I’ve been helping with and/or running RVA Rope (in various forms) for the past five years. I haven’t done that work alone. There have been many people along the way who have helped in official and unofficial capacities, including the board that was established over a year ago. But I want to make clear that this post is coming from me and me alone … I am not speaking on behalf of anyone else in any way.
I should also say that there is no one event that is prompting this writing. Rather, it’s the result of a number of years of taking a “leadership” role in the local community and tangentially tracking the larger rope community combined with some reflection during a recent, much-needed break from those responsibilities.
With that said …
During my time in service to the local rope community, I’ve seen and/or had to deal with a good amount of sketchy, shady shit. My strategy, for the most part, has been twofold: 1) I deal with things as directly and quietly as possible. (I don’t blast people online. I do my best to avoid and curtail the spread of gossip. I helped to establish and then follow principles of confidentiality for myself and the board.) 2) I try to combat these problems mainly through education and advocacy. (This is why I so often write about the importance of education, about the nature of consent and understanding your risk profile, of tying within your skillset, of responsible progression, of the importance of bottom’s agency, etc.)
The result of some of this is that I (and others by association) have been labeled by some in a variety of less-than-kind ways: too safety-minded on the nice end; judgmental, exclusive, rope snob on the not nice end.
For the most part, I’ve quietly ignored much of that negativity online and only addressed it in person through the classes I teach or one-on-one conversations. But I’m growing a bit tired of that approach, so I thought I might give anyone who’s interested a quick, mostly-anonymous peek at some of the shit that motivates me. Here’s just a sampling from the past five years:
- Reports from multiple bottoms of an experienced top who ignored requests to come out of the rope because the top wanted “just one more minute” to get a photo.
- Reports from multiple bottoms of injuries, severe/unnecessary pain and distress from a number of tops who refused to consider that their lack of skills may be causing those things and that maybe they should slow down, back up, and tie only within their established skillset. Instead, the typical M.O. is to blame the bottom in various ways.
- Reports of a top telling a bottom to lie about their level of experience in order to get around the suspension guidelines of the venue.
- First-hand experience of telling a then-current student, who had been tying for only a few months, that they were not ready for full suspension work and being ignored (and demonized) by that student … which resulted in a report from others that the student was tying in a workshop well beyond their experience level during which their bottom passed out in the rope (that happens) … but the student was so focused on the rope (due to inexperience) that they didn’t notice that the bottom had passed out … and once alerted by others of the situation, froze up and didn’t know how to address the situation (again, lack of experience) so that (luckily) others had to stop what they were doing to assist and get the bottom to safety.
- Reports of a pair of experienced tops using a tie that caused blood-choke during a face-down suspension, where the bottom was actively holding the rope with their hands to keep from passing out while trying to get the attention of the tops, who were apparently both too distracted by other things to notice that the bottom was in extreme distress.
- Reports from multiple bottoms of a top who ignored requests to come out of the rope because the top claimed they could “fix” the problem with “just one more minute” of fiddling.
- First-hand experience of watching an experienced rope top’s top band of a TK pop off the shoulders during a suspension (it’s rare, but can happen), and then – instead of lowering the bottom to correct this extreme safety issue – continuing to tie and suspend and hoping that the cinch would hold things together (ignoring the increased strain this places on the lower arms and lower ribs, which raises the possibility of nerve damage and passing out due to lack of breathing)
- Reports from multiple bottoms of a rope top coercing them to only tie in private and then those bottoms feeling unduly pressured for sexual contact with the top and the top’s partner during what was supposed to be strictly practice tying.
- Reports of another bottom passing out in rope (see, it does happen), and a medical crew needing to cut the bottom down because the top could not / would not appropriately address the issue and instead spent that time arguing with the DMs.
- First-hand experience of a rope top leaving a bottom unsupervised who was tied and suspended so that the top could go talk to a visiting teacher and get the appreciation of that teacher for the top’s cool suspension.
I could go on, but I think by now you get the point. You probably also notice a pattern.
Also notice that many of these things aren’t “actionable” in any official way. We have an RVA Rope Board with policies and procedures in place, but some of this stuff is nothing anyone can really “do” anything about except to warn, try to help and to educate, and to keep an eye out. And for items that were actionable, we took action according to the policies and procedures we’ve established.
