Nonconsensual submission

When I think about D/s things that creep me out, it’s easy to conjure up scenarios of nonconsensual (and “consensual”) domination — and so it occurred to me to wonder, is the reverse, nonconsensual submission, something conceivable?  Isn’t that… kind of impossible?  Is that a thing?  Does that happen?

And then I realized that it’s kind of, sort of… already happened to me.

[cn: racial things, not racism exactly but pointed allusions to it, sorry I don’t know how to put a better warning on this…]

When I was in high school, I shared a science class with this guy.  We’ll call him Kyle.

I didn’t know Kyle much better than anyone else in that class (it was a class I didn’t have any real friends in), but he was one of the people I sometimes shared conversations with.  I viewed us as being on relatively good terms.

As you’re probably aware, I’m White.  Kyle… well, to me he read as multiracial, and he never had any reason to tell me exactly how he identified, but the two things I can tell you for sure are that he was darker than me and that he had short tightly curled hair, the kind that looks very Black.  This is important context.

So one day we were put in the same group for some classwork.  Mundane, ordinary stuff.

This time, though, for whatever reason, he started acting… strangely.

I don’t know what exactly I’d done to provoke this.  Probably something.  I’ll never know, really.  My best guess is that it was related to the fact that, during in-class labs in this class, I tended to be one of the few people who had any idea of what was going on (or the highest willingness to get the assignment over with and follow the instructions, I guess), so in whatever group I was put in, I had a tendency to take the lead and start doling out instructions just because nobody else was stepping up to the plate.  Maybe he was trying to poke fun at me for being bossy.  He was the kind of guy to tease and poke fun at the other people he got along with in class.  Maybe this was part of that.  Or maybe it was something else.  I really don’t know.

But somewhere along the line, he had stopped standing at his full height (he was at least six foot & towered over short young me).  When I delegated instructions (i.e. told the other group members what to do), he didn’t just carry them out.  He made a point of saying, “Yes, master” excessively — only he pronounced the word with an exaggerated Southern accent.

Yes, massah.”

And he said this, hunched and bowing and acting servile, at every opportunity.

So, as you can imagine, I was mortified.  And I had no idea how to handle it.

I know I tried scaling back how much instructions I gave him, trying to be less authoritative, trying to phrase things more as observations and suggestions and avoid letting anything sound like an order, trying to abdicate the role he was mockingly placing me in.

It didn’t dissuade him any.  He kept at it.

Like I said, I don’t know why he was doing this.  Just because he thought it’d be funny?  It probably was, for people who weren’t me.  It’s probably hilarious.  I just can’t really share in the humor myself without ruining what makes it funny.  Anyway, at some point I figured there was nothing I could really do about it and might as well let him have his fun, even though I was still cringing and trying to back off as much as I knew how, trying to avoid or undermine his submission.

So because of that, I can kind of conceive of “submitting” to someone against their will.  But in most contexts, I don’t know how much that’s feasible.  In most contexts, when there’s no particular history to invoke, I don’t know if you could match the same salience.  I feel like this is a peculiar fluke of an example, dependent on the both of our personalities, and not something that could be generally replicated.  But even if it weren’t, it definitely doesn’t seem as though it poses anywhere the same kind of threat as nonconsensual domination.

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11 responses to “Nonconsensual submission

  • Libris

    I think nonconsensual submission is also a thing that can happen otherwise, though I obviously can’t compare prevalence/threat/whatever. (And yeah, your anecdote has a particular kind of invocation of history that isn’t so much possible otherwise.)

    The most obvious example is probably the same way that nonconsensual domination can happen: by someone acting deliberately super ”’submissive”’ in order to try and provoke the other person into acting ”’dominant”’, whether by just straight-up acting like that off the bat or by expanding submission in agreed-upon places into submission in places where the other person is like ‘no, no, no power dynamics here’. I think that’s a different /kind/ of creepy from nonconsensual domination, but I do think it’s mildly skeevy, because any transgression of boundaries that way is skeevy, and trying to give people responsibility and vulnerability that they are not asking for and don’t want is kinda fucked up (and often kinda manipulative).

