EDITORIAL | OPINION
Even though civil rights activist Tarana Burke originally founded the Me Too movement on Myspace in 2006, only after the hashtag went viral in 2017 did the Me Too movement become part of today’s dominant cultural and social media conversations. Me Too has unarguably contributed to the growth of today’s cancel culture, where many public figures face the backlash of the general public based on something offensive they’ve either done or said, or based on certain allegations. Sometimes there is no legal trial, as we saw in the Harvey Weinstein case; instead, the crowd takes on the role of judge, jury, and executioner, in some cases leading to a person and/or their career being “cancelled.”
The latest big name that might be next up on the chopping block is Alexander Wang. The famous fashion designer came to prominence after winning a highly coveted Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund award in 2008; now, after nearly two successful decades in the fashion industry, he is facing sexual assault allegations.
On December 11, male model Owen Mooney made a TikTok video replying to another user’s question, “What is your weirdest ‘seeing a celebrity in public’ experience?” He proceeded to recount a night where he was groped by a “really famous fashion designer” in an NYC club in 2017.
Without skipping a beat, another TikTok user left a comment under the video claiming it was Alexander Wang. In the next video Owen confirmed the comment, saying that he was surprised that the person got it right. Two weeks later, the story was blown up by Instagram fashion gossip accounts @diet_prada and @shitmodelmgmt. Since Mooney’s accusations, countless people have chimed into the conversation, and several more anonymous male victims are currently being represented by high-profile attorney Lisa Bloom. As Vogue reminded us,
“Wang’s alleged misconduct has been discussed previously on social media as early as 2017 and within the trans community; several of Wang’s accusers are trans.”
Even though the sexual abuse of men in the fashion industry has been around for far too long, it has never really made as big of a headline as with the Alex Wang case. As an ex-fashion model, I have never had any similar experience with Wang himself, but there are a few stories I would like to share that happened to me and a few of my male model friends. Hopefully, these stories will shed some more insight into what male models have to deal with in the predatorial world of fashion, and why they might hold on to their stories, sometimes taking them to the grave.
It's not typical for men to come to the forefront about sexual abuse, and there may be many reasons behind this – shame, guilt, denial, the influence of toxic masculinity, the fear of not being believed, the fear of ridicule, the danger of career annihilation by the people in power. Having worked as a model in Miami, New York City, and in Malaysia over the span of almost a decade, I’ve faced my own share of sexual abuse by the industry. I sadly always considered this to be a norm, sort of a rite that every model had to go through. I’ve heard countless similar stories from other male models: some losing big jobs because of their refusal to participate in sexual acts with the photographer or a casting agent, some having to get hard for a famous photographer’s “private” photo collection in exchange for images for their own portofolios, and so on and so on. Obviously, 100% of the time the abuse would come from those in power to “change'' someone else’s destiny. More often than not, the victims crumble under pressure and are made to feel helpless, fearing that all of the hard work they’ve put into getting themselves towards their goal could be smeared in a minute by someone in power displeased with their lack of subordination. Most of the guys would never tell their agents or anyone else about this abuse for fear of being ridiculed, blacklisted, discredited, or emasculated; they would relegate it to the “not a big deal” bucket, only having to deal with the emotional (and in some cases physical) scarring for the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately, some of these agents, the ones who are supposed to look after you, are silent complicitors, knowingly sending you to a client’s hotel for a “casting” or brushing you off after you’ve reported an instance of sexual abuse, either for fear of severing ties with a profitable client or simply not wanting to be involved in the drama that might follow.
When I first moved to New York, I was barely out of high school. I was 19 years old and looking forward to running away from an unbearable family situation in Miami. I had lived in the US for only three years at that point – I was fresh off the boat and scared of taking the wrong step.
I was scouted by Click Model Management on models.com and was offered a contract on the spot. This was going to be my big break – something that I could have only dreamed about. I didn’t realize that shit wasn’t going to be so easy and started navigating the tough motherfucker that is New York City all by myself. I did not end up landing any jobs with this agency for an entire year. I was advised that I should look for “something else to do with my life” by one of many indifferent agents on the men’s board. A few months later I went to an open call with Q Models, only to come out with another contract offer. I actually started getting some jobs and thought to myself,
“I CAN do it, that agent bitch was wrong!”
