Saturday, 27 December 2014

No Shame in My Game

"Ellechemy", i screwed up".

I regularly receive emails along these lines. The language is usually more flowery, sometimes all the way to florid. Some subs seem to love their prose as purple as their spanking marks.
These emails usually fall into one of three patterns:

1) The sub who really screwed up and earnestly wants to apologize. This almost never happens. Most subs who are self-aware enough to be completely honest in an apology are also able to head off a transgression before it occurs. When apology is necessary, and the real point, it is usually straight-forward and light on window-dressing (i.e. absent paragraphs of self-recrimination, pledges of undying devotion, etc). Note that these people NEVER ask to be punished. They apologize, I accept the apology or not, and that's that.

2) The sub who is playing out their part in a previously negotiated punishment scenario. We will have talked about their desires, planned an acceptable range of "mistakes" they can make, discussed the punishments they find most satisfying, and will have arranged a time for this to all play out. I strongly encourage clear communication regarding desires, and that includes the desire to be punished. Starting with clear disclosure makes it possible to create a scenario where those desires are addressed artfully and inventively without unduly intruding on either person.

3) The sub who likes to be punished and has "screwed up" specifically to provoke punishment.

The first situation, when it occurs, is usually resolved in a matter of minutes, with little distress on anyone's part. 
The second is grand fun for all involved.
The third... Well, the third is the primary topic of this post, through which I think we can reveal patterns that merit broader discussion.

"i screwed up. i'm being honest with you!"

A spontaneous "confession" intended to provoke punishment almost always includes several desperate affirmations of honesty: the honesty of the confession, the honesty of the remorse, the honesty of the feelings of devotion thoughtlessly abandoned in a moment of whatever it was.

I'll spare us the obvious diatribe about how often liars insist on their honesty and how rarely the honest do, or flogging the example of the used car salesman making heavy use of the phrase "trust me". I want to avoid those old chestnuts about honesty because I think there actually is a form of honesty on display in these situations.

This hypothetical person, so insistent on the honesty of their mistake and confession, is being honest in more or less the same way that Olivier is honest when he plays Hamlet (Olivier, being timeless, will always be referred to in the present tense. Always). 

There is a character they are playing with some expectation of interacting with other characters, whose responses are all derived from the same script. These characters and interactions, in accordance with the script, create a contained story that unfolds more according to rules of dramatic or thematic necessity than the often drab logic of real-world events. This is the world of suspended disbelief, of the convenient coincidence, and, most pertinent to our discussion here, of the two-dimensional character whose only purpose is to advance the plot. We'll come back to that shortly.

Regarding the honesty of our self-appointed lead character (who is also, conveniently, the writer and, unless they put themselves in check, the frustrated director): there is a very limited sort of honesty possible when there are scripts and characters involved, and that sort of honesty is at cross-purposes to the vulnerability necessary for an earnest apology. When the apology itself is part of the script, the question of honesty goes right out the window. We can no longer ask if the apology is honest or not, only whether or not the performance is convincing. 

Here it may be tempting to think that the Domme is the intended audience for this performance. This is not the case. The sub, in addition to their roles as lead, writer, and director, is also the intended audience. These are dramas played by them for their own satisfaction, and will likely enjoy a long run of repeat performances.

What, then, is the Domme, if they are not the lead, not the writer, rarely the director, and not the audience? Well, gentle readers, that brings me back to my earlier mention of two-dimensional characters who advance the plot, which is what the Domme is much of the time. They have no interests apart from those that serve the drama, their desires are devices by which situations are created that satisfy the desire of the imaginer, and nothing about their actions within the scene indicate they have any existence prior to or after the scene. At best, the Domme is a supporting character. At worst, they are a prop.

A particular Domme is, for all intents and purposes, an actor playing a role defined by the script. They do not define this role. A skilled Domme infers the lines they are intended to deliver. They infer their actions, their queues, their entrances, and their exits. Their role is written for them, and not by them.

To dispel any doubt on the truth of this, I must speak directly to an underdiscussed truth: that the role of the Domme in these fantasies are prone to frequent recasting. A given sub may fantasize about, or have sessions with, a few Dommes, or a few dozen Dommes, each playing essentially the same role without the fantasy changing in any substantial way. 

