You can listen to this musing here, or read it below.
I have a big love for men. When I first got in contact with men’s work, it came at me from many angles, from esoteric festivals and my previous careers when coaching teams mainly consisted of men. In the sadomasochistic community, there has always been an extensive discussion on staying safe as a submissive woman. But never much talk about the needs of men other than then feverish sex dreams of needing a harem of willing slaves. But the more vulnerable ones are disturbingly gone with the wind. So sometimes I organize an afternoon gathering called Men Tying Men, with the subtitle, From Competition to Compassion. And the most common fear I meet is fascinating. What if I’ll like it? Does it mean that I’m gay? Some men join intending to be strong in facing a challenge, and they almost always think about being dominated; they focus on the one tying, while in these shorter gatherings, most focus is on surrendering and the vulnerability that comes along. But that seems to be almost unbelievable for the normative straight man.
So first, we have a confession round. On a scale from homophobic to homosexual, where are you? And there are many steps in between, like homosensual, enjoying the touch, smell, and cuddling with men, because they often are bigger and more muscular but not sexually aroused by it. Or heteroflexible, sometimes it can be delicious being with a man under the right circumstances, even if most of the time is spent with the girlfriend at home. Or simply straight, but without having any problems being close to men. And some are homophobic, which means they are often scared when attending and sitting in a circle with only men about to tie each other up, even more so when they hear other men talking about their homosexuality. I think these are the bravest. Then I demonstrate, often with a homosexual or heteroflexible man, because I want to show erotic intimacy to give space for that. If I, as the leader, show that it’s allowed. And I’m safe, intimate and emphatic, indicating that this is the way, rather than ravishing and dominating—all to set the stage for the most scared ones. If there is an erotic spark in some meetings, it will probably start a passion wildfire anyway without me nudging it in that direction.
And then they get to tie each other. If I have their consent, I like them to switch partners and roles. Circularly and ceremonially, moving from man to man, sometimes even with their eyes closed, to embrace each meeting as a wave of the ocean. And keeping the experience about themselves rather than forming a relationship. Some laugh and cry, others moan and blush, and some feel nothing. And that is just as it should be.
Afterwards, we share our experiences in words. And one sharing that I’ll never forget was among the following lines. He was in the circle to be tied over and over by different men. I had instructed those bound to be as transparent with their emotions as possible and allow their body language to mirror that. But avoid words unless there is a clear need to stop. It’s a way to hand over more power and be more vulnerable. So a new man sat down behind him, a stranger to him in many ways, and from the first touch, he hated it. He felt disgusted and not listened to, and he did his best to express this with his body. But the one tying was a methodical machine executing a preprogrammed routine. He felt safe enough, the stopword was there, and he was not disassociating or panicking. So he allowed himself to soak in this feeling of helplessness. On a logical level, he could understand that the man tying was doing his best to give an experience of bondage. But there was no intimacy, no relationship forming. And he asked himself, how many times has he been the one tying, dominating and doing his best, but failing, just like the man behind him and leaving his partner in the same helplessness, or even worse, disassociating or fawning? The panic he ended as a joke is probably harder to miss.
Another man shared: I felt a bit fearful about leaping because I am very dominant sexually and was wondering what it would be like to get immobilized by someone with total control over me. There weren’t any sexual vibes from my side but a warm brotherly presence around me. It was interesting to surrender myself completely and to let go of any control on my part. Something interesting happened when I felt the pressure of his hand on my throat. I got in touch with intense sadness and started to cry. I couldn’t remember any situation from my past in which I consciously cried in the arms of another. Pretty fucked-up to have been so emotionally shut down for so long if you ask me. It was a great moment of intense inner peace and calmness, feeling some tears flowing down my cheeks and gazing gently at trees outside, my mind completely thought-free.
These intimate stories between men touch me deeply. I remember one time in Brazil, the same structure, but this time on another continent with another history. It was in the Bahia region, close to the capital Salvador, and the main port of the slave trade from Africa that only ended a handful of generations before. Even if the region is the blackest of Brazil in culture and skin colour, most of the men were more white and probably of European descent. Attending an esoteric gathering is a privileged position not available to all, and social standing, even in a super diverse country like Brazil, is still very connected to skin colour. So in the opening circle, when sharing our previous experience of bondage, one man tells a story told to him by his grandmother. Men, women and children, his ancestors, were tied to trees to keep them secure, while the slave traders would hunt those still trying to flee the village. Sometimes it took days in the sun without water before they returned, only to be marked as a slave and shipped to Bahia. That was his relationship with rope. And now he was about to be tied again by a room of white men. Because he wanted to heal and have another story about how men relate to each other.
To visualize these hierarchies, I sometimes create a sadomasochistic play party for only men to play with power. But, again, most attendees are white upper-middle-class men who can afford to play with their position. So, in these parties, I ask the men to divide themselves across the room, from feeling super safe and comfortable at one end and feeling shit-scared at the other. And then we make one line, from the most safe to the most scared man. At this moment, right now. So here we have a snapshot of the hierarchy in the room. And then we play with it, at first in guided exercises and then freely. Some men spank each other, and others are led in a dance or asked to serve in giving a massage. It’s almost always intimate but rarely sexual, as a penis in the asshole meaning of the word.
When I tell these stories, fairly straight men often ask me: why would I ever do this? If nothing else, women will find you much more attractive when you have a compassionate rather than a competitive relationship with other men. When you have brothers and intimate friends. So if for nothing else than just getting laid, I think playing with other men makes a whole lot of sense. When I first started interacting with men in these esoteric circles, I felt so much resistance. It was a lot of being raw and animalistic. Screaming, singing and dancing together. Tightly as a tribe, bathing in each other’s sweat. I would tell myself that I’m a gentler and more elegant man. That sadomasochism has taught me to express my power in more refined ways. Sure it’s true. But then I started to enjoy just sitting in meditation in the middle of a storming sea of roaring men. To feel the power rushing through me. Then I dared to join, to be the source of my rush. And it feels partly childish and partly like a parody of what a real man is, but nowadays, I enjoy it, but it took a couple of years. Stepping into this play of men.