On role-play, and being an emotional vampire
Something kink-related for a change — although not without my usual flair for draining the wind out of things by over-analysing them.
Enough of my kink friends are role-players that I keep coming back to trying to figure out quite what it is about role-play that I either don’t grok, or that I grok on some level, but can’t feel. Role-play is as easy for some of them as breathing. Perhaps it’s sometimes even easier than being themselves. Rather than being a mask that they put on, it’s the setting down of a burden for a while. In some small ways I’ve tried role-play, but it’s never worked in the way that it’s supposed to. Rather than being exciting and adventurous, to me it’s stressful and distancing.
Acting is the obvious non-kink analogue of role-play, but I think the similarities are superficial, and therefore misleading. The taking on of another role is common, of course, but the role — as it were — of that other role couldn’t be much more different. The interaction that matters for conventional acting is between actors and audience. The actors’ job is to fake a reality, and fake relationships, which conjure up enough plausibility to carry the story. Interaction between the actors themselves isn’t the point. They needn’t be moved by each other, in order to move the audience.
The interaction that matters in role-play is entirely between the participants. There might be some amount of conscious theatre or exhibitionism involved, but that’s not the point of it. The point is that the role-players be moved by each other, that they take each other places that are exciting and fun. It’s the connection between them that feeds the play. That’s why written accounts of role-play often fall a bit flat: they can’t capture the essence of the play. It’s not for an audience or a readership. It’s all about the mind-fuck of being there.
Improvisational acting might be a better analogue, and not just because, like role-play, it’s an unscripted, one-shot process. But this has problems too. Improvisation is acting without the rails to run along, so it’s stressful and just plain hard work. Now, it could be that the hard work — the circus trick of walking the high-wire without falling — is a large part of it for a skilled role-player. The magic of spinning something powerful out of nothing much at all. But even then, doesn’t the stress, the focus required to spin the tale, compromise the connection between the players? Can their energies be both focused on the creative process — creating this thing, this narrative, that’s larger than any of the individual participants — and also maintain the connection between them?
Maybe the answer is yes for a skilled role-player. But that wouldn’t be me. I might be able to improvise a scene, if I were fully charged and focused on where we were — and had been able to plan to some extent in advance. This would be improvisation only to a certain extent, though. It might be closer to a form of conventional acting in which the players know their own lines, but not the others’ lines. And there certainly might be a great deal of satisfaction from the process, analogous to the satisfaction of creating a narrative on paper — though without the advantage that would have that I’d get something concrete to keep afterwards for my exertions. But what would surely fall by the wayside for me would be the kink-connection between me and the other (or the others). This would be a narrative produced for the sake of the narrative, or perhaps for the sake of theatre. It wouldn’t be a narrative produced for the sake of the kink-connection with another. I’d be too busy guiding the narrative, working like crazy to plan the next bit, to feel connected.
And that’s basically the point. What matters is how we make that connection with others. For role-players, I suppose that the act of role-play, aside from being exciting enough, must also be easy enough, natural enough, relaxing enough, that the connection can still be there for them, whatever masks they might be wearing. I do struggle to imagine a relationship in which role-play provides a greater connection than is possible with all of the masks stripped away — because how could putting on masks of any significance bring two people closer together than is possible without? (Perhaps this is my failure of imagination.) But a relationship in which role play provides a million different shades of connection, a million different chocolates in the box, seems both plausible and healthy. Not a greater connection, but certainly a greater richness of tone and adventure. Different ways to express what’s basically the same connection.
Role-play could never be easy enough, relaxing enough, for me to maintain a connection with another that was fulfilling for my kink. There’s something deeper for me, too, which digs into my psychology. I won’t play amateur psychologist enough to muse about what reasons might exist for people to enjoy pretending to be other people. But I can speak for myself, and say that feeling connected with someone else is directly related to just basically being able to be me, being seen as me, and feeling comfortable to express the me-ness of me without masks or filters or worrying that certain things might be inappropriate or trying to be what I’m not.
I’d say that it might be an introversion thing, except that I have a feeling that’s an entirely different dimension. I’m sure there are introverts who find fulfillment in being someone else, just as there are introverts who find fulfillment in being seen and accepted without any of the masks that they might usually wear to get on with life in a world that’s not terribly sensitive to their needs.
And perhaps, for me, this thinking is entirely backward anyhow. Rather than needing to feel connected to someone in order to feel kink-connected to them, it’s the other way around: I might seek kink-connection in order to feel connected. Because how could I possibly feel genuinely connected to someone unless I felt connected to them through my kink? It’s such an important part of me, like the letters through a stick of seaside rock. How could I feel open with someone who didn’t embrace that, and how much more connected to someone could I possibly feel than if they embraced my kink being wholly, and it fit with theirs wholly?
So then why, if that connection of me-ness to them-ness is what’s fulfilling to me, would I get pleasure from either or both of us putting on masks? Well, possibly if I was so secure and fulfilled in my connections with others that I was looking for something else — that novel other way to express the connection. That hasn’t been my life so far, though. I truly connect with people so rarely that whatever fulfillment I might potentially get from the different ways of connecting provided by role-play is vastly overwhelmed by the need for fulfillment from simple, basic, me-to-them connection. No masks, no filters. Just me being able to be me, and them just being able to be them, and us fitting with each other.
In fact, the stripping off of even the everyday masks we wear without even realising it – never mind any ones that we might put on over the top of those to play another persona — is what it’s all about for me. Right inside the heart of us is where we’re most open, most vulnerable, and that’s where it feels like we can connect most strongly. To find the scariest, rawest place, the place that’s least-protected by years of accumulated worldliness, cynicism. To push on that place, perhaps even to push hard enough so that it hurts, but then to show that it’s okay. That we can face all of the fears and demons, throw them right out into the sunlight and hurt them a little, put them in their place, and be a little stronger afterwards because of it.
Sometimes I think the mistake is made of equating ‘real-life’ BDSM with punishment. Perhaps I used to make that mistake myself. Though I don’t believe my kink is about punishment, it’s absolutely and completely about ‘real-life’. Real fears and insecurities and vulnerabilities are the fuel for my kink. To be trusted with them, to hurt them and caress them and calm them and shore them up. There’s probably something almost vampiric about it. But anything less than that seems like, well, like play.