I also regularly encounter people who are new to rope who either don’t realize how much they don’t know or who don’t want to take the time to find out, and who start doing risky suspensions well and obviously before they’re ready … suspensions made far more dangerous than they need to be by poor technique, lock-offs that aren’t secure, etc. These people float into the local scene a few times each year, and I have to find ways to reduce the risks they pose to other equally-inexperienced locals while also trying not to bring offense, not to drive them away from educational opportunities that would help them, and not to start rumors and arguments. I usually do so by trying to steer them towards educational opportunities, but if they’re practicing dangerous things at one of our events, I politely stop them and explain why I did so, all the while hoping they will take this as an opportunity to learn instead of letting ego take over and drive them away. It’s an uncomfortable dance, but the other choice is to allow dangerous practice at our events.
So, yes … at events I host and am responsible for, I’m very conscious of who’s doing what, and I pay particular attention to tops and watch them closely. (And yes, bottoms can be irresponsible and tie beyond their skillset, have a responsibility for making informed decisions, etc., too. But personally, those aren’t the kinds of reports I typically get or experience.)
To be clear: I DO NOT judge anyone for their level or style of rope. I don’t care what kind of rope anyone does … how simple or complex, what style, how “flashy” or “boring,” what their reasons are or what they enjoy about rope or how they enjoy it, etc. … if they’re happy and their partner(s) is happy, then that’s awesome. And frankly, we’ve got a healthy and growing group of people at our rope events happily tying within their skillset and having a wonderful time and that makes me so happy to see.
But if someone is clearly tying beyond their skill level and putting others at risk … and by this, I mostly mean people who are doing highly-questionable suspension work … or has shady consent practices, or refuses to listen to the requests of their partners, or anything like that at an event that I’m responsible for, then yes: I’m going to be bothered by that and address it as appropriately as I can. (Do whatever you want somewhere else … I’m not following people around … but don’t bring that shit to anything I have to be responsible for. But if what you do somewhere else touches on consent violations, then yes, we will address that if you come to our events.)
When it comes to safety, it’s really not that hard: have the humility to tie within your skillset or the humility to only move beyond your current skillset through careful, responsible practice and progression. We all make mistakes, but mistakes are there for you to learn from them and then not repeat them. This is a LIFE SKILL that people should have figured out by their 20s.
As far as I can see, I have two options in these kinds of situations that raise safety concerns but aren’t clearly consent/actionable: ignore it and hope no one gets seriously injured at a specific event I host, or address it in some way. I’ve tried to address it by raising concerns one-on-one (and keeping quiet about it publicly/online when appropriate) and by offering multiple options for education. The result is that, in general, I think the safety level of rope in this area is pretty good and, I dare say, above the average based on what I’ve heard from others and other communities.
But, as a consequence of all this, there are some (and they’re mostly people from the above list, which also says something …) who demonize and attack me (and others) both online and in passive-aggressive, backroom conversations as being a judgmental rope snob. I’ve also gotten some pushback from a few people who, on the one hand, claim they want a safer scene, and on the other, complain because I push back against unsafe players. You can’t please all the people all of the time … but you also can’t have both a safer scene and a scene where no one pushes back against unsafe players.
So let me be clear. I’m not snobby about your rope. I’m snobby about your safety practices, your consent practices, and your lack of responsible progression. If that pisses you off … I don’t care. If you think being concerned about the safety of other people is snobby, then count me as a big fucking snob. If you think you’re above those types of concerns in some way, or if you see the rope community only as a way for you to build your name and/or get intimate access to new people, then I think you’re part of the problem.
If you want to do something to someone else that has the potential to put that person at risk, then you have a responsibility to learn and practice as much as you can in an effort to better control and/or mitigate that risk. We all make mistakes, and we all have more to learn, but if you think you’re above all that and purposefully don’t do so, no matter what reason you tell yourself or others for not doing so, you are either a selfish asshole (one-off) or a predator (repeat offender). The greater the potential risk, the greater the responsibility, and the bigger asshole/predator you are for not accepting that responsibility. If that spoils your fun, point proven.
If you come up with fancy arguments for why this isn’t important, like by claiming people who focus on safety are doing so only for “bad faith” reasons in order to control others, then you’re a manipulative asshole/predator.
