Lynn Raridon was standing before a grand jury in Texas. It was 1989. Scanning the evidence that the prosecutor lay before the jury, her business — her livelihood — flashed before her eyes.
Her crime? Selling "obscene devices," and violating the Texas Penal Code. Her sex shop, North Loop Boulevard's Forbidden Fruit, had been raided a couple weeks earlier by the Vice Unit, which works to protect the city from drugs and prostitution and to enforce the elusive obscenity code.
"We went and actually did our first booth ever at a trade show and had the misfortune of setting up next to an Amway vendor who was a highly religious person. And even though we tried to really pare down and make it really tasteful, she complained," Raridon remembers.
Those complaints ruffled enough feathers to force Forbidden Fruit out of the trade show and make Raridon and her store a target of the law.
Over the 35 years that Forbidden Fruit has been in business, Raridon has walked the delicate line of Texas' decency laws and the store's motto, "keeping Austin kinky." Austin is in the buckle of the Bible Belt, she says, and although it's an ongoing battle, she continues to lead the sex positivity movement, using her store as a weapon against the shame, stigma, and fear of sexuality regardless of gender or sexual identity.
"To me, part of what our mission has always been is de-stigmatizing everything that has to do with enhancing people's right to explore and choose what’s going to work best for them, in terms of exploring and having a satisfying sexual identity," she says.
Raridon got her start in 1981 by connecting with fellow punk rocker and original owner of the store, Mark Garfinkel. Garfinkel asked Raridon to lead his adult toy demonstrations, and several years later, she bought the business and began transforming it from a gag gift shop to a community resource for people across the sexuality spectrum.
In the '90s, she began pioneering now commonplace activities — passion parties, tattoo and piercing studios, pole dancing, and sexual education workshops. Today, a simple poster stands out amid a sea of artwork cloaking the windows of Forbidden Fruit: "If human sexuality offends you, do not come in."
Jonny Reynolds, an employee at Forbidden Fruit, recalls his path to the store and foray into sex education. As an 18-year-old University of Texas student, he worked at the store Pleasureland, a now defunct national chain.
"Basically if you picture a sleazy, '70s porno shop in your mind, with like tacky carpet and wood paneling, that's pretty much what Pleasureland was," he says. Raridon also refers to these types of stores as porn palaces that stunk of Clorox bleach, businesses that were among the only options for those looking to explore their sexuality in Texas before places like Forbidden Fruit opened.
At his old job, Reynolds sat behind a raised checkout desk to grant anonymity to the customers — they didn’t want to be seen or acknowledged. Forbidden Fruit prides itself on offering customers the exact opposite experience. Reynolds uses comedy to get customers to open up about their needs. "My approach is: 'Well what are you looking for, go ahead, spit it out, this ain't Target. If you can't say it, you can't buy it!'"
Raridon feels she's paved the way for other women-owned educational sex stores in the state, including the Texas chain Cindie's and the Austin-native Q Toys. Although the industry is still male dominated, she's noticed an exciting shift in number of women involved in sex retail, their ideas and products adding diversity and improvements to the market.
This weekend, Forbidden Fruit will host the annual Texas Burlesque Festival to celebrate all human sexuality; the art of the striptease; and women and men of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds.
With upcoming shows on April 22 and 23 at 8:30 pm, TBF gives audiences a chance to watch renowned burlesque dancers in a safe setting while falling in line with Forbidden Fruit's sex-positive message and mission.