Masculine Submission

No greater love has a man than to live his life for the one he loves

Archive for the month “January, 2012”

Why are malesubs (stereotypically) losers?

I’d like to answer this question (emphasis mine):

But there is a prevalent idea among the kink “community” ( and believe you me, that is a whole other post.) and indeed, within wider pop culture that submissive men are meant to be weedy, ugly, overweight and undesirable losers. Not only does this turn off many women from kink in the first place, because that is what is shown in porn, but it denigrates and isolates the ordinary, and yes, attractive men who are kinky. Why, as Bitchy Jones so brilliantly wrote before me, are submissive men not spending ages in the gym, wearing attractive flattering clothes, taking care of their personal hygiene and generally trying to look hot for women. Surely that’s their thing? Surely, if you’re into women you want to look sexy for them.

First of all, I’m sure that there are a TON of submissive guys doing exactly everything that was mentioned. But we have to recognize that there is a huge gap between guys who openly identify as submissive and guy who are submissive in a de facto fashion. In short, there are a lot of guys who are submissive, but they don’t say that’s what they are, for any number of reasons. As a bit of anecdotal evidence read this thread about how submissive men may not look submissive when they are out and about. (Edited to include this link asking about masculinity in submissive men.)

Beyond that, it is a bit of a chicken-versus-the-egg issue. Plus, some reasons are person and some are cultural. I’m going to address some of the cultural, because I think they heavily impact the personal, and there is very little interplay in the other direction.

The best tool I know for understanding this is the Act Like a Man Box concept. I strongly urge everyone to follow that link and look at the box Charlie Glickman produced that shows the words we use to describe men. Notice that the word “submissive” doesn’t show up there at all; but the words “dominant” and “leader” do. Now try and understand that every second of every day, waking and sleeping, exposes men to this message.

I don’t know how to explain how powerful this is – either you get it or you don’t. I believe that a lot of the homophobia we see among men, and a lot of the powerful social power in male groups, comes from the need to maintain status within this box. If a guy buys into that illusion of manhood – and it is an illusion – then he buys into a lifetime of feeding that illusion first and foremost in his life. Everything he does, everything he sees, everything he experiences, MUST uphold that illusion or it falls apart.

Imagine what it would be like if you suddenly were told that everything you know to be true about your self was actually not true. What would it be like if all of the things that make you you didn’t actually add up quite the way you thought they did? If you are like most human beings; then you’d react with disbelief and potentially anger. You might attack, verbally or physically, the person delivering that message.

Why don’t submissive men hang out in the gym? That’s like asking why fish don’t hang out in the middle of the Sahara. It isn’t a friendly place for submissive men (let me be clear – I’m talking about guys who are openly submisisve…there are TONS of guys who pass as macho but are submissive when no one is watching). That’s the reason why my Fetlife group doesn’t allow MaleDoms to participate…just including dominant men in the mix threatens many submissive men because it puts them (potentially) in a place where they must defend their existence.

Take a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If a man feels insecure about expressing who he is (security is the second level of needs); then he is incapable of achieving higher levels of existence. A submissive man in an environment that expects him to challenge for dominance is not going to be able to act authentically submissive…and that means he cannot begin to expose his needs for love and intimacy.

So that explains why malesubs aren’t hanging out (publicly) in male dominated places like gyms. So why aren’t malesubs out there on their own, jogging or doing push-ups or whatever? I mean, exercise is FREE!

Again, part of it is that doing those (stereotypically male) things is seen socially as jumping into that box. It’s a de facto announcement that a guy is “going macho” and challenging for dominance. Hey, I saw a guy do fifty pull-ups in the park this summer – and that is a hell of an achievement – only to be told by another guy, “You aren’t doing it right unless you go all the way down!”

I am going to go out on a limb and guess that social disorders and depression are probably higher among malesubs than the general population (I have absolutely NO evidence of this). The reason is that every second of every day, malesubs must decide whether to challenge society’s representation of masculinity or to go along with it. There’s no rule book or guide book for us – once the Act Like A Man Box no longer defines a man, then there is no telling what a man might want or need.

