Please upgrade your browser for the best Refinery29 experience. Read more.

Saved! Access Favorites in your account profile. Removed from my favorites
Photographed by Ben Sklar

Why These U.S. College Students Are Carrying Sex Toys On Campus

comments
Rosie Zander is standing in the sweltering late August heat, swinging a massive artificial cock.

The 20-year-old junior at the University of Texas, Austin is 5-foot-2. The dildo, officially sold under the name “Cockzilla,” is 14.5 inches, or about as long as a quarter of her entire frame. She thinks it weighs more than her dog. “Run for the hills! Cockzilla is coming!” one online description of the "monster cock” reads.

It’s the eve of the first day of class, and the scene, amplified by Zander’s persistent yelling about prosthetic penises, is starting to attract a small crowd of curious students milling past the campus’ iconic UT tower.

Those strange looks are a good thing for Zander. Her goal for the day is to arm as many students as possible with sex toys they can dangle from their bookbags — a very adult upgrade to the backpack charms they sported back in middle school.

“We’ve got dicks for you, we’ve got dicks for you. I’m the Oprah of dickage!" Zander yells.

Zander is part of #CocksNotGlocks, a student-led effort to protest Texas' new gun law. As fall classes officially begin this week, anyone over 21 with a state-issued handgun license can now carry a concealed gun on public school campuses. Openly carrying dildos, however, could be prohibited under campus rules and the state's obscenity laws.

The contrast is “ironic and gleefully funny," says Jessica Jin, who first floated the Cocks Not Glocks idea last fall. What started as a joke among friends has since grown into what some predicted could become the largest anti-gun demonstration in the state's history.

As long as you have a dick on your backpack, people will be thinking about the guns inside of other people’s backpacks.

Jessica Jin, #CocksNotGlocks founder
Zander was among the organisers handing out giant dildos — and "baby vibrators" for the less bold — on campus ahead of a Wednesday rally. Some students checking out the scene Tuesday declined a dick, saying they worried about how professors or employers might see them. But Zander isn't concerned about the explicit nature of the effort.

“My parents know about this and they’re very supportive,” Zander said. “They protested Vietnam. They know what it’s all about.”

Texas’ campus carry law, approved last year, is one of the latest flash points in the country’s heated debate over gun rights. The law means that 221,000 public university students could find themselves learning in a classroom alongside a peer or professor who is carrying a legal gun. Private higher education institutions in the state can opt out — and most have. But here at UT Austin, guns must be allowed.

Jin rolls up to the white distribution tent with a translucent fuchsia dildo bouncing from the strap of her sand-coloured Tumi backpack. She dives right into checking the status of T-shirt printing and dildo supplies. A reporter asks her how she’s doing. “I stress cried earlier today,” she responds.

There are many logistical issues to tackle. Among them is the fact that her light blue Honda Fit — replete with a dent in the back — is so full of dildos that she’s not sure how she’ll fit a bunch of penis-shaped cupcakes donated by a local bakery in the backseat.
Jin, who studied violin performance, is the unintentional brain behind the movement, which has attracted a growing fan base on campus, viral fame far beyond its borders, and some very unnerving personal threats. Growing up in Texas, Jin says she never really thought of gun culture as a problem. The 25-year-old has even considered applying for a concealed handgun license herself one day.

But last fall, she was troubled by a string of campus shootings in the news. There was the rampage at an Oregon community college that left 10 dead. A shooting at Texas Southern. And another at Northern Arizona University.

As she drove through Austin one day last October, she says she heard a pundit on the radio say that Americans should just learn to live with these acts of violence and brace for them to happen. The thought that immediately popped into her head? What a bunch of dildos. What a dildo-like response.

“I just rolled my eyes so hard that I thought my eyeballs were going to roll out of the head,” Jin recalls.

Later, while hanging out with friends, she brought up the idea again and wagered that while bringing a gun to class would soon be okay, brandishing a dildo probably wasn't allowed. Someone challenged her to look it up. Sure enough, her hunch was right. Open carry of "obscene" items, including sex toys, is called out in Texas penal code.
Still thinking she was peddling a joke among friends, Jin created a Facebook group announcing a Cocks Against Glocks protest for the following fall, when the new law would take effect. But when she woke up the next morning, she saw that thousands of people had already RSVPed yes.

“I was like, Oh no, what have I done?” she recalled.