Of course, due to the competitive nature of the industry and male models being notoriously underpaid, I had to find another gig. I started working as a server at the well-known celebrity and fashion hub Indochine. I was told that this was the place to be discovered, and every single night I would turn out looks in hopes of being noticed by a big shot from the fashion industry.
One night, it finally happened! One of the staff told me that there was a very important fashion stylist at one of my tables. She was sitting at a table for two with her male friend. Throughout the dinner her friend, a celebrity hairstylist, was extremely nice, and by the end of the dinner I was offered a chance to work with him. When I went to his website, I was blown away – he had worked for major campaigns and even done covers for Vogue, imagine fucking that!
The shoot was properly arranged through my agency, but there was very little detail given to me about it. When I showed up at the designated shoot location, it turned out to be a regular apartment building. I took the elevator to the second floor and found myself stepping right into a humongous open-air loft that took up the entire floor of the building. To my surprise it was his apartment and there was nobody else but him. I asked where the team was and he skirted the subject, saying something along the lines of “They will be here later.”
Here I am thinking, “Oh I guess he’s going to style my hair first.” I glanced at a couch and it was strewn with female lingerie. “Is he having another shoot after this?” I naively thought to myself once again.
After my hair was done, he pointed me to the couch and told me to pick an outfit from what was on it. It was only female lingerie bottoms … I grabbed the small bunch of the choices presented to me and headed to the bathroom – where I found the lingerie was all fucking see-through. There was one regular Speedo thrown into the bunch, and that was my obvious choice – at least my dick and my hole wouldn’t be showing. I stepped outside but it was still only me and him, no photographer or a stylist like he promised. He took out a small point-and-shoot camera, slumped one of the living room floor lamps onto a wall and told me to go close to the light. After the first vignette he graciously allowed me to wear a fur coat that I also picked up from the couch, and he told me to climb on top of the living room sofa.
“Yes, good, now spread your legs a little bit more,”
he said, taking pictures from the floor while I was towering over him on the sofa.
He told me to go back into the bathroom and pick out another “outfit.” When I went back inside, there was no option for another Speedo, and so I decided that this was a wrap. I came out from the bathroom fully dressed and went towards a small office space that he was now sitting in, looking through our photos on a big monitor. What I saw on the screen shook me. Even though you couldn’t see any of my private parts, some of the angles that he took were straight-up pornographic.
“Hey, I actually have to go,”
I told him and ran out of that apartment as fast as I could. I called my agency immediately and told them what happened. They shrugged it off in an “Oh well, it's not a big deal” manner, but I couldn’t stop shaking from the adrenaline, feeling like I had just narrowly missed an encounter with a grizzly bear’s claws.
He ended up stalking me over the next several years, incessantly messaging me on dating websites, but I was so disgusted that I would be thrown into nausea every time he tried to contact me. It was just the sleazy way he had about him. At that time it was beyond me why a man with such power and success had to resort to such methods for someone to sleep with him. I think dinner and a nice wine would have been a better bet, even though I’d still never fuck him.
In early 2016 a fellow model sent me a screenshot of an awful picture of me that one of the photographers I worked with back in the day took of me. The photographer posted this photo as a throwback image on his Twitter with one of the hashtags saying #whatwasithinking. My friend said,
“Giiiiiirrrlll, know when to say no.”
At that time the said photographer was shooting any and every cute model boy that was coming to New York to take a shot at modeling. He’s had this book project going on, where the models were promised to be shot for free for their modeling portfolios as long as they participated in this project of his, which obviously required for you to shoot butt naked. I came over to his apartment to talk about some ideas involving our future collaboration, and we decided to just spontaneously start shooting right there and then. I went into a bathtub with white undies he provided me with, we turned on some water, it was obviously getting very sexy.
During one of the looks he told me to drape myself in these beaded curtains and to take my underwear off, since “it’s going to be hard to Photoshop it out” – he wanted the full nude illusion. After the shoot was wrapped up, I came out of the bathroom where I changed into my civilian clothes, only to see my asshole fully blown up on one side of his dual desktop monitor.
“You have a very nice hole, but it would look better if you shaved it. Don’t worry, no one will see these outtakes but me.”
At the time I brushed it off as him just trying to be funny, even though the thought of this guy staring at my hairy asshole any time he pleased really bothered me. Indeed, #whatwasithinking by letting him get away with it.
