One of the things that happily astonishes me about my partners is how receptively open they can be with me. It’s a state of mind that I’ve never hit myself, one that I find enticing and arousing and astonishingly flattering. I can recognize it when I see it, and it’s a separate state from the endorphin-flying phases of subspace or the initial tremblings of wanting to be pushed over that brink. Instead, it’s a state of anticipatory receptivity. They are comfortable, but waiting on whatever I might see fit to do to them. They are actively available to me, not being obtrusive, but sure that I know I can have them. They are not pressuring me into action, but are rather engaged in waiting until such a time as I might feel inclined to act upon them. In short, they want to give of themselves to me.
This is such beautiful generosity that I cannot help but be delighted and floored by it every time. Of course they get something out of it too, but the point is not to obtain some particular desire of theirs. In subduing their own insistent wantings, they can attain a state of peace — they give up knowing what I’ll do or even trying to predict it, and they become open and waiting and ready. It is as thoroughly seductive to me as nectar to bees. Sometimes it stops me in my tracks, other times it sends me about my day with a small smile and a percolating plan for later. But even when I’m thinking about work or the laundry or what terrible thing my travel agent has managed to do THIS time, one of my partners in this state will draw my attention and lift my mood regardless of if or when I act upon it.
Such an invitation leads to delicious play. Perhaps that’s somewhat self-fulfilling, as it takes established trust in order to attain this state; knowing your partners’ psyches and desires well does intensify and sweeten the sorts of play that I prefer. Still, knowing that I could do almost anything and have it appreciated inspires me to outdo myself for them. Having this sort of open invitation from someone important to me, I am inspired to give them my best work. Inspiration is important to me — I am often an intuitive top, and there are moments where my partner’s headspace almost lays itself out before me. Having a good chart of the terrain allows me to map (and, if they please, push) their boundaries better. Much of my sense of their desires and reactions comes from small things: turns of phrase, body language, little indicators such as noticing when they unconsciously stop and hold their breath for a moment. Feeling them preemptively embracing my wishes gives me a brilliant place to begin with them — I can take that extended desire and comfort and turn it into passion, transgression, or yearning.
Sometimes this is a deliberate, conscious process of planning on my part. Other times it’s more of a gestalt. Last week, I went to sleep and woke up with a fully detailed weekend plan for one of my partners. I executed it the next day to our mutual delight. (If only it were always that easy! But I probably wouldn’t savor it so much if it were.) Still, one of the drivers for that creation on my part was considering her attitude and approach towards me and knowing that I could have nearly anything I wanted from her. In bringing me that gift of herself, she made us both stronger. Knowing that she would do it, I could set her to work with abandon and joy.
There are times where I catch glimpses of the potential for this sort of giving in others, a particular hope to make this offering. It’s strongest when they want to open up so to me in particular, though I can sometimes spot the tendency even when I’m not the intended recipient. I’ve talked with friends of mine from time to time about kink radar — this is one of the major ways that I find new potential kink partners. It’s not in matching items on a checklist or ascertaining compatible orientations or comparing calendars and schedules or negotiating relationship parameters, although all those things happen as well. It’s in hearing that echo of desire to please, the beginning resonances of that offering of self that match the force I can exert upon them. They respond to me in a way that makes me want to find out what else they can do and where I can take them… and I’m well known for my healthy curiosity.
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 alt.sex 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.)
As one of the purposes of this blog is to add depth and variety to the discussions of female dominance out there, I’d like to address one of the discursive lacks that I find most personally baffling. I’m a 60/40 bisexual, preference for female partners. This is my own internal summarization of what turns my head, but it’s pretty accurately represented in my body count as well, in both kinky and vanilla interactions. It’s easier for a woman to capture my attention, to provoke a speculative eyebrow, or to successfully approach me with her interest in kink. I’m disappointed that most popular conceptions of female dominance assume that only women topping men is important. I am more likely to top women than I am men, and those encounters are equally intense and meaningful. Many of the other female dominants that I know have female partners, exclusively or in addition to their male partners, so I am hardly a community rarity.
There are definite trends in how I interact with women in a BDSM context versus how I interact with men, and this alternately fascinates and worries me. My female partners have been predominantly bottoms or submissives, with the occasional switch. I’ve only had one top-top relationship with another woman. My male partners are usually tops or toppish switches willing to flex for me. I’ve had several top-top relationships with men. I am unsure of how much of this is a result of the pressures on men to identify as toppy or dominant and how much of it is just my taste. My female partners are usually delighted to let me drive, and our play tends to center around explorations of their limits and boundaries. My male partners usually want to fight me for control, and our play tends to center around that struggle and its inevitable fruit. The relationships where kink follows me out of the bedroom are usually but not always my relationships with women, though there’s an element of service in most of my relationships regardless of the gender of my partner. I dish out stronger deliberately painful sensations to my female partners, as they appreciate it more, ask for it, and can take it. I hit my male partners as if we were sparring, and I almost never am so combative with women. Yet, when the chips are down, almost all of my kink relationships coalesce the same way — my partners want to be my right-hand woman (or man) as we work together towards our common goal. That element of service shows up and flavors our pursuit as a team of whatever it is we’re after. (In fairness, I’ll also do this if my partner is more knowledgeable/competent/suited to lead our effort than I am in a given sphere. I’ll Girl Friday if that’s going to be more successful, and I make a pretty good service top. However, most of the time I’m directing as well as executing.)
I find it interesting that it’s so much easier for women to successfully approach me for play, or to indicate their interest such that I care to follow up on it. I can’t recall a single occasion where a fellow who made the first move was terribly successful with me — most guys do better if they wait for me to approach them. Women don’t tend to approach me very often, but they will say something that lets me know whether I can approach them without offense or not. With women, I’ll find out if they’re even potentially interested in my gender before broaching the subject of interactive kink with them. Men tend to make their orientation clear more quickly, at least with regards to interest or lack thereof in me. And while I usually prefer to take plenty of time to get to know my prospective bottom’s psyche, likes, dislikes, limits, and interests, it’s still useful for me to know whether that information is coming up in a friendly but academic discussion or whether it’s something that I might find personally useful and important to remember.
I am a firm believer in women being willing to do some of the courtship risk-taking — that is to say, I am usually the first one to stick my neck out and declare interest or attraction, to ask someone out rather than waiting to be asked, the first to make commitment noises or acknowledge deepening feelings or to say “I love you”. This has been important with all my partners due to the common assumption that the dominant partner will be the one driving these things, but it’s been particularly important with my female partners. (Amusing, since my female partners get a better reception on average than my male partners if they do want to drive these behaviours first.) Lesbian sheep syndrome certainly happens, and while I’m happy to cut through it as needed, if I weren’t willing to do so I’d have far fewer dates. I have, humorously, commanded someone to be my girlfriend in the past… but only after making damn sure that we were well suited and that it was what she wanted.
I have had lesbians who were unwilling to date me due to my male partners. I don’t think I’ve ever had a woman decline my invitation to kink because I have male partners as well; if that has happened, she never told me so. I have not had a man ever turn me down for relationship or kink due to my having female partners. (Being poly at all, yes, but not because they couldn’t handle me being involved with women.) I don’t tend to play casually — I’m happy to educate or demonstrate technique more casually, but if I’m seriously sitting down with someone for pre-scene negotiations, odds are very good that they have emotional heft in my life. This often makes me wonder how most women think of kink versus relationships with women, and what would incline them towards one but not the other. They’re different but related kinds of intimacy to me, though obviously I’m delighted to engage in both with my female partners.
I know there are plenty of other bi and lesbian toppy women out there — I look forward to hearing your stories too.
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.