Opinion
8 min

Japanese rope bondage taught me that kink bonds last forever

A kink partnership never really ends — you take the skills you learned into new relationships

Credit: Kevin Rojo/Daily Xtra

Even when Evie tells me I have great breasts, I don’t clock that we’re on a date. 

It’s been a long time since I went out with a beautiful woman, and a longer time since a beautiful woman noticed me. I’ve been dressing like a boy lately, which makes me feel like I am who I am, but it also makes me feel invisible. I grew up watching late ’90s Britney Spears music videos. Recognizing that I have tits and a cunt, the lesson I took away from that media was that for me to be sexy, I had to play up my anatomy. 

In high school I was the queen of push-up bras and low-rise skinny jeans. Dressing femme was my responsibility because I believed it was the only way I could be desired. I wanted to be wanted so badly. 

So when Evie tells me my breasts are great, I don’t clock that a gorgeous woman is flirting with me. I clock the difference between us. She’s not the most ornately femme woman — in the years I have had a crush on her, I’ve heard her describe herself as a tomboy femme. But she is certainly feminine. I’ve watched men get on their knees to talk to her at bars. When she comments on my breasts, I think about how I haven’t worn a bra in years. Sometimes I forget I have breasts at all.  

She is a goddess of a woman. I’m a genderqueer who’s trying to figure out how to dress like a boy and be sexy as a boi, but really having no idea how to do either. It’s a quiet night in May 2016. I meet up with Evie in Toronto’s Chinatown neighbourhood with faint hope and the nerves of a 15-year-old virgin, my body full of vague desire that feels as urgent as it does inactionable. If I had a dick it would be small and rock hard, and if I was invited to put my small hard dick anywhere near Evie I’d bust my load in three seconds.

Evie is a professional dominatrix. Being creatively and violently graceful is what she does for a living. She sees people for who they are. She sees the desires they ball up deep within themselves because they’re afraid to be judged and knows how to prod, spank and pull those desires to the surface. Years before our first date, I watched Evie dom another queer at a public play party. Her sub was leaned over, face down, on a spanking bench. 

Evie turned away from her sub, we locked eyes for a moment, and then Evie rubbed her own ass against the spanked-red ass of her sub. I remember thinking how unusual Evie’s impulses were, how they felt unscripted, unrehearsed, outside of what she had seen anyone else do. Authentic. Inherent, rather than learnt. Where did she get these gorgeous ideas? What music videos did she grow up watching?

My years-long crush on Evie stems from two things: her aforementioned grace, and the fact that Evie is a rope top.

***

In the public Shibari scene — aka Japanese rope bondage scene — you’ll hear specific terms beyond just the Japanese names for certain ties and positions. The person doing the tying is generally referred to as the rigger or rope top, and the person being tied is referred to as the rope bottom — the rope bunny, the model, the rope slut. I’ve been a rope bottom for a few years. 

A lot of the public rope scene enforces, rather than subverts, the societal status quo: there’s a lot of highly gendered language, a lot of talking about women like they’re dolls, a lot of young, petite women being tied and photographed for the acclaim of older, cis men. It’s frustrating because for me, rope is about filtering out the noise of everyday existence. Rope is about feeling. About doing nothing but feeling the moment. Rope is about being present in your skin.

One of the most significant rope tops in my life is a man named James, who learnt how to tie while living in Japan. James and I meet while he’s living in Toronto in 2014. He teaches rope bondage for a living in a deliciously grungy studio above a bar on Queen West. 

One day, I tossed out to the Facebook universe that I was looking to get tied more regularly, and a friend suggested I contact James. Although I’ve been fucking men for as long as I’ve been having sex — way longer than I’ve been sleeping with women and other queers — I’d never been tied by a man. But my friend vouches for him, so I message him on Fetlife and he writes back cordially, no creepy cis-male condescension, just an offer we grab a drink and chat. 

James is not casual about rope, a quick internet search on him reveals. He lives it daily, professionally. I’m intimidated. I have a caesar and he has jasmine tea at the 24-hour cheap-and-available diner James eats most of his meals at. 

He asks me how flexible I am, what my fitness regime looks like, how long I’ve been a rope bottom and who I’ve been tied by. He asks how good my circulation is. I feel like I’m interviewing for a position. I’m aware of the power dynamic at play, but I answer anyway. He’s tall, lanky, with long hair down his back and chipped black nail polish on his rope-calloused fingers. 

“Why rope? he asks me. 

“In rope, I don’t have an age, or a gender, or a sexual orientation, or a history, or a bank account balance,” I answer. “I’m just energy. I’m free.”

A week after caesars and tea, James and I tie for the first time. It’s one of my favorite rope scenes, all grappling on the floor, him untying and retying me, my skin scraping and bruising against the jute bonds and his tatami floor mats. We don’t have sex after we tie on that night but we do have sex almost every time we see each other afterwards, way more often than we tie. 

