I’ve spent the last two weekends at two great leather events: Leather Camp, in Wichita, KS and then Great Lakes Leather Alliance in Indianapolis, IN. Both events were unexpected places that I sort of fell into.
My invitation to Leather Camp had come my way because my friend, the beautiful Sir Dart, usually taught rope at it but couldn’t make it this year. He recommended me to Daddy Matt, the WOOLF* President, and after a few phone calls I was invited to go down there.
The phone calls were a bit of an interesting touch, because I’m not really used to being “vetted” for an event. Most events I am invited to present at are because someone there knows or has seen me perform or present, so they know what they are getting. Dart, for example, met me at the Toronto GRUE, and we became fast friends, even to the point of me bottoming to him in a meditative rope scene in Houston last summer.
When I was accepted as a presenter, though, it became even more strange. Let me give you perspective: in most places that I teach, I’m asked to teach 2-4 classes, usually give either a performance or function as an MC, and usually also donate an hour or so as a dungeon monitor. If there is an “auction” to raise money for the NCSF or something, I’ll also usually go up on the block, which means another “class” (read: “scene”) is in the works with whoever is the highest bidder.
This usually makes for a very busy weekend. In return, the events give me free admission and usually free lodging, either crash space or sometimes a hotel room. Sometimes the hotel room is shared with other presenters; about a third of the time it is my own. If I’m really lucky, they can also provide a little money towards travel, which is very helpful. I usually get a chance to sell my books at the events, so that helps defray costs like food, and I usually break even. Sometimes I even come home with a little more money than I left with.
But make no mistake: while it is work I love, it is a vocation – I take a professional view towards my classes, etc, which means that I believe if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. In other words, it is work, and it is tiring. But when you love something, you tend to do it regardless of the cost.
Daddy Matt wanted me to teach one class – twice. He wanted a Military Style Bondage class, taught once for the members of WOOLF (Wichita Organization Of Leather Fetishists) exclusively at their local club, 1470. That was on Thursday night. Then he asked that I teach it again on Saturday for the Leather Camp event. That’s it; two classes, nothing more.
And in return: he made sure that my companion, Lady Octavia, and I had a good time. Not just good – worry-free. That meant more than the idea that all the logistics – travel, lodging, etc were covered. He also saw to it that we got an unobtrusive tour of the city, that places that would interest us – the Spice Mart, for example, or the Cigar Shop – were pointed out and explored. He took the time in the middle of planning a large event to treat us like we were honored family guests.
It is embarrassing how long it took me to realize that’s exactly what we were.
When people talk about “leather family” I usually associate that with the Daddy/girl/boy/boi/Sir/Mistress type of connection. We’re all, at heart, sluts in the most positive sense of the word, so the fact that these connections went far and wide made no difference to me.
But what I learned in Wichita – and later in Indianapolis – is that the word goes further. It is more akin to the idea that among the Bedouin there was a custom of inviting strangers into your tent, feeding them, making sure they had what they needed. Daddy Matt took great personal pride in making sure that he knew and provided the food, drink, sleeping arrangements, and more that Octavia and I needed. He took great public satisfaction in seeing us meet and befriend the community, everyone from Sir Raul (International Leather Sir) to his own collared boy Chris.
I don’t want to give the impression that it was all pampered luxury. It was better than that. It was watching Top Chef Masters with his partner Sir Darron, and being present at the collaring ceremony that was held. It was laughing and talking over good cigars and whiskey at night in his back yard, and also enjoying the camaraderie at the wrap-up pool party. it was chatting with his boy about boot camp while I ironed my shirt in their basement. It was family.
The hospitality was overwhelming to someone who is used to scrambling to make do. I also don’t want to give the impression that my friends among the rope community aren’t also incredibly generous; there is a non-heirarchical sharing that goes on there that I am proud to be part of. But it’s interesting to me that the people in the rope world that I know of as being the most like this are people who are also tied to the Leather community – such as Rita Seagrave or Lee Harrington.
