Challenge to D/s fans

For whatever reason, I haven’t found anything that would answer this question, so I figure I’ll just put it here on my blog.

First, carefully read through this list:

They are controlling.

They feel entitled.

They consider themselves superior.

They are manipulative.

They strive to have a good public image.

They say their behavior is asked for.

They have an explanation for why they’re not doing anything wrong.

They are possessive of their partners and feel a sense of ownership.

It’s probably obvious to some of you where I got this list, but we’ll get to that later.

Then, give me your answer to these questions:

Avoiding anything that fits the descriptions above, what does it mean to be a dom?  Without or aside from these elements, what would dom “headspace” look like?  What would motivate someone to call themselves a dom?  And what would “domming” consist of?

Or in other words: without these things, what else is left?

 

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41 responses to “Challenge to D/s fans

  • luvtheheaven

    Okay so I know very little about any kink stuff, mainly have just been reading your blog for the past month and getting more of an inkling of some of these discussions through you lol… but even though I can’t imagine calling myself a D/s fan, if you don’t mind my attempt to answer this question… I think being a dom would mean enjoying playing with a position of power, and it wouldn’t necessarily mean believing you deserve that position in general, just… it means perhaps even being granted special, undue power, kind of the opposite of entitlement where you believe you already deserve the power?

    Like if I take your “overlapping” model: https://theacetheist.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/mutually-exclusive-vs-mutually-inclusive-vs-overlapping/ and agree with it (which you have totally convinced me to, so yes, I do agree with it) then, being a dom sounds like it means in general, from what I’ve picked up in culture and just absorbed over the years without looking into it is enjoying being the one in control, being the one who gets to make rules, etc. Sometimes this can be a positive thing, there are all sorts of non-kink examples in life of benevolent leaders/authority figures, *some* people who don’t abuse their power but still have it and still use it. People who use their power for good, or who strive to. People who are able to teach others things – perhaps teach things that the other didn’t even realize they had to learn, like a literal teacher in an elementary school, etc. Not the worst example of a teacher, but the best example, if you know what I mean.

    And there are all sorts of these kinds of extended, broad, ways that power can be used in life. Someone organizes an event, or manages a team at work, etc. Without them this amazing thing wouldn’t have happened, they oversaw everything, they were the one responsible for deadlines not being missed, for essential items being ordered, for making sure every other person had a task assigned to them, or that they could handle it and if they couldn’t handle it or if something went wrong, everyone would turn to them to solve the problem, and it’d be their responsibility to come up with a solution, perhaps.

    Obviously in D/s subculture it usually means something much more specific, but… these are my initial thoughts on the matter.

    • Coyote

      Mmm so this made you think about hierarchy in general and draw comparisons based on that. Hm.

      “then, being a dom sounds like it means in general, from what I’ve picked up in culture and just absorbed over the years without looking into it is enjoying being the one in control, being the one who gets to make rules, etc.”

      I wonder… where does this stand in relation to “They are controlling”? I kind of thought of it as referring to taking control in general, but I suppose there are also possible interpretations of “being controlling” as a specific attitude toward rule-making & taking too much control, rather than making rules and taking control in general.

  • DG Arf

    My ideal dominant doesn’t really look like this… I think of the position as being filled by a person who is caring, nurturing, and playful, and interested in challenging their sub and helping them grow (and get pleasure) as a sub by setting boundaries and giving challenges where appropriate. Sort of like a gamemaster who sets the scene and works within the boundaries to create a fun experience for both.

    • Coyote

      “My ideal dominant doesn’t really look like this… ”

      Oh gosh I’d hope so.

      “by setting boundaries and giving challenges where appropriate.”

      Is that a description of what a dom does that makes them a dom, or is that just a nice ideal thing?

      You mean “gamemaster” to mean the same thing as a DM, like in tabletop roleplaying, right?

      • DG Arf

        Well, I can imagine a lot of peoples’ ideal dominant does look kinda like that, so… :/

        I don’t think doing that is fundamentally what makes the person a dom (I realize now that I may not have fully answered your question), but it’s a description of the style of domming that I personally like. And yeah, that’s what I meant by gamemaster. Not a perfect analogy, but I think it kinda works for what I want.

