Mirrored perspectives: submission and control

I’ve been trying to write this post for a while now, and every time I start I look back over what I’ve written and delete it. Because I don’t know everything, and sometimes I screw up or get something wrong or simply don’t quite know how to handle a situation, and I wonder, should I write about it? Will people still listen to what I have to say if I don’t always speak with total authority?

I have to hope so, because there is so much I don’t know, so much I’m still working out. So here goes, draft 6, or possibly 7. 7 is meant to be lucky, right?

A couple of months ago, I wrote about my attitude towards submission. Shortly after writing that, I had the opportunity to see the same ideas from the other side. I didn’t write about it then, because I didn’t know what to say. In some ways I still don’t. But I’m going to try now and if anyone out there has any idea to throw a me, or if anyone’s been through something similar (any doms out there?), please, tell me what I’m missing.

There was a guy. A friend of mine, Gaius, who has quite similar attitudes to me when it comes to dating and sex: try to be honest, don’t deliberately hurt anyone, have as much fun as possible. He knew about BDSM in the same way that I think everyone vaguely does, all handcuffs and professional dominatrices like in films, who wear thigh-high leather boots and carry whips. Like most people, I don’t think he ever imagined what it might be like in real life with real people, and, again like most people, he didn’t see the connection between his image of BDSM and the kind of rough, slightly violent sex he was used to. One of the biggest misconceptions about BDSM, I’ve always thought, is the idea that you either like it or you don’t, everyone is either kinky or not kinky. Of course, like just about everything else, there’s a broad spectrum of activities that goes from a bit of mild biting and scratching to hanging upside-down by your ankles being branded with hot irons. Somewhere along that line, it stops being ‘normal sex’ and starts becoming ‘BDSM’. But I’ll be the first to admit I have no idea where the boundary is, and if I’m honest, I’m a little hazy about why we need a boundary in the first place.

I’m going off-topic. The point I was trying to make was that Gaius would certainly not have considered himself kinky, at least not in the BDSM sense. He knew that I’m a submissive who likes being dominated and hurt, but then, most of my friends know that – it’s not exactly a secret. And I think we must both have been in really weird moods that night, because we were cuddled on the bed, and he put pressure on my wrists, holding me down just slightly, and I thought, why the hell not, and told him to hurt me.

I don’t know what I was expecting. Probably bitten lips and scratch marks,  or maybe some mild spanking if he was feeling adventurous. What I got was a full-on scene. I was held down, choked, grabbed by the hair, forced to give head, demeaned, degraded and humiliated. If I disobeyed an order, he would hit me across the face. Hard, hard enough for me to have bruised cheekbones days later. There is, I’ve been told, a massive difference for a man between spanking a woman and hitting her face. One is playful sexual fun, the other is breaking a huge taboo about not hitting women. I understand this intellectually, and from my side it’s incredibly arousing to be hit like that, partly because of how violent it feels. I know that I really enjoyed it when he did it to me. More importantly though, I could feel that he really enjoyed it, that he was getting off on treating me like and object and hurting me to the point which, had it not been a thoroughly consensual sex scene, would probably have counted as assault.

I used my safeword once, as a test, to see if I could trust him. This is something I would always do with a new partner, because BDSM is entirely about trust and that’s a very quick way to determine if you need to stop things right now before it goes any further. He stopped instantly, we both asked if the other was okay and said assuredly that we both were. We started again. It got violent. Good violent. I reminded myself that I had to be in control, this was his first time with this kind of stuff and it was my responsibility as the more experienced partner to keep my head and make sure neither of us crossed any lines we were uncomfortable with. I knew that I knew where my limits were and I trusted him to respect them, but I wasn’t convinced he could say the same for himself, so that was partly my responsibility too, even if he wasn’t the one being pinned down and hurt.

