“Koschei,” she whispered against his neck, where his dark hair curled. “Where do you keep your death?”
Koschei the Deathless lifted the calves of Marya Morevna around his waist and sank into her with the weight of years. He moaned against her breast. It stopped her breath, how like a child the Tsar of Life became when he needed her. The power she had over him, that he gave her. Who is to rule, that is all.
“Tell me,” she whispered. She wanted that, too. She wanted so much these days, everything she touched.
“Hush, you Delilah!” He thrust against her, the bones of his hips stabbing at her soft belly.
“I keep nothing from you. I befriend your friends, I eat as you eat, I teach you the dialectic! If you will not take me to wife, at least take me into confidence.”
Koschei squeezed his eyes shut. He winced with the force of his secret, his climax, his need. As he gripped her tighter and tighter, Marya thought his face grew rounder, younger, as though breathing in her own youth.
“I keep it in a glass chest,” he gasped finally, pushing her roughly back over the stacks of predicted troop movements, his fists caught up in the infinite mass of her hair. “Guarded by four dogs: a wolf like you, a starved racing hound, a haughty lap-pup, and a fat sheepdog. All their names begin with the same letter, and only I know the letter.” He shut his eyes against her cheek as she arched toward him like a drawn bow. “And only someone who knows their names can reach the chest where I keep my death.”
Cal: This is part 2 of our joint review of and meanderings inspired by Cathynne M. Valente’s new book, Deathless, a Soviet Russian BDSM fairy tale love story that just came out this week. (Part 1 is here.) As with Part 1, this post contains spoilers.
Ivy: The first scene where Marya is charming his death out of Koschei? I loved that. I totally do that to my partners, that dynamic of “give to me the thing you most fear/most treasure/guard most secretly in the world” as a really hot angle on intimacy. It is pretty central to my kink dynamic that my partners give up their heartfelt secrets to me — I can’t make things good for them if I don’t know what it is that they really want. That takes a whole lot of trust — it doesn’t always happen, but for my serious and profound kink relationships, we’ve always gotten there. I don’t care about their passwords or their bank account numbers or their job’s intellectual property — it’s not an invasive takeover kind of interest. But I’m strongly vested in what they’ve thought about when they come for their entire lives as a sexual being, or what they’ve only now let themselves admit they’ve always wanted. Their heart of hearts.
Cal: Well, that’s why I liked Koschei so much better than Ivan here – I care a great deal about partners giving me their secrets, and trust, and he ultimately gave her all of that. Koschei was demanding and switchy and offered service and willingness to be chained in her basement.
Also, he had something real to give up in being there. He wasn’t just some guy with nowhere else to be, saying sure, lady, you can do anything you want to me. It reminds me of the bit in Nicholson Baker’s Vox, where the narrator says: “An orgasm in an intelligent woman is like a volcano on a mountain with a city built on the slope – you feel the alternative opportunity cost of her orgasm, you feel the force of all the other perceptive things she could be thinking at that moment and is not thinking because she is coming, and they enrich it.” Koschei had so much power and life in him that his willingness to give himself over to Marya and stay chained in her basement was enriched by the sheer cost of what he had to lay at her feet.
Ivy: Yeah, I agree, and pretty much for those reasons. He brought something to the table, he didn’t just show up with a list of “first you beat me with the turnip, then I loose the firebird, then you chain me up in your basement with exactly four chains and call me a traitor to the Party…” demands that she might not even have been into. He was willing to put his actual self on the line, and that matters so vastly to me.
Cal: And he treasured her. Though I hate the way she lost herself through it. It felt like the author wanted to write about Marya gaining power and understanding, but I just found that her character got less interesting.
Ivy: I wondered if that was an artifact of her being non-immortal, similar to the way that eating goblin fruit in some mythologies eventually makes you very close to being fey yourself, over time. You lose your humanity through living and consuming and breathing that different world. So she was more locked-into-fate dancing puppet Marya rather than free will protagonist Marya.
Cal: And her first seduction of Ivan was her failed attempt to break free.
Ivy: By which she chose a different and much more boring set of chains. “Let’s play human!”, when she was no longer so.
Cal: It’s not really the story of a dominant woman at all, though it almost wants to be. But then again, at the end, both her husbands are dead and she knows how to shoot.
Ivy: I agree that it’s not the story of a dominant woman. She didn’t really seem to have that direction and agency, to me. Koschei topped her from the bottom psychologically for a while there; he kept her coming back to him. That is what he wanted, and it wasn’t *not* what she wanted — I think he was more certain than she was, and that helped carry the day in the direction of his desires.
