Convoluted Terminology Post the First
Cal’s last post leads fairly well into the discussion about terminology that we threatened to kick off the blog with. When we were selecting a name for this blog, we considered basing it on some riff on our preferred terminology — in my head, I had irreverently nicknamed it “We Three Queens”, though I didn’t float that as a serious suggestion. However, when we got into discussing the words we used to describe our sexual orientations and practices, we discovered that we had significantly different preferences. In order to understand mine, a little divergence into my history will be helpful.
I have known people who were aware from earliest childhood that they were kinky and dominant. I wasn’t one of them. It wasn’t until I was in grad school that the idea of kink in the bedroom even occurred to me. My boyfriend at the time was, in retrospect, a switch who wanted to be taken down into submission. (This has since become a recurring theme among my male partners.) I was blissfully vanilla, or so I thought. I never looked at porn, having found it profoundly unerotic, the Internet was just beginning to stagger its way out of gopherdom, and I’d grown up fairly sheltered. So, effectively, I had no idea how female dominance was represented. Accordingly, I didn’t have any really bad models to base my kink upon. I am profoundly grateful for that lack, though it would have been useful to have some good ones. My boyfriend of the time, knowing my interest in martial arts, suggested that we take some of that into the bedroom and wrestle to see who was going to get to be on top. I cheerfully agreed to give it a whirl.
Reader, I put him through the door of the laundry room.
In my defense, it was a very flimsy door. I was enthusiastic but inexperienced. Since no one was more than bruised, it’s funny now, but at the time he was rather terrified of me as well as intensely aroused. I had to pay a considerable sum to replace that door. And we were both rather shocked to discover that I was considerably more thrilled by the forcible co-option of power than he was. Unfortunately, our experimentation rarely got much deeper than that… there was a lot of wrestling, and I always won, but I wasn’t quite sure what to do with him afterwards and I didn’t want a repeat of the Door Incident. I had no shortage of ideas, but given how much I scared him and how quiet he got in the moment, I didn’t know what he’d be okay with me doing. He didn’t either, and being as we were both young and stupid, couldn’t really tell me in scene or out of it. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t abuse my position of strength. He, of course, desperately wanted me to abuse my position of strength, but neither of us had the experience or the emotional deftness to recognize that and bring it into sane expression. So I’d take him down, and then we’d sort of blink at each other, and I’d try something tentative, and that ruined the mood entirely for him. He wanted assurance and direction, and I was communicating uncertainty and worry.
With time, I got better at reading my partners’ desires, at choosing partners who would be able to speak about them honestly with me, and at creating scenes that brought those wishes to life for them. I had a very rough patch early on learning to modulate my expression such that I didn’t scare the bejesus out of all my partners — the shift from everyday Ivy (much more cheerfully unthreatening in those days!) to kinkstress Ivy was stark and surreal for them. I got a whole lot of, “Aww, I just can’t imagine you as a sadist, you’re so nice… HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT!” It took me several years to work through that. The real cure was a year of putting on the dominatrix cap daily — nothing makes for skill like regular practice — and introducing a little more toothiness into my everyday life so that the transition to kink-space was not so disjunctive for my partners.
Since my formative experiences were significantly with people who viewed me as a dominatrix, I have a fondness for the word. (Also, I like the -trix suffix. It’s got that X. It sounds transgressive, complicated, skilled, point-of-choice. There’s a little St. Andrew’s cross in every utterance, and a crossroads.) I don’t mind “top” or “dominant”, as they’re clear descriptors of what I do, or domme, whose femininity suits me. I don’t think that it’s necessary to set aside a special word for women who do something versus men who do that same thing, but I like the feminine version nonetheless because it reminds people that we’re here. I do not assume a male default person. There are times when I prefer the genderfuck version; in specific circumstances and to specific people, I prefer “Sir” to “Ma’am”. (For starters, “Sir” doesn’t remind me of my great-aunts. I don’t want to think about that in bed!) But regardless of the equipment that I’m using, my sexual expression is specifically feminine. One of the things I enjoy about kink is that opportunity to be a terrifying incarnation of female desire. By using the female versions of most terms, I’m reminding people that we certainly are out there, and we’re defining and owning and enjoying our own expressions of what it is to be sexually dominant.
I have a particular dislike for people assuming that they can assign me the title that gets *them* off. If they’re my partner and they ask nicely, I’ll consider it, but random people “Mistress”ing me are likely to be annoying. (I don’t mind the Mistress title in the abstract, but it’s something that attains weight through relation, not something that anyone can use.) People choosing titles or words that I find actively unsexy (“Mommy” is the prime offender there) are likely to get a chillier reception still. It is moderately astonishing that people in search of female dominance often don’t realize that referring to us as we wish is part of the point. If you can’t even get *that* right, you’re unlikely to be a fulfilling partner in any other way.
I recently read Daniel Bergner’s “The Other Side of Desire: Four Journeys Into the Far Realms of Lust and Longing”. One quarter of the book is devoted to his discussion of a “rare female dominant”. While there were many things in his description of her actions and psyche that I found myself nodding along to, just hearing that “rare female dominant” phrase caused howls of laughter among my toppy female friends, followed by the sober reflection that we had a PR problem and a lot of work to do. I’m a dominatrix, among other things. I know female tops and toppy switches, dommes and dominants, sadists and mistresses and ladies, capitalized and not. There are a lot more of us out there than most people think, and we’re working on that PR problem.