A Submissive’s Guide to Ownership
I don’t know why some people like getting tied up. Why do they like being handcuffed or ordered around or choked or put on a leash? Why do they like being shouted at, being degraded, being called names?
If you’re submissive — why do you like this?
Not “Why do you like this?” but “Why do you like this?”
I like getting tied up. I like being handcuffed and ordered around and choked and all the rest of it. Not by everyone, obviously, only by very trusted partners. Not at all times, obviously, only in certain consensual situations. But I do like it. And I’m starting to understand why.
BDSM (a triple acronym for Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and submission, and Sadomasochism) is a tricky thing to understand. Why do we like this stuff? Books and scholarly articles have been written on it. Obviously, Vice has written about it. It’s the subject of podcasts, conversations, and even, you know, that franchise.
I usually think of the mind less in terms of “psychology” and more in terms of feelings and needs. What do we feel? What do we need to feel? What about these actions is meeting our needs?
While I can’t speak so much to S&M (sadomasochism, or, that pain stuff) as I don’t dabble in it much, I do have a lot to say on D/s (Dominance and submission). I wrote an article a while back about how playing with BDSM taught me consent, authentic communication and boundaries in a visceral way that no philosophical conversation ever could. In that article, I addressed why I “as an anti-authoritarian anarchist feminist” feel comfortable being sexually submissive to cis men. Go read it, you lazy bastards, because this article isn’t about all of that.
This article about my feelings and my needs. MY needs, y’all. (Get your own.)*
And being sexually submissive meets some very deep needs for me. Not so much the need for an orgasm; I can get that in five minutes alone with my vibrator, thank you very much. But other needs, needs that can come most readily (perhaps, can only come) from interaction with another human being.
A need to feel trust, to feel belonging, to feel like an objectified body, to feel able to satisfy someone else’s needs, to feel dependent, and above all: interdependent.
Trust is a feeling, an emotional state of being. One of my favorite spiritual teachers defines trust as the belief, “I can rely on you to capitalize on my best interests.”
I do have some people I can rely on to capitalize on my best interests. Unlike… far too many people, I have genuinely incredible, emotionally supportive parents. But I also needed to grow up at some point, to not rely on mommy and daddy to meet my needs. To be able to meet them for myself, but more importantly, to find people beyond my family whom I could rely on to capitalize on my best interests. I haven’t found enough, so perhaps this is why I turn to BDSM.
To let someone dominate you requires trust, in them and in yourself. Trusting yourself to know your boundaries and communicate them. Trusting them to stop when enough is enough. To dominate someone requires trust, in them and in yourself. Trusting yourself to stop, trusting them to communicate their boundaries.
Belonging also takes some definition, and is also a feeling. To belong to something is to be in it, of it, for it, about it, and above all: a part of it. Emotional belonging is not about property, the way a chair belongs to you. It’s about love, about taking something as a part of you. Maybe a chair can belong to you in this sense if it’s, say, your favorite rocking chair from childhood, passed down from your great-great-grandmother, and you polish the wood and resew the cushion yourself, because you love it. Because it’s yours, it’s a part of you. Meeting its needs meets your needs. That belonging.
(Teal Swan also has a fantastic video on this.)
*Now you see the point of that asterisk.
Dominance and submission is all about belonging. In those moments, I belong to my Dom. I am his, and he takes care of my needs because taking care of my needs is a part of his needs.
For me, BDSM fills a void that a vanilla sexual relationship with a partner wouldn’t, maybe because I need to belong and haven’t ever sought that through more traditional means. I never worried much about conformity, but I’m starting to understand why people do. I’ve always been a bit of an iconoclast, and maybe this is why I need so strongly to be a part of someone else.