This is the nature of personal fantasies: they are principally concerned with the person doing the fantasizing, with other people acting as props, prompts, or proxies. This applies to fantasies of all sorts, sexual or otherwise: the characters that are not ourselves admire, admonish, or adore us in service to our needs, with no real needs of their own. It's a small slice of fiction entirely concerned with us, and that's fine. Some of our fantasies serve to motivate us, others as symbols of catharsis, still others as a refuge of relief from some aspect of our day to day interactions we'd enjoy setting aside for a time.

In the context of kink, the fantasy aspect of these scenarios is acknowledged via the boundaries and rules of engagement involved. Mistress Matisse, a regular contributor to the Savage Love podcast, refers to kink as "Masters Degree sexuality", referring to the careful process of clear explanation, negotiation, and communication involved in navigating a sexual fantasy scenario. Most kink communities have a very robust collective understanding of these communication dynamics and offer exhaustive resources for helping newcomers "learn the ropes" (yes. Yes, I did).

The boundaries that a Domme and a sub negotiate and agree upon serve many purposes, such as insuring that the play is safe and satisfying to all involved. In the case of a Pro Domme, this includes appropriate compensation for the Domme setting aside some of their own preferences in order to better fulfill the fantasies of the sub. Whether or not direct compensation is involved, these boundaries also serve to recognize and protect the personhood of both the Domme and the sub. It is a mutual acknowledgement that the fantasy has defined bounds, within which the normal rules of mutual respect can be safely suspended as agreed upon. 

When those boundaries are crossed or ignored, the fantasy intrudes on out-of-scene life, and that intrusion is an immediate affront to the personhood of the other person. In the case of the sub crossing the boundaries established by the Domme, the fiction of the fantasy is being applied outside the agreed upon bounds, and we must remember that in that fiction the Domme is not really, truly, recognized as a person. They are being treated as a prop outside the time in which they've said it's okay to do so.

There's a word for that: dehumanizing. It's beyond mere disrespect, and it directly contradicts the tenets of the Domme-sub roles (inside or outside the fiction). The sub who ignores a Domme's boundaries is effectively saying "I worship you unless you don't give me what I want, when I want it", which is a very curious kind of worship.

The sub who ignores those boundaries in order to prompt the punishment scenario they desire is effectively communicating something made clearer by stripping away the overtly false language of "worship": "I disrespected you (the transgression) to create a pretext to disrespect you again (the boundary-crossing contact) to reduce you to a prop (the forced beginning of a "scene" style interaction) so you can gratify me (via the punishment)."

"i'm sorry, it wasn't my intention!"

Oh, an accident just happened to give you exactly what you want, without playing by the rules, at no cost to yourself, but substantial cost to someone else?

There's a word for that kind of "accident". The word is theft, but here there's more than commerce at play.

As we've already discussed, the cycle of transgression-admission-punishment is the main payoff for some people. That one-two-three is the money shot moment that their sexual fantasies build around. That's fine. Like most every psycho-sexual scenario, it can be integrated into a healthy process of negotiation and clear, honest communication. This one, however, is especially tricky.

Imagine we have two subs on their way to a session with their favorite Domme. sub one has a kink for breath play. sub two enjoys the transgression-punishment cycle.
Both subs arrive late and realize they'd left their payment at home. The Dommes send them home with a harsh word and a wink and a reminder to be on-time and ready next time they book a session.
sub one goes home disappointed.
sub two got exactly what they wanted.

I don't believe there's a solid link between certain sexual interests and other aspects of personal character, i.e. I don't believe that people into one flavor of kink are more honest or caring or intelligent than people into any other flavor of kink. A fascination with transgressions and punishments, however, poses some unique challenges for the sub. It can be very easy to fall into a cycle in which one swings between "good behavior" (negotiates for scenarios, honestly discusses interests, respects the rules and boundaries set down by the Domme) and "bad behavior" (violates boundaries, breaks rules/commitments, expects the punishment of their preference, then enjoys a good grovel). This cycle is especially easy to fall into because the sub who enjoys crossing a line, getting caught, and being spanked for it is getting what they want throughout that swing of the pendulum. It is dangerously easy to fall into a perspective where the "good behavior" scenario (in which the Domme is respected) is interchangeable with the "bad behavior" scenario (where the Domme is being treated contemptuously, even if not outright robbed).