        I find it very difficult to say what makes a dom a dom because when I think of my ideal dom, I think of what they do and not really what they are (though the traits I mentioned, like being caring, are necessary to have a good experience). To me, being a dom/sub is like what role you prefer to play in a game. Some people find it interesting to be the gamemaster because they like the responsibility and being in charge and like the idea of leading a fun experience for everyone involved, while some people would hate it… Some people like coaching sports teams because they like thinking of the overall strategy while others just want to be told the plan so they can enjoy the thrill of being on the field and thinking in the moment… There may be some personal characteristics that tend to align with these roles, but I don’t think they’re the determining factor.

        • Coyote

          “To me, being a dom/sub is like what role you prefer to play in a game.”

          And I’m trying to figure out what a thorough description for what that role is. Along the lines of that coaching analogy… something about “overall strategy”?

          • DG Arf

            I don’t think it’s possible to come up with a thorough description unless you can make room for multiple different definitions. Overall strategy doesn’t totally work because both the dom and sub will ideally discuss what they want the scene to look like.

          • Coyote

            Really? Huh. Wasn’t expecting to get “doms are impossible to define” as an answer, although I guess I see where that comes from.

  • doubleinvert

    I’m a switch, so I can fulfill either the dominant or submissive role. What does it mean to me to be a dominant? First and foremost, it would be about the mutual fulfillment of my partner and myself for the scene or relationship. I think that’s what kink is, or at least should be, about: fulfillment for all parties concerned. Anyone who would engage in such activities with me would have to agree to negotiate the terms of the scene, agree to a safeword, and abide by the safeword. The dominant would only seem to be in control, as the use of the safeword commands the scene to stop. Therefore, it is the submissive who truly is in control.

    At least, that’s how I’ve experienced fulfillment in dominant-submissive situations.

    -Connie

    • Coyote

      “What does it mean to me to be a dominant? First and foremost, it would be about the mutual fulfillment of my partner and myself”

      While that’s certainly a nice goal to have, that doesn’t really distinguish between the dom and the sub (if D/s is part of the scene). What sets the dom apart?

      “Anyone who would engage in such activities with me would have to agree to negotiate the terms of the scene, agree to a safeword, and abide by the safeword.”

      Right, but “asked for” was one of the things on the list.

      “The dominant would only seem to be in control, as the use of the safeword commands the scene to stop. Therefore, it is the submissive who truly is in control.”

      There’s something that’s always confused me about this idea (well, several, but I’ll just bring up one for now) — can’t a dom safeword out too?

      • doubleinvert

        The “asked for” part is tricky, and maybe I misunderstood what you meant. I took to mean, “They were asking for it,” offered as an excuse for abuse.

        But asking/communication is a key component of any act of intimacy, from a “simple” hug to a full-on BDSM scene. Without communication of some kind, there can’t be any consent.

        And you bring up a good point about the safeword. Yes, dominants can indeed use the safeword, and I should’ve remembered that. There was a time when a safeword was used while I was the sub because the dom thought they were pushing my limits too far.

        • Coyote

          “But asking/communication is a key component of any act of intimacy,”

          Right, it’s just the question is asking about what constitutes domming, aside from that.

  • Atheshya

    Hm. To be honest, as a switch, I think a large part of the feelings experienced by a dom and a sub actually are legitimately similar? That being, that the experience is the experience of power. Just… power. Which I would probably wax spiritual if I attempted to describe, so I’m not going to try that here.

    Now obviously, it makes a lot of sense to differentiate the roles of dom and sub from there! The most obvious way to do that being basically to just go with the “which role in a game” kind of description, which I think is accurate, if (probably) not the only way to describe it, or the most full way to describe it.

    I also agree with DG Arf that definitely different people are different, and so it’s hard to make broad statements – whether that’s in answer to “what does it mean to be a dom?” or “what does it mean to be a romantic partner?” or “what does it mean to be angry?” or any sort of thing like that. Still worth trying, though.

  • epochryphal

    eyy, without reading the comments yet i feel like i have a good answer: being a conductor.