I give a good bit of thought to psychological complexity in kink because I really enjoy those sorts of blendy dynamics, though it’s difficult to find other people who are on the same page as I am. In my head, I’m almost always the top because no matter who is tied up, I am directing. I always have the power, I’m just not always the one with my hand on the whip. Sometimes I’m more of a power behind the throne, and that can be really hot too. But this is not a kink-mainstream view of dominance, and I really hate it when nuance and delicate interplay gets misunderstood as “so secretly, I am topping you, HA HA HA”. Argh, no, you’ve missed the whole point, get out of my dungeon.
Cal: Oh, sure. I tend to let go of that, because I don’t want to think of myself as the top sometimes, but I also know underlying it all that I really only like it when I kind of secretly am. I do best with submissive folks who play dominant sometimes as an act of service for me.
Ivy: That recent scene of mine with my switchy boy was like this — I gave him power to force him to have the experience I wanted to induce in him. My objective was to get him to taste the sweet potency of having power and choice, and to realize that it was okay to enjoy it, that there were ways to do so without being a jerk. He’s seen me do it plenty, to him and to others, but there’s rather a lot of difference between seeing someone else pull that off and realizing that you can do that too. I think that was a healthy expression of that kind of cooperative blending, and widened his horizons of the possible. So I got everything I wanted there, and I was satisfied at the end result to his psyche.
Koschei and Marya were rougher and less everyone-buys-in. It was almost a competitive dynamic in some ways for them rather than a cooperative one. Whatever victory she had was pretty Pyrrhic, but I’d argue that he actually won.
Cal: I’m not sure that’s right. I mean, we’re focusing on kink here (hey, it is a kink blog!), so we can say that she wasn’t really a dominant woman as if that’s the point. But it isn’t, not really. She was a woman. She lost herself in an incredible man who treasured her and loved her and didn’t laugh at her and still wasn’t really right for her. She tried to find herself in another man who laughed at her and didn’t understand the depths of her complexity, and found another set of chains in life with him. She tried to escape those chains by quite literally chaining up Koschei, but that wasn’t a way out for her, either.
Yes, she had a Pyrrhic victory with Koschei, when he tried to woo her back by giving her everything she ever wanted when she wasn’t really ready to figure what she really wanted or needed for herself. But maybe I was overly hasty, earlier. She was a very young woman, trying to figure out what she wanted while being pulled every which way.
To bring it back to kink, she certainly seemed to get something out of topping, and maybe she would explore that more if she felt more confident and had partners who gave her the space to become comfortable with the exploration.
Ivy: Hah. If I’d had to figure out my entire sexuality in my late teens, I’d have made a horrible mash of it. I agree that it was a process of discovery in turbulent times (more so for Marya than for me!), and that she found something of herself in the toppy role, even if her first few sallies into that weren’t a perfect fit. And, really, whose were? Often, that sense of one’s self and knowing what’s right for you can ripen over years.
Cal: Going back to the scene where Marya tried to feed Ivan as Koschei fed her, it showed Marya as starting out with no way of being powerful other than by trying to be like Koschei. She didn’t know how to top as herself yet. I think most tops start out at least partially imitating something we’d read or heard of or seen or experienced when bottoming, and in some ways the rejection there hurts all the more because she didn’t know how to come up with any alternative suggestions, how to flex or adapt or collaborate – she only knew how to top the way Koschei did. And when that didn’t work for her, what was left?
Chaining Koschei in her basement was a first, tentative step towards finding her own style. I don’t really expect a sequel here, but I like that the ending left room for Marya to go on and figure things out without such controlling influences. I like to think she might find her own way forward after this story ends.
Cal: Ivy and I both just read Cathynne M. Valente’s new book, Deathless, which was just released yesterday. It’s a Soviet Russian BDSM fairy tale love story, so gosh were we sure the target audience!
In some versions of the old fairy tale, Koschei the Deathless is chained in Marya Morevna’s basement, which raised the question that this book answers – how did he end up chained in her basement in the first place? Valente twines that tale with fragments of other versions, where Ivan the hero meets Marya Morevna on the battlefield and they escape together from mean old Koschei.
There are a couple of threads that came up in our discussion of the book that we’d like to explore here, the first of which explores the difficulty of rejection by one’s partners. There’s a later thread of service and secrets that we’ll discuss in another post. And, fair warning: these posts are spoilerrific.
“This is stupid, Marya. I am hungry. Let a man eat in peace.”
Cal: Ivan says this to Marya Morevna after she tells him to be silent and do as she says, starts to feed him in a particular order and speak to him in a particular way, feels power welling up within her huger than she expected – and no, he rejects that game. Earlier in the book, Koschei seduced Marya by feeding her in that same particular way, and entwined it with his dominance. Marya is explicitly trying to explore her own dominance by echoing how Koschei drew her in, but to take his place she must find her own Marya, and Ivan refuses to play her role. It’s a rejection not only of her power but of her submission – both are uninteresting to him.
