Power dynamics are hard to change.

A friend and I were playing conmen in a LARP recently. I was the brains of the operation, Cassandra was the fast talker. I came up with the plans, she played whatever role was needed, and our third partner carried out the thefts. Our cover story for this particular con was that of a noblewoman and her maid – not her bit on the side, how dare you suggest such a thing? We figured people would be sufficiently distracted by the scandalous lesbians that they wouldn’t question the rest of the story, and we were right.
For both the characters and ourselves, the power dynamic being enacted was reversed. It felt very, very strange to sit at Cassandra’s feet and have my hair stroked possessively – we haven’t played together, but if we did there’s no doubt that I’d be on top. Trying to flip that dynamic just didn’t work. It was a dead end.
I was directing submission at someone who couldn’t do anything with that energy. Cassandra was being handed energy that she couldn’t work with. Both of us were very uncomfortable. It was a skin-crawling kind of feeling, something deeply wrong with the world. I’m fairly sure we only managed it for the hours we did because the characters were themselves reversing roles – I could react to my discomfort by having my character resolve to take revenge later.
The confusion generated by those few hours lasted for some time afterwards. We’d twitch and flail if the other used the tone and title belonging to the forced dynamic – “Girl” and “Milady”. It was not pleasant.

It was very educational. We learned a valuable lesson about not trying to force a power dynamic to be what it doesn’t want to be. And we are neither of us inclined to repeat the experience.

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