Submissive

5 May

Am I submissive?

The answer to that question might seem rather obvious. After all, I did call this blog “feminist sub.” That would indicate that I consider myself submissive, right?

Well … yes and no.

Identifying as “submissive,” with all the cultural baggage that word holds, was one of the biggest barriers I experienced in coming to accept my BDSM “orientation.” (in scare quotes because I understand that’s a controversial idea)

When I first started accepting and trying to integrate this part of myself, I thought about it as “I like to be dominated during sex.” This felt more comfortable than saying “I’m submissive,” or even “I like being submissive during sex.” I knew this was a bit of a weasel-word way of putting it – defining it by the other person’s actions and motivations, not my own. But it was an emotionally safe transitional space for me.

Gradually, I started saying “I’m sexually submissive,” mainly because it was just easier. But the word doesn’t sit totally right with me, and I still have trouble saying it out loud.

I think it has a lot to do with attitudes towards submissive behavior and traits in our culture. Women, for instance, are supposed to be submissive, but submissiveness, in general, like many other “female” traits, is highly devalued. Submissive traits – desire to please, willingness to yield to another – are seen as signs of weakness.

Think about the phrase “beaten into submission,” for instance. To be submissive means you’ve lost. So if you’re willingly submissive, that must mean that you don’t think much of yourself, or that you’ve just given up.

So for me, as a feminist, I faced two barriers to calling myself submissive – one was not wanting to hew too closely to my “expected role” as a woman, and the other was not wanting to identify with traits that I’d always associated with weakness.

And even as I started calling myself submissive, at least in my head, I restricted it to sex. “Dom in life, sub in bed,” is how I thought of myself and in some ways this is very true. In my career, I am certainly quite dominant. With my friends, I’m often the one to initiate plans and put a group together to do something.

In everyday interactions, I’m opinionated, extroverted, and I’ve been called “brassy” more than once. There are certain situations where I will reliably take charge, and take great pleasure in doing so. Unlike Anais Nin, I do sometimes want to be the leader.

But we’re all complicated beings, and the more I read blogs and other personal accounts by submissives (many of whom also describe themselves as being quite dominant in “real” life), the more I saw of myself, at least emotionally.* The traits I saw that I shared with many other subs – that eagerness to please and a corresponding sensitivity to criticism and rejection, a deep sense of relaxation I tend to feel when someone I trust takes control of a situation – were part of my “shadow self,” the side of myself that I’d never felt comfortable revealing to others or even to myself.

I still feel conflicted about the word, mainly because I worry about what it means to others. To those who know little about BDSM, it means weak and passive. Last week I almost did a spit-take when an acquaintance, being playfully ribbed about her strong-willed 8-year-old daughter, said “well, the last thing I want is to raise a submissive woman.” I knew exactly what she meant, but it was still jarring. I could clearly imagine my own parents saying the same words.

And to those in the kink world, it’s even more loaded. I find it really hard to understand the fervor of those on fetlife.com arguing about what makes someone a True Submissive. Apparently, it involves having no desires or agency of one’s own, while simultaneously being self-righteous about those who feel differently, and seriously, I want exactly 0% part of that. (As an aside, I highly recommend that anyone who’s interested in this topic read this great blog post on Domism, which I hope to write more about later.)

Many of those same people seem to feel that one can only be a True (or Twue) Submissive if they are submissive outside of sex, which seems like a silly and arbitrary dividing line meant to create an artificial hierarchy of identity. But my reluctance to identify as submissive means that I’m not usually very inclined to argue with them. Want to say that I’m “just” a bottom? Fine, I’m a bottom who likes to be submissive during sex. And possibly sometimes in other situations, with the right person.

So why call the blog A Feminist Sub? Well, partly because A Feminist Bottom conveys a completely different meaning, if you catch my drift, and I think you do.

But also because I wanted to make a point, dammit. After years of being ashamed, and keeping this as my dark, awful secret, I wanted to make it clear that this blog is about embracing BDSM sexuality in a way that is congruent with feminist ideals. Not that I have all the answers on that score, far from it. But this is a place for me to try and hash that out, and connect with others who are doing, or have done, the same. And I didn’t want to hide behind a label that’s safer but doesn’t feel as authentic to me as “sub.”

*Funny story – when I was trying to decide what to name this blog, one possibility I thought of was “Thinks Too Much,” because I do. I knew I wanted a blog on wordpress, so I typed http://thinkstoomuch.wordpress.com into my web browser. Unfortunately, the URL was taken. Hilariously, it was taken by a woman who identifies as a slave in a Master/slave relationship.

4 Responses to “Submissive”

  1. SapioSlut May 6, 2011 at 3:06 PM #

    Sing it sister.
    “can only be a True (or Twue) Submissive if they are submissive outside of sex, which seems like a silly and arbitrary dividing line meant to create an artificial hierarchy of identity”
    This resonates so much for me!

  2. RogueBambi May 27, 2011 at 9:53 AM #

    After years of being ashamed, and keeping this as my dark, awful secret, I wanted to make it clear that this blog is about embracing BDSM sexuality in a way that is congruent with feminist ideals. Not that I have all the answers on that score, far from it. But this is a place for me to try and hash that out, and connect with others who are doing, or have done, the same. And I didn’t want to hide behind a label that’s safer but doesn’t feel as authentic to me as “sub.”

    Yes. Submitting to someone is exactly what it is. I’m not bottoming to Wonderboy. I am submissive. I find the narrative of bottoming and all the other dichotomies as well somewhat clinical and really black and white. I understand they might be useful to somenone who engages in unemotional play with strangers. But my grasp on the whole subject is analytical as well as emotional. (And sexual!) They are entwined of course, because we are talking… about my sexual and emotional well-being. And as I am the one who is enjoying this exact experience in my own sex life I can use a word that I find suitable. 😉

    • feministsub May 27, 2011 at 11:19 AM #

      I agree, there is a lot of emotion involved in dominance and submission. The way it feels *to me* is that dominance and submission are about the emotions and the relationship, whereas topping and bottoming are about the actions (by which I *do not* mean to say that submission is necessarily a richer experience than bottoming).

      And because of that, I do think that the ideas of bottoming and topping are helpful, because it frees us to separate the *emotional experience* of submission from that of bottoming. Which I think is important from a feminist point of view. So many sex acts are imbued with the aura of dominance or submission in our culture, when really it’s about topping or bottoming.

      That said, I agree with you about the clinical nature of how bottoming is discussed. Actually, one of the other things that turned me off from BDSM for so long, even though it was clearly where my sexuality was oriented, was that it all seemed so cold and divorced from intimacy or even just raw, primal sex. Of course, that often couldn’t be farther from the truth!

      But I know I’m not the only person who had this idea. And I think that has to do with the preoccupation with toys and roles and protocol. I used to look at all that and wonder what it had to do with actual human relationships. Of course, when you’re dealing with stuff like this that can bring up so many intense and messy emotions, it’s a lot easier to talk about props. And the boundaries and negotiation that come with bottoming and topping can be important to safety.

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