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Altering

July 31, 2009

In exploring this new dynamic between me and partner, there has been a lot of learning to work with another person, with a different communication style, different and sometimes overlapping sexual desires, different priorities, different wants, different needs. These are all probably obvious things integral to any sexual relationship, but my inexperience is making it all new and profound. It is both shnazzy and sometimes uncomfortable. Deep conditioning I didn’t even know about pops up when I least expect, which is both uncomfortable and good, because then I can work on getting rid of it.

My masochism has unexpectedly reared its head, making demands like “Scratch me! Bite me! Now! FEED ME.” I took my flogger to myself once, but it’s not nearly as good as when someone else does it, because swinging it over your shoulders you can only really hit two spots.

Interestingly, lately I’ve met more discomfort about my masochism than my sadism. Unexpected. “I like to give pain to other people” is met with “Uh-huh,” and a look that suggests with sufficient counseling I would get over it. “I like to give pain to myself” gets hysterical giggling, the covering of eyes, and “Let’s not talk about it!” Had the good-pain/bad-pain discussion yesterday.

One of the things that really threw me as the dynamic began was the fact that I didn’t reach my dominant headspace. When I first started exploring with other people, I reached that space and took it for granted that, ‘Oh, this is what they call topspace.’ And then suddenly I didn’t have that, and I was like, “Uhhhh… What?” I realized how much I wanted and needed that, if not in this relationship, then in others. I tried describing reaching that altered psycho-emotional-bodily state to a couple of non-kinky people, and the best way they could understand it was as a transcendental spiritual state. Which, maybe it is, but it’s certainly not any more spiritual than anything else. Eating and walking are spiritual too.

I did reach the headspace with my partner once. We were not having sex at the time, but then again we almost were. Usually pain has been the catalyst for getting me in headspace, but I wasn’t hurting them at all, wasn’t even fantasizing about pain. I was feeling dominant, and that they were mine, and that my lungs had expanded to fill my entire body and I was breathing through my skin. And that I was breathing them into my skin. They weren’t submitting to me, or even bottoming to me, but they were responding, and on some level I’ve never reached before we were matching up in our interaction.

Before I was suddenly bereft of it, I thought that the headspace was the headspace, and that it was this solid, static thing, when now I’m realizing that I was just paddling in the first few feet of water. I profoundly want to explore this space, where it goes, how deep it goes, where the boundaries and limits are, how those boundaries can be stretched, and what kind of spiritual gymnastics I can do there.

I asked this over at Thumper’s, but why is it ‘subspace’ and ‘topspace?’ I have never heard of ‘bottomspace’ or ‘domspace.’ What does that signify, if anything?

Dw3t Hthr was discussing how safewords did not work for her because:

The thing with me and safewords is that if I’m in a position where I might want to use one, I’m almost certainly not in a position where I’m capable of using one. (The other thing with me and safewords is that if I’m verbality-enabled, I’m quite competent to say, “You don’t want to be doing that” or something similar about a boundary-crossing behaviour, and I’m not generally engaged in stuff that would require something other than plain language to communicate.) I alter state so significantly that the safety latch option doesn’t come up on possible options.

She described her own subspace as:

my-mind-is-blown-open-my-god-it’s-full-of-stars-and-kittens

And then she said this:

For someone like me, for whom nonverbal trust state is one of the fundamental components – indeed one of the desired goals – of submission, trying to frame that all through the safeword lens breaks it.

And Violacious said something very similar.

D/s, I think, is intrinsically about the place where consent meets trust meets faith. In the deep thick smouldering submissive moment, for me faith overtakes the power of meaningful consent, which is why trust placed in my partner is crucial to act as an intermediary between those two terms.

What all of this brings up for me is that I want that. I want to be able to go that deep into my dominant headspace. But as Dw3t Hthr says about her space:

And this is a giant lump of dangerous mental juju to propose to drop on someone, asking them to hold that safe space, to create that dissolved and fluid state and to keep it from being ripped apart. This is not easy, and this is not a small magic. But where does one learn this shit?

