There have been some unintended consequences of late.
For example, an offhand comment at a meet & greet led to the creation of the Rope Clans, to much furor and uproar and uncomfortable-ness (there was also a lot of joy, enthusiasm, and happiness, but those voices were drowned out by the Words of the Wronged). The Clans were destroyed quicker than you can say Royalty Rogered Rob Roy With William Wallace, but in the end the Gorean and romantic factions got their relationships, and all it cost me was the fun of being called a Stupid Insensitive Racist Middle-Aged White Guy on my friend’s fetlife writing.
I suppose it was worth it. I know I’m making fewer offhand comments now.
But it took a while to learn that lesson. I expressed an opinion on another site about what I thought was a simple matter of polite protocol: when meeting a couple wearing D/s trappings (not just in terms of clothing, but in modes of address, body language, etc) I thought it polite to inquire of the Big Letter Type before addressing the Small Letter Type. For me, it was as simple as bowing to a traditionally Japanese person, or getting up and offering your seat to a parent with a child on a bus without being asked first. It’s friendly, it’s polite. Simple, right?
OH NOE YOU DIDN’T!
Turns out, not so much. In fact, apparently by doing this I was helping to propagate the “domist” agenda (not that I realized there was such a thing, but some people are quick to point out that’s just evidence of unexamined privilege). I was ignoring the Little Letter Type, I was treating them as less than human.
If I expected someone to extend that “courtesy” to me and my bottom, I was equally at fault. I was trying to force my own scene non-consensually on other people. They have the right to address anyone they like, because we are all “people” first and our “sexual identities” or “roles” second. It was a strange contrast; I couldn’t seem to get a good definition of what “people” was, and in several posts on the general idea there was an interesting combination of “Anyone who tells you there is One True Way is full of shit!” followed by specific instructions of what we all have to do.
But this is not a post to deal with “domism.” First, because as a cisgendered white male hetdom-presenting (to the vast majority) I am disqualified from the conversation, and simply need to listen, because their experience (“they” being anyone falling outside of that particular demographic) is different than mine. And I have listened, and read, and you know what? They’ve got a point. There’s a lot of assholes out there, and there’s a lot of rudeness and presumption and “privilege” and unfairness. There’s a lot of stories about tops and doms making assumptions about bottoms, about consent, about intelligence and competence and status.
The anti-domists are right. We should do better. There is story after story about that.
The problem is, that seems to be the only story.
the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.
They make one story become the only story.
– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In fact, that became what was fascinating to me: the stories that people were telling about the actions that were being discussed. The action itself was simple enough: three people, one of whom asks another “May I speak to her/him?”
“I don’t like being ignored!” said one person (self-identified as a submissive), which was fascinating to me, in light of one of my own stories. It was an experience in a different BDSM context.
Once upon a time…I was there with my partner, who at that time was a remarkable and competent switch (ed. note: she is still all of those things, we are simply no longer partnered). There was no indication – through clothing, posture, verbiage – that we were in any kind of D/s relationship. We were at a cigar social, meeting various people, and a good friend of mine (who had not met my partner before) came up to say hi. That friend was a well-known D/s and leather educator, and I was looking forward to introducing my partner, because I like putting interesting people together to see what happens.
“Hey, Gray, good to see you! Say, I’m about to go get some water, would you like some?” The informal greeting was typical of my friend, so I just nodded, as did my partner. My friend came back with two glasses – handed me one, and started drinking from the other. Not one word – not even one glance – was directed at my partner. In fact, throughout the conversation, even after I introduced her, nothing was said to her.
That was being ignored. And yes, it sucks. My friend lost any chance of making a good first impression on my partner.
It seems clear to me that someone asking to speak with you is the opposite of being ignored. But if it feels that way, then you are telling yourself a story about yourself. My friend the s-type who made the initial comment realized, as we twalked about it, that she has an interesting dichotomy going on: she absolutely hates anyone assuming that she has less than total control over herself…and yet often displays public cues that she most emphatically doesn’t. In fact, as an introvert, she admits to reveling in the “shelter” of her D-type.
It led to some interesting self-reflection for her.
I heard another story from people. In this story, the act of asking for permission to speak to someone meant that you were establishing a social heirarchy, automatically assuming that the s-type was a lesser being. You were projecting your own value system of their worth onto them without knowing in advance what that was.
Keep in mind, the original hypothesis was not “Say, dude, can I earfuck that worthless piece of trim you got hanging on your arm?” It wasn’t “Not that he’ll be able to comprehend my polysyllabic brilliance, but do you mind if I ask that hunk of mancake what flavor of smegma he perfumes his ears with?” Both of those have pretty obvious value judgements worked into them, and they are not entirely out of the range of reality. That’s why a term like “domist” needs to be invented.
“May I speak to her/him?” Those five words carry only one actual assigned identity (that of gender). Any other value judgements you place on those words are stories that you are telling yourself. Please don’t think that I’m telling you that a story of “This person is objectifying me and assuming I am less than human” is inaccurate. I know people like that, it is entirely possible that is exactly what they mean.
