And by mistress you meant…

Posted in political theory, relationships by Ivy O'Malley on December 16, 2009

I’ve been following recent discussions about the double-edged meaning of ‘mistress’. Some of my dominant friends express a dislike for the term due to the other-woman or kept-woman connotations it can carry. I’d like to address that, as the theme pops up in my own life a fair bit and has recently raised its vexatious head again.

Shockingly enough, not everyone who wants me to lay into them with a singletail thinks that I’m the kind of woman you bring home to Mother. There is a constant and undesired tension between my romantic, sexual, and kink partners’ time with me and their everyday lives. For many people, the expression of submissive or bottomish desires is an intensely private experience that they wish to segregate from family, friends, and employers who may not understand that wiring or may be judgmental about it. If one is obviously and unabashedly an assertive happy woman of forceful personality, many people quail at the idea of introducing you and your transgressive sexuality to the rest of their world. They don’t want to have to address the questions it would raise in vanilla society.

There are some people who make this into a kink in its own right. I have partners who can get very worked up by hearing that something is forbidden, transgressive, and popularly thought to be wrong. In a way, I find this almost easier to deal with… I’m often tempted to dig my claws into someone’s psyche if they give me such an easy hook. But the people who don’t get off on transgression yet nevertheless wish to shunt our relationship into the booty silo… that’s much more challenging for me. To be sure, it’s not always the dominance particularly that makes me a socially problematic Scarlet Woman — with my female partners, it’s often “I can’t bring a woman home, my parents would never understand”. Sometimes it’s polyamory — their co-workers have already met their live-in partner, you see, so it’s not anything against *you*, Ivy, just… they don’t want to have to explain. I would never be déclassé enough to start dishing details of my loved one’s sex life to their nearest and dearest without a thought for the damage I’d do them, but often my mere existence complicates the face that they perceive to be acceptable and wish to show to the world. I end up being their mistress in both senses despite my wishes. This is hardly pleasing.

For all of you who are about to ask why I haven’t ditched those people who clearly don’t treat me like the queen I am… consider how often this happens. I’ve been dating women for more than a decade, and in that time I’ve had one girlfriend who was willing to call me her partner to her family and co-workers. I have a lovely live-in boy whose family I’ll never meet — they are religious fundamentalists and would find almost every aspect of my existence detestable. Several of my partners have been former Mormons, and you can imagine how well bringing home a bisexual polyamorous dominatrix goes over there. I don’t want to force my partners to get themselves disowned, fired from their jobs, or otherwise socially shunned for having me as an important part of their lives, but the alternative of being their dirty little secret is nearly as unpalatable. Sadly, having the sexual power in a relationship does not automatically prevent exclusion from important areas of your partners’ lives.

I am sure other dominant, self-directed, and assertive women have encountered the same sad dichotomies; it’s not a new problem. If I’d been born in ancient Greece, I probably would have tried to become a hetaira — the educated, intelligent women with the freedom to follow their own intellectual pursuits were also unacceptable in the high society of the time. You could have your mistress, but on the side. Have your heirs with a respectably uneducated woman with no independence, if you please. Had I been born into Belle Époque France, I would likely have ended up a courtesan. I value having my own freedom, my own money, and my own power, and I’ll do exactly as I please with it… but there are times that it means I won’t be received in polite society. (But if I would just shut up and pretend I felt ashamed of my activities like a proper lady, it’d all be fine! Everyone who’s anyone, apparently, does that.)

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  1. […] my kinky relationships, I am primarily Mistress. Sometimes that aspect of the dynamic extends to financial and practical matters, in which I pay […]

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