The model in the tower: image and consent in San Francisco


This word hissed into my life with a chance, and I leapt at it. It represented something I hadn’t realised I’d been craving until I got to explore it. Then, I donned the title of ‘Exhibitionist’ like a scarlet cape, wrapping it around my shoulders, whipping it over my head, flirtatiously smiling as I passed it across my face.

I was good at it, and I was hunted for it. Rue99 was the “mack daddy of fet photography” (as one of his fans dubbed him) and he wanted me to be his muse for the weekend. No matter that I had only had two photo shoots in my life. No matter than I was as fresh as a (mt cook) daisy.

He picked me up from the youth hostel in San Francisco, and whisked me off to his spare condo in a gritty upmarket neighbourhood where I was to stay for the three days we had together. My middle-aged, Asian prince charming, armed with a camera and a nervous smile. He had the worst people skills of anyone I’ve ever met, but the intelligence, bluntness and intensity of a fast friend. We clicked quickly, and my appreciation for him grew after his embarrassed apology for a “very nice” comment when I stripped. He didn’t like to personally appraise his models. He didn’t want me to feel uncomfortable in any way. And, exhibitionist that I was becoming, I didn’t.

I danced naked in his condo, rolled in playful masturbation on his hardwood floors in the sun, snuggled my tummy into his white fur rug, lounged on silk while exploring my g-spot. He clicked away, snapshots. When he went home I ate almonds, played Drake obsessively, read Marquis de Sade (masturbated some more), practiced distracted yoga and preened myself. I was his model in a tower.

We met for a purpose, and on our second night together I was released from the tower. (I don’t entirely know why I’m writing it as if he was holding me captive. He really wasn’t, I could have left anytime I wanted to. In actual fact, I really enjoyed being in one place, having only one very large open plan room to process and live in for a couple of days. At that point I’d been on the road for over a month. My world needed to shrink for a while). We’d agreed that I was going to model for him at Masqerotica, a kinky ‘lifestyle’ expo in San Fran. “Lifestyle” is the key word, and in retrospect, I don’t know why I picked up on this earlier.

Let me back track for a second to how we met. He emailed me, with this:

I’m looking for a model for a photo shoot performance event for Masquerotica which will show the shots on a 20′ screen while posing for/with attendees. Last year’s was a huge amount of fun.

1. Twenty something years old (must be at least 21)

2. Reliable, energetic, fun, and being an exhibitionist doesn’t hurt

3. Nice figure/face

4. Two or three 30 minute modeling sessions from 9 pm to 1 am

5. No experience necessary

He had me at exhibitionist.

I asked him what I would be wearing?

You’ll be mostly naked. I can cut some duct tape for nips. Do you have a skimpy black/flesh thong for the bottom? Also, a sexy top is nice for an option.

Without baulking, I wrote back:

Everything sounds great! I have a light pink thong with a cute black ribbon- it’s basically flesh coloured. I also have a red one which I love! Duct tape is fine, but I’m happy with uncovered nipples, if that’s allowed. I’m comfortable with pretty much anything. I’m happy with touching, nudity, being manipulated into different positions.

It was a done deal.

San Francisco’s Premier Annual Lifestyle event. I stalked in: lacy gstring, silver tape over my nipples, red lipstick, black eyeliner, red fascinator, stilettos and a smile. Excitedly I helped him set up, met his helpers and the other models. As I’m finding more and more often at fetish events, these meetings are full of warmth and good cheer. Kinky people love other kinky people. However, there was a difference between the kinky performers and the “kinky” voyeurs. For the latter we’re talking fluffy handcuffs, 50 Shades of Grey and some light spanks before orgasm.

I’ll be brief, this doesn’t warrant more than one more paragraph.

Masqerotica, San Francisco October 2012. Photo credit: Rue99

Masqerotica, San Francisco October 2012. Photo credit: Rue99

Positives: took hundreds of photos, was seen by thousands of people. Compliments were rained on me. I was the centre of everyone’s attention- each time a photo was taken it was projected onto a huge screen. This attracted a three-person deep crowd just watching the photos happen. I got to try lots of different postures and expressions for modelling. I was the exhibition.

Negatives: I was the exhibition. I no longer had any say, any control over who had my image. Cellphones were on me, taking photos of R taking photos. People I didn’t know had photos of me, posing suggestively with strangers, in a gstring and duct tape pasties. Compliments were rained on me. I felt consumed. I felt powerless. I felt a little bit icky.

