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Return to the Bondage Capitol of the World

14 Nov

Recently there was some rather abrupt relocating in my world, as I changed my residence from the Suspension Capitol of the World to the Bondage Capitol of the World. I’ve heard some interesting rumors about my reasons for the move as well as some of the other aspects of it, and I thought I’d address those, briefly.

  • I didn’t hop a plane, I did it in a car, driving across the country for the third time this year, singing along to Moulin Rouge and drinking coffee and munching trail mix as I steered the car with my knees as my native American ancestors did.
  • I didn’t leave because I disliked Seattle – I loved Seattle, both weeks that I actually saw it. No, seriously, I didn’t give Seattle enough of a chance, not even close, as I traveled probably half the year and was only in town for the longest stretch of (I believe) five weeks in a row. Seattle, both as a city and a community, fucking ROCKS!!
  • So why’d you leave, Gray?” One word: family. My kids, my grandkids, and then my parents all were going through some really tough times over the past couple of months, and it was frustrating not being able to help. Yet I was still going to only offer what help I could from a distance, to stay in Seattle, until my middle daughter wrote me a very frank letter where she asked me for help – in-person, come-back help. As this is a tough chick who has never asked me for help directly before, this was the straw that tipped the barrel of fishmonkeys, and I arranged to come back.
  • I owe huge thanks to my “homies” in Seattle’s Ho-Nest for making it so easy for me to leave (Hmmm…now that I think about it, that’s not as flattering as I…never mind). Also for my friends here in Madison making it so easy to come back – in fact, they held a Cigars, Boots, & Chocolate here the night I arrived! They say it was coincidental, but that’s just Midwestern modesty. I know it was for me.
  • How long will I be here? Well, for a while, that’s for sure. I have to cut down on my traveling and presenting – the last two years have almost killed me, and there are personal issues of health both physical and mental that need attending. Plus I have, at a minimum, two grandsons here that I’d like to get to know better. The older one, my namesake, is going to be good for me, as is evident from the conversation we had in the car today:

Me: Come on, I’m sure I’m allowed to take a nap.
Grandson #1: No, you can’t. The sun is up! Nobody sleeps when the sun is up!
MeOh, I’m sure somebody is sleeping now.
Grandson #1Well, forget about sleeping, because you’re not somebody, Grandpa.  

So I’m gonna enjoy not being somebody. And if you miss me…I’ve got about three Ropecast interviews just waiting to be edited and published soon, so expect “Live from the Bondage Capitol of the World, Madison, WI!” to be coming your way soon!

Fear of Commitment

5 May

This is going to be an unusually personal post for me, and only tangentially has to do with rope and kink, so feel free to skip it and go on to something more sexy.

Lee Harrington has this habit of changing people’s lives. Maybe you already knew that, having taken his classes, heard his sermon on Living Leather, read his books or something like that. If you’ve read my essay in Ropes, Bondage and Power you know that it was a scene with Lee that took me past a plateau of rope and sadism and into a much darker, scarier, fulfilling and wonderful world. It was a casual lunch with Lee where he said “Gray, you really ought to create an event with your name on it,” and so the GRUE was born.

See what I mean? Lee Harrington is dangerous.

And if he’s that dangerous to other people’s lives, inspiring change and forcing growth with a casual sentence, can you imagine how he is in his own life? I don’t think I know anyone else who is more powerful in shaping their world to fit their calling, in doing the work necessary to force reality to be more the way it should be, as opposed to the way it is.

I got to see and be a part of a little of that during the Dark Odyssey WinterFire Cabaret Social fund raiser. That’s where he presented Aiden Fyre with their earned leather, a fantastically beautiful custom-made chest harness similar to Spartacus. It was beautiful, violent, powerful, and as he led them off to a pre-planned gang bang I felt the way I would feel watching a friend skydive or jump off the high diving board doing a half-twist pike triple somersault and nail it.

Namely, Damn, that’s impressive, followed by wow, I sure wouldn’t try that.

Not that I don’t want to, you understand. Kind of like the way I longingly stroll through the furniture section of Office Max and read Organizational Porn, dreaming of a world where my files are neatly alphabetized and my desk chair solid and comfortable in front of my dual 36″ monitors, I also attend MAST meetings and classes on protocol and read the polyamory sections of FetLife. It’s a fantasy, a desire that remains just that.

Why? you may ask. Surely you have people willing to serve, wanting to be involved. Yes, that’s true. I’ve been blessed with relationships with some absolutely incredible poly and submissive people. That’s not the difficulty; it’s not them, it’s me.

It’s a fear of commitment. Not for the typical reason (If I commit, I’ll give up XYZ). No, the opportunity cost doesn’t bother me. It’s actually the fear of commitment broken. To make a long story short, having seen the biggest commitment of my life suddenly disappear, after working as hard as I could to preserve it for years, I am loathe to put forth that effort again.

That’s Commitment, of course. Big C. The kind of thing that Lee and Aiden did last weekend at Beltane in Ramblewood, where I had hoped to attend, but was unable to due to unforeseen roadblocks. I wish I could have, because I love Lee, and I wanted to be there for him, but at the same time I’m a bit glad I didn’t.

