Notes on a Torture Party
feeling good, feeling bad, how are you?
Recently, I had the pleasure of attending my friend Aella’s torture party. This was a party where each attendant was required to bring some sort of unpleasant experience to consensually inflict on the other guests. The event invitation began:
Ever been at a party and thought "Man, I feel too good right now"? Have you found yourself lounging in a corner, noticing sadly that your entire body seems to be comfortable and free of suffering?
The answer, for me, was “yes, actually!”
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I’ve become somewhat bored of parties lately, even good ones. Sometimes, I temporarily lose the ability to be interested in people, even myself, and I begin to regard a room full of people as a chamber of living furniture with haircuts. Though in theory, I know that I should remain in genial contact with humanity, in these moments, I do it unenthusiastically.
However, being tortured doesn’t require having an interest in other people. You just have to wear a nipple clamp and scream. So I was eager to attend.
The party began in a distinctly non-torturous way, with acquaintances known and unknown to me huddled on a mattress custom-built to vibrate along with music—and the music playing, naturally, was Gregorian chanting. As Berkeley zoning law dictates, there was some mild cuddling going on. I was worried that the party was going to be entirely pleasant, but then Aella called us to attention, and everyone announced their torture in turn, and it became clear that the night would contain plenty of discomfort.
Salt and assault
Aella’s torture, which I started with, was simple but effective: a whiff of smelling salts, then being slapped in the face. She kindly asked how hard I wanted to be slapped: I opted for an 8/10.
I think this would be a nice way to kick off any party, frankly. I enjoy unusual smells, and ammonia is certainly compelling—its zingy quality is almost cousin to citrus, and I can see how it would rouse someone from a stupor. Upon making contact with my nose, it knocked some of my melancholy out of my face.
As far as the slap goes, for all of Aella’s virtues, upper body strength is not one of them, so it was pretty chill. Both of us were left giggling, energized, and ready to administer and receive more torture.
After the slap, I walked up to the person who said she’d be offering gaslighting, and asked her whether she was free.
She said: “you must be thinking of someone else, I’m doing paper cuts.”
“Oh,” I said, “um, sure.”
As she took a folded piece of paper out of her pocket, I realized that the gaslighting was already beginning. She harmlessly stroked my arm with the paper.
“Is that painful?” she said.
“No, I’m not feeling anything.”
“Oh, are you sure?” She said.
“I guess, maybe something’s wrong with me.”
“You said it, not me,” she said.
Throughout the conversation, she maintained a slightly irritated tone, as if I was a stupid person who was wasting her time, but not so extraordinarily stupid that she was really mad about it.
“Is the torture over?” I said.
“What torture,” she said.
I laughed uncomfortably.
“What are you laughing at?” she said.
“This feels really bad,” I said.
“What feels really bad,” she said.
This is the only torture that made me feel really terrible inside, even though the interaction was brief. It felt like a greasy substance took a backstroke down my nervous system. I knew it wasn’t personal, but everything she said denied my view of reality so effectively that I felt absolutely worthless and crazy. I think it’s relevant that she was quite pretty and charismatic: there was something about a high-status person casually deriding me that brought my emotional memories of bullying right to the surface.
I began to dislike her, a lot, irrationally. I thanked her for being amazing at gaslighting. She asked what I meant, with a blank look on her face. I walked away, came back later, and thanked her again. Now that the frame was broken and the torture ended, she smiled and accepted the compliment, but this did not make my sudden irrational dislike of her entirely disappear. I told her this, and she seemed pleased.
Lego walk and acupressure pad
Two people—both of them parents—brought lego to walk on. This produced a sensation more uncomfortable than painful, which was like having your feet gnawed on by animals with irregular teeth. Someone else brought an intense acupressure mat—it was basically a bed of little plastic spikes. Both the lego and the mat migrated across the party gradually, to the point where people were randomly stepping on them and yelping, which added a zesty esprit de corps to the whole affair.
Nipple clamps and counterproductive government policies
“It’s meditative and intense,” said Rosie Campbell, who offered this torture. “The pain starts off slow but then it builds.”
I think of myself as someone with a fairly good tolerance for pain, so I didn’t take this warning particularly seriously. She began low and slow, with two clamps attached to my pecs, and then put two on the borders of my nipples, and then two on the nipples themselves. I was mostly clothed, with my shirt unbuttoned, and I was lying down on the aforementioned mattress, surrounded by people who were laughing as they stuck 9-volt batteries under their tongues.
There are rumors that swirl around about Aella’s parties, murmured suggestions that she creates various bad kinds of debauchery that make people unhappy. As far as I can tell, these rumors are all bullshit, and they especially didn’t apply to this particular evening. The atmosphere was kind of nerdy and uptempo, with the precise, participatory energy of, say, a folk dancing evening.
It took a second for the clamps to take effect. But when they did, they really did. The woman’s description was exactly right. The sensation had the insistent quality of a tattoo gun bearing down on your skin, but the pain was diffused across my whole torso, radiating up and down from nipples to navel. This blanketing effect was half-benumbing in the same way that abrasive music played loudly can subdue you with its force.
Meanwhile, the woman read to me slowly, in a soothing voice: “During the British rule of India, the government was concerned about the number of venomous cobras in Delhi so they offered a bounty for every dead cobra. Initially, this was a successful strategy; large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward. Eventually, however, enterprising people began to breed cobras for the income. When the government became aware of this, the reward program was scrapped. When cobra breeders set their now-worthless snakes free, the wild cobra population further increased.”