By the end of the night I was thankful to return to the tower. The next day, on the way to his studio, I discussed this ick with R. Our discussion boiled down to consent. I am consenting for R to take my image, and I have an element of control about how it is used. However, Mr “Likes it Rough” and his girlfriend at Masqerotica do not ask my consent when they whip out their iphone, they do not ask my consent when they capture me posing for someone else’s photo, and they do not ask my consent before they publish this photo on Facebook. This is troubling for me. We have a good discussion about consent and image theft.

This doesn’t trouble me enough to stop shooting with R. However, I can now draw a line in the sand to where my exhibitionism will take me. I am only an exhibit with consent. If my consent isn’t explicit, then I am simply consumable. This doesn’t do it for me. This doesn’t make it to my fetish list.

Our shoots culminated with rope and challenge: a wrist suspension in his studio, my legs tied to cinder blocks and stretched wide, my entire body weight hanging from my tiny wrists in a taught X. I didn’t just survive this suspension, I modeled it. I looked right at the camera lens with a “come fuck me” expression and R was jumping in delight and ejaculating praise. My wrists hurt for days afterwards, but that was a small price to pay for the rush. This rush is addictive…adrenaline from pain, overcoming physical challenge, pleasing a well-known photographer, making myself proud.

I kicked ass. Turns out, this woman from little old New Zealand is a fetish model, and a trooper at that!

(I love this, and keep it close to my chest, my secret to help me through my computer tapping, flourescent lights glaring, airconditioned office days).


Fall, in the Pacific Northwest.


Puget Sound from Discovery Park. Seattle, October 2012.

The USA.Talking, talking, talking. SO much talking. Self-importantmen, harassing, trying to pick up, always trying to pick up, looking for sex. Women, walking, ignoring, harassment, stares. A feeling of being consumed.

Seattle passed in a blur of dancing and dubstep. Syncopated bass in my hostel dorm room, carefully applying eye liner, hair in bunches, tapping parts of my body to the dissonant beat. It’s lunchtime and I’m getting ready to go to a boat party, where I will dance for 3 hours while cruising around Lake Washington.

I meet people- the woofing New Yorker, the new Dad with a constant smile and funky moves, the smoking photographer, the Oregon Burner with holes in her fishnets and purple sparkly eyelashes. Splashes of conversation, Facebook contacts exchanged. I see two of them again.

I spend my last day hiking, out on a windy bluff, heated just enough by late summer sun, jutting bluntly out into the Lake, with views of Mt Rainier on the hazy horizon. Eating peanut butter and Ryvitas I lie in blissful solitude on the shore of the lake, kick my shoes off and read a book about Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for over an hour. I hike almost the whole park, and feel bizarrely close to tears in the military cemetery. All these bodies. All for…what? An ongoing mess in the Middle East? Defending a country with high levels of unemployment and low levels of personal responsibility? I realize I’m being unreasonably cynical and leave the cemetery, silently kicking autumn leaves, taking with me lingering sadness and regret. I arrive back at the hostel and realize I haven’t spoken a word to anyone for the entire day. Wonderful.

I dodge offers of socializing and travel plans from the hostel’s resident alcoholic- Jesse, age 25, unemployed, never shuts up, reeks of hard liquor and resignation. I catch a ride to Portland with a wonderfully open and lovely female driver, a musician and a comedian. The car is filled with laughter and snacks, and when we arrive in Portland we go straight to see the comedian perform. It’s a sparse venue, filled with Portland hipsters: plaid, skinny jean, long hair, nose piercings, inky dark tattoos. And that’s the men. The show is more hit than miss, but the beer is cheap and I revel with my new found friends. We enjoy the novelty of only having known each other for a few hours, and that’s enough to give a special sparkle  to the evening. We bar hop: a hip hop club filled with hipsters and gangsters. It’s incredibly eclectic, incredibly beautiful and incredibly trendy. I shimmy to the bathroom to tuck my white tshirt into my short, navy, 60s style skirt, push my hair up into a higher quiff and apply a bold coat of red lipstick. I may not be in heels and a sparkly dress, but I know I can dance.

