As seems to be becoming a pattern, one of my esteemed colleagues has written a brilliant post about something and now I’m inspired. In this case, the topic was shyness and dominance, and how the two are by no means incompatible. About how dominant women aren’t all – or even mostly – ice queens with total confidence who know exactly what they want and how to take it.
In fact, a lot of us are really shy.
Cal asked me how I think my dominant side would have developed without having been a pro domme, and I had to admit that I didn’t know whether pro domming helped me find my true desires in that arena more or less quickly. But I do know for sure that going pro meant that I had way more opportunities than I might have had to play that role – and because of that, I gained a lot of exposure to different types of play – and thus had a chance to figure out what I did and didn’t like. More importantly, though, being a professional meant something very important for my self-image as a top: whenever I was with someone, I knew for damn sure they wanted to be there. After all, they’d paid me.
Believe it or not, especially in the beginning, the money didn’t even always convince me. Early on, I felt that people were paying too much to be with someone who didn’t really know what she was doing. As time went on, I got used to the idea that people were really paying to spend time with me, which I found almost equally strange. After all, who the hell was I? And who did I need to be to maintain this image of the person they wanted to spend all that money to be with?
All of that strangeness aside, I eventually accepted that I was worth what they were paying, and enjoyed many of my sessions where I felt my own competence, intuitive skill, and yes, allure.
But even after four years of that, my shyness and reluctance as a top in the scene, among my friends, hasn’t abated. Part of it is perhaps even because of that professional experience: after all, if they’re paying me I know for sure they want me to be there, and I know how to give them exactly what they’re looking for. But if there’s no money being exchanged. If there are emotions at stake. If a big part of what I want to do to someone is about what I want to do…well, that’s another kettle of kittens entirely, innit.
There’s still a part of me that’s afraid to let people know what I want to do to them. Still a part of me that’s terrified that they won’t like it, or don’t want it from me, or that I’ll go too far and scare them, hurt them. It’s different if someone asks me to do something to them – then I know they wanted it, don’t I. But that kind of asking is rare – and often, those who do ask aren’t necessarily people I want to play with.
This is a problem both of submissives (I’ve blogged before about “submissive sheep syndrome”), and of the particular aura I seem to give off without intending to. You see, one of the things that made me a good pro domme is that I am one of those Unintentionally Intimidating People(tm). Until someone knows me a little, I apparently come off as cold, or scary, or aloof, or all three. I’m fairly sure that most of these protective mechanisms have been built into what I project by years and years of being teased at school for everything from my height to my clothes to my general space-cadetness. An overall shyness in my personality seems to have hardened around me over the years into a shell that many seem to find it terrifying to contemplate penetrating. Add the pro-domme mystique to that (oh, she’s someone who gets paid to top people – why should she want to play with me?), and I’m kind of doomed.
As a result of this, and knowing how many available tops there are in my community, I’ve learned how to ask for what I want when it comes to getting play as a bottom. For me, offering myself in that way is easy: I understand my own desirability in that realm, and the (generally) men I approach who are interested are good at making that interest clear. (I imagine some of them are shy tops as well, only emerging in their full glory when they know they have consent.)
But when it comes to approaching people to top…not so much. In spite of all my professional experience – or perhaps because of it – I have a hell of a time believing that people want what I want to do. It was easy when it was about playing with men I probably wouldn’t play with in my normal life, doing the things they wanted to do, for pay. But it’s hard when it’s someone I’m attracted to, and have urges toward, and am afraid of freaking out.
Part of this is history, I know. I’ve had extremely mixed success with my desires to fuck men in the ass (part of the hazard of dating tops and top-leaning switches). The boys I’ve been attracted to for this activity have often seemed initially interested, then gotten freaked out for some reason. The type of youthful, boyish, slightly femmy skinny man that brings out my top side, when they are attracted to me, tend not to be kinky – and eventually are scared away by my intensity and/or too unrestrained lifestyle choices.
So yes, there’s some baggage. Add to that how few sub men there are in my scene, and the stars just don’t align that way for me nearly as often as I’d like.
What I’d really like to find is something like a male version of my girlfriend: she manages to project submissive sexuality in this incredibly inviting way that short-circuits my lesbian-sheepitude. I’m always the one who initiates, but I feel welcomed to do so – her signals aren’t ambivalent. She has somehow escaped the notion, common among women, that projecting sexual availability is shameful, and that playing hard to get is more interesting.
While I know – and fight hard for the fact – that submission is not equal to femininity, the roleplay involved can be similar: submission can often make people shy, passive, and I think submissives are more likely to sit around waiting to be asked to play. This isn’t very helpful for a shy top such as myself, who may sit around waiting for a sub to approach me first.
Back to that boy I’d like to find…a boy whose pretty, vulnerable face draws me. Who, if he has interest, shows it to me, and doesn’t withdraw it when things get intense. Someone who wants to be tied, and hurt, and fucked, who will make noise and maybe even cry for me. Who won’t feel the need to tease me about my desires out of some insecurity that he wants these things.
And that’s maybe the crux of it. Maymay and Oralndo both write eloquently about how difficult it can be to be a submissive male in our society: it’s doubtless just as hard for them to be open about their desires as it is for dominant women to talk about theirs. How much courage must it take for a man to reveal that he wants to be taken and used by a woman? How much does a woman risk who reveals how she wants to control and dominate a man?
A lot, apparently. Suddenly that shyness doesn’t seem so surprising. Nor does the way I often default to submission in my personal sexuality. It’s just easier. More expected. Safe.
I’m working on it.
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!).