I shared this BTS story with the friend who sent me this throwback photo, to which he shared his own account with the same guy:
”He tried shooting my asshole too! I said no! My last conversation with him was him telling me how he wanted nudes of me. I was like ‘No, they serve no purpose and will do nothing for my career or image and I don’t need them floating around the internet.’ To which his queeny ass told me ‘If I’m shooting you for free, you do what I say.’”
Then my model friend shared another experience that he had with another prominent NYC photographer:
“I shot with him once and told him 100 times I wasn’t doing nudes. After arguing with him, then him threatening to stop the shoot and tell other photographers I was hard to work with, I agreed on the condition that my dick would be covered and he wouldn’t use the pictures on the internet. He says yes, begs me to show half my shaft. Now if you Google my name and go to images, one of the first images is me in the window with half my shaft out. If I could sue I would.”
After, or sometimes even before every shoot, the photographer gives you a photo release where you essentially sign away all of the rights to your photos. The exchange is that you get to use them for your portfolio or personal use.
One of the guys I used to work with at Indochine once told me what happened at the height of his modeling career back in the ‘90s. This guy used to be huge, and had worked on the most prestigious catwalks, countless campaigns, billboards on Times Square. He was told that he was on hold as an option for a huge underwear campaign and the photographer wanted to do a test shoot in his hotel room before they made a final decision on his booking. When he arrived at the big-shot photographer’s hotel room, the photographer told him to undress and put on the brand’s underwear. The photographer took out a Polaroid camera and started snapping away.
“Now get on the bed, turn around, lower your underwear, show me your butt cheeks.”
The next thing you know, the photographer is on top of him, trying to jam his dick in his ass. At that point my friend pushed him away, jumped up from the bed, and told him that even if he was gay he would rather die than fuck an ugly motherfucker like him. The next day his option was dropped and he obviously never got the job. When the Polaroids were delivered to the agency, they were completely unusable.
This next story takes the cake, given the circumstances that were occurring at that moment of my life.
A really good friend of mine set me up with an agent who specialized in signing models to overseas agencies, mostly in Asia. I had been dying to be a traveling model and couldn't wait to try it out. There was only one agency that was interested in signing me and it was in Malaysia. Back then I looked like a girl more than ever before, or ever since. Smooth face, skin and bones, long horse mane of hair. All of the agencies passed on me precisely because of that – they wanted macho guys. Miraculously, not this particular agency. The only caveat was that I cut my hair at least shoulder length. The contract was for 3 months, so I quit my job, moved a subletter into my room, and was on my way to what I thought would be inevitable newfound stardom during/after this trip. To make this really long story shorter, one of the agents (the main one) was kind of obsessed with me. He would subtly throw sexual hints/innuendos at me here and there. At the same time, he was feared by models and a bit abrasive. One night he calls my cell and tells me to come by his apartment, which was in the same building as the model house, but on another floor. At that moment I was with a fellow model who was already aware of the agent’s previous advances towards me. I felt that I couldn’t say no to him, especially as he mentioned that he wanted to talk about my career. At the same time I was weary and thinking he might want to stick his small dick in my tight ass. So I asked my friend to follow me to our agent’s abode. When we were outside of the apartment he texted me that the door was open. When we came in, my friend and I just looked at each other – the whole place was totally dark, with the exception of a faint light coming from the agent’s bedroom. Shit was about to go down, I just knew it.
I called out to him saying that I was with a friend. He came out. He put on a movie for us and for the entire ten minutes that he managed to stay on the couch next to us, he was tossing and turning and sighing. It was obvious that he wasn’t happy about me not coming there alone and he was handling it like a five-year-old brat.
He abruptly got up and went into his bedroom. From there he started texting me that he wanted me to come by alone (no shit) and to send my friend off. I told my friend,
“Alright, listen, if I don't come back tonight call George W. Bush.”
I went into his room and that's when the all-night cat-and-mouse chase began.
Basically, I was in there for five(!) hours trying to fight for my decency. At first, he started coaxing me into sitting on his bed next to him. It took him about 30 minutes to convince me to do it. He was prying and prying, lying and conniving me into that first step so well and so expertly, that I just had to oblige. Then it got more intense. He asked me to take off my socks...
