I’m playing with an idea. Tell me if this makes any sense:
This is for all the folks out there who think “kink” is a walled garden, regardless of which side of the wall you think you’re on.
I’ve always been squicked by stupid jokes about how comical two submissives trying to play together would be. People make similar jokes about dominant-on-dominant dynamics, but they’re not nearly as…derogatory. In fact, they generally seem to take the line that one of them would just “force” the other to submit and “well, that’s kinda hot.” Ugh. But with two submissives, gosh, what would they even DO?!
First of all, for the record, I just want to say that the few experiences I’ve had of being in a submissive space and playing with a partner who’s also in a submissive space have been deliciously sweet and sexy and anyone who thinks that’s hilarious can go cake themselves. Your erotic imagination is sad and shallow.
Second and more interestingly, however, I’m curious about the nature of the political relationship between dominant and submissive identities. It seems to me, insofar as we want to map an oppression-culture conscious understanding of domism to power dynamics on the micro-level, that “being submissive” is a way of being oriented toward the world, while “being dominant” is a way of being oriented toward other peoples’ submission. In other words, as an oppressor-identity in a power hierarchy, “dominance” only exists in opposition to being submissive — but the inverse is not true. In fact, what’s true about the other side of the coin is simply that submission is not a monolith. Much like “whiteness” as a cultural identity only exists in terms of being a supposed non-ethnicity; whereas the cultural identities of People of Color are based in actual histories and also often infused with traditions of resistance and resilience. Much as “straight” categorically means “not queer,” while “queer” means all this other delightful stuff that has very little to do with straightness.
This isn’t really that interesting. I’ve said this stuff before. But what occurred to me just now is that “dominance” is specifically defined around fetishizing others’ submission. In short, submissives are…not a monolith but dominants are, by definition, submissive-fetishists.
Where this takes me is right back around to the “jokes” at the beginning: In this context, the idea that there’s some kind of natural and necessary relationship between dominance and submission smacks, to me, of other arguments claiming that someone with a fetishized body/identity/orientation only has a chance to be meaningfully intimate with someone who fetishizes their identity.
Now, I’ve had long conversations with many loved ones about target-identity fetishism. (“Target-identity fetishism,” or being attracted to people because they’re members of a population that is oppressed by a population that you’re a member of, is different from being turned on by the fact that someone has an oppressed identity that you share; I’ll be more attracted to other queer folks because they’re queer all night and day and I think that’s just fine. Likewise, being more attracted to someone because of a privilege they have that you don’t is…a form of internalized oppression, but that’s a whole different essay.) I believe that target identity-fetishism is deeply ethically problematic and also that it’s a kink many people legitimately have. You all know I think YKINMKBYKIOK is bullshit; just because someone gets off on something doesn’t make it magically non-oppressive. At the same time, I’m certainly not going to automatically ostracize complex human beings who I love from my communities or my bedroom just because they have ethically problematic kinks. Hell, I have ethically problematic kinks in spades. Mine don’t happen to be target-identity fetishes. (I don’t think…) But they’re no less problematic, and I don’t think that means I’m undeserving of affection and fulfillment.
Target-identity fetishism is, essentially, being turned on by a loved one’s scars. And I can totally get that. Scars can be sexy. Some peoples’ scars are beautiful. But they’re beautiful scars — so let’s acknowledge that that’s complicated and try not to be assholes about it. The place of peace I’ve come to with lovers who are, for example, more attracted to me because I’m fat is something like this: “This is something I like about myself, because I do like myself, but it’s also something about me that has been a source of pain and a site of violence throughout my life. I’m proud of who I am and I can sit with — and, honestly, perhaps even appreciate — the fact that you find this thing about me attractive, but only if I know you understand that you’re being turned on by something that’s also complicated and painful for me.” It’s not about not feeling what you feel. It’s about not being in denial about what your feelings mean or how they impact me. And, more than anything, it’s about being thoughtful and patient with the incredible complexities of each others’ humanity.
That being said, let me go back to my original point: It’s ethically and politically complicated but totally legit and common for humans to choose to engage in intimacies in which one of them is fetishizing the other’s oppression. But it’s ludicrous to claim that this is the only kind of intimacy those oppressed people can or should ever have access to. The idea that there’s some kind of natural and necessary symbiotic relationship between submission and dominance perpetuates this myth. It says to submissive folks over and over again, “Nobody will ever want you (or appreciate who you really are, or be able to flirt with you, or know how to have sex with you in ways that feel good to you) because you’re submissive — unless the main reason they want you is because you’re submissive.” And that’s awful. And it’s a lie.
Our language is so polluted by the connotation of the “submissive/dominant” coupling, I almost want to reframe “submission” as “resilience” — but I won’t for a number of reasons: First of all, because resilience may be an element of submission for many folks, but it’s not the whole thing. Nor is it universal, since — broken record — submission is not a monolith. Secondly, I know that there have already been vast discussions amongst submissive-identified folks about whether it would be valuable to use a different word and there seems to have been general agreement that it wouldn’t. Finally, as someone with submissive experiences but not a submissive identity, I certainly don’t think I’m in a position to go around redefining “submission.” What I’m actually trying to do here is deconstruct dominance.
And, perhaps, what I’m specifically trying to deconstruct is the oppressive notion that’s on the other side of the submission-fetishization coin: The “chaser” myth. Chasers are not a myth; chasers are real and…don’t even get me started. But the chaser myth is that I can only be attracted to someone with a “deviant” body or sexuality if I a) am attracted to them in spite of their deviance or b) am attracted to them because of their deviance. A domist version of the chaser myth says: If I happen to find myself powerfully attracted to a submissive-identified person — unless I’m attracted to them in spite of their submissive identity (i.e. I wish they weren’t submissive) — that must mean I’m secretly some kind of fetishist. In other words: If I’m attracted to someone who’s submissive and I find their submissiveness sexy, that proves I’m “dominant” — and, thus, that I can only engage with a submissive-identified person by either “dominating” them or by not engaging with their submission at all.
And, y’know, I get why that story sounds reasonable. But it’s bullshit. I know because it even sounded reasonable to me for a minute. I found myself drawn to a human being who experiences submission in a way I’d never encountered before…and at some point, I realized that some part of me was relating to their being submissive as something “exotic” and wondering what it meant about me. And then I went, “Wait. What the fuck?” But I won’t disavow having that experience — and I also won’t deny how ethically complicated it feels to me.
Still, as a person who doesn’t identify with any BDSM roles, if I am attracted to someone who happens to be submissive and their submissiveness is one of many things about them that I like, that doesn’t mean I’m attracted to them because they’re submissive; it means I’m attracted to them because they’re amazing — and we get to make up our own rules about what to do with that, thanks.
And so do you.
ETA: Just to keep the analogy/analysis complete, I want to point out that regardless of how deconstructed and traitorous a rolequeer identity one might have, being read as “Dominant” or engaging in behaviors that are traditionally associated with dominance still carries privilege — whether that be in the “vanilla” world (which doesn’t use this language but does use domist tropes), in BDSM and Sex Positive Scene spaces, or even in a given scene or intimate interaction between people who’ve been socialized in a domist culture.
Disavowing a dominant identity isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card for being conscientious about the ways you’re interacting with other peoples’ submission or submissive-identities (or your own), and how you’re impacting them as individuals, your communities, and culture at large.
This is, obviously, a note to self. 😛