[Originally Posted in the fall of 2011, my thinking on submission and what it means to me now has motivated me to dig back and see what it meant to me then.]
“The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.” ~Buddha
As a submissive – someone who prefers relationships where there is a mutually beneficial unequal power dynamic – I have done quite a bit of self-exploration around my needs and desires. And as someone who seeks out a master / slave relationship – a relationship where one human secedes power and control over themselves on an ongoing basis to another human – I have had to navigate some very rough seas before finding a safe harbor of self-acceptance. This is an ongoing process, and one in which I’ve been participating for many years. My experience has been inclusive of several years of real-time experience, and many more years of exploration, self-examination, trial-and-error, and research. But research and bits and pieces of experience and all of these things can only get one so far. So much about relationships involves…well…relating. You can spend years in study but until you’re field tested? It hovers in the realm of theory.
I have always been an advocate of self-advocacy. It is so very vital for those in power-exchange relationships to do their very best to negotiate carefully. All relationships have a degree of vulnerability: those of us who voluntarily accept the will of another as superseding our own, or who agree to accept additional responsibility for another human as their “property” have an additional layer of vulnerability. From the perspective of those who submit, the need to remain open and transparent can feel extremely risky. The same holds true for those on the other side of the slash. Dominants and masters put themselves on the line, too. It is important to maintain a balance amidst the inequality.
Sounds like a paradox? It is and it isn’t.
It can seem as though the slave coughs up all of their control and the master absorbs it. But a power exchange is just that: an exchange. Not a coup d’état.
One of the first things I had to seriously consider were issues of my own self-esteem. I had to look at my own motives, my own strengths and vulnerabilities before putting myself into a position where I was going to put myself under the control of another person. I had to do a personal inventory and look, without judgment, at my own internal landscape.
One of the most difficult realizations I had was that, despite my having many of the tools for effective communication in my arsenal? I had a profound fear of picking up those tools and actually using them. I can sit there and plan out my side of a conversation, saying “I have a need that isn’t being met, and that need is critical for us to address.” And yet, when it is time to get into gear and put it out there, it can feel as though a weight is suddenly on my chest, my jaw is wired shut, and my head gets all squeezy. It is hard for me to face a D-type (yeah, shorthand for dominant. That’s a freebie. You’re welcome.) with my truth.
Many years ago,in my first acknowledged power exchange relationship, I was presented with a wonderful tool, a gift in the form of a command. This is commonly known in the purview of master / slave relationships as “The Prime Directive.”
(…and no, Star Trek fans, this doesn’t mean that slaves are commanded to not interfere in pre-warp cultures.) The Prime Directive is this:
It is the primary duty of the slave to protect the master’s property at all times, up to and including from the master themselves.
This is rather amazing because it means that, in order to maintain the reflexive obedience I seek, the core of my submission must revolve around self-care, transparency. Around honesty. And this necessitates my letting go of fear.
Fear has motivated me to shut my mouth and hide my heart from those I loved because I feared rejection. Holding on to this command to remain vigilant regarding my well-being means that I have to stay present. And that isn’t fucking easy. When I was brand new to this path of slave / master relationships, I held back so much of myself that I’m not sure I was ever transparent in my submission. In all honesty, I didn’t trust that I would be accepted, warts and all, if I revealed who I was inside. I had to give myself permission to be who I was, and present that honestly. I needed to be prepared to live in an authentic state and not hide the facets of myself myself that I thought “unlovable” because I feared a subsequent rejection.
In more recent developments, I’ve been learning to trust that my intrinsic value is enough. That my path and identity in slavery has its own worth, and that it is not only important to advocate for myself, it would be impossible to grow if I didn’t take responsibility for my submission. It is a lovely fantasy that being a slave means giving up everything, wholesale, and no longer maintaining personal responsibility. But I happened to choose to explore a power exchange dynamic with someone who not only insisted on my being transparent, but who also challenges me to take responsibility for myself as a slave, as a submissive, and as a human.
Well, fuck-a-duck. So much for that fantasy of turning over all responsibility to the all-knowing all-seeing ÜberDominate!
Using the Prime Directive as a baseline, I have been learning to look on taking personal responsibility for my submission, for my slavery, as an unshakeable foundation of my relationship with The Dominant Guy. I wish I could say I shoulder this responsibility with a glad heart every day, but I fear it. I love the sensation of the loss of control. In a similar manner to getting high from a hot scene…impact play, bondage, piercing – feeling under the control and protected by someone I trust intimately is an emotional high. Much of the time I do not WANT to be responsible for myself.
So how do you…how can I…take responsibility for ourselves and yet turn over the responsibility to another?
I think empowerment is the key. Mutual empowerment. The S-type (yes that’s short for slave or submissive. See how that works? ;-) ) needs to empower themselves to be present and focused and to mind the Prime Directive. They they need to facilitate empowering the dominant / owner / master to have access to their authentic selves. The D-types need to empower themselves to empower their property. And to take responsibility for creating safe space. And also? As craaaazy as it might seem? To also be vulnerable and remain authentic. Yep, I said it. The myth of the ever-strong, godlike, unyielding master is delightful wank fodder but humanity trumps all. I don’t want to deify my dominant to the point where the display of humanity sours the dynamic. Flawed as they are? I prefer submission to a real, multifaceted human. That gives me permission to be human, to struggle, to triumph.
Saying “I don’t know.” might seem anathema to how a master is “supposed to be.” The first time The Dominant Guy responded to a thorny issue by saying “I don’t know.” I had a series of unique sensations. First was shock that a d-type would actually admit such a thing. Then irritation that he dared not know everything! Then I realized that I was pretty damned impressed to be dealing with an actual human who let me see that aspect of themselves.
The job of a leader is, ultimately, to take responsibility. And an effective leader encourages and fosters their followers to be bold, and to take risks. And risks are scary. I fear loss, judgment, displeasure. I have a great deal invested in being “Perfect” and letting go of the idea of “failure” can feel devastating. The Dominant Guy added to my arsenal another tool. This is the idea that responsibility for issues has a process around it.
If there is a problem, a conflict, an order not carried out to its desired conclusion, he assumes responsibility for that. Full responsibility. It was amazing to have him essentially say “You didn’t carry out an order? You overstepped a boundary? As the leader here, I will accept that I failed to clearly convey my desires. My bad, let’s strive to avoid that in the future.”
OK, let’s say the same issue crops up again, now we are looking at an adjustment. Perhaps the communication wasn’t sufficient? Were there shortcuts made in the execution due to everyone not being on the same page? Responsibility can now be shared and everyone is allowed to be human here. It isn’t about blame, it isn’t about pointing fingers. It is about seeing how you can get back in step with one another. “We’ve taken another look at this situation, and agree we all understand the expectations? Now let’s not let it happen again.”
Should there be a continuation? A repetition of the same behaviors or situation? It is probably time to sit down for The Serious Talking. Sometimes, troubling behaviours being repeated without progress towards resolution, with a resistance against improvement, is a symptom of Some Other Shit percolating beneath the surface. And it is important to dig that out and get it into the light.
What is kinda badass about this protocol is that it allows safe space to put myself out there and not let that howling yammering Dæmon hold me back from or beat myself up as a result of taking those risks. I feel safer being fearless in my service, because I know that I can’t disappoint if I remain my integrity, stay honest, sustain transparency, and keep my intentions clean.
I trust him to take responsibility for us, to encourage me to take responsibility for myself. And he trusts me to remain present, and transparent, see his humanity, and for me to reveal mine to him. And that trust building thing then has a safe space, too. And so much wonder can grow in that space.
September 20th, 2011