Except at some point, it all got too intense for me to stay in control and I let go, the same way I would with a familiar partner. I put this down to Gaius, for all that he was a complete beginner, being really very good at dominating me. Almost too good. It got to the point where I was genuinely terrified. I don’t mean for a moment that I wanted to stop – I didn’t, and I would have used my safeword if I had. I like being terrified. Fear is arousing. I forgot, briefly, who I am in real life, who he was, and gave in to feeling like someone else’s toy. It was total, complete submission, and it felt wonderful.

When it was over, I was shaking and close to tears. This is normal for me. It’s therapeutic and, hard as it might be to understand, it feels good. Even if we hadn’t done anything even vaguely resembling sex, submission can sometimes feel similar to orgasm, and I was enjoying my own very unique type of afterglow. Except he was shaking too. I explained aftercare, and slowly we both drifted back to some form of reality, and that’s when I realised how freaked out he was.

Let me be clear, I am 99% sure that Gaius did not do anything he didn’t want to do that night. I don’t think I pressured him, nor do I think he regrets anything that he did. What I hadn’t considered (and this is where I slipped up pretty massively) is how it must feel for someone who thinks they’re ‘normal’ to suddenly realise they enjoy violently hurting other people, especially if that person is a woman. I’ve tried to explain to lots of novice-subs how it’s okay to want to be dominated and hurt, and how it doesn’t affect how you lead the rest of your life in any way. I’ve much less experience with the other side, explaining that it’s okay to get off on something which, to most people, looks a lot like abuse.

Hitting someone during a scene isn’t abuse, or assault, or anything of the kind. It’s a consensual sex act, and like everything else in consensual sex, it’s much better if both people are getting off on it. And just like I don’t really believe that submitting to a partner makes me weaker or lower status than them in reality, enjoying dominating someone else doesn’t mean you have an abusive or violent personality. I know that, because I’ve been doing this for nearly three years now, while reading a hell of a lot of BDSM literature. Someone completely new to the scene might be a little less clear. And that’s where I slipped up.

We’ve talked a lot since, and I think he’s okay with it. I hope he is. I would really really hate for someone who obviously gets off on this stuff to be discouraged because of too, much too fast. And I hope we get to try it again at some point because I think we both had a lot of fun. But it was a rather intense reminder to me that I don’t know everything, and that I am very capable of making mistakes, or at least not handling things to the best of my ability, and also that I am not the Sex Positivity Fairy, not all the time anyway, and I can’t make everything okay just by saying it is.

I think maybe we need a whole troop of Sex Positivity Fairies. Anyone want to sign up? I can make badges!

Trusting my love life to the interwebs – oh dear

There has been a lot of drama surrounding my university recently about a certain event that possibly shouldn’t have been allowed to take place. It is, without a doubt, a Feminist Issue. I am not going to write about it. This is partly because there’s no good way to talk about it without revealing what it is, which would reveal where it is, and I am ridiculously paranoid about being traceable in real life, and not willing to risk it. But that’s only the practical reason. The main reason is that I don’t have the energy right now to do big important High Profile Feminism. I’m exhausted. On Friday, the day when it all kicked off, I had the second most important interview of my life so far, for a masters placement I desperately want. So my mind was decidedly elsewhere, and while I care (is it ever possible to stop caring?), I don’t have it in me to fight on this one.

Thankfully, because it’s such a big issue, there have been many other feminists out there fighting for me. That’s not an excuse – there are never going to be enough of us – but it means I feel slightly less guilty sitting back and letting myself breathe for a moment. I’m no use to anyone if I’m too stressed and exhausted to form coherent sentences.

So what I offer you instead is a light-hearted break from my last rather more serious post. Here’s an admission to go up there with the fact that I masturbate and like kinky sex: I’ve been trying online dating. Well, sort of. I haven’t actually met anyone yet, but that’s more of a time issue than anything else. I joined for a number of reasons, but it mostly had something to do with the fact that online dating gets talked about a lot both as a misogynistic minefield, and as a haven from strict social convention where honesty and ‘alternative interests’ are allowed to thrive. I was always slightly confused by how contradictory this seemed, so I decided to try it for myself.

And you know what? They’re both entirely true.

