Really Good Jealousy

Tonight we played with pegs, putting them on our skin and stretching our bodies. And afterwards had a long discussion about jealousy. It was a lovely evening: people were comfortable and open to share things about themselves and I was too.

I began by presenting Felix Ruckert’s idea that most, if not all, BDSM practices can be understood spatially as an intersection of compression and expansion. Rope bondage, nipple clamps, cock rings, cock bondage, confinement play, breath play/breath reduction can all be understood as physical forms of compression. Impact play (spanking, caning, flogging), fire play, wax play, can be understood as physical forms of expansion. The terms are, however, not oppositional: physical compression can lead to physical expansion as its consequence: for example, when the chest expands when the breath is restricted.

Even at a psychological level, we can speak of compression and expansion. Sexual exploration is nothing but a kind of expansion, a growing bigger, by taking risks, by doing things you haven’t done before. One seeks to expand, to become bigger through these experiences of facing oneself, discovering new things, breaking taboos, etc. Even games where we make ourselves or others smaller, such as humiliation play or age play, where there is psychological regression: I become smaller, but in so doing, I reconnect with my imagination, my unconscious, and thus in a certain way may also become bigger. Even gender play can function in this fashion.

I don’t say this concept is the truth of BDSM, but it could be a useful way to think about things. Many BDSM costumes can have the function of making one bigger or smaller in certain ways (for example, through the use of platform shoes, wigs, capes, nakedness or very few clothes, etc.)

After that we discussed jealousy, which was much more difficult. I presented Janet Hardy’s argument that if you give legitimacy to someone else’s jealousy, what you’re doing is taking away from them the opportunity to learn and grow from the experience by facing their own anxiety. I quoted also a passage from Deborah Anapol, who is cited in The Ethical Slut: “Let jealousy be your teacher. Jealousy can lead you to the very places where you most need healing…Jealousy can teach you how to live in peace with yourself and with the whole world if you let it.” Scarlet was reminded of Aleni DV8’s Xplore13 workshop on Jealousy, which unfortunately I didn’t attend. What Aleni had apparently said was jealousy is a physical experience for about 90 seconds and then the rest is in the mind, by which I presume she meant that once it is in the mind one then has the choice to work with it and to transform it. 

I asked Aleni to lead that workshop at Xplore, because of a comment she had made several years before to the effect that dealing with jealousy was for her similar to what the Buddhists call making friends with death. I liked that because it implied that in jealousy, like in death, there is something one can’t work with, make sense of or deal with: something impossible. And this corresponds in a deep way with my experience. I don’t deny that one can work with jealous experiences in certain ways, and that they probably can teach you something about yourself and others. But, on the other hand, I also believe there are aspects or experiences of jealousy that it is not possible to deal with, and that produce only senseless pain and enormous expenditures of energy, without any redemptive learning or ‘healing’. (Cf. “The Penal Colony” by Kafka)

For that belief, I situate myself in a heretical position with regard to most of the literature and culture of polyamory, which I argue is grounded in a certain onto-theology.

What I am saying—and it’s not new—is that sex can be deathly risky and jealousy also. It can, and has in my case, led to psychological break-downs, inability to function that can last for months, if not years. And on that basis I argue that much of the literature on jealousy in polyamorous circles is quite dangerous. According to this literature, jealousy is an individual, personal issue, something it is the individual’s responsibility to work on and overcome. It does not encourage people ever to ask themselves if there is something wrong with the relationships they are in or the values of the peer-group in which they find themselves.  And whether these values accord with what they deeply experience and what makes them happy.

I shared a story about how jealousy itself can become part of an SM game. One may intentionally make the other person jealous, or play with their jealousy, in order to gain sadistic pleasure and power over them or otherwise to stimulate their masochism. Jealousy itself can be linked to masochistic drives. This interested people, because it bought into view the more psychological and edgy aspects of BDSM.  

Finally, the discussion turned to the question of people’s limits and boundaries, when it comes to intimacy.  I argued that people always have boundaries, even and especially when it seems like they don’t have them, when they seem ready to share and open themselves to incredible intimacy very quickly. In my experience true intimacy never happens quickly.

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