The weekend before I had taken a short trip to the Bondage Capital of the World, Madison WI, to finalize the divorce that was the final nail in the coffin of that Big Commitment I’d tried more than a decade ago. It didn’t hurt as much as I expected (in fact, it’s a bit amusing; in an amicable divorce hearing, the words you say most often are “I do.“). But it reinforced something that has been the case for a while now: a reluctance to take the long view.

What will your life look like in 10 years? I can’t answer that question. Even when faced with the usual follow up, What do you want it to look like? I really can’t answer it. Ditto for five years, and while I’m a little more clear on one year from now, it’s mainly because I’ve already agreed to do some events in 2012.

Thing is, I really don’t have a good excuse. Lee’s gone through much more shit than me, and probably been through more relationships. Yet there he was, committing to moving across the country and starting an entire life with Aiden. I think it was Heinlein who talked about how courage is not facing the unknown, it’s facing the possibility – even the likelihood – of getting hurt and doing it anyway, because it’s the right thing to do.

Lee’s one of the bravest men I know.

But you know, we all have our own paths to tread. When I say “more shit” it’s of course relative, and there’s no real way to measure experiences against each other. And while I may not be able to make big-C Commitments right now, I’m working my way up. Commitment, like anything else, is more about habit than anything else. It’s not deciding to show up one day; it’s showing up day after day after day.

So I commit to studying every morning. I commit to working out with my partner DNGG. I commit when I pull out my rope and start to tie that I am going to follow through from the first laying on of strands through the final hugging “thank you“. I commit when I sit on the couch and watch an episode of Prison Break from beginning to end, not letting my workaholic ADD nature check on twitter or email. I commit when I open up WordPress and decide to write a post celebrating commitment, both big-C like Lee & Ayden’s and little-c like buying an iPad 2.

Thanks to a conversation I had with Mollena, I commit when I say I’ll have a play date with someone. One way or another I will show the fuck up, even if it’s only to tell you that my hand is injured but by the way, there’s this world-class rigger standing behind you who is willing to take one for the team and tie up your gorgeous and amazing willing and supple body (you owe me, buddy). What’s really funny is that since I’ve adopted that particular commitment, several time it’s been the bottom who doesn’t show up.

That’s ok. There is solace in knowing that it wasn’t me. I held up my end of the deal, and that reflects well on my self-image regardless. Every little commitment kept, or even the ones that are let go with full knowledge and understanding of the necessity, reduces that fear of commitment. Reduces the fear that it’s not worth trying.

Eventually I’ll learn to accept that about the big-C stuff, too, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be as brave as Lee.

Congratulations, Lee & Ayden. I am proud to be your friend and wish you both the best on your journey.

A Simple End-of-Year Post

29 Dec

Shooting with Michele Serchuk=Another Good Decision

It is the season for Wrap Ups, for Looks Back, for reflection and “what the fuck happened?” to mingle in the brain. I normally don’t do such things; arbitrary ends-of-years (you do remember that more than half the world doesn’t see this as the New Year, right?) don’t normally appeal to me.

However, I had a dream the other night. It was a class I was organizing, and the theme was “Best & Worst.” I think it came from the series of posts from people like Lochai and Voron on Fetlife about the “end result or process?” or the “most important safety rule“. And as much as I dislike hyperbole and dyadic choices (life is not the Kobiyashi Maru, in my opinion) I think there might be some value in exploring the questions:

What was the best kinky thing you did all year?

What was the worst?

Note the limiting factors: kinky and year. Feel free to expand and try and think of the best or worst thing you’ve done in general, or in your entire life, but when I did that my head either wanted to explode or to wander down a dark spiral of self-recrimination and regret. Neither really good things.

So…what was the best kinky thing you did all year, Graydancer?

Hmm…probably it was the decision to embrace my avocation and try to unite it with my vocation. I tried having a “normal” job for a while, for a little more than half the year. 9 to 5, insurance (sort of, though it didn’t cover the things I actually needed treatment for), overtime, vacation…the whole shebang.

But it was soul-deadening. The contrast between the people that I connected with through writing, podcasting, teaching, and performing, vs. the people I suckered into buying shitty properties on eBay at my job became intolerable. In the end, I had to realize that the only thing I was accomplishing at that job was making my boss richer, and that was at the cost of not only the sucker’s money but also at the cost of my quality of life, and the quality of life of those I loved.

So one weekend I walked in, packed up my personal items from my desk, sent emails of resignation to the two immediate superiors and the big boss, and left. I resolved that it was better to be poor, insecure, and happily contributing positively to the world (at least, as far as I can tell) than to be a dead soul with a steady paycheck.

Since then, life has been one good thing happening after another. I have been able to teach and do things with people I’d never expected or dreamed of, and 2011 is looking even better. Does my bank account suffer? Hell yes. But really, in the bigger scheme of things, having tried both ways…this is where I belong, doing what I’m doing. Best. Decision. All. Year.

Eh, that’s an easy one. What about the worst thing you did all year?

Ah, now, here’s the decision time. Do I open myself up to the teeming masses (ha) reading this blog and go for the intensely personal experience, or take the easy route and go with “well, I didn’t check that I tied that Gravity Boot correctly on the famous Oreo Cookie suspension…”

If you do this exercise, I warn you, this is dangerous territory. Regret and guilt are two of the most insidious and yet worthless emotions there are, because they really don’t accomplish anything. The past is the past, and you can’t change it, and more than that, there is no way to tell if the past is exactly what needed to happen to get you where you are right now – in my case, sitting in bed in my friend’s flat in San Francisco with a happily tired and snuggly DoNotGoGently next to me. I wouldn’t trade this for anything, so how can I be sure that anything I did to lead up to this should have been changed?

