A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.
There has been an explosion around the topic of male submission. Holding space for it, celebrating it, legitimizing it and so on. This has been amazing to witness[…].
I’m awake at 4 in the morning furious and saddened by every account of pain, belittlement, and exclusion I’ve read. Outraged that it took me this long to figure out that my difficulty in finding submissive men in the BDSM scene was not an isolated incident and even more outraged by what these men have gone through.
So this is the moment when I cry through my anger, because when morning comes for real I’ll put on my big girl panties and go out to change the world. But right now I’ll just send a shout-out to all the men who have been strong enough, amazing enough, and brave enough to plow through the bullshit and let me see them on their knees while I cry through my optimism.
It started with @maymaym (the guy behind the visual-celebration-of-male-submission site MaleSubmissionArt.com) posting a link to this incredibly well-written piece discussing how often members of the BDSM scene devalue male submissives, even while valuing female dominants.
Every voice that speaks out in celebration of male submissives helps the conversation. Tonight, the urge to join the conversation overwhelmed me. I had to join.
[I]t’s about fucking time. Because the kink scene treats male subs as if they are unwanted, uninvited guests, not recognizing the fact that they are real people with feelings of their own, that their dominant partners cherish them. Every time I see a Fetlife profile that reads “I’m not attracted to submissive men” (frequently, in my experience, on the profiles of female switches and occasionally other female dominants), my stomach clenches. They don’t seem to realize that such an attitude is linked to another problem in the scene: the tokenization of female dominants.
Perhaps the deepest pain many female-identified people have shared with me, whether kinky or otherwise, dominant or submissive, whether young or old, fat or thin, disabled or abled, queer or heteronormative, married or single, monogamous or polyamorous, is the resentment of believing that no matter the sex they have, a male partner feels satisfied while they do not.
“It makes me jealous,” one woman told me over beers.
I nodded. “It should,” I agreed with her. But it has been difficult for me to trust that the depth with which I can empathize is actually understood. For as long as female sexuality is perceived as performative, male sexuality—regardless of its diversity—is perceived as entitled. But, trapped in gendered frames, neither female nor male sexuality is monolithic; the submissive masculine is therefore revelatory.
As Tomio Black said,
The main task before me is to depathologize #MaleSubmission so that it is seen as a normal and healthy way for people to authentically love.
Or, in Chaos’s words:
While male subs are not seen as potential objects of desire, female doms are seen only as objects of desire. That’s how I feel sometimes as a femme dom in the public scene: they see me, but not my desires.
And so I feel tokenized. It’s not fair to me, because where would I, a femme dom, be without my masculine sub? We are two sides of a coin. Today I am not beating my queer drum; today I am borrowing maymay’s drum: You cannot truly respect me without respecting my submissive as well. If you value me, you must value him.
“I finally figured out what upsets me about your blog,” one man said, turning to me after a time.
I smiled and turned to face him. “Really? Please tell me!”
“Now that I’ve read your writing, it’s harder for me to just enjoy the BDSM play I do and the sex I have without thinking about how it affects people like you and the culture we live in.”
“That’s wonderful!” I said, my smile widening. He frowned, but it was a friendly frown, his eyebrows furrowed pensively rather than aggrieved.
Submissive men are not monolithic, either. In a comment on Chaos’s post, I plaintively said:
It is a sad fact that most submissive men I have encountered are misogynistic shitwads. They are not exactly helping you or I find cultural acceptance, Tomio, and yet I have an enormous compassion for them because I can so clearly see the pain, desperation, and ignorance at the root of their aggressively obsequious behavior.
One day last year, I was invited to a semi-private dinner party following a sexuality conference. There, an older man, well-known in the sexuality communities for the sex toy company he owns, approached me, drink in hand. He was poorly shaven, his mismatched clothing adding to his unkempt appearance. Something in his eyes betrayed the existence of a continual internal monologue that may have never been shared with another person.
“After I saw your KinkForAll Providence video,” he started, “I’ve been reading your blog. And I just wanted to say I really like it. You put words to stuff I couldn’t say on my own.”
The party was bustling, but small. We moved to a corner of the dinner table and continued talking. He told me of finding Playboy Magazines as a teenager, of growing up into a man with a 9-5 job and an unhappy social life. “I’d get up, go to work, come home at five or six, and look through the [local paper] for the sex ads.”
“Did you ever go?”
“A bunch of times.”
