I’d like to talk about how we as a rope community think about the roles of tops and bottoms and their responsibility when an injury occurs. I’d like to talk about how I conceptualize my responsibility for my own wellbeing in a rope scene. And maybe offer some suggestions for how we as a community bring up new bottoms into the scene.
It seems to me that riggers bear an undue brunt of the burden of injury. And I think that this is largely due to how we initiate new bottoms into the scene. In my experience teaching both in the states and abroad, I often encounter (especially in new bottoms) the question of how to give feedback without being annoying, coming off as weak, or bruising a riggers ego. It seems to me that, as bottoming information and education becomes more pervasive, that this question pops up less. But nevertheless, it’s a thing. And like most things it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists in the context of a community that values subspace and romanticizes the idea that a top takes their bottom’s life into their hands every time they do a suspension scene (and again, lots of knowledgeable tops don’t adhere to this notion, and some people are advocating against tying bottoms who go non-communicative at all). And when I first came on the scene these ideas were particularly pervasive, at least in my local scene and based on what writings I stumbled across on Fetlife.
I think that things have changed a lot, but I still feel like riggers bear the brunt of the blame for incidents that happen. And that really doesn’t sit well with me. Because, the way I see it, there are only a few scenarios in which I could get hurt and it wouldn’t be my fault:
If I tell you not to put rope somewhere, and you disregard that and put rope somewhere- that’s your fault, and you’re a dick.
If I tell you I need to come down or have something changed, and you ignore me- that’s your fault, and you’re a dick.
But maybe it’s a bit my fault for tying with you at all…
If I tell you that I need to come down or have something changed, and you try but don’t get to it in time…well you can share some of the responsibility with me if you want, but the way I see it, that’s my fault for not giving you feedback soon enough based on my assessment of your skill level. Or not assessing your skill level correctly and adjusting my communication accordingly.
And if I come down after a scene that we both thought was hunky dory and find that something is numb or not working…that’s definitely not your fault for not intuiting things about my body that not even I was aware of.
Which brings me to my last point, which is that we can expect this level of personal responsibility from bottoms. We should expect bottoms that are doing suspensions to be able to give good feedback. And we should expect that bottoms who want to do crazy suspensions are able to assess the skill level of the top who wants to take them on this crazy rope ride.
Imagine if new bottoms, even ones who looked fit and body aware, were encouraged to only do floorwork for their first few weeks or months on the scene while they learned about their body in bondage and attended rope classes. Imagine if riggers refused to suspend a bottom who couldn’t tell the difference between a solid TK and a shitty TK. Imagine if every bottoms first suspension was a supportive side suspension or decidedly quick facedown. Imagine if the community as a whole was as skeptical about bottoms jumping into suspension as they were about riggers.
I’m not saying that the amount of prep work for bottoms and tops looking to suspend should be the same. And I’m not saying that all bottoms should wait 60 days before their first suspension. Certainly some bottoms will have a different learning curve than others, just as some tops take to tying more quickly than others (where my rock climbers and boyscouts at?!). But I am saying that we should stop being so grabby with the petite 20 year old with circus experience who walks through the door at her first rope jam. And I am saying that even the newest of new bottoms should be told the ways in which they are responsible for their safety in these dangerous scenes, and should be encouraged to make decisions accordingly.
Bottoms can and should make decisions for their own safety. But these decisions are hard to make for newcomers, because newcomers are pushed off the ground too soon, before they a) know their bodies and b) what good/bad rope feels and looks like. So the next time a new bottom walks through the door, resist the urge to show off with them. Instead, send them to a knowledgeable bottom for a chat. Encourage them to pay attention in the TK class that they’re bottoming for. Suspend them only if they can tell you why they feel that you’re a competent rigger. I bet that, when that happens, I’ll hear a lot less questions about how not to bruise your ego.