I hate clichés. Especially the way they end up being true after you scoff because no one explains why.
So it took three teachers to convince me that submission is about strength. Let’s call them Gypsy, Queenie and Rex.
Gypsy did not really believe in coming when called for. Treats, yes; baths, no. I don’t think we even tried. She was the only vanilla dog I’ve ever met.
Queenie was so sweet, so eager to please. And she had jelly for brains. It took her six months to learn her name. We had to speak very gently to her because she would cringe piteously at the drop of a sock – literally.
Rex was glad and big and all that a German Shepherd should be. As boss dog, he got the blame for every unlicensed pack activity. Whenever my father found a new hole in the garden, he would shout for Rex in stentorian tones.
And Rex would obey. He didn’t come galloping joyously as usual, but he didn’t run in the opposite direction like Gypsy, or dither like poor Queenie. He ran to his punishment, head down and just a little slower than usual. He was scared. But he mastered his fear, because he wanted to obey my father.
That’s courage. It’s simply about choosing to do the right thing when part of you is screaming not to. Does that sound familiar?
It’s practically the definition of kink that some part of us is shouting, “Yes yes yes!” while another part is screaming, “No no no!” [source]
All kink takes courage to face up to. But as subs, we put ourselves on the frontline every time we play, bodies bared to someone else’s whip, our fear and humiliation offered for their amusement. This is courage that you can’t fake, raw and atavistic.
Someone said it for me more than ten years ago in a long-defunct shibari website (Powerotics.com):
The submissive has NO CONTROL over the situation, the dominant’s ideas and wishes or the course of a scene.
The submssive HAS CONTROL (and should have) over her own emotions, stamina and determination, as well as her own level of perfection.
That’s not how everyone plays. But it’s pretty close to how I try to play (emotional masochism aside), because my kicks happen to come from the spectacular unfairness of forcing myself to do the unbearable at someone else’s whim. That’s why it’s so important for me to be strong enough to quell the warzone in my head.
And that’s how I want to be outside the dungeon, too. Here is something I wrote last year while reading How to Get People to Do Stuff.
I have been a slave in all my romantic relationships. I non-consensually force all this responsibility on my partners. I don’t take day-to-day responsibility for things going right, and I don’t recognise that I have options outside the relationship. I don’t try to be happy or control my internal states.
I want to learn to be a strong and ethical slave. I cannot control what my dom (or the world) throws at me. I can, and should, control how I feel about them. I have more options than making my dom aware of the problems and asking him to fix them; I can make our lives go better all by myself. I don’t rely on my dom for forgiveness or approval, because I want to give him the freedom to worry about other things. My conscience is my guide. I take responsibility for my own happiness and success. My dom controls what happens to me, but I am in control of whether my life is good.
You may wonder why I even needed to say this to myself. But if you look at my submissive icons, you will see that passivity and vulnerability are a big part of my submissive ideal. It has taken me many years and several eye-opening examples to see that independence is also crucial to this helpmeet business.
No doubt it will take me many more years to actually get there. I can already see so many things missing from what I wrote last year. It didn’t even occur to me to aim for the strength to forgive my dom for his mistakes – or to trust my own assessment of when to get out. I guess it’s nice that I’ve gained the optimism to wish for even more strength!
Yes, it means new worlds to conquer at every turn. This is the hardest thing I will ever do, always supposing I get the chance to try. Because it’s not easy to find the right teacher. But thank you, Rex, for setting me on the path.