And now I’m going to go to a place where I might get yelled at my some submissive people. I have no idea if this is entirely un-PC.

I’ve heard reference to dominant people holding a safe space for submissive people many times, which I’m willing and eager to do. But what about submissive partners holding a safe space for dominant partners? Granted I’ve only played in the shallows of headspace, but I have never gone so deep that I could not become verbal again, pull myself out at the sound of a safeword or even the idea that my partner was feeling bad-pain and not good-pain. And it’s not that I want to reach a place where I couldn’t respect a safeword if it was given. For me safewords have worked very well as a mutually clear way of communicating boundaries with someone I don’t necessarily know very well. If I needed to, I would safeword as a dominant.

I’ve discussed this with a group of dominants when I was living in the City (the starting topic was aftercare for dominants/tops), and most of the responses I got were that the dominant/top partner is the one responsible for both themselves and the submissive/bottom, while the submissive/bottom is only responsible for themselves, and sometimes not even then, because they’re in subspace. And on one level this makes sense to me, because many times the dominant/top is the one doing the tying up, the beating, the sexy verbal thrashing. But on another, much more personal level, it doesn’t make sense to me that one partner can go as deep as they need while the other partner holds the safe space for them, and the other partner can’t.

How would that work, someone, a possibly tied-up someone possibly faced with an implement of smacking, hold a safe-space for a dominant person, so they can go as deep as they need? I imagine some people would say it’s dangerous, since the one is tied up and all and the other has an implement. But really, I don’t think that if I sank as deep as I could go into my dominance I would start carving bacon out of someone. I don’t think I would lose my ability to recognize physical, emotional, and mental boundaries and read body-language. Of course, d/s in no way has to include binding or smacking, but for many people it does, and I enjoy both.

Graydon said in the comments of Dw3t Hthr’s post on safewords,

I don’t think “submissive” is always the right term; sometimes what is wanted, or what’s going on, might be better described as “responsibility transfer”. The point is not to do what you’re told; the point is not to have to decide.

I don’t think Graydon was discussing responsibility in the same way I am here, but it’s another place where I’ve encountered the idea one partner is supposed to be responsible for everything so the other doesn’t have to be. I’m projecting d/s on that, which I’m not sure is what they meant.

So I’m really curious to see what any of you might have to say on the subject, if you’ve ever encountered it in yourselves, your partners, or others. Where and when can the responsibility shift from a dominant partner to a submissive partner? How can a dominant person go deep into their headspace while still being cognizant of the logistics of their partner’s subspace,  joint angles and circulation, and application of pain? Should that responsibility always be the dominant person’s? Can a dominant partner have that level of immersive experience while still holding that kind of responsibility?

17 Comments leave one →
  1. devastatingyet permalink
    July 31, 2009 4:18 pm

    My slave boyfriend gets really huffy over the idea that the dom has all the responsibility. I find it kind of attractive but he distinctly does not, and wishes to hold on to all the responsibility he feels that he has.

    As for letting go…my experience is that when I have gone a bit too deep, then I kind of lose empathy/awareness of my partner, and I’ve gone overboard as a result (though not ignored safewords or anything like that). I think it would depend on what actually happened and your actual partner. You’d have to explore that with a specific person, hopefully with communication and consent beforehand.

    I do basically think, though, that drifting off into stars-and-kittens land is not something that dominants typically get to do while topping someone.

    I tend to get most headspacy as a top in situations that are comparatively safe – e.g., just staring into my partner’s eyes while we are both really feeling the dynamic.

  2. ranat permalink*
    August 1, 2009 5:17 pm

    The responsibility is attractive for me in some ways as well, but not necessarily all the time.

    “As for letting go…my experience is that when I have gone a bit too deep, then I kind of lose empathy/awareness of my partner, and I’ve gone overboard as a result.”

    I’d be really interested in hearing other dominant’s/top’s descriptions of their headspace. I’ve found many more descriptions of subspace than ‘topspace.’