I absolutely LOVE being taken anally by Mistress Delila. It is simultaneously an act of submission and an act of love, and a greater expression of both (for me) than anything else I’ve experienced. And it was that way from the very first time I experienced it. BUT, I had to have Her assure me that it did not diminish my standing as a man with Her. Once I understood that it didn’t, I was able to embrace that aspect of myself.

Submission in men is heavily stigmatized, even more heavily than is dominance in women. As Gloria Steinem said not so long ago, we’ve taught our daughters that they can do anything a man can do, but we’ve not yet taught our sons they can do anything a woman can do. That’s one reason why I am writing about these things. This is the way illusions are destroyed – one myth busted at a time, one stereotype shot down at a time.

Submissive men – the word “men” is the noun in that term. Live up to it. When you do, I think you’ll find the Dominant Women you dream of are not as scarce as you think.

Depression and submission

I worry about writing this post. I worry about it because male submission isn’t far from being considered a mental illness by some, and masochism is still considered a mental illness in some circles. But if I want male submission to truly be de-pathologized – and I do – and if I want masochism to be accepted as a viable expression of love and affection – and I do – then I have to be honest about this topic. I have to be able to explain that I am submissive, I am masochistic, and I have depression. Plus, I have to be able to explain how they interact, how they sometimes pretend to be each other, and how I can tell the difference.

The short answer is: It isn’t easy to tell the difference. Depression is a mummer. It wraps itself in different clothes every day. One day it is a desire to listen to sad songs. Another day, I just don’t want to talk to anyone. Maybe I want to watch a sappy tear-jerker movie. Then I don’t want to get out of bed because I’m tired and can’t think of anything to do.

At one point, my depression became a desire to hurt. I inflicted pain on myself because…well, there is no way to make anyone understand why. If you’ve been there; then it makes perfect sense. If you haven’t; then it sounds sick and scary. It’s like the relief an obsessive person gets from double-checking the locks on the door – it’s relief…but it’s temporary, and the desire to do it again is almost too much to hold back.  And what else gives even that brief taste of relief? Nothing.

This knowledge was in my mind when I asked Mistress to  hurt me the first time. And the second. And the third. But after that, I began to notice differences.

First, when I asked for pain, I wasn’t seeking relief. I wasn’t suffering mental anguish that I needed to…process physically. What I felt was an overwhelming need to place myself under Her authority. The pain was simply a means of demonstrating that. It was a way of experiencing surrender.

Secondly, when I hurt for my depression, I never once became aroused by it. But suffering at Her hands nearly always gets me hard.

Self-injury was, by necessity, an exercise in being alone. I had to put everyone in the world out of my mind and out of my space. I created a micro-verse of one and took in all the pain of existence into my flesh. With Her, it is inviting someone in closer and more intimately than I have ever experienced.  We both experience my pain, our mutual excitement feeding each other and continually pulling us into each other.

When I hurt myself, I felt nothing but the physical pain. There was no emotion involved. When She hurts me, I am overcome with love.

It is not the same. Even when the actions are the same, the motivation comes from a very different place. One is destructive; the other is constructive. One is dark; the other is light. But they are the same injuries to my flesh.

(Aside: I’m adding this here, because I’m not sure where else to put it, but I think it needs to be said.  Unless things have changed since I was educated (and it doesn’t seem like they have), professionals are taught to ask about depression and suicide this way: “Have you ever thought about hurting youself?” It’s the wrong question, for both suicide and self-injury. “Have you made any plans or considered options for suicide?” is a much better screen for the first. “Have you hurt yourself for relief?” is better for the other. Don’t ask me if I’ve thought about it – I have. I can honestly say that I’ve thought about it enough – and been in a dark enough place – where I understand how suicide becomes a rational decision for some. But I never once considered it for myself. And, of course, I thought about hurting myself…but was it for relief or was it for sexual arousal? For me, self-injury was always about relief, but for some, it will likely be for arousal. Same action, two very different paths.)

My submission guides me to accept leadership from another. Mistress has filled this place in my life, but without it, I was incomplete. I could get up and do the things I needed to do. I’ve accomplished a lot in my life, and in the face of no small amount of adversity. So it isn’t like submission is a need to be led or do nothing. It is a need to find being led fulfilling.

Depression can wear that mask, too. It looks like resignation. It isn’t fulfilling, but it gets a bit of distance between me and whoever I’m following. Understanding that distance is the key to discerning which is which.

