“You can’t judge a book by…”
“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t…”
“Good things come to those who…”
“I got ants in my pants and I need to…”
And in the BDSM community, we have similar truisms that people hear, jump on, and repeat because they seem to make sense.
Or do they?
I’m a questioner. I was the kid with 45 iterations of “Why?” whenever presented with facts. Then I would process and come back and ask the same questions with “OK, so what if…” until I hit the point where the person I was haranguing lacked the vital information, and I trotted off to the library to continue.
(Let us have a moment of respectful silence for my Mom and Dad.)
This didn’t stop when I hit the BDSM community. When I first heard things like “A submissive is not a doormat!” “Always use a safeword!” “Always have a safecall!” and “Submission is a gift” I thought “OK, those seem reasonable.”
I have since learned that a submissive certainly can be a doormat…if they choose to be. Safewords are only good if you are able to use them. A safecall (a person you check in with while you are out and about getting kinky. It is that person’s job to notify the authorities if you don’t ‘check in’ and the agreed-upon time) is a nice Idea, but not reliable for your safety. It takes time for the cops to respond to a cry for help. And if someone is truly intent on doing you harm? They’ll find a way. Regardless of your best laid plans.
And submission isn’t a gift. Yep, I know. Sacrilege. But hear me out.
Gift [gift] –noun
1.something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance; present.
2.the act of giving.
3.something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without its being earned: Those extra points he got in the game were a total gift.
4. a special ability or capacity; natural endowment; talent: the gift of saying the right thing at the right time.
That has little to do with my submission.
I absolutely expect something in return when I submit to someone. I expect to be cared for. Respected. I expect to be an integral part of a vibrant power dynamic. My “payment” is the exchange of power. I submit to you, I expect the satisfaction of that energy exchange. I expect you to do everything in your power to remain within the boundaries of what we have negotiated. I expect you to be there for me.
Like I said…I don’t mind tropes and truisms. But rather than making them a pre-fab home into which you move, make them bricks that you can use to build your own damned foundation for your own damned life. My submission, for me, is many things. But given with no expectation or need for reciprocity?
The “submission is a gift” thing is personally wonky. I get why people wish to submerge themselves in and hold fast to it. I believe it is a reaction to a presumption, within some circles, that slavery and submission is an honor that the slave must earn. This flows into the whole “begging a collar” or being “under consideration” vibe: the slave is humbly beseeching the honor of being owned by and scrubbing the floor of the master, who sits and mulls and decides if this person, this human being who has made themselves vulnerable, who had revealed themselves fully, is “worthy.”
I’ve already gone on about that before, so I won’t rehash it. But OK, on a positive note, the “submission is a gift” trope says “Hey, look, this is special, this is important. Treat it like you would something given as a present.” I feel as though it is a reactionary move towards adding value BACK to submission. And I think the fact that we need to assert this and other shit like “A submissive is not a doormat!” means that, somewhere? We might, probably, have permitted that to become true. How much responsibility are you willing to take, as a submissive, for standing up for yourself in the face of belittling, demeaning, presumptuous language, syntax and behavior? I’m always working on not accepting this type of bullshit. But sometimes I wind up not holding my boundaries as diligently as I need to. And I accept that responsibility, too.
Why the “submission is a gift” thing misfits me is layered. First? To me a gift is something you give to the receiver, with no expectation of reciprocity and no conditions, no caveats, no backsies. I give it and let it go; abdicating responsibility for what the receiver chooses to do with it. It. Is. No. Longer. Mine. Also? You can give someone a gift without asking, without negotiation. Hey, you can surprise them with that shit, even. I think it a recipe for fail if you try “OMFG LOL SURPRISE SUBMITTYNESS!!!11!” on a dominant you fancy.
Furthermore: when I subsume my will, and ultimately give myself to someone, I have a number of expectations. I fully expect that we will talk about what that exchange means, first. The person who is receiving my submission and ultimately the entirety of myself, has agreed to treat me with caring, love, affection and respect. And I have to be responsible for following up to make sure my needs are being met. This is an ongoing thing. If I were to analogize it to a gift, this would be tantamount to me giving someone an expensive sweater, checking up to see if they’re wearing it, if they are washing it by hand in Woolite™, laying it flat and air-drying it, if they store it properly in the summer. That would be fucking weird, no? I gave them the damned sweater. How they treat it? That’s none of my fucking business.
When I submit, when I am owned? Making sure that the agreements under which my submission was accepted are being maintained is my Primary Responsibility. When I give a gift it is a righteous win if the receiver acknowledges it, and offers thanks. If they don’t, I don’t snatch it back. I DO note the person’s reaction and it will inform my future gift-giving. People who don’t say “Please.” and “Thank you!” irk me, and they fall out of my life quickly. I’ve found it to be a symptom of a personality type with which I happen to not jibe. If I give a gift and it is poorly treated? I don’t demand its return. I will take note and likely refrain from gifting that individual going forward. I don’t like ill-treatment of anything. (Unless, of course, it is consensual)
If I submit, and I am neglected? If I am owned, and am poorly treated? The Prime Directive is automatically invoked and it is MY RESPONSIBILITY to rescind my submission until the situation is resolved to the satisfaction of all involved parties. If there can be no resolution, then the property must, according to the logical extraction of the PD, remove themselves from the situation.