    It’s definitely something to explore with a specific partner, and as Dw3t Hthr points out, not just anyone. Much mental juju indeed.

    “I tend to get most headspacy as a top in situations that are comparatively safe – e.g., just staring into my partner’s eyes while we are both really feeling the dynamic.”

    Yeah, I was thinking about what the headspace would be like with the dominant partner being receptive rather than tying/beating, which isn’t a place where I’ve experienced it. For some reason I instinctively feel that going deep then would be ‘okay’ while going deep when wielding props would be ‘not okay.’ But part of me wonders if that’s just a knee jerk to ‘Oh my god I’m wielding a whip, why would someone let me do that?’ or because it’s not actually feasible.

    I feel like going stars-and-kittens deep while topping has to be possible, simply because anything is, but it might take a delicately balanced mix of communication, trust, self control, time, and lots of other things I probably haven’t thought about.

  3. August 2, 2009 12:37 am

    I haven’t read this whole post in its entirety yet, but for what it’s worth, I have totally gone to “bottomspace” and not “subspace” during some of my play and I totally consider it a first-class citizen of valid head spaces.

    But maybe I’m a freak.

  4. ranat permalink*
    August 2, 2009 7:39 pm

    I’d would say I’ve gone into bottomspace too when I’ve had the opportunity. I felt very unconsciously relaxed, and somewhat non-verbal. I was in a place where most of what I was doing was feeling, but without having to think about it.

    How do bottomspace and subspace differ for you?

  5. August 5, 2009 7:42 pm

    Fascinating topic. I think the ability of doms/tops to really let themselves get headspacey and a bit out of control while doing things like flogging or bondage depends entirely on where their subs/bottoms are at. I like the distinction between subspace and bottomspace, because I’ve felt both: the first feels like a complete surrendering of control, letting the other person both use me and take care of me, and the second is more sensation or arousal-based, a simple enjoyment of what’s being done to me. In subspace, I often go nonverbal and really do need my dom/top to be present and clear-headed; in bottomspace, I don’t necessarily need that, because *I’m* present enough to be able to direct them and let them know what my needs are. That is, if my dom were flogging me and just really getting blissed out on it, forgetting where he was or how long or how hard he was hitting me, I’d be totally okay with it if I were in a headspace in which I could clearly communicate to him when I needed to stop, when he needed to go a bit lighter, etc.

    I guess the short answer is that I think that at least *one* person involved in a potentially dangerous scene needs to be fully present and in control, but that that person doesn’t necessarily have to be the dom/top.

  6. August 6, 2009 6:19 am

    I agree with subversive sub — I think at least someone needs to be aware in a situation, but who that is doesn’t have to be role-attached.

    The stuff I wrote about in the post you’re quoting is sort of the core of my submission, the place I start out from, the why of things in many ways; it’s not the whole shape of things by any means. It’s certainly not somewhere I get all the time, and I’ve held safe space for my liege in the past.

    … it occurs to me that that’s … not something I’m comfortable blogging about. Because him holding safe space for me, I’m the exposed one, so it’s okay for me to talk about it. But those moments of precious dominant fragility that I’ve held? I don’t get to choose to share those. They’re precious gifts, and they’re fundamentally his.

    Interesting.

  7. ranat permalink*
    August 6, 2009 12:29 pm

    @Subversive Sub –

    “In subspace, I often go nonverbal and really do need my dom/top to be present and clear-headed; in bottomspace, I don’t necessarily need that, because *I’m* present enough to be able to direct them and let them know what my needs are.”

    That’s an interesting distinction between the two spaces, and I’m pretty sure the first time I’ve ever heard any kind of distinction described. And on top of the list of other questions, now I’m wondering why that is.

    “I’d be totally okay with it if I were in a headspace in which I could clearly communicate to him when I needed to stop, when he needed to go a bit lighter, etc.”

    I think that’s one point where I kind of got mentally stuck. I’ve received the impression –and the instruction– that doms have to learn how to just *know* where the sub/bottom is, because there’s no guarantee the sub/bottom will be verbal because they might be in subspace. And being able to read body language and emotional states like that with a partner is a wonderful place to be, but it might not be there with a new or transient partner.

