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.
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.
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.