The Twisted Monk is the information-packed online rope store catering to both the elite shibari master and the bumbling couple tying each other up for the first time. With instructional videos, links, kits, and a blog, The Twisted Monk goes beyond just providing some string to fool around with. Run by Monk, a self-confessed ex-dot com drone and almost-minister, the shop specializes in impeccably made hemp rope available in a variety of colors. Monk himself, a sex worker and sex-positive activist, has made it his mission to educate and enlighten the sex lives of all people just looking for a little guidance when it comes to BDSM, rope bondage, or kink. The Rumpus had to ask, how does a kid who almost became a man of the cloth enter into the realm of being a sterile hemp fiber rope manufacturer, small business owner, and champion of kink?
The Rumpus: First of all, let’s get this out of the way: are you an actual monk?
Monk: No, that’s just a nickname, although at one time I thought I wanted to be a minister. At fifteen, I announced that I had “Answered The Call”, and that I wanted to pursue a life of evangelicalism. I spent the subsequent summer spent working in a mission in Mexico City, and thus, my older brother dubbed me “The Monk”. It sorta stuck.
TR: How did you get involved in rope bondage?
Monk: My mother-in-law, actually. She gave me my first book on the topic, Midori’s groundbreaking “The Seductive Art of Japanese Rope Bondage”. Like most folks just starting off, I ran down to my local hardware store and bought some cheap, synthetic rope. The results were okay, but not spectacular. In addition to photos and instructions, the book also had a recipe for conditioning raw hemp rope. I bought some scratchy stiff hemp, cooked up a batch and tried it out on the wife… the results were, well shall we say she was very enthusiastic? I believe she said something like, “make more of this, now!”
TR: Are there any aspects of the BDSM scene that you don’t like?
Monk: While SM can be at times a very intense thing, both physically and mentally, sometimes tapping into taboos that may scare some and titillate others; I fear at times folks can take it all too seriously. Some days I want to remind folks that at the end of the day this is all about sex and having a good time, about fulfilling a need that makes you happy. Relax, have fun and don’t take yourself so seriously that you can’t laugh, even at yourself.
TR: I saw in some of your videos that you use your wife as a model/assistant. How did you two meet?
Monk: Ah yes, that would be my darling Tambo. We met in high-school, I was a mere freshman and she a senior, and we rode the same bus home after school. She played the cello and if you have ever seen the case for one of those, then you would know that there are not a lot of options for where to store one on your average school bus. Everyday as the last bell rang, I’d race down to the bus and stake out a seat that would hopefully be close to where she and her hulking instrument case would come to rest. I did this for a year before I built up the nerve to move from casual small talk to asking her out on a date. Last August marked our 20th wedding anniversary.
TR: What’s the strangest request for rope that you’ve ever received?
Monk: What is surprising, although flattering, to me is that people want to buy my personal rope – that is, the rope I’ve been using for my own bondage scenes. Hemp is tough, but I’m tough on my hemp, so it gets frayed and worn out. But when I first mentioned throwing it away, some of my blog readers wrote me and asked to buy it! Now I always offer it for sale, and people quickly snap it up.
TR: How did you begin promoting your business?
Monk: I’ve always been a story teller. Give me a stiff drink and an audience, and I’ll spin tales till the sun comes up. I started blogging in the hopes of documenting some of these stories, as well as documenting the unique adventure I was undertaking as I walked away from the corporate world and began my life as an “alt businessman” From the blog, the word grew, and today my blog is still the best marketing tool I have! On my blog, I can release a new product and have it sell out in hours! I have found new staff through the blog too. And mainly I just keep sharing this adventure I’m on.
I also admit I began blogging in hopes of catching the eye of a certain female blogger that I had a serious crush on, Mistress Matisse. Must have worked, as we’ve been lovers now for nearly 5 years.
TR: What was it like “coming out” as a sex worker?
Monk: Making and selling bondage rope is a form of sex work, as we are working in the business of pleasure after all, but about a year ago I “came out” publicly as a sex worker. I create erotic BDSM experiences for my clients, but rather than call myself a “Pro Dom”, I jokingly call myself a “Rent-a-meanie” as my style is more about the sensual and playful aspects of SM and not that guy decked out in all black leather, standing in front of a St. Andrews cross brandishing a flogger and a sneer.
For Tambo it was just another adventure, over the course of our life together she has supported me thorough all manner of adventure.
Matisse, on the other hand, just laughed. For years she’s been telling would-be gigolos, “The Straight Male Sex Worker is a myth, like the unicorn or universal healthcare.” She and several of my female sexworker friends have had to amend that statement, which they have done happily. Truth be told, Matisse has been mentoring and guiding me as I first began what has been a really fascinating and enriching experience.
TR: What’s your favorite variety of rope and why?
