I recently finished the book Deviant Opera: Sex, Power, and Perversion on Stage by Axel Englund, a literature professor at Stockholm University. It examines the triangular relationship between opera, BDSM and non-consensual power games. I don’t know much about opera; I attended one classical opera in Venice fifteen years ago, and more recently, Satyagraha (1985) by Philip Glass. Axel tells the story about two forms of opera, classical and directors opera. The latter being a modern interpretation of the originals, sometimes deviant, sometimes flirting with BDSM symbolism. The reason for doing so is to shine a light on the often non-consensual power games of traditional opera that tell stories of sex and violence in a glorifying and eroticizing manner. Opera can be seen as the musical journey of many orgasmic crescendos in brothel-like golden-velvet-red interiors.
I often face this question in my work, either from someone curious or from someone claiming to have the answer. Or from myself, asking was this really “good” after an intense session. Two common ways of answering it are consent and addiction, but I think neither of them is good enough, by themselves. In this weekly musing, I want to break the two down and then provide a third option.
This weekly musing is a short follow up on my popular text What do you surrender. That in short describes a four-step model of what a submissive surrender to a dominate, and how it affects the trust required for the power dynamic to function. The steps are the physical body, pain and pleasure, ego and shame, and finally devotion. The text points out that another kind of trust, maybe a deeper one, is needed to act like a dog than to follow in a dance. You can read the text for more details. But it also suggests that devotion is the pinnacle of surrender because then one moves their attention from oneself to another altogether – like worshiping a god.
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.
What does it mean to be perverted? Or maybe a better question, when does something become perverted. The word has a pretty negative feel to it, but why is that? In a way, it’s a word that I love, because it describes a feeling, or behaviour, rather than “a thing”. The abbreviation BDSM feels technical in comparison. I’m reading a book called Deviant Opera with the subtitle Sex, Power, and Perversion on Stage. It talks about why acts of BDSM is becoming a part of modern stage performance. I just started it so won’t say too much, and probably write more about it later. But it brought back the word deviant to me – to deviate from the norm.
I just came back from Gothenburg, where I taught a workshop around the question – can BDSM be spiritual? As a way to introduce power play beyond bedroom bondage, spanking and 50 Shades of Grey. The key pillars where power, space and ritual. As most of the participants were new to the subject, I reconnected to three common pitfalls. I like to see them as hidden traps, as they are the kind of mistakes that one doesn’t notice directly.
This weekly musing is a thought experiment on consent and the meaning of no. I write this as an invitation for contemplation on the grey zones of human interaction. If you are looking for a more concrete and practical first approach to consent in BDSM and tantra, then I recommend reading the text “Playing safer” instead.
This week I want to share one of my most valued things in life. That is insecurity. Or the idea of not having to know. Or to be sure. And it is reflected everywhere. It is the fundamental pillar of my life philosophy. Maybe and maybe not, says the businessman that turned into a Buddhist monk. I find it funny that I, a person that makes my living from teaching about polarities, put such a value of being in between them. Why is this? Maybe because of the mystery. To allow life to be a mystery. To be exciting.
This week I want to attempt to write about BDSM from a more philosophical and symbolic perspective. I do this to reach deeper because I experience that a logical approach limits me. I want to start in the ocean, as a symbol of life and motion. The depths can swallow me, and the waves can crush me. It is unpredictable and alluring. Temping me to let go. There is an ocean inside of me and an endless amount of unreleased potential. I’m 80% water. What would happen if I released its uncontrollable flow? Creative or destructive? Awesome or awful? Both at the same time. Ultimately the same. I have learnt to control my flow, to accept and respect the structures around me.
I’m at the closing ceremony after a week-long gathering. We are sitting in a big circle, and the person on the microphone shouts out -Who is the most important person in your life? -ME ME ME! The crowd responses.
I’m observing a play party behind my mask. I see intimate couples in THEIR invisible bubbles fulfilling THEIR desires. In the opening workshop a few hours earlier the question is popped -What do YOU want tonight? What are YOUR dreams?
This week I want to write about my most recent passions, that is the exploration of mask possession. I have for a very long time been collecting masks on my walls, but it is when they come to life that things start to become really interesting – because they give permission to experience the world through a new set of eyes, and therefore also myself. I’ve seen people spotlighting limiting beliefs and self-doubts, some that are as old as themselves, and completely altering their attitude towards them, by wearing a new face. And it is playful and fun, but still profoundly therapeutic.
We welcome you to celebrate the peak of summer with a play party. Together we will form a circle of love, where you represents one of the elements – Fire – Water – Air – Earth – that you want to invite into your life. Fire is wild and raving. Water is mysterious and dominating. Air is free and surrendered. Earth is loyal and serving. Together they bring balance to our play.