Feeling like a body is an odd one to describe. I hope I don’t offend anyone fighting against sexual objectification in saying: I like being objectified sometimes. Only if I consent to it, however. Strange men on the street treating me like an object — that is to say, just a thing, not a person with agency and subjectivity — hurts me deeply. That pain is why it makes me angry. But sometimes, I feel so much like a mind. So much like a heart. I don’t feel enough like a body, and sometimes, it’s nice to be a body. It’s nice to be flesh and muscle and breasts. It’s nice to feel objectified, but only if I want to feel objectified in that moment. When it’s nonconsensual, it feels like violence. When it is consensual, it feels like consent.
(For more on that distinction, see my aforementioned other article on BDSM.)
I crave the reciprocity — with a Dom, dominating me meets his needs as much as it meets mine. I’m able to satisfy someone else’s needs by satisfying my own. It’s just mutual aid — intimate mutual aid.
Looking deeply within, the most important need that BDSM meets for me is a need for dependence, and through that, interdependence.
No one — and I mean no one, not a soul, not you, not anyone — is wholly independent. Total independence is a fantasy. We all rely on each other for tons of aspects of our lives.
No one — and I mean no one — is wholly dependent. Total dependence is a fantasy. We all rely on ourselves for tons of aspects of our lives.
I need, I crave, more dependence, because I’m on the too-independent side of a healthy equilibrium. I crave a balanced, healthy interdependence. I crave meeting some of my own needs myself, and having some of them met by others. I crave people I can trust — can rely on to capitalize on my best interests.
For me, my life is full of too much independence. I make decisions for myself too much. I figure things out on my own too much. Sometimes because I don’t trust others to do so, but usually because I can’t. I sometimes won’t trust as easily because in the past, I couldn’t. We are all creatures of habit.
I don’t often have someone I can trust to make decisions for me, or help me figure things out. I write because it’s like having someone else to talk to who can help me figure myself out. I write because I don’t always trust other people to help me figure things out. Friends, family, even therapists — they often can’t, not as fast as I can. I’m often better at figuring things out than the people around me. It frustrates me, waiting around on them bores me, so I just do it myself. If you think I’m arrogant for saying that — maybe I am. Maybe it ain’t bragging if it’s true.
I can’t trust my government to make decisions for me. I never signed “the social contract,” and they aren’t holding up their end of the bargain. I can’t trust my landlord. I can’t trust my bosses. I can’t trust the cops.
I do not trust them. They do not have my trust. They have not earned my trust.
And I never got the chance to say No to them. If you have no opportunity to say No, your Yes cannot be consensual. I can’t just move to a different country; we don’t have open borders. I can find a different landlord, but I don’t have the money to buy property. I can’t have stable shelter and not have a landlord. I don’t have the chance to say No to someone with in a position of decision-making power over me.
I cannot rely on Donald Trump. I cannot fully rely on Gavin Newsom. I can rely on Libby Schaaf for a couple of things, but spending over 40% of my city’s budget on police does not capitalize on my best interests, and I never got the chance to vote on that budget. I cannot rely on any one person to make decisions for me at all times, because these people do not capitalize on my best interests.
I’m fine with some leaders, as long as I have the option to opt-out of their leadership when it stops meeting my needs. But I don’t have the chance. I don’t get to consent. I don’t get to say No, so I cannot really say Yes. So I do as much as I can for myself, but I’m still craving that real, trusted, consensual dependence.
This is why anarchism is personal to me, and this is why I’m an anarchist submissive.
It’s not because I want absolute independence. I know this is a fantasy. What I want isn’t to make every decision for myself. I want more freedom to choose when to do so. And if I can’t provide something for myself, I want people I can actually rely on to capitalize on my best interests.
I want people I can trust. I want people I can depend on. I want to belong to someone, something other than myself. And I just don’t have enough of that. My need is not being met, so perhaps, this is why I turn to BDSM.
2019 is an era of bizarre and unhealthy levels of independence. Individuality and self-exploration are beautiful. Atomization and isolation are excruciating.
For me, I need to feel belonging, I need to feel dependent, I need to feel trust. Being dominated helps me to reach a healthy equilibrium. So does The Revolution.
They’re both paths to meet my needs: to experience feelings that need to be felt.