Thanks to a headsup from a friend active in the FetLife community, I was invited to attend a game of "Kinky Karaoke." As a first foray into the world of alternative karaoke games, this was well beyond my expectations.
For clarification, BDSM is short for Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism (thanks wikipedia!). It is both a way of sexual practice and can be an all-encompassing way of life. Individuals within this community self-identify through various categories of play practice that can, but does not have to, involve sex. Individuals within this classification differentiate themselves from those whose interests are more "vanilla." In pop culture, BDSM practices became somewhat more mainstream thanks to the 50 Shades of Gray series, whose trite material and poorly executed foray into the world of BDSM practices allowed the mainstream a portal view, but also grossly misrepresented that world.
Though I certainly have little to... well, okay, no experience in the BDSM community, I have always considered myself open to kink and, hey, it's all play anyway— it's a play community after all, right?— and they're notorious for being a welcoming community, so why not?
Now, I often enter situations utterly unprepared, but I have to admit this one takes the cake. This particular party was held at the Sanctuary in Los Angeles, a BDSM dungeon. As such, there were some rules involved. First, you won't see any pictures of the goings on here, as they have strict policies about that. Second, it's a world of ritual that is both full of freedom and play and full of structure and defined, clear, even overbearing restriction. The rules, for instance, clarified no participants could engage in genital to genital play. No bodily fluids could be swapped. Edge play was acceptable, but only if approved by a Dungeon Master, whose role in this usage is less about facilitating a play story and more about acting as the authoritative rule of law when questionable practices surface. More like a GM in an MMO than a DM in D&D.
The play practices they engaged in were setup as "scenes" in which participants would perform with each other, for any who happen to enter the room. Participants ranged in various degrees of undress and practices ran the gamut from fairly tame rope tying to individuals being struck, quite violently, by the end of a bull whip. Participants often scened with individuals they already knew, but new pairings weren't uncommon at all and a thorough discussion of the impending scene occurred before any play actually took place. For instance, Vi, pronounced "V" like the letter, a fetish name she uses when she plays, went to the party intending to get roped up and eventually flogged. She went in coordinating with her "master" who would do both the rope tying and the flogging. Even though they knew each other well, they still discussed the particularities of play before engaging. Later, however, Vi was approached by someone she didn't know and asked to engage in play, but she refused. It was a brief and fairly uneventful moment of consent practice.
To be clear, while I'm describing all of this matter-of-fact-ly, it was a very intense experience. Some of the play enjoyed by many of the participants were acts of violence so rarely encountered in real life that I often had to leave the room. Some participants were shocked by some small device that left them screaming aloud in pain. One participant had a knife drawn about his body, leaving small cuts and scratches. And one woman was struck with what seemed to be an excessive amount of force, again an again, by a cracking bullwhip until she would fall to the floor, sobbing in tears. In each instance, as the round of actions would end, momentarily, the master would return to the slave and provide words of comfort and encouragement, checking in and making sure they were okay, before returning. All of the while, a small crowd would observe from the edges of the room. Some would pleasure themselves through their clothes while watching, others seemed to be taking mental notes toward their own practices. Some of the sessions only lasted a few moments, others seemed to last for hours. I could rarely watch for more than a few minutes before I needed to go outside for a smoke or return to the karaoke. When sessions would end, the master would tend to their slaves, calling for a med kit if blood or open wounds were involved.
So with all of that described, the karaoke itself can best be defined as a game within a game. Like the play within a play in Midsummer Night's Dream, the overarching game of kink was the priority of the evening. Everything was organized around and for the kink party. The karaoke was simply meant to be a bridge between the real world and the dungeon. That is, the coordinator's assumption was that karaoke, as a game, was familiar enough to the world at large that those uninitiated in kink culture would find solace in being able to play a more familiar game. The magic circle of karaoke became the safe space, overlapping within the magic circle of BDSM. So much so that the karaoke could be interrupted in favor of the kink, but not the other way around.
And so it would play out: masters would bring their slaves on stage and whip them while singing. Music choices were almost always vaguely sexual or otherwise BDSM or alt-culture themed. And the KJ regularly made quips and jokes about the goings on within the dungeon. I would go up and sing my first song, thinking myself clever by singing Radiohead's "Creep" (I don't think it was received well), and all the while I would hear screams from my left and from my right that were loud enough to be heard past the speakers' blaring music. As the night wore on, after watching a particularly brutal whipping scene, I stepped outside for a breather only to return to find the entire dungeon in pin-drop silence. Nobody was around my immediate area, so the silence was unnerving to say the least! But as I turned the corner I saw that everyone had gathered in the large karaoke space, watching a slave and her master walk slowly onto the stage. I promptly took a seat on the couch at the front row and watched, engrossed. I had to this point never seen karaoke halted for anything aside from a technical difficulty. It hadn't just been halted, it was as if the game had been wiped from everyone's memory.
In fact, whatever was happening here was no longer play. The magic circle, that bubble that was, burst and suddenly we were all staring nakedly into the face of a reality in which this play culture had long ago become real life. If this was play, it was play in the vein of second life, play like animals practicing the hunt, play like gambling or the stock market or marriage or religion. It was an artifice respected to such a degree that it overtook whatever notions of play may have inhabited this space, which now seemed only a mockery by comparison. This is no play community, even if it's a community at play.
The slave disrobed, dropped to her knees, and her master spoke to her as much as to the crowd. He spoke of their time together, reminiscing on their first scene. He remembered thinking then that he had found his slave. She, of course, never spoke. She only stared directly into his eyes, following unspoken commands for attention and obedience. After his speech, he pulled out a rose I later learned was fashioned from bits of metal by a welder. He then took a knife and cut his finger, squeezing a few drops of blood into the petals of the rose. After he was finished, he reached for her hand and did the same to her. She let out a small scream as he did so. With their blood now mingling on the metal rose, he spoke some more words and asked if she would be his slave for all time. Before she answered, he told her what to say. She said it and then he pulled what seemed to be a thin crown from a bag he had brought on stage. The crown was in fact a collar, a slave's collar. This was a collaring ceremony, treated with every bit of respect, if not more, honestly, than any wedding I've ever attended. And with that the crowd cheered, the venue host invited everyone to eat cake, and the KJ pumped the music back up.
Intense to say the least. Here I had come to watch a game of karaoke and when I left, the karaoke was the least interesting event in the room. So there we had it, a game within a game; karaoke, kink edition, if you will.
Thank you to everyone at that party and everyone whose scenes I saw, especially Vi who guided me through with tenderness and concern. I appreciate the window into your world and, though I don't understand it, I respect it. Remember folks, “A pervert is [really just] anybody kinkier than you are.” - Jay Wiseman