Delighting in my body. Circling, gyrating, undulating my hips. Watching my body move with wonder and pleasure. Making love to myself, flirting, drawing myself in. Fuck, I am sexy! Closing my eyes, feeling my chest conduct a beautiful roll, opposite circle to my hips. It feels so good I draw out the movement, playing with the rhythm, almost off beat and then double time, opening my eyes, smiling slyly at my play. This- THIS- feels so good. I amaze at my body’s ability to move so right, in such good time. I trust in it, and it moves, directed from a place within, rather than from my head. Different club, different music…dubstep! The syncopated, distressed, warped bass brings with it a rush of adrenaline, a high that makes me laugh out loud, grin broadly at myself as I ride the air with my hands, fingers twisting delicately with the electronic treble, feet planted widely and broadly on the ground, knees spread and hips grinding with the beat. I pick up and drop off at exactly the right points, feeling where the DJ is going, matching my muscular rhythms with the electronically produced beat, that blasts out and is absorbed by the seething crowd. My new friends head home one by one. The last one, the comedian, tries to kiss me and I shrug out of his embrace with a small smile and determined lack of eye contact. Then I’m free again, to dance completely alone in a crowd! Bliss! I’m aware of the stares of men, but there are always stares of men and in my alone state I view them from underneath half closed eyelashes, delighting that none of them will enter into this space, no-one will know how blissful it is to be in my gyrating, undulating, shimmering bubble. I am self-love.

Portland continues much in this fashion. The Wednesday night comedy and dancing combo turns into Thursday hookahs, Friday dubstep with acrobats added, Saturday MDMA fueled naked hot-tub and better than average sex with a hotter than average man (“So…you like it rough, do you?”), Sunday backstage passes to The XX and better than average foreplay with a more considerate than average man, Monday a dinner date with the smoking photographer from Seattle…followed by a collapse into bed with fever, chills, and a awful head cold. Wipe out. Portland kicks my ass.

After dosing myself up with rash-enducing amounts of Emergen-C, I grit my teeth and embark with cautious excitement on the next leg of my journey- the road to San Francisco. I hit road-trip gold, finding Adam on Craigslist, a dieting trimmer who is driving Jezebell, a green VW van. He’s keen to make it a two day trip, sticking to the coast road, delighting in a lack of agenda. I’m not the only one attracted by this proposition and at the train station in Portland I meet Steve, the traveling, guitar playing Texan with a love for alcoholic Australians and Paul, an organic farmer from the East Coast. Again, as I’m discovering happens on the road, we connect instantly and intensely, and our two days blur in total delight at finding each other. We camp on a desolate, wind swept Oregon beach. Light a bonfire, play and sing nonsensical music, drink cheap local beer, laughingly kick up the sand to see the sparkling phosphorescence under our feet. Adam pops the top of the van and we fall asleep in Jezebel, sharing two sleeping bags and a blanket between us. No one propositions me. I’m thankful for that, for the first time in a month I can relax around men, not feeling their eyes silently watching and devouring me.

We enter California, and the majestic redwood forest. We turn off the destination focused main highway and drive parallel, though a story book road called The Avenue of the Gods. In a spark of traveler frivolity we throw open the side door to Jezebell. Paul and I lie on the floor of the van, our heads out the door, whooping with total delight as we watch the towering trees pass over us. The enthusiasm grows and Adam suggests we lie on the roof. He drives the twisting, empty road and I brace myself on the roof of this van, grinning widely, laughing and shouting with pure pleasure. I feel giddy with freedom and recklessness, passing slowly beneath these giants, the california-blue sky barely peaking through their ancient foliage. We swap, and I find myself in the drivers’ seat, steering, braking and clutching while Steve beside me changes gears. The idiocy of me driving on the right for the first time is equal with Adam and Paul on the roof, and like two negatives, both cancel each other out and we’re so, so positive. So glad.

We charge down the motorway and hit the Golden Gate bridge late evening. It’s perfect. Paul tries to hold his breath, Steve is playing and singing, Adam leaning over the wheel like a trucker, baseball cap on backwards and I’m reclined in shotgun, painted toenails bobbing with excitement on the dash. I couldn’t arrive in San Fran in more style, with better company. The night passes in a blur, a fitting end an epic road trip, in the true sense of the word. Parked in the gritty Tenderloin district, Hazzard, a friend of Adam’s takes us from a grimy Korean bar with the giggling waitresses matching the drinkers shot for shot, to a transvestite strip club: a happening place on a Wednesday night in the Tenderloin. The boys are hesitant, and then with growing admiration, attraction, boners (and confusion) approach the stage. I smile a redlipsticked smile at everyone and enjoy the show and the blurring of gender and sex in equal parts.

I wake up early Thursday morning, in Jezebell, on the side of a Tenderloin street. My hangover, combined with the growing effects of my ‘too-much-fun-flu’, motivate me to do what’s best for my body and in an organized half hour I find a train to my Uncle’s in Northern California, where my own room in a hay bale house awaits.