I have been kindly allowed to reproduce this excellent article on shibari performance from Amekitsune’s blog which talks about reactions to performances and, in particular, from mainstream audiences. By the way, if you are already a performer, model or considering becoming one, ShibariClasses have started a new series just for you to help you on your way. Part I is for riggers whilst Part II is for models but we will be adding to this series soon.
Lucero and I recently performed at an event. It was the second year we’ve performed there, and the second time the organiser has received complaints about our show/s. Last year the complaints were directed to her on Facebook. This year they were directed at us while we were on stage, from two drunk women at the back of the crowd.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve experienced this kind of backlash at a vanilla event. Even as someone who is openly out as a kinkster (ie: I don’t separate my kink life from everyday life), it still unnerves and upsets me to be on the receiving end of this kind of vitriol. I’ve been told that I look like “a piece of strung meat” in rope, that I’m being demeaned, that I’m a bad feminist, that I make other women look bad, that bondage is “wrong,” that I’m disgusting and that people “cannot believe” that I would “let” a man “do that to me.”
It’s all well and good to try and shrug it off and hope that people will one day educate themselves about rope and what we do. I am always willing to chat to people and answer questions about what I do, but it seems to me that the kind of people who judge us harshly are rarely interested in learning anything that might challenge their preconceived notions and attitudes.
So what does one do? I thought perhaps writing down some of my thoughts on the subject might at least help me to dissect some of my ideas around why this happens.
Deep breath – let’s jump in.
BREAKING DOWN BDSM
Let’s review: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BDSM
BD: Bondage & Discipline
Ds: Domination & submission
SM: Sadism & Masochism
Many people play within all three of the separate subsets that fall under the BDSM acronym/umbrella. I’ll use myself as an example. When Lucero and I perform together, we are “playing” under the BD (Bondage/Discipline) and SM (Sadism/Masochism) subsets. Whilst we have been in a D/s relationship in the past, it’s no longer something that we share. It does not come into our performances because it’s not something we do together anymore. I also consider our performances to fall under the SM subset. Rope suspension (especially dynamic suspension involving transitions) often invariably involves an amount of pain and stress to the body, and it’s an aspect that works incredibly well in performance. For me, when we perform, it’s to share a story, to share our connection as Top and model and to entertain.
(As an aside here, there is also absolutely nothing shameful or demeaning about D/s being included in rope performance – I am just specifying what my particular situation is in context of performing with Lucero).
DOMINATION, ABUSE AND AGENCY
I am not being “Dominated” when I am being tied. There is no formal “submission.” I consent wholeheartedly to being tied and suspended and whatever that process entails because how that unfolds is something that is discussed, agreed upon (and in the case of performance, something that is rehearsed) beforehand with the Top and myself. I am a willing participant in what happens while I’m being tied, and I have given one hundred per cent informed consent.
Bottoming is not the same thing as being abused. Abuse is non-consensual, and it is not something that the BDSM community practices or condones. I personally play under the RACK policy. That’s Risk Aware Consensual Kink. It’s pretty self-explanatory: I am aware of the risks I take in play and the play is done with full consent from all parties.
(More info on the different acronyms can be found here: http://asibdsm.com/ssc-rack-ccc-prick/)
What we enjoy recreationally may APPEAR similar to what your idea of abuse is, and I think that is where people’s confusion and preconceptions really come out to play. Being tied up might look like violence. I might cry in suspension. There could be a pained look on my face while my physical limits are being pushed and I might cry out, but the difference lies in the fact that I engage in my kinky activities (a) because I WANT to, (b) because I enjoy it, physically and emotionally and, (c) because I have given enthusiastic consent for it to occur.
I understand that rope might look like something that you have had a negative experience with/in. I understand that rope can be triggering for people. I understand that not everyone is a sadist who enjoys seeing other’s physical pain. Pain might not be your thing, but it is most definitely MY thing and if I’m in pain, it’s because I want to be. Please don’t project your attitudes towards or experiences with rope onto my experience. Doing so takes away my agency and undermines the fact that I have chosen to do this play or performance.
Rope performance and rope photography is often one of those tricky arts that makes suspension look like a breeze. Don’t get me wrong, suspension can be straightforward and painless and lovely, but in my experience, in performance rope this is rarely the case. Bottoming in rope, particularly in suspension, is not something that I take lightly. Rope suspension falls under the term “edge play” because it is inherently dangerous. It is risky play in that there are real possibilities for injury to occur. Overextension, muscle tears, circulation problems and nerve compression and damage can and do happen; sometimes with lasting repercussions. All suspension bottoms (should!) go into suspension knowing these risks. I do. And the tops that tie me would not tie me if I didn’t. There is responsibility taken on both sides of the equation.
