The BDSM blogosphere has been all aflutter lately about the devaluation of male submission. And it’s about fucking time. Because the kink scene treats male subs as if they are unwanted, uninvited guests, not recognizing the fact that they are real people with feelings of their own, that their dominant partners cherish them. Every time I see a Fetlife profile that reads “I’m not attracted to submissive men” (frequently, in my experience, on the profiles of female switches and occasionally other female dominants), my stomach clenches. They don’t seem to realize that such an attitude is linked to another problem in the scene: the tokenization of female dominants.
The public BDSM scene has a predilection towards the maledom femalesub dynamic. If you are female, you are presumed to be submissive unless stated otherwise, and if you are male, you are presumed to be dominant unless stated otherwise. (And if you are non-gender-normative, if you don’t fit in a nice little ticky-box, then the scene may accept you but not really know what to do with you.) As much as we would like to believe that the scene is a problem-free sexual utopia, it still suffers from many of the problems that mainstream society does. Straight male sexuality is prioritized, and thus straight male doms are the prevailing players in the scene. Straight male doms have no use for male subs, yet they still like female doms—they like us because we bring a certain energy to the scene and are fun to talk to and be around and because they hope that maybe we’ll co-top their girls with them and that they might be able to get into our pants.
So my sexuality is something that people in the scene can appreciate and sort of see the value in from afar. But the object of that sexuality is not accepted in the scene. While male subs are not seen as potential objects of desire, female doms are seen only as objects of desire. That’s how I feel sometimes as a femme dom in the public scene: they see me, but not my desires.
I feel like Geordi.
[Image: African-American man in a yellow Starfleet uniform, his eyes obscured by a “VISOR”, a piece of technology that allows him to see. Image source: Memory Alpha]
In Star Trek: the Next Generation, the character Geordi LaForge never got laid (this is where I out myself as a nerd, if the pseudonym and the lab coat and the giant boner for science weren’t already a dead giveaway). They had to have a character who was black and disabled, to show how progressive and inclusive they were. But they weren’t progressive enough to give him a sex life. Hollywood had this ridiculous idea about the primal, savage nature of black men, especially in relation to their sexuality. And so the closest poor Geordi ever gets to having a sexual relationship is with a holographic character, and even that is unconsummated–he gets blue-balled by his own fantasies, because oh no, if we show a black man in a sexual situation then the viewers will have to be reminded of the fact that he has a penis. We all know that there’s nothing scarier to mainstream 90′s American culture than a black man’s penis–the popularity of racist porn stemming from the eroticization of this fear belies it. (Not to mention the fact that Geordi falls right into the trope of “disabled characters don’t have a sexuality.”) Geordi and I are both welcomed in our respective communities, as long as we keep our sexual desires silent—closeted—and to ourselves.
When I meet het male doms, I always try to make it abundantly clear to them from the beginning of our association that I am not a switch, I am not interested in playing, I am not interested in co-topping girls with them, I am not interested in anything beyond friendship with them.
And often, they continue to be friendly. And I like that because I am also friendly and I like to have friends, of all orientations. And I think to myself, “you know, we’re different, we get off on different things, but maybe he can appreciate me for who I am even though I’m not submissive and he knows we can’t have that type of interaction.”
“Maybe he can still respect me and the dynamic that I enjoy.” But then I hear language that refers to male submission as if it is something disgusting or shameful.
And that’s what bothers me.
A few months ago, maymay was referred to as “such a fucking weak-ass male submissive that he makes male submission look bad” by a dominant man who is well-known in the local community.
This writing has since been deleted. But the harmful words still ring in my ears. Maymay is not making male submissives look bad. The author is the one who is making male submissives look bad, because he is using the words “male submissive” as an insult. Would he have said “a fucking weak-ass gay”? I think not, at least, not in the San Francisco scene—such words have a clear underlying implication of homophobia. But somehow, using someone’s D/s status as a slur is acceptable.
While I don’t enjoy the maledom-femsub dynamic myself, I think it is a completely valid sexuality. I would never presume to tell someone otherwise. These het-male-doms who make up the mainstream of the subculture that we inhabit? I think they like me and respect me and think I’m hot, but I don’t know if they think my sexuality is valid.
And so I feel tokenized. It’s not fair to me, because where would I, a femme dom, be without my masculine sub? We are two sides of a coin. Today I am not beating my queer drum; today I am borrowing maymay’s drum: You cannot truly respect me without respecting my submissive as well. If you value me, you must value him.
There is a lot of male submissive-shaming in the public scene. You’ll hear it all the time. “Male subs are creepy,” “male subs spoil the atmosphere, so we don’t want to encourage them.” And while I have indeed encountered many male submissives who have acted in inappropriate ways, I have one question to ask: why do you suppose that male subs like maymay who do respect boundaries don’t feel welcome in the scene? It’s not because they are making male submission look bad, it’s because you are equating male submission with badness.
And by doing this, you are hurting me.
This is the reason I go to sleep alone every night. It’s not because there’s something wrong with me as a potential romantic/sexual partner. It’s because there’s no one for me to date. Because everyone’s been telling all the male submissives that they’re unwanted for so long that they won’t come out to play. So I’m sitting here in my kinky sandbox with my toys all by myself.
If you respect me, if you respect my identity as a female dominant, then recognize that when you devalue male submission, you are devaluing the objects of my desire, and by doing so, you. are. hurting. me. too.