I am really bad at being bad at things. Extraordinarily terrible at it. And a lot of skill-based things require time, dedication, practice, and-perhaps most importantly-failure. Failure often teaches us more than success does. It helps us learn and grow, hopefully in a fairly safe environment, so that we don’t risk further harm to ourselves and others. In the evolution of people being good at things, there was always a point in which those same people didn’t know anything. Everyone starts somewhere. Everyone starts with not knowing. Everyone starts by being not-good at something.
I know these things. Cognitively, logically, analytically, I know these things. But it doesn’t stop the crippling fear and nervousness to show up to a space and say, “I don’t know how to do this.”…especially in spaces where it feels like failing in the process of learning impacts other people’s perspective of your abilities. That failing to grasp it right away means you’re not worth investing time and energy into teaching. And there are parts of the kink scene that feel like that.
When I was at camp a couple weeks ago, I acknowledged that I’d like to learn more about needles and got the opportunity to learn from three people that I trust and care about. I made the joke to one of them that, “Hey look, I’m doing that thing where I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m doing it in front of other people!” She laughed, but also understood the inherent vulnerability in that for me, the immense amount of trust it takes for me to believe that they would love me through my not-knowing.
I understand where the panic comes from and why, but that’s not helpful right now. Right now, what’s helpful is recognizing that my tendency to want to hide until I Can Do The Thing Perfectly is a survival tactic that does more harm than good at this point in my life. There are things that I can’t learn in isolation- or rather, I can, but I don’t know enough to recognize risky behaviors and part of my concern with failure is also the concern that I might cause harm by doing something incorrectly. Learning needles is not something I can do in isolation. Learning rope is the same way.
I love rope bottoming. I’ve off-and-on tried to learn to tie, but the spaces I was in didn’t have a lot of opportunities for hands-on education and I got frustrated by the rote memorization that comes from self-teaching from YouTube. I wanted to understand the fundamentals of structure and tension so that I could understand the reasons for variations on different ties. I wanted to understand why, not just how- and that’s the kind of thing that requires hands-on, community learning and discussion. So, I stuck to rope bottoming, trying to educate myself as best as I could about safety and good practice, and just decided that I didn’t need to learn to tie.
For a whole slew of reasons, though, rope bottoming has been a little difficult for me to come by. The Baltimore rope scene is incredible- and huge. Sometimes overwhelmingly so. As many friends as I have in the Baltimore rope scene, actually getting to do rope has felt inaccessible- either riggers are more sadistic than I am willing and able to engage with, or I haven’t had opportunities to lab with people to get a feel for how we interact in rope, or people are (understandably, and probably responsibly) sticking to known play partners right now, or people just don’t know that I like to rope bottom and don’t approach me about it. So while I love rope bottoming, I don’t get many chances to do it- which means I haven’t been able to build up my own language around what works and what doesn’t, where wraps feel good and where they don’t, what kinds of ties I can hold and which are more strenuous, etc.
This summer, I’ve gotten more opportunities to rope bottom than I’ve ever had, but those opportunities come in short, concentrated doses. I started tying with someone who lives out of town, so when we are in the same space, yay rope! But when we’re not, I’m still not able to build up the endurance that I want- and 6 or 7 rope scenes over the course of a couple days doesn’t help me build endurance; that’s a sprint, not a distance run. And my body doesn’t know what to do with the whiplash of no rope to all the rope to no rope. And I was starting to get frustrated with the dependency on other people to tie me when that hasn’t been a very dependable outlet thus far.
I was at an event a few weeks ago, watching a performance, and saw one of the most powerful self-ties I have ever seen. I’m not sure exactly what it was about watching this person, but my skin started to itch and I thought, “I want to be able to do that.” I talked to a friend later and said, “Well… I guess I’m going to learn to tie now.” He smiled, handed me a short length of rope, and taught me a couple quick fundamentals to start practicing.
I’ve been looking for space. Space that feels good to not know. Space where I can show up and not feel like I have to front. Space where it can be ok that I’m learning and corrections aren’t condescending, but genuine desire to help strengthen fundamental concepts. A space where learning to tie wasn’t just focused on male riggers/petite female bottoms (because that’s not me and that’s not most of my play partners, and that’s not really what I’m interested in doing). A space that allows for divergence and creativity and yeah, queerness. One where we talk about how to tie chest harnesses on trans guys in ways that don’t accentuate breasts, and how to tie bodies that are larger than we are, and different risks of tying on a flat chest versus tying on someone with breasts and how to work with different body limitations. A space where it was ok to show up in all my queerness and not knowing and have that be ok. At camp, I had a discussion with someone about wanting a space like that, and they talked about wanting the same. Several days after camp, we touched base again, set a date, and they invited several other people to their house to host.
Last night, I went.
I was reminded of the feeling older queers talk about when they found gay bars for the first time. The nervousness, standing outside smoking, wanting desperately to have found the place that they belong, but feeling too jaded to trust it. I was walking into a space where I didn’t know things again, and I wanted, so badly, for this to be the space I was looking for, a place where it was ok to not know.
And holy fuck, I found it.
I don’t know how to explain the feeling, the comfort, the ease that formed within that group in such a short time. But my nerves faded away quickly and I was left with an overwhelming sense of safety and joy- this is what I had been looking for. There are plenty of things I didn’t know. A couple things I had been doing wrong. I messed up a few times and had to start over. Every single one of those things was ok, and it didn’t occur to me to be nervous about what the other people in the room were thinking.
There are any number of reasons why queer folks and women- especially femmes- and people of color don’t feel comfortable engaging and learning in traditional rope spaces. Those are important. They need to be talked about because that is the dominant space that is available to people wanting to learn and I imagine there are more people like me who haven’t felt able or welcome in those spaces. That conversation needs to happen. But right now, I’m feeling jazzed and energized for the space that’s building. I hope more people build spaces like this.
I still get very different things out of rope bottoming for other people than I do self-tying. I still want to tie with other people and build up strength and endurance for things I can’t practice on my own. But there is a lot for me in self-tying and rope topping, and I’m excited to learn and practice and strengthen and grow- and fail. This is the first step on a long journey, and for the second time in a short period of time, I’m entering a space of not-knowing with trust and confidence. Sometimes, all you need is right kind of space.