This is an aspect that deserves more words. For now, Galiana offers some that I have angrily (and, to some, offensively) stated years earlier:
I’m starting to understand my potential value in this conversation: to answer the question of “where do male submissives go if they don’t feel comfortable at ‘BDSM scene’ events?” I believe that large numbers of them go to anonymous online female dominants for pay, at least now and then. (I’m a phone sex operator, so this isn’t simply a theoretical idea I’m espousing – I make part of my living talking to them, bless their broken hearts)
And there, online, the extremes of the fantasy are even more heavily emphasized, because it’s simpler to market an extreme, and most people do not have the ability to market nuance. In fact, I’m not sure it’s possible to market nuance at all.
So a male submissive who feels rejected by an in-person group for free may try his hand online for pay, and be met with a WALL of “Dominas” calling him a loser, a wanker, a pathetic bitch, etc, and then… well, then, he either accepts those labels and sees himself as “less than”, or …
Or he remains unspeakably strong in the face of all this stupidity and keeps holding his head high until he finds a partner who is worth him lowering his eyes to. May it be so, over and over.
I don’t believe I could ever feel comfortable paying for sex or BDSM play of any kind—and so to date I never have. But, now, I do better understand its undeniably legitimate value.
Sitting across from the older man that day at the conference’s after party, I asked him, “Do you still see sex workers and pro-dommes?”
“No, I work all the time now,” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“It makes me happy to know that the toys I make give other people great orgasms. I just wish someone would want to use one of my toys on me, sometimes.”
“Your girlfriend doesn’t?”
He raised his glass and waved the drink around, looking around with a frown on his face. I didn’t pry. Instead, I said, “I know. It’s hard for me, too.”
He looked at me, disbelieving. It’s become inevitable; I’ve had this conversation with enough people to know where it was going. “Come on,” he said, “you must play all the time.”
I shook my head. His arm hit the table with a thump. He slouched further in his chair. “Oh, man. If you can’t get play, I’ll never….”
There was a long silence. He looked around at the apartment we were in. All of the guests had left the living room and were busy chatting with one another in the kitchen, having drifted further and further away from us—a perfect metaphor for our current topic of conversation.
“How do you do it?” he asked at last.
I smiled. “What would you do after you’ve given up on having a sexually satisfied life?” I asked him.
“God, I don’t know,” he said.
“Why do you keep making sex toys?” I asked. He looked puzzled, so I explained: “You’re the giant on whose shoulders I’m standing. Thank you so much.” Slowly, he nodded. We drank more.
If you’re reading this, and you own certain sex toys, it’s quite possible you have this man to thank for that. I do. But you’ll never need to thank him. You’ll never have to be grateful. All you have to do is take it for granted—and understand why that is a good thing. As Galiana Chance put it:
Ideas spread. They may spread slowly, but imagine how much greater the chances are now of forming a healthy femdom/malesub relationship than even just 20 years ago. I remember 1991 – I was 21 – and how little information I had available to me. My mind boggles.
More recently, I was in Seattle, unexpectedly performing at a Polyamory Fashion Show at The Center for Sex Positive Culture. There, a woman approached me while I was talking to a friend who lives in that town. “It looks like the lady would like to talk to you,” I said to my friend, about to excuse myself.
But before I could, the woman turned to me, saying, “I just wanted to thank you for MaleSubmissionArt.com.”
Surprised, I turned to my friend, then back to the woman. “Oh, um, thanks.” I introduced myself to her more formally. My friend politely excused herself, nodding at me as she gave us space to talk.
“I’m a switch, but I wanted you to know that your websites have really helped me enjoy topping men lately. Can I give you a hug?” the woman asked.
“Uhm, sure,” I said, smiling as I realized the full meaning of her words: sometime in the last two years or so, somewhere in the world, this woman and a man she played with had a good time thanks, at least in some small part, to my publications. We embraced. “Hugs are great!”
Long ago, Susan B. Anthony said, “It is not our job to make young women grateful. It is to make them ungrateful, so they keep going.”
In affirming Chaos’s sentiments, Kink In Exile wrote:
[W]hat does it mean for me in this world that the person I want to play with most, that beautiful strong geeky smart sexually submissive man, comes wounded because the world got to him before I had a chance? I have been known to speak to the fact that men are hurt by the rape of women because their sex life can not help [but] be effect[ed] by a one in four chance that their female partner is a survivor of sexual violence. Is this the BDSM parallel? There are no submissive men and also there is never a line for the ladies room in the engineering building? Are submissive men and women in short skirts equally public property?