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Performative sexual spaces (2021)

You can listen to this musing here, or read it below.

I’m planning for a new monthly BDSM-club in Stockholm. The pandemic is giving me oceans of time to figure out what I want to bring into this world. My thoughts circles around performativity. Over and over again. So in this weekly musing, I want to write about performance in relationship to BDSM-clubs. Many people I talk to are scared of performing. There are thoughts like they are not good enough, or that their kink is not kinky enough. When I was studying theatre, I spent a lot of time thinking about what one performs – is it telling a story, a display of a hard-to-acquire skill, or something only eye-catching beautiful, or even a political statement. I think what BDSM offers are presence and emotions.

I remember choreographer Felix Ruckert, joking that a whip in hand generates instantly the same amount of presence that a professional dancer spends their career building. But I believe that something must be at stake, something that brings insecurity to the play. Why do anything, if I already know how it will end? Of course, I could do it only for my pleasure, but that is not a performance because there is no offering to the audience. And BDSM offers presence and emotions. I was attending a fetish show in Tokyo, and there was a whipping scene. The technique was horrible, and the person wielding the whip was obsessed with their grandeur. I was just waiting for the receiver to stand-up, excuse themselves in Japanese and walk off stage. And that made it fascinating because of the real emotions. There is this theatre exercise from Stanislawski – one person is sitting on stage, and they receive an intellectual problem to solve, silently in their head. The audience has no idea what is happening on stage, but it’s fascinating, because something is happening, and they are invited to watch. So there is this agreement between the performers and the audience.

But why perform in the first place?

One big reason is to celebrate the subculture by giving it space and attention. BDSM is all about diversity, the name itself is a bunch of abbreviations, and there is the idea that – your kink is not my kink, but your kink is okay. Performing is opening a window into a bedroom, dungeon or ritual space that is typically closed. So it inspires others. Sometimes I heard people say, but I don’t need to perform to validate myself, and I’m good as I am. Of course, this is true. But there can also be a lot of fear hiding behind that statement. There was a great discussion at Ängsbacka, a hippie community in the Swedish woods, about open stage, and whom should be encouraged to perform there. Some argued that it was for the most insecure, maybe with the least talent because they are the ones in need of space and attention. As long as they offer something back, their presence and emotions, then it will be beautiful. And I genuinely believe this. Another take on the same question is that there is a lot of written and verbal discussion on what “good” and “bad” BDSM is. Performing is a way of showing. Not as a demonstration or lecture, but the play itself. It allows the audience to participate emotionally. To feel, rather than to imagine. A big problem today’s online life is that everyone is telling a big fantasy about who they are, especially in BDSM circles. And then others reach out to that fantasy with their fantasy. Performing, showing and feeling are more raw—more real. And I think that is needed as a counterbalance.

So a place to be seen is what I am making. To be even more precise, I want to contrast it with the typical livingroom BDSM-club. The ones with big comfortable sofas, where one can kick off the work attire, crack open a beer and just be oneself in good company. They are all nice and needed. But I want to create something paradoxically opposite, by marrying celebration and meditation. One can either celebrate, dress up, make a leap of faith, and aim for something magical. Or meditate, drop expectations, slow down, do less, feel more, and ravel in insecurity. Or even better to do all of this at the same time. Or at least attempt to, rather than going for status quo and that beer in the leather sofa. So in a way, a performative sexual space requires dedication, and in return, it offers arousal rather than relaxation. There is one more important element to it; everyone is both an audience and a performer. This removes the hierarchical structure, that one is better than another, and it offers everyone to define what the club is all about. Of course, people with a longer history with the club, more experience in practice, and a reputation might get more attention. But the open structure allows anyone to challenge that. To join the club, and contribute to the culture. Rather than pre-deciding, who is the audience and who is the performer. Anyhow, this is my proposal, and what I want to create.