So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

13 April, 2008

Category Airing

I've got a fair amount of stuff rattling around in my head in response to Dev's post about female submission, and a lot of it is horrifyingly fraught and such, so I'm going to try to get what I said in the comments there coherent and see if I can deal with the rest of it later when I'm feeling less like bleeding on the carpet about it.

I am not a female submissive.

I am a woman. I am submissive.

Spotting the difference matters.

I'm on a couple of BDSM communities on livejournal, and every so often someone will pop up with "I read on male_dom" or "femdom" or "humbled_females" or something else linking sex or gender to power exchange. And while I'm pretty easy for communities, none of these have ever even remotely tempted me, not even as a place to lurk. They don't offer me anything I value, that I can value. I just ... not only is this not my kink, it's a kink that makes me uncomfortable.

And some of that discomfort is being genderqueer enough that any sort of sex-based essentialism tends to throw me out of the conversation entirely, because I'm either miscategorised or in that neither-fish-nor-fowl place where somehow, in the discussion being had, I don't exist. And not existing is a nasty, uncomfortable place to keep winding up being, so I prefer to stick to fields where my status as an extant being doesn't throw errors everywhere.

The thing is, these things aren't descriptive to me, stuff like "M/f" or "F/m"; they don't seem to describe systems where those just happen to be the relationships those people have, but rather something where it is important that The Person Of One Sex Is Dominant, and The Person Of The Other Sex Is Submissive. It's a particular gendering fetish, and it's not one that I share; it's not one I want to be involved with, either. ("Your kink may be okay, but I'll go over there now.")

If one isn't treating the sexes of the people involved as something that matters, then there isn't a need to specify. Those facts will come up as relevant, and if they're not relevant, they won't, and there's no sense bringing them up. There's no need to make a marked case of it. Someone reading for detail can probably pick out the facts of various interactions, to some level, and make guesses about others, especially as I do not go to any particular effort to conceal stray data (partially as a political act), but unless it matters, that's just data kicking around.

And every so often I get in my tracking someone doing a websearch for 'femsub' (and that's, I believe, the first time that appears in this blog; I just googled and got this for the search result, which doesn't contain it), and I sort of wince and want to shake the boxes a little, make space in which I can be a submissive without being a "femsub". Because I'm not one, and no amount of treating someone who fits two categories, who is 'female' and 'submissive', as thereby going into a category that links the two will make me stop existing for the convenience of the categorisers.

And all this leaves me awkwardly on the edge of discussions of differences in perspective on seeing a male submissive or a female submissive. For reasons that I think have a lot in common with people who have conceptual issues with the two -- that I'm deeply uncomfortable with stuff that looks like it's framing 'power' and 'sex|gender' as being intrinsically linked in a particular way -- but from my usual Klein perspective. Because I don't approach or perceive power as gendered, I can't meaningfully take part in a conversation in which the gendering of power is present as an axiom. It erases me from the discourse.

It most particularly erases my power. When my submission is gendered, it feels to me like it turns it into something that's about-womanness, rather than about-power. And I can't understand that as anything other than a caricature, because it's so alien to me, so it feels like treating me as a cardboard cutout, making my status as a woman the first and most important thing about me in a context where I feel the most important thing is my status as a submissive.

And yes, there's a fuckton of problematic stuff out there about power, especially in this context sexualised power, and sex|gender. I don't deny that, because I'm not a damned fool. But my submission is not about womanhood, it's not about femininity, it's not about genitalia; it's about loyalty, dedication, oathmaking and oathkeeping, being a pillar of support, service, strength, and trust.

These are not incompatible with being a woman, but they are not female. Focusing on my femaleness uncenters the perception from my power.

And it's all about the power.


Trinity said...


1. Right on.
2. Please crosspost this to SM-F.

Trinity said...

"But my submission is not about womanhood, it's not about femininity, it's not about genitalia"

and YES. I had a friend who I talked to about this once, who told me that a big part of her submission was that it made her feel feminine, that she liked to "serve in a womanly way."

Now, I don't have a problem with her experiencing different parts of herself as tied together, but something about "serve in a womanly way" just really niggled at me and made me uncomfortable. I mean, as stated, it could and probably does just mean "I like service, and I like servING in ways that have femininity rituals tied to them."

But it still... eh. I dunno. I've no interest in telling her what to do or how, but personally? I'll be over there now.

Trinity said...

For what it's worth, I feel exactly the same when I see women talk about their dominance as feminine, too. Part of that may be that I'm butch... but I keep asking myself whether I see dominance and masculinity as inherently tied, or if they just go together because both make me comfortable.

Being totally honest I can't say I'm sure there's not a vague link between the two in my head (I feel more dominant when I feel more butch, for example), but at the same time I don't think I have any illusions that people who are not like me are less dominant. I don't really have any stake in the "who's more dominant" game at all anyway. And I'd probably lose at it.

Trinity said...

I guess for me, with my friend above, I'd be less bothered if she'd said "serve in a feminine way." Because that to me suggests a kind of performance overlaid over her service, a way of doing it. I don't here mean that femininity is a game, that she's not really feminine, that she's not expressing something about herself, or anything, though.

