Making a Scene

Someone asked me a while ago — paraphrasing, but not much — how someone bottoming could get into my head as a top. The question threw me, and I struggled to answer — and I think the reasons why that was the case are instructive.

There are (at least) two different ways to interpret the question. One sounds like: “How can a bottom influence or control a scene in which I’m topping?” That wasn’t what the questioner meant, but it’s nevertheless interesting to think about. That interpretation of the question clarified for me the fact that I don’t want whomever I’m playing with to influence or control the scene at all, once it’s going. Planning, negotiation, discussion of preferences, limits and all related activities having been dealt with beforehand, the scene itself very much feels to me like a performance — akin to giving a lecture, or telling a story.

This might seem not to fit with my lack of interest in role play — another form of performance — but I don’t think there’s inconsistency there. For me, play is about narrative, but made from bits of real life, and no less narrative because of that. The teller of a story, or the giver of a lecture, are perfectly good analogies, because they capture the extent to which I want/need complete control of the narrative.

That complete control is one of the things I get from the scene — which means it’s something I’m typically aiming for — but it’s also a not-insignificant constraint. I’ve written a little about this before, but the space between serious discipline/punishment, on one hand, and more casual, informal play — in various forms, including role-play and bratting — on the other, feels narrow and tricky to negotiate. My goal is to get inside someone’s head, without presuming any real-life dynamic that’s not there, nor falling back on the trivial and superficial. That’s not something that many people would want (from me), nor is it something I’m able to do with many people.

If I’m not able to find a narrative that I think threads that gap, finding significance without presuming too much or overreaching, the idea of play with someone — even someone I’d in principle love to play with — seems very distant. It’s been mentioned that it’s a bit like an actor looking for their motivation in a scene; and, yes, it’s very much like that. When I have pushed myself a couple of times to play with people without a narrative I was confident in — and fortunately got away with it, I hope — the sense of nervously winging it has been quite profound, and not pleasurable. (As an aside, my first reaction on hearing that someone might like to play with me is to be pleased and bemused in equal measure by the compliment. My second reaction, which follows closely after, is: “Fuck. Now what do I do?”)

But in general, another of the reasons I’m very happy referring to what I do in a scene as performance is the extent to which I feel a significant amount of performance anxiety beforehand. I might be an exception — I can’t speak for anyone else — but I think vulnerability and anxiety before a scene for me as a top are signs that the narrative might be a good one, because it’s going to involve going to some deeper places, and that’s always risky. It might just not work. The narrative might be ill-conceived. My performance might basically suck — as it sometimes does.

There are some self-defence mechanisms that help, of course, the most obvious of which is to gather as much information as possible and plan carefully. A recent scene made me uncomfortably aware of the extent to which I think I make use — without consciously intending to — of a different self-defence mechanism: I seem to leave very little space in a scene for whomever I’m playing with to say much. The narrative more or less silences them. It might be an inevitable consequence of my desire for control in a scene: it’s harder to lose control if there’s no dialogue. Or perhaps, as an expression of anxiety and insecurity, the desire for control is a consequence of a fear of dialogue which might derail my narrative. They’re mixed up, of course, both influencing the other. But I do think that my scene-planning is a little like the sort of minimax search-tree optimisation that something like a chess-playing computer might do. I try to predict all possibilities and construct potential strategies, so that I can maximise the narrative — or, to put it another way, just keep control of things.

To rewind a little, the original questioner’s actual intention, I think, was to ask something like: “How can a bottom help to make a scene good for me when I’m topping?” My response to that question is just as complicated and messy, and involves two quite distinct issues: the first is what I want from a scene; the second is the process by which the scene gets planned. Leaving the second for a moment, what I want from a scene is probably clear from the above: I want to create a narrative which gets into someone’s head in a significant way. One might also talk about the props and costumes and such with which the narrative is instantiated — some of which are of course extremely powerful — but the absolute heart of a scene for me is the headfuck. How a play partner can help that to work well is to be open and honest and trusting, and to allow themselves to be vulnerable — in the hope that I can find a narrative that might work and be worthy of that trust. It’s notable that it isn’t about using this implement, or that position, or this other bit of clothing. Nor is it really about the impact play itself. It’s about saying: this thing you were afraid of, it’s not so bad. Or: you didn’t think you could do this thing, but it turns out you can. Or: that vulnerable place, look, I can push on it, and it can be okay.

With regard to scene-planning, that the question is a good and useful one doesn’t change the fact that I find it very hard to respond to, mostly I think for the same old reasons of control. Without seeming to claim that a scene is all about me — which hopefully doesn’t need to be said — it’s nevertheless true that I want to claim full responsibility for how it goes. With that responsibility comes the control and the payoff — and the risk — of having created a narrative that’s worked for someone. I neither expect nor particularly want someone to think about what might work for me in a scene. If there’s something I want or need, I’ll ask them (or tell them, depending on the context). The question itself feels oddly about taking control — whether it means to or not. The paradox is that what I really want someone to do in order to make a scene good for me is to not worry about what they can do in order to make a scene good for me. That’s my job.

Often this necessarily involves being somewhat cagey about what I might be planning. As is the case with the process of threading between the Scylla of insignificance on one side, and the Charibdis of presuming too much on the other, keeping whatever narrative I might be planning somewhat under wraps is a risk, but — for me — it’s one worth taking.

(Crashing of gears as I add on a slightly tangential coda.)

This might be an obvious thing to say, but it’s worth noting that a great deal of bratting is basically encoded scene-planning. The protocol of “handshaking” that two computers do when they need to talk to each other — or used to – can be seen as something like this:

Computer #1: “Hello! I’d like to send you something! Is that okay?”
Computer #2: “That would be fine. Tell me when you’re ready to send something to me.”
Computer #1: “Great! I’m ready to send something to you.”
Computer #2: “Okay, I’m ready to start receiving from you.”
Computer #1: “Sending to you!”
Computer #2: “Receiving from you!”

Remember when your dial-up modem buzzed and whistled as it was connecting? That’s basically what it was doing. Here’s more or less the same protocol:

Person #1: *pours water on Person #2* [Hello! I’d like it if you spanked me! Is that okay?]
Person #2: “Do that again, miss, and there’ll be trouble.” [That would be fine, but I’d like to confirm I have your consent.]
Person #1: *pours more water* [This is confirmation that I want you to spank me, and am giving my consent.]
Person #2: “Come here!” [Your consent has been received!]
Person #1: “Ouch! I’m being spanked by you!”
Person #2: “I’m spanking you!”

And so on. What’s relevant here is that the nature of the scene-planning protocol — with the protocol in this case encoded as bratting — is consistent with the play that follows. Bratting works well as a “handshake” in situations where the play itself is light and cutesy and in the register where explicit consent isn’t a necessary or desired part of the protocol.

There are a number of ways in which bratting as scene-planning protocol doesn’t work for me, but I’m not sure I’ve appreciated the extent to which one of them would be the incongruity between that protocol and the style of play that would follow. I’m not interested in encoding the scene planning at all, because I’m not really interested in the sorts of scenes for which that cutesy register is appropriate. The conspicuous avoidance of an explicit handing over of consent would seem to be missing the point, when my goal in the scene is to construct a narrative that gets right inside someone’s head.

The issue here isn’t whether any approach is better than any other. It’s that the scene-planning protocols can/should be consistent with the protocols for the scene itself, whatever register happens to be used. And also, of course, that both people need to be using the same protocols — but then, if they’re not, they’re not protocols at all, just misunderstandings.

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