Learning the Ropes front cover

Learning the Ropes front cover

by Race Bannon
Published in 1992 by Daedalus Publishing

Given that this book was written as an introduction to S/M, the title seems a tad misleading and suggests a heavy emphasis on rope bondage.  While there is a fine section devoted to introductory bondage, there is a lot more to Learning the Ropes than just bondage. Bannon writes in a friendly conversational style that is easy to follow. In some ways the book almost seemed too short, but the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that is not the case.  Instead, Bannon deserves heaps of praise for being at once concise and thorough.  Everything someone newly interested in learning about S/M needs to know is covered, but Bannon rightfully takes the reader only so far before making the reader responsible for learning about their own desires and how to fulfill them.

While Bannon is clearly deeply concerned with safety, he recognizes that we all bear a certain amount of personal responsibility for it.  The result is wonderful.  Readers are armed with the tools they will need to be reasonably safe, but not so badgered about safety that they might wonder if the book were written by the same lawyers that power tool owner manuals.

Even though the book manages to be guilty of using fictionalized interludes, they appear once after an explanation of their purpose.  Most fantastically, instead of hampering the flow of the book they manage to actually enhance it.

The next time someone new to BDSM asks about books they should read, I’ll make a point to recommend this one.  It’s that good.

I’m surprised that it isn’t more widely recognized compared to other books that offer advice to those learning about S/M.  I can think of two reasons why this might be the case.

First, Daedalus is a smaller company whose books aren’t as widely distributed as publishing companies like Greenery Press or Mystic Rose.  If a book isn’t easily obtainable, it’s less likely to be adopted as a standard text.

The second reason I can think of for the book’s lack of prominence saddens me: Bannon is gay.  While I’ll admit that I’m in a poor position to judge the book’s standing within the gay S/M community, I can’t help but think his sexuality pushes him to the fringes in the “pansexual” community.

In theory, a pansexual community values everyone equally without regard to their sexuality.  In practice, heterosexual men tend to be held in the highest esteem.   Curiously, while the cachet of bisexual women is as high, if not higher, than that of heterosexual women, bisexual men are viewed with large amounts of suspicion by men and women alike.  Gay men occupy a space somewhat above their bisexual counterparts, but they’re still not seen as quite as “good” as heterosexuals.  The transgendered are often on the outside looking in.

I admit with some of shame that I’m never sure how to relate to the transgendered.   I worry a great deal about pronouns – I’m never sure which to use.  Asking would no doubt be the easiest way of finding out.  The trouble is that by asking you’re forced to confront the fact that someone is different and one wants very much to not make someone feel different – that’s the reason that not getting pronouns right causes so much anxiety in the first place.  So there I am avoiding someone because I fear that in talking to them I’ll say something offensive and make them feel awkward. Yet avoiding the transgendered and all but guarantees they will feel like outsiders. It’s a vicious cycle.  The worst part is knowing that I’m losing out too. When I pick the people who I consider my friends, I judge them based on whether they are interesting, treat me and others fairly, and support me when I need it. Whether or not that person is a man, woman, or transperson doesn’t really affect that one whit.

But I digress.  This is a fine book that would be a good resource to anyone regardless of their sexual or S/M orientation. Sadly, Learning the Ropes appears to be out of print, but if you want to learn about S/M it is well worth the time and effort to track it down.