Living the Life: Rope & Leather

Lochai ties Claudia LeNoir on Hogtied.com

Lochai ties Claudia LeNoir on Hogtied.com

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.

6 thoughts on “Living the Life: Rope & Leather

  • My dear friend Gray,
    You are to be commended. When an associate referred me to your posting, stating I should read it, I was a bit skeptical. And you know me, my online ability is limited. I don’t twitter,facebook or myspace.I am not a fan of spilling my guts online. However, as I read your post I was reminded of how intelligent and observation you are.
    As a high protocol leather woman, let me share some of my observations coming from the opposite side(so to speak).
    I have never been a rope worker. I was “raised” by a bisexual leather man with strong ties to the gay community. My leathers were earned there. My moniker “Ma’am” stems from there. I am not Old Guard and would never claim to be(that would be an insult to our past and those who worked so hard to pave the way for all of us.) but I am old style. Protocol,ritual, honor and duty is the basis of my leather life.
    When I started in this lifestyle, we did rope for one thing: restraint. I learned restrictive bondage that was practical ,not pretty. When Shibari first appeared on the scene, I like many of leather , shunned it and those involved. We would make snide comments in the playspaces and dungeons when “those people” arrived.
    Then a strange thing began to happen:the scenes before us intrigued us, mesmerized us in the beauty and practicality. Ropers were open, friendly and eager to share their knowledge. In the original Leather Rose, I saw more and more Shibari lessons going on side by side with flogging ones.
    When I was asked to present at Shibaricon, I was shocked. I was not a rope person, why would they ask me? I went and found a new world opening before me. The energy at that first one was papable. As an energy player, I was in heaven. And the people I met were all wonderful. Willing to share their skill, have fun creating beauty together and highly intelligent.
    Do our two worlds stem from that much of a difference? At the basis of both is our human desire to play, a child’s eagerness to be messy,make stuff, dress up and push the envelope when told not to.
    I have seen true ritual in rope. Watching the intent look on Lochai’s face when he ties up a beautiful woman, seeing Jaded zen out when suspended. And the support you all have for one another is akin to family.
    Yet bringing the two together has been a arduous task. I recall one of the first studio parties we gave. One side of the room was leather standing on protocol waiting to meet the rope people who were all over the room throwing rope, tying here, hanging here. The diverging protocols made it strained. When the leather submissive answering the door to a guest who was rope asked how to introduce the dom and sub ,the worlds clashed. Assumptions on both sides made for a uncomfortable moment. Yes in leather, we are protective of one another and possibly a bit obsessive in our sense of honor and protocol. Perhaps both worlds can benefit from each other. Kinda like the old man who has a new grandkid and is now riding roller coasters at age 70 again. Ropers are a breath of much needed fresh air in our community. They bring life and spirit to it.
    My one wish is for the factions of all our kink to work together,not be the same , but be supportive. Being in a minority lifestyle in this nation, don’t we have enough to deal with already?
    As another with dual citizenship, I value both sides of this coin, and feel all is combined under the umbrella of my kink family. You,Lochai and Janice, Leon and Cherry,Jaded and Lee are part of my circle. Might not be my leather family but definitely family.
    I will note a difference however when preparing for a leather event and a kink event. And my interactions at each are governed by the overall protocol displayed.
    If there is a leather hierarchy present at the event, I will adhere to it. If not, I go much more casual.
    The post reminded me of the struggle to help the gay and the non-gay leather community get to know each other and work side by side when desired. This was a goal of the original Leather Rose :to foster and facilitate a safe haven for all of leather and kink, irregardless of sub factions. In many areas, we are still struggling with this. My second home of St. Louis has very little cross over, hard for a Chicago girl raised by leather gays.
    As a title holder, part of my duty is to give back or teach. Help spread those values to our community as a whole. I feel in the rope arena, even though you do not have “official contests or titles”, you do have people who portray this and strive to do the same. I would hope some might consider crossing over into the leather circuit.
    You mentioned that the leather skill sets are not as obvious. I am not sure I agree.I have attended and presented many classes on uniforms, bootblacking, leather community and other such topics. Possibly there needs to be a How to be leather 101? *Smiles*
    I would be happy to talk further at Spanks on this matter, and possibly on you earning your leathers.

