There’s been a flurry of posts lately spurred by Ferns’ post here, in which she notes a trend in behavior:
“Well, if the submissive doesn’t want to do it, then a good dominant will understand and not make them.”
And what I have seen is that the ‘it’ in that statement extends to *everything*.
And her response to this attitude is:
“That’s great kids, but *how is that submission?!*“
The answer is simple and unambiguous. That behavior is not submission. The OED says that to submit is “to surrender oneself to judgment, criticism, correction, a condition, treatment, etc; to consent to undergo or abide by a condition, etc.” The behavior Ferns describes does not fit the bill. I’m not questioning that person’s right to identify as submissive, because identity is an aggregate of actions and paradigms and ideas that are not always exemplified in every act and that’s fine. If a person identifies as submissive but never submits, it might be worth asking if s/he might mean another word (fetishist, bottom, masochist) much the way you’d question someone who identifies as a vegetarian but eats meat regularly, but that’s a separate issue. My point here is that Ferns is absolutely right to look at this behavior and assert that it is not an act of submission.
Kink in Exile followed this up with her own response, centered around the (also completely correct) statement that “anything short of respecting your partner’s boundaries is coercion at best.”
Here I’m going to start making assumptions. I think Ferns was referring to something like the dictionary definition of submitting quoted above, and that her annoyance stems from the idea that if a person agrees to do something, either in a specific instance or as part of a relationship dynamic, deciding not to do that thing is not, and should not be called submission. She has pointed out before that this is how one breaks a D/s dynamic. Does a submitting partner have the right to say “no” to any and everything under the sun? You bet. But a dominant person is going to be justifiably upset if her submissive is going to continually ignore the conditions of the relationship he’s agreed to. Spouse and I don’t have a power dynamic, but if I say I’ll drive him to pick up his car from the shop and then wake up in the morning and decide I’d rather sleep an extra half hour, he’s going to be pissed the hell off. I agreed to do a thing. He made plans based on the fact that he trusts me to keep my word. Taking these agreements lightly will be damaging to any relationship . Are there extenuating circumstances? Sure. The response in those cases, in or out of a D/s context, is “This thing came up, and I feel it is legitimately more important than our agreement/it is now impossible for me to do what I said. I’m sorry.”
Kink in Exile seems to be responding to the idea of a dominant partner making or forcing a submissive to do something, which would of course be unethical. Expecting your partner to do what he says he will is healthy, even requisite for a trusting relationship. forcing or coercing him if he doesn’t follow through is violating consent and destructive to a relationship.
So my final assumption here is that the two of them aren’t quite talking about the same thing, that there may still be some disagreement but to me their ideas look quite compatible.
Then MayMay declared that “dominants are rapists.” It is flat-out appalling. I’ve read every post on their blog, I’ve agreed with much of what they say, and this post has me stepping back and questioning all of it because it so fundamentally fails to respect human agency that I see it as incommensurate with everything they purport to stand for.
I am not saying this as a sometimes-dominant person. If someone wants to say I’m a rapist for acts of dominance, you know what? Fine. It’s wrong, and it feeds the terror I have every single time I take the initiating role in a social context, sexual or not, but ultimately I don’t care. The accuser is not one of my partners, and my partners are the only people whose evaluation of my behavior with them matters. It’s wrong, but identities carry social stigma, and we learn to live with them: Bisexuals are sluts. Polyamorous folks are sluts. Kinky people are mentally ill. Dominants are rapists. After a while you start to tune it out, realize that people just don’t know what words mean and most of the time it just isn’t worth the effort of correcting them.
This one is worth correcting. Saying “dominants are rapists” denies those of us who have chosen to submit to a dominant partner the right to call it a choice. Defining dominants as rapists, without exception, means calling their partners victims, without exception. Calling someone a victim or a survivor without asking whether they consider themselves victims removes a level of self-efficacy, denies them autonomy. I really believe–or did–that Maymay’s goal was to prevent assault. I don’t see that here. I see a writing that minimizes the trauma of those of us who have been sexually assaulted, tells us that we don’t get to decide which events in our lives were rape. You may note that I refer to events, behaviors: I am not a survivor or victim of sexual assault. I am a person who has been sexually assaulted. A victim is an object (in the grammatical sense). A person is a subject. For someone who so consistently purports to support people who identify as submissive, he seems to be missing the mark in a bad way.
MayMay’s language doesn’t give people in relationships with dominants that agency. They are victims. Specifically rape victims, whether they consented or not, whether their submission is expressed sexually or not. The idea that someone who chooses to be in a relationship with a dominant loses the ability to determine whether his or her own submission is consensual or not is insulting and dehumanizing to those people. It’s telling me what I can and can’t consent to, as if I were a small child.
I see, sort of, where this is coming from. It’s still appalling. The problem is, consent (as I’ve written about before) is agreement given freely. Desire does not have any bearing on consent. It is often an associated factor but is neither necessary nor sufficient for consent. Harm does not have any bearing on consent. It is an often inversely associated outcome, and lack of consent is sufficient but not necessary for an action to cause harm. Conflating any of these things is dangerous, especially given that desire is rarely simple. It’s common to want and not want something at the same time, for a variety of reasons. Wanting an outcome of an act (making a partner happy, having clean floors, or both) is a valid reason to do an act one in no way enjoys (scrubbing floors).
The thing about submission that I find so appealing is that it’s an active process. Every time someone chooses to submit, it’s an affirmation that s/he values the relationship. Building a relationship involving acts of submission with a dominant person does not diminish that value. It certainly doesn’t make the dominant partner a rapist.
Replies on Twitter make it clear that maymay would prefer that I not engage them directly any further. I intend to respect that. Kink in Exile decided to leave the conversation in favor of privacy and tea, which sounds like the best idea ever right now. So what I’m going to do is this: if anyone chooses to comment on or ask about this issue on this blog or directly to my e-mail, I will respond. Outside of that–on Twitter, or anyone else’s blog, or what have you–I’m leaving it alone.