    The more innocuous way is when brainweirds collide with expectations. Like, sometimes I get super decision fatigued, and I get to the stage of ‘look, [person I’m with], can you please just make this decision so we can go HOME’. And for some people, that’s okay, because brainweirds gonna brainweird, and you roll with them when you can; and for some people, it strikes them as kinda skeevy and weirdly submissive. And that’s the sort of case where, even if I’m not trying to be submissive (and am in fact freaked out by the fact that people might interpret me as such), it’s still important to respect other people’s boundaries and not perform behaviours around them that come off as skeevy.

    I’m not meaning to be rude by not responding to your anecdote much – and apologies if this wasn’t the sort of comment you were looking for – I am just. Somewhat bereft of response.

  • chrisbartlett

    His behavior could have been more of a response to having a woman boss him around rather than having a white person do so. Maybe he even enjoyed having a woman tell him what to do and was acting out as a way to deal with his own uncomfortable feelings. No matter what his issue was, his behavior is 100% about him and not about you.

    • Coyote

      Uh. I don’t know where people get their gender assumptions about me when they only know me through this blog.

      Anyway, no, I don’t think that applies here.

      • Klaaraa

        I seem to remember you mentioned on one or two occasions that this bad relationship of yours was influenced by how The Ex-Friend was a man who perceived you as a woman, or a non-man, or whom you assumed to have male privilege over you. Sometimes People make deductions like that.
        Anyways, I would also think gender Dynamics didn’t apply in this case, mostly because Master / Massah is a very masculine term…

  • Sennkestra

    Fwiw, the bdsm community actually does have recurring problems with nonconsensual submission – most commonly submissive men who creep on women trying to offer submission when it’s not welcome or wanted. (It’s not necessarily submission as in giving up power, since it’s just a different sort of power play, especially when it comes with gendered power imbalances, but it’s definitely submission from a role-playing perspective of bdsm. It also comes with all the “well, it’s not REAL submission” disclaimers when it’s brought up.

  • Calum P Cameron

    I’ll admit, my first thought at the notion of “nonconsensual submission” is that bit in (I think) the second act of Ibsen’s ‘Peer Gynt’ where Peer yells at his sort-of-girlfriend and dumps her because she’s incapable of (or possibly refusing to) challenging him on anything or having a discernible will of her own when he’s around to take charge for her, and he insists he never asked for that. But the play doesn’t seem to portray it as morally problematic on her part so much as kind of sad and pathetic, with the emphasis on the tragedy of her being infatuated with an asshole like Peer to the point where she’ll do anything to please him and then that itself being the thing that makes him dump her. (Also the scene is largely played for laughs given it leads up to a fairly obvious – if slightly dark – punchline: “Are you even CAPABLE of saying no to me?” “…no?” “ARGH!”)

    That said, I have been in situations where I’ve made it clear that I’m just not currently feeling up to taking charge of a situation but then had to take charge of it anyway. In my case, it’s never really anyone’s fault (even at my worst, I have an irritating habit of often being the most psychologically robust member of a present group of friends at any given point, so when NO-ONE feels up to taking charge I’m often the best bet by default), but I can imagine a situation like that where one of the other people present COULD more healthily take charge instead, but nonetheless insists that the incapable-feeling one still take charge, in order to gain some sort of weird skeevy thrill from continuing to be submissive no matter what, possibly? I dunno if that really happens, but I can imagine it.

    Probably still the lesser of two evils compared to conconsensual domination, though.

  • Mel

    This is an interesting idea. It’s made me reexamine a few past interactions I’ve had. I’m non-binary but I am perceived as female by basically everyone so..if that’s relevant. And I’m not personally involved with the kink community, so this isn’t coming from that perspective.

    But yeah I’ve definitely had guys take a very submissive stance in flirting with me. A more subtle “you are goddess and I would worship at your feet” idea. Nothing so extreme that would consider it d/s but I can say it makes me very very uncomfortable. (there are of course lots of issues of with that attitude relating more strictly to sexism but I still think it’s relevant here). I’m not sure how much of this is subtle manipulation, sexism, or just their own unexamined submissive streak that they are trying to get a girl to fulfill. With or with out her/their consent.

    Personal story time! Sorry you can skip this. Nothing explicit just dude being creepy/ignoring boundaries. Also I’m aro and gray-a but I didn’t know that/identify as such when this happened.

