The Nature of Roles

January 1999

While some people refer to their activities as “erotic role play,” there are those of us who do not see being dominant or submissive as a role. There are dangers in trying to define people by roles. I want to address some of the misconceptions about the various roles including the assumption that everyone is just acting out a role.

Dominant=strong, Submissive=weak
This should be a given. Any person choosing to participate in D/s activities must be strong. She must have a fairly strong self of herself, her desires, her limitations, and what she needs in a relationship. She must be confident enough to communicate in a clear and timely manner. She has to have the strength to trust and to surrender herself to her partner. This applies to the dominant as well; her trust and “surrender” are of a different nature, but still require strength.

Dominant=male, Submissive=female
Firstly, there are lots of dominant women and lots of submissive men. And there are female- female and male-male couples. Don’t assume that a woman who dresses demurely and is quiet and shy is submissive (believe me, I’m *not*) or that a man who is physically or vocally impressive is dominant. Two women sitting together at a BDSM group event may be submissives keeping each other company, but they might also be a D/s couple or two dominants waiting for their subs to arrive. You get the idea.

Secondly, the socially-accepted gender roles don’t apply either. A D/s couple is, by definition “not traditional,” so trying to force us into pigeon holes won’t work. The submissive (male or female) might be older than the dominant. She may make more money and have a more powerful position than her Mistress. The dominant might come from a family with less money or social prestige. Someone once asked me how I felt about having a slave who is 10 years older than me and I said “Fine. She’s not an age, she’s a person.” What I was thinking was “why shouldn’t she be older than me?” The dominant may be socially, physically, financially, or intellectually “superior” to her submissive; or she may not. What matters is that the two people involved (or three or ten) recognize which is dominant and which is submissive within their relationship.

Switches can’t make up their mind which role they prefer
I read an excellent article by Cecilia Tan (an established pornographer) on her website. She talks about being “in the middle”–whether that applies to race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or D/s proclivity. A switch has made up their mind: they want it all. At the very first BDSM discussion group I attended, someone introduced herself to the group as “Greedy as all hell; that is, bisexual and a switch.” In fact, we’re all in the middle somewhere. We’re 90%dominant and 50%heterosexual or 85%submissive and 90%homosexual or whatever combination. Very few of us are simply 100% of anything. If we were it would be boring. Accept the fact that being a switch is a valid choice and respect them for having the courage to acknowledge what they want and go out and find it.

D/s is all about roles
This is the one that makes my hair stand on end: “No one can be 24/7 because it’s impossible to maintain a role for that long.” Along with “Staying in role 24/7 is too hard and too much responsibility for a person.”

I grant that for a large portion of the population, D/s is a role that they take on to varying depths. Even the self-proclaimed vanilla couple may sometimes spice things up with a blindfold or handcuffs. They are playing a role and enjoying it immensely before returning to their usual, vanilla life. Most of us who call ourselves dom/mes, tops, submissives, bottoms, switches, etc., need to assume that role more often. We may incorporate it into our lifestyle and it may go well beyond sexual play. We may join groups and visit public dungeons. We might spend hundreds of dollars on equipment to play at home. We may develop rituals and rules and scene in some way every single day. Still, most of us see it as a role. And for those people, it would be impossible to sustain the role without breaks. I understand that. I respect that.

Now I ask that all of you accept that, for some of us, D/s is NOT a role, but who we are. We are the ones who create 24/7 relationships. We may even develop a total/absolute power exchange. We may or may not use safe words at various points in our relationship. We may love edge play or seem the most mousy couple in your play group. What makes us different is that we don’t see being Dom/me or submissive/slave as being a role that we turn on and off.

I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, an employee, a writer, a minister, a libertarian. I’m a former girl scout and graduated from an ivy league college. Sometimes I’m a customer, a volunteer, an IRC channel op, a business associate, a discussion list owner. These are all roles. I slip from one to the other and my behavior changes accordingly. When I am alone with myself and I can simply “be”, when I strip away all the roles, I am a pagan and a Domme. The way in which I approach all my roles in life is determined by these two facts. I was lucky to find a woman who *is* a slave and we are working toward the day when we can live our life together–Mistress and property, finally able to be that inner self that we have to clothe in roles in daily life. For us, and for others, D/s is the core of who we are.

Try to look beyond the definitions you assign to the various roles of D/s and see the true variety and beauty that exists.