Austin Ropecraft Symposium Blues

Have you heard of “top drop”? When the top, after a great scene, suddenly is overcome with depression after it’s over, because damn, that was good, and now it’s gone. There’s the endorphin crash, the way it just all seems less real, somehow.

I’m kind of in that right now, after Austin. It was a bit of an endurance event anyway–travelling by car and bus, it was 22 hours each way–but well worth it. The classes were amazing, the performance that I saw by Zamil riveting (how the hell does he make tying a box harness look so sexy?) and most of all the time with my friends and kinky family. Brother Monk was there with his other love A, which was quite a pleasure–I’m only sorry that I wasn’t able to spend more time getting to know her. (Though, according to Monk, after my keynote, she apparently did decide that “anyone with cojones that big is worthy of my attention…” It’s enough to make one tremble, if you know her.)

That size comment is figurative, not literal–in case you’ve heard rumors, let me confirm it here: yes, I was in fact completely nude, in the buff, the full monty during part of my keynote. And yes, it was, in fact, very cold in that room. So much so that it became a running joke: “Oh, I’m 2 inches short of rope!” “Eh, it’s just like Graydancer; the room is cold, there’s gonna be shrinkage.”

Still, the keynote went well, I think, though some seem to think it was a bit of a gauntlet thrown down to the conventions of our art and way of life. I never intended it as such, but if that’s what it is, then so be it; personally I feel there is room to acknowledge both the Japanese influences and celebrate the sexual outlaws that developed it on our shores.

See what you think:

“When I gave the opening ceremonies at Shibaricon, there was a beautiful leatherdyke who came up to me afterwards. She wore a vest with so many buttons and pins you could hardly see the leather, and she smiled at me. “I’ve been to a lot of events,” she said, “and those were absolutely the best opening ceremonies I’ve ever been to.”

“Thanks!” I said. “Can I ask why?”

“It was short!”

I’ve learned my lesson. I will be brief.

I thought about trying to fulfill my fantasy of having a “Rope Revival” meeting here. “Can you FEE-YUL the POWER of the LAYING ON OF STRANDS, my brothers and sisters! Rope-a-lujah, let us go forth and sin knot!”


Then I thought of maybe running it like a self-improvement seminar. “Remember, folks, there is no ‘i’ in ‘rope’…”


I thought of trying to start a big orgy, “Everybody take off your clothes and rope naked! Woohoo!” I even made stickers for the participants…


Actually, what gave me my topic today was a thread on the adult rope arts list, which is where I steal, um, gain inspiration from much of the time. I don’t remember the exact thread, but it was another of those many conversations we have about what is “authentic” shibari and what is not. Somebody said something that really struck me: “The more intensely you imitate someone else’s ties, the less authentic you are.” Authenticity, he argued, can only come from inside yourself.

So that’s what I’m going to talk about today. Authenticity.

Upon recently achieving a venerable old age, a wise friend of mine wrote: We should embrace our history, rather than inventing it. For example, I got this purple kimono from the star of a kabuki troupe on tour from Japan, when I was invited backstage because he’d seen me perform a dance solo in a kabuki interpretation of a Yeats play called “Fighting the Waves”. He said my performance was admirable and bowed to me as an equal.

No, I didn’t. I bought this kimono at ragstock. I’ve had it forever, and I use it as a bathrobe. In fact, I chose it precisely because the color clashed so incredibly horribly with this obi.

Relax, I’m not going to tell any obi jokes.

Well, maybe just Wan–never mind.

The point is, I bought this kimono for Shibaricon 3, so that I could perform before my friends in the community. That’s its history. And my history in rope is pretty simple, too: I went to IML, bought some rainbow rope, started tying my girlfriend up at clubs, and then met this weird lookin’ guy named mortis who showed me what a larkshead is.