This one small moment caught at my heart with the memory of every lover who ever laughed when I forced myself to open up about the secret dark frightening things I wanted, every time my desires were rejected as stupid or weird or just more effort than they were worth. And maybe most readers won’t see it, but I bet there’s a lot of us who’ve had that fear come true before. Maybe someone finds it easy to find good matches for unusual desires from the start, but not anyone I know.
But I also read it and feel lucky, now. The laughter gets rarer and rarer as you’re more open, as you choose people more wisely, as time goes on. And when it happens, it’s easier to bear once you’ve known people who moaned instead. And if you’re very lucky indeed, you have Koschei chained in your basement and sighing for your touch, and he never laughs at you at all.
Ivy: I have taken to calling this scenario “Ivans the Terrible” in my head since you and I had this discussion, Cal. (Plural Ivans, because I’ve dated someone like that more than once.) Because, truly, it is terrible to open yourself up to that kind of vulnerability, the admission of desire to someone that you love, and to have them not only reject you but not understand such an essential part of your sexuality at all. Of course not everyone that one loves is going to automatically want exactly what we want, but it is still a difficult and crushing realization to swallow that sort of rejection. At times, it’s made worse by the loved one not realizing at all what a blow they’ve dealt you. And there’s this mythology that the top can shrug off anything because we’re all-powerful and invulnerable and mighty, but that’s not actually how that works at all. There was a period of four years where I gave up topping entirely after I’d had a six person streak of rejection from my partners… I was convinced that this part of my sexuality was unacceptable to anyone that I cared about, and that I should stop trying lest I hurt people I loved (in a bad way). Naturally, that didn’t make my orientation or desires go away.
Cal: It can be incredibly difficult. I’ve been laughed at by lovers when opening up about things I wanted or fantasized about, and it shut me down and dealt death blows to those dynamics pretty quickly. And I was talking to another friend about this recently, and she said: “I remember a girl I was in the process of the talking-for-hours that precedes hookups with, and I remember some kind of “whips and chains” comment came up, and she laughed and reassured me that she wasn’t into that kind of thing.” I’ve been there, too, and always want to laugh and say – well, I am!
I feel like there’s so much in Deathless that relates to this, the wanting and the rejection – you see it a bit when she asks Koschei about his death, too. His first response isn’t to answer. It’s to say, “Hush, you Delilah!”
Ivy: Yeah. But that’s some people’s kink… they want to be charmed out of the knowledge of their deepest selves, persuaded, seduced. I’m happy to do that to/for my partners, but I find the idea of having that turned on me deeply frightening in an unsexy way. I may decide to share, but I don’t want anyone trying to make me; that’s probably orientation speaking there.
Cal: I rather enjoy it myself, sometimes. Actually, it reminds me of Midori‘s interrogation class. She said that she basically classifies bottoms for that kind of thing into two sorts – breakers and endurers. And you better know which your partner is, or you’ll miss the point entirely. Koschei was a breaker, Ivan was.. well, not even an endurer. He was that jerk who laughs, the child who doesn’t even understand how to ask a question, he won’t play along at all.
Ivy: Ivan was sort of that vanilla guy who ends up thinking that he’s outré for sort of being okay with swinging as long as he wins mostly, for bizarro-world definitions of win.
Cal: The one who thinks you’re so hot and interesting that he’s up for trying for your sake, but then criticizes you for wanting to take things too far.
Ivy: Yep. Because, you know, you couldn’t actually MEAN that. “I want a strong-minded independent woman who is my equal, now make me a pie.”
Cal: And it’s cool if you’re a little edgy, but if this is seriously what you’re into? That can’t be healthy!
Ivy: Hahaha, yeah, I think we’ve both rejected that guy before.
Cal: Oh man. And felt so judged by him! The jerk.
Ivy: One of the benefits of age and experience: I’m faster to recognize it and decide I don’t want to go anywhere near there with him now. I still sometimes slip. But, I’m nowhere near as terrible as I was when I was younger about pining for ages over him. Ugh.
Cal: I wonder whether the author dated that jerk, too, or someone along those lines. The book is so full of this theme! And yet she brings him back here as Ivan, who Marya loves.
Ivy: Do you stop loving people just because they’re awful for you? I don’t.
When I was in high school, I went out to the midnight showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show fairly frequently, in part because it gave me an excuse to joke about kinky stuff. I would dress up, hoping that I could somehow convey my pervy orientation through the standard teenage goth girl uniform of skirts slit practically to the waist and fishnet stockings.
When I was in college, I let my dance-loving friends drag me out to clubs from time to time, because it gave me an excuse to dress up. Again, I think my secret (or perhaps not-so-secret) hope was that wearing a corset and knee-high leather boots and all that would somehow help me find people who were interested in actual breath play, more useful leather implements. After all, that’s what a dominatrix wears, right? I hoped that I could meet perverts at the RenFaire because some of the clothing booths sell a few collars and cuffs along with the bodices.
