Spanking and the Excluded Middle
Some post-Shadow Lane thoughts, in no particular order or coherence.
At this September’s party I felt more comfortable than I have before; more of a sense of being inside looking out than outside looking in. I’m sure that’s mostly just an effect of familiarity with the grammar of these events, and also that the number of people I know who go to these things has steadily accumulated over time to the point that the days have a momentum of their own and don’t need to be a matter of awkward introductions among groups of strangers.
I still miss a sense of community that I perceive many others feel, though. It’s easy to be sanguine about the absence of a sense of belonging when one has chosen a life that is essentially solitary, and when kink has always thus far been experienced remotely or vicariously. But once one has plunged right into the heart of the scene — and it’s hard not to think of a Vegas Shadow Lane party as anything else — that absence is much more primary. I do know that this is a matter between me and my personality, of course. One acquires a sense of belonging as the dividend from a significant investment of time and self. The question is: how can someone as deeply introverted and (let’s be frank) misanthropic as me come to feel a sense of belonging within a larger community of people without changing who they are — even when that community’s unifying trait is one which burns inside them too? I think the answer is: they can’t. I’m okay with that, but it’s worth being honest about it.
Easily my favourite moment of the weekend was watching a young woman, who couldn’t be more full of life without actually bursting (she knows who she is), invite a young man with cerebral palsy out onto the dance floor for a joyous bop, walker and all. The relative infrequency of these events, and the newness of them to many people, can stir up a mixture of barely-concealed needs and desires, such that they’re a bit blinded to anything other than their kink hungers. I’ve become used, for example, to seeing soi-disant ‘fans’ of spanking models behave more or less like sanctioned stalkers. But the dance cut right through that; the two young people on the dance floor seemed like the most grown-up among the several hundred present.
Speaking of which, when did A. and I become grown-ups in the kink ourselves? The experience of talking to young kinksters who devoured our stories while they were barely teenagers is getting a bit familiar.
Most bizarre moment of the weekend:
Ditzy Woman in Hot Tub (after some small talk led her slowly to figure out from my accent that I’m English): [thinking] “Is there a town in England beginning with a B?”
Me (sitting beside hot tub while A. pretends to be deaf): “Is there a town in the U.S. beginning with a B? – you see what a stupid question it is?”
Ditzy Woman in Hot Tub: “But England’s such a tiny little country!”
Iris’s piece on the Punishment Book about rediscovering the value of play is a good one, and I share some of her feelings. I think it’s probably especially important for people whose primary expression of the kink is real-life discipline that they try to balance that with play that’s more explicitly fun, both with their own partners and with others — whatever the conventional kink analogue of a fuck buddy would be. Which is not to say that real-life discipline can’t also be fun, of course, but it’s, well, it’s different, and it’s often complicated, and the point of more casual play is that it’s uncomplicated by design, and delimited by time and space.
However, I do find myself feeling stuck in something of an excluded middle. I’ve rambled before about my inability to do role-play and how that feels a consequence of how things need to be real in order to work for me. Figuring out what it means for play to be real, without being real-life (or at least without being real-life in quite the same way), is a bit of a conundrum. I’m not really interested in impact play — even impact play which works its way deep enough to find all those nice endorphins.
Play that’s meaningful for me is all about finding vulnerability and pushing on it. That seems to require finding a narrative to guide the play. That same narrative can often turn out to be the most satisfying outcome of play, like improvising a story, but a story that’s personally satisfying, and which involves a journey into real vulnerability and back again. Without a narrative, I don’t really have any compass as a top. I’m not sure what I should be doing, and that brings out a profound performance anxiety. And it matters to me to feel like I can do a good job as a top.
I’m aware of a bafflement among some people with how little I play at Shadow Lane parties. To me it seems pretty obvious. I’m not interested in play unless it’s meaningful. In order for play to be meaningful for me, I need a narrative — an angle into a vulnerability. (A. joked that it’s like a actor asking what their motivation is, and she’s right, it’s just like that.) In order to have an angle into a play partner’s vulnerability, I need to know them very well, and feel comfortable and confident that I know how to find vulnerability — and that they’ll be okay letting me do that. That situation isn’t easily reached, especially for someone who finds it as difficult to become close to people as I do. Exactly what I need in order to find play fulfilling (and to feel confident and competent), is exactly what my personality type makes it hard for me to achieve.
The point is that real-life discipline provides exactly the sort of narrative that I’m talking about here. It’s completely clear to me what my role is and what my partner’s vulnerability is. That it’s real-life might not be as important as that there’s a clear narrative. For some people role-play does just the same job, of course. The vulnerabilities they play with might well even be perfectly real ones, but they’re mapped onto a fictional surface, and the narratives can be chosen as if from a shelf of novels, with all that pseudo-Victorian blather about ‘miscreants’ and ‘infractions’ and such, which I can’t hear as anything other than pantomime (in the thigh-slapping, cross-dressing British sense of the word).
What kinds of real kink narratives can exist for two people who don’t do role-play (at least with each other), and don’t have a relationship which involves real-life discipline? I’m not sure. There are some possibilities. Their relationship could have the feeling and closeness of siblinghood, in which there’s a deep mutual caring, which is expressed with occasional forays into something like discipline, but doesn’t have the depth of a primary relationship. This of course still implies a rare and nurtured closeness, difficult to construct and maintain, even if it doesn’t have the same bedrock as a life-partnership.
I do find myself wondering sometimes — and I do know what a horribly sneering thing this is — what people can find in much of the superficial play that I see around me. ‘Parties’ where men pay for a conveyor belt of interchangeable bodies, for example. I realised a while ago that it matters a great deal to me that I not be interchangeable as a play partner — I think it’s some component of what I think of as real play. If it happens to be my lap, and my right hand, but it could just as well be someone else’s, then I’d rather not be there. The play wouldn’t be diminished; it would be completely empty.