With submission, I effectively say, “I choose to go with You. When I disagree, we can talk about it, but I’m giving You the power to decide our course of action. Then I will bend myself to Your decision.” With depression, it’s more like, “I might as well go with you. Go ahead and pick a direction. I’ll let myself be swept along.”

Submission is active. Depression is not. Submission involves choices. Depression does not. Submission is a journey for two. Depression is a destination for one.

I don’t have a nice little bow to put on the end of this one. Depression is more than a little scary for me because I’ve seen its ability to disguise itself. I know that it waits patiently to take what is the best in me and turn it into a dark beastly shadow of itself. But I’ve learned that I don’t have to allow that to happen. I can acknowledge my feelings, explore their origins, and act or not act as I believe is best for me. I do not have to submit to depression.

Meet your privilege

Tom Allen put up an interesting post a few days ago. More interesting than the post, though, is the comments that came afterwards. I started to go point by point to rebut them, but decided I wanted to use them as a launching point, rather than a destination.

But I have to start out in another direction.

I’ve taught at six colleges/universities in two states in the last decade. I’ve seen just about everything a student can throw at me, and most of it multiple times. What I never had to come face-to-face with, however, was my male privilege. That was brought home to me this semester when an office-mate of mine developed a problem with one of her male students.

He called her, “Darling,” and “Sweetheart.” This is not, in and of itself, humiliating language. But when it is a student addressing a professor this way, it is a violation of numerous social norms. It is an attempt on his part, whether he is aware of it or not, to assert his position in society as a male over her position in society as a female. It is an attempt to claim a closeness to her that is inappropriate.

As we discussed how she could handle it, and if it was worthy of greater paygrades than our own, she related to me how she was often challenged by immigrant male students in her own classroom. This is nothing I have ever experienced. As a male teacher, even if a person from a male-dominated culture walks into my room, I have the privilege of greater standing in his or her eyes than my female colleague would.

Perhaps I’m just not cute enough, but I’ve never had students diminish me with terms of endearment, either. I can’t imagine that the same student who did this to my colleague would ever think to speak to me like that. Why? Because I’m a man, and men don’t get spoken to that way.

I was uncomfortable when I realized this. My colleague is a very intelligent and wonderful person. She deserves every bit of respect that I get. But she will have to fight for it in a way I never will because I am male and she is not. That’s privilege.

So let’s take that understanding of privilege and unpack it with the message that Margot Weiss is trying to deliver. In her interview with Salon, she is quoted as writing:

These [sexual] experiments are more possible and more accessible to those with class, race and gender privilege: heterosexual men playing with sexism, white bodies at a charity slave auction, professional information technology (IT) workers with several rooms filled with custom-made bondage toys.

As a submissive man, I tend to avoid the word, “slave,” when I talk about my relationship. It isn’t because of any legal standing, though, it’s because I have an idea of what that term has always meant. A slave is someone who has no choice in their condition of servitude, and who can be punished without fear of legal reprisal for refusal to obey. That isn’t me.

But as a white man, I have a far different emotional attachment to the word “slave” than a black man might. I don’t have to carry the understanding that people actually died so that I would never have to be called “slave.” If I were to use that with respect to my standing in my relationship, there would be no further connotation of it than what I put into it. That’s privilege.

As a submissive man, I sometimes defend Mistress Delila’s power relationship with me. However, no one would ever think that I was forced into this relationship. No one would think that she physically overpowered me and I developed some sort of Stockholm syndrome. When I submit, everyone who knows it understands that I do so willingly.

What if I was a submissive woman? I’ve listened to enough BDSM’rs talk to know that much of what MaleDom’s do could easily get them in trouble with the law for domestic abuse. Much of their normal power relationship would be considered de facto abuse by a large swath of the medical and mental health communities. If anyone thinks that there is a problem with my submission; then they think the problem is in my brain, not in my partner’s overwhelming position of authority and brute strength. That’s privilege.

As a submissive man, I will get in a car and drive for a bit over two hours to spend a weekend with Mistress Delila. Why? Because I can afford to do it (barely). My social standing comes with just enough income to be able to afford such things. When I walk into the hotel, no one will look at me twice. They will assume that I belong there. The way I talk, the way I dress, the way I carry myself – these are things that mark my social class, and they tell the nice people at the hotel, “Don’t worry. He’s one of US!”