I’ll give you one guess as to how well that went.
I didn’t find people who were into bdsm by dressing up. I simply found people who were into dressing up.
I gave up on the idea of joking around the concept and trying to guess who really meant it when they joked back, eventually. I met a guy who shared my taste in literature, somewhat, and who could be silly and goofy and fun to spend time with, and I ever so casually suggested buying a pair of handcuffs when we were talking about what sort of sexual experimentation we wanted to do together. (We were teenagers. Everything was an experiment for us.)
Oh so casual. What a careful light touch. Lots of laughter. Here, let’s take turns. You tie me up and go down on me; I’ll tie you up and go down on you. We’ve read about safewords on the internet, no big deal, let’s flip open a dictionary and pick something fun but easy to remember. He wanted me to top him first. I was still a virgin when I first handcuffed a man to a bed. There, those are my priorities, and that’s how I got my start at last.
It got easier, after that. My college roommate once returned to the room early and saw rope all over my bed. My joking around got specific enough to be obviously sincere. Everyone gossips about their sex lives during college, and I was open enough that it just wasn’t a big deal for me to talk honestly about what I was into, after a while.
That’s around when I stopped going out to dress-up events.
I realized that dressing up is not my kink. I don’t have any clothing fetishes. If anything, I lean slightly more towards preferring playing with people who show up casually dressed in regular street clothes, because it implies to me that they have more in common with me in the real world than the people who are covered in latex. I like people with calluses on their hands and flour in their hair, paint smears on their shoes and honest worn spots on their jeans, scuff marks on their boots and old ripped t-shirts that they’ll let me cut off of them.
(I appreciate it when someone dresses up specifically for me, mind, but that’s something entirely different. Wear something intentionally sexy under your practical long underwear and I will swoon for you even as I insist that it all come off.)
So, here’s my point. There’s a big, popular, regular event in NYC nowadays called Suspension. It has this dress code: “cost: $10 Fetish, sexy attire, suits, PVC, Leather, Latex. $30 All Black dress code: Fetish, sexy attire, suits, PVC, Leather, Latex, Min. All Black”
I’ve never attended, because it’s not my scene. I feel sexiest when I’m comfortable, and I hate the idea of trying to conform to someone else’s standard for sexy attire. I do generally aim to look and feel sexy, but for me that usually just means jeans and a more fitted top. (I’d flag, but no one ever seems to know what black and grey on the left even means anymore.) There are arguments on the value of dress codes that float around Fetlife from time to time, and I just read them and think about how much I hate “the scene” sometimes. Often. Sometimes. I don’t know, I’m just fed up.
I don’t mind there being parties that are not for me. I don’t even really mind that there don’t seem to be any good big dress-code-free parties for me to attend. Mostly, it just bothers me that this sort of thing is the loud and active face of my sexual orientation. I don’t want it to scare away all the people who think, “Gah, being forced to meet a certain fashion standard sounds awful. This sort of thing makes it hard to admit that I want more than just a bit of roughness with my sex, because I sure don’t fit in with that crowd.” I want to meet more of those people. I want to do more than meet them.
I have service on the brain lately, ever since Murre loaned Orlando to me to help work on an extracurricular project of mine.
I never used to think I was into service. I mean, I’ve always appreciated help and care, but doesn’t everyone? Why does it need a special kink name?
(Of course, I also never used to think I needed glasses. I mean, I’ve always had trouble seeing things that seemed far away, but doesn’t everyone? Why would I need mechanical assistance?)
I like being helpful myself, in most contexts. It feels good to be effective and get things done. I enjoy the sense of competence and productivity. But I can’t imagine myself as a service sub – and I don’t tend to get off on acting as a service top, either. I don’t like service for the sake of pleasing anyone; I just like being active and involved and useful in the world.
This seems somehow different from my boy’s desire to make me happy and take care of me. (I’m going to call him Cassidy. Anyone else I am or have been involved with will get to choose their own nickname for the blog before I write about them, but Cassidy didn’t care what I call him here, so Cassidy he is.)
Cassidy’s favorite passage from Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami is this:
“… So I made up my mind I was going to find someone who would love me unconditionally three hundred and sixty-five days a year. I was still in elementary school at that time — fifth or sixth grade — but I made up my mind once and for all.”
“Wow,” I said. “And did your search pay off?”
“That’s the hard part,” said Midori. She watched the rising smoke for a while, thinking. “I guess I’ve been waiting so long I’m looking for perfection. That makes it tough.“
“Waiting for the perfect love?”