    And I just realized, attached to that, is that I feel like I’ve absorbed some unspoken notion that being able to get sub/bottom into blissed out/unable to speak space is what’s considered ‘good domming,’ and if sub/bottom is still clear and verbal, then the dom isn’t doing their job right, or at most it’s ‘topping.’ Wow, more value judgments and hierarchies popping out in me from unknown sources. Excellent.

    @Dw3t-Hthr –

    “I agree with subversive sub — I think at least someone needs to be aware in a situation, but who that is doesn’t have to be role-attached.”

    It’s nice to have that confirmation from two sources. I agree that someone needs to be clear and present, especially in certain kinds of scenes, or the possibility of train wrecks multiplies.

    “The stuff I wrote about in the post you’re quoting is sort of the core of my submission, the place I start out from, the why of things in many ways; it’s not the whole shape of things by any means.”

    Understood. But it makes very powerful reading. :)

    “Because him holding safe space for me, I’m the exposed one, so it’s okay for me to talk about it. But those moments of precious dominant fragility that I’ve held? I don’t get to choose to share those. They’re precious gifts, and they’re fundamentally his.”

    I definitely resonate with that. In a blog format, I can tell whatever I want about myself, but I don’t feel the desire, nor I am comfortable with the idea, of sharing the equivalent for someone else (even with permission). Even though it involves someone else, it’s somehow more personal than my solitary experience. A lot of times the things I cherish the most are the ones I share the least. But not because of privacy. It’s just… not meant for that, in some way, for me.

  8. August 6, 2009 5:52 pm

    “And being able to read body language and emotional states like that with a partner is a wonderful place to be, but it might not be there with a new or transient partner.”

    Totally. And this is why I really cherish the place that I’m at with my current partner, now. It took me years of learning my own boundaries and learning to fully trust him to get here. Could I let someone space out while topping me if I hadn’t already been playing with him for years? I’m not sure. But maybe so — maybe it has to do more with understanding my boundaries than with trusting the other person. Probably the most crucial component, in fact, is that I’ve learned how to better control when and how I go into spacey states, so that if I feel it necessary to maintain control, to bottom rather than to submit, I can do it. A couple of years ago, I had no idea how to do that, and couldn’t predict when I would get too spacey to really take any responsibility.

  9. August 6, 2009 8:38 pm

    I’d also agree with the bottomspace/subspace distinction made, which I missed in my late-night scan of the conversation – that fits my intuition about differences between bottoming and submission as overlapping categories.

    I don’t know what to think of the concept of “good domming”. To me d/s is so fundamentally about relationship that I wind up going … it’s just … being a good partner, having the relationship work. The spaces that come about when one works the dynamic are incidental, really, so long as they’re in good proportion.

    A while back, my liege and I had a conversation about proportion of stuff, actually — that we’d had time/space/energy for sexual stuff that fed the d/s dynamic in one way that was primarily to his benefit, but not so much mine (partly because the stuff that feeds me most takes a lot more investment and focus), and we needed to fix that. Doing the fix was good domming. (Not having slipped on it at all would have been better domming, but that’s not one of those things that’s going to happen all the time in reality where people exist.)

  10. ranat permalink*
    August 7, 2009 1:20 pm

    @Subversive Sub –

    “maybe it has to do more with understanding my boundaries than with trusting the other person. Probably the most crucial component, in fact, is that I’ve learned how to better control when and how I go into spacey states, so that if I feel it necessary to maintain control, to bottom rather than to submit, I can do it.”

    I think knowing one’s own boundaries is an essential component of trust. I’ve found myself much more at ease playing with people who know where they will go, how far, and how hard (or at least have a general idea). For me, knowing my own boundaries is a part of being trusted.

    @Dw3t-Hthr –

    “I don’t know what to think of the concept of “good domming”. To me d/s is so fundamentally about relationship that I wind up going … it’s just … being a good partner, having the relationship work. The spaces that come about when one works the dynamic are incidental, really, so long as they’re in good proportion.”

