The sex shop Feelmore510 is located on the corner of Oakland's Telegraph and 17th streets, across from an Obama campaign office, in between a pawn shop and the oldest African-American owned shoe store in town. The neighborhood is in transition, a place with old roots and a lot of new blooms – most businesses on this stretch of Telegraph opened within the last five years. Feelmore510 will celebrate its one-year anniversary Sun/12 when owner Nenna Joiner helps host Town Love, a new party at Hibiscus' Rock Steady.
But those businesses aren't the shop's only neighbors. This fall, Feelmore510 also lived alongside Occupy Oakland's City Hall encampment. Though many local business owners have expressed anxiety about the effect that protests were having on their sales, Joiner is in full support of the movement. She sometimes walked over to visit friends who were “occupying,” and was happy to donate safe sex supplies to the camp. “Sex is a basic need for survival,” she said in a recent in-store interview with the Guardian. Joiner allows protestors to chill in the store and talk politics -- as long as they aren’t running from the cops.
Joiner envisions her store as more than just a place to shop – it's also a community center. On a recent afternoon, Joiner shook each customer's hand and asked them their name. Her goal is that all comers can shop for augmentations to their love life in comfort.
A cross-section of Oakland’s entire population converges in this particular area of downtown. Joiner sees everyone from rich vintage porn collectors -- drawn to her extensive selection of old magazines and videos -- to people who ask to pay with California welfare benefit cards.
Her best-selling items, which are taken home by customers who are male, female, straight, bi, and trans, are the queer porn films that Joiner herself directed, edited, and produced. 2010's Tight Places features diverse actors and she made Hella Brown with a cast of all African American women. Hella Brown is made in a semi-documentary style – Joiner shot interviews with over 50 queer and trans subjects about their sexual proclivities while making the movie.
Artfully-displayed contraptions at downtown Oakland's favorite sex shop.
Joiner's films are unique in the way that they showcase different sexual practices and different body types from mainstream porn, which is often geared towards a heterosexual male audience. Her films show women of all shapes, having queer sex -- fellating strap-ons and other acts you might not catch in other kinds of porn. While the films are not shot with the straight male audience in mind, that group does seem to enjoy them, often buying the first film and then returning for more. Joiner sees her films as educational tools, especially for what she calls the “brown community,” where things like transitioning from one gender to another are often socially stigmatized and restricted by financial limitations.
“Queer women of color possess a whole different intelligence and mentality,” she says, adding that many women have a certain shyness about “packing,” (wearing a flaccid prosthetic penis underneath clothing) and getting cosmetic gender modification surgery. Joiner fully embraces her role as an educator in the Oakland queer community.
Joiner refers to dildos as “prosthetics,” – she says that this language is less alienating to those unfamiliar with their usage. She keeps a packer on prominent display, in order to provoke people into asking questions, which can open up a dialogue about passing as a man, transitioning, or simply stuffing one’s jock with something more substantial than a tube sock. She says customer preference in prosthetics can vary. Many want a life-like phallus, while others request dildos that don’t look like penises, going for glass, sculptural, or abstract designs.
Joiner feels that she is at the intersection of several different communities in Oakland. Joiner goes to two church services every Sunday. She buys passing school kids lunch at Ms. Tina’s, the little sandwich shop next door. She's active in the queer scene, and she's also a small business owner who encourages other vendors to promote their own businesses by using her store as a launchpad.
“Having a space allows other people to identify with a vision of opening their own space.” When she first opened her store, naysayers questioned her brick-and-mortar approach over the Internet. But she says a website cannot replace the tactile satisfaction of a place to gather, to talk, to share. She uses her store to hold classes on topics rarely discussed other places, like sex industry work.
Joiner wants the toys she sells to be safe and fun for anyone, and to open up a conversation about sex, gender, and pleasure with Feelmore510. It works – her space encourages one to think of sex in a different, more open way. Joiner's toys are all just tools for lovers to transfer feeling, power, and energy between each other. There is no single way to have sex, just endless different first-time experiences. It's a new kind of space in an old part of Oakland, open for all comers to explore their most innovative sexual selves.
Feelmore510 one-year anniversary party at Town Love
Sun/12 5-11 p.m., $5
Rocksteady at Hibiscus
1745 San Pablo, Oakl.