Luke+Jack on Sex Positivity, their outlook, and some sexy events at SQIFF 2019

Glasgow sex shop and SQIFF 2019 partner, Luke+Jack, discuss their ethos, accessibility, and Queering the Mainstream.

Tell us about Luke+Jack and what you offer.

Well, that’s complicated. One way of looking at it is that we are a successful sex shop in Glasgow’s Merchant City (and on-line) that sells amazing sex toys and lubes and underwear. We’ve been the preferred Passionate Purveyors of Pleasure Products in Scotland for almost a decade! To some people we are just a shop (and that’s okay). But we are always clear that we come from a place of Sex Positivity. By Sex Positive, we mean that we believe that everyone deserves to be able to have safe, consensual, enjoyable sex because this is good for physical and, maybe more importantly, good mental health. Sex that celebrates their bodies, their sexuality, their chosen gender. Sex that embraces their kinks without shame. Sex that challenges stereotypes and conditioned gender roles. Sex that heals. All of this makes for much more satisfying and exciting sex. And celebrating this means vastly different things to different people!

To do this, not only do we provide a (we hope) welcoming, inclusive, retail space but also a safe space for people to talk about sex and sexuality and how this crosses over into all other aspects of their lives. We sell stuff but we strive to be a hub that celebrates sex and people’s relationships too. Over the years we have housed and hosted workshops, exhibitions, performances, and meeting groups often with a sex positive slant (as The Virginia Gallery). We are in the process of completing a two year long refurbishment (at one point the listed building was getting flooded from upstairs and from under the ground!). We are very hands-on and as a small independent business we have done almost all the work ourselves. When we have finished (we aim to be done by Christmas 2019) we will be able to again become a sex positive and LGBTQI+ and kink creative and learning space to further encourage celebrations through events and exhibitions… Our once dark basement is now gloriously daylight bright… How else are you going to colour match your dildo and restraints?

Our shop is for EVERYONE who shops, while being respectful of other customers and our staff team. We have recently struggled to explain this, and why our approach might be different to most sex shops (that have a heterosexual focus or simply gay male focus.) We point out our jumping off point is the LGBTQI+ community but we are proudly welcoming to all. We struggled to define this as “mainstreaming on our terms”, however, the lovely Garry Mac (who created the beautiful artwork for a SQIFF brochure a few years ago) asserted that, at Luke +Jack, we are QUEERING THE MAINSTREAM. We love, and are very comfortable with, this outlook and term!

The events Luke+Jack are co-hosting at SQIFF 2019 focus on D/deaf and Disabled representation and access. These include a porn screening with focus on D/deaf and Disabled queer people and an event looking at accessibility of sex toys and aids. Why is this important to you?

What immediately comes to mind here is there is a (initial) public response to this, but in truth also a very personal response.

So, first, as we pointed out earlier, we are a small independent business and we occupy a lovely listed building that we rent. There are steps to access the building and multiple internal levels to the shop with currently no way to instal a lift. Health and Safety also dictates we can’t safely use a ramp regularly for the entrance – we’d all get crushed by M&S Juggernauts swerving around the corner! Over the years, we have had many customers with mobility challenges and others who are D/deaf and/or Disabled. We have hosted exhibits in other venues and supported access to our own premises. I think we have, however, always done so from a stance of apology to them that we can’t be as accessible as we would have liked.

Now thepersonal response: four and a half years ago I, one of the founders of Luke+Jack, lost the use of my legs. Overnight. A back issue that I’d been ignoring escalated and caused my body to shut down. At the time it was not clear if I’d need operations, and although I did get back limited use of my back/legs within weeks, I needed to use the full support of  ‘Smart Crutches.’ It was a frightening time for me and maybe more so for my partner Ian (also my business partner) as I was FULL of Gabapentin and Morphine! Suddenly I was unable to easily get about my own shop premises and struggling to get upstairs to my home. We had to have discussions about the future of Luke+Jack to be honest, as I couldn’t get around the building. Ian and I faced having to plan and accommodate a very different approach to living. I’m not fully recovered but live with a more hidden disability and use a stick when necessary. However this experience was a huge wake-up call: the first time we understood more clearly how poor provision can be. How creative someone with a physical disability can become to accommodate and navigate the world. But also the sheer fucking undiluted ignorance and prejudice! I found myself a greater target of homophobic abuse and threat of physical abuse, even mindless, illogical racism and classism. It was a sickening reality check of everything from some people’s ignorance to others’ predatory threatening with violence someone they know can’t fight back. BUT I also experienced the minutiae of what made getting up in the morning and getting out of the house bearable…the wonderful and supportive little things that people, sometimes strangers, but certainly some people in customer service can do to help, to reassure, to let you just get on with your life.

So with this all in mind, we are determined to support as many accessible, supportive, sex positive projects and events as we are physically and financially able. SQIFF has an outstanding record of doing this over the last five years…but still does it from a stance of learning. We, equally, are proud supporters of the truly inclusive Vagina Museum (the world’s first is about to open in November in London), and more recently we have begun to discuss events and housing meetings for the Vag Network (Vaginismus Network). The amazing Eroticon (an annual conference for sex positive bloggers and writers) also champions and ecourages sex positive discussion about diversity, equality, and accessibility and we are seasoned supporters attending for the fifth time.

We believe Representation and Access are more important than ever at a time when social media is apparently connecting so many of us, but actually meaningfully connecting so very few. We enjoy (and get excited by!) SQIFF and its programme: it challenges us to learn and improve our own practice of creative ways to improve access and representation from our unique perspective as a sex shop Queering The Mainstream in our business and business relationships in Scotland, across the UK, and in Europe.

You’re planning some developments at Luke+Jack in what you offer D/deaf and Disabled customers. Can you tell us about those?

