SHIBARI ARTIST & EDUCATOR
MARCH 31, 2018
How old are you?
I’m turning 29 [tomorrow].
Where are you from originally?
I was born in New York City and I was raised in the DC/Maryland area.
What brought you to New Orleans?
Job hunting. My mom brought me here for a wedding and then I started interviewing for jobs. I got my degree in Education Studies with a focus in museums so I thought rather than going and getting my Master’s degree up north I would put my time in down here. I worked at the Historic New Orleans Collection for a while but it didn’t work out. Perfectly lovely people, I love what they’re organization is doing for the preservation of Louisiana, I think that’s a really great thing for them to do but things don’t work because things don’t work out. That’s why I came down here initially.
How long have you been here?
What kind of sex work do you do?
I call myself an educator as well as an artist and an endorphin engineer I suppose. I do shibari which is the Japanese word for to tie. If you tie your shoes then that’s shibari. But the art of tying up another person is called kimbaku and it’s an erotic art form. It’s a couple of hundred years old. The practical application of tying up another person for restraint goes all the way back to escorting prisoners to the next cell and so on. But it became eroticized. Hokusai, who was the guy who painted the iconic giant wave that we know, apparently painted his own shibari fantasy stuff too. It goes way, way, way back. It’s kind of cool. Now we have this infusion of western and eastern styles. When I say western I mean Bettie Page, the damsel-in-distress, tie them up on the train tracks and twist your mustache kind of thing. It’s funny, it’s fun, it’s role-play. People are interested in this topic so what I do specifically is tell them what it is, where it came from, things that they need to understand about it before they undergo any of it themselves, how they’re able to find out more information, how to be able to prove information is correct and safe and how to be able to make assessments for themselves. I call myself a shibari and rope-bondage educator and artist.
What are some of those things that people need to understand about it?
The thing that really gets me about the situation is that you’ll see these beautiful music videos from The Weeknd or things from Fifty Shades Of Greywhere someone and there is someone suspended over a theatre and it looks like they’re gently undulating above the ground and oooh it’s pretty but that ain’t easy. It takes a lot to get to that point for both the person to be able to tie someone in such a way but also for the person tied up to be able to put up with that. They can only be up there for a certain amount of time. There’s a lot that goes into these images that we see that people don’t necessarily know or understand. It’s like looking at an Olympic athlete and saying I can do that. No, you can’t. It’s different. Now does that mean that you cannot do Japanese rope bondage? No, you can. It’s changed in such a way that it now encompasses things like doing macramé on people. I have a friend back in Maryland and he did this very beautiful rainbow piece on a mannequin. Some people are that into it. There is a lot of different things that people can do and it all depends on their own imagination. I think that previously with people teaching shibari in a very hetero-cis male dominated industry…if you go to Japan they will tell you straight up that women are fair game and they’re going to lie to you about how much they can or cannot take. But dude, you have a long-standing tradition of beating the shit out of models that can’t come back to work. The western infusion is working towards figuring out ways to do things that are similar but safer so that you can accomplish the same goal of that immobilization or limiting your mobilization.
How did you get into this work?
Very carefully (laughing). I moved out [of my parent’s house] when I turned eighteen and then moved back in when I turned nineteen. I was having a hard time because I was going to the Catholic University of America with a lot of repressed types of people. I was trying my best to help people out with sex education stuff and then I became part of a Rocky Horror Picture Show group.
Who did you play?
I played Columbia and Rocky and I think The Criminologist once.
I played Janet and Riff Raff.