    Yeah, I’m really realizing now how that idea slipped into me under the radar. Probably from me gobbling up everything I could find, and an unanchored desire to be a good partner without any solid, experiential context for what that meant.

    “my liege and I had a conversation about proportion of stuff, actually — that we’d had time/space/energy for sexual stuff that fed the d/s dynamic in one way that was primarily to his benefit, but not so much mine and we needed to fix that”

    I really wonder how common those conversations are in d/s relationships, or if many people know it’s their right to have that. There are examples of d/s expressed through strict hierarchy that say a sub has no rights except to give or withdraw consent. I think the ‘I’m not getting as much out of this as you are’ conversation doesn’t happen nearly as often as people want, in any permutation of sexuality.

  11. August 8, 2009 3:39 am

    I don’t think that sort of conversation is common in many relationships at all. It’s one of those things where I look at people and wonder how much of their lives they could fix if they talked it through.

    As to that link …

    … ngeermmm …

    Let’s look at it this way:

    Even if the sub “only has the right to consent or not consent”, it is in the best interests of a dom who wants to maintain a particular sub to do some thinking about what will or will not provoke a withdrawal of consent. Which looks a hell of a lot like, well, negotiation at times.

    It’s all well and good to say “This is the deal on offer, take it or leave it”, but if the deal on offer isn’t one that someone considers good, well, they’ll leave it. And one can frame the negotiation and the ‘I’m not getting enough out of this’ or whatever in terms of strict heirarchy in which the Rank-Up person wants to maintain possession of the Rank-Down person, or in terms of mutual negotiation between partners of equal status who also do things with power, control, service, and whatever, or in terms of one party being a valuable asset to be retained and kept up, or what have you. All kinds of things.

    On the other hand, some people kink on being treated as an interchangeable part who can be discarded if they don’t fit the role assigned. In which case being treated like someone with negotiating power or a valuable asset would be a drawback.

    I don’t know; I’m happy to be a valuable asset, even if my maintenance is a little wonky at times. (I seesaw between that and ‘partner with different role in the system’.)

  12. ranat permalink*
    August 8, 2009 4:33 pm

    @Dw3t-Hthr –

    “It’s all well and good to say “This is the deal on offer, take it or leave it”, but if the deal on offer isn’t one that someone considers good, well, they’ll leave it.”

    I wonder if they will leave it though. I haven’t done any surveys, but I’ve read and listened to enough desperate wishing by people for someone to accept this socially ostracized part of them, that I wonder if many kinky people would leave a relationship that isn’t working for them, or just shove it down and say “This is as good as it gets, I’m lucky, I’m privileged to be able to have this much.” This seems to get especially strong in the hierarchical d/s rhetoric, aimed at submissives. I haven’t explored mandom culture as much as ‘femdom,’ but the easiest material to find on the subject is usually telling submissive people that they’re impossibly fortunate to have this opportunity they don’t deserve to have their human rights denied. I wonder how many people actually believe this, rather than playing with this in fantasy.

    “I’m happy to be a valuable asset, even if my maintenance is a little wonky at times. (I seesaw between that and ‘partner with different role in the system’.)”

    ‘Partner with a different role in the system’ is what’s making sense to me, although ‘valuable asset’ plays a large part in my fantasy life.

  13. devastatingyet permalink
    August 8, 2009 10:08 pm

    After I posted about topping from the bottom, Jos and I have been talking about how the very auhoritarian d/s couples do it, how they negotiate and how they handle the general issue of feedback or whatever. Because we do see these couples and they seem very serious and it seems like the bottom has no say but that can’t really (generally) be the case, for the reasons stated above.

    Even if the submissive is so into feeling totally controlled that they are happy not having a say, it is still the case that they will respond differently to different things. And the amount of trial and error required to figure this out as the dom without significant input from the sub seems prohibitive. And the submissive won’t (probably) know all of this information up front, so it needs to be a continuing dialogue.