But there were also differences in the community that really stood out to me. There is a heirarchy in the Leather community that at times felt like a closing off from others, like a club, almost, with initiation ceremonies, uniforms, and established structures of rank and social status. When I attended a class on “leather community etiquette” at GLLA I was struck by the emphasis on decorum that was brought up again and again – things like “inappropriate public displays of affection.” Can you imagine an inappropriate public display of affection at Shibaricon? Lochai and I spontaneously tying up and tormenting a Lotus in the hallway comes to mind, or the silliness of the kitty playroom. Philip the Foole is famous for his “hey, wanna try some stuff?” method of negotiation, and I daresay that is more often the modus operandi of connections made at rope events. According to Leather Etiquette (and yes, I realize this was only one person’s opinion) flirtation was something with as many levels of social meaning and interaction as The Age of Innocence. And like that movie, there was something beautiful about that, and secure – but also, I found, somewhat tiring. Dress codes are far more elaborate in the leather community, even when just going to classes; the beauty and presence of the many leather men especially was like being around a USMC Drill Team all weekend.
I commented on this on Twitter, and got some interesting responses. Ammre, another generous spirit (as well as indubitably hot and sexy and wicked intelligent and near the top of my “I wanna tie up” list) commented that the rope community also had quite a few “big egos” and “unspoken heirarchies.” I don’t know that I agree, and I talked with my friend Phaedra about it. “Am I a big ego?” I asked her as we drove back from Indy.
She pursed her lips as if I’d asked if this dress makes me look fat. Then she said, tactfully, “You have…strong opinions, and you’re not afraid to share them.”
I thought about this, and said “Yes, true…but it’s always tempered with ‘In my opinion’ and ‘I might be wrong’.” To me, a person with a “big ego” is the person who says “Well, you can cover the gas, for the pleasure of my company,” as opposed to “Wanna go to this event together?” And frankly, I don’t know anyone in the rope community who does that – well, one, but that’s because that person has to do that in order to do the work they do, and the benefit to the community makes that person well worth the expenditure. Hell, I’d get out and push just for the pleasure of that person’s company…
As for the “unspoken heirarchy” I also think that’s far more in the minds of people who impose them than the people supposedly in the heirarchy themselves. I know that my introduction to rope, before podcast or teaching or anything, was when Mortis stopped what he was doing in a club to show me how to chain rope. I remember Lee Harrington stopping packing up from a class at an early Shibaricon where I was a volunteer peon, just to answer my question about rope bondage. I’ve seen Lochai stop in the hallway to compliment a rope newbie on their work, and I’ve seen Claire Adams take the time to answer questions from star-struck fans with a grace and modesty that belies her incredible talent. Midori took the time at a party in her honor to tell me and my slave all the hidden fun parts of San Francisco we should go to, just because she wanted us to have a good vacation.
These are not the actions of big egos and strict heirarchies. These are the actions of my rope family – different than the leather family, but only in characteristic, not in quality.
My friend Sarah Sloane (speaking of egos – just kidding, dear) suggested via twitter that it might be because rope was more about performance, whereas leather was more about living it…and that at first really stuck in my craw. I think I saw the “performance” comment as being diminutive, and especially since I’d just been to two leather competitions in a row, with dozens of titleholders all around and much parading and pageantry, I found the idea that leather wasn’t “performative” to be silly.
However, that was all stuff that I was projecting onto the paltry 140 characters that Twitter gives you to talk about. Twitter is a great place to start conversations, but not a place to finish them, and I’m looking forward to talking with Sarah much more about this over cigars and chocolate at the upcoming Spankfestival. I thought about it, especially after her followup comment, that it might also have to do with the fact that the Leather community has had to fight to survive, whereas the rope community has just kind of happened.
I’m not going to get into the idea of it “happening” – I think that the efforts of people like Diana, the administrator of Shibaricon, speak for themselves in terms of how they’ve worked to build the community. But I agree – it just happened, as in recently. The “rope community” here in the states is very young, as opposed to the generational history of the Leather community. They have had to fight to express themselves, and quite successfully (when Shibaricon is at the Palmer House in Chicago, I’ll believe that we have it as good as the leather community). And because we’re relatively new to the idea that we can work together, we still tend to have this independent streak – doing things for ourselves. I don’t see many rope “families” in the way you see leather families – pairs, occasional triads, extended networks of friends and play partners, but not the sense of possessiveness, belonging, and fierce protection that you see in leather.
