Out of everything that makes up ‘me’, sadist and dominant are nowhere near the most important. They are vital components of my experience, yes, but buried beneath those titles are feelings and fears, insecurities and shortcomings.
I am not invincible. I am not omniscient. I am not a robot with a well-oiled mechanical arm that can whip a ragged back from sunup to sundown without breaks.
I am a short man with a small voice and a bad elbow. I am terrified of playing hard enough that I cross a line and harm someone, but mortified when I know I have played too gently and so offered a suboptimal experience to my partner. I study anatomy and practice and read every how-to manual that I can, but my confidence is still an atrophied wreck.
I am most definitely not the promotional image of the male Dom, that larger-than-life figure who can lead his sub through entire universes of sensation and psychological pain, summon flawless service from his slave, and leave his bottom strung up in elegant, photogenic knots. I am not tall enough, muscular enough, or rich enough to be that man, but that’s just as well, since I don’t want to be him anyway. While I would love a self-esteem boost, I want that to come from acceptance of what I am, not from me changing myself to fit that ideal.
But that unflappable mountain of a man is the ideal, and that is a problem.
To be clear, there is nothing at all wrong with men who fit our current image of the Dom. They are as happy and healthy as all the rest of us. The problem lies in having an ideal in the first place. Noah Brand’s column on Dommes described the damage done to men and women when we force dominant women into a stereotype corner, but what about the dominant men?
We are almost never featured in BDSM writings, existing as only a dangerous shadow, an object to provide terrible pleasure to our nubile young victims. In film we are the kidnappers, the rapists, the monsters under the bed. We are not people, really. Even in mainstream discussions of BDSM we are all but ignored: Newsweek’s cover story on Fifty Shades of Grey focused only on what the book meant for submissive women, as though Doms were not their own group worthy of comment. (That article is also notable for completely ignoring submissive men — way to go, Newsweek.)
Aside from the indignity of being portrayed as evil, slavering props, cramming all of us into the role of Sadistic Superman has nasty consequences for the entire BDSM community. The usual method for learning a trade is to absorb what you can then fake it ‘til you make it. Unfortunately, faking it ‘til you make it in BDSM can land you or your partner in the hospital or in prison. With the unique pressures put on Doms to be flawless and fierce, we are both afraid to ask for help and capable of tremendous destruction when we do not.
The ideal Dom can read minds. He can push further and further, long past his sub’s stated boundaries, and bring them both out the other side transformed. He knows that even when his partner says “no” what they really want is more, more, more, more, and only he can give it to them.
There are men like that, who are so in tune with their play partners that they can renegotiate boundaries without asking, so skilled that they can strike and strike and strike until their partner is covered in blood but still do no unwanted damage. But most of us are not like that. Most of us are imperfect, fallible Doms who hesitate before moving into uncharted territory.
We as a community need to accept that Doms are human beings with the same basic needs as everyone else. When we demand perfection we get imitators, and then we turn around and demonize them for the damage they do. I know from experience just how easy it is to cross someone’s boundaries even when you are focusing on nothing else. Small wonder that Doms are called “predators” more often than any other BDSM group!
So here’s to the rest of us. Here’s to the frail, the quiet, the timid. Here’s to the ones who are weak and who know that’s okay. Here’s to being human.
And, most of all, here’s to making our subs/bottoms/masochists/slaves/etc. beg for all the wonderful things we have to offer, because we’ve got a whole lot.
Images of people courtesy of Shutterstock