"Belay on," I called to my friend.Once the ritual exchange for climbing was complete, my friend began ascending a hard limestone rock wall, testing and using every bit of his balance and strength to slowly climb higher.
"On belay," my friend called to me.
"Climb," I replied.
"Climbing," he said.
His safety was assured through mutually checked and inspected ropes, harnesses and anchor points, and by the fact that were he to fall, I could easily stop his descent long before he hit the ground. I was the "belay man" - his health and life were my responsibility. Falls were something we actually practiced, nobody could climb without having practiced falls, as well as learning how to belay . . .
Today, I realize that the words we spoke are not dissimilar to some BDSM ritual exchanges. In retrospect, I find it oddly funny how we sometimes find ourselves drawn to arenas where ritual provides a core structure around which everything else is built.
Which brings us, in an odd way, to today's terrible tale, the story of a professional BDSM performance artist and an accident that physically harmed someone she had placed into suspension bondage . . .
"I haven’t had a day since the accident that I’ve not thought about it. I could have killed her. The scenarios play in my head over and over. There have been nights of deep darkness. The grief lingers. She’s suffered pain and trauma of flesh and heart, not only in the moment of the accident, but long after as well. Her healing and recovery will take time. The depth of emotional hurt for the person I dropped will be profound and long lasting."
Wow, it's news I never thought I'd see.
Midori, author, BDSM personality, and educator, had a serious accident in a public suspension bondage scene. A bound individual was dropped a significant distance onto a solid cement floor.
Midori wrote about the incident over at the Eden Fantasies' site in a posting called - The Suspension Accident: It Finally Happened...
I'm sure everybody involved in this incident is feeling more than a little hurt and confused. Heck, I'm feeling the tug of both emotions writing about it. Although I've never met her in person, I've always had great respect for Midori, based upon her writing and reputation, as well as the large amount of BDSM educational work she's done. I've always wanted to attend one of her workshops and meet her in person.
I also know that dropping a submissive is inexcusable. Yes, dominants are human and fallible, but the standards that are taught and used by suspension bondage performers shouldn't be different than the standards that properly trained rock and mountain climbers use in their hobby. From that perspective, there's just no excuse for this kind of failure. None.
I used to informally teach rappelling and rock climbing to friends. The instruction itself was actually strict and unwavering on the topic of safety, the word "informal" is used to indicate that I didn't charge a fee, I never had a class schedule. Instead, I took a group out one day a week every week for two years, supplying my rope and knowledge, driving an old Plymouth Fury packed with gear and people to a climbing area about an hour away from where I grew up.
I'm quite proud that a good number of people were able to experience a unique hobby that they otherwise never would have known. I'm also proud that there was never even the slightest injury on what folks called "Michael's Climbing Expeditions". The name was kinda fun, and I never had the heart to tell them it was simply an "outing", what we were doing was a pale ghost of a real expedition. I guess "outing" has a different meaning now days anyway . . .
In describing the incident, Midori Went on to say:
In describing the incident, Midori Went on to say:
Those of us who play with kink have access to scores of workshops, seminars, and manuals on how to avoid this very sort of thing. But when it actually happens, none of it is enough.Midori's words are especially disheartening to me because a responsible dominant should not even begin to ever accept that "we will fail someday" - failure with another's life at stake is worse than inexcusable. Accepting failure in this circumstance is negligence, and it may be criminal. The reality is that most legal authorities would consider a death under these conditions to be a form of negligent homicide, at the very least it would be investigated as such . . .
The reality is, I’m simply lucky something like this didn’t happen sooner. One of the things we forget when we get into the play space is no matter how many of those classes you’ve taken (or in my case, taught), no matter how many knots you’ve tied, or how many scenes you’ve negotiated, it never becomes perfectly safe. After twenty years of public and private rope play, I was reminded of a single, brutal truth — a truth of which few dare to speak: if you do kink long enough, you will have a scene go bad, sometimes horrifically bad.
