June St. Paul

by Emily Wells

"I like to teach people about the fluidity of sexuality"
While drunk, I have a terrible habit of haphazardly practicing (what could very loosely be called) classical ballet, in which I trained for many years. On one such occasion, June St. Paul was watching, and immediately asked if she could tie me up en pointe. We were on the set of a short film we were acting in — she played a dominatrix in a surreal, Dali-esque scene alongside a donkey and a contortionist. My role in the film was to lounge about sipping champagne, which was how I ended up sloppily dancing around the pool at the Petit Ermitage with June.

If there's one stereotype about ballet dancers that is largely true, it's that we're all control-obsessed. So needless to say, after googling just exactly what Shibari is (an erotic form of rope bondage descended from Japanese military techniques), I wasn't exactly eager to try it. But June is sweetly charming, and persuasive ("it has nothing to do with threshold, and has everything to do with knowing your boundaries and playing inside them," she told me). So I let June tie me up en pointe.

I  discovered one significant similarity between Shibari and ballet: Both hurt like hell. After a few hours of tying, I had muscle spasms, rope burns, bruises everywhere, and nauseating dizziness. This is all part of the game for both Shibari artists and ballerinas, which is why my arthritic body can no longer handle either. Additionally, they both have to make the performance appear effortless, and, as June said while tying me, "both have an element of beauty surrounding someone's pain."

Since I've met no one who can speak more eloquently on these fascinating dynamics, I caught up with June, her inspirations, and her work in increasing the visibility of the kink community.

How did you get into Shibari? What was it that pulled you in?

I was first introduced to Shibari through a photoshoot with a photographer on the east coast, Marcus Ranum, doing wet plates. As soon as the rope touched my skin I knew that I had found something I really really liked. From there, I pursued education and experience as a submissive, while exploring other types of play as well. Rope is something that is fun to play with in a kink sense -- it allows for many different kinds of play or spectrum of sensuality to sexuality. Rope requires skill, requires you to learn and study and practice. It is an art, a meditation, and a fun way to connect to people, but it is not easy.

What do you think would surprise people about Shibari and the BDSM community as a whole? Are there misconceptions that you often face?

I personally face the misconception that I bottom only. Most riggers are men, and also of course gender roles in society would dictate most people to assume I was the submissive. Which I do enjoy, and so when someone assumes that I have to be accepting of their perspective and just hope i can enrich it... or scare the fuck out of them, that works too (laughs). I think that a lot of people are surprised that strange can be normal or that not all play — indeed, a lot of play — ends in a sexual act. I like to teach people about the fluidity of sexuality.

You both tie and are tied by others. Do you see the fluidity between dominance and submission as integral to your practice? Do you have a preference toward one?

(Laughs) You have good questions! Yeah I do both, and generally tie more than I am tied these days. I've performed as a bottom with Japanese rigger Saki Kamijoo for the past few years, and I play privately with a handful of other people as submissive, but generally perform as a top. You know, the more I play between the two, the more I'm not sure I always know the difference between when I'm being dominant or when I'm being submissive. A lot of time when I am tying, I feel the relief and excitement of total control, the euphoria of receiving surrender. I think a lot of my enjoyment of that comes from how much I enjoyed the crazy, disgusting, perverted, painful, emotionally trying experiences I've received, that were so integral to my growth. 

Who are your inspirations? 

Saki Kamijoo, Cam Damage, Fred RX, Barkus and Addie, Araki, Akira Naka, Dirty Von P, Gorgone... and to some extent, every person I tie.

When you were tying me, I was taken by just how difficult to be tied up it was, even though I wasn't able to be doing anything else, if that makes sense. Do you train to be fit for Shibari? Do you see it as a form of exercise?

To be fair, you were en pointe! But actually, yes I teach a class on "preparing your body and space for rope" and there is a hashtag #fitforkink ... because Shibari modeling is HARD on your body. You need strength and flexibility to be a sustainable Shibari model, to protect one's body. As a top, I get a great workout too because I'm lifting someone's body weight ...and my body just burns hotter when my hands have rope in them.

How do you use Shibari to establish intimacy? What are some of your methods of keeping an open line of communication? 

I select who I am going to tie carefully because intimacy is important to my Shibari experience. I don't usually tie someone I'm not looking to connect to. Bondage is a silent language which requires a lot of trust. A lot of time, includes pain, surrender of control, emotional availability -- inherently, there is intimacy in that. Stripped of clothes, control of movement and often words or vision, one is left with truth and vulnerability.

Communication is most important! I try to get as much info as I can before I start tying someone I don't know, and often I will do "hello" rope the first time or couple of times I tie with someone, to make sure to learn their body and let them get used to communicating with me. I teach them how to check that they are not getting radial nerve damage or that they aren't loosing circulation; I check in, often keeping an eye on their body language, eye contact and asking them direct questions. I generally use the safe word "red" but also make sure they know that "no," "stop," "I don't want to do that" all work as well, since I don't usually play with consensual/non consent as a top.

What advice do you have for someone thinking about exploring Shibari?

 Have fun! It's ok to be scared.

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