I’m not sure why this is a controversial statement, but apparently, to some, it is. Many of the people who disagree often hide behind the “no one true way” shield, as if agreeing that there’s no one true way is the same as agreeing there’s no responsibility to find ways that control or mitigate risks to the best of your ability … as if agreeing there’s no one right way is the same as saying there are no wrong/worse ways. I don’t understand people who are more concerned about their ego than the safety of their partner(s).
If someone judges you because they do things differently from you, they’re probably an asshole. But if someone with experience warns you that you’re introducing unnecessary risk, give them the benefit of the doubt (they’re probably genuinely concerned for the safety of the person you’re doing things to) and at least consider the possibility. And if someone checks in on new people who play with you because we know you have a track record of sketchy safety and/or consent practices, realize the origin and cause for that concern is you. And if you’re getting pushback from a number of experienced people in a community, consider that something in your practice and/or interactions with others is a cause for concern that you might want to examine.
To be honest, there have been only a handful of people over the years that I’ve had any real concerns about, so I don’t see this as a widespread problem (thankfully). But those few incidents seem to get exaggerated (mostly by that same handful of people) into “Richmond is a bunch of rope snobs” or something. And it also takes up an unfair amount of my time and energy to monitor, and is one of the main causes for burn-out.
So, dear Richmond: I want everyone interested in rope to find ways to enjoy it. I don’t care how similar or different those ways are from the ways that I enjoy rope. There are so many ways to enjoy rope, in so many styles, and for so many different reasons, and I want people in our local community to find the ones that appeal to them and be empowered to explore them in risk-aware, risk-mitigating ways. And because of those last two phrases, as long as I’m responsible in some way for events and groups, I will do my best to keep those events and groups within the limits of reasonable safety to the best of my ability.
If you think I’m in error, either in general principle or in specific ways that I try to do so, please have the courtesy to let me know and discuss it with me. I promise I will listen and carefully consider what you’re saying and ask you for your thoughts on how to improve things. If I’ve made a mistake, I will apologize and try to fix it. I don’t bite. I’m 99% sure that anyone who has actually dealt with me face to face on any kind of issue, and especially difficult, sensitive ones, will tell you that I am very open to what others have to say or suggest, and that I’m motivated by wanting to build a healthy and safe community to the best of my (fallible) ability. If you think I’m not doing the right things to build a safer community, let me know.
But don’t make passive-aggressive posts about things or spread gossip … particularly if you’ve never actually spoken to me about any of your concerns. That’s cowardly. That’s divisive. That truly is in bad faith. And that does nothing to improve the community.
And don’t forget … for a few years now, there have been multiple people running the RVA Rope group. And for the past year or so, there’s been an official board. I realize I’m just one person doing my best, and I’m sure I make mistakes, but for a while now, there has been a number of people doing their best to try to create a healthy space for people to come and learn about rope. This is not a monopoly. So, if for some reason you can’t bring yourself to talk to me, there are others you can appeal to, and I know they all care about making the best community they can.
Related to this: I’ve also heard an accusation or two that I use the concept of “safety” as a way to build hierarchy and hold onto power. Seems to me that someone who wants to do that wouldn’t actively seek out others to join in leadership and certainly wouldn’t work to establish an official board (whose first members came from a wide range of experience levels and perspectives), a board that would create policies that would make the removal of me and anyone else on the board easier to do. So, no: safety is not a tool to gain and hold onto power. It’s an end in itself. If you think it’s a bad idea to be a part of a community that focuses on safety and pushes back against unsafe players, I think that’s a red flag and you might want to seek out other, less … attentive? concerned? responsible? … communities.
Last point: I only oversee Rope Bite meetings (which are usually full of people new to rope, which is why I keep a close eye on it) and Rope Study classes. I do happen to think that it’s completely appropriate for safety to be one of the priorities at events that attract a lot of new people and that focus on education. But rope in the Richmond area is not confined to that. There are TNG parties and RLG parties and private parties and other studios and other events and etc. I have no say over any of those (and don’t want to have any say over any of those). So, even if I were a total, raging, controlling monster at Rope Bite and in Rope Study, I’d only be ruining a small portion of the rope scene in Richmond.
So anyway … this is the shit I’ve dealt with for the past five years. And I get it … that’s part of the job. I’ve stayed quiet about most of it. But for today, for now … I’m kinda tired of being quiet.