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Tuesday, July 27, 2004

coming to terms with some terms

I've found a kindred soul... Neko, who writes Letters To An Angel.

A few days ago, he waxed eloquent about dominant and submissive stereotypes in a post titled, denial and labels.

In Neko's words:
"whenever I think of "A Dom", I get a picture in my head of someone wearing leather, carrying handcuffs, and swinging a whip or a paddle. Someone that doesn't relate to his partners, and has strict, arbitrary rules for them, which he enforces with glee. A man much more interested in taking pleasure from his partner, than in the giving of pleasure. And I don't think that's anything like me at all."
My first exposure to the BDSM-slash-D/s lifestyle was some few years ago in the online world.  Many of the so-called dominants I met there presented as the type he describes, or at least tried to portray themselves as such.  I developed early-on an abhorence of this type of "Dom".  Especially those guys who appointed to themselves the title "Sir," "Lord," or "Master," raised my hackles.

Neko admits:
"It's funny, because most of the dominant men that I've met in this lifestyle aren't like that. But that's the image that persists in my head whenever the word Dom arises in conversation."
I agree with his perception.  The dominants (male and female) I've come to know since entering the "real-life" lifestyle have been unlike that stereotype.  And I think of myself as far from this.  He goes on to describe his image of himself, not as "a Dom," but as: "a kinky, average looking man, who likes to tease and control willing women."

Neko goes on to say what he doesn't think of his angel as "a sub.:
"You're my girl, my kinky, submissive girlfriend, my partner, and my equal. Yes, I know, many others who read this may be surprised that I think this way, but you are my equal in this relationship. [....] I want an equal partner. It makes your submission sweeter if I respect you"
While I think he's entirely entitled to his own definitions, and I'm reasonably certain that he would not try to bind them on others, I am inclined to think that the emotional connotations which "Dom" and "sub" carry for him unduly restrict fair useage of the words.I've often said it's both blessing and curse that there's no universally accepted BDSM lexicon.  It's a blessing in that there's no "canon" requiring a one-way-only homogeneity in the lifestyle. The opportunity for a wide range of free expression is an asset to us.  But it places an onus on each individual to operationally define for himself (for themselves, in a realtionship) a whole set of terminology. And it's quite true that the connotations of words like Dom, sub, Master and slave frequently connect to emotional baggage we may have been carrying for a very long time.

In my mind, none of these terms are negative ones.  Certainly there are individuals who use these terms to describe themselves who I believe engage in negative behavior, harbor negative attitudes, etc.. But I think of this more as a misappropriation of the words on their part than something which tarnishes the terms themselves.

I am a dominant man.  Granted, for much of my adult life I lacked full awareness of that fact.  The degree to which I suppressed my true nature doubtless has much to do with bad relationship choices I made over the years, and with the frustration and unhappiness I endured within those relationships.  In the last seven years or so I have come to understand who and what I am, and I've realized that I've had enough vanilla relationships to last me a lifetime already.

During most of this period of new awareness I've thought of myself as "a domininat," rather than as "a Dom."  Many will think I'm putting too fine a point on it, but here's my lexicography.  As I think of things, a dominant is a male or female who has a strong desire and an enduring need to exercise control over another individual. Now I'll immediately qualify that by saying that I see this as a negative thing ONLY if that control is not consensually surrendered.  Within the fairly broad area encompassed by this definition are Doms/Dommes, Tops, and Masters/Mistresses.

In my own little world, this how I think of those labels.  A Top is someone who is principally interested in exercising control within S&M-type play.  To pervert Shakespeare, "the play's the thing."  A Dom/Domme, on the other hand, is someone who finds greatest fulfillment in exercising control within an on-going relationship with another, which may or may not (but most often does) include S&M-type play.  A Master/Mistress is someone who needs that kind of relationship too, but also needs its nature to at least approach a total power exchange.  These definitions may seem shallow or skewed to others, but they work for me.

The relationship I'm in now with L is without a doubt the happiest one of my life, but my role in that relationship initially was as a Top.  When I met her she was already in a long-distance relationship with a man she regarded as her Dom.  At first we approached each other with hopes of becoming friends and casual play partners.  Very soon, though, the sparks between us lit the fire of love.  Fortunately for everyone, all three of us were amenable to a poly relationship.  As that relationship developed and grew I was surely happy, but I was very aware that an additional dimension which I needed was absent.

M (her Dom) and I began to communicate more, and I hoped to be able to wait for a natural progression of things, but I reached a point not long ago where the frustration of being in a relationship with L but not being able to be a Dom in that relationship was creating so much inner turmoil for me that it was affecting my happiness, which had spill-over effects on her.  Eventually I was compelled to raise the issue openly so that we could all address it.  There was some initial resistance, and lots of questions... for some of which I had answers, for some I didn't.  Ultimately, though, we all agreed to try.

The sense of relief I felt at finally having the freedom to truly be myself defies being put into words.  But one of the things I realized immediately was that our decision did not automatically make me her Dom.  It did, though, remove the hobbles of being resticted to being no more than lover and Top.  I can now become her Dom ...not instead of M, but in addition to him.  And, yes, there's obviously the potential for conflict ahead in such a complex relationship.  Communication will be our best defense against that.

L is still very much just beginning to understand and embrace her submissive nature, but she feels ready for me to become her Dom.  The transition is going to be an on-going process as we each gradually become.  At the munch/play-party of our local group, L wore a collar that I had bought for her.  On that occasion it was basically "fetish-wear" for her.  When I placed that around her neck for the get-together we attended last weekend, we both knew that it now had more meaning.  It was the same leather and metal, but it was less a fashion accessory and more a symbol of the bond between us.

L is becoming my submissive, but she is already very much my best friend and the love of my life.  I respect her and admire her. And as Neko said of his angel, I definitely view her as my equal partner. I revel in every opportunity I have to express my dominance in her life.  I savor every time that she gives to me the gift of her submission (in any of a variety of manifestations). She is no less submissive and I am no less dominant because of this feeling of equality.  As I see it, we are full partners in the project of learning each other's needs and how best to fulfill them...a project I hope will never end.

posted by John | 10:30 AM [permalink]


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