Matie Fricker, co-owner of Self Serve, a sex-positive adult toy store in Albuquerque, N.M., is calling for the perverts of the world to unite and fight for free speech. Admittedly, she’d rather be focusing her energies elsewhere, but when her shop’s third annual erotic film festival Pornotopia was forcefully cancelled this month by the city’s zoning board, she’s been thrust into the local media spotlight as a “porn crusader.”
Both Fricker and her business partner Molly Adler (pictured above) have backgrounds in social activism and when they met in Boston in 2002 while working at a sex shop, they quickly realized they were kindred spirits, sharing a passion for healthy sexuality and community building. The two decided to open their own shop together, one that avoided the tacky, harmful, and exploitative products that, according to the women, “foster a culture of shame and unrealistic ideas about sex.” Self Serve, on the other hand, would provide a positive, educational, and empowering shopping experience.
Fricker and Adler conducted a year of market research, wanting to find a community that needed what their shop would offer. “Albuquerque has a thriving independent business community,” Fricker says. “It’s not Anytown, U.S.A; this city champions the new and the quirky. It took us two years to open our doors, but we feel really good about our place here. We’ve managed to connect with communities that already existed—the kink community, the burlesque community; they were all spokes of a wheel, but they didn’t have a hub—and now they do.”
Fricker and Adler’s sex shop opened with no resistance from the community. As a matter of fact, they were welcomed with open arms and considered a welcome addition to the slowly progressing city. Back when she was in Boston, Fricker had already planned to cultivate an erotic film festival in conjunction with the shop, but it was when the plan came to fruition shortly after the shop opened its doors that the problems began.
Just two hours before Fricker and Adler were set to welcome their guests to The Guild Theatre on November 30 of 2007 for Pornotopia, Albuquerque’s first ever erotic film festival, an event they’d meticulously planned and advertised for two months, they were told they needed to shut down and were served with a warning by the city’s zoning board. Thankfully, some nearby law students witnessed the warning being issued and one hour later after a few phone calls, the ACLU was on the case.
“I wish free speech was free, but unfortunately it’s not. If the ACLU hadn’t stepped in, Molly and I wouldn’t have had the resources to do anything,” Fricker says. A citation was issued without a fine, but it was just the beginning to the shop owners’ headaches.
The two women knew that the city had stringent zoning laws, which is why only 25 percent of Self Serve’s shelf space is devoted to actual adult toys (the rest features gourmet chocolate, locally produced massage oils, candles, and other romantically-themed goodies). When it came to their shop and to their erotic film festival, Fricker and Adler thought they had all of their bases covered. They were mindful of all of the city’s zoning laws and abided by them, but each time they began planning for Pornotopia they ran into problems.
Despite being in a year-long court battle with Albuquerque’s zoning board, 2008’s erotic festival went off without a hitch. This year, however, has been a different story. Fricker and Adler wanted to avoid getting their friends at The Guild in trouble should any zoning violations magically pop up, so they decided to hold Pornotopia 2010 from November 5-7 at The Sunshine Theatre in Downtown Albuquerque.
Just weeks before the festival and just before contracts were to be signed, Fricker and Adler decided to triple-check with the zoning office and when they did, they encountered a previously-forgotten, newly-passed “downtown corridor plan” that overrides the zoning code and expressly forbids new commercial adult entertainment ventures, with “adult entertainment” being defined as “anything that shows the male member, anything that shows pubic hair, and anything that shows the female breast below the top of the areola.”
Fricker and Adler are currently looking outside of Albuquerque city limits for a new location to hold Pornotopia, but until then they are hosting a number of events centered on free speech, censorship, and of course, sex, with their Pornotopia Censored: Cirque de Sex event being the main event on November 6. There won't be any porn, but pasties, burlesque, and dirty talk will be in abundance.
“The city keeps telling us this isn’t a censorship issue, but a land issue,” says Fricker. “I don’t agree. If we have a constitutional right to free speech and no place to put it, we’re being censored. It feels like this only applies to us. Just a couple of blocks away from where Pornotopia was going to be held, there’s a theater showing Jackass 3D, which features full-frontal male nudity. I’m not saying I don’t want that movie to get played, I’m just saying that it’s not fair.”
Jackass 3D: Coming soon to a zoning-board approved theater near you...