Monday, 14 April 2008

Category Airing (Reprise)

[ Reposted from here at Trin's request and in a fit of, 'Oh, right, that so goes at SM-F, doesn't it?' ]

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.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I shift, reading communities like male_dom so i know what folks are talking about, then get angry when i read something that feeds into that idea, then want to know what everyone is talking about again. The only way i could personally make peice with being both female and submissive & masochistic was by pulling them clearly apart (even though you might never know it from how i present myself in kink spaces). When they are combined, at least in my own head, they can really feed into much of the sexism and gendered politics that make me out right uncomfortable. So, what i meant to say is you got me thinking and thanks :)

Trinity said...

"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."

I'm probably still a member of fem_dom, just because it's a nice break from "male dominant with female submissive, who see gender as part of the power exchange" which is just overwhelmingly common. But yeah, I usually feel almost as foreign there as I do anywhere else.

Trinity said...

"it's about loyalty, dedication, oathmaking and oathkeeping, being a pillar of support, service, strength, and trust."

also: YES.

Anonymous said...

To me, this post is over-thinking things a bit.

as near as I can see, "femsub, femdom, malesub, maledom, are all simply contractions of the most common four pairings of D/s orientation and gender. If I seek for "femsub", then I am seeking people who are female-gendered who also identify as being submissives. I don't see how it makes a link between the two, because there equally exist the complementary categories "malesub" and "femdom".

To me, in fact, the formation "I am a woman. I am submissive" actually removes this from a kink setting entirely. In that formation, the noun is "woman", and the adjective is "submissive". To me that makes it appear as though it applies not only in BDSM but in other situations as well. To me, this is the form that looks like gender and power are interlinked. It certainly says to me, "the important part of my (kink) identity is my gender".

However, in "female submissive", the noun is "submissive" and the adjective is "female". This formation puts the power exchange as the defining feature, and gender is used as a qualifier to tell you a bit more about the submissive. It puts the power relationship centre stage, and allows the speaker the choice whether or not to qualify it further with the gender element.

Equally, there's no reason why there shouldn't be "gqsub" for "genderqueer submissive" and similar (for example, there already are terms such as "cdsub" for crossdressing submissive"). If "submissive" is the noun, then you can choose whatever adjectives (gender or otherwise) you like to qualify it.

But if you make the noun a gendered statement (e.g. woman) then gender is centre-stage, and everything else is linked to it.

Incidentally, I think there is abig difference between "I am a woman. I am submissive", and "I am a woman. I choose to submit". The first one, it seems to me, makes submission and womanhood linked, or at least, implies a helpless and passive role for the woman. The second one is active, decisive, and seems to me to be a much closer representation of how D/s works.

Trinity said...


I sort of see your point, but I think Kiya has things in mind like the weird contractions "femsub," "subsis," "femdom," "malesub," etc. All of which make it sound like those things are all one concept.

And while "gqsub" sounds great, it's not in widespread use. In fact... you just made it up. :)

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Well, I do mean stuff like "femsub". But I also mean that I am not categorisable as a "female submissive", for much the same reason that my doctor is not a "female doctor". I don't need to mark my case, and my sex is not relevant to a discussion of power exchange.

Likewise, I'm not a "pagan submissive", a "freelancer submissive", a "five foot seven submissive", a "scoliotic submissive", or any of a number of other things, though I am a pagan, a freelancer, five foot seven, and scoliotic, and all of those things have intersections in my actual power exchange relationship.

It just so happens that those things don't show up anywhere near as often, because there isn't the axiom that those potentially-but-not-necessarily relevant categories need to be specified that there is with sex. So sex|gender is treated as a special case that somehow is assumed to have relevance even if that relevance is not in evidence.

thene said...

I think that the kink movement (like the queer movement) experiences a sort of linguistic/cultural tension between its role as an activist movement and its role as a dating agency. Adopting language that specifies gender harms the first role, but helps the second.

'to submit', verb, is the only variation I'm willing to own - I'm not a submissive or a femsub. I don't even call myself a 'switch'; I do kink sometimes, from both directions, but it is not what I am. It is what I sometimes do. Queer theorists argue that gender is also something that you do, but for some reason I'm more ready to carry a label there, even if it scratches - maybe because said label was stitched on before anyone asked if I wanted it there. :/

Anonymous said...


I see your point, but my understanding of the "marked case" argument was that "female doctor" was placed in opposition to "doctor" - meaning that "doctor", the neutral form, is assumed to be male. But "submissive" doesn't generally have an assumed gender that needs to be qualified (there are exceptions, of course). As Thene points out, the kink community serves as a place to meet potential partners as well as a place to develop activism, and in that sense, gender is important to most people seeking partners.

