The Stories We Tell

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?


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.

The Objectified

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. –

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.




15 thoughts on “The Stories We Tell

  • As an “African-American” rope guy who appreciates the differences between cultures I loved the idea of “Rope Clans”. As a late thirties male growing up to the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles I very much looked forward to Starting or joining a rope clan called “The Foot Clan”. You would have to perform or endure a futomo suspension or single leg gravity boot suspension as your initiation. Oreo cookies not required but gets you style points. When I came across your friend’s post about the Klan reference I figured surely she is coming out of a bad head space and knows better than that. She toured around the world for a time and in Europe in particular she had to have noticed how proud some people were of their clans with an upper case “C”. I ignored it and kept silent and low & behold rope clans became “Rope Families” on FetLife. I was disappointed in this caving and in myself for not speaking up.

    As for all of this general talk about “privilege” it makes my blood boil. Everyone in the first world has privilege. My personal opinion is that privilege is a benign word. It doesn’t have a negative connotation unless someone uses it in the pejorative. We as people should not ask others to give up their perceived privileges, but only request that they not stand in the way of us acquiring & enjoying our own, and we will do the same for them. I’d bet everyone using the word privilege to beat someone into guilty submission would not if given the opportunity surrender their privileges to another. At least not in a permanent or meaningful way.

  • “We as people should not ask others to give up their perceived privileges, but only request that they not stand in the way of us acquiring & enjoying our own, and we will do the same for them.”

    Does this apply to all such requests that happened before the first time you bristled at the concept of privilege?

    • To be honest before a couple of months ago when I noticed privilege became a dirty word across the web I didn’t bristle at it before. I was privileged to serve my country & defend it as a United States Marine. I was privileged to volunteer at a senior citizen home. I am privileged now to share my abilities as a martial artist to improve the quality of play for my fellow kinksters. I am privileged now to have as many friends as I do.

      I am not 100% sure where you were going with your question but if it was something like “What about white privilege over slaves, or modern Afro-American culture?” my opinion remains unchanged.

  • Isn’t the whole point of privilege that it can’t be given up, or taken away? It’s not like I can change the fact that I’m white, or that I had a good education. It’s an inherent part of the culture. As John Scalzi would put it, I’m stuck on the easiest difficulty setting in the game of life; the most I can do is try to play it the most graceful way I can.

    • Of course privilege can be given up. Can you seriously expect to keep you supposed white privilege if you moved to China? I have the feeling your “privilege” wouldn’t get you very far. This negative talk about privilege is just a bunch of people projecting their feelings of inadequacy onto others. For everyone talking about white privilege, male privilege, or whatever kind of privilege I can easily speak about how their privilege skews their views, and keeps other people oppressed.

      When I read/hear “privilege” my brain translates it to “I don’t want to fight or work hard to have what other people have. If I berate them long enough their guilt will convince them to pull me up to their level so I don’t have to claw my way to the top”. I know that it is an opinion and opinions sometimes stink. But it also stinks to blindside people with baseless accusations because you feel they have an advantage over you.

      “Tell me, if I don’t say I’m the best tell me who the hell will?” – A Tribe Called Quest.

  • Call me old-fashioned, but I think asking a Top’s permission to speak to a servant is a protocol that should be upheld. I actually think, Gray, that you are kinder toward your dissenters than I would have been. Luckily I’m not a privileged middle-aged het male so I can speak from a place that apparently has soooo much more credibility.

    If a pair doesn’t subscribe to the protocol, the Top may simply answer, “Yes, and you need not request my permission in the future.” If the pair does abide by the protocol (which I do on the rare occasions I appear as an “s” in public — but strangely don’t so much when I appear as a “D,” so how’s that for confounding), then it is so much more of an intrusion to not have asked. And it’s not about forcing your own scene on someone else. Most times, it’s actually about preventing them from forcing another scene entirely onto you, and here’s where the real offensive Domism comes in.

    I can’t count how many times I have had a male Dom try to force or hopelessly coax a D/s structure onto me that I didn’t want. It happened all the time when I was out as a Domme, so you can imagine how much worse it would be for me in the role of sub. Good God, I could never even THINK about walking into a fet event as an s without a D clearly partnered with me. The D/s trappings I have worn publicly have sometimes been not kinks between me and my partner nearly as much as they were indicators of boundaries to the rest of the crowd. When I was still with Collin (who if anything was not possessive/protective ENOUGH of me as s to his D), I once begged him to gag me at a party to relieve me of the obligation of having to respond to anyone who was going to approach me with a projected fantasy that I didn’t want to deal with.

    Oh but the real irony of that anecdote is that I wasn’t even trying to avoid Doms at that party for the most part. I was trying to avoid male subs. Subbism! Yes, it exists! There are subs out there who will approach a woman in any sort of D/s trapping or lack thereof and try to make her their Mistress before they even say hello! “Well sure, your mouth is gagged, but that has nothing to do with your feet! Come on, no one else is using them!”