    • epochryphal

      hokay so. i like the gamemaster example a lot! being host and dungeon master (heh, polysemy), and it varies how much dm’s participate as “npcs” themselves, etc

      i’m also inclined to think of, the Leader role as an idea? it can go horribly wrong or terrifically right or rather meh or however else. if someone wants to take lead that doesn’t necessarily redflag them but maybe.

      and like. let me get cheesy real quick but dancing! in traditional waltzes, one leads and one follows. that can get shaken up, but it can be nice to have that dynamic. and then there’s a million other kinds of dancing where lead/follow may or may not apply at all (and some may try to force-apply it bc they think there should always be a lead, etc)

      i also feel like compersion is related here? in the like, you’re happy and that makes me happy, sense.

      but i think a lot of that rolequeer discourse about subs facilitating (conducting, ala music, if you will) scenes/experiences for other subs, is also quite applicable to doms. it just, defines “dom” as “in it for the power rush and not to make the sub happy” which becomes very circular. like if i from my personal experience decided to define sub as “doesn’t enjoy facilitating another person’s experience” that would gum the works, but that’s a big part of why i don’t id as switchy? mmhhhh paper/stone give/receive parallel shit.

    • Coyote

      A conductor. Hmm. I like it, I like it. Is that in a sense that’s different from being a “top” in general? (or do you even differentiate between the two?)

      • epochryphal

        mmmmmmnnm i do differentiate but i am hard-pressed to say how, or whether they could be considered thesaurus-synonyms with different conotations but essentially the same denotation

        thinking aloud, dom/sub feels more Theatrical to me, and Scene and some sort of Script (hahaha autistic feels), and playing roles and suspension of reality. grandiosity and a charged aura of associations and meanings

        whereas top/bottom is more like improv? more…bare-bones and close to reality and keeping tone is less important, and it just feels different. not a mere measure of degree of Serious either tho.

        but maybe that’s my weird stuff around the sacred and thematics seeping in ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        (also top/bottom more directly correlates i think to give/receive, and is more flexible around who’s directing – although “topping from the bottom” still uses “topping” as “directing” — but uh. that can be a pro or a con depending on your style? me, i do not not not want things to slip and end up with me conducting, which has happened and is Bad. role in/stability vs what do you actually want)

        • Coyote

          “but maybe that’s my weird stuff around the sacred and thematics seeping in”

          I don’t think so. I mean, I get the impression that most people use dom/sub to have an additional layer or thicker associations than top/bottom. But pretty much every explanation of that difference I’ve seen has been skeevy (or critical of assumed skeeviness).

          So you’d say “dom” is more role play-y?

          • epochryphal

            okay cool – yes, i would say that! more, yes, taking on solid and fleshy roles, playing at characters, invoking tropes and meaning. there’s room for subversion, but the setup is more established than top/bottom.

            i dunno if that HAS to be true to id as a dom (or a sub) but i think it’s a common thread, and a central one for me

            (even though i dislike what gets called “roleplay”? hm. but maybe that’s because i associate that with sexy nurses and seduction scenes and – hah, “amateur theatre” is the phrase that comes to mind. but in the literal sense, role play, yeah accurate)

          • Coyote

            Eeuughh sexy nurses and sexualized medical settings ew ew ew ew

          • Sennkestra

            For what it’s worth in terms of top/bottom vs. dom/sub – at least in my area, some people (like me) who are more into non-roleplay, non-power exchange scenes, will use top/bottom instead of dom/sub since there’s no actual dominance or submission occuring in the scene. In that case top usually refers to the more physically “active” role – so for impact play, that would be the person doing the hitting, for bondage, that would be the person tying the knots, etc; and bottom refers to the more “passive” role – receiving impact or sensation play, being tied, etc.

            On the other hand, I would define dom/sub as being less about the physical actions, more about who is “leading” the scene/roleplaying the position of greater power. (I like the dungeonmaster/gamemaster/conductor metaphors above).

            One of the nice things about differentiating the two spectrums is that now you can talk about things like scenarios with a dom taking the ‘bottom’ role and a sub taking the ‘top’ role, etc. (Like, think a scene where a dom strictly instructions a sub on how to tie them, where to hit them and how hard, etc.)

            (Of course, that distinction is far from universal, and there’s also the whole gay sex top/bottom thing, so it’s not always that helpful outside specific spaces – I don’t see this distinction as commonly in the mainstream kink community; it’s more among bdsm nerds who think about words and theory and language stuff a lot)

  • mickybnovels

    Dom is a state of mind, it’s also a hierarchy of sorts based on your socially accepted position in your relationship.

    Technically the Dom is never the one with true power the sub is.

    The sub, chooses a Dom to give the gift of being owned by, subservient to etc.

    • Coyote

      “Dom is a state of mind, it’s also a hierarchy of sorts based on your socially accepted position in your relationship.”

      Yeah and I’m asking how you would describe that position in the h– hold on a minute. What do you mean “socially accepted position”?

