Subs Need Classes Too!

Diogenes in his barrel, watched by attentive dogs
Image: Diogenes (detail) by Jean-Léon Gérôme (CC BY‑SA 3.0)
Edit: The Little Guide to Getting Tied Up has answered practically all my prayers below. I don’t even do rope and I want to memorise it. Hallelujah!

Summer is convention season. People keep telling me they can’t meet up because they’re going to be at hotels, camps or tea parties.

So I’ve been looking through BDSM class lists to see what I’m missing. And I was really struck by the SELF 19 intensives, because wow, more than half of them were for subs.

Then I was struck all over again by the fact that most of those classes were no use to me.

Bootblack mentoring? Littles’ day camp? Household management? Servants’ body language sounds intriguing – but my aim is not to imitate a four-star waitress.

Something is not right here. I am an utterly garden-variety straight female submissive. Mostly an emotional masochist, but that just gives me a way to process a lot of kinks: pain, obedience, bondage, even some service. No classes for me means no classes for most of us down here.

Do community leaders think we have nothing to learn? Where are all the classes I want?

  1. Pain Processing for Masochists
  2. Biology for Bottoms
  3. Relearning Servility
  4. Staying Safe
  5. Where Are My Limits?
  6. Peace Conventions for the Brain
  7. When Should I Get Out?

1. Pain Processing for Masochists

Apparently there are all kinds of mental techniques for managing pain. Visualisation, breathing, dispersion, storage, and more.

I imagine that some of these techniques are more fun for a top to watch than others. And probably not all of them are equally good for [cough] enhancing our experience.

I need to know this stuff. So I read Submissive Guide on pain processing. But I also need to practise! How?

2. Biology for Bottoms

Did you take Advil, ibuprofen or aspirin before the scene? You might want to tell your top.

What’s the number one serious bondage injury? Hint: It’s not cut-off circulation or suspension failure.

And why the hell couldn’t I sleep or eat properly after that intense scene? Damn sub drop.

I won’t even get into the breath play debate. Gave up on that one after talking to two doctor friends.

What else should we know? I don’t know!

3. Relearning Servility

Modern Western culture frowns on it. So I’m sure I’m not the only one who has spent decades trying not to act too submissive.

But now I want to, and I don’t quite know how.

You would think this crushing uncertainty would facilitate less-than-dominant behaviour. But in fact blundering around and freezing up have limited novelty value. And they’re no use at all when you want to tell a dom, respectfully, that something is Very Wrong.

I want confidence in my ability to please. I want grace under fire. Bring back charm school, dammit!

Edit: And not just for service types!

4. Staying Safe

I’ve never heard a 101 instructor mention the Predator Alert Tool for FetLife, let alone how to interpret the spam in the database. And nobody tells you that victims who speak up attract yet another kind of authentic-looking spam.

What about spotting danger in the flesh? There’s an excellent essay and this great project and that great project. But I have never heard of a class.

And essays are not enough. As Mollena Williams tells us, it’s really hard to translate this kind of knowledge from words into reality. Especially when your gonads are firing. We need this class yesterday.

I guess some tops would get defensive. LET THEM BEAT CAKE.

5. Where Are My Limits?

I always cringe a little when doms joke about the sub who tells them upfront that they’re not into scat. “Nobody’s going to assume you’re into scat!” they chuckle.

But once upon a time I didn’t know that. I still don’t know what you need to know about me.

And that’s because I don’t know what you expect. We are so busy embracing diversity in our 101 classes that we don’t tell newcomers about the assumptions they will inevitably encounter. Self-deception is not the way.

Maybe negotiation classes cover this. I wouldn’t know, because I haven’t been able to get to any of them.

6. Peace Conventions for the Brain

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!” Neurologically speaking, all brains have multiple personality disorder, but the factional divide in a kinkster’s head is off the charts.

And if you don’t stabilise your internal politics somehow, it doesn’t matter how good the scene is. You’ll end up hating someone afterwards – yourself or your top – and in either case it’s not fair.

Yes, aftercare helps. And sometimes it doesn’t. It would be nice to need less of it, right?

I have never seen a class on sorting out your head. But I have learnt so much from four months of blogging that I know exposure and discussion helps. And if it worked for me, why not for others?

Edit: Lee Harrington has an advanced class on this. Why? Beginners are the ones who need it most!

7. When Should I Get Out?

A lot of the relationship advice given to slaves and 24/7 subs is, essentially, to suck it up (FetLife login required).

If it’s worth it, then I say go for it. But when do we stop sucking it up?

Raven Kaldera has told his slave to get out in the event of insanity (Dear Raven and Joshua, p. 152). Most of us want an earlier breaking point.

I know it’s going to be different for everyone. But if I’d had some help setting a minimum standard ahead of time, maybe I could have saved myself seven years of tears, rage and declining health.

david stein has written that slaves need to be ruthlessly selfish about getting slave needs met. I wish I had realised that goes for subs too, at least this one.

Why This Gap?

I know some of these classes are already being offered. Our pedagogical neglect is not total. But it’s still pretty overwhelming, especially after the 101 level but before you start going to conventions.

What are they thinking?

  1. Subs don’t need to know anything?
  2. Subs can learn from their own doms?
  3. Subs can just attend classes for doms?

I tell you three times, this is not true.

a. Yes, tops are the ones who have to know which parts of us don’t mix with violet wands. But we are the ones who have to know what nerve damage feels like.

b. I am not content to take the chance that every top knows how to explain stuff they don’t experience.

c. Frankly, I wish I could unlearn some of what I know from attending classes for doms. I’m probably harder to mindfuck now.

It’s true that ignorance is much more dangerous to your partner if you’re a top. But painful experience has taught me that my ignorance is pretty dangerous to me, too. And if I want anyone to value my consent, I have to own the responsibility for looking out for number one.

