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What We’re Expected to Be

July 20, 2010

I came across a couple of posts by Sex Geek and Maymay that I’ve been toying with posting on. Individually they’re both very interesting, but when taken together, I realized they give counterpart perspectives on essentially the same thing: What we’re expected to be.

We meet hundreds of expectations every day, from whether we should shave our legs, have already made breakfast, wear makeup, use certain speech patterns, behave more like X, or enjoy certain things. Some of these expectations we meet, some we ignore, and against others we rebel. In terms of dominant and submissive sexualities, I have kvetched, bitched, moaned, externalized, and generally wept over these expectations, about how they are who I am and not what I want in a partner. But the expectations are there, fueled by a clusterfuck of cultural repression, unfulfilled need, desperation, and corporate profit.

Here’s a list of the expectations I’ve walked into just in person in my mere dabblings in the scene:

  1. I’m female and young, therefore I’m submissive.
  2. I can’t be dominant if I’m a masochist.
  3. I’m young, therefore I don’t know my orientation
  4. If I’m female and dominant, I will be turned on by vacuuming.
  5. Completely out of the ordinary, unrealistically enormous, kind of gross-looking parodies of cock Big cock is all that will satisfy me, and I should belittle cock that actually fits in my cunt and feels good small cock.
  6. If I’m female and dominant, making fun of someone will be enjoyable to me.

Writing that simple list almost sent me into the depressed, numb state where I feel alienated and I can’t believe that anything will ever be good and beautiful. I just caught myself as it was happening, and managed to pull myself out. Holy hell, do I not want to go to that place again.

On to the meat: Maymay’s post Orgasm Denial Does Not A Submissive Man Make is largely about the ways submissive men are expected to behave, and expectations around what acts make men submissive.

Imagine for a moment you’re a young guy (or a guy of any age, really) trying to understand your sexual desires. You know you want a relationship with (in the name of simplicity) a woman who will “take charge in the bedroom,” but you don’t really know what that looks like. You come across porn and sex blogs and, like a second (or third, or fourth) erotic awakening, all sorts of fantasy imagery involving either getting butt-fucked or not being allowed to orgasm, or both of those, starts bubbling in your brain, since—let’s face it—that’s most of the erotic material out there for such guys. You finally get a girlfriend and, remarkably, she’s good, giving and game, so you get butt-fucked and she doesn’t let you come. “Wonderful,” you’re likely to think, “now I’ve been submissive.”

If you’re lucky, maybe it was really wonderful. More power to you. But what if it’s not? Moreover, and I suspect this is most common, what if that wonderfulness is just the tip of the iceberg? What if the new experience was amazing and novel but you want more? What is that “more” that you want? More butt-fucking? More bondage? More sexual service? More orgasm denial? What are you yearning for, really?

This, sadly, is where many of us get stuck. I’ve read countless words from hundreds if not thousands of men, all of whom seem to be trying to answer these very questions. I’m one of these men, trying to figure out what the fuck all this desiring is, trying to make it “more” and “better” as though I’m following some kind of primal programming. I want to be more passionate. More intimate. More connected. More devoted. More focused. More meaningful. More submissive.

[…]

There’s absolutely nothing wrong about getting off on stereotypes. While the reasons for why many submissive men, including myself, fetishize orgasm denial are debatable, that obvious fact does not make orgasm denial a component of submission. Akin to the way desiring anal sex does not make someone gay, abstaining from orgasm does not make someone a submissive. Abstaining longer doesn’t make them “more submissive.”

There is a lot of material out there that says to be a submissive man is to not be allowed to orgasm and to be anally penetrated, and vice versa. Thing is, there’s a lot of men out there who get fucked in the ass and aren’t submissive (or gay), and take Tom Allen. He writes one of the most popular chastity blogs in existence, and he’s said:

I don’t self-identify as submissive. Over the years I’ve topped and bottomed and switched around, and at one point I probably did self-identify as submissive, but now I just tend to see myself as being generally kinky.

He said something similar in reply to Maymay’s post.

Personally, I have long since given up trying to explain how I feel because I can’t express adequately what I want to get — or enjoy getting — from being denied. Mrs. Edge (who is free from the issues of self-contemplation) simply explains that she kinks on holding the power that I have given her. Does that make me submissive? I’m not sure. In essence, I allow her to take this power (it was mine to hand over, naturally). I feel good when she exercises that control. In part, it’s because I valued that power within myself, and I appreciate that she values it as well. But having reached that conclusion, I see that it simply doesn’t jive with what I see many/most submissives describing about themselves.