Well, ok, I’ll stop dodging the question. The worst thing I’ve done in my kinky life all year…it’s not really one thing. It’s more the area of my kinky life where I wish I was doing better, making better decisions, able to explore and develop it more skillfully.

It’s the area of dominant and submissive relationships. I still carry around a big huge hangup from my first real D/s experience, and while it has benefited me in terms of education, it has certainly stunted my own development. About all I know is that I am “wired” for that kind of relationship – but making that wiring actually function seems to be a very difficult process of talking things out and trying things out with my partners, whether play- or life-. These are some of the more difficult and clumsy conversations I’ve had, and mis-steps and mis-communications and mis-takes have led to a great deal of strife and pain for myself and those I love. So what have I done the worst in my kinky life over the past year? Managed my identity as a dominant kinky person.

There. Now I know what I can choose to work on in the future. Or not; sometimes you just do the best you can, and have to keep muddling through. I’m a big fan of “inching towards daylight” as the saying goes.

Now it’s your turn, if you care to take up the challenge. The comment field awaits:

What’s the best kinky thing you did all year? What’s the worst?

Cad-egorizing Naiia

17 Nov

“Labels, and Why I Hate Them” was one of the classes Vesper suggested at the recent Madison Satyricon GrUE, and it seemed to coincide well with my own proposed class: “WHATCHAMACALLIT: Finding Different Words for What It Is We Do.” The discussion itself was very enjoyable, and probably could have gone on far longer than originally intended. One insight that came from it was the realization that for some people, words have relational meaning, whereas for others, they have meaning in terms of identity.

DJ, a fantastic rope top from St. Louis, used the example of the word “Master.” To him, it is possible to be a Master without necessarily having a slave; it is a state of being, integral to the idea of self for many people. Others such as T-One (another great rope top from St. Louis, what’s up with that?) feels that Master is a statement of relationship, such as husband or father; you have to have the complement in order to have the identity.

Someone said, exasperated, “Do we really need more words?” to which I have to say, well, yes. When DJ uses the word “Master” he was talking about something different than when T-One used the word. They were using the same word to talk about two different things. That means there needs to be more words – whether in terms of labels, or at the very least in terms of further conversation.

Recently I’ve found that there are also causal changes to the meanings of words – not just nouns, but verbs. Naiia has told me of the many, many people – nice, well-meaning people – who have been asking her if she’s “all right.” They’re referring to my move to Pittsburgh, and what they perceive as abandoning a relationship, leaving Naiia completely to her own devices there in the Bondage Capital of the World. “After all, you moved there for him,” several people have said, “it must be hard.”

To which Naiia and I both say,

See, we were there. We were there for the two years of long-distance friendship that developed some distinct benefits, including great sex, D/s dynamics, and the fits of giggles we’d go into any time we tried being all “soft & gentle.” We were there as she grew more and more disenchanted with her home in D.C., both due to former relationships and due to her job.

We were there when I heard of a job opportunity in Madison, and told her about it. Like any good friend, I offered to let her stay with me until she found her own place.

That job didn’t work out, and the economy being what it is, she ended up staying with me longer than expected, and that “friends with benefits” situation made it even more pleasant. We even tried some 24/7 D/s, and she was a lovely and attentive girl, but I was not able to comfortably settle into that dynamic.

But I love my Naiia, and it showed. And I guess it makes sense that people would automatically assume several things, because they seemed logical:

Gray and Naiia are lovers.


Naiia and Gray obviously enjoy a D/s dynamic.

Oh, yeah, there was that time that she –

That’s why she moved out here.

Huh? Um, no, see above –

The two of them are a couple.

Well, depends on how you define it – we’re not BF/GF, more BFF w/Benefits, if you must –

Gray is leaving? She’s going to be abandoned!

What?!? No!! Remember the two years before that, when she was in D.C. and I was in…

…at which point I just shake my head and realize that it’s probably hopeless to try and change popular perception.

Then I shake my head again, and realize I have to try.


Well, it comes back to that situation of identity that we were talking about at the beginning of this blog post. An important part of my identity is not abandoning responsibilities. The obvious example is my children, but there are others that verge on the ridiculous – situations where I should have stopped long before I did, refusing to follow W.C. Fields’ advice: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use making a damn fool of yourself about it.

More often than not I’d prefer to have the label Damn Fool than the label Cad. And since I take D/s relationships very seriously – if Naiia had moved up to Madison in order to be my girl, I would indeed be having second thoughts about “leaving” her there, even with the excellent support network of friends that she’s made over the past year.

But I also have trouble with this word “leaving“. Most of our relationship was spent apart, communicating through email, text, and chat, and the occasional event where she was my “native guide” and a superb demo bottom. The fact that she also was a fellatrix extraordinaire was, well, I confess, an added bonus, especially when doing interviews for John Baku’s podcast, but the point is: distance didn’t keep our relationship from developing; why on earth would I let it stop now? That would make no sense at all, and while I’ve been known to do some stupid things, that is not one of them.

