I was having a conversation with a friend the other day, and this happened …..
“You need to write something on shitty subs.”
“Let’s be honest. All we ever hear about are shitty Doms, fake Doms, predatory Doms. Not a peep about shitty subs. We both know Doms who have been fucked up bad because they got involved with one, but no one ever talks about it. Doms seem like they don’t want to admit it happened to them. They don’t want to admit they badly misjudged.”
“I’m liking this topic!”
“Yay! Oh, but for fuck’s sake, when you write it you must absolutely not use the words ‘shitty subs’!”
“Umm, ok. Sure.”
There is a tendency here in Tumble Town, reflective of a more general attitude in the D/s subculture, that whatever happens is never the submissive’s fault. Every submissive is innocent and devoted and doing her duty conscientiously and correctly, and if things go south it’s because the Dominant in the equation is some inadequate or downright evil figure who done her wrong.
I call bullshit.
Submissives are human beings, just as Dominants are. As such, they run the gamut from good and decent people to people who are damaged, confused, self-absorbed, and occasionally, not to put too fine a point on it, assholes. Such people can be problematic for a Dominant, primarily but not exclusively for those Dominants who have a strong “caregiver” component to their character. (I prefer the word “caregiver” to “Daddy,” because there are plenty of Dominants who give enormous amounts of care who would never self-identify as a “Daddy Dom.”)
I want to lay out a few broad categories based on things I have gleaned from conversations with other Dominants, combined with a couple of my own experiences over the decades.
The confused. Blame 50 Shades. Blame the pervasive flood of unrealistic imagery on the internet. (Tumblr dash, anyone?) Blame whatever you want. But you have to acknowledge that there are any number of people who loudly proclaim “I’m a submissive!” when in fact they are simply confused. I knew a woman once who was quite adamant – overly so, I thought – about the fact that she was a True Submissive™. Right up until the moment she got her first taste of what D/s as a lived experience was actually like. She vanished, until she resurfaced several months later with this text: “I realize now that I’m not a submissive, but I’ve found happiness in the arms of another woman.” My reply, “Ah, so you’re a lesbian this month, then?” went unanswered.
The users. We all know that the internet is infested with random fuckboys who use the cachet of “Dominant” to get laid. Make no mistake: there are also random fuckgirls who use “submissive” for the same purpose. I have a friend who, for several months, thought he was “in a relationship,” when it was obvious to those of us who were his friends that she was just a player who said all the right things and told him what he wanted to hear so that he’d play with her on Skype. She wasn’t interested in a relationship, she just wanted to get off while some guy watched. Any guy would do, really.
The narcissists. “My mother passed away overnight.” “Oh wow. Oh hey, I’m picking up my new car today! Squeeee!!!” Sound like I’m exaggerating for effect? I’m not; this is an exchange that actually happened. One would think that the narcissists would be easy to spot, but it takes time for one to realize that every exchange with one of the narcissists is one-sided, and that no matter what you share about the things you’re dealing with in your life, within a sentence or two they will inevitably bring the conversation back to them.
The energy vampires. There is such a thing as a “needy” submissive, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of Dominants thrive on nurturing and giving care to “needy” submissives. I’m talking about those people who drain a person dry, emotionally and psychologically, day after day after day. The Dominant feels an ongoing sense of utter exhaustion. Not that good feeling of having stepped up to their responsibility to their submissive that day, a feeling I often think of as akin to the feeling of “good tiredness” one feels after a kick-ass workout or a fulfilling day at the office doing work that one loves. I’m talking about that feeling of being utterly drained, and of feeling that bleak sense of “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” of which The Bard wrote so eloquently.
The abusers. The idea that a submissive can be abusive towards their Dominant might sound laughable to some, but it’s really no harder to grasp than the idea that vanilla wives can be abusers. There are submissives who, for whatever reason (emotional, psychological, brain chemicals), derive some twisted satisfaction from abusing their Dominants in various ways. Sadly, the kinds of Dominants who might be the targets of such abuse are usually the soft hearted Doms, the “Daddys,” the caregivers, and those Dominants who are utterly, hopelessly smitten with their submissive.
The mentally ill. During the conversation that spurred this piece, my friend cautioned me thusly: “Whatever you do, you can’t call them ‘crazy’!!” Well damn, that reduces me to writing in euphemisms and weasel-words, but let’s see how it goes. I know submissives, people I consider friends, who step up every day and battle mental health issues. Some of them are in relationships with Dominants who are there for them, and with whom they forge a way forward as a team as the submissive gets treatment and finds healthy coping strategies to live a better life. I’m not talking about those people. I’m talking about those people who use their mental illness as a blunt instrument, as a “get out of jail free card” for treating their Dominant like shit. And I’m talking about those people who use the cachet of “submissive,” “masochist,” “pain-slut,” “humiliation-slut” as a patina to cover what are, at their root, the most godawful and unhealthy tendencies towards physical and emotional self-harm, who use a sadistic Dominant to enable what I’ll call “self-harm by proxy.” I’ve had the experience of being involved with someone like this exactly once; the realization of what I was seeing was horrifying, and one I hope never to repeat.
Now comes the part of the story where a lot of people reading this hit the handy Unfollow button, perhaps after flooding my inbox with angry Anons. And I’m fine with that, because this piece needed to be written. We need to lose the naive idea that a submissive is, by definition, an innocent, helpless Little Nell figure, tied to the railroad tracks and tormented by Snidely Whiplash. Life is more complicated than that. People are more complicated than that. And submissives, like Dominants, are more complicated than that.