Fuck yeah. That’s awesome. And of course, Rocky Horror saves all. But friends of mine from that asked me, “Hey we know you’re kinky, do you want to go to a part with us?” I said yes and it turned out that the house was in the neighborhood that I grew up in. I did that and made a couple friends and one of them was a rope top and he was tying me up and it was a lot of fun. I learned a lot of different stuff from him and then I started learning how to tie myself up casually because I liked the way it felt. In limiting your ability to move, it engages your mind in a different way. How do I move now that I cannot move that way? What can I do so that I can still move? Or even embracing the fact that you can’t move and enjoying that. I fell in love with it. It felt like the most amazing thing. I casually picked up a lot of information but it wasn’t anything that I was actively pursuing until I got down here. Then I started really self-tying because I was getting tied by somebody and it turned out to be a really bad decision. I ended up having trouble trusting anybody else to tie me so I learned to tie myself up. I said Fuck it, I like the way that this feels and I didn’t trust anybody else to be able to do this for me so I’m going to do this for me. I trust my intentions, I trust what I’m going to be able to do for myself. And then people started asking when I was going to tie them up. Excuse me, what? When did this come into negotiation here? [Tying other people] is still not something that I get pleasure from and that’s something I still struggle with.
Are you in a place where you are tying other people but still getting used to it or you’ve figured that out?
I figured out a work around and it's getting paid. For real. My first rope top told me from the get-go was that it needs to be a fair and equal energy exchange. Whether that means we have an agreement to have sex after it happens or someone does a chore for me that I don’t want to do. Since I don’t get anything out of tying other people up what I can get out of it is if I need help with something, I can ask them to do that for me. If I need my car cleaned or my apartment cleaned, they can do that. But cash is the easiest thing to do. I don’t get a whole hell of a lot of business but sometimes it’s about doing it for trade or doing it for art’s sake. I need to make sure it balances out in some capacity of another or else I feel straight up hungover without ever drinking. Despite how much bullshit I go through with extenuating circumstances, this is a skill that I know I will never be able to put down. As long as my hands work I’ll keep these patterns in my fingers. But a lot of things have been changing with the grander community so it’s been hard.
What is changing about the community?
The cool thing about shibari is that it is based in Japan but there are a lot of people based internationally who are participating in it. It is modifying itself rapidly. It’s cross-cultural, it’s cross-lingual, there’s all different kinds of people that are engaging in it and adding their own style of things into it. I think it’s impressive but it is based off torture. It’s erotic torture. So you end up seeing the different practices of cultures crossing over and there needs to be respect between cultures for what we are bringing to it. There is a big shibari scene in Mexico City of all places. Russia is another big one. Prague, Canada. You still need to know a person that goes to these things that has the address so you can learn about it so I think that it will continue even with everything going down on the internet right now. In the past, there have been pushes to out people as much as possible and that’s starting to happen again now. There is one woman who is also a sex worker in Toronto and because she was open about being a sex worker and an escort, when she tried to get on a plane and come to the United States they wouldn’t allow her to cross the border. That has been the case for more than a few international performers and teachers. But it has been an art form for a long time for a reason so I don’t think it will go away.
Do you remember being taught or told anything while you were growing up regarding the societal expectations that come with being a girl?
Totally. My mom would not let me be a part of the wresting team because I was a girl. She was like, “Do you want to get groped by all the boys?” And I was secretly like “Yes!” I didn’t say that but it was sexist. I did martial arts for years and I did fencing and all of these things that made me feel like a pretty heavy masochist. I like pain. I like putting myself through the paces. It’s really nice when you put yourself through something and then you reach that high with the chemicals in your head. You have a bruise and you watch it heal and it’s a physical reminder that you’re able to overcome it and go through it and keep going.
How do you define sexism?
It’s the unfair practice of treating a particular gender differently than the other. It typically refers to women instead of men.
How does being treated in a sexist way make you feel?
It’s fucked up. I can’t help but giggle and say its fucked up because there’s not much I can do about it. I try to be as outrageously not what people expect. I look a certain kind of way so whenever people find out that I do all these other kinds of things with my life then they tell me, “Wow, you are not the person I expected you to be.” You’re right because you should not have expectations of other people.
Do you always notice when people are acting in a sexist way?
No. Especially these days because there are more and more subversive forms of sexism.
Do you have any lingering memories of when you experienced sexism against you?
In the bondage community people typically expect that females are bottoms that sets it up to be a very toxic culture. If all females are expected to be subjugated to hetero-cis males, that will be the go to. It’s changing so that’s good but with bottoms still typically being female, a lot of people do not take them seriously. If something happens that was not agreed upon it’s messy. There’s a lot of things that need to be worked over with that.
