In Westwego, a peculiar site is occurring. A young, barefoot, pink-haired woman named Megan is standing under what I’d call “the Devil’s Swing Set,” in the middle of a convention hall. “Live Human Suspension: You Can Suspend too!” reads a sign in front of me.
As various goth, hard rock, and synth pop sounds ring out across the convention floor, Mrs. Rexx, (@mrsrexx51 of Instagram) is having hook after hook inserted into Megan’s skin; “It’s just the tissue layer,” Rexx says, sending a shiver up my spine.
After one false start, during which she nearly flies into the crowd, hooks releasing, Megan begins to dance in the sky, suspended by hooks in her back, like some sort of sadomasochistic Peter Pan. It’s a sight to behold, and no matter what else is going on in front of me, my attention is laser-focused on her as she soars to bad hair metal music. It’s a sight to behold; she seems to feel joy, and the pain, if there is any, is negligible. This is beyond my comprehension. She’s swinging backward and forwards, side to side, and yes, with the greatest of ease. Another place, another time, I’d be talking about a circus act or a ride at the park, but in the case of this young woman, she sits on no swing, and there’s no but her on the ride.
In the past, I’ve gone into the concept of “subspace” but this is an entirely different beast. I’m reminded of Pinhead in “Hellraiser.” “We have such sites to show you.”
It’s one piece of a larger story, wherein regular rigging, suspension, and body modification all intersect to become something that dances between sex and art.
I speak to James Johnson about rigging. He is a dom with a bit of knowledge on the subject. “Well, rigging, the simplest definition of a rigger, is simply someone who ties someone up in various forms of bondage, but that’s really selling the idea short. For some people, rigging is purely about pleasure, but for others, it’s a genuine art form.
“Rigger” is a term I’ve honestly only heard in passing before. And as Johnson points out, simply referring to basic rope play really would sell any true rigger short. “There’s also an aspect of craftsmanship and artistry in being able to do binds that are both functional and beautiful.” He adds, “And the trust that goes into bondage and rope play is incredibly intimate.”
Lux is a Dominant and a rigger. Many people tie up others for fun, but for people like Lux, it’s as much an art form as anything else. Outside of his own private play time, the rigging he does is primarily for artistic purposes; even some of the women he’s tied up describe it as less about pleasure and as more of a zen-like feeling.
Often, but not always, rigging can lead to various forms of suspension as well. But while there’s some overlap between the sort of hook work I’ve seen Megan and Mrs. Rexx do, it’s not the same thing. “As for the overlap. I know a couple of rope bunnies that really enjoy heavy body mods and have done hook suspension.”
There’s definitely some overlap though, as I look at one of Lux’s photos. A woman lies on the ground, but she almost appears to be floating. A dirty yet beautiful brick wall fills the background, her tattoos in the foreground. Rope after rope holds her still in place: “The model is lying on the ground and she is bound to the point where she is unable to move. And the lines going to the rack above prevent her from wiggling side to side at all.” About her experience, Lux says, “That particular model found the act of bondage very Zen. There was no sexual component at all to those ties.”
It’s the same for hook-based suspension. I’m watching Megan, float around a convention hall, not a dark dungeon in someone’s house. She’s enjoying it immensely, but based on our conversation, while she experiences something exciting, there’s no indication that it’s sexual.
Lux agrees, “That’s the thing that’s interested me in all of this, from suspension work to body modification, to rope play–none of it is necessarily sexual.” He continues, “And, most of my bondage work is completely non-sexual. It’s for taking pictures. The only exception to that rule is between my primary and myself. With my primary, it’s purely sexual. She doesn’t like being photographed. With my sub, it’s to make art and then play.”
Megan, whose flight begins this story, answers my questions when she reaches the floor. “What’s the feeling? Whenever they start pulling your body up, your body feels like it’s doing something weird.” She continues, “And as soon as you get off the ground, you have this feeling of calm.”
“A lot of people do it for the endorphin rush, or just to feel proud of themselves,” Rexx says.
While rigging and human hook suspension have brief moments of intersection, including the sense of serenity achieved by both, they have very different histories. In the case of rigging, you can trace this form of rope bondage to Shibari, which was actually a way of distinguishing prisoner rankings through the strength and artistry of the rope work and knots they made. It’s actually considered a martial art.
In the case of human suspension, it can be traced primarily to two sources. One, 5,000 years back among the most devoted of Hindus, as an act of penance and a way of finding the connection between mind and body. More commonly, it can be traced back to a Native American tribe known as the Mandan, as part of their ceremony known as the Okipa, a part of a four-day event that was used to prove themselves worthy to the gods.
For those that want to get into just basic rigging, Lux says, “For anybody that’s ignorant on this that wants to get into it, I recommend starting with cotton rope. Natural fibers are very good for beginning bondage because they won’t cause rope burn very easily. So you want to avoid synthetic to start. And there are good inexpensive cotton ropes on eBay for 12 bucks.”
For those who want to learn about body modification and suspension, I suggest a more “don’t try this at home” attitude. You’re welcome to search for information and seek people out, with Mrs. Rexx being one of those. But frankly, watching their work, and looking at the scars, I suggest you leave it to the professionals.
Michael David Raso has worked as a writer, editor, and journalist for several different publications since graduating from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Be sure to check out the rest his recurring series, “Sex in the Big Easy” here.