Topologies

This thing of ours: more terminology

Posted in identity, political theory by Delilah Wood on December 1, 2009

Ivy and Cal have already chimed in on the terminology parade, so after some reading and thought I figured I’d take a stab at it.

Dominatrix. Domina. Domme. Goddess. Mistress. Princess. Lady. Maitresse. As a pro-domme, I’ve gone through a love-hate relationship with them all.

I really appreciate Ivy’s point that a lot of it depends on who you’re playing with: if someone just decides that they’re going to call me Mistress, it tends to turn me right off. From time to time in sessions, though, I would tell people to call me Mistress – usually in order to have an excuse to slap them if they forgot. I don’t love the term on its own: the meanings that arise for me include “adulterous female partner” and “lame feminine cognate for Master, as of lands and/or slaves.” Both strike me as archaic and referring to some strange feminine mystery in which I don’t care to participate.

Nothing quite overblows that feminine mystery thing, though, like “Goddess.” I never could stand being called Goddess – especially by people who just decided that’s what they would call me without asking my preference. Bah.

Variations on the “dom” root tend to be more self-applied than what one is called during a scene: I chose “Domme” because I liked how it went with “Delilah,” and because I didn’t want to be called “Mistress” like everyone else. Nobody ever called me “Domme”; it just sounds silly.

So that leaves the two questions still open: how do I think of myself when defining my sexuality, and how do I like to be referred to?

Mostly, when I’m approached by strangers, I’d prefer to be referred to by my name. I enjoy basic respect, not overblown pedestalizing; I find the latter presumptuous and alienating.

Surprisingly enough to me, I’ve found that the term I like best during some scenes is “Ma’am.” It’s short, sweet, to the point, has the cultural weight of respect and deference behind it. But mostly, being named during a scene doesn’t have that much power for me. Five things I’d sooner hear out of a submissive’s mouth during a scene than “Mistress” include: “please…” “ow, fuck!” “nonononono!” “fuck me,” “god, yes…” The list goes on, but even more than the words are the sounds, and even better than the sounds are the looks in the eyes: the fear, the desire, the adoration.

So the short answer for all of that is that I’ve found it’s not that important to me what you call me: depending on the context I’ve enjoyed “Lover,” “My love,” “Ma’am,” “Mistress,” and so on.

But what do I call this thing I do?

I called myself a “domme” for enough years that I refer to what I did as being a “pro-domme” rather than a “dominatrix,” though more people know what that means. While, like Ivy, I kind of like the word “dominatrix;” like Cal, I don’t like how the word others female dominants, and I don’t like what the word refers to: that cartoonish image of the hired female dominant. I find it as strange and pretentious to refer to myself as a dominatrix in a non-pro scene context as I find it for men to refer to themselves as Sir Thumpalot or Lord Wankmeoff at BDSM gatherings.

The word I use most often for myself is Switch, since that most accurately reflects my true sexuality. Topping or bottoming is more something that I do than something that I am, and so much of it – and here’s the key for me – depends on the relationship. My labeling system, as a bi poly switch, is by nature chameleonic: though all of my selves are authentic, who I am depends on who I’m with. My struggle, as a pro domme, was pushing up against the boundaries of who I didn’t want to be: I’m good enough at being what others want that I had to draw the line when it came to whom I’d play with.

I should touch on another place my favorite terminology tends to come from, and that’s the gay leather scene. I don’t do ageplay, but I love playing with a Daddy in the leather sense. On some very special days I’m a boy. I love the word Master and the word Sir and it turns me on whenever someone calls a woman “Sir” on Battlestar Gallactica. My absolute favorite porn book is The Leather Daddy and the Femme, and interestingly, my least favorite part of that book is the part where the Femme is given over to a classic dominatrix for training. I adore the second chapter, however, where the Femme fucks the Daddy in the shower. Go figure.

Words, words, words. It’s complicated. Call me Delilah. I’m a switch, and if you smell right to me, I may want to hurt you. How’s that?

14 Responses

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  1. Rose Fox said, on December 1, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Sorry to leave a comment about your style rather than your content, but you may want to put a /i tag after “Battlestar Galactica”; your itals are italicizing the entire site!

