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Bug or feature?

Lately I’ve been thinking about the role of kink in relationships — specifically, this relationship between my lover and me. It feels to me like the relationship is more stable and solid when there’s more kinky sex, and vice versa. This bemuses me somewhat since I’ve never placed much weight on how much sex there is in a relationship, and my libido is pretty low most of the time.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the effect is more about kink than about sex (and yes, I separate the two even though there are rather obvious connections between them).  While I tend to be strong-willed and assertive in ordinary life, exploring submissive roles and interactions seems to make me softer and more patient in general. When I talked about this with my lover, he said he feels more decisive and self-confident during periods when he gets to exercise his dominant tendencies. If the BDSM interactions are missing, I get cranky and impatient, and he gets dithery.

It is as if our relationship is centered and balanced when the kinky stuff is there, and goes out of whack when that is missing. I’m still a bit weirded out by that, since it seems to emphasize the importance of kink more than my sense of myself as a pretty vanilla girl would allow… but it makes sense to me. Actually, I think most relationships are a kind of balancing act between different modes of being, and a lot of them are unbalanced if things change in one area. Witness the amount of LDR relationships that get rocky when the participants move to the same area, or even relationships that need to find a new equilibrium after the couple moves together.

I suspect this kind of dynamic, where kinky interactions provide a counterweight to ordinary life, wouldn’t be all that uncommon among people who practice BDSM.

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For nature has in all beasts printed a certain mark of dominion in the male
and certain subjection in the female, which they keep inviolate.

– John Chrysostom

Over the last year I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable in my kinkyness. However, there are a number of things that keep bugging me.

One of those things is the concept of female submission. Not that I have anything against submission as part of consensual power play; or any idea that submission should be in any way incompatible with feminism. The act of submission, of deliberately handing over power to a partner, is potentially a very powerful thing. I cannot see that kind of submission in anyone as weak or effeminate.

That last word, then, suggests my problems with the concept of female submission. I know there are a lot of people who like to frame dominance and submission as gendered, who get their kicks out of the dichotomy of vulnerable female beauty, subject to the male gaze, and the power and mascunility of the dominant. Unfortunately, this framing, while perfectly fine and appealing in itself, seems to come with a tendency to see the dichotomy of male dominant / female submissive as essential, natural and good.

I am sick and tired of it… though I think the framing is fine for them that likes the stuff, obviously.

I want to get rid of the view of that one framing as natural. In addition to denigrating and appropriating deliberate submissive acts by women, I think the framing of submission as essentially womanly also hurts submissive men, dominant men and women… all of us. There’s a lot of power in that framing, and I think we all should get to play with it in fun, whimsical ways if we want to, instead of being bound by obeying/rejecting it.

For myself, I think I should be able to choose whether to hand control over to my partner without getting tarred with the brush of some essentializing, gendered notion of specifically female submission. I feel ill at ease with a number of subtle assumptions that seem to come with the label of ”femsub”, and I wish I could be free of them without needing to take care how I represent myself. I’m a woman and I sometimes like to play submissively; those attributes are hardly enough to say anything meaningful about how I act or play, yet they are often taken as defining.

My problem seems to be that I’m partnered with a man, and along with the categorization of dominance/submission we get a hefty dose of heteronormativism. Sometimes it seems as if there’s only one model of dominance/submission play available to us: often, as soon as someone learns that I like to play in a submissive role and he in a dominant one, a lot of assumptions get made about what our play, interaction and relationship look like. Makes me cranky. And claustrophobic.

(By saying this, I do not wish to downplay the extent of privilege we enjoy by virtue [sic] of being young, white, more or less conventionally beautiful, outwardly heterosexual, and with appropriately pretty and conventional kinks…)

Curiously, the intersections of submission/femaleness and dominance/maleness seem to be more virulent and noxious than the social roles allowed for men and women would lead me to expect. It confuses me. Why would people, who participate in more or less radical sexual practices and communities, get attached to such strict categories of (cisgendered) female submission and male dominance? It is as if worn dreary stereotypes of culturally approved femininity / masculinity come to the fore in BDSM, and not all of it is deliberate gender play. I wonder… is it that something is needed to act as a counterweight to the sexualities that would otherwise be too bold and scary? Or are there just so many people who enjoy the oomph that deliberately (?) gendered D/s brings with it, and I’m just imagining the naturalization of that framing?

I’d have to answer that last question in the negative, I think. To me it seems that we produce the positions of dominant and submissive performatively, by repeating and reproducing them. And, like gender, they tend to get naturalized. The outward practices in which dominant and submissive are produced, also provide the tools for people to find their own identities, and the subtleness of the interaction of self and society is liable to make the process opaque.

That leads me to a lot of questions I’ll need to think about…

What are the signals and practices by which we shape female submission or female dominance or male submission or male dominance? How about genderqueer submission, or femme dominance, or however a person may identify zirself? Can I, as a cisgendered somewhat butchy mostly straight woman, produce dom or sub or switch without gendering them? Or are the positions ”necessarily” gendered? I should not think so, since if they were gendered to begin with we wouldn’t need to spend quite so much time and energy structuring them as such.

[Edited to fix typos.]

Hold on honey

I’m more or less back.

After a few months of work on the thesis and on getting my head back on straight (or as straight as it ever was), I’m feeling the need to stretch out in more ways. From planning RPG campaigns, to taking up a new sport or dance, to ranting to y’all about stuff. It’s rather liberating feeling, though scary as well. Cocoons are kind of comfortable even when dark and dreary.

