The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

My Saturday Night

I’ve been thinking a lot about Constance’s post, and how it actually relates directly to my last Saturday night. And I’ve mulled whether or not I should talk about this, because it’s personal. Repeatedly, though, I’ve found that I’ve managed to get through to people from different backgrounds and mindsets by relating personal experience. It bridges the gap in a way detached theory can’t. I’m going to take the risk. You don’t have to take it with me.

See, I want to go further than Constance.

But when we default to yelling “sexism!” at images of women in submissive sexual positions, I would argue that we are actually being oppressive ourselves.

I agree with this, completely. But I’ll go further. It’s not just oppressive, and erasive, it’s dangerous. Reading BDSM as abuse is dangerous. And to explain why I think that, I’m going to tell you something about my experience of being a female sub in public. And to do that, I’m going to have to reveal what might be the worst-kept secret on the internet.

For the last while, I have been in a Male/female (M/f) Dominant/submissive (D/s) relationship. The scope might be referred to as “in the bedroom”, but that would be misleading. It extends beyond the infliction of pain and the use of restraint in conventionally “sexual” situations, and into psychological submission. When we are together, I am always his sub, and he is always my Dom.

In this relationship, it’s actually never occurred to me to wonder if I am respected or valued or seen as an equal. I know I am. In the past I’ve been sexually and physically abused, and I’ve been in relationships that were psychologically abusive. I know when I’m being abused, and when I’m not. Anyone who wants to suggest I don’t, go right ahead. I have no problem with other people coming across as patronising ignorant fuckwits.

What fascinates me is how other people react to me when they realise I’m a sub. Oddly, there’s significant cross-over with how people react to my bisexuality.

I’m talking about fairly liberal, open-minded, licentious people who are (for the most part) not kinky. People who have spoken to me for the couple of minutes it takes to realise that I know my own mind and speak it. (I don’t really understand why so many vanilla people think subs are weak, and are surprised when they turn out to be strong. You don’t think this takes strength?) On Saturday night, I openly subbed for my Dom at a party. I wore my collar. There was enough “behaviour” for people to realise what I was. Overall, this was an enormous amount of fun for everyone, and something I was massively glad to be allowed to do. And I know some people would be disturbed by the sight of a woman being undressed by a circle of her lover’s friends, but that unease fails to take into account how I felt about it, which should be the most important thing.

There were a couple of times during the night, though, when the reactions were interesting.

Sometimes, just like when I tell people I’m bi, there’s the Jaded Disbelief. My sexuality isn’t real, it’s a put-on, a desperate attention-getting device. (My Dom gets this too, the whole “Oh yeah right” thing.) I’m acting, and if pushed far enough, I will crack, and react like a Normal Person. And that? The urge to make me Prove It? Is dangerous. If people in general both knew and accepted more about BDSM, for a start I wouldn’t have this pain where someone hit me in the small of the back. You know, over my kidney, right next to my spine. Something my Dom would never, ever do because it’s stupid and dangerous. A good Dom knows how to inflict pain without causing damage. He has no desire to cause serious injury, because BDSM is not abuse.

And then, just like when I tell people I’m bi, there’s the Salacious Fetishisation. This guy (it’s almost always a guy) simply can’t believe his eyes. He’s come into this believing it’s not real, and when it turns out to be genuine? He thinks it’s Christmas. The woman is doing what she’s told. She’s enjoying being beaten. He can, therefore, do anything he wants to her. Because he can’t tell BDSM from abuse. And he’s dangerous. If you read BDSM as abuse, you can’t read a boundary between the two, so you’re going to cross it.

Those are the more obvious and serious dangers. But let’s not forget about the quiet sneering, the concern-trolling, the fake pity. The theoretical discussions that erase my experience to my face. The things that ensure I won’t be coming to them for help.

I’m proud of my Dom, who kept me safe in difficult circumstances, who read little shifts in facial expression or small touches to realise when I was uncomfortable and needed rescuing. The nature of our relationship means he shows more active care for me than a vanilla lover would have to, not less.

I’m proud of what I am. It brings me peace and surety: the opposite of the effect of abuse. The nature of our relationship means I need to be stronger than a conventional lover, not weaker.

