The cloth goes over her face and there is a low gasp as it is pulled taut. They sit, one in front of the other, tucked neatly together in a pose reminiscent of puppeteer and doll. The bottom's hands flex once, twice, then sit splayed on her thighs. Hedwig puts her face cheek to cheek with the blindfolded bottom, listening in. I know what she is doing, I do it myself, it's like tasting a dish you have prepared to make sure the seasoning and temperature is right. Putting yourself as close to them as possible, feeling their mood through their body. Checking in before you make the next move.
The rope goes around over the eyes and the moans start, they are low and rolling, like a contented cat. Each time the rope winds around, when I can see the tension against the clothed face, the neck, the cheek, the temples. I can hear each pressure point, each different motion through those moans. I smile. The intimacy is palpable. I imagine that each and every one of us who is watching can feel those tiny movements, the way that the rope must be pulling, enclosing the bottom in with a firm grip.
We watch. There are perhaps twenty of us, possibly less. We sit on blue mats which always make me think of school gym sessions. It's quiet in the space, there is the rough yet quiet noise of hemp rope being pulled against itself as behind me other people practice their ties, whispering to their bottoms as they do so. I'm coiling a bundle of rope in my hands whilst I watch, wrapping loop through loop then tying it off into bundles. I like the feel of it, the way it flows in a curious solid / liquid state round my fingers when I move them this way and that. There is a slight masturbatory element to what I am doing, touching rope whilst someone else ties, connecting the sensation in my hands to the way the rope must feel to the person I am watching.
I could watch Hedwig tie forever. And watch her untie, too. The way she takes the same length of time to tie, to play with the tie and then to untie. Like perfect begin, middle and ends of poetry, spaced out with exacting rhythm and cadence. There is a living thing, here. Two people and the rope between them making something else. A rush to untie is like a rush out of the restaurant before the meal in completed, surely better to linger? In the hush that follows, I watch her hold the bottom, a hand over her eyes to let her adjust to the light, and to bring her back slowly from where she has been. We talk about what we have seen, learning from each other and suggesting things that we thought might work. The practical is mixed with the emotional, safety tips mingle with suggestions for aftercare, eventually the bottom comes to enough for us to listen to what she felt, how she experienced it. Then we take a short break and practice our own versions of the face tie.
On Saturday I went along to Hitchin Bitches, a peer rope class specifically for female riggers, there's more about the specifics of this community on the link, so go and have a little look and read. I'll wait. Back? Marvellous.
So there's a few things that are worth noting here, the first is that small, peer learning groups are brilliant, if you can create a safe space, which Hitchin Bitches certainly does. The value of these sessions, to me, are immense. Unlike bigger rope events, and unlike rope events which I help to manage, I am able to relax and practice. My usual role is either to make sure the event is running well, or to keep an eye on the crowd for any potential issues. Not having to do that makes a big difference. Being in a predominantly female space also makes a difference, partly it's because there are less of us (sadly, female riggers are still outnumbered by male ones) and that makes it more comfortable and friendly, but also it means the assumption of male top / female bottom doesn't apply. Taking aside any sort of misogynist nonsense - which there unfortunately still is on the scene, much along the lines of "women aren't funny" - the face value of much of the regular scene is still outwardly about this dichotomy, so places where this isn't happening are wonderful.
What also interested me was what wasn't happening. It was a small event and there was no "showboating", no-one got dramatically suspended, no-one was lining up to tie or be tied by such and such a person, no-one was wearing sexy clothing (it was a little cold). No-one was drinking, except water or Ribena. No-one was taking themselves seriously - we made a lot of jokes about femdom and about BDSM in general. We were not making a political statement. There were several men present who had happily offered their services as rope bunnies, and all to the good because tying up men is different to tying up women, not least in the chest harness area. I had a very good time practicing a series of ties on both men and women, enjoying the different feel of their bodies and their responses to me and to the rope. I felt pleasingly unselfconscious.
We were a group of women practising tying up other people. Nothing more. Yet there was something extremely refreshing, and rare, to be in a space where your identity is normalised, predominant and in the majority. Unlike big female orientated events like Pedestal, where femdom is very much "on show" and sexuality is a display activity - for both men and women - this was very relaxed, I just turned up. I didn't have to wear anything specific or try and project any sort of persona. The play that did happen was all rope orientated. What was happening was playful, funny and friendly. We were messing about with rope, being serious about rope and learning about rope - all at the same time.
Oh, and the face tie? Hot.