“Joe, you like causing pain.” Kabe turned the tap into a caress up and down my arm. “That’s a sadistic trait. There’s other ways you express dominance: you own a room when you walk into it, you like ordering people around.” My mom always called me bossy, saying it was a great trait for a cop and a lousy one for whoever had to live with me. “But with you, it’s inflicting the hurt that gets you off.” I got a soft smile that lit up those hazel eyes of his. “That’s okay since you don’t do it to people who don’t want it. And it’s okay, ‘cause I want it.” He rolled over onto my chest and grinned down at me. “Good?”
~Joe and Kabe from Laying Ghosts
Yes, a new year and a new BDSM post. I thought I’d tackle something that’s been niggling in the back of my brain for a bit. It’s the perception of submissive characters by both authors and readers. I’ve touched a little bit on this in other posts, but I thought the topic deserved expanding.
We, as a collective whole, draw a basic understanding of BDSM not from practitioners of Kink, but, unfortunately, from those who look with alarm and disgust from the outside. As outlined in one take on these perceptions by the medical establishment: “The submission to the will of another is an expression of deep-seated neurotic needs. The desire for punishment is a manifestation of guilt, etc., […] I will not try to dispute the shrink. It’s like trying to argue with a lawyer, only worse.” Larry Townsend, The Leatherman’s Handbook, p.45. That establishment codifies the cultural norms of what is and what is not acceptable behavior.
As I’ve said before, some of the strongest and most kick-ass people I know are submissive. Few are mentally unstable or have deep seated childhood issues they need to work through. In Old Guard Gay Leather circles a man could never be a Dominant until he spent a period as a submissive. You had to earn your leathers, first as a submissive and then again when you decided to become Dominant. What does that tell you?
Think about it. A person has to be completely and totally confident in him/herself in order to completely submit to another person. They have to be certain they’ve made the right choice in trusting this person. They have to understand their flavor of kink or understand they’re on a journey of exploration to discover their kink. A submissive needs a good amount of self awareness to even begin to realize they want to submit.
My guy likes to be beaten (which is good, because I like to beat him). He has a few other kinks, but pretty much impact play is our cup of tea. So, if I decided to mix things up one night by putting the Harley Davidson Collar and Leash on him and use a little bit of “puppy training” as a route to humiliation and thereby discipline games, he’d be good with that. If, on the other hand, I tried to go deeper with the tail, fist mitts and a Doberman hood, well:
1) I couldn’t even get him to put those things on, and
2) even if I somehow managed, he’d sit there and refuse to participate.
For all we talk about force and creating a scene, if the submissive is not on board, it ain’t going to happen. “The single deciding factor [in a scene] being a complete willingness on the part of each to keep it going.” Townsend p. 81.
When a submissive decides they’ve had enough they can end it. Now, sometimes the caveat is that if the submissive uses a safeword, the whole scene ends, not just that particular bit of it. Everybody gets dressed, shakes hands and goes home. That still puts the submissive in control. The submissive makes the choice of whether to ride out the practice making them uncomfortable or that the deal-breaking point has been reached.
Of all the implements I own, my favorite toy is a hard rubber Sjambok, which I’ve been allowed to use exactly once. What do I mean allowed? Let’s see, I’ve got my guy in a cross pattern – arms tied up and out to the opposite top corners of the bed frame, ankles at the bottom and backside turned to the open room where I can get at it – and I open up the toy chest. I start pulling things out and setting them on the bed where he can see it, ‘cause I may blindfold him once we start, but I want him to start thinking about what may be the next item used on him. If I pull the Sjambok out, I’ll get a flat out, unequivocal, “No.” Even if he’s gagged, his body will go tense, his mouth tightens up and the look from his eyes is; if you dare use that on me you can spend the rest of the week on the couch. This is from a man who gets pissed if I ask if he’s okay in the middle of a scene because I’m raising blisters on his skin.
That toy is a deal breaker for him and he, ultimately, calls the shots on when, where and how. This is what most everyone gets wrong, folks. In a BDSM relationship the submissive partner is really the one in charge, they own the keys. Dominants are only allowed to drive the car. “[T]he fact is that even when we [submissives] submit, fundamentally the power of the dynamic remains with us. We can choose whether to stop—whether that’s to stop what’s happening in a particular sexual scenario, or to stop a relationship we’re unhappy with.” Sophie Morgan
Control is given, not taken. The idea of limits (expressed or implied) is what lets the submissive keep control. A submissive trusts and respects the Dominant to run the show within those limits. As a relationship grows, the submissive begins to trust the Dominant pushing those limits and testing the boundaries. That’s because they’ve come to understand the Dominant won’t abuse that trust. Any Dominant who doesn’t understand that is a CHUDWAH: clueless het-dom wannabe. Unfortunately I haven’t run across a good acronym for the same phenomena in gay circles: the guys who don’t get it that not all women are submissive, that submissives are not doormats and that male submissives don’t have something wrong with them. Unfortunately those attitudes are documented in BDSM communities be they gay, straight or flavors in between. See Margot Weiss’ Techniques of Pleasure.
The biggest CHUDWAH in fiction is attached to the Fifty Shades trilogy. Sophie Morgan in her interview with The Atlantic Wire phrased it pretty succinctly: “I’d argue [the book] is very different to most relationships based on this kind of power play. The kind of high-handedness that Christian shows is actually more a sign of a potentially abusive relationship that most women would and should run for the hills to avoid than signs he’s her Prince Charming—helipad and penthouse apartment or not.” It’s the type of relationship a person of any sex or sexuality needs to run from. “[W]hen the M[asochist] is carried beyond his limits can the S[adist] be accused of brutality.” Townsend 132
If you have a 24/7 service slave who isn’t allowed, or has be so demoralized that they cannot, decide one day that they’ve had enough of their Master, get up and walk out of the relationship…then you have an abusive relationship, not BDSM. Submissives actually fearing the Dominant, being denied access to friends and family and even being confused about when a scene begins or ends are all signs of abusive behavior, not BDSM. Even in “forced submission,” the submissive wants to be forced into doing this act. The game, the play the two actors are performing, is understood by them both. Because, if it’s not, then it’s rape.
Let’s say that again: If the submissive does not agree to a scene, it is rape.
“Ours was not a Torture Palace. That is a misleading term. Torture, you see is something you do to people that they don’t like.” Juliette
~Lemercier’s Turkish Bath
Does that mean that a submissive can’t consent by implication? No. But the deeper you go into kink, the more bright that line necessarily becomes. It’s probably okay if you surprise someone by tying up their hands, even if you didn’t discuss it before – been there, done that on a first date. It’s probably not okay if you surprise your lover by lashing them to a bondage bench and proceed to whip their back until it’s raw if you’ve never talked about that kind of play and whether everybody is into it. Beyond the Safe, Sane and Consensual cado, the secondary mantra is, no mixing booze and bondage…but hell, a few drinks and you start messing around with handcuffs and a belt, you may be treading on marginal consent (and maybe safety)*. Three sheets to the wind and you want to play with a vacuum cube; probably nobody involved at that point is competent to consent to it.
The main thing is, the submissive says no – and it’s over. Sayonara. Pack the bags and head on home.
And let’s face it, whether you’re into kink or not, any person who claims that they know everything about what someone else needs or wants, that this other person should shut up and let them control everything…hell, that’s just a douche-bag no matter which way you slice it.
*What the mantra is, and what folks actually do sometimes does have a disconnect. Leather bars, after all, aren’t serving tea.
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