Every kink has some sort of pitfall or potential set of toxic habits that must be recognized and avoided. The same can be said of golf, poker, or sexuality in general. This is part of why being honest is so important, both with yourself and any Dommes or playmates. If you aren't honest about what you want you don't understand how it can run off the rails in a way that leaves you frustrated and abandoned by Domme or play partner. In this particular situation, lack of self-honesty also opens the possibility of increasingly large, and unexamined, reserves of shame. Not the fun, flushed-cheeks, wink-wink sexy shame, but the honest-to-goodness, eating your life from the inside-out until there's nothing left but the lies kind of shame.

That last part may sound a bit dramatic, exaggerated, or crazy sexy hot (and seriously, I am always up for negotiating a hot "existential dread" session. Mmmmmmmm....Camus).


This is the moment where we set more of the fantasy aside and start talking about how our fun bubbles of suspended reality exist in a broader world. In that world, fetish clubs aren't in the nicest part of town. In practical terms, Dommes live nearer the margins of society than their subs. Out here on the edges, shame kills more often than heart attacks.

I don't mean "kills" someone's spirit, or dreams, or another bullshit metaphor. I mean kills. They're gone, and ain't coming back. The internalized loathing people at social fringes experience motivates all manner of suicide, whether the direct kind that we generally recognize as suicide or the less direct, but no less effective, suicide tools of substance abuse, escalating risk-seeking, or the good old standby of "suicide by cop". 

This shame comes from a variety of sources, all of which are traceable to someone better enfranchised (through no act more meritorious than fortunate birth) than the people they are shaming. Shame is a tool of social power, blindly used to devastating effect, and guess what, devoted readers: in the real world, I'm on the side that is usually receiving the damage.

Illustrative side bar:  I've known many people who enjoyed playing with a fake gun in the bedroom (myself included). Second, crucial fact: not one of them was a combat veteran.
People find it difficult to enjoy playing with danger whose full force they've experienced. In the same way that someone who has been shot is unlikely to enjoy a gun in the bedroom, I find it difficult (read:impossible) to enjoy the use of shame as a tool in kink play. 
Too many funerals, folks. Sorry for the buzzkill.

Even for people who do not have a traumatic association with shame as a social or personal force, it is incredibly corrosive. Shame, at its heart, is a loathing of some aspect of oneself. It does not motivate. It does not inspire. It does not provoke positive change. Shame, as an emotional force, is uniquely paralyzing, prone to creating scenarios hellish in their inescapable repetition. 
I don't sell meth. I don't Ebay heroin. I don't play with shame.


Someone can feel that internal tug of frustration without internalizing it to a degree where it haunts their every step. I call that teasing, or humiliation play, where a sub may be (gently) chided or ridiculed for a failure or shortcoming, and even punished. The key difference? The exact same difference that separates a kidnapping scene from an actual kidnapping: communication, negotiation, and consent. The same boundaries that keep the Domme respected keep the sub safe, even when they may not want to be.

For all we may say in the context of a scene, I believe that kink is best when it is a self-affirming exercise. There is a subtext of acceptance implicit in kink play that is incredibly valuable. Exploring a desire someone believes cannot possibly be accepted in a context where it can be honestly unpacked and accepted can be incredibly healing. The acceptance offered by the Domme (by participating in the scenario, then ending it according to the boundaries set) can be a model that a sub can follow. The desire is satisfied, but also put in a new context, one in which it need not be destructive to other aspects of ones person. 



  1. I found this to be a most interesting and thought provoking. I have long been bemused by my contrary nature. Dealing with my internal contradictions with regard to my Fem Dom relationships has been a totally absorbing life long and passionate experience. When I look back over previous relationships (with pleasurable fondness) I can see how I could have made things better for all involved. But the memories put a smile on my face. Its wonderful to be loved for what you are... faults and all.

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