    I can only assume they handle it through some kind of feedback mechanism that is defined and controlled in such a way that it doesn’t seem like the sub is controlling things. I really don’t know.

    I actually don’t understand how other couples do this in ways that look kind of smooth, because for us it’s extremely bumpy pretty much all the time.

  14. August 9, 2009 12:25 am

    I think we’re coming back around to your post about the world where it’s okay to be kinky, in a lot of ways, because in a world where the default for most things is YKIOK, I think most people would hold out for things that work for them.

    I may have a different perspective from being largely an outsider to kink subculture – I don’t know a lot of the crap that gets spouted at submissives in significant part because when I ran into it I mostly went, “That’s … crap. Maybe I’m not really kinky after all,” and wandered off again.

    But my perspective was, for a long time, that I wasn’t ever going to find What I Wanted, sexually; I could find things that weren’t what I wanted but were pretty okay overall, and I was willing to be satisfied with that. My kink came about as part of relationships I had for other reasons; when I saw the really out-there d/s stuff, I mostly said, “That looks like a bad relationship” and ignored it.

    I suspect I’d have a very different perspective had it been actually possible for me to participate in kink subculture.

  15. ranat permalink*
    August 10, 2009 5:15 pm

    @Dev –

    “And the amount of trial and error required to figure this out as the dom without significant input from the sub seems prohibitive.”

    Seems like a lot more work, at least to me.

    “I can only assume they handle it through some kind of feedback mechanism that is defined and controlled in such a way that it doesn’t seem like the sub is controlling things.”

    This makes my brain wander off to think about communications styles in general, and how different communication styles are more conducive to different kinds of relationships, or vice versa.

    @Dw3t-Hthr –

    “I think we’re coming back around to your post about the world where it’s okay to be kinky, in a lot of ways, because in a world where the default for most things is YKIOK, I think most people would hold out for things that work for them.”

    And seeing as we don’t live in the ‘everyone’s okay’ world, that probably contributes a lot to the over-gratitude when people find something that acknowledges and in some way meets their needs, even if it doesn’t work.

    “But my perspective was, for a long time, that I wasn’t ever going to find What I Wanted, sexually; I could find things that weren’t what I wanted but were pretty okay overall, and I was willing to be satisfied with that.”

    I had that going for a while, which was a pretty icky place for me. A counterpoint to that perspective might be the ‘submissive quest‘ mentality that Violacious describes.

  16. September 5, 2009 9:05 pm

    @Ranat –

    “I wonder if many kinky people would leave a relationship that isn’t working for them, or just shove it down and say “This is as good as it gets, I’m lucky, I’m privileged to be able to have this much.” This seems to get especially strong in the hierarchical d/s rhetoric, aimed at submissives.”

    I wonder about this too, especially given the likelihood that some submissives will privilege pleasing their dominant over attending to their own needs precisely because of their devotional orientation.

    The dominant, in that situation, might not realize that the submissive has abdicated these self-care responsibilities, and the submissive, already having given over large amounts of control in the relationship, might figure that if the dominant wanted to know, they’d ask.

    I think, partly, the culture-clash between dominant and submissive mindsets can obscure the degree to which consent is being assumed rather than given, on both sides.

  17. ranat permalink*
    October 1, 2009 12:08 am

    @violacious – Sorry for belated reply. :)

    “The dominant, in that situation, might not realize that the submissive has abdicated these self-care responsibilities, and the submissive, already having given over large amounts of control in the relationship, might figure that if the dominant wanted to know, they’d ask.

    I think, partly, the culture-clash between dominant and submissive mindsets can obscure the degree to which consent is being assumed rather than given, on both sides.”

    This is certainly is much less sinister than I tend to imagine things :P, and highlights something that I think happens too often in any kind of relationship: making assumptions. I’ve run across a few of mine recently that left me thinking ‘Huh.’ This is one reason I like to verbalize concepts even if the conversation might get bulky, because it helps me figure out what my own underlying assumptions are, and what another person’s are.

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