Archive for June, 2008|Monthly archive page

The Dominant Submissive

I subscribe to the RSS feed for the sfbay-bdsm group on Tribe, and someone recently posted about a class they’d attended called “The Dominant Submissive.”

The class apparently lauded the good qualities of a particular kind of submissive, one who was independent, stable, confident, opinionated, and strong. This, to the person giving the talk, was a “dominant submissive.” She continued by saying that such submissives were attractive to dominants, because they were a good “challenge” for the dom; they needed to be conquered instead of just lying down at his or her feet. She (a self-described dominant submissive) explained that she needed a very strong dom, someone who would accept her challenges and push her down.

All of this makes me a little uncomfortable. First of all, the “dominant submissive” construction implies that the un-adjectived “submissive” label describes a person who has none of these other positive qualities she listed off; the average submissive is thus dependent, unstable, unsure of himself, unthinking, and weak—a doormat. Is it not possible for someone to be just a submissive—to not resist, to enjoy the act of submitting without being forced into it, to be a willing slave—and to also be strong and in charge of her own desires, to speak her mind? Can a person not be both obedient and self-confident? It’s as if once deciding to submit, a person is suddenly now and forever a SLAVE, no rights whatsoever, no capacity for independent thought, no ability to speak out for herself.

And that’s total bullshit. Yes, of course there do exist submissives who are terribly unsure of themselves and wholly dependent on their masters. But that doesn’t mean those are qualities inherent to submission—”submissive” isn’t a personality type—or that we need a new category to separate that kind of submission from the good kind of submission.

Everyone—including bratty bottoms, humiliation-craving slaves, and service subs—has the right to own their own sexuality and their own desire. The fact that I willingly kneel does not mean I’m weaker than the one who wants to be forced there. It means that I derive more pleasure from that particular style of submission.

Which gets into the second thing that really confuses me. To me, the “dominant submissive” is a wholly different kink than what I have come to think of as submission. What this person was describing sounds to me like the sort of kink that comes out of me during a lot of “rape play” or forced submission scenes—the desire to fight, to struggle, to be pushed down roughly, to be controlled, to be bratty and even angry. It sounds completely different from the sort of kink that I usually enjoy, which is a more humble and self-given submission, a gift given, a choice made, a decision to kneel and obey. I certainly don’t think it’s any better or worse, but to me comes from a completely different place. The assumption that the average sub is just a weak pushover because they don’t like to resist or struggle during play seems, to me, like a simple bias in favor of one’s own preferred kink. If your biases lie on the other end, you could easily retort that the “dominant submissive” is really just a “resistant submissive,” one who doesn’t fully own her own submission and who relies on her dom to place her there; she, not the compliant or self-directed submissive, is the one who is weak. (Not that I necessarily think that; just to prove a point.)

Of course, this is all a reaction to an anonymous, secondhand description of a workshop I didn’t attend, so I suppose you can take all of it with a grain of salt. But I suspect that the speaker at this workshop is not alone in her assumptions.

The Love Bracelet

Flipping through the New Yorker last night, I happened to notice a full-page ad for a jewelry line from Cartier. Normally, such things wouldn’t catch my eye. But here’s the jewelry they were advertising:

Yes, this is a bracelet that is screwed onto your wrist by a lover, who then wears the mini flathead screwdriver around their neck. The caption on the original ad read: “How far would you go for love?”

If you visit, you can check out some even more obviously kinky bracelets, like this:

Doing a little research, it looks like these bracelets have been around since the 70s. They were designed, of course, to show the world you were “locked” into a relationship. They’ve had a renewed surge of popularity among celebs and other rich people who can afford to pay six or seven thousand dollars for one. The question, of course, is whether or not the folks wearing these pieces think of them as simply another piece of jewelry or a symbol of bondage. (My guess is the former. But then, most people wearing wedding or engagement rings don’t think of those as symbols of “bondage,” either…)

It’s a bit of a trip to realize that while all my conversations with my partner about a bracelet or collar to wear have stressed the necessity of keeping it subtle and inconspicuous, it’s considered pure fashion to wear a piece of metal very obviously locked around your wrist — as long as it’s the right brand.

Ten Things I Hate about Discussions of BDSM on Non-Kinky Feminist Blogs

…in no particular order:

1. The assumption that all women in BDSM are submissive, all men are dominant, and everyone is both straight and cisgender.

2. The assumption that kinky people haven’t examined their desires.

3. …and that non-kinky people have a better idea about where those desires come from and what they mean than kinky people do.

4. The assumption that BDSM is synonymous with (or the gateway to) partner abuse.

5. The suggestion that kinky fantasies are linked to past trauma, especially rape or molestation, and that kinky folks are in need of therapy.

6. The outrageous assertion that non-kinky people have it worse, because in our sex-positive culture (uh, since when?) they’re considered boring prudes.

7. Comments from “recovered masochists” who tell horror stories about some seriously fucked up relationship they had, extrapolating from their experience to speak for all people who have ever played with BDSM.

8. The bizarre notion that BDSM always involves rape play, degradation / humiliation play, anal sex, and/or a man ejaculating on a woman’s face/body.

9. The assumption that women in BDSM were introduced to it by a (male) partner who either forced or coerced them into one of the above activities.

10. The assumption that kinky women who are not ashamed of being kinky think their desires are liberating and somehow inherently more feminist/powerful than those of non-kinky women.

Here’s the source of the above rant, though the thread in question is actually pretty civil and mild compared to most others I’ve read in the past. Other bloggers have said some very insightful things on this topic lately, so I’ll just direct you here, here, and here.

I also would like to quote one of Trinity’s comments on that original thread, because it really speaks to a few of my biggest pet peeves on the list:

[….] We’re not saying we’re superior. We’re saying that there is this meme in feminist circles that says “Think about what you want,” which implies that we have not done so. We’re pointing out that anyone who is sexually deviant (or socially deviant in any way) is generally aware of hir difference from others (or MADE aware of it, through bullying and other violence.) Being aware that you’re different tends to induce introspection: Why am I this way? Why are others not this way? Am I wrong? Are they? Are we just neutrally different? What do different people, groups, and ideologies think of being this way?

Many people think about those questions for years. So what we’re pointing out…is only that asking us “to examine” is actually rather odd — chances are we’ve done so more than most. Chances are we’re *more* aware, not *less*, that society can and does have sexual expectations of people — including differing expectations of men than of women, and expectations that are often (to understate it tremendously) deeply disrespectful of women’s actual interests.

What all this means, some of us think, is that when we’re being asked to “examine”, what others want is not for us to think more (as we’ve already done that) but to agree with their conclusions.