I told him my feet were cold (it's 120 degrees in Malaysia on any given day). He said he hated people wearing socks on his bed. “Well, you asked me to sit on it, so that's on you,” I responded. How clever he thought he was, using the dumbed-down cause-and-effect method to sexually advance on someone. During our back-and-forth battle of him trying to convince me to do something as simple as taking off my socks or sitting on his bed, he told me many stories, like how he got some straight model guy drunk and probably roofied and took advantage of him the night before the model’s wedding. He said that the guy got up in the morning and just stumbled out of his room in shock. He was laughing and was very proud of that accomplishment. Then he began to threaten my career in his agency. Saying he's powerful enough to not arrange any jobs for me. Blah blah. It was a battle of perseverance, and I fucking persevered. No way in hell was I going to touch that dick even if it cost me my entire modeling career. I finally pried myself out from his molestation hands of steel and got the fuck out of the room.
"No way in hell
was I going to touch that dick
even if it cost me my entire modeling career."
"I'm gonna fry
and eat it
The next morning the first thing that I did was call my agent in New York and tell him the whole story. He didn't believe me. He was speechless, he said that he has been working with this guy for ages and nothing like that had ever happened with any of the models he sent his way. Obviously, that was because not everyone was naturally sexy and seductive like me. But all jokes aside, maybe no one had the balls to report him or even say no?
One little detail I didn't mention above is that I recorded the whole molestation session on my Razr Motorola. Yes, I'm gonna fry this dick and eat it for breakfast! Oh, wait. I'm in fucking Malaysia, by myself, I'm totally dependent on that guy for jobs, money, my whole entire well-being, in a foreign country. I quit my job and I'm on the fucking contract, I have nothing to come back to in New York after only 2 weeks of being gone. After I told my NY agent that I could prove the harassment with the recording on my phone, he believed me and said he would take care of it. So then, I had two ways of dealing with it: either going back to New York with nothing, no job, no money, no apartment, and most importantly, no fame. Or I could stick it out and stay until the end of my contract on the promise the Malaysian perv provided to my agent that nothing of that sort would happen with me again. I ended up choosing the latter and staying until the end of my contract, with no further sexual advances from the bastard.
Sadly, most guys that I’ve spoken to about their assaults never reported them because of the pure shock and then a burning desire to just bury the traumatic memory and quickly move on. A few of them shared that it was too embarrassing for them to talk about it in the open. At some point, I myself felt that it was all my own fault for allowing some of the abuses to happen to me. Let’s not even start exploring the legal drama that you can be dragged into by someone who might have many more connections and liquid assets than you to defend themselves in court – this in itself plays a part in not coming forward after you are sexually attacked.
One of the first people I met when I first moved to New York is currently a successful jewelry designer, but back in the day he was trying out the modeling gig just like me. He said that the reason he quit modeling was because of a celebrity photographer that made him whip out his dick and get hard for the camera,
“At first he told me to touch myself, because he wanted the image to be strong. I started touching myself and then I thought, ‘This is a bit much,’ but when you were in his studio there were so many top models naked on the walls, it felt like it was normal. It was after I left the studio, I thought to myself, ‘What just happened?’ and I started crying. I couldn’t tell anyone as I was embarrassed, I still feel embarrassed to this day.”
The End of Wang (?)
“Firstly, I’d like to take the opportunity to connect directly with the people who have helped me grow this brand into what it is today and address the recent false, fabricated, and mostly anonymous accusations against me. While I have always been active in my social life, frequently attending various industry gatherings, parties, and concerts where drugs and alcohol were present—contrary to what has been said, I have never taken advantage of others in a sexual manner or forced anything on anyone without consent. I also have never abused my status or fame for my own benefit. These baseless allegations were started on social media by sites which repeatedly disregarded the value and importance of evidence or fact-checking. It’s my priority to prove these accusations are untrue and are fueled by solely opportunistic motives. It is important for people to speak up and be heard, but there is a need to ensure accusations are credible, so that we don’t harm these important causes. Our team is doing everything in its power to investigate these claims and we promise to remain honest and transparent throughout that process. We are fortunate to have received an overwhelming amount of support over the last few days and are thankful to our staff, clients, and industry peers for standing by our side at this time.”