    This is why that protocol of respect is necessary. And to those who don’t like it, I am so sorry you may have to be momentarily inconvenienced by the uttering of the word “Yes” before your conversation continues. If you don’t want to have to abide by it, maybe you should start encouraging ALL D/s types not to foist their fantasies onto people so that one day we may not need that layer of protection. But me personally? I’ve been retired as a Domme for four years and I’ve still got assholes who’ve never met me calling me “Goddess” and talking about how they want to be used by me on my fucking facebook wall for fuck’s sake. I don’t even want my own s partners calling me Goddess! I hate the term! It’s not my kink! There ought to be a protocol for addressing Dom(me)s too in my opinion.

    And maybe I’m also one of the last of my generation to have come from Leather (or to have attempted to come from as much Leather as she could find when she entered the scene), but to me, it is about respect for the relationship. It is a courtesy. And if it’s a courtesy you don’t want extended to you then fine, don’t require it, but don’t get mad at someone for being respectful to you. Because believe me, you’ll be much more pissed off at the opposite.

  • I have a different story too…

    There was this one time I went to a party and I had someone ask if it was OK if they speak with cc (my slave/wife). In our power dynamic, there are no restrictions placed on who she can talk to or about what they can discuss.

    I replied to this person “By all means, feel free to talk to cc. She has no restrictions about who she speaks to.”

    They went off to chat with cc, and I knew this person was OK, because if they were willing to go out of their way to make sure they were not stepping on the toes of a relative stranger, then they would respect whatever boundaries she might impose during their conversations or even if they ended up playing.

    This person did not know our dynamic, nor would I expect them to. With so many dynamics and so many ways of doing things, the only way you can be sure that you are not disrespecting people is to ask one of them what the protocol in the relationship may be. The dominant is the safer person to ask because if there is a “No talk” rule then you do not violate it merely by asking.

    Have we really become so sensitive to being sensitive that we have become insensitive to people who are trying to be sensitive or am I just being oversensitive?

  • Fabulous. I heard lots of ex post facto grumbles about the clans thing but had no idea of the source.

    For me I cringe at the “ask the d-type” first thing ONLY because people being people don’t take the context into account. Someone washing your feet- well yeah pretty obvious. But in a huge amount of social contexts, it’s not nearly so clear cut and people will grab onto whatever projection they want without much sense about it.

    So I say just to act in excellent manners UNTIL you either ask for certain or are really darn sure who really has an authority dynamic with who.

    But then, the ones who act in excellent manners tend not to need to be told that sort of thing to start with- can’t win!

  • I always wonder at people who whine about me “imposing” my lifestyle on them by asking them to follow my rules. They can feel free to address me directly, and they can be the ones who feel ignored when I don’t respond and my Master steps in. To say that it makes the s-type (a new term I’ve learned recently, from you! 😉 ) seem like less of a person and gives the Dom/Master/ et al a sense of privilege makes my head say, “well, duh?” for a moment. It’s a privilege I gladly handed over when I agreed to be a slave. It’s a privilege I don’t begrudge at all. To address me first “imposes” an awkward position on me where I am either rude to a stranger or disobedient, but you don’t hear me whining about it. 😉

    Nicely done. 🙂 It’s started a think in my brain.

  • Right?? That whole “it objectifies them and makes them less than human!” thing… Isn’t that why some of us started doing this in the first place? Because we find that hot? And aren’t those who categorize that as a bad thing just judging some of us for our kink?

  • As a female Dominant who frequently assists her Mentor, I cannot begin to tell you how many times it’s been assumed that I am a Submissive.

    It seems that I’m constantly having to “prove my Domliness” to men (especially) simply because I’m polite and have manners. Even when I’m with my (semi-vanilla) Kinkster partner or even my Submissive, things like this happen. Still, in spite of the occasionally frustrating situations, it sure beats my 30 years of being closeted.

    • You have no idea how tempted I am to just say “yeah, but that’s just L.A.!” and then run away & hide. 🙂

      • @Gray : You will be back, and I am respectfully requesting that you not tease me too badly. I will have ginger in my bag! I’m threatening you with a good time…

  • I speak to the “person” first but I respect their right to tell me go talk to X before any further interaction can take place. If I know of a standing rule that the “person” I wish to communicate with has I then respect their wishes as I am the one approaching them and they have the right to set what rules go into affect that allow me to interact with them.

    As for those people who get moody about having to follow a couples or an individuals rules claiming that they are not part of the couples scene, you are correct. What you are is a “person” attempting to communicate with another “person” who has set rules into place on how they can be interacted with. As a “person” they have this right.

    I as a “person” can refuse to speak with you if you do not where purple. This has nothing to do with your right to make noise but I as a “person” do not have to respond or respect your “person” if you cannot or will not respect mine.

    Blessed be …

  • After reading all of that I have to wonder if it’s possible to be polite to someone without getting into trouble for it?

    Sometimes it seems that people’s real kink is being offended. But perhaps I’m being too cynical with that.

    Man you really seem to be at the eye of the storm an awful lot.

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