The more I read on their blogs, the weirder it seems that the rolequeer people aren’t talking about doms/tops as people with races and genders and like ability and stuff which is so weird because they’re talking about BDSM as “the fetishization of oppressive culture” so like don’t the privileges and lack thereof in individuals actually doing a scene together mean something with that? I really want to ask them about it but I have no idea how to phrase it.
I think you phrased this really well, actually. :)
I don’t know what you have already read and what you have not, so I am going to start from the assumption that you have not read anything even if you have. If that means I point you to things you have already read, please just let me know and we can go forward from there. But in any conversation in which understanding is the goal, I feel it’s important to start by making sure we are on the same page.
So, first, I want to make two possibly obvious statements:
Now, I won’t speak for other rolequeer bloggers, but at least for me, since the word rolequeer is pretty new, the majority of my writing does not use that word directly because, well, it’s a pretty new word and the corpus of my work spans over a decade. Nevertheless, most if not all of that same writing has been explicitly about genders—here’s one notable example from August 2007—in an intersectional, kyriarchical feminist analysis. (I have written more explicitly about gender than I have about race, although I have touched on racial topics often with respect to their relationship to classism.) Look back far enough in my archives and you’ll find a staunchly sex-positive, liberal feminist analysis. Continue reading forward through time and you’ll see the introduction of radical feminist precepts that eventually laid the groundwork for posts like “Consent as a Felt Sense,” and the various post sin the “Dominants are rapists” series.
For example, one of the reasons unquietpirate’s “Rolequeer: Defining our terms” post links to MaleSubmissionArt.com is because the intersectional analysis of gender and power in BDSM that I developed there (i.e., sexism in BDSM’s binarist orthodoxy) is one of several foundational pieces from which our thinking about rolequeerness began. Again, I won’t speak for other rolequeer bloggers, but to say that my writing does not acknowledge the way gender affects doms/tops is to betray ignorance of my writing. And, as I’ve mentioned to you before, ignorance is not some sin. Willful ignorance is another matter.
Male Submission Art (or MSA), for those that don’t know, is entirely about the interplay of gender and power—and contrary to some critiques of rolequeerness I’ve seen about it being TERF-y but that I don’t understand, Male Submission Art was widely praised for being one of the first and most visible intentionally submissive trans-masculine inclusive erotic archives online of its time. Here is an excerpt about MSA from a feature article called “Outsider Porn” in the Overland Journal that I hope gives you a better sense of that seminal project’s scope and origins.
Maymay is 28 years old, a born and bred New Yorker who is currently homeless but seems to live online on multiple platforms. He’s a prolific writer and a passionate advocate for his cause. Maymay is submissive and he’s on a mission to challenge the way we look at men like him – particularly in straight pornography.
‘In a nutshell,’ he says, ‘straight porn does not make room for people who society perceives as male to be objects of a gaze. Male-perceived people in straight porn are disposable and often visually decapitated. Only societally-coded signals of femininity are permitted to be arousing or viewed as desirable. In gay porn, a certain kind of male-perceived body can be lusted-after objects, they can be wanted and their masculinity, itself, is sexualised. This is not what happens in straight porn because the heterosexist stranglehold on desirability dictates that women are lusted after and men are unattractive. That’s busted, it’s bullshit and it’s oppressive; it results in most (straight) male-identified people living a life in which they have never experienced their bodies as attractive, or their selves as something that can be intrinsically desirous to a partner.’
Depictions of submissive men in popular culture largely support maymay’s critique. Think of all the films in which male masochists – usually authority figures caught in comical scenarios with hypsersexualised dominatrixes – are reduced to caricature. Just like fat women, old women and trans people, submissive men are often used as punchlines.
Maymay’s critique illuminates why the media promoted the ‘feminists just want to submit’ narrative used to hype Fifty Shades of Grey while conversely ignoring the millions of men who also have fantasies of submission. This is sexist ideology at work: the normalisation of female submission and the erasure of the male masochist.
(Please note that this article was written before I began publicly using “they/them” pronouns, and so this article refers to me as “he.”)
If you actually spend time reading the MaleSubmissionArt.com archives, you will find many, many posts discussing the gender of bottoms as well as the gender of tops, the context of their interactions, and what that might structurally mean about the world we live in. Here is a partial list with just a few samples:
There are many others. Just spend some time browsing the archive.
But, if you read these semiotic critiques of gender and power, and yet still find yourself asking “where is all the discussion about doms and tops in rolequeerness,” then I don’t think you’re going to find what you’re looking for in rolequeerness. Sorry. This isn’t because I think you’re “not rolequeer” or whatever, it is because critiquing powerful positions—and that is what rolequeerness is about—does not start by centering the positions in power. Male Submission Art could just as easily have been called Female Dominant Art, and in fact it is often categorized under exactly that label in pornographic directories.
And if that discrepancy doesn’t show you something about how to criticize power, then I don’t know what else to tell you.
This is part of what I understand unquietpirate to have meant when she said, “Rolequeerness provides a methodological framework for “downward mobility” inside the power gradient of oppression culture,” in her seminal “Defining our terms” post. Unlike the traditional United Internets of Social Justice Clicktivism you may be used to, rolequeerness isn’t merely a politic of identity of (“who is rolequeer?”). Instead, it is a politic of action (“how do we queer role?”).
Rolequeerness’s goal is the recontextualization of oppressive acts into liberatory ones—even and especially violently if necessary—not the interrogation of an oppressive or oppressed demographic group. You do not have to identify as rolequeer to queer role any more than you have to identify as a woman to feminize yourself. Mistaking demographic groups (“gay people,” for instance) with the acts they take (“doing something gay”) is a trap, one that activists of all stripes constantly fall into and something that rolequeerness actively eschews.
That doesn’t mean queer disabled POC can’t be Dominants. It means that queer disabled POC who are dominating are still dominating and the fact that they have been oppressed does not mean they are not also simultaneously oppressors. The oppressed/oppressor binary, the abuser/survivor binary, the rapist/rape victim binary, the Dominant/submissive binary, and all other binaries whose existence rely on the binary dichotomization of power versus vulnerability are as much lies as the man/woman binary is also a lie. Rolequeerness simply forces us to cope with what that really means.
That should be difficult and scary and I am excited to face it. I hope you are, too.