That’s really pretty much it. I didn’t study in Japan–but I have friends who did, and I can respect and learn from their skills without having to claim them for my own. I have friends who have invented new ways of tying old knots, and old ways of tying new rope, and it’s all rich. We don’t have to claim dinosaurs in our family tree if we are actually descended from perfectly respectable geckoes. And putting on the accoutrements of a cultural myth can be a lot of fun..but it does not make us more authentic. If we want to be authentic Japanese bondage masters, we need to look at what the real Japanese bondage masters are like, right?

But there’s a problem with this, too. There’s a difference between imitation and emulation. I can’t be an authentic Japanese bondage master, for one big reason. I don’t do Japanese bondage. If I’m going to be authentic, I have to find another way to do it. It’s not that I shouldn’t learn the ties, the techniques–it’s just that I need to learn them for what they do for me and my partner, rather than so that I can look all nawashi.

“Some…confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about.”–WH Auden.

There’s a reason why the ropes feel good when they’re put on a certain way, and feel bad when they’re put on a different way, and the reasons are different for everybody. When I think of the riggers whose work I admire–hell, I’m looking at them–I can’t think of any of them who do it the way they do for any reason but that it feels right to them. Yet they’re all different. Why shouldn’t you be?

But to find that style, we need to listen to our bodies, and the bodies of those we play with, and if we’re too busy trying to Randa Maize ourselves, we’re going to be listening to the wrong frequency.

So if I can’t be authentic through imitation maybe I have to come up with something really unusual, really different…

YODA VOICE: “Supreme Rope Master am I! OoOOOH! Submit to my gargantuan cock you will!

Nah. Being different, just to be different, is just the flip side of imitating someone. If this feels right, well, sure, but we need to listen to what our body wants to do, where our kink wants to take us, and give ourselves the time and opportunity to develop.

“Authenticity is not a goal to be achieved, but rather a constant process of becoming. It is both sought for, through deep attention, and waited for with humility. Each individual has to discover it in their own way – listening, tuning into internally generated cues…a sensation, an impulse, a feeling.” — Roz Carrell

Sensation. Impulse. Sound familiar? Those are the things we’re here for–that’s why I do the rope, anyway. Each layer of rope, each tie, each reaction sends a message to me, through my partner, through my hands, through my cock–it all means something. How many people have tied a knot over a woman’s clit? Unless you’re really lucky, you’ve had to adjust it a couple of times, and if you’re like me, you watch their face…. It’s a message.

“The symbols of the self arise in the depths of the body.”–JUNG

It’s hard, because the world and our brains are SO fucking noisy, and it’s scary, because we always worry that we’ll do it wrong, or worse, do it wrong in front of (GASP) the whole DUNGEON. Well, you can all relax, because there’s not going to be anything in the dungeon that looks nearly as ridiculous as this. and for another, you can take this quote to heart:

“Trying is never the same as deciding. There is no need for long range promises or expectations. In fact, the freedom to quit is always yours. No one can force you to continue. You are an explorer, following your own compass readings, your own conscience. This is your adventure, so enjoy it your way.”–Jack Rinella.

The key is to act naturally, as opposed to just re-acting. Or, as a zen monk named Cheri Huber put it,

“Can you stop trying to change into who you wish you were long enough to find out who you really are?”

In Zen, they say the problem is not to become the Buddha, it’s to realize that you already ARE the Buddha. But rather than get all mystical on you, I’m going to use another example, one from public speaking. You know, the trick where you imagine that you’re naked in front of the whole audience, and…wait…did I mix that…?

Anyway, the point is, really we’re all already our authentic selves. We can’t be anything else. Kind of like we’re all actually naked here, just that some of us are naked under clothes, and some of us, well…

But the clothes are just something we put on and change at will. This weekend, as we’re learning, playing, and sharing, I hope we all do some crazy ass sukebe-monkey ropey kinky shit. But I also challenge you to try and hear what your authentic self is telling you under your dommy voice and your subby clothes.

Let’s be authentic. Let’s rope naked.”

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