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Learning the Ropes: An Evening With the New England Bondage Community. | Madeline Christensen-LeCain

Bondage—The word evokes images of dark, grimy dungeons, silent dominatrixes dressed in latex, and a half-remembered scene from Fifty Shades of Grey. For the uninitiated, this is as far as their understanding of the practice goes. But for regular visitors of the New Britain rope studio Upline, bondage becomes a community event, a home where those who enjoy kink can gather without fear of judgement, and enjoy honing their rope skills with the help of others.

I walked into Upline on a Tuesday night in November, a bondage newbie, to attend an event called a “rope lab.” The website bills the night as a beginner-friendly skill sharing event, hosted every Tuesday evening in a second floor rented space inside of One Hartford Square. Though a relatively small room, warm lighting, large mill windows, and tastefully-hung tulle made the space feel cozy and breathable. Against one wall stood three frames, from each hung thick bamboo rods. Heavy pads sat beneath each frame and lined the floor against the opposite wall, presumably to protect patrons from the hard floor. The end of the long room was sectioned off by a carpet, on which stood three white couches and a fridge with drinks and snacks. 

The lounge inside Upline, three white couches arranged in a circle, a mini-fridge and water cooler in the middle. / Photo Credit: Madeline Christensen-LeCain

Upline is a boutique rope studio, owned and run by Connecticut resident Corwin. The thirty-five-year-old is exceptionally friendly and relaxed, a boon to him considering the sensitive nature of his work. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, he wore a simple black shirt featuring the logo of the studio, and a pair of comfortable fitting jeans. He stood behind a small standup desk, checking attendees in on a computer, giving each guest a smile which shone through his mask by way of his eyes. Upline came about because of his own experience in the kink community. Corwin knew he was kinky when he was as young as six years old, but it wasn’t until many years later that he would become involved in the kink community when he began dating his partner. They began going to events and classes together, where Corwin began to notice that, despite the interest he saw from community members, events were often underattended and understaffed. He also noticed in some regions a sense of elitism and gatekeeping towards newer members. “There needs to be a dedicated space specifically for rope,” he recalled thinking. From these observations came Upline, which Corwin created to be a space devoted to making ropework fun, comfortable, welcoming, and consensual. 

After a few minutes of milling around and chatting (“rope people are notoriously late” Corwin remarked) the events of the night began. First, everyone in the room stood in a large circle for introductions. Because of its untoward reputation, many members of this community are guarded about their lives outside of kink, and introduce themselves by their “scene name,” or go by their username on the popular kink social network, Fetlife. After names and pronouns, attendees discussed their intentions for the evening. Some were interested in tying, others in being tied, and others still were there observing, or simply being social. If it was anyone’s first time in the space, they received a round of applause. 

Corwin reminded everyone of one of the cardinal rules of Upline, the rule of consent. At Upline, anyone is allowed to ask anyone else to tie them or if they would like to be tied, and in turn, everyone has the right to say no without explanation. This allows more people to engage without fear, but also stresses the importance of being able to feel safe in the space without having to worry about being pressured into an uncomfortable situation.

A wood and metal frame, from which a bamboo rod hangs lengthwise. / Photo Credit: Madeline Christensen-LeCain

Corwin clapped for attention and gestured to the end of the room as he announced that he would be doing a short lesson, and that those who were interested could follow him to the lounge. The circle split into two groups, one walked towards the circle of sofas at the end of the room, and the other began to unpack bundles of rope and remove layers of clothing. 

Six of the attendees decided to view Corwin’s lesson, myself included. He began by passing out a bundle of rope to each person (who hadn’t brought their own) and taking several bundles out of the wicker basket in front of him.  Three of the different types of rope commonly used in the bondage community are hemp, jute, and synthetic. Hemp and jute are both natural fiber rope, and synthetic is often made of plastic. Jute is Corwin’s rope of choice, which “is probably not smart, being one of the weakest fibers,” he explains, pulling the rope through his hands as if to demonstrate its weakness. “But I like the feel of it more than other kinds.”

The Somerville Bowline tied on the thigh of an attendee. / Photo Credit: Madeline Christensen-LeCain

 With all natural fibers, there is the chance of someone having an allergic reaction, as I quickly found I do with jute. Corwin explained that we had been given synthetic rope to practice with because of its strength, and because it is easier for the studio to maintain once the lesson is over. As beginners, we then learned a beginner knot, called the Somerville Bowline. The knot is named for the town it was invented in, Somerville, Massachusetts, and was created specifically for use in bondage. The tie creates a single column around whatever it is tied on, be that a wrist, an ankle, or thigh, and leaves a long tail which can be used to attach the column to something else. Due to its wide range of uses, the Somerville Bowline is one of the most common ties used in bondage work. 

