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Assumed Familiarity

A few months ago, I volunteered to help at a new event at the Femina Potens art gallery called “A Taste of Rope.”  The concept behind this event was to offer couples the opportunity to experiment with different kinds of rope made from around the world.  The gallery also came up with wine pairings for each of the ropes and provided chocolates, upping the swank factor (as well as the price, I’m sure).

I volunteered to serve drinks and hand out ropes during this event and to generally just help out where I could.  However, my role changed when the event started, as there was an attendee who’d come without a partner.  And since the whole point of this thing was to get to tie someone up with different kinds of ropes, this guy would miss out on a large part of the activities.

Additionally, the gallery had advertised the option to provide a bottom for those few single attendees, so I was asked to be his.  I agreed, not thinking much of it, and was given a pillow to sit by his side, as much of the other bottoms and submissives were seated.  Now, I happen to have seen this fellow before, as he’d stop by the café occasionally to sit and drink a cappuccino.  I’d never really talked to him except to take his order, though.  So we struck up some light conversation and listened to the descriptions of the ropes being brought out.

I admit it, I was looking forward to feeling the different ropes across my skin.  There was bamboo and silk rope from Madame Butterfly, Twisted Monk’s hemp, Bind Me’s jute, and Jugoya jute, among others.  And I had an academic interest as well, to see where my rope-making should be heading.

I’d forgotten about the other item Femina Potens had provided to each couple: a blindfold.  The idea here was to give those being tied up a full tactile experience, heightened by the loss of sight.  And as soon as the ropes were being passed around and free for use, the guy took his blindfold and slipped it over my eyes.  I might have let out a nervous chuckle, but I did not protest.  Implicit consent.

Again, I did not think much of it.  It made me a little uncomfortable to lose my eyesight and bottom to someone I barely knew, but given the circumstances and atmosphere, I did not feel too worried.  I was surrounded by people I knew, after all.

So, one after another, ropes were tied to me, taken off, slid across my skin, and given to me to feel.  It was all, for the most part, fine.  I didn’t particularly care for the way this guy tied, but I chided myself internally, as I’m pretty sure I’ve been spoiled by playing with very experienced rope enthusiasts.  And everyone’s got to start learning somewhere, right?

The guy, after watching me recoil some rope that had just come off my arms, seemed impressed that I could do it blindfolded, and kept handing me more ropes to coil.  And then he’d take more rope to tie me up in.  And as the evening progressed, he was becoming more and more…hands-on, so to speak.  He’d grab the ropes around my wrists and tug them up, growling with what I can only assume to be satisfaction.  Then he’d tug on the ropes around my shoulders and chest.  Finally, I had rope all over my upper body, my hands tied behind me.  I’d moved around a bit and knew I could easily get out if needed, though it would leave a mess of tangled rope.

And by this point his hands were getting really friendly, caressing and pinching me.  A line was crossed when he grabbed my ass and pinched my nipple, and yet I still said nothing.  I was definitely uncomfortable now, and I didn’t want to bottom to this guy anymore.  Yet still, my mind rationalized that the evening was almost over, and anyway I knew I could get myself out of the rope.  And I did free an arm and walk away to get some water.

Once people started leaving, I got myself out of the ropes and recoiled them all (again to the guy’s amusement, which I did not so much care for anymore).  I moved around the room finding other people to talk to, and this pretty much signaled the end of my evening of service to the guy.  I gave him a brief hug farewell and stayed behind handing coats back to people.

All this to say – my experience that evening sums up nicely a term I’ve heard that I’ve latched onto: “assumed familiarity.”  I think part of the reason I quieted any protests I could have made was due to the fact that lots of debauchery was occurring alongside and around me, and that seemed to be in the spirit of the event.  Yet I often feel that there is an air of implied consent surrounding these openly kinky events, at a level I’ve realized I’m not comfortable with.  I’m fine with that, and I know now to be more aware of what I’m signing up for when I volunteer to something like this.

I don’t want to ruin anyone else’s fun, but neither do I want to encourage the notion that I don’t have any personal boundaries.  (It’s not like I haven’t experienced being something of an interactive “object” – I was Max’s Art Project for his annual New Year’s house party.  But I knew what I was getting myself into there – and I trust Max!)

Similar incidents have happened elsewhere; the café is a good candidate for assumed familiarity.  Many a morning when I work alone, I’ll have first-time visitors ask openly intimate or sexual questions out of the blue.  I remember one older guy who came in and asked if the café allowed nudity.  When I said no, and after a brief argument around street legal laws and public health codes, he snorted dismissively, saying “Oh, so you’re not really a kinky café then” and left.

And, amusingly, the opposite also occurs, and again, usually in the mornings when I work alone.  I’ve had a few guys ask, “What’s a nice girl like you working in a place like this?”  The first time this happened, the guy asked how I got this job and, not quite understanding the question, I replied that I’d helped get the place open and had shown my work ethic, and thus was hired.  His response?

