You can listen to this musing here, or read it below.
About a week ago, my interpretation of a play party resurfaced in Stockholm under the name GRÄNSLANDET / SALOGEN. The ambition is high. Once again, it’s a communal experience, where everyone simultaneously is affecting and being affected by the space—like a feedback loop. Everything is made here and now. And everything is influencing everything: live musicians, an ever-change light setup, and the different constellations of people. Tantra, BDSM, theatre and dance. It’s a delicate choreography. For me, the evening is perfect when I find myself in a constant flow between feelings, people and experiences—a journey into something unknown.
There must be some rules for this to work, like a global stop-word, a shared invitation to play, and some kind of idea that we take care of each other. And most importantly, that we are here to play. And not to talk or learn something or complete an experience, because it is already complete, in its imperfection. Playing in itself is risky because we don’t know what will happen.
So presence, being and listening, as you can imagine, play considerable roles. It’s delicate because it’s so easily destroyed by trying; trying to avoid an uncomfortable silence by falling into a social banter or trying to teach someone a particular skill to be friendly, sociable and valuable or simply trying to pick someone up. Instead, just be, and witness how it all unfolds. And when it works, it always puts me in awe. There is a feeling of synchronicity in the space: the philosophical idea is that the most meaningful thing is the thing most likely to happen. Of course, there is no scientific proof of it, but I trust that my play party becomes so much better when I believe it to be true.
Venturing into the unknown is not a safe space to be. A desire drives it to be an experience out of the ordinary. It needs to be safe enough, so I don’t panic or disassociate. I need to feel my feelings so they can guide me. And the Swedish law is upheld, so we don’t need to call the police. But to be honest, that is a minimal level of safety. There is a vetting process for allowing new people into the party. Still, we are doing edgy things. It is not therapy. In therapy, you get help to handle a challenging situation. Here, on the other hand, you are kind of on your own. And you are responsible for your experience. Of course, you are surrounded by a fantastic group of people, but still, in the end, it comes down to you. As a reference, I think a retreat is somehow the middle ground. As popularly said, this is not therapy, but it can have therapeutic results.
So I don’t want my play party to be any safer than this.
Travelling into this unknown is about letting go of control. And it’s a gradual process; as the evening progresses, I trust more and more in myself, which means that I dear to be more vulnerable. I find this idea incredibly alluring in the dominant role because I can let go of the belief that I need to know what I want to do before and instead express my desire as we go. And I can allow myself to be affected by my submissive partner. So many people find being dominant so draining because they think they need to know, which makes them stuck in doing mode. The submissive role may be easier to play in these kinds of spaces because it is the natural narrative to release control. Sometimes I think of it like that everyone is submitting to the shared experience. Or when I do that, then I get the most out of the experience.
Being in this state of mind makes rules very complicated because adhering to logical constraints is counterproductive when letting go of control. So instead, what becomes crucial is culture—this embodied knowledge of what we are doing together and why it is the way it is. Maybe it is crazy to mix these ideas with BDSM, tantra, and sexuality because they are subjects where people generally have many issues. And perhaps that’s why play parties are so alluring. They are a kind of victory celebration to enjoy after all the therapy and retreats. But I don’t think we ever will be “fixed”, but rather, one can learn to ride the demons that once haunted them. And celebrate that.
I think an important key is to understand that there is a risk and that it’s not safer than this. And not promise anyone “a safe experience” because that would be lying. When I start this journey into the unknown, it’s essential to know myself and my gear, metaphorically speaking. Learning how to use an ice pick when climbing mount Everest seems like a stupid idea or realizing halfway up that I have bad knees. However, climbing one of the world’s highest mountains is actually a lousy analogy; a play party doesn’t have to be so hardcore. If the participants can dedicate themselves to presence, being, and listening. And being vulnerable in the unfolding unknown, rather than being fixed upon the result. “I need to wack my whip six hundred and sixty-six times to transform into a leather overlord and claim my lovely fiance for all eternity.” That is the kind of non-listening attitude that put everyone in trouble.
Another way of thinking about it is balancing risk, so if a play party is about meeting potential strangers in a space moving into the unknown. Then it’s probably not the right place to bring out that whip that you never tried before or explore that edgy kink that you ever only dreamt about. So instead, value this kind of play party for what it so uniquely brings, the flirtation with the unknown. And I think it makes sense because what people often talk about as their most memorable sexual experiences are the unexpected, the strangers on the train, which makes us marvel that life once again had more to offer than what we could ever have excepted. So welcome to join in that celebration.