A man I thought I would know for the purposes of getting tied becomes a lover, a friend and in many ways, the older male mentor this little boi never had. Over and over I show up at his place, his hand reaches down into my boxers in the stairwell of his building, we fuck like banshees, and then we talk about how to get what we want out of life. 

We talk often about women we want to fuck, women we think are sexy, women James is fucking, women I wish I was fucking. When we’re out together and I see women I’m attracted to, James encourages me to hit on them. He says, “Here’s your pick-up line. ‘Hi. I’m Katie.’” 

James stands me naked in the mirrors of his rope studio and says, “You’re perfect.” He never makes me feel weird about the fact that I wear boxers, always makes it clear in front of students and colleagues that I’m his lover, even though my short hair and the men’s T-shirts I wear hang so loose on my frame that I look like a boy whose parents are buying clothes they assume I’ll grow into. He’s the first man I’m a boi with, the first cis man I don’t costume myself as a woman for. “You’re perfect.”

We talk occasionally about his rope students, never breaching confidentiality. Most of them are strangers to me, but one isn’t. He says one of his best students is a really pretty woman. I know who he’s talking about. Her name is Evie. 

***

There’s a particular way in which kink makes the world smaller. Because of the complexity and danger involved in Shibari, there is a level at which rope bondage is the intersection of lust, fine art skills and knowledge of anatomy. Because this knowledge is so specific, specialized and stigmatized, proportionally there aren’t many people in the world who possess it. Which means that if you tie with one rigger who ties publicly, that rigger likely knows other riggers you’ll play with at some point. 

As the people who are your kink network move around the world, you have intimate contacts worldwide. I know rope tops across three continents. Three of those rope tops, I am close enough to that we’ve had sex and are permanently in each other’s lives, even if we only touch base once a year. They always have a place to crash at in my home and I always have a place to crash at in theirs, whether that’s in Australia or Toronto’s west side. 

These are relationships based on the fact that their bonds have been written in my skin. After a tie, their ligature marks all over my body — they’ve turned my body into land sculpture and have carved roads in my calves and torso towards the innermost iteration of identity. 

They’ve seen what I look like outside of all the societal roles I decide to play and all the ones I can’t opt out of. They’ve seen me outside of gendered costuming. They’ve given me the moment of clarity about existence: I’m alive, that’s it. That’s all that’s really at stake. I’ve let them see me without any artifice.

But I’m not tapping into that elemental self at dinner in Chinatown with Evie, two years after meeting James. I’m insecure. I want to be what she wants. If she told me to grow out my hair, put it in pigtails and wear a kilt-and-blouse school girl outfit, I might do it. I’m bad at knowing who I am in the face of who I want.

Then I look at her hands. Everything about Evie is feminine and smooth, except her hands, which look like they’ve toiled in farms pulling up potatoes. There’s something about the strength, solidness and coarseness of her hands that remind me of James. I remember that he taught her how to hold rope in her hands and turn her fingers into agents of freedom. They share esthetic sensibilities through the passing of training. 

I picture James teaching Evie how to tie, in the studio I fucked in so many times, and it relaxes me. It makes me think that maybe they’ll also share attraction to the frenetic tension in me between being a boy and being a woman — the tension in me that I am secretly afraid is the thing that makes me unlovable. 

We order dumplings. Evie tells me Japanese words and their translations. I grin. James always used to tell me Japanese word meanings. I wonder if this is something she picked up from him, or if they both just obsess about what they love in the same way. Evie and I date each other slowly. We don’t dive into sex, kink or rope right away. 

The first time we play she ties me, face down, into a spanking bench and tortures my labia with two tiny clamps linked by a chain. She has me walk around with the clamps biting into my labia. The weight of the chain pulls the clamps downwards so that I feel weight pulling down on my cunt, in a place where I don’t have weight, but would if I had been born with a cock. She stands me in front of a floor-to-ceiling mirror. I see the length of the chain, like the outline of the cock I wasn’t born with but have just the same. 

The pain from the clamps digging in and pulling down on my labia is specific and excruciating. She cups the chain in her hand, raises and lowers her hand so that the pull on my cunt decreases and then increases again. It feels like she’s jerking me off. I can feel my cunt and my cock all at once. 

She releases the clamps. She picks me up and places me on her kitchen counter. She finger-fucks me. I spurt fountains. I come longer, harder and wetter than I ever have. She makes my body land sculpture and I pour a lake onto her counter. 

I quiver. I laugh. Maybe I am the world. Maybe I am just a small thing, held by a lineage of lovers whose hands speak a particular language. 

Over dumplings, Evie had said that the Japanese word for having an orgasm is ‘iku’, but that iku actually means to go somewhere. So while we, on this continent, come, on the other side of the world, our lovers go.