Dangerous Rope

Remember how it used to be?

Remember when her hands shook as you wrapped the rope, coil by coil, around her wrists, one at a time? Except it wasn’t rope, was it? It was a pair of pantyhose from her drawer. No, not her drawer, stolen from your mother’s drawer, the plastic egg container thrown aside at the bedside, cardboard wrapper half under the bed (and later in the night you would agonize as you realize that you’d forgotten about it, what if she found out?).

Remember that feeling giddy helplessness after you were tied spreadeagled, and she straddled your chest, and you could feel the heat from her cunt there between your breasts, right where your heart hammered, ka-thunk, ka-thunk, and you felt shivers run through your body, uncontrollable shivers because you were spread open, helplessly tied, for the first time in your life you couldn’t stop this person from doing anything she wanted, and she smiled that feral, predatory smile, her tongue-tip speculatively between her teeth the last thing you saw before the blindfold covered your vision, and you trembled…

Remember the moment you grabbed her chest harness and pulled her up off her knees and growled into her ear “I don’t give a shit for the rules in this club, I’m going to fuck you right here, right now!” and she wailed, knowing that it meant neither of you could ever come back, but still she pushed her ass against your steel-hard cock, grinding, moaning “Yes, sir, anything for you, sir.

Remember that?

I do.

But I also remember walking through the dungeon – any dungeon, it doesn’t matter which one – recently and watching the scenes around me…and feeling unutterably depressed. The people were filling the “stations” – spanking benches, crosses, frames, whipping posts – and there was no shortage of activity. But that’s all it was – activity. Frenetic motions, repetitive actions, there was no joy to be seen.

I exaggerate. There was joy. There is always joy in a dungeon, somewhere, if you look for it. But that’s just it: we were all of us, myself included, looking for it, desperate to find it. We were trying to remember, to go back to that place where the simple act of taking or giving power made our souls thrum.

I’m sure it was somewhere in that dungeon. I just couldn’t find it. And I could see in the faces of tops, bottoms, slaves and masters, ponies and pups and trannies and sluts, that it was not being found by many others, either, who were just as desperately seeking it.

“…we put that forth as an explanation of how really, in the end, we’re not actually perverts, we’re just, y’know, creative types. Who like to dress up in shiny things sometimes, and play, like theatre, and isn’t that fun?” – Andrea Zanin

I think we’re killing it.

I’m to blame as much as anyone. I’m proud of my work as an educator, of bringing rope to many people through my podcast, this blog, through my classes and performances. Yet like my dear brother and lover Lee Harrington, I wonder “…when we analytically gaze at our dark desires do they loose the richness of their darkness?”

I get emails from listeners who thank me for my work. Who say things like “..you helped pull me out of my insecurities around rope…” and “…I wouldn’t be the rope artist I am today without some of the things you’ve dropped in the Ropecast…” They tell me I am doing the Great Work, and that means a lot to me. In fact, that means everything to me. “My goal is to unite my avocation with my vocation, as two eyes become one with sight,” as Sir Robert would put it.

But this same person looks at rope artists in the dungeon, and sees that, all too often “…there comes a point where the dance stops being about your partner and starts being about how much you can make the outsiders clap.” He says,

We use these things which were designed as a way to connect to each other on a one-to-one basis and use them to attempt connecting to each other on a one-to-many basis, and we use them as a way to distance ourselves, to pervert our natures (and not in that fun way), to keep ourselves safe…when it comes to the dance itself… it’s gotta come from the soul or it’s gonna look dead.

He’s right. And that’s what we miss when we focus more on the step-by-step tutorials of rope. By breaking it down, we also remove the mystery and the excitement. That’s not bad – there’s a reason to do that, many reasons – but the problem is we leave it there. Disassembled. In pieces.

When we shine the light on the shadow to know it better, we don’t learn a thing. We simply banish the shadow, and know nothing except the dimensions of the corner, the color of the walls, the shape of that stain on the floor. The shadow itself is gone.

We need to have fewer classes on bondage 101 and partial suspension, and more on Shadows 201 and Total Suspense. We need to teach how to turn off the dissection lamp for our partners and ourselves, and come back to that scary what if I’m caught oh god what if I’m sick Oh GOD what if I don’t like it oh FUCK what if I DO?

We need to find our way back to dangerous rope. Because without it, we are simply technicians of flesh and fiber, when we could be playing on the instruments of souls.