I put a bit of work into it because I don’t believe in doing anything by halves. I filled out the profile page honestly but not extensively, using the same mildly flirtatious style I use here. I uploaded a photo – not a posed model shot, but I nice photo all the same. And I answered quite a lot of their personality questions entirely honestly, to give me the best chance of coming into contact with like-minded people. For one thing, I don’t want to have any kind of interaction with anyone who isn’t firmly pro-choice. Does that make me picky and prejudiced? If so, I don’t care. It’s a total deal-breaker for me and I’m not ashamed to admit that. Also not ashamed to admit that I’m fairly kinky, at least not if it will help me meet other fairly kinky people.

So having answered all these delightful questions, I sat back and waited. And, as I’d been told to expect, the men came to me. (Mostly men, that is. I’ve so far had only one message from a woman, despite the fact that my profile clearly says I’m bi, so I’m assuming a gender bias here.) I get about five messages every two or three days at the moment, which is quite a lot when you think about it, and factor in that I’m not sending out any messages of my own. I decided before I joined that I would reply to any message where I felt the guy had actually made an effort. So, ‘ur cute, meet up 4 sex?’ is not going to get a reply. A short paragraph inspired by something I’d written on my profile, however, usually does. I’m especially likely to respond if they’ve written something to me about either classics or theatre, since those are two huge aspects of my identity, and I mention them both at least twice. It’s not a bad outlook for real life dating, as it happens. I mean, if someone’s not going to take the effort to read two paragraphs about me and actually engage with what I’ve written when attempting to talk to me, they’re probably not worth my time. Sounds harsh, but there it is.

And what have I found? I’ve actually had quite a few good online conversations about art, politics, literature and life in general. Often it starts of being about classics, and veers off in unexpected directions. I’ve discovered one guy who actually goes to my university, and another who went to the same production of a play we both saw in London. Probably my favourite opening to an exchange was a guy who messaged me with: ‘So we’ve just robbed a bank together, are you shooting out the window at the cops, or driving the car? I reckon you’d be shooting. You seem like you might have a violent side’. It certainly got my attention, and was decidedly more interesting than most of the stuff I was getting. It’s also a chance for me to openly talk about kinky stuff from the word go, rather than waiting for a suitable moment in the conversation to chime in with ‘by the way I like to be tied up in bed’. This is delightfully liberating, and something I wish was acceptable in real life. It’s one area where the anonymity and the distance really works out for the better.

And then the misogyny creeps in. Guys who send me one-line, badly spelt messages about how I’m fit and they’d totally do me, then get annoyed and send more aggressive ones when I don’t reply. It’s a safe but still distressing example of something you unfortunately see all the time, men who think you owe them something (a response, a smile, a date, sex) because they’ve taken the effort to compliment you. Compliments are nice, they really are, but they don’t entitle you to anything. And the second you stop complimenting and start getting angry that your compliment hasn’t been received in the way you wanted, you start treading a dangerous line of entitlement and disrespect for consent an autonomy.

Is it a breach of consent when someone I haven’t replied to starts sending me angry messages online? Maybe not in the conventional sense of the word, but I have to wonder, how would the same guy react if I failed to respond if he whistled at me as I walked down the street? Paranoid? Possibly a little, but it’s not hard to see why it’s an instant turn-off for me on dating websites.

Also a turn-off? This guy, whose message I am going to post in full for a bit of light relief to end on. Suggestions for possible responses welcome.

I came across your profile and was quite enamored by such an articulate and heavenly blessed beauty. I would be kicking myself if I didn’t ask, so I was wondering if you would accept an engagement of witty banter between two intellectuals? 
Of course this “engagement” may start off as purely platonic but my sensual desires will most likely guide our cohesive unity down more erotic, lascivious, and sexual paths that will include but are not limited to passionate make out sessions under the star lit sky, dry humping, fondling each others naughty parts inducing orgasms, and an abundance of new uncharted sexual positions where I assert my pure dominance in establishing a realm of absolute sovereignty in your nether regions. 
Now is this something you might be interested in? 😛

Oh dear.