Tag Archives: dominance

On Submission, Strong Women & The High Alpha Male

Black and white of a woman wearing black boots and ball and chain by Ellen von Unswerth for On Submission, Strong Women and The High Alpha by Malin James

Ellen von Unwerth, from Revenge

I had a brief conversation the other day that got me thinking. I’m going to paraphrase chunks of the exchange rather than quote directly (because consent), but I’ll stick as close to the original as I ethically can.

So, here’s the opener:

Hi Malin. As a high-alpha male, I appreciate strong women. Dominant women are a rare challenge. I love your work – it gives me a lot of insight into how strong women tick. 

Given my initial response, the smart thing to do would’ve been to ignore it and move on. Unfortunately, those three sentences annoyed the fuck out of me so I responded with this:

A rare challenge…interesting. Care to unpack that?

Here’s his response:

Sure! For alpha males there’s nothing as exciting as an alpha female. Alpha females handle themselves, which is great (and rare with women in my experience, IMHO), but even more exciting is the challenge I mentioned. When a strong woman breaks and submits to you, that’s the biggest high you can get as a Dom. All women, alpha or not, want to submit to a strong man and being the only man that an alpha female submits to is a fucking high.

So…setting my visceral response aside, what he’s essentially talking about is a fetish for strong women. That, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. Strong women rock in all kinds of ways because there are all kinds of ways in which women are strong. Where it goes wrong for me is in why he appears to fetishize a particular kind of female strength.

He doesn’t love strong women because he thinks strong women are interesting. He doesn’t love strong women because he wants to submit to a worthy Domme. He doesn’t even love strong women because he thinks an alpha female is the only kind of woman who can match his “high alpha” self. He loves strong women because they’re a challenge.

Let me rephrase that. He loves strong women because making a strong woman “break and submit” to him is a challenge.

The attraction isn’t in the woman. It’s in a narcissistic fetish for a certain kind of power. He wants to be the very special, uber-alpha male who breaks an unbreakable woman and makes her submit. He’s not fetishizing her strength, he’s fetishizing the idea of being the only one who can strip her of it.

Needless to say, I’ve got a few issues with this. The first is that it devalues the actual submission of actual female subs (many of whom are fucking bad-asses). The second is that it makes the “strong woman” in question a challenge (ie: a thing to surmount) rather than a person, and any view that reflexively turns a person into something other than a person is pretty much a no-go for me. The third is that this appreciation for strong women is entirely ego driven. Here’s what I mean….

If you work from the stated assumption that “all women, alpha or not, want to submit to a strong man” (*eye roll*), you get the implication underlying the attraction –  that any guy can make a submissive woman submit because women are, by nature, submissive. It takes a “high alpha male” to break the “rare” dominant woman.

That particular appreciation for female strength has nothing to do with respect or actual, you know, appreciation. It’s a purely reflective thing – the value of her strength is in how brightly it highlights his.

Full disclosure: I have a button here. Though I’m not a Domme, I am naturally dominant with a wide streak of  don’t-tell-me-what-to-fucking-do. I’ve written about how my natural dominance attracted an ex who was, to put it bluntly, a diagnosed sociopath who loved me best when I was needy (“but only for him”) and who wanted to “crush me and break me and make me his”. (Direct quote. Fuck it).

That’s not to say that this gentleman is a sociopath. To be honest, I don’t think he really understood what he was saying. It just rubbed my fur backwards and, once I got over my initial annoyance, I didn’t like how it unpacked.

Essentially, this kind of attraction turns a very specific form of female strength into fetishized commodity while dismissing all the other ways in which women are strong. In other words, it turns female dominance into a kind of drug that makes a certain kind of man feel special. It has nothing to do with the woman or her dynamic with that man. It has to do with the ego boost that comes from fucking her in a particular way.

It also turns the “rare” alpha-female one of two things:

  1. a disposable experience, or
  2. a possession to groom and keep.

Either way, it’s no good. Every woman does not crave submission, and those that do should have autonomy within their submission. Anything else falls back on a cultural mode that normalized a husband’s right to spank his wife for failing to make the perfect pot roast.

In the end, there’s a fundamental difference between spanking Lara Croft and spanking Lara Croft’s alpha female glory to the breaking point. The spanking isn’t the issue – it’s the motives behind it that makes the difference between awesome and toxic. If a dominant woman (or man) trusts you enough to submit to you, even if only for a night, that should speak to the connection and trust between you, not to your prowess as an alpha.

