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?
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!).
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.