Personally, I believe there are no inherently dominant or submissive acts. I believe Dominance and submission aren’t even acts. They’re a way of relating. There are acts we associate culturally and personally with dominance and submission, and I think it’s dangerous to confuse either with Universal Truth.

Sex Geek wrote about Expectations of Dominance, going through a list popularly-held, polarized extremes. I recognized a lot of expectations I’ve run into, and also some expectations I’ve had of myself when I’ve been trying to justify my desires because I as so afraid they were wrong.

1. Role-play is where it’s at. All dominance is theatre.

I had a conversation with a guy I live with based on this expectation. He were genuinely trying to relate to where I was coming from, and had described a sexual experience he’d had that would be interpreted by many as d/s. His partner had expressed wanting more such experiences, but he wasn’t able to get into it because without the catalyst that led to the experience in the first place, it was “just roleplay” and therefore “not real.” In his questioning, he was trying to understand how I wanted a sexual relationship based on roleplay. My response was basically, “Yeah for some people roleplay is a big part of their sexual expression. I’d like to try it. I think it could be really fun. But for me and a lot of other people, dominance and submission aren’t roles. They’re part of who we are.” He didn’t really know what to make it of it.

Then there was the expectation opposite of expectation 1:

2. 24/7 power exchange is where it’s at. All dominance is full-time, and full-time is the only real kind.

Honestly, could someone please tell me what “full-time” means? If some people are in a d/s relationship, and sometimes they interact with protocol and sometimes a dominant person lets a submissive person choose what’s for dinner and they don’t necessarily use honorifics, how is that less full-time than always using protocol? People don’t stop being who they are just because their speech patterns and eye-contact and body-language are fluid. Obviously for some people d/s is part-time, but even for those for whom it’s full-time, it’s not always going to be expressed in the same way. I think that’s a sub-expectation of the assumption that “All dominance is full-time, and full-time is the only real kind.”

4. Playing with power is where it’s at. All dominance is about SM, and all SM is about dominance

[…] I’ve often negotiated with tops for sensation scenes—I am a greedy masochist—and then noticed that despite all assurances to the contrary, the top in question was unable to separate pain play from power play. For me, giving or taking a beating (or other intense physical experience) is not inherently about power exchange at all. Just as I don’t assume others want my dominance, I don’t generally want power exchange with a top when I grab the bottom spot. I just want to go on an intensity trip that’s about physical contact, sensation, breathing, connection, and enjoying an endorphin high (ideally shared). But it’s amazing how a person—myself, yes, but others too—can clearly state what they’re after and still have a top misunderstand and pull out the Domly Dominant attitude in the middle of what might otherwise have been a very enjoyable scene. There’s no buzzkill quite like it. Having had this experience with a few too many people, I’ve become really selective about who I bottom to. Even if I might personally like to get the beats more often, the grouchiness that I feel following inappropriate power-plays isn’t worth the price of admission.

I’ve run into similar things as a dominant masochist. Let’s spell it out: Masochism ≠ submission. Sadism ≠ dominance. S/m ≠ power exchange. Also, sadism can = submission. I would love to be a part of a d/s relationship with a sadistic submissive. I’d also love to be a part of a s/m relationship that didn’t necessarily have any d/s in it.

Minus the fetish outfits, this picture that Maymay linked to works for me. You know what? I'm dominant, and I enjoy getting spanked, flogged, bit, tied up, and I would tell a submissive partner to do it.

7a. Dominants should cultivate entitlement in their relationships.
7b. What gives a dominant the right to behave with entitlement? That’s offensive!

I tend to lean toward 7b, and “entitled” is like a four-letter word for me. But I can see, based on what I know of Sex Geek’s relationships, how entitlement can be negotiated and sexy in a relationship. Maybe my four-letter word is more “assumptions of entitlement.”

8a. Dominants should learn to push boundaries, because otherwise the submissive is actually in charge and in any case, submissives will never grow and develop unless they are stretched.
8b. Dominants should never push boundaries, otherwise they may push too far and step over the line of consent and do deep damage.

I haven’t been in a relationship where I’ve had the opportunity to push someone’s boundaries. I want to. It sings to me, the pushing, taking someone to the edge, of what pain they can bear, of their headspace, and mine. But another part of me is afraid that I will misread what’s happening, make an assumption, and go over that line. In some ways, that fear has stopped me, but on the other hand I don’t think I’ve been emotionally ready to push someone and be able to hold space for both of us.

