In an upstairs room at The Gasometer Hotel in Collingwood, along with a bunch of other girls and gays, I am pretending to jerk off a carrot.
"You want to engage the heart, mind, and genitalia," says Adam Seymour, the ginger-bearded teacher of tonight's Wank Bank session, dubbed a "playful masterclass of original techniques to perfect the art of handling your partner's member (or even your own)."
The firestarter is pretty self-explanatory—you make like a caveman and rub the carrot cock between your palms as if starting a fire.
"Whoa, ease up," says Seymour to an enthusiastic wanker in the front row. "You're not on Survivor."
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When I saw Wank Bank advertised on the Gasometer's website, I had to email to check if it was legit, then I had to go check it out.
I was expecting a creepy older man instructor offering up a ready boner for practicing with, but Seymour was young, gay, and funny.
He's also an artist informally known as Rural Ranga and the author of Wank Bank, an illustrated memoir of his experiences working as a happy ending masseur in New York last year.
Later, I caught up with Ranga in a non-wanking environment to find out exactly how one becomes an expert in Taoist genital massage.
VICE: Where in Australia are you from?
Adam Seymour: I'm from Albury-Wodonga. Dad's Wodonga, Mum's Albury, so bit of both.
And you moved to Melbourne after finishing school?
Yep, I studied at the CAE four years ago. I was working for a theater company and a friend's mum saw some of my art and told me I had to go study printmaking and visual arts at CAE. So I did.
And when did you head to New York?
Start of last year. I had three goals moving there: I wanted to work at MoMA, I wanted to make an art book, and I wanted to get my work somewhere on the walls in New York.
And you achieved all three.
Yep. I lived there a year in total. I worked at the Brooklyn Museum first, when the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition was on, and I worked at Aesop, then I worked at MoMA. I worked in visitor services, so front-of-house and then standing in the galleries. Every two years they open it up for people who work there to have their art on the walls for three months, so it came up and I offered my work, it got put into the members' staff entrance area.
Two goals down, one to go.
Yep. I had just finished reading Patti Smith's Just Kids and I was kind of doing the New York grind and I was like, I need to take risks otherwise I won't get any of my goals achieved. I had a million Aesop bottles in my room and I was like, I might as well start doing massage and turn it into an art project. I was reading something Miranda July had done too and it felt right.
So did they come to you?
No, I did house calls, I wanted to visit their space and see what they had in their houses. It had the risk factor to it but it was a bit more exciting and I got to see some really crazy amazing places as well. I advertised on MasseurFinder—I googled "gay massage" and it was the first thing that came up. I ended up being on Manworks as well. I had a porn star friend and he was on Rentboy and he introduced me to them and I'm a pinup boy for them now [laughs]. I had the name Ned Jackaroo. You know, Ned Kelly, jackaroo country Australia, ginger in color. When I massaged them I'd play up to it, like, "G'day mate, just flip over," like chuck in the whole Aussie bogan thing, which they really loved. I usually just wore boots, not a cowboy hat or anything. And with the Aesop products it attracted a higher paying clientele.
Did you tell your clients you were going to draw them?
I always said I did full-tension release, I didn't beat around with what I was doing. But I kind of kept my art project a secret. Some of them did know, others didn't, some of them were married and quite discreet. Realistically though, they're just line drawings from my memory, no one's ever going to know exactly who I'm talking about.
How long did you do it for?
Six months. The first six months I was in New York I went through all the other channels, then I started doing the massage and was able to quit the other jobs and just focus on my art. I met more people through the massage stuff than through the shitkicker "respected" channels anyway.
So how many people would you see in a day, a week?
I'd usually limit myself to three a day, otherwise I'd get a bit tired, and I like to keep my quality up. I could do 20 to 30 a week if I really wanted to. I charged $150 for 60 minutes and $200 for 90 minutes, most of the time.
Were you ever worried about your safety?
It was quite safe areas in Manhattan that I was going to, with doormen and that, so I had security around me. I would sometimes take photos of where I was going and send them to friends. I had nothing really crazy happen in terms of my safety. I had one guy I had to walk out on, he was really intense. He opened the door and tried to kiss me and I quickly shut that down, plus he was quite frail and old and I felt uncomfortable in terms of... He was maybe in his late 80s, early 90s. I was scared I could hurt him.
I had another situation where someone was really unclean and I tried not to vomit all the way through. Looking back I probably should have cancelled that one but I just kind of sucked it up and went through it. He had a breathing machine next to his bed and he wasn't very well.
Most of the time it was fine though.
What other stuff happened?
People would try to speak to me in Australian accents, they would mimic my accent, it was really funny, they'd always bring up Priscilla [Queen of the Desert]...
This one guy had like 14 different drawings of himself on the walls. Like all around the bedroom, like one was collaged, one was painted, he'd done them all of himself. The whole time I was massaging him I felt like there were 14 of him looking at me.
Some of them became good friends, and when I made Wank Bank I sent them a copy.
How'd you get the book made?
My friend Shannon Michael Cane works at Printed Matter and he runs the New York Art Book Fair. He was on board with it. With all the money I made from the happy endings I got this book printed, because I had a very short time frame to turn it around.
They didn't all pose for you at the time though, did they?
Nope, only four did. After a massage, I would sit on the J [subway] line heading back to Brooklyn and write down everything from my memory and do a little sketch.
You've done another book too. [Homolita, an illustrated chronicle of Ranga's sexual awakening in Albury-Wodonga]
I've always wanted to do Homolita, I just thought it was really important. All kids are quite sexual and probably feel quite a bit of shame, so I wanted to make a documentary of my own sexual journey and hoped that it fell into some kid's hands and they read it and felt it was ok to be doing this exploring of their sexuality. I'm not sexualizing anyone, my friends and I talked about the things we did as kids, everyone has when you think about it.
You mentioned during Wank Bank that you went to Body Electric.
Because I can get my hippie on a bit, I go to Confest and things like that, someone sent it to me as a joke, said you'd be really into this, this Body Electric workshop. So I went when I was like 24-25.
It was at the Northcote Town Hall. It was a bit bizarre, I was the youngest by 30 or so years, it was a three day thing, we all took our clothes off and talked about our emotions, there was role playing, they make you touch your hand on someone's heart and look at them and pretend it's your father...it's opening up all those sore spots I guess.
That's where I learned Taoist genital massage. As far as I know from them it came out in the 80s in San Francisco post-HIV and AIDS because it created a safe way for people to be intimate and not have sex. And this way, with the masseur thing it was good because I didn't have to put myself at risk sexually.
And how did these Wank Bank classes come about?
A few friends had contacted me to do hen parties, then the owners of the Gasometer contacted me to do a workshop to promote sex positivity and all that and I said yeah, why not. And it's all just happened all at once, it's become quite successful quite quickly. It went from one session a month to four sessions, two sessions per night. I felt bad wasting all those cucumbers and carrots. We thought maybe it would be full of single young girls and some gay guys but I've had a lot of straight couples come in together, the crowd is really varied, it's all ages.
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