We find the nature of the business we are in (retail) all too frequently spends its time putting people in boxes. Putting people in boxes isn’t healthy or helpful, especially when capability and sexuality are brought into that mix. The sex toy industry (on the back of general glossy magazine and celebrity-filled anxiety, body-negative culture) isn’t great (has historically sometimes been pretty awful to be frank!) at providing supportive sex positive experiences outwith those provided for an almost fictional ‘ideal’, heterosexual, body perfect, physically perfect few. In truth they aren’t even sex positive for this elite (they just don’t all know that yet!). From professional and personal experience we decided that we wanted to challenge how sex shops provide services, to extend our definition of equality. Having galvanised our desire (through professional and personal experience), we want to improve our approach to access in the way we know best: improving customer service. We are aiming to proactively improve our customer service for everyone. It’s a steep learning curve, it’s a pilot and we do not know of any other sex shop in Scotland, maybe only one other in the UK, attempting to address this subject. The idea is in its infancy, and we don’t want to implement short term things that are just the equivalent of putting a plaster on the problem. We have to start by recognising our access limitations mentioned above. But rather than just shrugging our shoulders and saying “so we can’t really do anything more,” we are attempting to work out what we, and other small independent businesses, can achieve with no real budget to improve accessibility.

So we are launching Whispering Wednesdays on 2nd October, to coincide with SQIFF. We hope people don’t think it’s a daft name (it’s what happens after one half a lager when we have a planning meeting at Brutti Compadres, and get carried away with ideas, in the company of Helen Wright from SQIFF). It is intended to kinda say what it is on the tin, to be easy to quickly explain to customers. Whispering Wednesdays, our first pilot for improvements, will continue every Wednesday we are open for business after this. 

Between the hours 11am-1pm every Wednesday, across both retail floors:

  • We will not play music and we will turn off TV screens
  • We will only illuminate lights that are necessary for health and safety (and to see products)
  • We will turn off all coloured and flashing lights
  • Signage will inform all customers that this is a quiet time and that all shoppers are discouraged from making unnecessary noise, and should where possible speak in soft voices
  • A pad and pen will be provided for those who need/choose to write as part of their accessibility needs

This is starting small – we worry, to be honest, that on paper that it doesn’t sound very much but we need to start small because we want to make sure that what we do is also sustainable. We don’t want our staff team (whom we and customers already demand so much of) to be overwhelmed and we don’t want to make promises we find we cannot keep. We do want to make changes to become as accessible and welcoming as we can be, so we are able to learn how small independent businesses in particular can make improvements. We will then turn our attention to accessibility information on our website, and then hopefully begin and encourage other small changes to continue to improve the physical, and then the online, store.

So Whispering Wednesdays is a pilot, and huge learning time for us and we welcome positive feedback and criticism. We are certainly not going to get this “right” overnight, or even close, for a long time. But we recognise the message and openness to discussion is (almost) as important as the actions themselves. We aim for it to gradually, steadily, and manageably lead to further accessibility improvements, while we also encourage, though our sex positive networks, other businesses, suppliers, and sex toy makers to consider, discuss, and make improvements. I’ve already had someone question this use of resources and say, “But does this actually make business sense?” and we immediately responded that it’s a no-brainer! We can only improve access from what we know, but actually we are likely to be improving access in areas and for people we don’t know…improving access for everyone… surely this should be part of a good business model as well as being a supportive, active member of a community?

You’re also sponsoring the Unicorns’ Den Film Pitch at SQIFF 2019 with a cash prize for the winning pitch. Why is it important to you to support queer filmmaking?

Ian from Luke+Jack had the seeds of this idea last year but it was not the right time. This year we feel we are able to put our money where our mouth is: we are donating a five hundred pound prize for the film budget (and some sex toys if they are relevant!). It’s still not that much money, but we at Luke+Jack are used to doing big things on tiny budgets ourselves, so we recognise this, combined with support from SQIFF, gives someone the opportunity to create a meaningful queer film.

Queer Representation is extremely important…and we hope film makers get to create their vision…create a new perpective on being LGBTQI+ in Scotland in 2019, or their personal journey that got them to Glasgow 2019. Whatever focus and whatever that means to them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this was the wee film that led to something bigger that started someone’s career, or a drive for a significant movement of change in 2020?

There’s currently an unpalatable pushback about queer identity in the mainstream, so we must also push back politically, and also creatively… In a time when people are trying to eradicate our existence in children’s books, a pop star is mercilessly mocked by the media for simply asking people to use the pronouns them/they, when our right to love a person of the same sex is still not simply recognised as a human right but is used as a political football, when LGBTQI+ people are courted during Prides by rainbow-hungry corporations and supermarket chains as long as we do not discuss sex, and aren’t SEXUAL. In Trump’s USA where trans people are being murdered on the streets, and Boris Johnson’s UK with a cabinet that has an agenda of making LGBTQI+ people second class citizens AGAIN, where a same sex couple declaring their love on Songs of Praise gets more hatemail and complaints than those of love and congratulations, and where we personally still work in an industry where lesbiansim is still too frequently a misogynist punchline in porn… People in our own community forget how hard it was to have to face hatred, fight, lose, and then finally gain some rights and safety, and so forget the significance of the T in our community and history. It is as important as ever that the messages and stories of LGBTQI+ people continue to be told, that we continue to teach and learn from each other…that we continue to Queer the Mainstream.

Luke+Jack are taking part with 3 co-hosted events as part of SQIFF 2019. Click here for more info and tickets for Luke+Jack present: Accessible Toys; click here for Luke+Jack present: Sexxxy Beasts and Wheelchairs; and click here for Luke+Jack present: Unicorns’ Den Film Pitch.