EXPERIENCE & TRUST
I am an experienced rope bottom. I have been bottoming for three years. It’s not a lifetime, but I believe it’s long enough to claim an amount of experience. It doesn’t make me a BETTER rope bottom than anyone else, but I am intimately familiar with the ways in which rope can affect and potentially injure me, and I know how much my body can take before I need to stop and take care of myself. I know the physical signs my body displays when it is getting to a point where injury will occur. I know this because I’ve been injured in rope. Sometimes it has been a simple oversight by a Top, but far more often it has been because I didn’t know my body well enough to recognise the warning signs, or I have knowingly pushed myself further than I can safely go (to my own detriment). If I am bottoming for a performance, you can rest assured that I have done it before, I am experienced and I know what I’m doing.
I trust my Tops implicitly. I wouldn’t play or perform with them if I didn’t. I trust them with my body, and I trust that they will listen to me and communicate with me as required. I trust them to facilitate our rope scene/performance with as much care and responsibility as possible. We both know that things can go tits up (as it were) at any given time, and the responsibility is shared between us. I trust that if I am injured, I will not be blamed or made to feel like a “bad bottom.” And believe me, even though it may not look like there is communication in rope performance, there absolutely is. I know that with a signal from me, the performance can be aborted at any point; because I trust that my Top’s number one priority is my safety. Without trust, (for me) there would be no rope.
BONDAGE AS ART
What really irks me is that in a lot of the places I have performed in rope, the space has been created with open-mindedness and acceptance in mind. The event Lucero and I recently performed at was centred around women and celebrating women’s bodies. There was live body painting, belly dancers and burlesque performances.
What confuses me is that a good portion of our audience were 100% supportive of the other performers’ routines; they cheered and whooped it up for the belly dancers and badass burlesque girls strutting their stuff (and more power to them, they’re fabulous) but somehow what I did with my body was different…because it was tied up in rope. Apparently, this automatically shifts our performance to anti-feminist-level humiliation porn. What the shit is that?
Rope bottoming is how I learned to love and appreciate my body, in all its beauty and imperfection; its limits and strength. I genuinely never feel more beautiful than I do in rope – I feel like a goddess. But because that encompasses elements of a lifestyle that has too long been misconceived and vilified, it means that I should not celebrate my body this way. That I am bad and wrong for loving my body when it’s bound and flying. That basically, I should only celebrate my body in ways that are palatable to other people. So…hang on, who’s the anti-feminist here?
Rope is beautiful. It is artistic and it takes talent to create and perform with. We are no less than any other kind of performer. We work to create shows that entertain and surprise and make people smile and gasp and feel things. We want to show people the beauty and freedom that bondage can provide. Bottoming is not shameful. Pain is not shameful. Submission is not shameful.
Being a part of the BDSM community has helped me grow more as a person than any other single experience in my life. It is my home and my family and where I have learned to love myself and my body, and where I’ve learned that I am free to feel and want and do the things that I enjoy without fear of persecution or judgment.
And so, to the people who booed us at that event recently, and to anyone else who has felt the need to publicly demonise our show/s:
You didn’t know me. I didn’t expect you to know all of these things from seeing me on that stage. You didn’t know that Lucero is one of the people I trust most in the world. That he’s not my partner or Dominant, but a dear friend who I share a home and a business with. You didn’t know that I am also a rope Top, and I tie people up and hurt them for fun. You didn’t see my knowledge and experience and the hours upon days upon months of my life that I’ve dedicated to this. You didn’t realise that the smile at the end of our performance was not at being released from the rope, but was one of joy at being so incredibly lucky that I get invited to do what I love on a stage in front of a crowd.
You saw a woman being tied up and hung in the air by a man, and you ran with that. You looked, but you didn’t see. You assumed and cast aversions and judged us based on nothing more than the idea that “bondage is bad.”
What we do might not be your cup of tea or to your taste. That’s cool. I totally respect that. But that does not give you the right to humiliate or belittle me. Nor does it make me less deserving of respect as a performer and as a person.
I have nothing to be ashamed of. I am incredibly proud of who I am and what I do, and what Lucero and I have created together in our performances. Your rudeness didn’t embarrass me. You embarrassed yourself with your judgmental attitude and crappy behaviour.
“I will not censor myself to comfort your ignorance.”
– Jon Stewart
EDIT: I should have made the point originally that the organiser of the event is one of our biggest supporters, and has gone in to bat for us personally and publicly many times over. We love the event and will always support it. It is a wonderful night and was only negatively impacted by said complainants.