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Portraying sexuality (2020)

Being alone for a long time opens up space for thinking. Here is a musing from my isolation in Japan.

I work in the field of sexuality, and I portray it. I want to communicate something. Most often, an idea born from my passion for the subject. What I find is that the harder I try, the more blurry it gets. I shift from pictures and videos to workshops and performances. And finally, written text to grasp something so dreamy.

The thing is that sexuality is something subjective. Or the part I want to capture is. It is about a person that has the experience, not about what happens. That is why the maker of the knot fascinates me more than the knot. But then, there is never just one subject alone. There is at least you and me. And I’m a different person when I tie than when I teach. Or take pictures, or write a text, or do a session, or make love. Also, I’m a different person today than yesterday, and yet another tomorrow. The same goes for you. Therefore I think the key is the relationship between us right now[1].

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Philosopher George Berkeley

When I teach rope bondage, I like to point out that there is a third role involved, besides the person that is tying and the one getting bound. Equally important is the witness, because it brings the focus on the relationship. Just like the audience[2] in a theater wants to see the interplay between the protagonist and the antagonist. And the reaction is always more interesting than the action because it says something about the relationship.

It doesn’t matter if we are alone tying in the bedroom because we can still assume the role of the witness. I believe this is why portraying sexuality is so powerful. And so hard, because I want to reveal a relationship that paradoxically also is a lie. Sexuality resides in the domain of the mind. Fantasies and perversions are ultimately our own. The physical relating that happens between two people is a reflection of two separate souls. Each playing a role in the desire of another. So when portraying sexuality[3], I want to create a window into that desire. To invite a witness to peek into a dream another. Only to notice that they are actually watching a reflection of themselves.

The eyes are the mirror of the soul and reflect everything that seems to be hidden; and like a mirror, they also reflect the person looking into them.

Paulo Coelho

Writing this text spawned three other viewpoints, slightly out of context, but I want to share them anyway, almost like a footnote.

[1] In the rope bondage subculture there in an argument about the western and eastern style of teaching. It can be boiled down to that in Europe it is more important what is thaught and if the knowledge is relevant, functional, and correct. While in Japan, it is more important who is teaching something because that will reflect on you as a student. Maybe the Japanese style is focusing more on you as a subject, than the knowledge as an object. Or even a good teacher would guide you in forming your own relationship to the practice.

[2] I love it when a person in a performance, demonstration, or photo “gazes” back as an invitation to the audience. It reminds the witness of that, they are (part of) the actual subject. The gaze must be real and not a “pose”. Posing transform oneself into an object, therefore breaking the relationship.

[3] Since portraying sexuality is portraying a dream, I believe that too precise techniques do a poor job. A drawing or poem can often do a better job than a photo. Or there is a potential risk in flashy photography with perfect results. Because it focuses on the image as an object, rather than the experience of the subjects involved.