Monk: I’ve always said that I will not sell a single piece of rope that I would not use on my lovers, after having all manner of exotic fiber run through my fingers, I still really love the rope we make day in and day out. It just feels right.
TR: How does one make rope? Did you start out apprenticing?
Monk: I started out cooking giant kettles of raw hemp rope in my kitchen and back yard! One of the really fun challenges of all this is that nobody has ever done this to this scale before. Till now, it was some guy working alone in his basement making just enough rope for his own needs, or maybe to sell to some of his friends. Scaling from that to an industry with a half dozen employees, tens of thousands of customers all over the world, and literally miles of rope in various stages of completion at any given time has been a daunting, but wildly fun task. There is no “this is how the big boys do it” that we can look to and see what the next growth step should be. Rather we are the big boys, and it is up to me to define the rules of the game, and what we will do next to meet the ever growing demand.
TR: How do you hire people to work in your rope making factory? Is it even a factory?
Monk: We like to call our shop, “The Abbey”, and it is very much a factory. At the height of the holiday rush, I’ll have 6 full time employees working for me, as well as a handful of contract / piece rate workers.
I like to say that it takes a unique brand of crazy to work for me. Sure, I get lots of requests from folks who have a romantic idea of what it must be like working in a bondage rope shop, but the truth is that it is dirty, hard work. At the end of most days, we are filthy, cold and our fingers ache. Not the most glamorous of work environments. That said, those who work for me also love it – the challenge, the fact that we are playing without a net, and doing something that has never been done before. Sure there is the obvious OSHA stuff, but the workplace “rules” as to what you can and can’t do or say? The rules do not apply to us.
TR: What are EMT safety shears?
Monk: Also known as “Bandage Shears” EMT shears are heavy duty scissors where on of the edges is blunted so that you can press them against skin and cut things without the danger of cutting the person’s flesh. These are a must have safety tool for anyone doing rope bondage, because it anything goes wrong – from a muscle cramp to an earthquake – you have to be able to get someone untied quickly and safely. The scariest 30 seconds of my life were the ones when, very early in my rope career, I found myself with a partner who had forgotten to eat before playing and was about to pass out while tied up. The handful of seconds it took for me to locate my shears, cut the rope off her, and get her into a safe position was the longest, scariest of my life. Thankfully it was nothing serious and she recovered in a few minutes. However, if I did not have shears on hand, it would have been much harder to get her safe and comfortable to recover from her lightheadedness. This is why I include shears with every rope kit that leaves my shop. It is my hope that they will rust from never having to be used.
TR: How do you explain what you do to strangers?
Monk: Eventually, everyone will ask that. Talk to someone long enough and the conversation will go down that path. Now for the most part I’m very open about what I do, however not everyone is too keen on the whole “sex industry” thing so I sometimes have to fudge a bit about such things. I suppose I could just out and out lie. Tell them that I am a “Drug Mule” or an “Image Consultant for the Moral Majority” perhaps? No, instead I prefer to play the “3 strikes and you’re out” game with them.
Take, for example, a recent conversation I had with an insurance sales person. Now she was a nice enough gal, a fifty-something mom who drove an absurdly large SUV, lived in the suburbs and probably considers “adventurous sex” to be fucking with the lights on, in any room other than the bedroom.
“Blah, blah, blah… so what do you do for a living?”
Strike one, give them a generic answer and then try to divert the conversation elsewhere.
“Me? Oh I have a small retail internet company, so tell me about this dental benefit again?”
“Oh that is nice. What do you sell?”
Strike two, now I am trying to be nice here but you were not satisfied with my answer so I’ll give you a bit more and hope that settles it.
“Organic hemp products”
“Really? What kind of products? ”
“I make and sell bondage rope to the sex industry.”
Several seconds of dumbstruck silence
Ok honey, I tried, I honestly tried but now you asked for it.
“Bondage rope, you know so people can tie each other up and fuck? I supply most of the sex shops on the west coast and some of the best hardcore bondage websites in the industry. In fact I’m currently in negotiations with a major porn studio to supply rope for an upcoming series of videos.”
That usually shuts them right up.
TR: Do you ever get tired of working within the realm of titillation?
Monk: No, I love this job. Of all the jobs I have had, nothing has ever given me such a sense of real satisfaction. One entire wall of the Abbey is dedicated to the cards and letters we get from customers from all over the world. Letters of thanks, photos of the rope in play and tales of how introducing our rope brought a new level of intimacy and excitement to a relationship plaster the wall 2 layers thick.
I guess is some ways, I’m finally fulfilling the calling I had when I was a kid and being that evangelist, changing the world one bedroom at a time.
See Also: The Twisted Monk Blog
See Also: The Rumpus Interview With Margaret Cho