SO that’s why the gift analogy rings weird for me. It is all about giving up, giving over. Not about the beauty in taking responsibility for ourselves. In order to walk the path that embraces power exchange as the core of your relationships, you really do actually need to have another person with whom you can do that shit. And it can feel so very, very tempting, once you do find them, to cough up everything you’ve got, some kind of emo sea cucumber, discharging all your squishy insides so that you can live out your dreams of submission.
But the real reality is? That submission is still yours.
You can say all you want about giving it up. Giving it over. But it is still your responsibility to caretake it. To nourish it. To make sure it is being respected. And it is your job, as a submissive or slave, to OWN THAT.
I know, kids, it sucks. We get fed a story about surrender that makes it look like you give it to some omnipotent dominant, some flawless master, who will treat it with respectful kid gloves and all that. But the reality is? You are dealing with a human. A human who makes mistakes. A human who underestimates what mastery entails. A human who overestimates their own capacity. A human who may love you dearly, and who will disappoint you. As will you disappoint them. That’s part of the path- and the triumph is overcoming those potholes in the road. Forging ahead.
And there is triumph in realizing that your paths are diverging, repacking your shit, and moving on with dignity and respect. The dissolution of my last relationship was rather protracted. That’s part of the problem with a long distance relationship: even the ending has to overcome physical separation. It took over six months, and I deeply needed the closure I could only get from my former dominant. Of course, I want to take responsibility for my shit, but some of my shit was OUR shit and THAT shit deserved a respectful ritual or release. And so, I finally received that moment, that ritual. And it was both more difficult and more of a relief than I‘d anticipated. So once again, my soul is a free agent. And I was very very tempted to feel totally lost, unplugged, that downed-powerline flailing and discharging sparks all over the place sensation.
Then I remembered I have a very important job to do. The best work I will ever do. Work more important than anything. And that is making sure I am cared for. Remaining open to possibility. Loving myself. Forgiving myself for my impatience, for my selfishness. For my weakness. For my humanity. Loving that I am able to see these things with less judgment today than I did yesterday.
It is a romantic thing, that sensation of belonging to another. That desire lives at the core of my submission and drives my desire to be a slave. And now I am taking the time to honor that need to own and discipline myself…because I am the best protector I’ll ever have. Taking responsibility for and ownership of my submission means it is ALWAYS protected by someone I trust. People come and go, I still stand. Because I have to. I will always be an option in the life of another person. I will always be mandatory in my own life. And I will always do my best to respect the responsibility of taking responsibility for myself.
It is easy to remain saturated with longing for the dissolution of will in the stream of another’s power. It is alluring to give in to the idea that the person to whom you submit is 100% responsible for your joy and happiness. Power is hot. But what happens when they do some human shit? What if, Lord Ganesha forbid, they remove themselves from your life, or you walk away from them? Are you left bereft, a writhing, helpless creature waiting for someone else to come along and get your shit together for you? Or do you get the fuck up and have enough respect for yourself to let yourself mourn, heal and grow?
Not too long ago I was in the midst of a very emotionally and erotically charged scene, one that included a service element, and I was blissfully lost in the contact, the heat, the gorgeous obliteration of losing myself, even if for just a few hours, in the will and desire of someone else. As the connection became more intense, and as I found my body reacting ecstatically to the energy of that power exchange, I felt myself moving into that place where I felt so in tune with my submission that any word, glance or movement from the person to whom I was submitting sent me into an eddy of gorgeous obliteration. Every breath was theirs; ever movement of my hands on their body was a prayer to the ephemeral bliss of that connection. And I had no words to communicate this, but I hoped my gaze was enough to say the things for which I had no words. As I looked up in a haze, the person to whom I was submitting to leaned down and took my face in hand, whispering “This is yours. You own this. It is always with you.”
I had always looked to my submission as something that someone had to activate, that I couldn’t love or understand in the vacuum of being alone. But this…this was mine. Seemingly from nowhere, tears ran, full and hot, down my face. The fierce, joyous tears of recognition. Recognizing that this was a new truth I needed. I felt my own higher power move aside my defenses in order to let this truth resonate in the clouds of chaos that often swirl around my processing.
I own it. This beautiful thing, this slavery, this submission… I can permit someone else to taste it. Can give myself, body mind and spirit to another. And I can also know that I bring this energy to the table. When I own my submission, when I take responsibility for living in my authentic self, I become more fully…me.
And that is a miracle. And that is a blessing. And that IS a gift.
image by Don Sir