Sep 172011
 

I often bristle at some of the language I see associated with BDSM and general kink: actors, players, scenes, props, cues, scripts, costumes, dialogues, etc. On one hand, the language suggests drama–heavy, significant, and serious. On the other, it also suggests fabrication–light, inconsequential, and playful.

I understand the language, but I don’t like it. I don’t like to think of myself as an actor doing a scene. I don’t want to imbue everything with significance, but I’m not playing either.

While I don’t endorse some of the language in theory, I have to admit the realities of practice. I do plan for encounters (scenes?) with partners (players?). I’ve bought clothing (costumes?) and toys (props?), I try to think of what to say to make it exciting (dialogue?), and I do all of these things so that I might better physically embody the version of me that I see in my head (a character?).

Ok. So maybe it’s more like drama than I thought. But if it’s all just acting, just play, what’s the point? (No, “fun” isn’t enough to satisfy my brain. If fun were enough, I’d spend my days jumping on a trampoline.)

the Aristotelian Perversion or pony play demonstrates the history of BDSM and fetish

Aristotle and Phyllis, engraving 1587-1593
(The Aristotelian Perversion)

In Poetics, Aristotle argued that the purpose of drama (more accurately, of tragedy) was catharsis–the purging of excess emotion–specifically, fear and pity. While Aristotelian tragedy isn’t a great lens through which to view “play”–it’s far too problematic–some of the connections are interesting.

While I can’t speak to submission, it’s fairly well established that fear is a large component of many submissives’ experiences. Dominance and pity is a dangerous connection, but certainly present in my experience. I don’t feel pity in the “oh poor you” sort of way, but in the “oh you beautiful, sweet creature” sort of way. It’s a name for the overwhelming feeling of appreciation when he takes a beating for me. It’s what makes me have to turn away so he doesn’t see the tears in my eyes in moments when I’m so deeply moved by his devotion and his willingness to be physically and emotionally exposed.

For me, “playing” is cathartic because it’s the physical representation–a mimetic interpretation, perhaps–of unseen emotions. It’s not so much about getting rid of the emotions, but experiencing them–really feeling the emotions, rolling around in them, poking at them, figuring out how they work and what they mean. Those emotions aren’t gone at the end of a scene, but I certainly feel more comfortable with them, less restless, and more satisfied. In a way, it makes emotions more visible and more easily controlled–I get them out there, see them, and kind of rearrange them in a more comfortable, manageable way.

I think that’s where the “tragic beauty” and “tragic pleasure” exist–in that kind of emotional purging and reorganization that often accompanies BDSM play. Maybe it is because “scenes” are often all of those things–dramatic and heavy, as well as fabricated and playful–that I find practicing the contradictions so deeply satisfying and painfully beautiful.
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