“No, even I know better than that. I’m looking for selfishness. Perfect selfishness. Like, say I tell you I want to eat strawberry shortcake. And you stop everything you’re doing and run out and buy it for me. And you come back out of breath and get down on your knees and hold this strawberry shortcake out to me. And I say I don’t want it anymore and throw it out the window. That’s what I’m looking for.”
“I’m not sure that has anything to do with love,” I said with some amazement.
“It does,” she said. “You just don’t know it. There are times in a girl’s life when things like that are incredibly important.”
“Things like throwing strawberry shortcake out the window?”
“Exactly. And when I do it, I want the man to apologize to me. ‘Now I see, Midori. What a fool I’ve been! I should have known that you would lose your desire for strawberry shortcake. I have all the intelligence and sensitivity of a piece of donkey shit. To make it up to you, I’ll go out and buy you something else. What would you like? Chocolate mousse? Cheesecake?’”
“So then what?”
“So then I’d give him all the love he deserves for what he’s done.”
“Sounds crazy to me.”
“Well, to me, that’s what love is. Not that anyone can understand me, though.” Midori gave her head a little shake against my shoulder. “For a certain kind of person, love begins from something tiny or silly. From something like that or it doesn’t begin at all.“
It’s not that he wants me to be capricious or arbitrary, he says. He just wants me to give him all the love he deserves for what he’s done.
Andrea wrote about the many faces of thanks – some people are turned on by rendering service so perfectly that they are treated as invisible. “In short, sometimes effectively taking a submissive for granted, or being taken for granted as a submissive, is the turn-on. It is the reward. It is, paradoxically, the thank-you and the recognition.” Which is not my kink. Personally, I’m not sure I could bring myself to accept service without appreciation and recognition.
I’m only just learning to accept service in my own life. It’s remarkably difficult to bring myself to see it as something I’m into. But oh, of course I love that he packs lunches for me to bring to work. Of course I love that he makes tea and hot chocolate for me. Of course I love that he gives me massages endlessly. Of course I love that he pushes ibuprofen and chicken soup on me whenever I have a headache, and scowls and scolds me until I suck it up and let him take care of me until I feel better.
Of course I love that he delights in learning all the details of my labyrinthine preferences, and pandering to them with great care and attention to detail.
I’m fussy. I can admit that about myself. I tend to have a very particular way that I want things done, and I generally find it easier to just do things myself rather than have to explain to anyone else how to do it my way. Or, heaven forbid, do it their way instead.
I’ve found that I have to paradoxically give up control in order to gain the care, assistance, and power that service brings. It’s not easy. Allowing someone else to help and care for me means leaving them the space to both learn my tastes, and to add their own touch to whatever they do. Even if their touch isn’t precisely how I’d do it myself. Even if their learning means that everything isn’t quite what I’d expect or want, at first. That’s hard for a distressingly competent, fussy, control freak sort of person who likes getting things done right!
It’s just. Well. It makes me feel so very loved. As a switch, I find it so easy to feel wanted when bottoming. If you can shove me around and tear control away and then focus on doing terrible things to me, it pretty viscerally reassures me that you actually do find me attractive and desire me and what we’re doing together. If you initiate, forcefully, I believe that you truly want me. But when I top, I provide so much of the energy and desire that it can be difficult to feel wanted myself.
Begging helps, whether it’s begging for more or begging me to stop, and it turns me on immensely. But aggressive reaching out to care for me helps so much, too. When a partner’s response to my hurting them is to curl around me in soft wonder and reach to find ways to make me happy, it’s worth the effort and attention involved in speaking this other language of love and sexuality.
That, and it eroticizes so much more of everyday life. We’re only 24/7 some of the time, and I don’t have this sort of dynamic with anyone else with whom I am involved. But it makes all the difference in the world to know that I’ve had to take care to understand and explain, say, exactly how much sugar I like in my tea depending on the size of the mug, or whatever it is, and that he’s paid attention to learning and remembering all the details of my desires and gone to the effort of putting them into action. It means that I have the extra benefit of feeling loved and loving, strong and taken care of, and if not turned on, a bit more conscious of my sexuality, just from sipping a delicious hot beverage.
All of which helps me feel more relaxed, wanted, and inspired to find ways to use and hurt him that will be pleasurable for us both. Not to mention, it eases him into this loving, submissive headspace that I found so incredibly attractive.
It’s worth learning to let go a little bit, to earn that.
And he deserves all the love that I can give, for everything he does. I’m not at all shy about insisting on doing it my way, but I don’t ignore his efforts or throw a fit or insist that my way is the one true way. I do make judicious use of bad pain, but only because we both enjoy his willingness to suffer it for my pleasure, nothing more. With service, the true threat is almost unconscious, and very simple – if he couldn’t learn to do it my way, I’d simply do it myself. We’re both willing to put in extra work in order to avoid that.