That’s privilege.

That’s the way things are in our society. I don’t have to like them – and I don’t like many of them. But I can’t deny that they exist. And any person like Weiss who looked at my situation would have to honestly explain how my privilege in society allows me the luxury to express my sexuality as is natural for me to do it. Just as she would then go on to explain how social mores work against me doing so. That’s the job of an academic.

Valuation and social theory

This is coming from several places, and probably the easiest place to bookmark them is with Kink in Exile. There are several blog posts going up that deal with the way malesubs are viewed. The thrust of the posts is that many malesubs feel devalued for a variety of reasons. The extension of that is that FemDoms also feel devalued because of these same reasons.

This brings me to a couple of the most common complaints I’ve heard FemDoms and malesubs make about each other. Some malesubs are nasty, rude, just want to get laid, and don’t see the Dominant Woman as a person. Some FemDoms are cold, distant, unapproachable, and don’t see the submissive man as a person. If those seem like different strands; then bear with me while I try to tie them together. I see them as symptoms of the same sickness that infects our entire (Western) culture. Namely, the gender straight-jackets that are imposed on both women and men in the name of normality.

It ties back to several posts at The Good Men Project that talk about, essentially, what is masculinity and what does it mean to be a man. That stuff is maddening to me because so few people seem to be able to get past the idea that “masculinity” means “the quality of being a man” and “man” means “an adult human male.” Being “an adult human male” is only really different, at a meta-scale analysis, from being “an adult human female” with respect to sexual organs.

From the moment of conception…or at least as far back as when the sonar-tech identifies the sex of a baby – boys and girls alike are bombarded with gender-normative messages. Boys clothing is blue and functional and has trucks and footballs on it. Girls clothing is pink and frilly and has sugar and spice and everything nice (which is a gender-normative message of its own). Boys get action-figures (dolls) of super-heroes and army soldiers. Girls get dolls (non-action-figures) of babies and fashion accessories, impossibly-sculpted-bodied smiling women (I’m thinking “Barbie”). A boy likes to jump in muddy puddles and drive toy trucks. If a girl plays it mud, it’s to make mud-pies and she plays house.

I recently took my twin sons to McDonald’s for a happy meal, and one of my twin sons received a “boy” Happy Meal with a cool alien in it and the other a “girl” Happy Meal with a pink sneaker that flashes a light when a button is pressed (I’m not upset that one boy got a “girl” toy – I’m upset that they got DIFFERENT toys and now fight over who gets what). But it doesn’t take a gender studies major to see that boys get an active toy that is based on imaginative play, while girls get a collectible and passive toy that neither encourages mental nor physical activity.

When I go to the park, I see girls as young as eight carrying a younger sibling around on their hip and, effectively, filling in for mommy. I’ve yet to see a boy do the same thing. I’ve heard girls told they are “a good little mama” for cuddling a doll, but when my son does the same thing, no one says “good little papa.” But if my son gets up after falling down and doesn’t cry, he’s “a tough little man.” A little girl who falls down and cries? No such comment.

These are cultural gender roles, being practiced to perfection. Some are subtle, som are not. But every one of them gets taken deep into my kids’ minds to determine what is “normal” for boys to do and what is “normal” for girls to do. How strong is it? A few weeks ago, one of the twins suddenly refused to eat strawberry yogurt because “pink is for girls!” Did I mention this happened just after he was teased by another kid at the park for having a lisp? And that the taunt delivered was “Baby girl! Baby girl!”

So let’s look at this cultural definition of manhood. What is masculine? Take a look at what wikipedia says:

In many cultures, the basic characteristics of masculinity include physical prowess (strength, fitness, and a lack of laziness), courage, wisdom, and honourable or righteous behavior

snip

A typical near-synonym of masculinity is virility

snip

Cicero wrote that “a man’s chief quality is courage.”

snip

Scholars suggest integrity and equality as masculine values in male-male relationships, and virility in male-female relationships.