So the reality for Naiia and I (and for DoNotGoGently, the reason I did move to Pittsburgh) is that our relationship is just as wonderful and enjoyable as it has been – but with some distance which is, admittedly, inconvenient. We do what we used to do – bitch about our jobs, snark about politics, send each other dirty pictures found on the web. When we are together, such as at the Truly Bound 2 event or the Madison S’GrUE, there is laughter, there is watching Dexter, eating lasagna and taco bell and oh, yes, much violent fucking, beating, spanking, biting, and the oral sex and occasional leather boot to the head.

But what’s the word for that?

That’s our reality; it’s what actually exists, but how do you explain that? Naiia and I tend not to really care, to be honest; we call ourselves “best friends”, we call ourselves “lovers”, we used to call ourselves “roommates”, but really, we are what we are to each other, and ca suffit. It’s hard for people that see us together, though, because they see a situation and want to put a label connected with all sorts of other expectations and connotations onto it. She’s kneeling at his feet. She must be his slave. All sorts of assumptions about future plans, living conditions, other relationships are made along with that, regardless of their accuracy.

As if that’s not enough, DoNotGoGently has to deal with it from the other end, where people try to go from labels to understanding the relationship. I heard the frustration in her voice as she’d tried to explain where I was this past weekend.

Gray’s at a GrUE? Why aren’t you there?

Well, he’s at this one with Naiia.

Oh, so you’re doing that whole mono/poly thing. How’s that working?

Actually, no, as part of “coming out day” he came out as not poly or mono, so that –

But…then what is Naiia, to him?

Well, they’re lovers, and best friends, and –

Oh, so he just gets to have whatever relationship he wants and you just deal with it?

At this point a certain look of pity tends to come over the face of whoever is trying to understand, because obviously a monogamous person wants to be with a monogamous person, whereas a poly person (or, in this case, not-monogamous-or-polyamorous) can just be with anyone. Right?

(sigh). But that’s another blog post.

Reality Trumps Perception

I think the point of this one comes back to Mark Twain’s comment: The map is not the territory. I can show you a map with labels and the places and events I’ve shared with Naiia, and even come up with some labels that might give you an idea of what parts of our relationship are like. The truth is, though, I will never be a good enough writer to convey exactly what it was like staring into her eyes while DJPet’s GrUE mix played in the dance hall where the GrUE play party was held. Maybe if you combined a violet wand, a netti pot, and the first time you saw the Matrix into one experience you’d come close, but even that’s inadequate. Maybe the time your best friend and you both aced a hard exam you’d been studying for plus the time she first did that thing you fantasized about but were afraid to ask for plus the taste of cinnamon hot chocolate on a crisp fall sunday morning as you triumphantly finish the NYT crossword.

Yeah. That’s close. But still not there. The fact is, even the thousand words that this picture is worth (plus the 1500 I’ve spent blathering on the subject) aren’t adequate. And if I’m having this much trouble explaining it in broad terms, no wonder it becomes more difficult to explain it in exact terms to those who need to know, such as my girlfriend DoNotGoGently?

Accepting the Is-ness of Us

A while back, while I was mentoring a group of LGBTQ teens in a theater group, I heard the group questioning a young man. “Are you gay? Straight? Bi?”

He looked at them with a calm, almost amused expression. “I’m John.”That said it all (and yes, I changed the name to protect the not-so-innocent, though he’s been an adult for a while now).

I think that has to be the answer, really. It’s got to just come down to the subject and the verb, with no predicate to muddy the issue. When asked the question What are we? we have to either be prepared to get into a long conversation about boundaries, sacred spaces, intimacy, trust, communication, and blowjobs, or else simply give the easiest answer.

We are.

C’est tout.

Rope Ritual, Life Ritual

27 Oct

“The improvisation and change in connection between the two becomes the overarching ritual.”-Kiora

I’ve said it before, but that one statement blew my mind. It was during a class/discussion on “Ropes, Ritual & Symbolism” at the recent GRUE in the ‘Lou (the 1 after 2) and you can read the rough transcription of my notes here. Lots of really great ideas were bandied about, and while I haven’t had the time to really give them the attention they deserve, they’ve been percolating around in my subconscious. They’ve been linking up in weird ways with the books I’m reading (currently Freedom & Necessity, True Odds, The 33 Strategies of War, and Sex, Sin & Zen) plus blog posts like Lee Harrington’s recent Possession Ponderings.

  1. a prescribed or established rite, ceremony, proceeding, or service: the ritual of the dead.
  2. prescribed, established, or ceremonial acts or features collectively, as in religious services.
  3. any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner.

The comment was referring to the problem of applying the word “ritual” to a rope scene. We’d agreed that preparation for a rope scene could be reproduced step-by-step every time (“Green rope on the left, followed by orange, rescue hook strapped to right thigh, then light the candle…“) and also that the process of cleaning up and coiling the ropes after a scene was easy to ritualize.

But the in-between parts, we agreed, had so many variables that it seemed impossible to really call it a ritual in the usual sense. After all, class after class is about reading your partner, sensing the changes in their body and animus and playing in that area. Connection is fluid, mood is transient, and so doing the Same Thing in the Same Way seemed counter-productive to a good rope scene.

Kiora said that simple statement above, and I felt like I’d been hit by a club. The problem was that I was looking at the branches and leaves and missing the forest. The ritual was not “put rope A over knot B.” The ritual was connect. Enjoy. Love.