Mountain climbers and motorcyclists alike have their own version of that rule. There are two kinds of bikers; those who’ve crashed their bikes, and those who haven’t crashed their bikes yet. But in the kink milieu, we’re silent about the risk. The workshops and guidebooks become incantations that will protect us from harm with mystical infallibility. Bad things only happen to the newbies and the tourists, not real kinksters who know what they’re doing — so goes the unspoken faith. Because mishaps and accidents reside in the realm of the hypothetical, when it becomes real and personal, we’re often not prepared.
The woman I dropped was my co-performer at a fetish dinner theater; two hundred plus guests in elegant attire were watching us. One minute, she was flying through the air, her graceful arms flowing. The next, she was on the floor. I had a nanosecond of bafflement, and then it hit me:
I dropped her.
Even as time slowed and stretched, my old military training came up. Over two hundred people were watching us, and panic would only make things worse. After quickly assessing she was conscious and could move, I decided the best thing for her safety and the audiences would be to get her offstage in as calm a fashion as possible. Staying in character, I “danced” her offstage and to the dressing room where the medically trained staff attended to her.
What draws most of us to kink is that it allows us to access raw, intense emotions that we have to keep locked away on a day-to-day basis. The risk is that while a good scene can send you flying so high you think you’ll break right through the sky, a bad one can be devastating, and the devastation doesn't stop at the end of the evening. The emotional fallout can come at different stages and at different times, like any grief process.
That kind of trauma doesn’t fit easily in how we think about “sex positivity.” So much of our training and community values are based on being positive about sexuality that negative experiences get swept under the rug.
There is too much at stake in a scene for us to pretend that with the proper invocations, everything will go right. If we are not ready for things to go wrong, we can’t be there for our friends and partners when a scene causes physical or emotional injury.
Perhaps the next stage in kink education needs to be training to respond to “Oh, shit!” situations, so that responses to crises in a playspace become as standard as knowing your safeword and packing EMT shears.
But to go beyond even that, to start to discuss failed scenes openly and with compassion, we have to realize that the pain and consequences go deeper than we might first think. The loss of trust in partner and self can be deeper than any wound.
Even the best of responses is never perfect. I did the best I could for my co-performer: I went with her to the hospital and paid her medical bills. Fortunately her physical injuries were not as catastrophic as they could have been. The depth of the emotional pain, however, is likely to be far deeper, but only she will know how deep.
What I do know is that I screwed up. She trusted me with her body and safety, and I quite literally let her fall. I’m not sure when I’ll do another suspension. For now, I have to go back to the drawing board and review my own skills before I’m ready to take flight with another. I’ll be working up towards that.
No matter how much we study or train, know this: we will fail someday. When that day comes, be ready.
In teaching rock climbing I taught people that all injuries were the result of human error. If a rope was cut by a sharp rock edge, that's not an act of nature, it's human failure, the rope should have been placed differently or padded. If an anchor point failed, it wasn't the fault of nature, it was human error in selecting an improper or unsuitable location, anchor points need to be "bombproof" I used to say.
When we begin to accept that "accidents will happen", when we start by saying we are somehow "lucky" an incident didn't happen sooner, we are going down a very slippery slope. That attitude, no matter how strongly couched in words about being prepared for disasters, is an actual recipe for disaster.
This is an important story for the BDM community. I'm sure it's being heatedly discussed in a number of venues. In case anyone has "issue" from a copyright standpoint, with my complete copy and paste of Midori's post, I can only say (in defense) that I didn't wish to be accused of editing her comment in a prejudicial manner. Any edit I might make might be interpreted as an attempt to make her look either good or bad, it's like navigating a mine field, any step can cause an explosion.
This incident may have happened on another continent, and "only" one individual was dropped, but it's reverberations will be felt world wide for some time to come. I'm documenting it here as "news" the best I can, for posterity, and in hope that the proper lesson will be taken and remembered.