But serve in a "womanly" way hurts my mind, because how do women serve? Why do they serve similarly? Are they supposed to be serving? It just... doesn't sit right. Perhaps the only reason is semantics, though. I'm honestly not sure.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Crossposted, though I'm sure you'll have noticed that before you check comments. ;)

"Serve in a womanly way" reminds me mostly of the "Women don't do that" "Of course women do that; I'm a woman and I'm doing it" arguments. I'm axiomatically serving in a womanly way, because I'm a woman doing it, neh? But that's meaningless, so I would suspect that someone who says such a thing probably means the sort of thing by it that makes me go, "Please explain your customs in small words. I am a bewildered snake unfamiliar with your culture" again.

And the thing is, I fully expect there to be people who have some sort of gender expression linked to various of the stuff that they do -- that's one of the things that gender does, it's a You Has A Flavor thing. And that's not a simple thing to disentangle. But it doesn't make it part and parcel of the same thing, necessarily, so much as synergy.

Trinity said...

"I'm axiomatically serving in a womanly way, because I'm a woman doing it, neh?"

Yeah, that.

"And the thing is, I fully expect there to be people who have some sort of gender expression linked to various of the stuff that they do -- that's one of the things that gender does, it's a You Has A Flavor thing."

YES YES YES YES YES YES THAT. Gender stuff goes along with D/s-y energy for me... I feel more like a hotshot when I'm all butched up.

But that doesn't mean I'm dominant because I'm butch, and that's not even key to dominance anyway. That's just sexy fun. Where, well, yeah, part of D/s is sex and fun, but part of it is the way I care for my partner and the way he cares for me, and THAT has no connection with how masculine my energy is today.

Daisy said...

And not existing is a nasty, uncomfortable place to keep winding up being, so I prefer to stick to fields where my status as an extant being doesn't throw errors everywhere.

You're such a descriptive and wonderful writer.

Becstar said...

This makes a lot of sense to me. Most of the exposure I had of the BDSM community was on LiveJournal and I've browsed through communities before and it didn't sit right for me either. I don't consider myself "feminine" or think that there is any intrinsic difference between men and women.

If there hadn't been such a gender focus on the stuff I had read I wonder if I would have still been against BDSM as much as I was. Putting it in terms of people rather than male/female in my mind at least puts people on a level playing field before beginning and so the choice to become submissive in particular does not bother me so much. When it's put in gendered terms I feel like its a choice to fit a stereotype or delibrately fight against it and framing relationships against stereotypes doesn't feel right.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

A lot of online kink communities go kind of weird around the edges.

The ones that I actually read on livejournal are not that sort of thing -- I read a community for mockery of the damnfool things other kinksters do, one for kink integrated with ordinary life, and one for submissives who are tired of being condescended to.

And I agree with you entirely about the way that putting things in gendered terms leaves them feeling kind of ... poisoned. Given some of the messed up stuff in culture, I can see why some people do that sort of thing, but that certainly doesn't make it feel okay to me.

Becstar said...

Poisoned is exactly the word for it. If I do ever end up submitting to the boyfriend it makes me queasy to think that he could think of it in gendered terms because, like you say in this post, it takes away the fact that it's *me* doing it for *him* not because that's my place as a biological woman or because I would do the same for any other man who came along.

The thought that he could perceive it as that makes me twitchy. This is especially as he desires certain dominant actions which seem fairly engrained from society rather than any particular natural urge from himself - I feel like I can spot the difference between the ones he wants because he wants to be dominant and the ones he wants because that is what makes him Masculine™

Dw3t-Hthr said...

That would be a good thing to talk about with him, I think, if you were to ever be seriously considering doing d/s play with him -- work through in advance which things are enough him that you're able to be comfortable with them, and which things are too tainted with the chest-beating machismo crap to be any damn good.

Given that you've been discussing switching with him, it seems to me you have at least the beginnings of a basis to talk about gender stereotypes, power, and what you actually want without necessarily having that sort of baggage a part of it.

Becstar said...

Oh, absolutely. I've written him a letter which says not only the things which I can't see myself ever liking (mainly anything involving pain) but also my idea of what a positive D/s scene for me would be and that we need to have a huge conversation about stereotypes and the different forms of D/s before we even think about starting (which won't be for a while anyway).

I think the problem he has though is that he has been brought up in a Real Men are hetero/unemotional/dominant etc and he is starting to realise that he is not always these things and its leading to tug-of-rope between both. He actually admitted the other day to being slightly queer - I was proud! Its hard when someone has such a focus on being "properly" masculine but I think he's beginning to recognise that he can want to be dominated or dominant me in untypical ways without it somehow tainting his maleness.

But yes, there will definitely be talks about gender stereotypes and actions in the near future.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

It sounds like you're making a really good start there. Good for you, and good for him.

bybloemen said...

I'm coming late to this... just wanted to say that YES, THIS. You write with such clarity and power.

I've found it very difficult to untangle the genderings of power in kink for myself. On the one hand, I get squicked out by the usual (commercial) imagery of female submission. I also feel that my desire for power exchange is not dependent on gender or even sexuality, but more about trust and authenticity... On the other hand, I sometimes do gender my submissive acts as feminine. To paraphrase Trinity, I feel more like a hotshot when I'm all femmed up. While I completely support the choices of other submissive-identified people as to if and how they want to gender their submissive acts, I feel uneasy with these threads of what I perceive as patriarchal brainwashing in myself.