12a. Dominants should own their kink, be proud of it, and refuse to apologize for it or explain it to anyone. When you’re right, you’re right, and what you do is nobody’s business but your own.
12b. Dominants have a responsibility to the community to act as honourable representatives of the kink world, to be as outwardly “normal” as possible and to justify their relationship and play choices by all means available.

12b is a big one for me with my sexual insecurity and shame. There is a part of me that wants to explain, justify, and perhaps overwhelm with sheer verbiage anyone who doubts the validity and wholesomeness of my nature, simply because sometimes I still have to convince myself.

These are all a lot of fucking expectations and assumptions. And these are just a few found in a sexual minority. If we ever want to have a thriving culture of any kind, we’ve got to let go of them. I think it’s utterly counterproductive that in trying to build a space for sexual freedom amidst the larger culture, the subculture has built in just as many limiting expectations. It’s hard enough to be who we truly are; let’s not make it harder. Let’s make it easier, opening instead of narrowing.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. July 29, 2010 5:41 am

    Ranat,

    This is a very interesting post. You covered quite a range of topics, feeling and emtions.
    You are obviously aware of the “labels” often associated with the lifestyle in general and as you know a label is a form of constraint. If one enters into a relationship with a preconceived IDEA about how it is supposed to be they are certainly setting themselves up for disappointment.

    There is no Right way there is no Wrong way. There is only what works for you and your partner/partners with whom you enter into a relationship with.

    You raised an interesting point concerning 24/7. I happen to be in a 24/7 D/s relationship and have been so for the past five years. I am one of those who view Dominance and submission [not] as “role play” and that we are playing 24/7. We just be ourselves and I personally have what would be classified as Dominant traits, I guess you could call me a control freak.

    My slave is a natural slave. She depends on me to make the final decision in every decision involving our household and I do. I also accept the full responsibility of the consequences of that. I always take her thoughts and feelings into consideration and value her advice. She is a smart woman and is in no way a doormat.

    It would be very difficult to point out each moment in the course of day to day events and try to place a label on the moments that occur. People will always be people and with that comes emotions which are often changing and this creates a fluid dynamic that cannot be placed into a box.

    Also, life happens sometimes. Am I playing “submissive” when my slave is ill and I do everything I can to nurture her and take care of her to bring her back to health and don’t place the usual demands of statisfying my every desire upon her during those times? I hardly think so.

    We don’t “roleplay” we just are who we are, I happen to have Dominant personality traits and she happens to have submissive personality traits as it pertains to our relationship.

    I think that “roleplay” can be fun and interesting to enhance the lives of couples who are normaly vanilla in all other aspects of their lives, so please do not misunderstand me. I just think there is a lot of misinformation of what “Dominance” or “submission” really is. We live 24/7 in a D/s relationship and it just is what it is, we are not “Roleplaying” 24/7, we are ourselves 24/7.

    I think people who question that perhaps have kink, sex and BDSM confused with D/s. Unfortunately there are also many who confuse “Dominance” with Domineering, when in fact those are two exactly opposite traits. To be domineering towards someone is obviously a lack of control. True Dominance begins with the ability to control oneself.

    Many who go around professing to be Dominant actually do so out of insecurity.

    I look forward to reading more of your writings. This is the first post I have read on your blog.
    I am always interested in “what makes people tick”

    You offer plenty of insight in just this one post on what makes YOU tick. So thanks for that.

    ~David Bind

  2. July 29, 2010 5:42 am

    oops I made a few typos which I cannot edit. I meant to say I am NOT one of those who view it as roleplay in my comment above and it reads incorrectly.

  3. ranat permalink*
    July 29, 2010 10:42 am

    Thanks for sharing your perspective, David. (I went ahead and added a [not] in your comment for flow).

    “Am I playing “submissive” when my slave is ill and I do everything I can to nurture her and take care of her to bring her back to health and don’t place the usual demands of statisfying my every desire upon her during those times?”

    Funnily enough, I’ve come across some perspectives where I think it would be considered submissive. For a lot of other people I’ve talked to though, care and nurture can be expressions of dominance. Which is why I personally believe that there are no inherently dominant or submissive acts, attitudes, traits, sex positions or what have you. One person can perform an action, or behave a certain way and for them it’s an expression of submission. Another person can do the exact same thing and for them it’s an expression of dominance.

    “I happen to have Dominant personality traits and she happens to have submissive personality traits as it pertains to our relationship.”

    This reminds me of how I tend of conceive of d/s, but rather than thinking of it as traits, I think of it as part of our nature and way of being in relationship. We may or may not be talking about the same thing when we say “trait” so I don’t want to quibble over the word in this case. But while we’re on the subject, what is a dominant or submissive trait for you?

