‘Tis the season of change, the time we set aside to examine (and re-examine) our lives, who we are, what we want for ourselves. And in the midst of this season of new year’s resolutions and heavy introspection (what else are you gonna do when it’s so cold the air hurts?), I can’t stop thinking about how we identify ourselves, both in the language we use and the context of those identities.
For me, I have both subjective and objective identities. For example, I am a big BECAUSE my partner is a little; outside of the context of that specific dynamic and relationship, I don’t identify as an ageplayer. That, for me, is a subjective identity, constrained within a particular context and only present with a specific person. On the other hand, regardless of identity, presentation, or genital configuration of the person I am fucking, I am queer. I’m not “queer subject to (fill in the blank);” I just am, always, regardless of the other person/people involved, and I seek out relationships where that can be authentically incorporated because that doesn’t ever stop being true.
I’ve been mulling through my thoughts on D/s and fear, in an ongoing dialogue about my relationship to pain, thinking through the language we use to talk about these things and why I am so resistant to using many of these words as self-identifiers. I think, for me, so many of these things feel like subjective identities, and roles that are dependant on the presence of another person don’t feel like identities I feel comfortable using because they aren’t true all the time.
I don’t, for example, identify as a masochist. I don’t like when things hurt. It’s uncomfortable and almost never what I’m seeking out of a scene. Except, sometimes, pain is a really useful grounding tool that helps my brain stop spinning. And there are certain kinds of pain that, if I build up to, feel strangely relaxing and good. And there are certain people who, when they hurt me, it isarousing even though I hate it.
But I’m not a masochist all the time, and this is an all-or-nothing thing, right?
Similarly, I don’t identify as submissive. I am a solid switch and I like to switch hard. And I like to switch with the same people, topping someone one day and bottoming for them the next. Except, sometimes, there are people that bring out my desire to please, my desire to accept things I wouldn’t normally seek out, my desire to surrender control. But it’s still from a switch-based place; I still want to top the people who bring out that side of me because I don’t feel it all the time. Besides, I have too much pride and a mile-wide streak of stubbornness; there’s no way I’m submissive.
I have shied away from both of these things- masochism and submission- because I’m neither of them all the time, and it feels immensely misleading to claim either of them. It hasn’t escaped me that both of these are bottom/recipient-based identities; I am well-aware that I am much more comfortable presenting and claiming top/giving-based identities.
I am also well-aware that there are a whole cluster of identities that are socially linked in a fucked-up way that are the basis of busted stereotypes and assumptions because internalized misogyny and social messaging: submissive, femme, bottom, masochist. There is a carryover in the kink scene of a specific heteronormative dynamic (masculine top/sadist/dominant, feminine bottom/masochist/submissive)- and please know, I’m not knocking that dynamic if that’s your thing, nor am I saying that it’s an inherently fucked up dynamic- but there is a carryover of the masc/dominant, fem/submissive narrative that I’ve internally rejected because I exist objectively in the grey areas between roles and genders (even though, subjectively, I like to dance back and forth between the binary oppositions).
It’s not that I think that being a femme submissive, or bottom, or masochist (or any combination thereof) is in any way wrong; it’s that those things feel like objective identities, and they aren’t for me. And let’s be honest, people who are perceived as femme submissives are often targets of predatory behavior, and I am well-aware that being perceived the ways that I am staves off a particular kind of creeper/predatory behavior (I get other kinds of creepy attention, but that’s a topic for another day). Being able to reject being submissive or masochistic has been an easy way for me to shut down certain kinds of attention quickly.
So yes, I shy away from claiming certain things because I feel like it (a) presents something that isn’t accurate all of the time, and (b) I don’t want to get pigeonholed into an objective identity that isn’t an accurate reflection of who I am: not just identity within the kink scene, but also with respect to gender and queerness. Throw in a little internalized misogyny and moralistic perspective that anything perceived femme is inherently less-than, weaker, subordinate, and undesirable if given an option for something else, and I end up here: a queer switch with no idea what to do when feelings around masochism and submission come up, but vehemently denies any connection with the language because I don’t want to be seen as weak or incapable, nor do I want to feed the narrative that assigned female at birth people are “only a top until I find the right man” (who is, of course, dominant).
Do I recognize that this is so completely, utterly busted? Yes. Do I view femmes, submissives, bottoms, masochists as weaker or less-than? Absolutely not (and I also recognize that these things are socially linked, but not inherently linked: being femme does not automatically imply a submissive, masochistic, or really, any kind of bottoming role; bottoming is, by no means less-than; being on the receiving end of a dynamic does not imply someone is femme, and being femme in no way means that someone is weak, subordinate, or less-than). It’s less that I feel these things are true and more that I recognize that this is a narrative that exists and by claiming these identities, I am allowing other people to potentially project these interlocked narratives onto me, and I don’t want that.
Hi, I think this is the definition of not being willing to give up certain kinds of privilege.
That piece of it is important and vital. Recognizing my resistance incorporates a certain level of internalized sexism and fear of how others will see me is necessary because it is something I struggle with and it is something that impacts my relationships and how I talk about the things that I want. And I can’t change the busted things within myself without first recognizing that they are there. Writing this out is an attempt to identify and acknowledge these busted up thought processes; it is in no way meant to excuse or justify them.
But back to subjective/objective identities. I think there needs to be a way to talk, not just about how we identify, but the context in which those identities manifest. For some people, they are submissive all the time, and attract relationships that allow for that because it’s an objective identity. For me, I am submissive sometimes, in some contexts, with some people. It’s not about 24/7 or TPE; it’s the distinction between an identity that exists independent of other people, and an identity that exists specifically because of other people. They might look, at times, completely the same, but fundamentally come from different places and impact how we navigate play and other interactions.
Perhaps it might be easier to think about subjective identities as discrete roles and objective identities as continuous ones. That in short, finite, easily contained moments, there are things that I identify with that aren’t necessarily true at the end of that finite period of time. There are other things that are infinite threads that weave together each of those discrete moments; in fact, I might go as far as to say that, for me, those discrete, subjective moments are the many different manifestations of continuous, objective identities.
I think the context matters. It’s the difference between saying, “I identify in these ways and these things are crucial, fundamental aspects of how I function in relationships,” and saying, “I’m feeling these things coming out when we interact, and that’s something I would like to explore with you, if you’d be open to that.” Subjective identities and roles are tough because they aren’t always present, and we don’t always know who is going to bring out what aspects. It requires a continuous, ongoing negotiation as new things come up (and come out). It requires a level of introspection and self-analysis to understand what is true within a dynamic, and what is true independent of other people.
So, ‘tis the season. I am a physical masochist (sometimes), an emotional masochist (almost always), a switch (always), a submissive (sometimes), a dominant (not often, but sometimes), a top (often), a bottom (sometimes; more often right now), femme-presenting (sometimes), masculine-presenting (sometimes), feral (always), and queer (always). Time to stop being afraid of the language to talk about how I feel, and start allowing the conversations to be more nuanced and complex.
(Important to note: this is all within the context of negotiated, consensualinteractions. I don’t care if being a sub is someone’s fundamental sense of identity; if you do not have a power dynamic negotiated with someone, do not presume to address them in specific ways. Being a sub still does not mean someone is your sub.)