Lessons from a 7ft penis

October 6, 2000

Campus groups trying to educate students about sex are taking a lesson from a popular performer, who is dressing up their message in a provocative cabaret.

Posters denouncing homophobia are being torn from university walls, but a show that is not above using giant genitalia to tell a man how a lover needs to be treated is attracting flocks of Canadian students to university auditoriums.

Norman Nawrocki's latest show is titled Sex Toys, and, just like his earlier ones, My Dick & Other Manly Tales and I Don't Understand Women!, it draws students expecting a sex farce.

Mr Nawrocki banks on the misunderstanding. "My shows are trying to reach those people who cannot be reached. You are not going to attract too many engineering students to a workshop on date rape," said the Montreal-based performer. Once the students are inside, he uses fast-paced sketches, outrageous costumes and audience participation.

Mr Nawrocki's shows are regularly brought in by university officials and by gay and lesbian groups. He has performed on 70 college campuses across Canada to more than 100,000 students, and he continues to be invited back. "Norman helps us in our work," said Cathie Closs, director of Brock University's Student Development Centre.

Sometimes the reasons are urgent. Mr Nawrocki was asked to perform at the University of New Brunswick last year after a couple of near-fatal gay-bashings.

University of Toronto gay activist Bonte Minnema said the show helped those who know homophobia is wrong but need some positive images. "Many people are yearning for information about cultural nuances of the queer community."

Others are not so pleased. One religious fundamentalist group tried unsuccessfully to ban the show. At another performance, Mr Nawrocki was punched by an audience member. At the time, he was dressed as a 7ft penis and, ironically, discussing how to not be rude and aggressive. Mr Nawrocki admits that he performed a bit too close to the man. He said that that was the only time he has been punched, despite his show having taken him to prisons and punk bars.

In Sex Toys, Mr Nawrocki offers a parade of 12 characters, from an evil tango-dancing sexually transmitted disease to a shy young man intimidated by his girlfriend's overly enthusiastic masturbation.

His biggest laugh at a recent show at Concordia University came from his character named Virginia Vagina. Sporting a pink lame poncho, the cabaret performer hugged audience members and let them know what Virginia most loves and hates.

Mr Nawrocki said his work helps debate. One woman ran into him a few days after a show and told him how her boyfriend was finally able to talk about intimate issues.

He had one person whispering to him how scared she was to come out about her sexual orientation, while another person recounted to him horrible acts of sexual violence she had experienced. They both told him he must continue this work.

Mr Nawrocki, who has been combining social activism and performance for the past 15 years, said his goal would continue to be educating students in a way they can accept - which sometimes means putting on a penis or vagina costume.

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