And that’s ok – I know that the leather community wasn’t always like this either, nor is it a monolithic block. I just read a thread on FetLife where heavy leather players were poo-pooing the idea of “that synagogue in Chicago they turned into a musty old museum”, referring to the Leather Archives & Museum. In a way, there’s a nice symmetry to it; it reminds me of the way soldiers have been vilified by pacifists in the past, the latter unaware that their right to vilify was provided to them by the presence of the very people they claimed to despise. With the way leather draws on military tradition, it is only fitting that the people who benefit from the struggles of leathermen past should turn their backs on their heritage as they build their own future.
But I also see the beginnings of that culture in the rope community. While I don’t see families or clans yet, I see people who are “living rope.” I see people like Lochai, whose devotion to his art drew him away from a lucrative vanilla job and into a lucrative rope job. People like Claire Adams, who could be content to just be a fantastic fetish and porn performer, but continues to teach, develop her own line of rope. I see Monk, who gave up a great pair of golden handcuffs to sell rope out of his garage, fer crissakes, and is loving his life because he gets to help people have better orgasms. I see Lee Harrington, who I would consider the spiritual heart of the rope community, and I can’t think of any greater example of someone who has taken his passion for rope and all it represents on so many levels and continues to build it and share it. I see Midori, who works harder than anyone I’ve ever seen to build a life in rope, and benefits thousands because of it.
Of course this is only a small part of it. Demonsix. Ms. C. Master K. Max. Kogure. Mataleao. Shibari Warrior. Osada Steve. Ten. Dov. Ava. Evinxiamor. Chanta Rose. Sinnamon. Roperider. Janice. Noe. Riggerjay. Daddy G & lil J. Leon. Lqqkout. The Control Enthusiast. Murphy Blue. Naiia. Lily & Aja. These are all people I know who live rope to some degree or other, not only in their passion for the stuff itself but also in the other characteristics – of generosity of knowledge, of “let’s figure out how to do it!” attitude, of fierce independence combined with determined cooperation.
There are many more. If you don’t see your name on that list and you think you should, then probably you belong there too. It’s either ego or pride, and both are part of the world of rope and leather.
There is one particular difference I see with rope vs. leather, and keep in mind I’m calling this a difference, not a better or worse quality. I call it the “show me” idea: at any given rope event, you are likely as not to see someone come up to another and say “could you show me how to do X rope harness?” You don’t see as much of that at leather events – mainly because there’s not as obvious a skillset outside of the dungeon (“Can you show me how to wear those boots?”).
At the same time, many of the titles held in the leather community are considered “teaching titles” – not so much to teach specific skills, as teaching how to better live the leather values. Honor, pride, family – leather values were often bought up by many at these events, and I found it a happy comparison to my years in the Marines. I will say that in the leather community there are far more people who actually live up to these values than in the Corps.
The rope community doesn’t have “teaching titles” yet (though I would submit that, when she retires, there should be a “Midori” competition to continue her work). We don’t have “South Plains Rope Slut” or “North West Nawashi” competitions. I’m not sure that we should – somehow it doesn’t feel quite like it would reflect the community as a whole the way that the competitors in the Leather world do.
But I do think it is time that we start identifying our values, because they do exist. People do “live rope”, sometimes when they don’t even realize it. So there’s the challenge for you: what are the values of living rope?
Think about it. Let me know. Start the discussion, bring it up at munches. I’m not saying let’s codify and structure it and bring that heirarchy about – unless you really feel like it. But think about what your rope identity means to you. And let me know, if you like, cuz I know I will be thinking about it a helluva lot. Because I have dual citizenship, you see, and I have to figure out my leather identity too – earning my leathers every bit as much as I’ve earned my rope, hope to earn my ring, and continue to love, honor, and respect my family in both leather and rope.