The RSVP list kept growing. Media coverage followed. Jin says she received death threats. But support also poured in. Student groups, including the campus Democrats organisation, volunteered to help her. Sex shops and distributors started donating supplies in bulk. Local cafés offered their venues for distribution spots.
Fast-forward to August 2016, and Cocks Not Glocks organisers say they have received more than 4,000 dildo donations from local businesses and national brands — including 160 handcrafted ceramic phalluses from a woman who made them as part of her thesis on toxic masculinity in the 1980s. They are saving those special dicks, which can’t really be zip-tied to backpacks easily, for professors who support the cause.

"Honestly, I’ve just never seen this many students involved with something this big — it’s a way for people to get heard," says Ana L. Lopez, the vice president of Students Against Campus Carry. “And it was just such an ingenious idea to use something that’s a symbol of male power as something everyone can rally behind.”

Senate Bill 11 made Texas the nation’s eighth state to allow campus carry for all legal gun owners (two additional states extend the right for faculty only). Eighteen states ban the practice altogether, according to the National Conference of State Legislature.
While Texas is often thought of as the heart of gun country, on this matter, sentiment appears split. One Texas Tribune poll found that, while 37% of voters oppose the idea of campus carry, 25% support the right of licensed gun owners to carry on campus. Another 26% are okay with it as long as schools get to decide whether to allow the practice. The numbers are similar among young voters, with just over a third of those 18 to 29 against the concept.

And the proposal itself was far from a slam dunk at the statehouse: A similar bill failed to win passage in 2009. The current law was approved in the final days of session — and only after concessions that gave universities the right to identify certain areas as off-limits to guns. Most (but not all) have deemed dorm rooms gun-free, for example. Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 11 the same day he gave his signature of approval to a law allowing open carry throughout the state. He suggested it would make campuses safer.

“Shooters will understand next time that they cross a Texas campus, somebody is going to be watching them and have the ability to do something about it to stop them,” he said in one radio interview ahead of the bill signing.
At UT, which is just blocks from the state Capitol, vocal opposition was swift and strong. A petition against the bill secured thousands of signatures, including hundreds of professors. Students and staff staged protests. One high-profile dean cited it as a factor in his decision to take a new job. A group of professors sued, saying the "overly solicitous, dangerously experimental gun policies" violate their First and Second Amendment rights. UT Austin, whose new president opposes the law, has pushed for policies to allow professors to ban guns in private offices and mandate that chambers are bullet-free in buildings. The second proposal was rejected by UT System Regents.

Supporters say those reactions are overblown. Concealed firearms are already allowed inside restaurants, museums, and even the state Capitol itself (where security includes a special line for gun permit holders). Licensed handguns weren’t previously banned from public campuses — just prohibited inside buildings. In fact, gun rights supporters have accused the university of enacting policies that undermine the law's intent.

“It really isn’t a huge change in the policy,” says Brian Bensimon, Texas state director of Students for Concealed Carry. “It’s just kind of making a policy more uniform and not having a special exception for one area for no good reason really.”

Bensimon isn't bothered by the dildo carry — in fact, he feels the Cocks Not Glocks participants are actually "inadvertently" helping his case for gun rights on campus.

“I don't think either of those things are absurd," he said. "And I support the right to carry both of them.”
UT Austin estimates that the actual number of students carrying guns to class will be very small — about 1% of a campus population of more than 50,000 are estimated to be eligible to carry under the law. Part of the reason is that you need to be 21 to obtain a concealed handgun license in Texas. That means the majority of undergraduate students, who make up most of the campus housing population, can't even get a concealed handgun license. Those who do obtain a license must pass a training course, shooting test, and background check.

The campus carry movement has gained momentum in the wake of mass shootings on campuses, with some recent years seeing dozens of bills on the matter introduced across the country. As one academic journal notes, the advocacy group Students for Concealed Carry on Campus was started just days after 32 were killed in the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech. Its stated mission was “to rally so many like-minded people to this one cause.”

Student supporters of the law emphasise today that the law is less about protecting entire campuses — or stopping mass shootings — and more about the right to personal protection for law-abiding gun owners.

“Vetted, licensed adults should enjoy the same measure of personal protection on campus that they already enjoy virtually everywhere else,” Antonia Okafor, southwest regional director of Students for Concealed Carry, said in a statement earlier this year. And they point to research they say shows that similar laws haven’t had detrimental effects.
“We’ve already implemented it at over 100 college campuses around the country,” says Bensimon, a 20-year-old junior at UT. “We have 1,500 semesters of experience already that show that a lot of the arguments against it won’t come to fruition.”

But students critical of the policy feel that the possibility that any gun is in a backpack or classroom could put them in more danger.

Linnea Hart didn’t even hear about the law until after she decided to transfer to UT. The idea made the 19-year-old “really upset.”