  2. Carol Anne Caiafa said, on December 2, 2009 at 3:05 am

    OK, this seems to make sense if you’re a heterosexual woman from either end of the spectrum. But what if you’re a femme lesbian who likes putting the occasional boi in her or his place? Still doesn’t seem to be any place for us!

    • Ivy O'Malley said, on December 2, 2009 at 3:07 am

      Oh, there will be — I’m writing a post right now about being a toppy bi woman who prefers female partners! Your timing is impeccable. Hopefully I’ll have that up in the next day or so.

      • Carol Anne Caiafa said, on December 2, 2009 at 3:15 am

        I look forward to reading that. However, will those categories also include non-able-bodied, not conventionally pretty, not young? I’ve sadly run across plenty online who expect me to be this cute, thin performative type and I don’t fit that mold either.

        • Cal Stockton said, on December 2, 2009 at 9:20 am

          There are only three of us writing here, and we can only write our own stories. If you want to expand the discourse to discuss issues that our stories don’t touch upon, you should start up a public blog and do so, too! The more, the merrier. That said, my next post is likely to deal with how I tend to handle the expectations people have for people who top.

          BJ writes about being not conventionally pretty all the time. We’re in our late 20s-mid 30s around here, with a range of body types. Lolita is older, and writes about topping very frequently. I don’t know whether or not Andrea considers herself femme, but she writes beautifully about putting her bois in their place.

          I can’t think of a link or example for you for non-able-bodied tops, though. I can only personally discuss that issue from a bottomish perspective, in fact – the few times one former lover and I tried to switch, her RSI was in flare-up and she couldn’t really use her arms and hands. I wish I had good answers and advice, but it was very difficult for us, and we never did quite figure out how to handle it. Perhaps I can ask her to come in and talk more about the issue from her perspective some time.

          • Dw3t-Hthr said, on December 2, 2009 at 9:55 am

            Trinity (one of the cobloggers at Let Them Eat Pro-SM Feminist Safe Spaces) has written at her place several times about being a top with cerebral palsy. Here’s a relevant post. She’s also a contributor to the Sexability blog.

            • Delilah Wood said, on December 2, 2009 at 12:49 pm

              Amazing post. And Carol Anne, do take up those links and stick around – the questions you’re asking get right at what we’re trying to do here.

              Oh, and by the way, who’s heterosexual? 🙂 As I say in this very post: bi poly switch, here.

              • Carol Anne Caiafa said, on December 3, 2009 at 11:35 pm

                Thanks, Delilah. And sorry if I appear to be making any assumptions about anyone’s orientation – I certainly don’t mean to do that. It’s just that a lot of the blogs for dominant women out there seem to be addressing a certain type of dominant woman. I’m very interested in the variety of dominant women that exist, as I definitely don’t seem to fit that definition or most of the others I’ve found.

                The actual names and labels are intersting. “Domme” is a word I often use, but I am frequently ambivalent about. Why the gendered difference between “domme” and “dom” when there is no “subbe”, for example? I’ve always wondered about that.

                • Cal Stockton said, on December 4, 2009 at 9:01 am

                  Well, that’s a depressingly easy one to answer – according to common perception, subs are by default female! No need to make an exception for female subs by calling them subbes. Doms, by contrast, are default male.

                  And I really see where you’re coming from in wanting to see the variety of dominant women that exist. That’s exactly what we’re trying to show here. Hopefully we’ll manage it more and more as we go along. My thought going into this was that if we manage to show even just the wide spread of views and experiences between the three of us, it’ll make the world a more open place even for women who don’t quite identify with any of us in particular.

                  • Carol Anne Caiafa said, on December 4, 2009 at 5:41 pm

                    Ah, I thought that might be the answer, sadly, and it offends me deeply, as it no doubt offends you and most progressive kinky people!

                    I do look forward to see what this blog brings. I approve of the ideas behind it already!

            • Carol Anne Caiafa said, on December 3, 2009 at 11:30 pm

              Dw3t-Hthr, thanks for the links. Amazing stuff. I think I’ve seen Trinity on other sites with some very interesting posts – Livejournal, possibly?

  3. Topologies « Frangipani said, on July 4, 2011 at 2:25 am

    […] don’t necessarily have One Truth to impart (see their ‘Convoluted Terminology‘ posts, for an example.). Instead, they present their sometimes differing opinions like civilized adults […]


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