Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Grammar Play

When you look at kink, no matter how counterculture it seems there will always be prevailing trends and common practices. It’s actually rather intuitive that this should happen; spanking, for example, is likely such a common interest given either methods of discipline that were acceptable in many families, or how discipline was portrayed in media we consumed at an early age. These ties to our history don’t necessarily mean sexualizing aspects our past, but rather show that familiarity with an activity can remove barriers that might otherwise make one less likely to engage in it. Drawing from our experience in this way isn’t limited exclusively to specific activities, though: repurposing these experiences can also be seen in how sexual aesthetics draw significantly on more normalized expressions of authority.

The existence of such prevalent interests ends up being somewhat bittersweet. On one hand, it can make transitioning to new players somewhat easier; not only does the perceived normalization of an activity within a given subculture help reduce the stigma of participating in that activity, it also helps ensure mutual enjoyment from encounters by establishing a foundation to build on. On the other hand, for those new to kink (and potentially even for a seasoned kinkster) it can somewhat drown out things we might enjoy and dissuade them from exploring their own interests. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, it’s just a natural function of how we prioritize our time: either we can explore common interests and maximize the likelihood of play, or we can risk missing on play while attempting to learn about ourselves more intimately- in fact, this implicit understanding of risk is how a lot of people never make it past vanilla sex.

To expand on the negative impact of this phenomenon, it also causes us to only look at normalized actions with respect to our capabilities and limitations. It’s not difficult to find profiles that lack any specificity on limits aside from “No blood, scat, or drugs,” and it reflects the narrow thinking encouraged by focusing exclusively on such activities. Fortunately most experienced players respect that there is a learning curve and won’t exploit these gigantic loopholes, but even with little potential for exploitation it’s important to recognize this is not a way of thinking that encourages growth or even self-reflection.

There’s a lot of areas in kink that can appear to line up due to their similar presentations, but which may have very different foundations (if you’re used to the blog, I’ve discussed this before). Interest in bondage, for instance, is something that can have a strong power exchange component, a pairing of a sadist/masochist who are equals, or could be purely based on the direct enjoyment of both parties. Because of this perceived overlap, it is paramount to understand how potential partners are interested in approaching a dynamic rather than looking purely at the interests involved. Failure to do so can lead to scenes that may be more emotionally taxing than anticipated.

What ends up happening when people try to communicate this is they tend to use limits as a means of implicitly ruling out dynamics that don’t align with their interests. When you couple the completely natural fixation on normalized/common activities with an awareness of what you don’t believe you can handle, you get limits like “no extreme pain.” In most instances this statement is actually an attempt to communicate more broadly that being pushed to the point of severe discomfort is not a desired function of the dynamics being pursued. The important distinction here is that pain is simply the most common means of inflicting such a severe level of discomfort, so this narrow statement of limitation may not fully communicate what is intended. It’s a valid means of communication, but only looking at normalized activities can both impede potential growth and expose you to less common behavior that may still encompass what you were trying to avoid.

Enter: Grammar Play. The idea came about during a conversation with a few friends about someone being embarrassed about using the wrong “they’re” in a FaceBook post. From the conversation it was a fairly common pet peeve, enough so that people often scramble to correct an error the moment it’s noticed. I have a deep love of making people uncomfortable, both in and out of kink, and somehow it had never occurred to me that something I regarded as this inconsequential could cause intense enough discomfort to make them visibly squirm. Naturally, I wanted to weaponize this vulnerability.

It was initially very tongue-in cheek, but after hearing countless gasps of terror at the prospect it certainly became something more. What’s interesting is that most people assuming the term refers to punishing someone for using incorrect grammar, much in the same way you’d punish a boy for failing to keep his arms behind his back when instructed. Rather than being a training goal, “grammar play” is forcing someone to deliberately misuse “their/they’re/there” or “it/it’s” or even “than/then” on social media as punishment for something. People put a lot of effort into how others perceive them - particularly on qualities that need somewhat objective confirmation like intelligence - so the concept is to use someone’s fear of looking stupid or uneducated as punishment for ensuring accountability in other areas of training. It’s important to recognize that these are all internalized mechanisms: no matter how uncomfortable it makes someone, measurable damage by such an enforcement is highly unlikely.

While grammar play relates to a fairly specific punishment, the real idea behind it is to encourage people to think outside the box in terms of normalized activities and punishments. As a practical example of why this way of thinking is important for Doms, I guarantee if you experiment enough in power exchange dynamics you will eventually encounter a pain pig for whom traditional corporal punishment will not serve as a deterrent for unwanted behavior. If you’re unable to think of less common ways to deter their behavior, training is apt to be less productive. Whether it’s making a dandy wear cargo shorts and crocs, spoiling the end to someone’s favorite show, or impairing someone’s ability to control their image, there are countless ways to make someone so uncomfortable that they’ll think twice before engaging in the same undesirable behavior.

As for a practical reason for subs? If reading the description of this as punishment made you reflexively cringe, it might behoove you to consider adding grammar play to your limits - or, if you’re the daring sort, letting your Dom know that you’re terrified of the prospect so they can rightly light a fire under your ass.

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