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Listening, the first step to domination (2020)

You can listen to this musing here, or read it below.

Last week I published an old text called “To my beloved predator” that talks about how I, through domination in BDSM, discovered traditional masculinity. This weekly musing has a different twist, where I look at dominant primarily as an act of listening.

Back in 2012, at the European Riggers Exchange, I met Mark Yu, a traditional chines medicine doctor, that planted the seed of listening inside of me. He said things like “Just listen to the Qi to avoid placing your rope on a nerve” – and demonstrated how a massive full-body orgasm is the oscillation between a building and releasing of tension. Back then, I found it very annoying because I could not understand how it worked, but now ten years later, I think I comprehend him better. In hindsight, I feel sympathy for that a room full of European engineers isn’t an easy-going audience when teaching an eastern mystical practice.

Lately, I’ve been practicing a Taoist tea ceremony, and my teacher talks a lot about the relationship between space and content. I very much find myself to be a content-first person. That means that whenever I have some space, in my schedule or my environment, I tend to fill it with content. If there are five minutes until I’m meeting a friend for coffee, then I take the chance to watch another snippet of a Youtube video that has been open in a tab since forever. However, I also notice that this has slowly been changing since I left my career job five years ago. There are less furniture in my home, less cloth in my wardrobe, and less clutter in general.

I believe that rope bondage also is a space-first practice. When I teach how-to build muscle memory with knots, patterns, and positions, it is to create more space. The effort makes it possible to approach tying as listening and reacting to submission. That means that I tie the hands of my partner because they want to submit to me. Not the other way around and this is important to me. Therefore I can’t preplan a session but only listen to the power dynamic that unfolds in-between us.

Many beginners find my approach scary because they “must” admit to wanting to submit, and that can be a vulnerable thing. Deep down, I think everyone is longing for submission, as I’ve written about in the text A longing for belonging. So the real question comes down to trust, and who is worthy of our submission. Before the trust is there, I see my tying as mostly showing that I can listen, and therefore take care of the power they have given me. Once someone is ready for submission, there is often only a symbolic gesture needed for establishing the power dynamic like patiently waiting to be tied in the seiza position. If you are curious about how to build trust, then I recommend reading my text What do you surrender?

So how does one make space to listen?

A simple exercise is to tie a single-column tie around hands in front of the body and move the rope, in-between the arm and body. Next, you pull on the rope while you twist the spine of your partner. Listen to their body language, breath, and tension, to explore how deep you can make the rotation. You can extend the twist into the hips and neck with the help of your hands. The more you listen, the deeper they are likely to go.

The same idea applies to the person in the rope, but in another way. They must make space for and listen to their emotions, and allow themselves to feel and express. If they get too caught up in doing, like focusing solely on tensing their core to protect their back in a deep backbend, then there won’t be space for listening. The solution, in this case, is obviously to make the bondage less extreme. The relationship between space and content is not black-or-white, but instead an encouragement to value space more than content. So the overall suggestion is that the dominant is listening to the submissive who is listening to themselves.

One thing I love about the listening approach to domination is that I can make the power dynamic more delicate. For example, by slightly bowing my partners head forward, or pulling a tight rope just an inch harder. These details become ques for surrender, and once mastered by listening to the submissive, they can form a secret language between the two. In a way, it’s very philosophical; but what comes first the domination or the submission? The hen or the egg? For me, it has been a helpful practice to approach BDSM as listening rather than doing.

Sometimes I think the strong alpha male archetype is a misunderstanding. It is not attractive to be the last man standing, so others have to pick me out of lack of choice. Just as exercising a lot of violence for a tiny bit of submission isn’t very dominant, but instead somewhat tyrannical. Instead learning to listen, is the first step to do more with less, and that results in more control. Control as a form of self-mastery, I believe, is a much more desirable masculine trait in a normative setting. But it’s hard to learn because it is about removing rather than adding, or space over content in other words while maintaining the same presence.

I believe that technically skilled rope bondage practitioners get very good at listening because that is required when moving into suspensions. Otherwise, you might drop or damage your partner. The key for me was to take that presence and apply it to all my tying. My tea teacher says – lift every object as if it was the heaviest. And when lifting the water cauldron, one should take breath and centre in the heart, after that there is no hesitation. I like to interpret it from a theatre perspective, with the concepts of preparation, action, and reaction. Everything one does follow that flow. First, I prepare to wrap the body in rope by listening for the right movement, for the breath, for my partner to be ready to receive increased bondage. Then I act and wrap, and again I listen, for the reaction that eventually will trigger my next move. The action itself is just a tiny part. Maybe even the most insignificant one.

The practice of listening changes as a relationship develops. In a way, it becomes harder over time when we have “heard it all before”—memories of shared moments and the promise of new ones, become a lifeforce of its own. Compare this to when meeting a new person, maybe by happenstance; then there is no future or past, but only the present. Rope bondage can be a ritual to practice listening to the present, just like the way of tea, that my teacher suggests. By putting a supportive structure around the practice, one can find the stamina to focus on falling in love with the details. The small nuances that were never heard before because the surrounding noise was so overpowering. I recommend to periodically make a sanity check and ask oneself – what do I hear? The present, a future dream, or an old memory. Or as my tea teacher would say – who is speaking right now?

Sometimes when I talk about this, I get the counter-question – but what about me? When do I get to explore my perverted desires, if I’m only listening all of the time? My experience is that once the dominant knows how to listen, then their partner’s interest will shift towards them. Maybe because it is in the submissive nature, and when someone feels safe enough, then that comes through. This is the devotion that I describe in the text What do you surrender?

So always remember, and maybe give it a try – domination starts with listening and space.