But I’m troubled by the assumption that it’s the only story. I understand that we are, as Paul Bloom puts it, essentialists: we can’t handle things as they are, we need to add in a whole history and attach motives and value assumptions in order to make ourselves more comfortable in the world. The question I have to ask is: how much of that story is yours, and how much is actually coming from the other person? If you’re going to insist on telling only your own version of the story, then own it. Admit it. Revel in it! It’s a good story, after all. It’s the same story that colonizing cultures have been telling for centuries:
The Ugly Kinkster
“the Ugly American” as: Pejorative term for Americans traveling or living abroad who remain ignorant of local culture and judge everything by American standards. – Dictionary.com
There are those who tell me that by expecting this type of behavior I am nonconsensually forcing my scene onto them. “People first, sexual roles second!” is their mantra, and it has some value. I would be able to better explain what that value is if I were able to get a clear definition of what “people” exactly means. Please feel free to explain that in the comments, but make sure it’s something that can be equally embraced by everyone in the world. Because that seems to be what they are saying: there is this label, called “person”, that carries with it the same rights and characteristics for everyone, whether they like it or not.
I’m really curious as to this role of “person”, that seems so ubiquitous but which no one has yet been able to really define. If it applies to all of us, shouldn’t it be clear? I think the implication is that a “person” has the right to define themselves, that no one else can define their rights for them…but if that’s the case, then people have the right to decide, for example, that you have to ask X person before you approach them for play. There can be many reasons for this, but from what I understand about the idea of “person” that’s being thrown around, the reasons don’t matter, because it comes down to choice. I can choose for me.
There are those who choose to ignore that – it makes them uncomfortable. That’s fine! It’s just fascinating how they tend to assign value judgements to those who don’t share their view. Somehow, by not subscribing to the same definition of how a “person” acts, they are…well…less worthy of a person. “Not worth my time,” as one well-known commentator put it.
“Person”, though, isn’t really the word that is causing the problem with this particular story. It’s actually the word “scene.” For some people, the D/s relationship is “just” a scene. I’ve “played” D/s in a scene context before – I had a slave for five years who would change entirely in demeanor and behavior when, on the weekends I saw her, we took her collar out of her box and she wore it. She went from independent tough entrepreneurial don’t-take-shit-from-anyone to demure competent service-oriented sexy pleasure slave. It was fun! That was a scene that we played a lot.
On the other hand, for someone like Slave Namaste (here’s where I project, by the way, so any errors in what I say about her reactions are mine) it is not a scene – it is an essential part of her identity. To ask her, as one commenter on Franklin Veaux’s blog put it, to “come out of character” in order to reassure him that she was happy in her relationship would be something like asking a woman to take off her wedding ring and be single while she talked about her marriage. Or wanting to have a religious discussion about Christianity with a Catholic priest “…but first take off that collar, I want to talk to the real you.”
For some, it is not a scene, it is an identity. A key part of their self-identity, much like gender (which is sacrosanct in the kink community). And while you are certainly entitled to completely ignore any cultural signals there may be of the possibility of that being a protocol – you are, in that situation, choosing to impose your own belief system onto theirs. You are making a deliberate choice to ignore a cultural more that is likely to exist in favor of the one you think should exist.
That’s a valid choice! I’m not saying you can’t make it. I’m simply saying that you have one story ( “I have the right to speak to anyone I choose,”) and they may have another (“I choose to have my partner vet the people who speak to me.“) That latter story is not uncommon, after all. How many people do you have to get “permission” from before you get to talk to CEOs, celebrities, or other leaders? Is that because the person doing the vetting thinks the person you wish to contact is less of a person?
Perhaps. There are some real asshole celebrities out there. Again: I’m not saying that story is wrong. I’m saying it is not the only story.
A Leather Story
Once upon a time, at the Libertine Social Club here in Seattle my girl Naiia (yes, that is a D/s signifier) was rubbing my feet. Sitting next to me on the couch, my new friend Jack suddenly said “Say, Gray, do you mind if I ask her a question?”
At first I thought he might be joking, poking fun at me for the huge uproar I’d found myself enmeshed in when I asked this particular etiquette question. Turns out, he’d had no idea of the question. So I gave him the answer:
“Not at all… But I have to ask you something first: why did you ask me?”
“Well, she’s obviously subservient to you,” he didn’t say. “Because I feel that I need your permission before I’m allowed to speak with her,” he quickly didn’t add. “Well, after all, she’s a girl!” he didn’t exclaim.
What he did say was: “Well, I came from Leather. It’s just a measure of respect.”
“…to you, cuz yer a dude!” he didn’t clarify. Instead, both Naiia and I both heard the implied “…for your relationship.”
Now, at the same event, there was a system set up to help regulate play during the evening. Any Attendants who were flagging red on their towels were not available for play. Yellow meant you could attempt to negotiate play through the maitre d’, and green meant you could negotiate directly with the Attendant.
The system was clearly laid out and explained to all the Patrons before the event. Naiia flagged red, because for the evening she only wanted to play with me. Yet the first man she served a drink to went directly to the maitre’d and began trying to negotiate some play. You couldn’t ask for a more direct example of ignoring boundaries, and ignoring protocol, and assuming privilege.
That’s why, yes, the story of domism is necessary.
But let’s not make it the only story we allow ourselves to tell. Or hear.