In the world of kinky sex, the word “play” gets tossed around a lot. It gets used for the types of activities we are in to – knife play for example being a way to describe safe, consensual engagement with sharp objects as a form of sensation, power exchange, or to leave specific marks. It gets also gets used to describe a specific encounter, connection, or time period of interaction. Outside of kink, “play” evokes two different categories of interaction, and I think this ends up effecting the ways that the word play is used within the erotic encounters we have. It has also led to some misunderstandings of what different “players” are looking for.
The first is the play that children have. Let’s play on the playground. Let’s play make-believe. Let’s play around.
I find myself back on the playground. I am having a play date. I am playing with myself. We are building tree forts and have hauled out the dolls. Sometimes we are playing in a more structured way – board games and Call of Cthulhu, tether ball and hop scotch. Sometimes it is structures we all know the rules to, but there is nothing written down – playing Doctor, playing pretend. Sometimes it has no formal rules, and we run screaming around the field letting our hair out to the wind.
The second is the play of the theatre. Let’s put on a play. Let’s craft make-believe. Let’s play upon the heartstrings of the masses.
I find myself in the sound booth, a high school production of “David and Lisa” unfolding. I have lined up the sound cues, and the lights slowly fall across the stage. Sometimes plays have been rehearsed for years, with each actor someday growing up into Macbeth. Sometimes plays have had only a few weeks to get thrown together. Some are archetypal, with characters rehearsed in advance, but lines unfolding like a magician’s scarf.
When I look at these two types of play, it makes sense to me why we find ourselves with points of misunderstanding in the kink community. One sect of the cult we belong to believes in hyper-structured negotiations that craft the theatres of the West End. The Broadway of their reality calls for actors, directors, lighting designers. The scripts are looked over in advance and all parties spend the energy they carry into the play full of intent. Each script becomes a scene within the play, each play a series of scenes that craft a connection.
Other lovers of the play enjoy improv theatre. Characters and motives are crafted, general concepts and categories are set, and the play unfolds. If you are Romeo, and I am Tybalt, how would we interact in the markets of Verona, in the graveyard behind the church, in each other’s arms where neither Capulet nor Montague could ever see? Or sometimes it is a thing. We are Whose Line is it Anyways? and you have just handed me an inflatable moose head and a roll of toilet paper.
We play as children play.
We engage in the craft of the play.
We play, are played, play together, create the play for all to see, we are the play.
As I sit with my own play, my curiosity is what the rules are within my plays. Are there musts, or must nots? Are there rules, or boundaries? Frameworks, or wishlists?
What is the set that we shall be laying out our craft upon? The timeline, actors, and space? Was this script crafted long before we ever got here? So many have played Hamlet before and we carry on that timeline. That we will play Enya, set them across the St. Andrews cross, and flog, in, time, with, the, rhythm.
There is also the play of some children, where a summers day strings into a blended storyline, a deep forest turned into Sherwood Forest. Or no plot whatsoever. Stone to water to ripple to ripple to another stone in hand. I am playing with rocks.
When we play erotically, what is the nature of our play? Our play-parties? Our toys and toy bags?
Are your encounters a theatre, or a playground? Do you find yourself creating a long-running show that comes back night after night to wow the crowds, or an open field of players with no audience and no ability to repeat a performance?
And as sad as it is, I also find that some play may never come to pass.
Well? Shall we go?
Yes, let’s go.
They do not move.
The curtains close, and I turn my eyes to the playground once more, out with the swingset and the tetherball. Eyes lock with mine, and I breathe deep, contemplating the play, the play, the playing.