I think perhaps there are stereotyped views of submissives dependent upon gender, and it may be that these associations have become more heavily attached to the shorthand forms as a result?


I agree that some people choose not to identify in the noun sense. That's why I also mentioned that I find the form "I am a woman. I choose to submit" to be a more expressive and appropriate term than "I am a woman. I am submissive".

From my own perspective, I draw a clear distinction between what I am and what I do. I definitely see myself as being a dominant, but also, submitting is something I do, and for me that distinction is very important.


Yeah, I did just make it up - but every term was at some point "just made up"! Maybe we can bring a new term into use, if we try?

Trinity said...

"'to submit', verb, is the only variation I'm willing to own - I'm not a submissive or a femsub."

*nods* Yeah. I don't like "dominant" as a noun either. I sometimes use it, because it's so ubiquitous, but to me "a dominant" refers to a particular kind of dominant person and dynamic, a dynamic that's usually M/f and usually structured in a way that doesn't resonate with me.

Trinity said...

Also, SnowDrop, this may just be me... but I don't have any problem with "I am submissive." It doesn't bother me as a term of identity at all.

I *am* dominant -- my being so influences all kinds of choices I make and things I value, not just kink. It's quite tied to my spirituality and the things I feel "called" to do. For myself, for my partner, and for my community.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

My point is that sex|gender in this context is being treated as something that has to be marked, has to be specified, even if they aren't in the specific context in which they matter.

It's not as offensive as 'woman doctor', because the oppositional tension of 'women can't be doctors' isn't present; it's the same sort of thing to me, because of the need to specify it at all.

I am not seeking a partner, nor am I accepting applications for same; thus, my sex and orientation aren't germaine to discussions of my kink.

I have both been asked to recommend "other M/f blogs" and told by someone making comments about the grand nature of submission that I had no grounds to object to his overgeneralisations because I am female.

If I'm talking about submission, I'm talking about submission, not gender. And not gender-submission.

Trinity said...

Yes, THAT. (I hope it didn't sound like I missed that when trying to explain to Snowdrop; I just thought he needed more bite-sized bits to get it.)

I mean, *if it's relevant* because I'm discussing gender disparities in kink, or challenging assumptions, or something, I *might* say my relationship is F/m.

But that's misleading: I'm butch and genderqueer. I don't have a sense of myself as *not female*, but I'm definitely not saying something like "W/m" (woman/man) when I say F/m there.

So it's only helpful to the degree that I *need to point out* my sex. And the reason *that* happens is because there's a whole tangle of assumptions, from kinksters, from feminists, from everybody, about which genders and sexes do what. I wouldn't even bother saying it if there weren't this heavy presumption ALL ROUND that all BDSM is (or is aping closely) heteromalemandom/heterofemalewomansub.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

When my liege read my post the other day, he said something like, "If the virtues you listed were considered 'female', a lot of knightly orders would have had a different dress code."

Trinity said...

Five points for your liege! ;)

M said...

Thanks for this post. I feel a lot of strain since I'm a feminist, a submissive, and an evangelical Christian, so I feel like I get pulled every which way by all the communities I interact with. I find myself feeling angry/sick when I find that everyone seems to assume that all submissives are (or should be) female, and that all top females are men or want to be men. Likewise, I hate hearing stuff about how I'm betraying the sisterhood by being a sub. Last time I checked, feminism was about allowing women to live how they want, right?

thene said...

Trinity - I like the 'I *am* dominant' thing. I have an LGBT activist friend who likes to say 'I am not a homosexual - I am homosexual'.

subversive_sub said...

I think what confuses me about this whole conversation is that I never interpreted Dev's original post as saying anything about gender being relevant to one's sexual identity. The post was about recognizing her bias in making assumptions about the agency and power of women who submit to men, and that this bias stems from a feminist knee-jerk reaction to anything that *looks* like sexist, patriarchal behavior. To me, this is completely different than trying to gender a person's submission. To me, Dev's post seemed to essentially be covering the same territory as when folks here were talking about feeling uncomfortable about Nazi play or race play -- it's simply articulating a reaction to certain kinds of BDSM play that, on the surface, seems to replicate elements of our society that we rebel against.. It has nothing to do with gender essentialism, or pointedly talking about female submissives as if their gender had anything to do with how (or why) they did their kink. In fact, Dev pretty explicitly says that's NOT what she's talking about.

...for the record, I pretty much agree with everything Dw3t-Hthr has to say here. I just don't think it's all related to what Dev was originally talking about.

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