This morning the caffeinated percolations came up with the way this applies to an upcoming change in my life. I’ve been talking about it in person with a lot of people when I get the chance, but there’s some who I just haven’t gotten the chance to see yet. So I apologize to the people who are reading this and deserved to hear it from my lips instead.

I’m moving to Pittsburgh.

image courtesy Black Light Studios

That’s not a truly accurate statement; the more accurate statement would be “I’m moving in with DoNotGoGently, who happens to currently reside in Pittsburgh.” She and I have been playing a merry dance of long-distance relationship and playing by the rules and being “realistic” and such for well over a year now, and I finally decided I’d had enough of that. I looked around at what needed changing, saw that I could change it, and so on October 31 I will begin the first part of what will be a long-term change of location. The where may not be long-term, but the why is certainly intended to be.

This has led to some consternation amongst those I love and like. To their immense credit, they have been supportive and positive, even my parents. But I can hear the concern in their voices, see it in their eyes. We live in a strange and insecure time, and leaving a town you’ve lived in for 22 years seems to invite risk. Leaving your best friend, not to mention other friends and lovers and play partners and business associates behind, just for the sake of a girl (my mother’s words, I gently corrected her and said it was a woman) seems like the kind of romantic silliness reserved for Tom Hanks movies and twenty-somethings.

But you know, I don’t see it like that. There is the basic antinomy, of course, of joyous optimism combined with poignant loss. That’s to be expected, and with the help of Naiia and others it is actually a remarkably graceful transition.

However, this does not fit into the generally accepted Way Things Are Supposed to Happen. This is where the concern lies in people’s minds; they worry about me, about Naiia, about DoNotGoGently, because this isn’t the way things are generally supposed to work. Long distance relationships don’t work, two tops can’t be compatible as partners, and think of the children! (Yes, that was actually one of my mother’s concerns).

I will be the first to admit that yes, this is somewhat unconventional. Even more unconventional is the speed and process by which it is happening; no U-Haul, no “moving party,” not even a clearly delineated date when I will be there and not here. Sometime in November is the best guess, after the Madison S’GRUE.

And I’m pretty ok with that, because in my mind, it’s not out of the ordinary at all. “As little, so big,” is a principle common to many faith systems, and what’s coming out in my mind is that it applies here. The beginning of my life has been a bit like the preparation for a rope scene, doing my best to follow the rules of what I needed to do.

Go To School. Meet a Girl. Serve Your Country. Get Married. Have Kids (ok, kinda went out of order on that one, mea culpa). Get Divorced. Get Job to Feed Kids. Get Better Education. Get Better Job to Feed Kids. Raise Kids…

And so on. I never quite did it the way it was “supposed” to be done, admittedly, but I was still following the Ritual of Life as I’d been taught. People ask me sometimes why I chose to be a single Dad with custody of my daughters, for example, and I have a hard time explaining that it wasn’t a “choice” – they were my kids, I would take care of them. Even the “unconventional” aspects of my life, such as being poly with my wife and my slave for five years, followed another kind of ritual – the ritual of communication, of D/s, of cohabiting and co-parenting. In some ways, even breaking up after five years is common enough to be a part of the “ritual.” Was anyone really surprised (besides me) when that situation fell apart?

So now, as I seem to be taking steps that don’t fit into the beaten path, I’m seeing it as simply the next part of this overarching ritual of life. It’s not the tiny steps that need to be focused on here; it’s the overarching goal. That’s going to call for flexibility and improvisation and sensitivity to the people involved. It’s going to stretch some connections and change them, as well as form new ones. But really, while the steps involved may seem strange, they aren’t. They are simply a different path towards the same thing we all look for in our own myriad ways.

Connect. Enjoy. Love.

Exciting, huh?

Madison, WI: The Rope Bondage Capital of the World

23 Oct

One of the surest ways to get a laugh in any public situation I’m in is to talk about where I’m from. Much like my own epithet (Ninja Sex Poodle Ronin of Love!) I’ve given a subtitle to my hometown. Whether on a podcast or being introduced at a swanky bar filled with NYCs eroticarati, the phrase “…he comes from the Bondage Capital of the World, Madison, WI!” gets a chuckle all the time.

Sometimes it also draws challenges. At Sex 2.0, in Seattle, I had a woman at my presentation (which, by the way, was not about rope) demand to know why I lied in my bio. “You say you’re from the Bondage Capital!” she said, but you’re not from Seattle! Jaccuse!*”

I asked her why she thought Seattle deserved that title more than Madison, and her response was “Well, how many hard points do you have in your play space? How many suspensions can you have going at the same time?” That’s a hard question, since Madison doesn’t actually have its own play space, but I countered with “What does suspension have to do with being the Bondage Capital?” It took the conversation in a different direction, even to the point of a challenge to a bondage duel where I’d do floorwork and she’d do suspension and wed see who was more creative. She didn’t take up the challenge, which is a pity; I really wasn’t certain that I’d win, but I was positive it would be interesting.

More recently some folks in the NYC Rope Bomb Squad wanted to claim it, and I told them the same thing I’m telling you. If you want to know where the Rope Bondage Capital of the World is, Google it. Or Bing it, or Yahoo search it. You’ll see the top five results in every case are multiple sources (including the Onions A.V. Club, Polyweekly, and the Boston Rope Group) referring to Madison as the “Rope Bondage Capital of the World.”