Tonight, I want the shadow. Stop sterilizing everything, for a moment. Let my kink stay kinky, stay edgy. Stop making it palatable, acceptable, consumable for the masses. Just for a moment let my passions stay taboo, stay wrong. I want to be wrong, I want to be in shadow, I want to be damned, I want to be forbidden.” – Lee Harrington

28 thoughts on “Dangerous Rope

  • I’ve been getting into dungeons and seeing that lack of joy/pleasure too. It’s why I stopped going to certain events. I do think that pleasure comes from pushing boundaries, going somewhere scary, and I certainly don’t think this applies only to rope! I want to get back to dangerous kink.

    I have a scene planned for this coming weekend that might do it for me. It’s been a long time before I faced something really scary, where I felt truly out of control. It’s been so long that I can’t remember the last time it happened. Certainly it was before I got really active in the scene, and I sometimes feel like being in the kink scene ruined my ability to have that experience.

    But this weekend, at Tryst, I have a scene offer that has me terrified in a VERY good way. I think it’s because I really think the people involved won’t hold back on me, and I’ve committed to myself not to back out until my limits really are reached. Real boundary pushing. There is something about the culture of Tryst that feels truly different than any other event *for me* (YMMV) and this seems like the kind of experience I can only have there. I can only feel really scared, really turned on, if I believe those I’m playing with can and might push pass my boundaries.

    What things can we do in the scene (other than your suggestion of classes on shadows and suspense) that could encourage a culture of keeping that kind of gritty fear and boundary pushing?

    I particularly like the quote from Lee you included at the end. A lot of play does feel too sterile for me. I don’t mean that in the technical sense (and I don’t think he did either) – how can we encourage the sense of emotional contamination?

    • “…encourage the sense of emotional contamination.” Oooh. NICE turn of phrase. I dunno the answer, but just hearing that was great. If you feel inclined to share after Tryst, please let us know how it goes.

      • Well, the scene didn’t happen. The primary top backed out due to a physical injury unfortunately. But TT was fucking awesome anyway, with many unexpected but wonderful things going on.

  • Before I get to my negatives, I have to say that I very strongly agree with you. Walking through most any play space I get the feeling that the activities going on are closer to a carnival ride than it is to lovemaking. No chemistry. No emotional connection. Just thrillsport.

    As one friend of mine recently put it, bondage tops are treated as an elevator operator. Show up, give the word, and up you go. You don’t show up because you think the elevator operator is a cool fun guy who you want to share time with. The ‘who’ is almost beside the point. You are not there to spend time together with them, you are there just because you want lifted into the air.

    I feel the same heartbreaking nostalgia. I miss the old times where I met a girl at a friends party and we hit it off, then a few days latter when we were snuggling and cuddling together I pull out a pocket handkerchief and blindfold her. Oh god! Im finally doing it! What will she think of me? What will she tell her friends? How far can I push this without her slapping me in the face? I got more excited and felt stronger emotions from that simple cloth blindfold than I did from any suspension in a club or dungeon I have ever done.

    Where did that emotion go? What have I lost?

    Two things I disagree about though, and both are relatively minor points. First, this “where did the good times go” concern is nothing new. Google the lecture “Rad Sex Rising” by Guy Baldwin. I could never do his words justice, and for full effect you should really read it all in his own words. But basically he talked about how in the 60s the sex was exciting and thrilling and you lived on the razors edge, but that slowly all slipped away. The thing that killed it then wasn’t technical workshops/classes but rather the AIDS scare. Suddenly all the thrilling wild uninhibited free and unashamed sex was gone to be replaced with just ‘going through the motions’ thrillsport. Historically it also happened with Petting Parties at the close of the Flapper era. Then it was the wall street crash and the great depression that took all the fun out of things.

    Second, I dont fully believe that the solution to this quandary is to have MORE classes and workshops. If you have to teach someone what emotions they should be feeling, then that person never had those emotions to begin with. I would argue that we need LESS mentors and trainers and protector-relationships and “guides to help me on my journey”. Instead we should encourage people to feel the nostalgia. Remember back to those first bumbling yet thrilling encounters. Back before they got into the BDSM community and had some “trainer dom” latch on to them and tell them what bdsm is suppose to be about.