      “Technically the Dom is never the one with true power the sub is.”

      People certainly tell me that a lot. Anyway — by specifying “true” power, you seem to be suggesting there’s also a “false” power or false veneer of power… Is the difference between the sub and a dom that the sub has power and the dom doesn’t, or is it that the dom has fake power and the sub has actual power?

      “to give the gift of being owned by,”

      Yeah nah that (ownership) was one of the things on the list.

  • Sciatrix

    Hmmm. I think the first thing on the list–“they are controlling”–is the thing that’s giving people a lot of difficulty. (As luvtheheaven picks out upthread!) I think it comes down to… is giving/ceding control inherently abusive spectrum? Is liking control something that should stand out as a red flag?

    Me, I am a person who absolutely needs to be in control of myself. Not necessarily anyone else, but one major reason I stay away from most of the D/s writing/spaces/fics I’ve seen is that the most common perspective I see discussed and dissected is that of subs, and I can’t spend too much time in a sub headspace without my anxiety levels rocketing. The possibility that someone might take my ability to make my own choices about me in any context is upsetting enough that trying to put myself in a mental space where I might do it for fun is… very, very personally repellent. (I’m trying to make it so so clear that that’s personal, of course. It’s very akin to sex repulsion for me.)

    On the other hand, I’m totally happy to take control of other people. I’ve talked to you before about how much I like teaching and mentoring, I think? And the thing is, even though I like learning from teachers too, I love being on a panel or getting in front of a classroom and teaching students way more. I like setting structures for my students and catching their attention and leading them in the direction of a mutually beneficial outcome. (Which is defined, for me, as “I get paid, and my student learns a skill they can apply later on.”) At the same time, in those situations, my students are ceding control over what they focus on and what we talk about to me. I like being in control and setting the direction that a group of people move in enough that I naturally reach for it and have to watch myself to make sure I don’t try to grab leadership positions that I am not qualified for or which are not, actually, open for grabs.

    That’s professional in nature, of course. But there are people who are different for me in that control is scary. Being in control of yourself or of people comes with costs. It means you make decisions, which is fine… except that everyone has different levels of fear and anxiety about making the wrong decision. When you make a lot of decisions, sometimes you run into something called “decision fatigue” and later “decision avoidance” that makes the idea of making more decisions sound exhausting and upsetting. Similarly, if you don’t have a lot of trust in your competence or ability to make good decisions, decisions can be very anxiety-inducing.

    So sometimes, for some people, the idea of ceding control can be attractive. Some people prefer to not be in command; other people would rather be in leadership positions or leading; still other people could do either or genuinely don’t care. It’s about, I think, a basic relationship with control and making small decisions. But that personal feeling about control isn’t necessarily a trait that gives red flags to abusers–it’s the use of “controlling” to mean “entitled to take control whether or not the person I’m controlling is okay with that” which is I think what Bancroft is referring to in that description.

    • Coyote

      Yeah, “control” is kind of fuzzy, and I appreciate help in trying to unpack that. For what it’s worth, the list has more in-depth explanations attached to each item, but I was interested in seeing what people would come up with without that context.

      (also I am very with you there in that subby headspace can feel alarming)

      • Sciatrix

        Well, I’m cheating; I’ve read the same book and the same list, although not in a while. And so of course I know what he’s talking about there. :)

      • Sciatrix

        For me, it’s less ‘can feel’ and more ‘the most reliable anxiety trigger I’ve ever encountered.’ Like, the best way to convey the emotional strength of it for me is a horse spooking, rearing, and nearly flipping over rather than approach a scary thing. Do. Not. Want.

        But that’s all very specific to me, as you know. :)

    • luvtheheaven

      I really appreciate this comment, Sciatrix. Lots of great food for thought.

    • embodiedinlanguage

      Ohhh yes I like the point about relationships to decision-making. Like personally I have a lot of anxiety around making the right choice, so the concept of letting someone else be responsible for a while is pretty appealing. But I can see how some people would be very NOT into that. This definitely adds to my understanding of why subbing appeals to me in theory, even if I’m not to eager to navigate it in real life.

  • Sennkestra

    Also, re: defining doms, I feel like there’s two approaches that people seem to have to dom/sub labels.

    On the one hand, there’s the approach I prefer, which is closest to the professional sports analogy – you choose a sub/dom label based on the position that you usually play in the game/scene, just like a midfield or goalie. It doesn’t say that much about you otherwise, and you may take on other roles occasionally – this is just your main preference.