Also, um, maybe you would like to see more of us at your events? Right now Submissive Playground looks like better value for our money.

I refuse to believe that we cannot learn from those who have gone before us.


15 thoughts on “Subs Need Classes Too!”

  1. I don’t have much to add at the moment (perhaps after more coffee), but thanks for the pointer to Submissive Playground. I hadn’t encountered that, though I’ve got some familiarity with many of the presenters (seen one or two, read materials by more).

    1. Adding that I’ve been to SELF a few times, as both dom and sub in different years, and you’re quite right: The focus on relationship skills is quite nice. The late Together In Leather (convened in Charlotte for 3 years, back in the oughts) did only relationship topics, no play technique.

      1. I’m glad to be of service. :) And actually, I think subs have some technical knowledge to learn as well! But you are right that relationship skills are more important for us.

        It sounds like I really have to bite the bullet and go to one of these conventions one day? So far I’ve just been going to TES classes in New York City. But they really don’t have much to offer subs, and the quality of the classes is kind of uneven. When I know more about leather history controversies than the titleholder presenter, something is very wrong.

        Any idea how I can convince them to offer more sub classes and make it more financially worthwhile? :)

  2. When I first got into bdsm I didn’t think I needed to explain that breath play was a limit — it seemed so dangerous that I didn’t think anyone actually practiced it in the real world.

    Imagine my panic when a new partner grabbed my throat early in a scene. We did successfully work things out, but there was probably a better way to learn that lesson.

    I now keep a written list of both my hard and soft limits that I share with any potential dom.

    1. Thank you for sharing that! Shiver.

      The list thing is good. Another alternative I’ve heard for beginners is to say what you want to do (not what you don’t want to do). People do at least know what they’ve been fantasising about, whereas (as your story shows) they might have no idea that XYZ is something that might be tried on them. I admit that it takes away some of the scary fun – that’s not how I would want to play forever, but it’s a good beginning.

  3. Yes! Over the last few years I’ve seen classes aimed at bottoms/submissives become a little more common, but I’d still like to see more of them. When I see classes for submissives on a conference schedule I get all excited about them because it’s an opportunity for me to see things from a different perspective, and because they’re just more interesting to me than yet another needle play demo.

    I agree that a big part of the lack of classes for submissives is the idea that all a bottom has to do in a scene is show up, which is just dumb aside from being tremendously insulting to bottoms. I know we doms can be self-centered, but if you don’t think the bottom brings anything to the scene, why not just beat your furniture?

    1. Really? I am delighted to be of service to dominants as well. :)

      You have hit on a point which I have been puzzling over. I really like to feel that all I have to do in a scene is show up. I would absolutely love to be told, “I will not allow you to fail.” I think this is the norm among control-oriented submissives. And obviously, as you point out, this is at odds with my call for classes for bottoms.

      Before I got your comment, I was thinking that maybe a lot of our work is done before the scene – especially sorting out our heads so that we won’t blame the top for what we agree to. That’s why tops don’t just beat their cats, who (unlike furniture) can also demonstrate interesting reactions but can’t give consent.

      But looking over the list of classes I have called for, it’s simply not true that we are not working during the scene. It takes a huge amount of physical effort to endure pain, and expressing respect under [cough] adverse conditions certainly demands a lot of mental capacity. So I do want to work hard during a scene, and I want more knowhow about my work. That’s why I want classes.

      But what I don’t want is responsibility. In some ultimate sense. I kind of want to be held accountable like a student who hasn’t done the homework, I just want a hell of a lot of micromanagement and creative [ahem] motivation.

      Thanks for making me realise this!

  4. I know this is an older post, but I’m wondering two things: 1) Are you still having difficulties finding these class topics (there’s a few in that list I can definitely develop) and 2) Do you think doing group video chat presentations through Google Hangouts or a conference meeting tool might be an accessible way to bridge the gap between beginners and heading off to conferences?

    1. 1) I’ve managed to attend a class on pain processing, but that’s all. On the other hand, I’ve managed to find a lot of information about the other topics through other classes and books.

      2) That’s AWESOME that you’re willing to do outreach! Hmm. For me books were the thing that were easy to get, a familiar medium of communication, and convinced me that there was a lot more knowhow out there that would be worth paying for. For people who aren’t into reading so much … I think the traditional outreach method in that case would be YouTube? But I’m really speculating because video/chat really really doesn’t work for me.

      Your main competitor would be Submissive Playground. It seems to have a wealth of information from great people, but the setup is so very NOT neutral that I think there is room for an alternative.

      1. I’ll do some brainstorming on some of these class topics / related topics once I’m done with work today. There are definitely some things I would be more than eager to teach and have the background to do so. I would value your input (if you have the time and energy!) on some of the brainstorming.

        The more channels there are to get information out there, the more likely it is that people are going to be able to have a healthy connection with the kinks, their scenes, and their relationships. This leopard’s seen too much shit to not do what I can to help others from getting harmed.

        I was kicking around the idea of doing some Youtube videos, a podcast, maybe a monthly virtual conference kind of thing with a few discussion topics / webinars.

        Submissive Playground looks like a nice set up. Competition isn’t a bad thing, and I kinda do marketing and development for my vanilla job sooo. This may be a style of thing that happens. I just have to survive my April and early May schedule first. :)

        1. I kind of like those ideas! lunaKM at Submissive Guide hosts twice-a-month chats and I wonder if you would want to work with her? I like her website very much except that I always wish she would go into more depth. You’re good at that. :-) Of course, more options are always a good thing too.

          I’m happy to help out as I can, I just don’t have a good sense of what I can add! Practical knowledge is not my forte. That’s why I haven’t gotten more involved with Submissive Guide, that’s their whole focus.

What do you think?