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Playing with persona (2021)

Sometimes I wonder how my sessions and workshop are or can be a step on a personal development journey. BDSM and kink offer a safer place to pause and play outside everyday life, as I have written about many times before, for example, in this text. I often encourage my clients and participants to set an intention in the form of a persona: someone or something they want to explore being in contact with. What they pick varies wildly. Some people want to be more connected with their pleasure, so they go for maybe a greedy whore. Others want to let go of control and stop the non-stop doing, so they decide for almost an object, like a slave or a good boy. Or they might be curious about a gender-role they left behind and pick something traditional and super feminine, like the princess waiting for her knight in shining armour. I find it refreshing that people often choose a persona with a negative connotation to it. Maybe it is a way to defend who they are, or perhaps it’s a sign of them feeling safe, so they dear to be drawn to this other way of being.

As time goes by, they often tell me how they started to appreciate this new persona—or at least aspects of it. Maybe they feel more pleasure from their sexuality or experience how to let go of something they can’t control. So they look forward to stepping back into the play—to learn more. Sometimes these personas get their own names, wardrobes and vocabularies. As Keith Johnstone says, they grow up. Until, one day, when the client or participant encounters a situation in everyday life, usually challenging one, and think, my persona would have handled this better than me. This is a crucial step because now they can act differently next time when they have more options. I believe providing people with more opportunities empowers them, and it all comes from the play with the thing that at first seemed so alien to them. I often say that exploring domination as a kink made me much more conscious of how I related to it in everyday life. And it’s true.

Zen Buddhism uses something called a Koan, an inquiry that centres around the question -Who am I? Who is breathing, or hearing, or seeing? And here, there is a realization to be made; maybe you are just another persona, just like the kinky persona explored at a session or workshop. I think this is a massive development in the understanding of self. My role as a session giver and workshop leader is to be knowledgeable about the narratives that are likely to surface. I think they are, simply said, a reflection of “our times”. Sometimes I can suggest how beliefs and fantasies align to form the narrative of a particular persona. But in the end, my experience is that it is so personal. Almost as individual as our everyday persona, that we call self. On the one hand, I can provide the safety and encouragement to help others being brave and stepping into that persona. And on the other, I can be that unknown or mystery that represents the world opening up. It is all an embodied experience, and it’s something we do together. That is the real potential to take a step on a personal development journey.

Art by Indigo9.