Now, admittedly, this is me using the Fox News technique of repeating something until it becomes commonly known as fact, regardless as to the evidence to the contrary. In fact, there might be a lesson to be learned from that in other aspects of rope bondage, such as the mis-named “shinju” chest harness. (Its. Not. a. Shinju. and. Never. Was.).

But I’m not defensive. I can’t even claim that I intended for the appellation to stick, to become a Google Fact. While I’d be tickled pink to have it added to the “Welcome to Madison” sign, I’m not holding my breath.

So if you want your town to become the Bondage Capital of the World, make it so. Nobody stopped me; nobody’s stopping you. I’d like to see it happen, in fact.

Oh, and to dispel one rumor: many people, upon hearing of my pending move to Pittsburgh**, are speculating that it will become the Rope Bondage Capital of the World. That’s just silly. Capitals don’t follow people around, people flock to the capitals. With people like Karcus and ElevateInWI and Evinxiamor and Miss Lilly it’s got a pretty strong pool of rope talent. Its also the birthplace of events like Twisted Tryst and MadTownKinkFest and, oh yeah, this little thing called the GRUE, as well. Not to mention being the place where the Ropecast was conceived and nourished over the years.

No, when I’m in Pittsburgh, I will be expatriate from the Bondage Capital of the World, and that’s just fine.

Now, whether or not Pittsburgh becomes the HQ of the Ninja Sex Poodle Brigade, that’s another story…

Naiia Happily Suspended in Madison, WI, the Rope Bondage Capitol of the World

Suspension in the Rope Bondage Capitol of the World

*I may have made that last part up.
**Yes, I'm moving to Pittsburgh sometime in November.

A Response to the ARA List “Flag” Discussion

30 Jul

While the comments on this blog are WONDERFULLY welcome, there has been a lot of conversation about this elsewhere – for example, on Fetlife, and also on Jimi Tatu’s “Adult Rope Arts” List. While this was a post to that latter group, I feel it might have some benefit to the larger discussion, so I’m re-posting it here. Feel free to tear it apart, copy it, etc. as you like.

My esteemed fellow sukebes,

When I got the email from Kyle suggesting a design for the rope pride flag, I thought “Hmm. That’s an interesting idea. Let’s see what other people think of it!” I figured either people would like the idea or ignore the idea. This is not the first time a rope flag has been done; Jo Qatana has a symbol she created years ago, and Denver Bound has a nifty variation on the Leather Pride Flag on their site. My goal, just to be clear, was not to declare a Rope Pride Flag – it was to foster discussion about it, and if people did want one, see what came of it.

Mission accomplished! Thank you for your comments, as someone who enjoys the conversational arts this has been immensely rewarding, and at times amusing. For example, just in the latest digest I got (and I think perhaps you get a different view of the conversations here if you read them in digest form) I saw the same kind of thread:

“We don’t need anything to rally around!”
“I second the amen!”
“Second on the Amen!” (actually third, but he didn’t know that)
“I’m with you!”

Eddie Izzard, indeed. Or Monty Python, perhaps (“You’re all unique!” “I’m not!”). In a private email, TopKai (who has several times expressed concern about “opening a can of worms” to which I reply, “Hey, at least we’re not arguing about breath play…”) said at one point “…well, at the very least perhaps it will unite people in their hatred of the symbol.” Score!

What I find disturbing, though, is the continuing use of the word “we” and “us” in a non-consensual sense. “We don’t need a flag.” “all of us are aware of each other” “Rope is my flag and that is sufficient in my mind for the rope community.

Excuse me? Um…Jimi, I love you, but even you do not get to decide what is “sufficient for the rope community.”

Even more disturbing: “a flag would only serve to divide people into those that want one, and those that do not. It is much better to create ties that bind people together instead of binding people apart.

“Those that want one, and those that do not.” That is called “choice.” Or “freedom,” in some places. I don’t recall anyone saying in the Rope Flag discussions “This is the flag that every person who identifies with rope has to use.” What I am seeing is a consistent use of collective pronouns that indicate, first, personal choice: “I don’t want a Rope Pride Flag” and second, dictates: “and you shouldn’t, either.

It seems to me it is better to let people consent to what ties they want to be bound by – whether that’s leather, rope, or flags.Saying that the creation of a rope flag “divides” or “binds” people is only true if you choose to see it that way. A label is only divisive if it’s the END of a conversation, rather than simply the beginning of one. Kind of like Jimi creating this list “divided” the rope community into “People on ARA, and people who aren’t.” (Which actually, as many of us know, has been pretty divisive and caused some tempers to flare). But the fact is, people can choose to be here, or they can choose to ignore it, or they can choose to be part of this list and a lot of others.

Isn’t choice grand?

That “Eddie Izzard” sketch is about nationalism, not identity. They are different things – or, if you will, different places on a spectrum. Nationalism is Identity used as a weapon of conquest – but that doesn’t mean that identity in and of itself is not necessary.

If I created a logo that was exactly like David Lawrence’s except it had my name, not his, I suspect he would not appreciate it. Similarly if I created a “Kink” site, or started a Yahoo group called “Adult Roped Arts.” These are all things that people chose to create because it was a natural expression of who they are. Why did they do it? Because they wanted to. They wanted to share something about themselves with the larger world – a brilliant photographic skill, an innovative product, a gift for bringing people together to talk. None of them said, as far as I know, “You have to like this and be part of this or else you’re no longer bona fide!” I am certain, though, that there were some people who said “Oh, great. Another rope photographer.” “Do we need another rope vendor?” “Jesus, another mailing list about sex & kink? Aren’t there enough already?”