    On the subject of roleplay, I think there’s probably people out there for whom roleplay is a 24/7 thing, and for whom roleplay is very real. It might just be a difference in how people conceptualize things, or categorize/label them (because we do. We say water is a liquid and not a bird, for instance), or maybe its simply a different form of expressing the same thing.

  4. August 14, 2010 11:11 pm

    I’ve occasionally broken people’s minds a little when I say that roleplay is a hard limit for me, so I’m familiar with the whole “but kink or particularly d/s totally has to be roleplay”.

    I’m 24/7 d/s like I’m 24/7 married, with about the same level of relevance to day-to-day living, because being 24/7 alive has its own requirements….

  5. ranat permalink*
    August 15, 2010 12:03 pm

    “I’ve occasionally broken people’s minds a little when I say that roleplay is a hard limit for me”

    Hah!

    I think the 24/7 married is a useful parallel, because people consider marriage more, well, day-to-day. Things happen in it that aren’t necessarily directly related to marriage, and it’s still marriage. But with d/s, it seems like a lot of people think if something in your relationship happens that’s not directly related to d/s, suddenly you’re not “full time.” Like, “OMG the sub expressed a preference for EGGS.” (Or, you know, a sex act).

  6. August 15, 2010 2:05 pm

    I seriously have run into people who cannot wrap their heads around the idea that someone might be kinky and also actively squicked/traumatised/triggered by the concept of roleplay in sexual situations. My XKCD-style hobby: aggressively asserting my existence to people who think I’m impossible.

    I think that the whole “but something happened that isn’t related to d/s! OMG!” thing is a … luxury of people who have their lives set up in a way that caters to their fantasy pretty extensively? (Or at least who want to present themselves as such?) I mean, even if my master wasn’t also one of my husbands with the obligations that entails, I have a baby, and that means that I am on call for a small, adorable, fluffleheaded master and cannot be perfect fantasyville slave who’s always available for sex.

  7. ranat permalink*
    August 15, 2010 2:36 pm

    “I have a baby, and that means that I am on call for a small, adorable, fluffleheaded master and cannot be perfect fantasyville slave who’s always available for sex.”

    Unless of course there was another slave to raise the master’s offspring so you could return to your sex-slave duties. ;) Which would probably entail a set-up with a regular aristocratic bevy of slaves/servants. Which leads me to an interesting, unexpected connection–

    ““but something happened that isn’t related to d/s! OMG!” thing is a … luxury of people who have their lives set up in a way that caters to their fantasy pretty extensively?”

    I wonder if there’s some kind of frivolous wealth=better thing going on here. Classism is one of the most common forms of hierarchy, we’re told from birth that our highest dream is to be wealthy and socially influential, d/s often gets expressed through hierarchy in our culture, so people associate better d/s with aristocratic entitlement and structures? The kind of lifestyle where someone doesn’t have to be involved in their own daily maintenance in order to survive. I think there’s a connection in there somewhere.

    I don’t want hierarchy in my real-life d/s, though I can still get a kick from it in fantasy, so fluidity in those situations is desirable for me. And that fluidity doesn’t suddenly negate our natures.

  8. August 15, 2010 10:07 pm

    His joke about the theoretical “Do anything you want with me, I will do anything” submissive goes something like, “Great. Lawnmower’s out in back.”

    I think you’re on to something with that aristocracy-wannabe thing. I may write about that at a later time, when I’m sober and have a little bit to think. ;)

  9. ranat permalink*
    August 16, 2010 7:02 pm

    Sobriety could help. :P

  10. August 16, 2010 7:08 pm

    There was a Belgian beer tasting festival!

    … also I have not great alcohol tolerance because I don’t drink much.

  11. ranat permalink*
    August 16, 2010 7:12 pm

    Heh. Give Little Foot a little zing (although it occurs to me that I’m assuming you breastfeed. Can’t remember if I’ve read that on your blog or not).

  12. August 16, 2010 7:19 pm

    At one point when she was charming people at the beer tasting I made the comment that she only gets her beer secondhand and slapped my chest. ;) (She spent the time there in a sling, first on her mommy’s back, then on my chest when she decided MUST HAVE MAMA NOW.)

    (The other joke was “She’s here for the pretzel tasting.”)

  13. ranat permalink*
    August 17, 2010 4:29 pm

    Baby-wearing certainly makes baby-feeding more accessible. It’s hilarious all the accessories we have to put kids in that are so expensive, when you can just tie them to your back.

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