Now some of these things are simply traits of being a grown-up. Courage, wisdom, righteous behavior (however that is defined), integrity, and equality are things that are equally attractive in women as they are in men…so having those qualities cannot somehow be linked to genderized differences. In fact, a woman who doesn’t exhibit those behaviors is likely to not be well-trusted by those around her. In a word, she would be found to be “childish.” Good God, I am attracted to Mistress Delila because She puts a premium on health, I value Her wisdom and seek Her counsel on nearly everything, Her sense of responsibility and integrity is HIGHLY attractive…and she is no less a beautiful woman for all of that. In fact, those qualities MAKE Her a beautiful person, and not just pretty to look at. They do not make Her masculine, they complete and compliment Her Woman-ness.

But there is a lot in there that is simply skewed. Virility is simply the ability to procreate. And while there is a passage into adulthood, in a biological sense, that includes becoming fertile (for most), no one can actually look at another and adequately determine how fertile they are. So a limp dick, a vasectomy, and puberty all have the same impact on whether or not a boy becomes a man? If it came out that Arnold Schwartzenegger had erectile dysfunction (with his history of steroid abuse, it isn’t far fetched at all); would he be any less manly? Does taking Viagra suddenly restore “masculinity?”

This last point is not just for an off-the-cuff laugh. Due to my uncontrolled high blood pressure – and to the strain of these bullshit cultural masculinity tropes – I have struggled with ED for years. Not only did it make me feel less of a man, but it made the women in my life feel less of a woman, less attractive, less worthy. On the nights when the Viagra (or other pill) worked, was I more of a man? It’s important because I, and others I loved, hurt for years over that point.

The larger point is that it doesn’t matter if a person agrees with these things, they are part of our cultural identity (see above ED discussion) and they are transmitted to us and upon us simply by the fact that we live in the culture in which we live. We may react against parts, or even all, of these gendered identities, but they are real and they are thrust upon us whether we like it or not. Even when we actively reject them, they bubble unbidden in our subconscious minds.

And we take that with us wherever we go. We can’t help but do it. Not actively disbelieving those lies caused a lot of hurt in my life – and not just me, but my kids and the women to which I was married. Broken homes don’t just happen.

So here’s a big part of our gender myths that impact directly on D/s people – and it isn’t a newsflash. Men are dominant. Women are not. Men are strong and decisive and in charge. Women are not. Men always want fuckee-fuckee with any available cutesy-ness and, in fact, cannot stop themselves from going fuckee-fuckee with EVERY cutesy-ness, even if she isn’t really THAT cutesy. Women do not ever want fuckee-fuckee, even with the most beautiful man in existence…but they will fuckee-fuckee because they are emotional creatures who do things they don’t want to do for people they love because that’s what love means to a woman.

Think I’m talking about a past generation? Think again. Yeah, it’s a bunch of lies piled higher and deeper and more damaging with every iteration.

It doesn’t just hurt people…it destroys their lives. Because we are all born with a certain amount of who we are determined (I saw the VAST difference in my twins’ personalities within SECONDS of their birth), there is a certain way we would be if everyone just let us develop organically. Like a tiny bamboo shoot, however, we are bent and twisted by tiny degrees. For some of us, we are just bent in ways we’d grow anyway – so it’s no big deal. But some of us are bent in ways that are not only diametrically opposed to the direction we want to go, but bent in ways that actively stunt our growth and happiness.

I was born with a need to be submissive in my primary intimate relationship. It is no more a choice than is my heterosexuality. I can’t explain why I need to submit any more than I can explain why I am sexually attracted to women rather than men. I just am.

I dated two girls in high school, and went on a grand total of five dates. You know why? Because those are the only two girls who ever asked me to go out. And they got pissed off at me because I wouldn’t “make the first move.” If only they knew that the key was to give me permission to act!!! (Incidentally, I understand now, with a few decades worth of experience, that a lot more girls were interested…even some of the ones I was interested in…they just didn’t take the lead.)

And why is it that thought – giving me permission to act – never crossed their minds? Cultural programming. Male equal initiator, female equal receiver. How many lonely men and women are there tonight because they have simply forced themselves to conform to cultural gender norms?