Thankfully, those people didn’t let the naysayers dictate how they chose to express their identities.

When I go to events – especially leather-based events – there are banners and flags all over the place. Littles play, BDSM rights, Uniform fetish, Bears, Boy/Boi, you name it, there’s colors fluttering everywhere. And when they create community rituals – awards, or contests, or more – they often fly those particular “colors.” Not as a rallying point, not as an imperialistic possession, but simply as a measure of “This is part of who we are, and we’re proud of it.” Some people in the rope community – some who actually are in the “we” and “us” category – would like to see a flag or banner representing the way rope has touched their lives and shaped their identity. To them, rope is more than just another tool in their kit – it is a vehicle for connection and a means of self-actualization.

Rope is certainly not that for everyone. I have a good friend here, a dom, who will often pull rope out of a sub’s bag and say “Here. Tie yourself up with that.” I don’t expect she’ll want a flag. Conversely, Jimi, David, Jack, they’ve all said they don’t want flags – and I would certainly never say that they’re less of a member of the community or less rope people because of it.

But I’m sure as hell not arrogant enough to tell TopKai or Vesper or Ten or Cannon or anyone that they shouldn’t want one. Or worse, that they can’t have one.

It’s stated very clearly, in big letters that I typed verrrrrry slowly, that the purpose behind uploading the flag is:

“If you want a Rope Pride Flag,
Here are some ideas you might use.

That’s it. No rallying, no division, no “us-or-them.” Just choice. For people to make on their own, and for no one – not even this esteemed gathering of perverted minds – to decide for them.

Knot Proud,


Joining the MauiKink Ohana!

16 Jul

I’ve known about it for about a week already, but I’m finally able to share some really wonderful news with the world: I’m going to be working with the people at Maui Kink in a marketing/representative capacity. They’ve got some amazing products and some really neat ideas, and I’m looking forward to working with them.

What, are you selling out?

To quote that rock ‘n roll legend Mick Jagger, “Hell Yes!” Well, ok, not really – at least, that’s not how I see it. I’ve long been happy to represent and promote products that I believed in, especially when they were linked to people I believed in too – hence my advocacy of people like Twisted Monk, Jack Elfrink, Master K, Midori, Douglas Kent, Zamil, Madison Young, the Leather Heart Foundation, Be Knotty, and many more. I’m very much a capitalist at heart, but I’m a “rising tide lifts all boats” kind of capitalist – in other words, even if I don’t get any monetary reward, I’m convinced that helping these people succeed helps everybody succeed.

Physical love ain’t so bad, either!”Billy Flynn

With Logos like this, they've gotta be goodPeople like Emme and the rest of the crew at Maui Kink are going an extra mile. They are foregoing the day job at the office with the supposed job security and working full-time to help the rest of the world have better kink. I would have written better sex, but some people want to separate the two, and more power to them (though that’s not me). If you go to their site – and yes, you should, even if it’s just this once to see what kind of stuff I’m going to be talking about.

It’s detailed leather craftwork. It’s fine wooden impact implements. It’s woven kangaroo whips, it’s luxury handspun ropes (Cashmere, anyone?), it’s nifty toy bags, it’s canes and furniture and oh, yeah, rope, too. If you see me at an event in the next few months, odds are I’ll have a bag of their gear with me – by all means, come and cop a feel of my sack full of fun.

But wait, there’s more!

Does this mean the Ropecast will be only about Maui Kink items? No, not at all. They are going to be sponsoring some ads, and of course I’ll talk about them, but there’s nothing exclusionary about the relationship. In fact, the official word from Monk is “Congratulations! I hope you do well!” My marketing and representing Maui Kink is a separate gig from the Ropecast (did you hear that, other vendors who might want to become individual sponsors?).

Nifty gear is not enough to get me to work for you. In fact, money isn’t even enough – I just quit a nicely lucrative job in the marketing department of a very successful company because I didn’t believe in the company’s purpose. It didn’t help people – well, except the owner and the employees, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it wasn’t enough for me. I need something more meaningful.

Go to the front page of MauiKink. Past the hot and sexy hula kink lady (yum). You’ll see some of the other things they support – like the NYC Sex Bloggers Calendar, which in turn helps sex-positive causes like the Woodhull Foundation. They support the Ropecast. They support this little online website called “FetLife.” They also sponsor events like Summr Retreat, and others, even though they rarely get to come to the states and actually attend the events or meet the people they support. An exception is that they will be at Folsom Fringe – but guess what? Even there, they’ll be volunteering. And so will I.

Ohana, Aloha and Pono

Somebody asked me recently what I think about building community. That’s what I think it’s all about – not just dressing up in leather, cruising and eating a meal together. It’s doing what you can, when you can, to help as many people as you can.That’s what I see in Lee Harrington, Mollena, Midori, Monk, Karcus, the late Class A Dom, Dossie, Janet Hardy, Laura Antoniou, Claire Adams, RiggerJay, Murphy Blue, Aja Ropes, DemonSix, Cunning Minx, DarkSide…the list goes on.