I’m not sure how all this fits in with borrowing Orlando from Murre to help with my latest research project. He’s been loaned out to me, so it’s not the sign of love and desire that service can be when offered to me by someone directly. But it is more than just some extra practical help with a project.
It adds an extra thrill of eroticism to working on what would otherwise be just another fun project, of course. I’m rather delighted by the thought of Murre helping me take a part in making him feel small and used, deliciously. It means something different to him than it does to Cassidy, I suspect, and I’m interested in exploring that, even if only from afar.
Axe recently (okay, about a month ago) wrote about a reader of his who’d asked for advice. She was inexperienced, and worried about making a fool of herself with the new guy in her life by doing something wrong. The guy had said that he likes strong, confident, aggressive women, and the reader worried that that meant she could never have a shy moment around him, or show it when she is overcome with emotion.
Along with some kind, thoughtful advice, Axe confessed: “As far as showing emotion goes, I’m ashamed to admit when I first started I was looking for someone who was cold, knew exactly what she wanted and would demand it from me and not show any weakness. I don’t know if this is the case with the guy you met but I think it’s a common problem that submissive guys have when they first start out. They have unrealistic ideas of what dominant women are.”
I’m awfully shy myself, so this post really stuck with me. Enjoying topping does not imbue one with magical social skills, after all.
My thoughts, vaguely organized and peppered with vignettes:
The first time I braved going out to a TES event, Boymeat dragged me out to his extreme caning class and had to promise in advance that he’d introduce me to someone friendly to sit next to. (He promptly introduced me to a cute guy around my age, saying: “This is Cal; she’s looking for someone to hurt!” I don’t think I’ve ever stammered or blushed so hard in my life. It’s been a good long while since then, though. The cute guy is still a good friend of mine, and I no longer lack for people to keep me company when I go out to classes. Boymeat occasionally tells me how proud he feels, the smug bastard. (Mwah!))
And, well. Another man I know, back when we first started expressing interest in each other, once told me that he likes shy tops.
If you’re inexperienced, nervous, and worried that submissive men can’t handle your human quirks, just reread that bit. He likes. Shy. Tops.
Be still my heart.
I also vividly recall an evening of flirting with an amazing woman over IM, where after each message I would hide my face in my boy’s back before peeking over to see if she’d replied yet. (She was doing something similar over on her end. We are ridiculous.) How could shyness and dominance possibly be incompatible? My boy was providing excellent service, to use the formal vernacular, by giving me comfort and assistance with my silly shyness in the way that suits me best.
Confidence/aggression and shyness are not mutually exclusive. I have no problem expressing my desires, or seducing or forcing people to satisfy them once we’ve established that that’s what they’re into. I think the shyness actually goes along with a hyper awareness of the importance of establishing consent before taking control.
I’m shy with new people because I can’t know whether or not they’d enjoy my aggression. I’m confident enough that I don’t have to believe that everyone on the planet wants to be submissive to me. So we dance around it a bit, get to know each other, and then determine whether things should go any further. Being shy is perhaps just another way for me to signal that, not being an actual rapist, I won’t take control unless you offer it to me.
2. Showing Emotion
I tend to be very emotional and open about it, with my boy. And why not? I’m thoroughly in love with him, and we share a wonderful life together. (I think I’ll call him… Bulgakov. Or maybe Cassidy.) What a terrible thing it would be, if I had to cut myself off from that in order to have relationships that turns me on. He taught me what service is and how to accept it by holding me when I cry, knowing what sort of tea I want even before I do, and taking care of me in various ways. There’s no question that he’s mine, but I’m not sure why he’d want to be without the emotional intimacy that holds us together.
Trinity put it marvelously well in her comment to this otherwise hopefully irrelevant post: “My relationship is based on love and friendship and sex… There are D/s elements to our relationship, some of which have to do directly with sex and play and some of which don’t, but this idea that vanilla people have relationships and I have a misshapen thingy really bothers me.”
I fall in love. I make mistakes. I seek connection, openness, understanding. I want intimacy, and sometimes I think that all the vicious roughness is just a way to break into even deeper intimacy, for me – let me into your heart, and also your skin, your mind, your everything.
None of this is worthwhile if it creates a wall between us instead of bringing us closer together – even all those strange distances of denial, clothing, bondage, unfairness, and power are just another way to circle around and tease our way closer to each other.
I’m more of a barbarian than an ice queen, though, if we must choose our archetypes. No wonder I love the intimacy of thuggery without intervening toys. Hands on, hands in.
So, where does that leave us?
Yes, there are submissive men out there who have are only attracted to bizarre fantasy figures, but there are also a lot of submissive men out there who want relationships with real human women who happen to enjoy being sexually dominant (some of whom may very much enjoy being cold at times). I’m pretty damn happy to know a few myself.