So the stereotypical “do-me” malesub finally gives up the controlling and powerful image of what it means to be a man, what it means to be masculine. But, too often, he ends up stressing the rest of the stereotype because he has to make sure everyone knows he’s a man. The stereotypical “Ice Queen” FemDom gets free from the “powerless and submissive” crap force-fed to girls, but they end up stretching themselves into the rest of the stereotype in order to maintain “femininity.” (And I realize that, for some, these roles are the “real me.” Happy for you – live it up!). This cultural cocoon in which we live virtually demands and forces us each to do this to some varying degree. To draw on the psychological theory of Maslow, we are constantly “becoming” our submissive or dominant selves because we are constantly learning about our selfs, and we are constantly learning how our culture has twisted or tied us and finding ways to unwrap who we really are.

In larger culture, men who don’t act “masculine” (because they like ballet or are submissive) are subjected to the full range of social pressure to conform (and the same goes for women who aren’t “feminine”).There are three possible reactions to this pressure: 1) We change our behavior to conform and die a slow horrible death as we go through each day of our lives; 2) we hide who we really are – we are “alpha males” at work or in sports, but submit in the bedroom; or 3) we embrace our submissiveness and withdraw, to some extent, from society. (There is a fourth option (so rarely taken that I hold it to the side) – personified by maymay – which is that we embrace our submissiveness and demand openly that we be given the freedom to live openly as we truly are…thank you for waging that battle on behalf of all of us, maymay.)

This process of forcing men to choose a stereotypical charade of masculinity in order to join society or to live authentically and painfully outside of society IS DEVALUATION because it holds the message that an individual is only worthy of consideration, respect, love, and equality to the same extent as to which they are able to conform to cultural gender standards. FemDoms are also subjected to this, not just because they love the men who are devalued, but because Western society also doesn’t truly value Dominant Women.

For a long time, I tried the first way of dealing with my submissive needs. I tried to ignore it. I tried to put on a John Wayne mask and macho my way through life. I felt so empty inside, though, like you could drop a pebble into my soul and never hear it splatter. I watched an older brother literally kill himself with booze and drugs because it was the only way he’d allow himself to deal with the painful realities of life.

So then I tried method two. My charade in the workplace simply alienated those around me. My honesty in the bedroom cost me two marriages. So I turned to porn to meet my submissive needs, internalizing far too many of the stereotypes I found there. With Mistress Delila’s love and patience, I’ve been able to untangle many of those tropes, but I know that others lurk beneath the surface. And while porn also left me empty and aching for a real person, it also kept me sane and helped me understand what it is that I want in a relationship.

So I have found my way to the third way of dealing with misfitting into society – I have largely withdrawn. I have few male friends, and, in truth, I rarely enjoy the company of other men. Beyond my work, I have few connections to society – although my church remains important, but only because I can see it as a vehicle for social justice.

Unfortunately, I found BDSM society to be built largely upon the same stereotypes that repelled me from general society. To some extent, new people are subjected to the same strictures of cultural formation when they come into contact with with sub-culture of BDSM (I do not believe it is counter-cultural – and there’s at least one whole post to explain why…[puts it on the to-do list]). Each of us, male and Female, are subjected to existing frames – do-me and Ice – and the labels that come with it. Sociological labeling theory gets into detail about how each of us then pick up on the cues to become what we are being told we should be. In other words, we escape from one stultifying stereotype (western culture) only to find ourselves being shoved into another stultifying stereotype (BDSM culture).

So there is the root of our common enemy – a simple inability to accept variation among individuals and to grant freedom to adapt gender roles into what comforts us and fits us most. It is planted in the soil of patriarchal sexism. It is fertilized by the self-reinforcing attitudes and media portrayals that cannot see D/s as normal and loving when it is the man who takes the lower-case term. Hell, it is nourished by the inability to separate male submission from Female Domination (another notch on the to-do list is made).

What can we do? Well, I’m not interested in turning my life into a public forum so I can force an inch worth of change in society. Simply put, I have too much to lose that could never be regained to do that (if you don’t understand that, consider yourself lucky…or perhaps excessively unlucky [freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose]). So I simply cannot be a foot-soldier in the battle for an end to the devaluation of male submission. But I can use my anonymity to fearlessly expose that devaluation and provide sufficient ammunition to those who do and will wade into open battle.

