This is our truth, tell us yours
In the best traditions of this blog, this is a content warning; this post is about consensual BDSM. If that’s not for you, please don’t read this post.
Jem and I often reference the decline of the printed newspaper to lost Sunday mornings when we were younger. Even though we did not know each other, each of us has clear memories of those days when we would gather up all the heavyweight Sunday papers,and our closest friends, and binge on the news and opinion of the week. Part of the joy was sharing the best stories with each other, reading out the bits that made us laugh, or think, or simply smile.
We still do it. One of the pieces that we shared and smiled over this week was Laurie Penny’s brilliant dissection of the role of Harry Potter in the lives of many on the left. Leave aside the fashionable and unhelpful references to headcanon and urtexts (and I’m not sure Penny uses the word urtext in the way I have always understood it, but then I do get my urtexts and my metatexts mixed up, and wish I knew if someone has used supratext as a description for the original myths and narratives of a system of thinking, as opposed to urtext)and what you have from Penny is a good, old fashioned analysis of what people believe in politically, derived from the written sources they rely on and cite.
In return for Jem sending me that link I sent her this one. I discovered it purely because I was exploring Twitter, enjoying images of queer men and women,and trying to learn more about the culture that I would probably exist in if I were twenty years younger.
Back before I realised she was the cleverest woman I’ve ever known, Jem and I met, and became sexual partners because of complementary sexual interests. She wished to be submissive, and I am, sexually, dominant.
I didn’t always make a good job of navigating all of our early relationship, because I failed to understand the depth and significance of language. That’s why I sent her the article by Bex cited above; it is a perfect example of the way in which sub and dom honorifics are so important, because of the supratexts they come with, the myths and narratives that shape them, and so risky.
Early on Jem and myself rejected slave as a term for her, and not because, as a descendant of a slave, I found it objectionable, although that’s a damned good reason for anyone to reject it. We rejected it because it refuses to acknowledge bodily autonomy. Jem is how she is, with me, by choice, not by force. Playing with her bodily autonomy, challenging her to acknowledge her power to choose how she is is central to what we do.
One of the curiosities of how we are with each other is the way in which honorifics and pet names prevail in our space. Until I’d read Bex’s article the notion of a ‘subby honorific’ had never entered my head, but that’s exactly what Jem and I do. If either of us uses the other’s given name it’s an acknowledgement of significance, that this is a moment when we’re stepping out of the sexual arena and into real life – for the rest of time we are the people we need us to be in the sexual space.
That’s the difference between us and Bex’s article though. I am relatively fixed in my roles in our sexual space; sadist, explorer, tutor and guardian, all my roles can be embraced by two honorifics. (You can probably guess them.) For Jem, I use the honorific that is most appropriate at the moment, that reflects how she is at that moment,selected from a lexicon that is broad and nuanced, but assessed in the way Bex describes, by how it feels at the moment the word is heard.
Sometimes, Jem is passive. Sometimes she is active. Sometimes only a thorough beating will do. Sometimes, only exhibitionism would suffice; in the years we have known each other, Jem and I have explored many sides of our sexual characters as we try to read and understand each other. In trying to explain that to others, we most often use the most neutral of honorifics; I’m Jem’s dom, or sometimes her master (in a very scholarly meaning of the word); she is my sub, or occasionally toy.
One word we eschew is role, because we both despair of the idea of roleplay. The idea of sitting down before sex and defining the narrative that explains why we are having sex is alien to us both, even though we use dress or the choice of toys to signal the possible direction of travel of our play.
We never deny the theatricality of what we do. An example? Recently, we were in a dungeon we both know well, when an aside from Jem reminded me that, opposite the bench she was bending over as I whipped her, was a full length mirror. In my head, unbidden, formed an image of how I wished her to see herself after we had finished the quota of whipstrokes that she had asked for, and sure enough, when we had finished,and I had come, we ended up on the floor in front of the mirror, her wrapped in a plush red blanket, me sitting with my arm around her shoulder, her head on my chest. It was a pose entirely about how she should see herself, and it worked.
What’s the name for my role, there? Ringmaster? Director? Or just a dominant who wants the person he cares about to have an image in her head of his smile, his embrace, his pleasure in finishing a session of pain and assertion with complete fulfillment.
I don’t ever want to have a descriptive name for Jem’s role that defines it or encapsulates it. I’ll go further. If we did have one, I would be tempted to break it. As Jem described in an earlier blog, I take great pleasure in challenging her passive view of her role by engaging in sex where she rides me and loses control, as if our sex is purely about her pleasure. (It is of course, but it’s also shaped in my pleasure at being able to put her in a place where she breaks her own submissiveness because she is so aroused). So even though I love the idea of Bex discovering a subby honorific that fits who she is, and would commend her article to anyone trying to understand the kind of queer sex that I think of as being ‘post-BDSM’ (in the sense that the old conventions of BDSM are being so subverted that it is discarded even as the same behaviours are enacted) I cannot name that role, even though I recognize much of Jem’s spirit and desire in Bex’s descriptions.