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.
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.
Since Cal kicked us off with a post on shifting the discourse on female dominance, I thought I’d introduce myself in this space by talking about what my version looks like – and how I got there. As Cal points out, it’s an incredibly valuable thing for as many women as possible who have an interest in dominance to come out and speak about what that means for them – so that we can stop thinking of female dominance only in terms of corsets, thigh-high boots, sneering looks and withholding sex.
I come at this from a particular angle, since I was a dominatrix by trade for about four years, from my first terrified session until I gave it up about half a year ago. Being a pro-domme – a leather-corset-wearing, thigh-high-boot-sporting pro-domme – both informed and detracted from who I really was as a dominant and a switch, and while I had many reasons for giving the work up, one of the biggest was how inauthentic I felt in the part much of the time.
The interesting part was that I started from the place of being a submissive – a late-blooming submissive at that. My journey into kink was a long time starting, and was finally kicked off when I was 26 and met my first poly, kinky lover. He was one of those rare animals – a male dom who never switches and is not an asshole – and I enjoyed the hell out of letting him do as he wished with me.
A while into the relationship, I began to entertain the notion of becoming a pro domme. It looked like a great career for someone who wants lots of time to write, and happens to be six feet tall, pretty, and intimidating quite by accident. I didn’t really play that side of the fence, but I’d heard that a lot of pros are submissives in private. I personally know a few women for whom this stereotype definitely does not hold, but it makes sense: a submissive knows what those desires look like, and can be incredibly suited to fulfilling fantasies even if they aren’t her turn-ons – as a kind of service.
As I trained for the work, however, and as I got more involved in the kink scene, I began to notice that I enjoyed it on this side of the fence. Tying people up, yum! Flogging – delicious, especially on someone who likes it. At the time I was also exploring some of my first relationships with women, and with that came strap-ons, which I found I was more interested in wielding than being fucked with. I quickly began to fantasize about fucking a man in the ass. I had found my switchy side in what might be the unlikeliest of places.
It turned out that that relationship wasn’t a good place for me to be exploring that work, and I eventually dropped the idea. But the kink stayed, and I sought more opportunities to pull hair, grasp throats, scratch and bite and squeeze.
Then, a couple of years later, out of that relationship and into a new phase of my life, I entertained the notion again, and my professional life as a dominant began. Very quickly, I found myself in a world of kinks I wasn’t familiar with, apparently typical protocol I didn’t find sexy. I read a lot of Claudia Varrin and Mistress Lorilei, and while I found them fun they weren’t really my thing. I read them as instruction manuals for pro-dommery (yes, I was a professional asshat), and took on their ideas as my own. After all, I didn’t even know yet what kind of domme I was. I had to put myself out there in a way that my customers would like. (It mortifies me now to think of the crazy shit I wrote for my site. At least I didn’t use inappropriate initial caps.)
Naturally, that meant various personas and capacities: I could be the Leather Amazon to your captive hooded slave, I could be the Victorian governess to your naughty little boy; I could be the Goddess to your foot-worshipping votary; I could be the bitch Princess to your simpering sissy slut. I found that the leather role was the only one I liked, but I did the others with far more frequency. I found that I’d much rather singletail someone until they cry then have someone lick my toes for half an hour, but the latter was what they lined up to pay for. I also found that I wanted to fuck men in the ass – but not these ones. I didn’t do it in my sessions, because it was too personal.
I found myself doing a lot of things I didn’t like, in the context of something that I normally enjoy, with people I didn’t want to do them with. I mean, what kind of job is that? And what kind of way to express your sexuality?
During this time, my sense of myself as a top continued to evolve. I started seeing a man to whom I bottom most of the time, and the things he did turned me on so much that I would take them and use them on my clients – and on other lovers. He helped me learn to use my voice and my words, to use fear and intimidation, to use pressure points and simple force to make my point. I loved it. And sometimes, he even lets me do it to him.
But it wasn’t what most clients wanted. And for the most part, they weren’t the people I wanted to do it with anyway.
At the same time, in a lot of ways, I’m really quite traditional when it comes to what I like as a top. I love a boy at my feet, his head in my lap as I stroke his hair – or pull it until he whimpers. I love using my strap-on on a man who loves it. I like to flog and whip and clamp and tease and electrify and collar and bind. And it’s hard to explain how I like these things, and how the way I like them is so different to how they look in most porn, or in most of the scenes that clients expect.
Am I different kind of dominant? Maybe. I don’t think of myself as particularly extreme, or into things that are particularly odd. I even enjoy the fetish wear from time to time – though I hate its being compulsory.
But it was indeed Bitchy Jones that got me thinking about what was so dissatisfying to me about the pro domme world, and my place in it. It was different when I started, and the sexuality I was commodifying wasn’t quite my own. But as I started developing my top side, it made it harder and harder to keep enacting this fake, watered down, strangely dull version of it. I no longer wanted to perform this weird opera of mainstream female dominance: I wanted to find and explore my own.
So hopefully my voice here will be instructive in some way to those who are looking to find their sexual authenticity. Naifs, waifs, and late bloomers more than welcome.