Alexander Wang statement
Owen Mooney statement
It seems that the camp has split in two: the civilians who are speaking out for Wang’s victims, and the people from Wang’s camp who view those who came out as opportunistic liars. It seems that most of Wang’s fashion and Hollywood acquaintances are holding their tongue on the matter altogether. The only high-profile person who has spoken in support of Owen Mooney’s #UsToo post so far is fashion model Karen Elson via her IG Stories. Otherwise, the lack of general support from other famous people, including Hollywood supporters of the #MeToo movement, resulted in Owen Mooney issuing a statement of his own:
"The silence of the fashion industry and Hollywood in general is quite deafening. In an era of #MeToo and the solidarity victims received from Hollywood, where is the same support for the victims of Wang? This is why so many accusations of his get brushed under the rug, along with other accusations of prominent figures in fashion for that matter. His celebrity acquaintances are still following him, changing captions of pictures with him, deleting comments. Anything but condemning his actions. This is staying complicit. What he’s done to some people is evil and he needs to be held accountable. Almost a week later, still more victims are coming forward with stories. How many more people have to come forward before people in fashion and Hollywood condemn him. I can’t help but question if this has something to do with this being about men, queer and trans people? Does the ideology that we are not victims of sexual assault exist? What would the response be if a world renowned fashion designer was drugging and sexually assaulting cis women? Well we’ve seen it happen, with #MeToo. How about #UsToo? Because there is no shame in coming forward and pointing to your assaulter. We need to be taken more seriously, this happens to us too and the response should be equal.”
Can you really take the word of Wang’s camp or friendly business associations vouching for his innocence? Probably not; the industry will try to protect those within its ranks for as long as it can, until there is enough danger to be considered guilty by association. Once things start looking towards a messy trial, the deafening silence of Alex’s supporters might change. At the end of the day, everyone only looks out after their own skin, especially in any sort of business context. Models who have had a chance to work with Alex might not have experienced unwanted sexual advances in the professional setting, but it doesn’t mean that this did not happen in other situations. At the end of the day, there needs to be certain checks and balances in place – models have been fending for themselves this whole time in the cruel world of fashion with no one to back them up. The agents don’t care about you, even though they promise your gullible parents that you will be in good hands once they let you leave your tiny town; the only thing they are after is someone who brings in the checks. A third-party system-level overhaul, like a model’s union, is long overdue, and it might be the only solution to the persistent problem of abuses in the fashion industry.
Regarding the Alex Wang case, it begs the question: As a society, do we keep believing those in power and possibly letting them get away with more than they should, and not believing those who speak out and shun them because we think there might be opportunistic reasons behind their claims; or do we keep taking on an angry-mob mentality and keep perpetuating the vicious cancel culture through a heartless social media machine that swallows the souls of not only the ones under scrutiny, but also the ones who drive that machine? Because right now it seems that these are the only two available options.
In any case, this is truly a sad moment for everyone involved. We all could do a little better as a society, and the cancel culture needs to stop. It’s toxic, and the private-vigilante whiff that it carries just doesn’t work. Cancelling a person or bullying them into self-harm will never be a solution. Comments on Alex’s IG page like “YOU DISGUST ME! GO TO PRISON AND ROT THERE” are not constructive or helpful. Humans’ natural reaction is to make quick assumptions without possessing all of the information, and destroying or rejecting something that makes them feel uneasy or that they don’t understand. It’s easy to annihilate, but it’s not easy to make the conscious decision to approach something broken with kindness.
I’ve forgiven everyone who’s violated me sexually in the past, even the vilest predators like this bitch from Malaysia – even though they’ve never asked for forgiveness. With so many years gone by, now I look at these situations from another perspective: What made these people approach their subjects of interest in such a predatory way? Is it their upbringing, the pressure of society, insecurities, a fetish? There could be many causes, but one running theme seems to be apparent:
“I don’t deserve to be loved for who I am.”
Some sexual predators might really regret such behavior afterwards, some may be so overcome by their ego and power to the point of not recognizing their sexual misconduct, and then again, some may only ask for forgiveness because they got caught. Will there ever be a moment when a harasser who is found guilty and punished can be offered another chance, or are they to be completely disposed of and “cancelled” without any possibility of redemption? Personally, I didn’t think I’d do myself any favors if I clung to a painful past, logging the mental burden of sexual abuses everywhere I go. I will never forget the many other instances of sexual abuse I’ve had to go through, but I must forgive – I believe that this is the only way to move forward and start healing yourself and the world around you.