I’m a little confused about where to start, though.  A “mess” is surely the proper collective noun for the thoughts and ideas spinning through my mind.

I’d want to rant about the oversexed framing of female submission and the assumption that differently-gendered couples necessarily structure their interaction according to that kind of model. I’d want to rant about the construction of femininity, and the infuriating pressure for people with XX chromosome pair to fulfill that role (and the pressure for people with XY chromosome pair to reject those “feminine” qualities in themselves even as they’re expected to lust after them in the XX people). I’d want to muse about the different payoffs of BDSM, and the ways in which payoff is connected with structure for me. I’d need to write about the (to me, very natural) connections of BDSM and role-playing of the non-sexual kind, so that I could look at the qualities of immersion I seek in those interactions.

Maybe I can roll a die.

Down time

If I had known then before I courted

that love would be such a killing crime

I’d locked my heart in a box of gold

and tied it up with a silver twine


I’ve been no good at writing as of late. I’ve got a number of things to blog about, but my attempts at getting anything on paper remain pale broken shadows of what I’d want to say. Looks like that will be the case for some time yet, since I need to pour my scant resources into working on (a piece of) the thesis.

Grief and sorrow have stopped by and I guess I’m ready now to offer them some crashing space. I’ve been focusing on trying to sleep regular hours and on keeping myself fed, and that seems to keep the crying down to tolerable amounts. I’ll endure.

Do you think…

… that the usages of the word ‘consent’ are gendered in various ways? Or is it just my ear that misleads me in this, not my native tongue?

It seems to me that there are definite differences in how the word ends up being used. The differences of the agency-emphasizing “zie consented to this and that” and the submissive-ish “zie gave hir consent to this and that”… and yet, the distancing “hey, it was all totally consensual!”

I can’t help but feel that they are all tied up with the ways the concept of consent itself is gendered. When you add in the surface neutrality and ‘naturality’ of the words, they take on a rather creepy cast.

Passing Time

November.

The constant murky darkness is pressing me down, messing up my sleep and leaving me too bone-deep tired to do anything intensive in the rare moments of true wakefulness. I’d rather just stay home and sleep, or read something fluffy, or watch silly tv-series or games on the telly.

(And then again, I could say that I’m quieting down with the season, to rest before the coming winter. Candlelight and mugfuls of hot gingery drinks, good company to share them with. Two different imaginings of this artificially delineated stretch of time, with very different vibes to them.)

My thoughts have been skirting the edges of a big mess of unthought ideas. Like a tangle of yarn or a deep wood with many paths leading inwards, both offering glimpses of truth just beyond that one winding pass. I feel reluctant to pick just one path or thread to follow, so I keep peering around. I think at the heart of the tangle there is something real, something like a new understanding. Or perhaps the understanding is in the experience of following a path, or many paths, there.

I am excited about that tangle and the possibilities it holds. I’d like to share my excitement with everybody around me, and at the same time keep it quiet and private, a sense of glow beneath the threshold of each ordinary day.

Am I just passing when I keep it hidden, when I don’t allow my own experience of truth and joy to show in myself?

Mm, let me re-think…

After that last post wondering about the underlying similarities in 24/7 and ‘just in the bedroom’, I stumbled onto something that might be a qualitative difference (or at least a dimension) after all.

I woke up one night, at oh-mumble-hundred AM, stressing out about work stuff… and after dealing with the stress, had a minor epiphany just as I was going back to sleep. To articulate it in any but the most banal terms I’ll probably need to explain where I was coming from.

It’s been hard for me to perceive how much I’ve expected of myself and how much self-control I’ve felt I’ve needed: after all, I’ve been so accustomed to the expectations that I’ve become blind to them. It is strange and disorienting to start questioning those self-conceptions. To quote Matrix, “You think that’s air you’re breathing?”

I think that my interest in BDSM is linked to both the expectations themselves and the need to question them, which is somewhat disorienting in itself… There seems to be a cliche in popular culture of a successful, over-achieving politician or businessman visiting a professional dominatrix for humiliation and pain, to release the tensions of his demanding job. The point seems to be the dichotomy of the two implied roles: successful and dominant in work, craving punishment in private. While this image is offputting in a number of ways, there is some truth in it for me.

One of the payoffs of BDSM for me is the potentially transformative nature of it. Giving over control of myself, even in limited degree, is liberating. I’ve been so used to the perfectionist demands of my super-ego that it’s difficult/rewarding to hand over the authority to make demands, to let someone else choose on which criteria I’ll be evaluated and how to apply them. But (and this is an important but) I think this works for me because it is limited in time and purpose. In giving over that authority I gain a better understanding of it and of myself, and I use the process to question the demands I’m so used to placing on myself. For me this seems to require deliberation in the power dynamics and the transitions into and out of them.

(From what I’ve read I suspect that at least for some people identifying as 24/7, such transitions would rather defeat the point of the power dynamic. They prefer to keep their power dynamic stable within the context of the relationship, and I suspect this is related to their payoffs (even when transformative in nature) being in some way different from the ones I seek. I might be full of hot air here, though.)

So what was the epiphany? In simplest terms, I think this: in aiming to relax the expectations I place on myself, I have no wish to give over the authority to place them, or to place them on others. Instead, I wish to learn how to let go of the need for expectations, by playing with them and by choosing them mindfully.