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May 23, 2012

How Not to Get Fooled by a Sad Story About Yourself

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 3:14 pm

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. 😛

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11 Comments »

  1. Love this…well not the oppressive dynamics, but the eloquent, succinct, and insightful way that you tease about the threads and twist them back together to show how they make a ball that is really a heavy weight around the neck of our sex. Can we talk about this more in person?

    Comment by Dakota — May 25, 2012 @ 4:48 pm | Reply

    • Yes, I’d like that very much.

      And thanks. 🙂

      Comment by thirdxlucky — May 25, 2012 @ 10:53 pm | Reply

  2. Okay, I really really appreciate this: ‘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.’

    What a relief. I have been having this argument with myself and trying to get out of this forced dichotomy about actually being attracted to people who are fat. It has felt really weird and inaccurate to think I have to be either a chaser who is into fat people in general just for/especially because of them being fat OR I have to be . . . I don’t know, just finding certain people attractive for other reasons and basically ignoring their bodies because they are fat. Neither of those things are true for me.

    Re: target-identity fetishism. I never thought I had one of those and in general find them squicky. But I guess I am a submissive-fetishist. Not sure what to do with that now.

    Comment by Kasey — December 19, 2012 @ 6:58 pm | Reply

    • Kasey, I’m so glad this was helpful to you! 🙂 I struggled to get out of that dichotomy myself for a long time, and sometimes still do.

      > But I guess I am a submissive-fetishist. Not sure what to do with that now.

      Problematic kinks are problematic, but most of us humans have some. I’m always curious about the many different ways that people negotiate theirs. And maybe the ways I negotiate my own is something I should write about… If you have continued thoughts about this and ever feel like sharing them, I would enjoy hearing what you have to say — either here or privately (rebeccacrane.at.gmail.dot.com).

      Comment by thirdxlucky — December 20, 2012 @ 10:21 am | Reply

  3. Here via Maymay’s link.

    I completely agree that the stupid jokes exist to discourage examination of a potentially fruitful idea. Without being (I hope) imagination-lacking, I will admit that I don’t immediately go “ohhh, I see how that would work!” with a sub/sub relationship that indulges both partners’ submissiveness. Examples might be useful, though you’re under no obligation to provide some.

    The part about “no one but a dom will love a sub” sounded fishy the moment you challenged it. I can’t believe it hadn’t struck me as self-serving bullshit before. I guess because the culture at large is so persistently disapproving of kink, that fit neatly into the overarching us/them narrative.

    I agree that loving someone despite or because of their submissiveness are both dehumanizing ways to relate to them, because that isn’t their most important human characteristic. Forgiving it or fetishizing it takes it out of the natural context of just being an organic part of a complex person. I wouldn’t want someone to like me *because* of my sexual preference, any more than I’d want them to make some huge, patronizing effort to be okay with it. I would want them to look at me and get a sense for how they feel about the whole.

    That said, I think it’s an oversimplification to assume that submission is complicated and person-specific, and domination is not. I know people who are dominant as a reaction to other people’s submission, but it’s also possible to be dominant in relation to your whole environment – shouldering responsibility and taking control. In short, I’d believe some doms are submission fetishists, and the BDSM scene probably attracts a disproportionate amount of those. But I find it unlikely that dominant characteristics are *inherently* parasitic, simple, and bad.

    Comment by Lava — December 19, 2012 @ 11:45 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for your comment, Lava! 🙂 I’m really glad that a lot of my post clicked for you.

      I agree that it would be helpful to have more visible examples of what different s/s and rolequeer intimacies might look like. I don’t have the emotional bandwidth to provide those examples myself right now, because my experiences of them are very personal to me, but it’s on the To Do Someday list. 🙂

      > but it’s also possible to be dominant in relation to your whole environment – shouldering responsibility and taking control. […] I find it unlikely that dominant characteristics are *inherently* parasitic, simple, and bad.

      I’d like to challenge you to think about what you consider “dominant characteristics” and about whether those are characteristics that are exclusive to dominance. For example, when I hear “shouldering responsibility,” my mind immediately goes to what are traditionally considered “submissive” activities: “Do all the dishes and keep the house clean;” “keep a daily journal about my experiences and feelings;” “remember to use certain words to describe certain parts of my own body and don’t touch certain parts of my body without having certain linguistic interactions about them beforehand”; etc. all sound like a lot of responsibility to shoulder to me. (If you haven’t seen it already, you might also check out Maymay’s post on where our traditional schema for these characteristics comes from here: http://malesubmissionart.com/post/31532332535/four-lists-arranged-in-columns-describe-traits)

      More importantly, however, what is it exactly that *makes* something dominance? When, I think of someone who is responsible, I think of them as “someone who is responsible” not “someone who is dominant”. Likewise, someone who is decisive is “someone who is decisive.” This decisive person might be dominant-identified, submissive-identified, switch-identified, rolequeer, or have nothing to do with BDSM whatsoever. All of the qualities one might traditionally ascribe to “dominance” are qualities that, when looked at through a different lens, might also strengthen a person’s submission.

      In fact, the only characteristic I can think of that inheres exclusively to dominance is the one you mentioned: “taking control.” And yet, submissives also take a shit-ton of control — *of themselves*. (I don’t know if you’ve ever tried not to have an orgasm for several weeks while being subjected to constant teasing, but there is some herculean self-control involved in that activity.) So, in fact, it’s not even “taking control” that defines dominance; it’s specifically taking control *of other people*.

      Is “taking control of other people” inherently “parasitic, simple, and bad”? I don’t know. I do know that it requires *other people*.

      In other words: Dominance is a form of governance. I’m an anarchist. Draw your own conclusions. 😉

      Comment by thirdxlucky — December 20, 2012 @ 10:55 am | Reply

      • That’s totally fine. “I’m interested in this” =/= “you must educate.” But if anyone can point me to examples, I’d appreciate it.

        I tend to think of most graceful doms – the ones that have power handed to them in their daily life without having to chase after it – as people who volunteer for the work and responsibility side of things. They’re willing to take risks and get blamed if something goes wrong, because they took on “being the one who’s going to accomplish this,” and put their time and effort into getting the result they want. Other people entrust themselves to that sort of person without prompting, because they know so-and-so likes to make things happen, has practice, and is good at it. That snowballs. Looked at one way, it’s a burden. Looked at from the opposite side, it’s power and control; over yourself, over other people, over anything and everything you can handle in such a way that it’s running smoothly. It’s also a crash course in being charming and getting other people to see the opportunities for self-expression and growth in work that you want them to do for you (but that’s another story). And in figuring out what kinds of power are worth accumulating because they make your insides hum happily (I’m full of tangents today, apparently).

        I see most stereotypically submissive responsibilities as things that a) the dom considers onerous or not empowering, for whatever reason, and/or b) foreground the dominant’s position over the submissive. As in, you’re doing X because it’s a concrete expression of being controlled, quite apart from its objective value as a task. Also, a lot of the control a submissive develops is self-control. Becoming biddable in certain ways. Fomenting an acceptable level of vulnerability, in a relationship where that’s wanted and valued. It’s not usually power in the sense I was describing above. It’s not tendrils of influence radiating out from you in every direction, extending your awareness, discretion, and reach. Specifically, it’s the opposite of that. It’s … letting someone draw you as close as possible and tangle you up in their web, until it feels like you can’t twitch without their permission, without touching them, and knowing that they know which way your thoughts move. It’s surrender, and it’s a way of behaving with your partner that makes them feel like they’re safe with you. Because you want them strong and powerful, and the better you know them, the more effectively you can add your strength to theirs. It should go both ways. This is the part of D/s that has the potential to become a positive feedback loop, belief and appreciation and reciprocity making each person feel like what they are is right and good. But it’s delicate. That doesn’t just happen with two people who are basically out for themselves; their pleasure. So part of what I’m saying is that a dom has every bit as much responsibility as a sub to really, intimately get to know their partner, not just because it adds to their skills as a manipulator, but also because it reinforces the connection between them as people.

        This ties into what you were saying about traits that make a person effective, regardless of which way they identify. Taking control of yourself is everybody’s work. Decisiveness that’s grounded in experience and good judgment is badass. It’s just … a dom self-identifies as such knowing that decision-making is something they’re going to be expected to do for two people. And that their getting more power depends on being competent with what they’re given initially. I don’t think there are many secure doms who prefer a cute but incompetent sub who needs them for *everything* to one that is voluntarily relinquishing the power they’d otherwise wield. The latter, IMO, has more of a choice about it. They have the option of not being vulnerable, but this is how they choose to play, because it feels good to them. Or in the case of 24/7, this is how they choose to live.

        This quote from your article really resonated with me, by the way, and I didn’t have clear what I wanted to say about it when I responded the first time:

        “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.”

        I feel like it sums up a lot of things about my sexuality and kinky tendencies in general. Some of them feel like things I’d have regardless … and some of them feel distinctly like scars. That goes for about equal parts dominance and submission (switch here) because they’re problematic, complicated, and dysfunctional in different, related ways. Dominance attracts a lot of suspicion for being potentially evil. All that jazz about power corrupting, and the only people who want power being bad, and so on. It’s got a certain social status, in the same way that being parsed in the man-box, as someone who’s more likely to be perpetrator than victim has status. But at the cost of being demonized whenever it isn’t (often just as undeservedly) glorified. That’s terrible. It lets people who don’t know how to care about their partner off the hook, because the expectation of a dom clearly isn’t “they’re loving.” And it should be. Kinky people, of all people, should have a clear idea of what a functional bdsm relationship is like. We should know the difference between a small-scale megalomaniac and a dom, and we should be talking about it. Because power, by itself, doesn’t make you abusive. If you’re being abusive, there’s something wrong. (Minor tangent, sorry.) I guess what I’m saying is that I can see immediately how what you wrote relates to feelings about being fat, or being submissive. It also applies to what I feel about dominance. There are things about it that I like and can be proud of, but there are also times when it feels like a horrible character flaw. And even when my culture isn’t trying to knock it out of me, (because of “WTF, you’re a girl,” dominance has been a source of contention, pain, and violence,) it hasn’t given me a sense of how to use what I feel responsibly and well. I’ve had to make that up on my own, and read and talk to people who are in loving relationships, and hold myself to certain ways of being because I see a difference between using power to common benefit and degenerating into an authoritarian, undisciplined ball of id. I resent that my culture treats abuse of power like the natural result of having power.

        BTW, I’m pretty fond of anarchy. I see a significant distinction between power that people hand to you because they like what you do with it, and power that comes from position and depends on institutions and guns. A teacher as “whichever adult stands at the front of a class and lectures” is very different from a teacher as “someone you seek out because they’re skilled and you want to learn.” But both have power.

        Comment by Lava — December 20, 2012 @ 3:23 pm

      • Thanks for taking the time to articulate your thoughts in so much depth, Lava. It’s good to be able to have these conversations with someone outside my own head.

        I read your comment a couple of times and, while pieces of what you’re saying make sense to me, I’m still having a somatic reaction that feels like, “Some piece of awareness is missing here. The framework is off.” I’m not exactly sure where that reaction is coming from or how to put it into language yet. I’m going to sit with your comment for a little while and see what comes up, before I respond. But again, thanks.

        Comment by thirdxlucky — December 20, 2012 @ 5:19 pm

  4. Reblogged this on That's Not a Kink Blog; THIS is a Kink Blog!.

    Comment by thirdxlucky — April 15, 2013 @ 2:29 am | Reply

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