There are photos of me that perhaps resemble some of those White Ribbon ones. The idea of anyone seeing those as sexist, as abusive, makes me feel sick.

Someone else’s inability to tell the difference between a M/f D/s relationship and a sexist abusive one should be their problem, not mine. Yet that’s not how it works in practise. My life would be easier if more people were at least aware of the possibility that what they’re seeing might be consensual. In the meantime, if you’re really worried, can I suggest quietly coming to me and saying, “Are you all right?” In BDSM circles, we call this a check-in. We do it all the time. And when I say yes? Believe me.

8 responses to “My Saturday Night

  1. Moz May 30, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    In the meantime, if you’re really worried, can I suggest quietly coming to me and saying, “Are you all right?” In BDSM circles, we call this a check-in. We do it all the time. And when I say yes? Believe me.


    Look, I know that it might in theory get annoying if you’re the 25th person to interrupt someone’s scene and say “are you ok?”, but in reality? That doesn’t happen. Two reasons: firstly, most people will either watch or leave the room if someone is being raped there (this is where you get to be The One Who Said Something). And secondly, if it is consensual and someone ask that’s great, but after the second or third person asks almost all kinky folk will get that message and either modify their behaviour or leave. Just like real people, most kinky folk recognise social cues and respond appropriately (and JLRP, there are some crotchwads… you know what to do).

    • Emma May 30, 2012 at 2:31 pm

      Heh, I went through pretty much that exact mental process when I wrote that. Yes, it’d be annoying if it kept happening over and over, but simple human nature means that it just won’t. Our natural inclination is to not interfere.

  2. Anke Richter May 31, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Emma, you are very brave, as a lover as much as a writer. I take my hat off to that.

  3. gaayathri June 1, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Thank you so much for this post. You are brave and kind to share this with us.

  4. rachfr June 1, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Hi – thanks for the post. Although I am one of the vanilla people out there, I totally appreciate that human sexuality covers the spectrum of likes and dislikes, etc. The part that worries me is the last part – if I am concerned, I can check in with you, and if you say you’re fine – believe it. At this point, how do I distinguish between someone who is fine ( like you) and someone who is scared to say “I’m not fine” because of potential consequences? If I met you at a party and saw this happening to you, I would be ok – I have read enough of your writing, through lurking on Public Address for 10 years to know you are a woman with your own mind. But what if I had no prior knowledge of you? I am someone who would worry about leaving a woman in a potentially harmful situation because I was unsure. My formative years spent growing up in South Auckland meant I saw enough domestic abuse to know that a man could quell a woman’s response by a look that said – “wait till I get you home”. This is a serious question – how can I tell?

    • Emma June 1, 2012 at 7:15 pm

      Rachfr: if you’ve read that much of my writing you know I have enough first and second-hand experience of domestic violence for this not to be something I take lightly.

      How can you tell? Using the same tools you use to gauge any other situation? Tone of voice, eye contact or lack of it, body language? If I am distressed (struggling to assimilate something, in need of some breathing space) I will cling to my Dom rather than shy from him. Fact is, we hardly ever know anything for sure about other people. We make judgement calls. What I want is for people’s calculus on that call to at least include the possibility that what they’re seeing is consensual.

      • Kitty Stryker July 15, 2012 at 12:10 pm

        Hm. Yeah, it’s important to understand that BDSM and abuse are different things, but I think it’s equally important to include the possibility, esp in BDSM spaces, that what they’re seeing isn’t consensual either. In both cases, people don’t ask or check in, because they can’t tell, they don’t want to get involved.

        Typically, yeah, in a BDSM space you can check in with the DM if you don’t want to interrupt. In a kinky space, I might try that first and see what was said about the scene I’m worried about. But DMs aren’t infallible- and some of them are abusive themselves.

        And then never mind possibly kinky scenes happening in public. I’m happy to embrace the possibility that watching a guy punch his girlfriend might be consensual, but only after I’ve said/done something. I could never forgive myself if I walked away from that saying to myself “well, it *could* be a scene”.

        We live in a rape culture. That infiltrates the kink scene as it does everywhere else. It’s unfortunate, cause I’d love to be able to look at BDSM, abuse, and consent in very black and white ways- this is definitely consensual, this is not- but the world isn’t like that. I’d rather be pegged as a meddler than as apathetic.

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