Leonard Pitts Jr.
It’s just the sort of thing you’d expect from Iran.
A woman runs afoul of local religious authorities who are angered by her refusal to cover up. But it isn’t just her immodest style of dress that riles the ayatollahs. They have also heard rumors that she sells sex toys from her home and instructs women in their use. So she is arrested and now faces trial and a possible prison term.
It’s all true, except that it didn’t happen in Iran. For all intents and purposes, though, it did happen in another country.
Texas, to be exact.
Our heroine is Joanne Webb. She’s in her early 40s, a Baptist, a former grade school teacher. She’s married with children and lives in Burleson, a suburb of Fort Worth. Her hair is blond, long and curly, and she is said to be partial to wearing miniskirts and boots. For which, her attorney says, two pastors have asked her to leave their churches.
But it’s the sex toys that really got her into hot water. Last year, Webb became a representative for a San Francisco company called Passion Parties; her husband’s construction business had hit a bad patch and she wanted to bring more money into the house. As a company rep, Webb hosted Tupperware-styled parties in private homes where she sold lubricants, lingerie and sex toys.
Or at least she did, until Burleson police received an anonymous tip. The cops in this burg, where real crime has apparently been conquered, sent two officers undercover, posing as a married couple, to buy sex toys from Webb. She was arrested in November.
It seems that Texas allows the sale of sex toys only if you don’t call them sex toys: The state’s decency laws forbid the sale of devices designed for sexual stimulation. They have to be marketed as novelties, and the salesperson is forbidden to explain their sexual function to a potential customer, as Webb allegedly did.
Her attorney, BeAnn Sisemore, has announced that she plans to challenge the constitutionality of the Texas law in federal court. It is, she says, an overbroad statute that could theoretically send somebody to jail for selling condoms.
That’s all well and good, but frankly, there’s another reason somebody needs to overturn the law: It is intrusively, abysmally, and fundamentally, stupid.
What is it with Texas and the boudoir anyway? A few years back, you had police breaking into a private home and arresting two gay men for having sex. Now here’s Joanne Webb facing a possible year in prison and $4,000 fine for trying to help couples spice up their sex lives.
Heaven help anybody trying to get lucky in Texas.
At the most basic level, though, the issues raised here are larger than our second largest state. They involve the right to go about your business unimpeded, to live your life without state intrusion. If what I am doing does not harm me, does not harm my neighbors, does not harm bird or beast, I am at a loss to understand how it is any of the state’s affair.
We are told by locals that Burleson is a conservative area where folks just don’t want what they feel Webb represents. As Gloria Gillaspie, a local minister, explained to a reporter, “It’s nothing vindictive against them. But this is a strong community of faith. We want a city that’s wholesome and family oriented.”
The irony is that conservatism supposedly is about reducing government intrusion, though I doubt you could prove that by Joanne Webb.
After all, government intrusion has pretty much killed the little business she had built up. She has stopped hosting the parties and, in any event, clients aren’t exactly breaking down the door. The family is living on its savings.
Meanwhile, a little town in Texas is protected from indecency, defined as adults talking about sex.
The ayatollahs would be proud.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at: