Sex With Strangers: David Rakoff on the Exotic Erotic Ball

The Exotic Erotic Ball hoped to bring raunchy fun back to New York nightlife. But suppose they gave a fetish party and nobody came?

Evan Seinfeld and Co. at the 2006 Exotic Erotic Ball / Photo by Louis Dollagaray/WireImage
Evan Seinfeld and Co. at the 2006 Exotic Erotic Ball / Photo by Louis Dollagaray/WireImage
WRITTEN BY
David Rakoff

Author, humorist, and storyteller David Rakoff has died at age 47 after a lengthy fight with cancer. Six years ago, SPIN sent him to the first ever New York installment of the Exotic Erotic Ball and he gave us the following report, which ran in our September 2006 issue.


By the time five-time Grammy nominee and synth-pop pioneer Thomas Dolby takes the main stage at 12:40 a.m., 40 people are gathered by the stage. By his fourth song, Dolby's audience has winnowed down to 20 individuals.

But let us backtrack 36 hours.

Twelfth Avenue is unserved by a subway, barely kissed by a bus route. It is as far west as one can go in Manhattan before dropping into the river. At 54th Street, 12th Avenue is an inhospitable, multilane highway. Twelfth Avenue requires commitment. But that doesn't seem to have deterred the young Asian fellow gazing up on this mid-June Friday at the vast shed of the Pier 94 building. His eyes are liquid with anticipation, his face as hopeful and determined as those of the homesteaders who, a century and a half before him, also traveled ever westward to fulfill their dreams.

He's an hour early, having arrived at 1 p.m. They're not letting the general public in until two. They're not letting any of us in, even though the first New York City Exotic Erotic Ball and Expo was supposed to have opened to the trade at noon. They're still setting up, apparently. Starting on time, it seems, is too much to ask of an event that promises a celebration of discipline in the form of numerous purveyors of leather crops and handcuffs; a stage made up to resemble a medieval dungeon, complete with a restraining device known as a St. Andrew's Cross; and, eventually, countiess women, punished for nameless and hypothetical infractions by being variously ridden like horses, spanked like recalcitrant children, and trussed up like a really good pork loin I once made.

But as much as bondage and sadomasochism show up on the menu of the erotic play at the Expo and Ball, the event bills itself first and foremost as a paean to Freedom of Expression. This term comes up in every interview, conversation, and press release. It's perfectly in keeping with the history of the Exotic Erotic Ball, which began in San Francisco in 1979 as a campaign fundraiser for one Louis Abolafia, who was running for president on the Nudist Party ticket. His slogan: "I have nothing to hide." (According to the press materials, it was Abolafia who coined the phrase "Make love, not war," although a Web search attributes the aphorism to political theorist Herbert Marcuse.) In the ensuing 26 years, the Ball has gone on to become one of the mainstays of the Halloween season in the Bay Area, with official mayoral proclamations and the like. Past Balls have featured appearances by Joan Jett, Kool & the Gang, Chris Isaak, and Sugar Ray. For its New York debut, in addition to Mr. Dolby, the promoters have lined up George Clinton and that living embodiment of the music-porn nexus, Tommy Lee.

But all of that has yet to be witnessed. For now, a small handful of us, mosdy press and photographers, hovers near the sliding doors of Pier 94, reveling in the tiny blasts of air conditioning emitted when a worker enters or exits. A man in a black suit is checking out the placement of his logo on the pink vinyl banner of sponsors. His baby is a beverage called Xcite, "the ultimate erotic energizer." I overhear him mention an obscure Chinese berry that supposedly gives the drink its priapic oomph (although later his girlfriend admits that a can of the stuff—quite tasty in a raspberry kind of way—packs the caffeine wallop of three cups of coffee. It'll raise your heart rate, but I'd bet that's the only elevation you'll experience).

A young woman approaches. She stands there tentatively and, placing one gloved hand at the back of her head as if to secure the wide-brimmed hat she is not wearing, she cranes her neck up and surveys the pier building. In her flowered summer frock, she exudes the freshness of every breathless ingénue who has ever come to New York to make her name upon the stage. What gives away the fact that she's probably seen a skyscraper or two in her life, among other things, are her vibrant carrot-colored hair and the Jessica Rabbit proportions of her body. Gazing upon her, the young Asian fellow's Adam's apple rises and genuflects in similarly cartoonish homage.


THE 55 EXHIBITORS are dwarfed in Pier 94, even with half of the 175,000-square-foot space curtained off while they decorate for the Ball. There are very few of us here, it still being a workday. After 20 minutes, I have visited every booth. After 40 minutes, I am on a nodding acquaintance with virtually everyone in the place. I have world enough and time to examine the jewel-colored rubber phalluses sold by Ricky's, a chain of New York drugstores that has reinvented itself as a dildo and boa emporium, catering to the needs of that Venn diagram of exaggerated and ghoulish femininity: drag queens and bridal showers. I have talked arts and crafts with the latex dress designer. The owner of the Love 2 Boutique, a New Jersey-based sex shop (early 40s, with the face of every Jewish girl with whom I ever Israeli folk-danced) pours a small amount of Porno Popping Climax Candy into my palm, gratis. I toss them back. Pop Rocks. Jessica Rabbit has changed into a red satin Lady Guinevere getup and stands, ready to hand out postcards for a line of pleasure-enhancing topical unguents called Master & Mistress. Devyn Devine, "The Double D With the Triple D's," is a squat woman, resembling a Venus of Willendorf totem, all knockers and ass, the former barely corralled into a tank top and the latter bisected by the string of her thong and hanging down well below the short hem of her skirt. Her flesh is pale and rippled. She looks like a beer-can chicken ready for the grill, perched on a pair of ridiculously high pink platform stilettos, waiting for her fans to arrive.

Fans who know her for the star she is and give her the admiration she deserves. As a gay man, I am clueless as I encounter these women. All those of whom I speak with are both very sweet and intelligent and seem not to mind that I have no idea of their stature as public figures. There is Tera Patrick, for example, a lovely part-Thai woman and the undisputed star of the entire Expo, with the longest line of autograph seekers. I have never heard of nor clapped eyes on her in my life.

Ditto Violet Blue. Huge, apparently. "One of the top ten," according to Don Benn, a correspondent for PNN, the Porno News Network. I have some sense of the hypertrophic attributes straight guys like in their porn stars; the hourglass more than the test tube. So it is something of a shock to hear that Violet Blue, a petite 29-year-old, has more than 350 titles in her filmography. I would never have picked her out of a crowd, naughty-school-girl outfit notwithstanding. Even her walk is a purposeful, career-girl-on-the-move march. Her gait reveals an underlying truth, because she is actually easing out of porn. She has left Los Angeles for the Seattle area in order to have a more normal existence, raising a six-year-old son and making a life with her boyfriend. She lives next door to her parents. She is the youngest of nine, "and I'm the good one!" she cracks. I ask her if they know what she does. "It would be kind of hard to keep this from my parents. My mom altered my skirt for me," she says, standing up, showing the tartan kilt that has been shortened to little more than a pleated belt. "I love my parents!"

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