    Miss Simone,
    International Ms. Olympus Leather 2009

  • Great post…Thank you so much for the compliment…coming from you we are humbled! This is very insightful and thought provocing blog. We will tell you though, we love our national rope family and find the rope community tight and cohesive for the most part…. Specifically, our local our West Michigan Rope Family sticks togehter and supports each other…and defends each other…When an under qualified, overly aggressive and under informed stage manager stepped onto the stage at Exotice in Nov 08 and tried to take j down in the middle of our scheduled performance time, we had 30 members there who came to the stage, some with chairs in hand. Greg looked him in the eye and calmly told him to back away or I was not responsible for the condition he might leave the building…And the balance of the crowd of 200 in the room was then yelling at him to get off the stage and let us finish…He looked around, thought twice about touching either of us and then wisely figured it best he walk away…The performance was over but we were safe! …I LOVE our rope family!!!! *S

    Greg and jen (G & lil*j)

  • Wow. Still soaking it all in, but I’ve got to say that the realization of “the Leather community has had to fight to survive, whereas the rope community has just kind of happened” is, I think, an incredible stepping stone towards a greater discussion of the emerging Rope Community.

    I remember at this year’s Shibaricon being asked by someone to explain the “Rope Guy” designation; what I told her began with “I can only tell you what I’ve worked out so far, and even that I might be wrong about.”

    I think this line of questioning, at least at this point in its evolution, is a key component to the rope community; both in the quest to learn more as far as technique and ability, and in the pursuit of understanding. The rope community hasn’t just come out of nowhere, we’ve all brought ideas and experiences to it- and not just from in the kink community. Of Shibaricon I’ve said to people that it’s the best con ever because the teaching staff numbers about 600, give or take; everyone brings something to the table, an idea, a perspective, or a sudden flash burst of inspiration. I’ve seen learned instructors who have been teaching and doing workshops for years suddenly have an epiphany in class from a question asked by someone who is at their first kinky ANYTHING.

    There’s an odd reflection to this almost modular “non-hierarchy” in the very core element of our craft: the rope itself. A length of rope can only do what you make it, but it can also do everything you could POSSIBLY do with it; and no matter what, it starts and ends as a coil of rope. You only have yourself to put into the rope community, and you’re only going to get yourself out of it; but through that experience you come to a greater understanding of potential than you had beforehand.

    At least that’s what I’ve worked out so far, and I might be wrong.

  • To clarify my comment:

    My desire for someone who teaches is someone who can exchange ideas. My favorite teachers in school were ones who had the capacity to learn lessons from their students, as well as teach lessons. When the teacher gives up the exchange of ideas and becomes more focused on teaching just to hear themselves talk or teaching what they feel to be THE right way, is when I start seeing the ego’s come out.

    As for the hierarchy… well every social structure has one, it’s not necessarily a bad thing unless it’s abused.

  • In re: rope and leather in St. Louis

    (sorry to hijack the conversation, Gray)

    Aja and i just attended a five-Monday class at BadDog leather bar. The instructor invited us to discuss rope types and uses at the first class, and asked us to return as assistants for the rest of the course.

    I’ve had the best time with the members of the gay leather community and plan on continuing to attend “bondage nights” at the saloon on the 3rd Thursdays of the month. It’s open to everyone, and we have a blast.

    I see this as the beginning of a cooperative effort to promote and advance rope in the community. We’ve been asked to collaborate on advanced rope classes, and the owners have agreed to let us hold a meeting of our Rope special interest group in their space. Plans are afoot to use space there for a future rope event.

    Gray,

    We were honored to be mentioned in your post about the rope community. Thank you for thinking of us as folks “living rope”. As a look around my living room at the spools and hanks, we are truly “living” rope!

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. As always, we value your “strong opinions.”

    hugs,
    lily the rope ho

  • Thank you Gray for your wonderful thoughts of the world. You have taught me a great deal and now friends want me to teach them the same things. I hope that I can do it half as well as you do.

    Yours in leather, Wilbur

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