“Oh, I see.  You’re not kinky or anything.”

Blink.  Ohhh, that’s what he’d meant.

And I’ll smile sweetly and say, “Really?  What makes you think that?”

  1. Russell Borogove
    March 19, 2010 at 11:52 am

    I wonder what was in the guy’s head at the point he went for the nipple – how much of it was “she’s a volunteer bottom at a kinky event so she’s probably okay with this” versus feeling like he was making an actual sexy connection with you personally. In one case it would be (IMO) poor judgement; in the other it would seem like more of an honest mistake and misread of your vibe.

    In either case, I feel like it would be good for both you and the guy to speak up when you feel a line is crossed – not necessarily to make a scene, but just something like “that’s enough of that” in a quiet but firm tone. It’s tricky as a guy in (broader) society to know how aggressive to be with women, and doubly tricky when you’re new to a sexually oriented subculture.

    Which is not to be victim-blamey or suggest that you did something wrong by not speaking up. I think a guy ought to have pretty explicit consent (or at the very least a “please oh please” look in your eye) before getting grabby on a first meeting, kinky environment or no.

    • March 19, 2010 at 1:22 pm

      Hey Russell! I was just discussing this with another friend who’s commented in private on the topic. Something I realized was that I headed into this from a purely educational mindset and headspace – I was interested in the rope. The guy was looking to enjoy his evening, have a fun sexy time, and get his money’s worth for the price of admission. So right from the beginning we weren’t on the same page, and due to the last-minuteness of my insertion into service, I didn’t really make the transition from volunteer status to being a service bottom for the evening, mentally.

      This is why I specifically didn’t choose to be in the pool of submissives the gallery had on reserve for those who showed up without a partner.

      Regardless, all of your points are definitely true: I should have indicated that a line had been crossed. I just didn’t know how without making the rest of the evening awkward for the both of us.

      It’s tricky as a guy in (broader) society to know how aggressive to be with women, and doubly tricky when you’re new to a sexually oriented subculture.

      Yes. Yes, yes, yes. It is incredibly tricky, especially as a new entrant to the kink community – or even just someone who’s not actively involved and only occasionally attends something like this (which is how I saw this person). I’m not really placing any kind of blame anywhere here – it was more of a personal realization that I need to be clear about my personal boundaries in the future, to prevent this kind of icky situation from happening.

  2. Dov
    March 23, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    I think speaking up isn’t guaranteed to create awkwardness but it will certainly eliminate any for yourself. I think we do ourselves an injustice by many times not calling attention and I don’t mean in a loud Hey don’t do that way but simply to outline the boundary. If we forget to upfront outline what the limits are or assume the venue limits will cover all, one should still be able to if nothing else say excuse me I would like that to stop or can we talk a moment before going on.

    Sadly i think Allowing that to go past the point of comfort create a real awkwardness in that the person overstepping has no clue they are and we in essence consent by silence.

    Or just carry a stun-gun and yell “bad touch, bad touch” as you zap them in the privates, just saying 😉

    Its a learning experience and I don’t in anyway intend to blame the victim think that simply asking if this is okay is an amazing tool to break that Ice an make sure that I am on the same page with the person I am interacting with

  3. seraglioletters
    March 31, 2010 at 10:58 am

    I’ve had things like this happen to me many times. I think it would have been hard, in that situation, for me to tell the person not to touch me–certainly three years ago I would have found it impossible. I’m learning to do this better, but I’ve made the same mistake lots of times–in fact it’s taken four years of being kinky (and lots of unwanted “familiarity”) for me to be confident in making clear my limits and wants to other people. So I totally feel for you. I agree that it would have been best, for you and the other person, if you could have said something. But since that’s done and gone, here’s hoping you feel more empowered to say something next time. Or to carry a stun-gun, whicever works. 🙂

    By the way, in my view it’s a top’s obligation to ask before that kind of touching, and to check in as that type of fondling is going on. I would NEVER begin playing with someone sexually in that context without asking. To be fully clear, he screwed up, and his gender is no excuse! 😀 But the more experienced I am as a bottom, the more I feel capable of dealing with tops who screw up in ways they probably didn’t mean to be malicious.

  4. March 31, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    Dov – you’re absolutely right. My silence doesn’t just affect me, but also leaves the guy clueless about doing anything wrong. Perhaps you’re right, I should invest in a stun gun…

    sera – yeah, my negotiating skills are completely rudimentary right now. I suspect things like this are at least helpful in realizing how important it is for me to draw boundaries. But then there are the kinds of interactions I had in the Bootlove post, where people who sat down were respectful and asked before touching and checked in with me throughout, and that was just a wonderful experience.

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