Rolequeer: Defining Our Terms

Posted: December 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

“Dominants play to win. Submissives play to lose. Rolequeers play to quit the game.”

The term “rolequeer” was coined by Relsqui in 2011, first popularized by maymay via Twitter, and has up to this point primarily been theorized by R. Foxtale, in conjunction with maymay and others. It was first explored publicly by Kristen Stubbs at Transcending Boundaries 2012 workshop entitled “Queering Role in BDSM Play.” Key discussions of the concept can be found at and

“Rolequeer” was initially conceived of as an identity within the context of the BDSM subculture, but it ultimately extends beyond that scene’s narrow bounds and describes the experience of many people who have little or no association with BDSM. At its most fundamental level rolequeerness is about “queering” — or disrupting binary notions of — human relationships to power.

There is a widely held belief in both BDSM and mainstream culture that the erotic is dependent on a power differential, on the tension between and ultimate overpowering of a “passive” participant by an “active” participant. Radical feminism rejects this notion of the erotic as fundamentally rooted in oppressive hierarchy. And rolequeerness begins by drawing on that rejection, but it goes further, theorizing possibilities for complex, agentic, and ultimately liberating erotic interface with various positional orientations towards power. (As opposed to the suggestion by contemporary radfems that we should simply somehow eliminate power dynamics from our play.)

In conjunction with troubling the “Dominant/Submissive” — or Powerful/Vulnerable — binary, rolequeerness also complicates binary opposition between “sex” vs. “violence” and the binary opposition between “abusive” vs. “consensual”, arguing that these can never be cleanly differentiated categories within a holistically coercive and violent oppression culture. It points out that, if we are truly concerned about respecting each others’ agency, we must insist on a higher bar for “obtaining consent” from our fellow humans than simply being granted permission to treat each other in violent and abusive ways.

As with other types of queerness, “rolequeer” does not simply refer to how we play in the bedroom or at the club; it describes our relationship to the world around us, to the roles that we have been handed via our positionalities within oppression culture.

Ultimately, rolequeerness centers acts of self-liberation and co-liberation by encouraging (and eroticizing) a traitorous relationship to our own power and a compassionate celebration of each others’ vulnerabilities. Rolequeerness provides a methodological framework for “downward mobility” inside the power gradient of oppression culture. As such, rolequeers refuse to accept cultural capital as a consolation prize for victimization. We maintain that, in a culture in which power corrupts, choosing vulnerability is a move toward freedom.

Rolequeers are submissive as fuck and cocky as hell about it. Break the cycle. Quit the game.

  1. maymay says:

    Beautiful synopsis. 🙂

    I want to make a small correction:

    The term “rolequeer” was coined by Kristen Stubbs in 2011

    No, it was coined by Relsqui in 2011, in conversation with me. Kristen Stubbs popularized it online by running the workshop you describe, because that description got syndicated through the Internet copy machine. That workshop was one she and I planned to do together, but that I later encouraged her to do on her own.

  2. dagdamor says:

    Found my way here because someone used the term and I was trying to figure out the definition. Have reread last post and this one several times, as well as many of the linked articles. Still lot of terms I’m not certain I properly grasp, i.e. “oppression culture”.

    If I had to give someone my present best guess as to the definition: rolequeer play’s intended to be play that subverts the standard nature of a given sexual play’s ‘roles’ in some fashion? So outside the D/s roles of BDSM, two possible examples:
    -Gender roles. Scenario where man moans (in reaction to things being done to him) and sucks on woman’s fingers while she calls him a slut for wanting to have sex.
    -Age roles. Scenario where younger individual is the one who’s experienced and highly appreciative of older individual’s body.

    How close am I to the mark?

  3. […] One of the reasons that contemporary pop social justice folks are so bad at achieving their own stated goals is because they fail to understand that allyship is submission — and most of the entitled, domist folks in that scene couldn’t submit to save their lives, even the ones who identify as “submissive” in a BDSM context. See also: The number of people who got all excited about “rolequeer” as a cool, edgy new identity option — but wigged out about the part of my post that described rolequeers as “submissive as fuck.” […]

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