    As a final note, Im dont know if it is possible to “save the world” and get the community at large to change. But I do feel that the thrill is gone. Its gone and I want it back. I feel compelled to do SOMETHING about it even if that’s just changing my own personal actions.

    • Jack – I agree with you on almost all points, and even where we disagree it’s because I didn’t express what I meant clearly enough.

      First, I’m totally aware this is not a “new thing.” It’s merely rope’s turn for the phenomenon to occur – we’ve gone from the ragged band of misfits in the corner of an event to a 750 person international convention with business cards. I would argue also that even Bannon’s point about the AIDS scare ruining rad sex is about education taking things away – i.e., people being informed “if you do this, it could kill you.” That’s education, too.

      Second, please know that I’m not suggesting that the only solution is more classes. But how about some classes? I’m sorry, but saying that finding that shadow – which has been so thoroughly and systematically taken away from the scene – should just “happen naturally” is like saying that two virgins should have great sex on their wedding night. Could it happen? Sure. Is it likely? Not really. You’re picturing classes where people say “DO THIS. IT WILL BE SCARY.” I’m picturing classes where people are encouraged to explore themselves, their fears, their real desires. It’s not that they’re being given a trail – they’re being taught how to use pitons and ropes and how not to hug the wall, and then shown a mountain range and told “have fun!”

      I think there’s room for those kinds of classes. We’ll see. I’m facilitating a Dangerous Rope discussion at the GRUE in DC. I’ll let you know how it goes. Good thing about GRUEs is that if no one is interested, no one shows up.

      • Graydancer, Jack: 100% guys.

        It’s actually one of the factors that drove our decision to not really play publicly or get too involved in the community aside from ShibariCon and the odd munch or two. We really don’t want to lose that feeling—for us, or the others we play with. I need/crave that “danger” and I hope I always will.

        The trick is finding the balance, though, since I think we can agree that the Community itself is still important, as is the sharing of information, etc.

        Also, just wanted to add an anecdotal subjective observation: Chris and I actually commented to ourselves at this year’s con that how it seemed that a whole lot of people there were just participating in another b-flat hobby. To someone that this shit burns through their entire soul and psyche, that just doesn’t compute.


  • I suspect much of the issue simple gaining of experience. There’s an inherent thrill in “new and shiny” that generally gets lost once you have experience in something. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a rich experience once you have knowledge, just that the edge gets lost. It would get lost whether one gains experience on their own or through classes, though perhaps that loss is faster with classes. My question to you (any “yous” that want to answer) is: “Do you still feel that thrill when you try something new that you’re not sure of your skill in?” From the other direction “Do you still feel that thrill when you’ve done something many times without any ‘dangerous’ issues or near misses?” After all, continuing with your mountain climbing analogy, you’re going to have more of a thrill the first time you climb a mountain than the thousandth with the possible exception of if you’re making more dangerous climbs each time.

    • That should have been “much of the issue *is* simple gaining”. I realized after the fact that the continuation of the analogy led right back to “Dangerous Rope”. 🙂 Basically, I think education of one sort or another may explain the lack of thrill, but not the lack of joy, unless one can only feel joy in kink when perception of danger is involved. Perhaps it’s the yearning after the adrenaline rush that precipitates lack of joy for some people?

  • Good thing you are coming to Paradise. Jim has a great classes about the mystery, Relating to Rope. He & I also do a Bondage for Sadists and Masochist class that focuses on making the connection between you and your partner sing; bending the rope to fit your kink & partnership.

    See you soon!


  • I’ve been thinking about this off and on since we chatted for a bit on Saturday at the DC Grue, and I can’t decide if I just don’t see things your way, or I simply disagree with you. Probably a bit of both.

    My stomping grounds are much smaller than yours, which is relevant, but I also think that the type of events you attend is even more relevant. I go to the Crucible at least once or twice a month, Camp Crucible most years, and occasionally BR’s annual event or DO’s WinterFire. That’d be it. I’m running on the assumption that you attend a number of national events every year.

    You were at the Crucible last Saturday night, and while it had the Grue crew, it was also the monthly BR club night, and it was a fairly typical night for them.