It’s what I see Maui Kink doing. It’s why I wanted to work with them. Ohana, aloha, pono. Those three words are the principles of their company – their mission statement, if you will. What are they? As tempted as I am to google that for you, I’ll give you the easy answers, some loose translations:

Family of choice. Love and Compassion. Right action and hope.

Those are all values that I can get behind. It means a lot to me that I haven’t been welcomed to the “team” or to the “company” at Maui Kink. No, when they announced that I was hired, along with the talented and beautiful Luna, they welcomed us to the Maui Kink ohana.

It is definitely a good place to be. When you see me, give me a big “aloha!”, ok?

“Freedom from Porn” But “Intro to Bondage”

25 Jun

This is a short rant. And there are some minor spoilers in it from the new movie “Toy Story 3”, none of which should stop you from enjoying it. And I do recommend it; it is a lot of fun, with poignant moments and one of the best third acts ever put into a movie franchise. There is something there for child and adults alike.

But let’s talk about the adults for a bit.

A while back, the cool folks at Wizzard Media decided that my Ropecast was doing well enough that it deserved its own iPod app. Like Polyweekly, listeners could access the podcast directly from that app, as well as bonus materials – PDFs, pictures, wallpapers, etc. I did my part to generate some content, and Wizzard did their part to get the pieces together, and we submitted it to Apple.

Our timing couldn’t have been worse. That was exactly the time that Apple pulled their infamous “purge” on adult content – well, most adult content. An app that would show a pair of covered breasts jiggling was inappropriate; on the other hand, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit app was apparently totally fine. In fact, recently the Sun was released as an iPad app – yes, that’s right, the home of the frequently-Fleshbotted Page 3 Girls. Of course, quickly the Sun decided to cover the women in bikini tops…which apparently makes it all ok.

I actually spent .99 to get the Playboy app, to see how “age appropriate” it really was – and true, there was no “pink” in any images. Of course, the link at the bottom ( a big shopping cart) took you directly to the Playboy website via the iPornPortal (aka “Safari”). So yeah, some hypocrisy there.

But when I saw Toy Story 3, I became even more upset. Without spoiling too much, there is a complete FemDom takedown, negotiation, rope bondage and interrogation scene between consenting “adults” (ok, they’re toys, but notice how none of the toys are actually children?). And that should cheer me up, right?

Well, no. Aside from the dangerous precedent of no hard point (with a resulting accident – you’ll see) it also means that at some point there were creatives in Pixar – Steve Jobs’ brainchild – sitting around a table, brainstorming kinky bondage scenes for a rated-G movie. I would have loved to see the sketchbooks and ideas that preceded the finished product.

But more than that, I’d love for them to realize that if they can put shit like that in a kid’s movie, it is probably ok to put it into a device intended for adults.

And I’d like a pony with rainbows and a case of 12 year Laphroaig and an iPad, too. Somehow I don’t think any of that’s likely. So I rant, but I know, I know…it’s just a movie.


Meanwhile, things like this make me feel a little better:

Oh, Mother Jones. WTF?

16 Jun

I’m frothing at the mouth a bit after reading this article, Have the Feds Gone Soft on Porn? There was so much wrong with it, and I decided to re-post my comment on the article (with the relevant excerpts). Please comment at the article; happily, most of the commenters already tend to advocate free speech and diverse sexuality, but every little bit helps.

I’m grateful for the comments here, because I’ve loved Mother Jones magazine for many years and read this article feeling like I’d slipped into another dimension. I agree with most of the comments here about free speech and not deciding that heteronormative sexuality is the ONLY legal sexuality. But a few other things:
Hughes chats with “Justin, 16,” who freely admits to having a porn addiction problem. She asks whether the girls he eventually did have sex with were anything like the ones he saw in the videos. “No, ma’am. The girls in real life are nothing like in pornography,”
Yes, Ms. Hughes, that’s because the porn stars are adults. They are also sexual athletes. I would expect they were different at age 16, too. Or is Ms. Hughes advocating he date older? Or that teen women get better sex positive training?
Lubben described how her porn career left her with incurable herpes, papilloma virus, and ultimately cervical cancer.
I am sorry for the former porn star’s health injuries…but there are some problems with the statements. “Incurable herpes”? As opposed to that curable kind? And papilloma virus is incredibly (and unfortunately) common. According to the CDC it is present in 50% of sexually active people in the U.S. I’m guessing she’s not implying that 50% of the people in the U.S. work for porn companies?
Gag Factor and their ilk, [Gail Dines] added, are now the main source of sex education for boys.
The last point I’ll bring up (though it’s far from the last problem I have with this article) is this statement. IF this statement is true (and I’d really like to see something backing that up) I agree, it’s a problem. But why is the solution to make sites like that illegal? They weren’t intended as sex ed, they were intended as porn. Contrary to Ms. Hughes, they weren’t aimed at boys, either – because boys don’t have the credit cards. Porn is an industry, and the client base is NOT kids, believe it or not.

So why would boys turn to sites like that? Because they’re not given access to better sex education. If you want your kids to be sexually educated, educate them! Support sites like Scarleteen and tell your local school boards that it’s a necessary part. Hey, if you REALLY want to be radical, make sure it’s sex-positive and pleasure-based sex ed, instead of the fear-base that is taught in most schools.

I am speaking both as a parent and a producer and consumer of what some would call “porn.” I agree, there’s a lot wrong with the porn industry – and even more wrong with our cultural sexuality. But articles like this?
Not helping.