(If you’re looking for wonderful advice instead of my musings, I think that Ferns‘s reply to Axe’s post was really the best. And for a more balanced and extensive discussion on the many contradictory expectations of dominance out there, just check out Sex Geek’s post on the subject.)
I mean, god I love hurting men. I love it when men obey me, even (and perhaps especially) when I tell them to do things that they really don’t want to do. I love the pleasure we both get out of that. I love earning that trust. I love power, the rough pleasure of taking it and the humbling joy of having it given to me. I love unfairness. I love restraint and control. I love being taken care of, in the sense of receiving service; and I love taking care of, in the sense of treating my property well. I love brutality, I love penetration. I love getting into his head and figuring out what makes him tick, and using that against him. I love the good sort of filthiness, the right kind of fear. I love using men for my own pleasure, making him feel used and taken. Mine. I love evoking vulnerability. And more, and more.
But I hate femdom.
When we were first discussing names for this blog, we all agreed that femdom was not a term we use for ourselves. To steal Ivy‘s phrasing, femdom is more like a subset of porn that is not appealing to me.
I don’t think of myself as a dominatrix, either. I think of a dominatrix as a cartoon in black leather and spike heels. A corset, a singletail whip. A male fantasy in action, without a real woman inside. (Yes, I know that Ivy likes the term dominatrix, for all the reasons discussed in her convoluted terminology post. We have very different associations, and that’s okay.) I don’t wear spike heels or corsets. I usually wear jeans and a tank top, or nothing at all. I like to be comfortable when I start to get rough.
Everyone knows the anecdote about a reporter telling Gloria Steinem that she didn’t look 40, and Steinem retorting, “This is what 40 looks like.” I think that the difference here is that Ivy likes the word, so she can stand proud and demonstrate what a dominatrix really looks like, whereas for me, some words I just can’t reclaim.
(I’m also not a slut, despite having multiple lovers. But if you call me a bitch, especially while I’m hurting you, it’ll just get me hotter. Words are strange that way.)
Dominatrix and domme both bother me precisely because of the feminine endings. Where Ivy likes that they remind the world that we exist, I dislike that they reaffirm the idea that tops are male by default, and female by exception only. Why do we need cute endings just to show that the girls are getting in on the fun?
Dom doesn’t feel at all genderqueer to me, but it does sound a bit silly. It should be some dude’s name. Don. Dom. I think about chatting with my friends and saying “so, last weekend I was domming this gorgeous hot guy, but it turned out that [insert punchline here],” and I cringe.
I actually tend to think of what I do as topping, vague as that sounds. It’s not even all that accurate, technically speaking, given how people generally draw the line between topping and domming. I know that topping usually applies to sensation play, while domming applies to power play. What I do usually involves both. Still, top just feels like a less silly word to me. It’s a bit less absurdist, a bit more open-ended. It feels right.
Which is how we got to Topologies. Ivy uses the term ‘toppy’ where I use ‘toppish’, but it’s close enough. Delilah wrote about exploring her top side, with a wonderful discussion of how she started off thinking of herself as submissive and then found her own top side along the way while working as a pro domme for about four years. It worked for all of us.
And as Delilah pointed out, Wolfram Mathworld says:
“Topology is the mathematical study of the properties that are preserved through deformations, twistings, and stretchings of objects. Tearing, however, is not allowed.”
Seems like a fair set of limits, indeed. Though, honestly? I’d much rather negotiate for being allowed to tear right into my partners as I please.
And for your entertainment purposes only, rejected titles for this blog included: Women On Top (it’s already the name of one of Nancy Friday’s masturbation fantasy books); Flagging on the Left (Delilah actually doesn’t, so that was out); Muses of Bruises (this one makes me giggle); Musing on Bruises (even better!); Hurt, Cry, Love (aww); Three Mean Ladies (‘mean’ is such a complicated word); the Female Gaze (this is a feminist blog, after all); or We Three Queens (someone out there, please start a thoughtful drag queen blog! I will read it!).
Yesterday’s Girls With Slingshots illustrated one of the big misconceptions about dating as a toppish woman nicely.
It’s no easier than dating without the added complexity of non-mainstream sexuality. This should come as a shock to no one. And frankly, the men who would bristle at taking orders from a woman who they don’t know or have that relationship with are precisely the sort of men whose submission honors and awes me, when they choose to give it to me.
You can’t command anyone to love you. You can’t command worthwhile human beings to submit to you without first earning their respect.
(My boy is the most stubborn, confident, argumentative pain in the ass I could find – and he lays all of that at my feet. That’s what leaves me speechless with joy, every time.) (I should probably come up with a cute blog nickname for him, I suppose. I’m open to suggestions from people who know us.)