What’s the best part about being a sex worker?
It gave me life. To be able to do this—literally defying gravity and move about mid-air without the aid of another person—is pretty amazing. At the end of the day I can’t imagine my life without this skill. I try to keep my prices down because I would rather have people know how to do these kinds of things and be able to find out more information for themselves than to potentially do some lasting damage to people.
What’s the hardest part?
There are some people who see rope as just a tool and that’s cool. But there is a grander sentimentality about it that I very much value. I know I’m never going to be able to let go of that. But even within the group of people who have that same sentimentality, there are some that don’t hold the same social issues views as me. I don’t want to have to be categorized with people who don’t hold the same views as I do. That’s very hard. It’s also hard whenever I have not realized that those people do not share my views. It’s also hard to figure out when things have gone wrong and why they went wrong and how to keep them from going wrong again.
What is the biggest misconception about shibari?
That it’s easy. It’s like floating in mid-air. No bitch, it’s torture. Hanging by one ankle sucks. Your entire body weight off of one joint? It hurts. It’s insane to me. It’s not easy and it’s not for everyone regardless of the amount of people who do it publicly. I think it is important to remember that there will be people who see it and do not understand and to be respectful of that.
Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
There are different kinds of sex work jobs pertaining to shibari. Submissives typically want to do something for someone else. Bottoms want to be on the receiving end of something. Tops want to be on the giving end of something. Dominants want to be giving because that’s what pleases them. Those are the defining lines. I consider myself to be a service top where I don’t get anything out of tying other people up. Very rarely do I get that and usually it’s because I’m doing it for somebody that is a friend of mine. I have a friend who has severe ADHD and when I tied him up suddenly it zeroed in and it was like night and day. I was impressed. I didn’t even do anything fancy. When you have that sort of sensory experience with having compression all over, it can provide comfort and pleasure. Temple Grandin was an autistic woman out in the west in the 1960s I think and she studied the herding patterns of cows. One of the things she noticed was that cows benefitted from squeezing each other. They would nestle in and give each other a squeeze so she invented a machine that would squeeze the cows and calm the cows down. I think there’s a lot of the same sort of principles at play. There’s a lot of people that enjoy being tied up for the same reasons. You can get that constant and consistent pressure on either isolated portions of your body or your complete body. To me, it feels amazing. I love it. Anytime I feel like all the little pieces of me are falling apart it squishes them all back together. It’s a really cool feeling and I know a lot of people feel similarly about that.
There are a lot of people who do this casually but recently there have been a lot more people picking it up as a job. There are some people that are very good at it and they’re learning how to do all kinds of amazing things. They’re going to Japan and talking to the major teachers and finding out those secrets and coming back and modifying the things that they do at home. I think it’s wonderful. I think that sticking to the old methods of doing things is a recipe for disaster. That’s how a lot of people get hurt. One of the reasons I learned how to self-tie was that I didn’t trust anybody. I want to educate and pass on good practices but at the same time I can only put so much into being a vigilante and making sure that everybody knows about them. There’s also only so much that can be proven in today’s world where the legalities of consenting to your own harm are problematic. It’s difficult to go after these people in any sort of context. All I can do really is keep on teaching people as best I can for as reasonable a rate as I can and hope that they go in the right directions.
There are people that are doing it for art’s sake. There are people that are doing it for performance. There are people that are doing it for recreation because it gets them off. There are people that are doing it because they are professionals. I only get the opportunity to do sessions on a limited scale. Would I like to do more? Maybe. Everything that’s happening right now with the shutting down of craigslist personals makes it a lot harder but who knows? In terms of performance it is one of the most beautiful things to behold. I have seen some of the most beautiful performances by female rigors and female bottoms. I think there is an incredible source of women’s empowerment there. There’s a lot of things that women can do. Fuck anybody that says you’re too weak. I don’t have to be strong I just have to be smart.