“If I cared a lot about my safety, I would just go to a school that didn’t allow guns,” she says. “But I worked so hard to get here, I just have to feel uncomfortable and unsafe to get this good education.”
Beyond those fears, Jin worries that the very prospect of the presence of guns could chill debate and discourse on campus.

“You’re supposed to be here to talk about difficult issues and shit. Because we live in the middle of this hotly contested gun culture, if one person is afraid to speak, there goes the free exchange of ideas,” Jin says. “It doesn’t matter how many guns are on campus. It doesn’t matter what the threat of violence is. The biggest threat is to the climate in our classrooms that is so sacred.”

Jin’s felt some of those potentially chilling factors personally. An online hater hurled a threat at her as recently as Tuesday, writing, “I do respect protesters who are willing to die for their beliefs.” (She reported the incident, like all other threats related to the protest, to campus police). Some men on campus called Lopez a “scumbag” after she told them about the rally.

Lopez, a junior, tries to take those reactions with a grain of salt. But it can be hard.

“It’s really scary…[in] the current political climate, it’s hard to do anything,” she said, a pale, veiny dildo hanging from her black Urban Outfitters backpack. “So, at least we’re going out on a limb with something.”
While the stunt is raising eyebrows on campus, it’s far from certain to have an impact on policy.

“It’s unusual, it’s outlandish, it’s provocative, but the relevant decision-makers here are members of the state Legislature, and it’s hard to think of a tactic less likely to change the minds of members of the state Legislature,” says Matt Wilson, an associate professor of political science at Southern Methodist University.

Wilson, whose private university opted out of campus carry, says the Cocks Not Glocks movement's “aura of being unserious” won’t necessarily help organizers’ goal of getting guns off campus.
“A lot of the reason people will do it is not because they particularly care one way or the other about campus carry, but because this is a chance to be outrageous and provocative and a little bit dirty,” he says. “That has its appeal for college students. But it’s not going to send a strong message about the underlying issue of campus carry and the underlying issue of gun rights.”

But for Jin and her fellow dido carriers, the protest almost feels like a last resort after they feel the Legislature failed to respond to their appeals through more traditional channels.

“We did everything right and we were not listened to. At this point, for some people, it’s a big fuck you to the state government for forcing something on us that we clearly didn’t want,” Jin says. “It’s obvious to a lot of people that actual legislative change won’t come until there is real cultural change in the way that people perceive guns and the normalisation of gun culture — it’s not going to change until people realise how absurd it is.”
Even with about 4,000 dildos to distribute, the day-to-day visual presence of the sex toys is small in the sea of tens of thousands students. Outside of a designated protest area, where students chanted and waved dildos in the air for The Daily Show cameras Wednesday afternoon, few sex toys were spotted as students flooded campus on the first day of class.

Many of the handouts will likely be retired to dorm rooms and desk drawers after the day of protest is done. And it doesn't look like those who participate will face disciplinary action — a spokesperson for UT Austin told Refinery29 that the university supports civil displays of freedom of expression, and that it appears the planned protests qualify as "protected political speech."

Still, Jin hopes that even the rare sighting of a “dick in the wild” will “rustle people’s jimmies” and remind them what’s at stake.

“As long as you have a dick on your backpack, people will be thinking about the guns inside of other people’s backpacks,” Jin told supporters on Tuesday. “So strap them on, zip-tie them on, don’t apologise. Leave them on until everyone else takes their guns home.”

To some, the stares — and stories — generated by those acts can be considered wins on their own, even if legislators don't respond.
TV Reed, a professor who has studied culture in protest movements, says that while the effort “will be ridiculed by some,” it’s important to remember that “now-revered figures like Gandhi and Martin Luther King were also ridiculed for their symbolic protests.” And the approach is creating an easy entry point for students to get involved, he says.

“The protest is already successful because the amusing, theatrical plan has drawn far more attention to the issue of open carry than any letter to the editor or more conventional demonstration ever would,” Reed, a Washington State University professor of English and American Studies, told Refinery29 by email.

Jin and other organisers now want to build the protest beyond this particular issue, sparking more student activism on campuses beyond UT. Allied groups, like the University Democrats and the Texas Freedom Network, are asking those who stop to pick up a dildo to register to vote, too, and reminding them that casting ballots for their state legislators matters.

And Jin, a first-time political activist, is already looking at what other issues could benefit from her sexed-up approach.

“Cocks not Glocks has big dreams of putting a dildo in the hands of every angry college student everywhere," she says. "The energy and sentiments are all there — people are unhappy and fighting stupid shit.”
SHARE
TWEET
EMAIL