    One such instance involved a guy quite a bit older then me, I had just turned 21 and he was mid-late thirties. He well… manipulated sounds too strong, he steered the situation so that we were alone. Away from my larger friend group. (side note on how much I hate vague hook up culture language. I told him, while smiling/trying to keep the mood light so as not to ruin our “budding friendship”(as I saw it), in no uncertain terms that I had no interest in having sexual/romantic activity with him. He laughed and agreed saying he expected nothing. Later my friend told me he probably took this as a flirty conversation, my retelling sounded flirty to her. What? Seriously what? Apparently saying “Just to be clear, I don’t want to have sex with you” in anything but the most *serious* and angry way is flirting. Don’t worry I’ve learned that lesson.)

    Anyway so we were alone. He gets me a chair but he sits down on the ground. Very close, looking up at me. I think he might have even said something along the lines of him being below me/something with submissive undertones. I was already uncomfortable and now I was super uncomfortable. I can have pretty bad anxiety. I suggest he sits in a chair, or we can both sit on the ground. He seems to find this amusing and basically says (paraphrasing) “You are just so sweet and nice you are uncomfortable having power over people.” and I replied along the lines of “Nope, I am totally comfortable being in power in the right situation. But I am uncomfortable with an innate or enforced power imbalance. I would be equally(probably more honestly) uncomfortable if you wanted the reverse. This is silly why won’t you just sit in a chair?” He found this *adorable* and said I was making excuses. Ug. Anyway I couldn’t quite explain, now or then, why this made me so uncomfortable. Him sitting on the ground I mean, obviously he was making me uncomfortable in other ways. It didn’t make me feel *unsafe* just really anxious.

    One of the frustrating things looking back was his insistence that I was uncomfortable “having power” or “being in charge” and that this was something I should overcome. But nothing about that situation made me feel powerful or in charge. I felt vulnerable and mislead. So idk. Take that as you will. Also everything ended fine, we eventually went back to the party and I never talked to him again.

    personal story over!

    So yeah, I don’t have any innate issue with the d/s community. Or people that find it helpful/good for them. So I hope they don’t take this as a judgement. But personally, in normal life, I find power dynamics very uncomfortable. And tend to react badly when I feel they are being forced upon me, or that I am being viewed threw that lens. I tend to avoid people who view their relationships(in day to day life) in that way. I tend to think of that as people making a point of being *dominate* towards me, not the other way around. So thank you for this article. Idk if this is even really what you were thinking of but it’s what came to my mind. Sorry for the ridiculously long comment. I actually cut a lot out I swear *hits head on desk*.

    Wait, also last thoughts. Sorry! I remember reading on one of your article’s(don’t remember which sorry) comments where you basically said “but doms can safeword too” and the other person replied “oh right I forgot, yeah sometimes doms safeword because they are worried about the sub.”(paraphrased from memory) And…idk that rang really false to me. This idea that doms don’t(or can’t) safeword because *they* are uncomfortable (or I wonder if they do but they justify it,even to themselves, about the subs safety not theirs). I mean maybe I’m completely off base, and I’m not a dom obviously but…I imagine if I was a dom I’d be safewording right and left.

    • Coyote

      About that story: yikes. I would have been really creeped out by that. Sounds like he was trying to control you while twisting it.

      (Also, if that’s what your friend considers flirty… what does she *not* consider flirty?)

      “So yeah, I don’t have any innate issue with the d/s community. Or people that find it helpful/good for them. So I hope they don’t take this as a judgement. But personally, in normal life, I find power dynamics very uncomfortable.”

      Eh of one of them takes offense at you saying this, they can bite me.

      “I remember reading on one of your article’s(don’t remember which sorry) comments where you basically said ‘but doms can safeword too’ and the other person replied ‘oh right I forgot, yeah sometimes doms safeword because they are worried about the sub.'(paraphrased from memory) And…idk that rang really false to me. This idea that doms don’t(or can’t) safeword because *they* are uncomfortable (or I wonder if they do but they justify it,even to themselves, about the subs safety not theirs). I mean maybe I’m completely off base, and I’m not a dom obviously but…I imagine if I was a dom I’d be safewording right and left.”

      Hmm… this?

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