    From my admittedly fuzzy recollection, here’s my memories of some scenes from around the room. A large roped off area for a single tail and fire scene (and the one scene that seemed to be more for display than experience), a long coffin-based silly scene, five tops abusing the sub that was in the wrong place at the wrong time, a suspension scene in the cage, a boot blacking scene, at least four flogging / single tail / spanking / punching scenes. A thug scene. A bondage / sexual scene. My piercing scene with my wife. The piercing scene next to me. A spanex bodysuit scene that led into a bondage scene. A suspension scene leading into leash play.

    Out of all of those, there was only one that felt like the top was overly concerned about how it looked. Of course I could be wrong, but that was my perception. The coffin crew, while not scening, obviously had no care about how it looked.

    The updside down suspension in the cage? They obviously care about how it looks, and enjoy putting on a show, but that’s just a tool they use to make the scene better for themselves. Just wandering by while he was undoing the ropes, and she held onto the cage and kept her eyes closed the entire time, showed how much it was about each other and not the audience.

    While we had a number of technicians, my feelings is that they used their abilities for thier partners and themselves, not the audience, and not as a tool to find future partners.

    On the other hand, maybe larger events are different. A forty thousand square foot dungeon with a potential audience full of well known people can certainly bring out something different in a top. Especially one that takes pride in his skill, or has somehow created some sort of Alpha competition that no-one else knows about. The partner the comes in second, and you end up with empty beauty, in the best case.


    The other thing you mentioned during our brief talk was how to create that sense of fear, danger, excitement, _something_ in your partner when what you’ve managed to create is a complete sense of trust in them for your ability.

    I think that the last thing you want to do is to much with that trust. Both the trust in your ability and the trust they have in you. Rope is obviously a button for them, but what else? What can you add that affects them that you can poke at while they’re helpless / mostly helpless? Use the time it takes to tie them up to let them think about what you’re going to do (be it secret or a surprise), and maybe that adds the edge to their emotion that you’re looking for.

    Easy answer could be a fear of hights (use a winch, bonus points for hooding and then winching them up), tickling, vulnerability, exposure.

    Just a quick thought.


  • cross-posted from my Random Thought Of The Day on fetlife, as it was inspired by this discussion at the DC GRUE:

    For those of you at the GRUE over the weekend, feel free to ignore this. For the rest of you, I want to mention an analogy that I came up with during a discussion.

    The way this community handles education and play with conventions reminds me of something I noticed about modern Zombie movies vs. old, classic zombie movies.

    The newer zombie or zombie-like movies (or those that skirt the edge of the trappings of the genre) such as 28 Days Later always spend so much time on the origins of the zombie-ness that the fear level, the shock, the whatthefuck factor is lost. While the classics, the ones that really scared the shit out of you, they didnt delve into the origin story virtually at all. The fear, the whatthefuck factor came directly out of the fact that everything WAS one way and then…. all of a sudden, the world is flipped on its head. Everything that was normal was not. And you had NO idea why. Your head was left reeling and there was mystery. That was the magic of the classic zombie movie. And the more modern movies, while still good at times, lack that magic.

    I know the film makers want to introduce that sense of realism to the story and the audience doesnt seem as interested in using their imagination. They like to be spoon fed the answers to that whatthefuck question we all have in our minds. Maybe its a generational thing, maybe its a lack of imagination, or maybe its just a desire to understand the process of getting from normal to the new normal paradigms better. But when you know everything about how you got from the before to the now, the sense of adventure, of wonder, of magic…. it dies.

    Now how does this apply to education in the kink community? We teach too much of the process. And as a result, the magic wonder adventure of the whatthefuck of kink is lost. We start going through the motions, so concerned about the process that the GOAL of a scene is lost quite often. The fear is gone. The terror and the wonder and the ohmygodImgoingtodieorworse aspect of kink is just…. lost. Lost to the process.

    And I think thats sad.

    I think thats why I dont even really CARE about the scene or play or anything right now. Because the process becomes paramount. And the end goal, the feelings I want to create or I want to be created. That becomes secondary to making sure I use the right process. To make sure Im always safe. To make sure no action is wasted. And I feel like a fucking robot. And the connection with the scene the partner in that scene gets lost to the process.

    I know this is probably not what some of you are experiencing, but I dont really care. I think its time to get some of that punk rock back into this scene. Time to bring back that DIY side. Time to stop caring about how presenter X taught us to do Y in Z class. Time to start figuring this shit out on our own again a little bit. And maybe, just maybe, recapture that magic and wonder and adventure and newness that this whole kinky thing has lost.

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