After the lesson, I stood, ready to meekly wander into the larger area where more experienced patrons were in the thick of doing impressive ties, but I was quickly stopped. 

“Can I show you something cool?” a woman who called herself Dulcinea asked. “I can show you a better way of storing that, if you want,” said another. “I brought some books if anyone wants to look through them,” a third suggested. Of the six viewing the class, two of us were first-timers, and three of the veteran attendees had stuck around, bursting at the seams to share their wisdom.

 A selection of bondage and kink books displayed on a windowsill. / Photo Credit: Madeline Christensen-LeCain

Dulcinea was an older woman, looking to be in her fifties. She wore a simple blue top and fitted jeans; the epitome of a motherly stereotype. As she retied a knot over my leg, she told me about herself. She discovered bondage sometime in the last few years, and has been shocked at how welcoming the community has been to her. In other regions, there can be discrimination against older members, but she has found that at Upline, all are welcome. She is married, and loves her husband, though he doesn’t attend rope events. “He wouldn’t even let me tie his shoelaces,” she remarked with a laugh. 

Solo riggers and models like Dulcinea participate in something they call labbing, which is platonic rope work. Rope, she explained, is not inherently sexual. It’s an art form, and a hobby like any other. It certainly can be sexual, but it is very contexual. Sex itself isn’t allowed at Upline. Rather, people attend to hone their skills and to make new like-minded friends. Dulcinea said that part of the appeal is the catharsis which many models, people who enjoy being tied, experience after and during a scene or session. Because of the sensations experienced during a scene, such as the physical feeling of the rope against one’s skin, or the emotional sensations such as giving control over to the rigger, endorphins are often flying high. This can lead to a deep release of stress and negative emotions after the scene ends. Dulcinea remembered that after a particularly rough week, she came to Upline and was tied by Nikki, another experienced member, into a sheltered position. 

“I was having a bad time, and Nikki and the rope held me together when I couldn’t. The stress left my body, and afterward I cried a little, and smiled a lot.” While she told this story, she smiled at Nikki, who sat nearby, and thanked her. The women leaned against each other in a hug one could only describe as sisterly.

Corwin and his partner performing a suspension tie. They are suspended by their ankles and torso, as Corwin hoists them into the air. / Photo Credit: Upline

As for the riggers perspective, Corwin explained why he personally does rope. “I do it to help somebody feel empowered. It’s really really cool to take photos of somebody in rope, because then they look at this and they go, ‘wow. I did not know I could do that. I did not know that I looked this intense, or this beautiful, or this goofy,’ whatever it is that they’re seeing in those photos.” 

As we chatted, the room around us bustled with life. To my left, a person in exercise clothes and thigh-high socks lifts themself into the air using a harness they had tied and a set of carabiners. A couple in the middle of the room began to end their scene, as the rigger lowered her shirtless model to the floor. To my right, a pair who had met during the class discussed their favorite ways of storing rope. Corwin hoisted a model into the air, suspended by an intricate series of knots and lines, culminating in something beautiful. The look on the model’s face was as though she trusts him completely. Despite the precariousness of the situation, she knows she will not fall.

On this Tuesday night, in the middle of New Britain, unbeknownst to the world around it, a family had gathered. A family which gathers in the night out of necessity, but one which provides a glowing spot of light in the darkness of our world.

Upline hosts events and classes which change each week, including an event called “Drawn to Tie” which invites artists to come and draw or photograph their models. The next event takes place on Saturday, January 22, details and tickets can be found on the Upline website

Madeline Christensen-LeCain is a Staff Writer for the Blue Muse Magazine

Header Photo Credit: Upline

Blue Muse Magazine is a general interest literary magazine published by the students of the English Department at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Connecticut. We publish poetry, fiction, and a gamut of creative nonfiction on anything and everything the blue muse inspires us to write.

1 comment on “Learning the Ropes: An Evening With the New England Bondage Community. | Madeline Christensen-LeCain

  1. Thigh-High Socks

    Thank you for writing this, Madeline. I’ve read and re-read it probably eight times so far this morning, and I’m deeply touched by the way you got to the core of what Upline truly seems to be.
    My first night there was the night you came in order to write this, and in a handful of visits since then I truly feel as though I have been welcomed into a family. That last paragraph of yours lands deeply with me. It was a pleasure to share space with you. 🙂

    Like

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