Because THIS HAS TO END. It hurts too much. More than that, it is morally wrong to force someone into a closet just so they can cling to the little joys of their life. And make no mistake, no one lives in a closet by choice.

Patrick Moynahan used to say, “Facts are stubborn things.” So while some may want to debate and dissemble as to whether devaluation of male submissives is a real problem, I’m more interested in changing our culture to save lives and spare pain. If you aren’t angry; then you aren’t paying attention.

What is power?

My fourth grade teacher used to always challenge us with the question, “What do you mean by that?” It was her way to lead everything back to building vocabulary. But an incidental effect of that vocabulary building was that there grew a shared understanding within that class of the words we commonly used.

I bring this up because there is possibly no more overused word in the BDSM community than “power.” Yet, as far as I can tell, there is simply no shared understanding of what that word means. This means that any number of heated arguments can break out because people simply interpret that word to mean what is convenient to them. I am as guilty of this as any other person (after all, I remain hopelessly human).

Since I teach political science, I have had to develop an understanding of power and how it is used. The definition I have come to favor is “the ability to influence behavior.” It is a very broad definition, but it is narrow enough to be useful, and I think it is a very good definition to use with respect to a D/s relationship. Influence can be over or covert, obvious or subtle. In political science, they often talk of “hard power” and “soft power.” Again, I think that is a good concept to adapt to D/s relationship. If nothing else, it helps break down the stereotype that all Dominants rule with a heavy hand and the sharp crack of a whip, and it provides a framework to discuss this stereotype.

Hard power is power wielded nakedly. It is a direct command, at the lower end of the scale. At the upper end, it is in the administration of extreme force. When it is used, everyone in the immediate area knows that there is a power dynamic in place. This should not be taken to mean that it is the “stick” of punishment versus the “carrot” of rewards. Actually, both carrots and sticks are forms of hard power – they are overt attempts to shape behavior.

Soft power, on the other hand, is just as controlling, but it is not always as easy to see. It is the art of making another want to do what you want them to do, without having to actually tell them what to do. I do this with my kids all the time. When I see them cleaning up after themselves, I tell them how much I appreciate it and that it makes me happy to see them doing things without being told.

It is because of my understanding of power and the way our relationship revolves around it that I recently decided not to describe what we have as a “power exchange.” Strictly speaking, there is no exchange. Once I knew that She was the one I wanted to surrender to, I simply released all claim to power within our relationship. The release is total in that I accept Her leadership and authority throughout all aspects of our life together. If She is not exercising control over any area of my life, it is simply because She chooses not to do so at this time (or maybe I just don’t notice Her pulling my strings).

I do not, however, stumble around as an automaton. I have feelings and sometimes they are very strong. I have beliefs, some of which are fundamental to who I am as a person. And I have limits on the morality and responsibility I am willing to surrender. I am a person. I am simply a person who has surrendered all of the ability to influence my primary relationship to my partner in that relationship. Simply put, I have given up all of my personal power in the relationship to Mistress Delila.

Her control of me may be soft or hard, depending on the situation and Her mood, but She is always entitled to exercise it. That is the basis of our relationship, and, even if it challenges me, I will return to that time and again. And I will decide to submit over and over and over. THIS is what I WANT our relationship to be, and it is what SHE wants as well.

I’ve been asked what I would do if She ordered me to do something that violated my deepest personal values. That question makes no sense, because it presupposes that I chose to release my power into the hands of someone who would be willing to violate me. I didn’t just fall to my knees for the first woman who smiled at me. There was a lot of discussion about what we want, what we need, what we expect – and what would never be contemplated.

What would anyone do if their life partner suddenly demanded things that were completely out of character? Seek medical help, possibly? People change, of course, but most adults do not suddenly become their own antithesis. If they do; then that is generally taken as a sign of mental or medical illness. Just because Mistress and I have a purposefully skewed power dynamic doesn’t change this.

The upshot of this is that a Total Power Release is a very individual type of relationship. It isn’t just an agreement between the two of us…it is how I express my love for Her. It is no less valid or real because it cannot guarantee success against every single challenge the future might throw at us, much less those things which reality simply cannot allow to happen. It might not look “Total” to someone else, but who cares? I’m not in this to please anyone outside of the relationship. It’s what She wants and what I need, and that is enough.

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