to vibrate away as loudly as I wanted. Which, eventually, I got quite good at.