I want to start my first group blog experience by explaining why it is important to me in particular to start and write this blog on bdsm issues relating to women who top and dom. (We’ll get to the convoluted terminology posts later on, I suppose.)
I remember what it was like trying to first explore my sexuality and kinks, when I had nothing but pro dommes’ websites and terrible porn aimed at male viewers around to guide me. I remember what it was like to first – finally! – discover that I absolutely could top the way I wanted to. And even now, as an active duty pervert, I still feel marginalized by our culture’s portrayal of toppish women. Frankly, I’m fucking sick of having to struggle against a culture that tells me I must be secretly submissive, or that the only power I have is the power to withhold sex, or that I can’t possibly actually top anyone for reals unless I wear clothing that restricts my movement and sneer properly down at my groveling partner.
This is a social justice movement. I’m not going to go out and organize an unconference. I’m sick of going to local kink events and feeling like no one there is really my sort of geek. But this is important to me, and it’s about damn time for me to start speaking up and fighting back.
I was looking through my email archives earlier, thinking about a short email exchange I had back in undergrad. It turns out that it has been almost ten years to the day since I emailed a random pro domme in a fit of desperation, asking for practical advice on how to handle the fact that my then-boyfriend thought the ball gag we’d bought simply tasted too bad to use. In retrospect, I can’t believe that I actually emailed this complete stranger with what felt like such a ridiculous, stupid question. But back then my school didn’t have anything like CV, and I had nowhere else to turn. I’m sick of pro dommes defining the common perception of dominant women, but I’m still grateful that once upon a time, Ms. Morgana replied without a trace of snarkiness or condescension and gave me a few practical tips and words of encouragement.
Can you imagine? I felt so alone. I actually met Ivy just a few years after that email exchange, and was a bit blown away to finally meet another woman who actually, y’know, liked being in control and doing delicious and terrible things to other people. Not as a hobby or occasional way to spice things up, but as a sexual orientation. (Well, that’s what being a toppish switch is for me, anyways. I’ll let her speak for herself.) It was wonderful, even though we’ve learned over years of friendship that we have very different tastes and ways of thinking about what we do.
That’s pretty much why we chose to make this a group blog. I could write a personal blog about My Kink And What It Means To Me, and maybe it would help people out there who are into just what I’m into, but that’s not the point. The point is to show the world that female toppishness and dominance can encompass people me and people like Ivy and Delilah. It has room for all of us. And if that’s what you’re into, whatever your details may be, it has room for you, too.
For me, this blog is a thank you to the stranger who answered my first call into the dark ten years ago, and to all the other people who’ve helped me learn how to figure out what I want and how to get it. (That’s the real trick. Not tips on dealing with outdated sex toys. Though really, both are valuable!) That, and it’s a direct response to Maymay’s challenge for better resources, for Finally! Something that speaks to dominant women!
My goal here is to shift the discourse on female dominance. I know there are other women out there writing about this already, but we’re still underrepresented, and I want to do my part. It’s a feminist (yes, you are) issue, and a personal matter of changing the social discourse to better accept and encompass my reality.
I could sit here and quote Foucault at you all day, but it comes down to this: We have to move the Overton window such that concepts like ‘femdom must be entirely focused on the arousal of the male submissive’, ‘real men aren’t submissive’, and ‘women can only maintain control by denying sex’ are no longer within the window of conceivable claims.
The Overton window is a concept in political theory that holds that of the full spectrum of possible ideas on an issue, only a subset are actually acceptable in the discourse. For example, the discourse on abortion could theoretically range from forcing all women of reproductive age to bear children until their bodies give out to granting all women sole and sovereign control over their own bodies, but at this stage, the Overton window actually only encompasses statements in the approximate range from ‘women should only be permitted to to receive abortions in cases where the mother’s life is in danger’ to ‘women must have the right to choose abortions up until the stage when the fetus becomes viable’.
Anyways, the concept of the Overton window is neatly illustrated here.
According to Overton, the trick is to move the window such that previously acceptable ideas become taboo, and previously fringe ideas become acceptable in mainstream discourse. He believed the best method for shifting the Overton window is to promote extreme viewpoints in order to tug the window towards less extreme fringe viewpoints in the same direction.
Bitchy Jones is still my favorite example of an extreme voice doing brilliant work towards shifting the Overton window in the discourse on dominant woman. But if the rest of us come out of the woodwork to make our voices heard as well, friends, they may think it’s a movement. And that’s what it is. Because I’m sick of feeling battered on all sides by fucked up images and messages about my sexual orientation.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I have some windmills at which to tilt.
This is just a test post, to get the blog layout right. Are your fingers tingling? Circulation okay? Not too panicky? How much does this hurt, on a scale from kicking a puppy to nuclear war? How about this?