Like most people I started practicing rope in the bedroom long before I realized there was an active community. Trying my best to replicate what I had seen in porn or in photos. My long suffering partner at the time kindly sat through incompetent hours of practice.
There were no terms for the two of us involved and certainly there were no names for the unrecognizable patterns I was tying. When I really became involved with rope I voraciously consumed private tutorials, classes and books. During this time I began to learn the language of rope. As I learnt the names for certain ties, cinches and patterns I also learnt that my partner was called a bunny and I was a rigger.
Without thought I started to use these terms, and for almost 10 years I continued to. I have referred to some of the most skilled and physically able people I have ever met as a bunny. I find it embarrassing to admit that I absorbed this term without thought for its meaning; it was just a defining word. I gave no consideration to strength of a label.
We are what we say we are
For years I happily went along absorbing information and regurgitating it without question. I uncritically parroted what I learnt with absolute confidence. But then something changed, it was a small thing and hard to identify at first, I found that the term bunny had began to sit uncomfortably with me.
Something itched in the back of my mind and would not settle. I found myself compelled to find the source of this discomfort. I turned to exploring the word itself and what weight it might carry.
Labeling theory argues that the description or classification of an individual directly influences the perception and self-identity of that same individual. Consider the words we use for the person who ties, Rigger, Rope Top, Nawashi, Teacher… All of these are strong, evocative words. And what term do we use for partners in all this? Bunny, a young rabbit, helpless, cute and weak.
These partners are tied, swung, suspended, risk injury, suffer the pain of our mistakes and look amazing while doing it. This was the source of my discomfort; I felt the name I had been taught to use to define my rope partner inherently placed them in a position of weakness.
I had ignored the incredible power in the naming of a role.
Now I should pause before I go further as I fear I may sound as if I am condemning people. I do not have any judgement to pass on anyone who uses the term affectionately or self-identifies with the term. I felt that I had made a mistake in not questioning why I chose to use it.
Consider the impact of saying; the person who does this thing is a bunny. As a community when we introduce a classifying term it forms the basis of our perception of that role. If we ascribe all our terms of respect to only one individual in a partnership without regard to the nuances of that relationship what impression does that give? We fix the power dynamic without regard to the people involved.
Our willingness to allow such infantilising terms to be used is symptomatic of a lack of thought regarding the effect we have on those we work with. If we absorb and repeat without thought then we only perpetuate.
There is of course a secondary aspect of this which is when we say; you are a bunny. In this case we place an identity on a person, placing a value on them. There is no agency granted to this individual even if they rebel against the word because it has become an accepted identifying term used by the community they have entered into.
Welcome to the real world
“The fact of the matter is that the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group” (Sapir, 1929).
As a group we have developed a habit betrayed in our use of words. The one doing the tying is portrayed as the one in control, the powerful one and is granted equally powerful terms, while the one tied is relegated to a weaker, supportive role.
To define someone with a powerless term is to rob them of the authority and respect they deserve. To use the term in ignorance is the fault of the community, I think we need to challenge ourselves to think about why we use it and if we still want to.
I don’t have a perfect solution to what I perceive as a problem. I hate to present an issue without a solution, so instead I can only offer what I have found sits comfortably with me.
Rather than refer to those I tie with as bunnies I refer to them as models. As anyone who does modelling will tell you, it is not easy. It is hard work that requires skill.
Clothes, like rope, are lifeless. Throw rope onto a floor and it does nothing, tie rope about a mannequin and it has no passion. It is our model who brings life to our work, gives energy to our rope.
We tie the same ties with different people because of the uniqueness of what they add. If all the beauty of rope came from the ties and the rigger then we could achieve nothing new with different people.
Respect your partners in word and action. I have found the way that works for me, find what works for you. The first step is simply thinking, thinking about what words mean, why you use them and the impact they have.