Yesterday, I wrote that I want Dominants to spend more time with the parts of themselves they’re scared of. Like, for example, the parts that enjoy violating consent. Not because they should be ashamed of those parts, but because they need to be informed about them.
What does the/a performance of healthy submission look like, in any even an ideal model? Its hard to extrapolate an acceptable Dominance model, or rather the possibility of an untainted desire for Dominance, from what you are saying.
What does “healthy submission” look like? I could write a book about this, and maybe someday I will, but I’ll try to keep it simple for now:
If BDSM is the fetishization of oppression culture, and Dominance is the fetishization of being an oppressor, then submission is the fetishization of internalized oppression.
This article gives a great, succinct explanation of internalized oppression:
When people are targeted, discriminated against, or oppressed over a period of time, they often internalize (believe and make part of their self-image – their internal view of themselves) the myths and misinformation that society communicates to them about their group. […] When people from targeted groups internalize myths and misinformation, it can cause them to feel (often unconsciously) that in some way they are inherently not as worthy, capable, intelligent, beautiful, good, etc. as people outside their group. They turn the experience of oppression or discrimination inward. They begin to feel that the stereotypes and misinformation that society communicates are true and they act as if they were true.
The same article points out that internalized oppression functions in two ways: We direct it at ourselves (by believing lies and abusive stereotypes that are placed on us) and we direct it at other people like us (by treating others as if those lies and abusive stereotypes are true about them.) When vulnerable people become personally invested in our own oppression, when we tell ourselves our abuse it’s a good thing or that it’s deserved, that is both a survival skill for living in oppression culture and a way of perpetuating more oppression.
Consider how this typically looks in the context of erotic play. One person, typically a Dominant, voluntarily takes on the oppressor role and does things that in other contexts would be considered rape, abuse, violence, to another person, typically a Submissive. But the Submissive, who has voluntarily taken on the oppressed role, does not simply put up with the Dominant person’s abusive behavior, they appreciate it. Submissives often express gratitude to Dominants for hurting or controlling them, deeply enjoy the experience of being victimized, and even go so far as to build entire scenes, scripts, and relationships around the idea that they deserve it. Submission fetishizes not only receiving oppression but internalizing it.
So, when we ask what healthy submission looks like, what we’re asking is what it means to cope with internalized oppression in a healthy way. There’s no easy answer for this. Classic tactics include working to understand your own internalized oppression, prioritizing self-care, building community and solidarity with other oppressed people like yourself, reframing your identity as a source of pride rather than shame, taking action against injustice, opting out of relationships with oppressive people and institutions, resisting oppression whenever you can and, perhaps most importantly, having compassion for yourself when you can’t.
I have some ideas about how these tactics might look within the context of play. For example, understanding your own internalized oppression involves a very similar process to the one I encourage Dominants to undertake of investigating both the roots of your kinks, both their individual psychological sources AND how those kinks fit into a larger social and historical picture. Prioritizing self-care might look like putting your own needs and desires first to what feels like an extreme degree when setting limits with a Dominant partner. You could reframe some of your erotic experiences not in terms of being forced to do things by a Dominant but, rather, as a Dominant helping you get something you want. You might develop solidarity with other Submissives by building cooperative relationships between multiple Submissives into your scenes. And separatism could look like choosing not to play with people who identify as Dominant, or even choosing to play only with other people who identify as Submissive.
There’s more I could say about this that I’ll save for a later post, but I’m interested in your ideas, too. How could you map your everyday skills for coping with living in oppression culture onto your erotic experiences playing dress-up as Oppressed and Oppressor?
But as far as extrapolating an “untainted desire for Dominance” from the notion that BDSM is the fetishization of oppression culture: You can’t. And that’s sort of the whole point. I don’t believe there is an “untainted” way to oppress other people, which means the only “acceptable Dominance model” is one in which we are using our experience as Dominants to learn more about how not to oppress people in real life. And, likewise, an “acceptable Submission model” is one in which our Submissive experiences help us practice surviving and resisting real oppression — not simply capitulating to it.
My ideal model of BDSM is a bit like an erotic Theater of the Oppressed for two. (Or three or however many people you’re playing with.) BDSM is a sandbox in which to learn more about how oppression, discrimination, violence, violation, abuse, etc. feels — so that we can more easily recognize it when it happens to us, or when we are doing it to someone else, in the wider world.
. . .
See also: Maymay’s “Dominants are rapists” is making people ask, “So, what’s healthy D/S like?” for a quick round-up of all the posts in this series so far.