The combined effect of these two tortures was invigorating. I felt myself suffering along with those who have suffered due to the stupidity of administrative overreach and short-sightedness all around the world—and since bad governance is universal, this meant that my pain and tenderness had no bounds.
She read three bad policies to me before she removed the clamps and moved on to the next contestant.
This was offered by a big strong guy with extremely kind eyes. He asked me where I’d like to get hurt by his sharp nails, I offered my forearm. First, he gripped me tightly, and apparently, I am somewhat puncture-resistant because even in a maximally tight grip, I didn’t feel that much pain. Then, he raked his nails across my skin, and this elicited an instant yelp from me. He was concerned, but also happy to have been effective, and we shared a moment of camaraderie.
At that moment, it occurred to me that this was such beautifully direct communication: right from his hands to my nociception. Most of the time, I communicate in typed words, which, I hope, conjure some partial specter of my experience in the inscrutable mind of another. But this is so woefully vague as compared to speaking intensely with touch, as masseuses do, or energy healers, or dominatrixes. I envy the immediacy of such connection, which, given my profession, is reserved for my private life.
My torture, part one
I was, initially, quite proud of my torture. I brought Secretions Magnifiques, a fascinating fragrance, produced by eccentric perfume house Etat Libre d’Orange, which is designed to mimic blood, milk, and sweat. I say that it’s fascinating because it’s clearly a well-made perfume, in that it has structure, direction, and balance, but it simultaneously provokes a disgust reaction. Whenever I smell it, I admire its molecular elegance, and also want to vomit.
The only problem is that everyone at the party liked it. Nobody had the same disgust response I did. “I’d spray it on my pillow,” said a friend of mine, who I hadn’t realized was totally perverse in her inclinations. I was baffled and had to come up with another torture on the fly.
At the beginning of the party, when someone announced he’d brought a stun gun, murmurs of shock went through the room. Maybe this was too much? Maybe a little casual tasing among friends would ruin the bonhomie?
The worries were unwarranted. Being zapped with a stun gun on your lower body is not too bad—which is to say, it’s unimaginably awful, but, if kept to a brief zap, the experience is so ephemeral that you don’t really have time to begin suffering. As the zapper put it, “it’s a 10/10 of pain, for like, a nanosecond.” I got zapped twice, the second time for a little longer. The worst part was the burning hair smell; even through pants, you get singed. Apparently, one woman at the party, a friend who I know to have a taste for darkness, volunteered to be zapped four times.
My torture, part two
Given that my initial torture was a failure, I tried to come up with another one. And then I realized I should do the obvious thing: triangle chokes. The triangle is a classic martial arts technique in which you strangle an opponent with their own shoulder, using your legs, like so:
Though I only did Brazilian jiu-jitsu for a couple of years, that was enough time to develop a fairly mean triangle. A few people at the party ended up volunteering, and they were all surprised by how intense it was, two reporting that it was the most physically intense torture of the evening. This made me recall my first jiu-jitsu class, where I was, myself, shocked by how a competent submission hold can make you feel like mortality is suddenly in the room with you.
One person I triangled had a flashback to a previous psychedelic experience, and he sat breathing quietly for a moment as the imposing blankness of eternity swept over him.
Some people didn’t want to be choked, but still wanted some jiu-jitsu, so for them, I gently applied a kimura, a shoulder lock, in which you bend someone’s arm back in a way it shouldn’t be, like this:
and it’s a benign sensation, until you’re right on the edge of being submitted, at which point you feel that your shoulder is about to come apart. Of course, I stopped well before the point of damage, and people generally reported that it was a nice shoulder stretch. (A former training partner of mine once referred to BJJ as “transitive adversarial yoga.”)
There were a few other tortures, like being whipped on the ass with a wet towel, decorating fresh cookies with nail polish, and huffing CO2—which is like being fucked in the sinuses with wiry foam, if you were wondering.
It was one of my favorite parties ever. Ultimately, the unpleasantness of the experiences was less relevant than how thoroughly they bonded everyone. I left with an unusual sensation—that I liked everyone there, that I felt a general closeness, that I didn’t feel a single moment of social alienation, other than during the gaslighting, which was so fascinatingly awful that I didn’t even mind it, in the end.
At most parties, I am reminded that we can only explain small shreds of ourselves, and that doing so is often annoying. At this party, I was reminded that the language of sensation is much greater than the language of speech, and that I can find commonality with others in how they also conduct electricity through their personal human moisture, also are housed in tender and manipulable packaging that is the venue of a series of ongoing deformations, also have skeletons that only accept certain limited assignments.
In the future, when I say that Bay Area parties are “worse than torture,” this will only be a mild criticism.
My torture, part three
As I was leaving, I gave my bottle of Secretions Magnifiques to the friend who’d liked it most. The next day, she messaged me.
So, in the end, my perfume torture was a success. I gave her the finest punishment of all: the corruption of something beloved.
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Good stuff man, many thoughts forming around this in my head
That was lovely to read. I was simultaneously taken aback by and not surprised by the gaslighting being the most tortuous thing. Being denied your version of reality..... Yeah that feel uggghh..
Thank you for sharing.