    On the other hand, there’s the sort of … “zodiac sign” approach, where being a dom/sub is an innate, often unchangeable personality trait that, like your star sign, impacts all aspects of your life and personality even outside d/s play. Under this model, subs/doms take on their respective roles because of innate personality differences that drive them to engage in d/s in order to balance themselves.

    I feel like the latter approach is more likely to generate the kind of comments you mention, but I might be biased just because it’s not my personal thought process.

    (And of course, like everything, there’s a lot of approaches that are somewhere in between)

    • Coyote

      Lol “zodiac sign” approach. What a name for it.

      Anyway, yeah, I see that one a lot… and it’d conflict with the role play-ish understandings of what it means to be a dom, so still waiting to hear from that crowd.

  • thefuckboymagnet

    For me a dominant is someone who has your interests at heart, would not take you beyond your limits- but help you find them, maybe help you push them or test them. They help you be the best version of yourself. A dominant sees the bigger picture and helps you find your place in it. It’s not that they’re controlling but they have control. They know the capacity of their abilities and how that might help or hinder you. Their presence commands your attention because they carry their self in a way that makes you want to learn from them and entwine yourself with them. Of course they feel sense of ownership, they’re helping you become better and your best you isn’t for just anyone.
    I’ve come across doms everywhere who have the characteristics you listed.. but does that make them a good dom? Do they have submissives or slaves or partners who stay by choice? Are they domming broken people, and by extension, taking advantage of people who think they can’t get better or don’t deserve better then an entitled asshole who feels like they can do what they want when they want and think if you couldn’t take it you wouldn’t have said ‘whatever I want’? There are so many definitions of a dom, as many people seem to have said and its true.. you can’t really make one definition of a dominant that doesn’t sound detatched and shitty. Partially because there’s more to it and also because being dominant means something different to different people and the practice of being dominant seems to change amongst people with different needs.

    • Coyote

      “For me a dominant is someone who has your interests at heart, would not take you beyond your limits- but help you find them, maybe help you push them or test them. They help you be the best version of yourself.”

      So like a life coach?

      “It’s not that they’re controlling but they have control.”

      I think I understand what you’re saying, but it would help me if you could expand on that.

      “Their presence commands your attention because they carry their self in a way that makes you want–”

      Please don’t talk about yourself in second person.

      “I’ve come across doms everywhere who have the characteristics you listed.. but does that make them a good dom?”

      Of course not.

      “you can’t really make one definition of a dominant that doesn’t sound detatched and shitty.”

      Let this go on record as a thing not said by me.

      • thefuckboymagnet

        I’m unsure as to whether your breakdown of my comment is to dismantle it or to translate it to a second meaning or something else.

        Sure, like a life coach… my dom isn’t supposed to bring me down or make me feel bad about myself – degradation is a hard limit for me. He helps me make decisions I am indecisive about, he helps me set goals for my self and my life and a plan on how to complete it and helps me follow through, we play, we banter and it works for us.

        There are similarities between perspectives of doms but depending on one’s, needs that might sound different. What I meant by you can’t really make one definition of a dominant that doesn’t sound detached and shitty- wasn’t that YOU made one or that my version of what makes a dom is it.. it’s that one person can’t make a solitary definition that covers the whole spectrum without it missing things or sounding inaccurate.

        As for second person; if you’d prefer just change the you and your to my. But not every dom commands my attention.

        Let this go on record as a thing not said by me?

        • Coyote

          “I’m unsure as to whether your breakdown of my comment is to dismantle it or to translate it to a second meaning or something else.”

          It’s just how I reply to long comments when there are several distinct parts I want to respond to.

          “Sure, like a life coach… my dom isn’t supposed to bring me down or make me feel bad about myself – degradation is a hard limit for me. He helps me make decisions I am indecisive about, he helps me set goals for my self and my life and a plan on how to complete it and helps me follow through, we play, we banter and it works for us.”

          So… are doms and life coaches the same thing to you, or would you add more to the definition?

          “As for second person; if you’d prefer just change the you and your to my. But not every dom commands my attention.”

          Then what’d you write it like that for?

          “Let this go on record as a thing not said by me?”

          Yes.

  • Hey, guess what happened. | The Ace Theist

    […] when I posted this challenge to d/s people?  Remember how people […]

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