Fetishize power in a partner. Revel in it. Love strong women. Love strong men. Just don’t turn whatever happens into proof of your Domminess. Don’t fetishize the ego boost that comes with “breaking” someone you perceive to be strong. Sex and submission aren’t about how alpha you are. They’re about feeding off each other’s strengths – that’s the real fucking high.

NB: I realized after I posted this that I should clarify some terminology as usage in that conversation got fairly muddy.

“Alpha male” and “alpha female” don’t equate to Dom and Domme (or sadist or top). All alpha means it that someone has what might be called a dominant personality. Some alphas have personalities that are more dominant than others, as do some betas, etc. All dominant people are not alpha, nor are all alphas dominant.

Alpha, dominant and Dom are often equated in casual conversation, which is fine insofar as it goes. It’s just important to acknowledge that a person’s alignment in social hierarchies may differ than their (natural or chosen) position in sexual power dynamics.

As for the term “strong women”, it most definitely does not apply exclusively to dominant women or alpha females. Some of the strongest women I know are subs. Sexual wiring has little, if any, bearing on a woman’s integrity, resilience or strength.

Flash Fiction: La Belle Dame

Black and white image of a woman in a black coat standing in a doorway for Flash Fiction La Belle Dame by Malin James

Photograph by Marco Sanges

 

I have him chained to the wall. I always do. Strong backs pinioned to cold, hard stone. It’s an exhausting position. I know.

“You’ll learn to hate me,” I say.

Learn…hate….

My voice sounds strange. A stranger’s voice. I almost never speak. The words drop into the silent room, dense as mercury.

He tenses but doesn’t look away. None of them do. He smells hot and metallic, like coal-covered iron. Sharp ribs. Sharper hips. There’s a beautiful vein in his neck. Beautiful and thick.

He watches me approach, very proud. A man held together by his father’s influence…. Borrowed influence. I bring my face to his. He strains at the chains, but they pull him up short. Rattling, lunging, he spits his frustration. Laughter tumbles out of me, clean and cold as ice.

He doesn’t expect the blow.

It lands across his cheek, a delicate lie. He smiles, as he’s meant to. But the second lands hard. The third cracks his head back against the wall.

“Harder.”

It’s an empty challenge, full of ego and pride. Like that, my interest fades. Had there been something of his presence in that single word, had he shown me something true…. But, his strength is a lie he tells himself, the blown-out shell of an egg. There is mercy on my tongue for an honest man. But breakable things should break.

He snarls and pulls and bares his teeth. What a sad, ridiculous show. When I hit him again, I draw blood. He blinks. Poor, bewildered boy.

What follows is routine. There are implements on the wall and I take one down. A knife with a handle sloped like a woman’s back. I show him the arching blade, the metal that parts skin with civilized grace. Now, he looks away.

I watch him, wondering…. But no. His eyes when they find mine are blazing and empty. He bares his teeth to speak.

“No,” I say. “That’s enough.”

I kneel and consider the knife.

Very gently, like a mother, like a woman made of light, I slice through his rags and watch his skin ripple, as his clothing falls away. His eyes grow calm, as the rest of him stills. His defiance is in stasis, a delicate, crushable thing, arrested by the reality he finds himself in.

I look up at him and smile, the smile a kneeling woman gives a standing man. It’s cruel and unnerving. It’s meant to be. I continue to smile my mocking smile as I bring the blade to his skin, skin no blade should touch.

His cock stirs, making its final appeal, and I wait for him to shift and rattle and beg. It’s what always happens next. But he doesn’t. He stays quiet and very still. I press harder with the blade, curious. I want to see what he’ll do.

His muscles tense, but it’s autonomic. There’s nothing but calm from him.

I look up and meet his eyes. They are waiting for mine. He has great respect for the knife. His eyes tell me this. His eyes tell me things that sink through the silence and fill the room. There is a person in there now.

And, like that, my interest is piqued.

What May Sound Like a Stand-Offish NB: Though the trajectory of this piece was unexpected, I both stand by and am proud of it. That said, I am not personally into castration fantasies. While I respect them as a kink, please don’t feel obliged to send them to me. 

Erotic Fiction: Slow Burn

“Come closer.”

I lie back on your bed, curled up in the nest of your rumpled, blue duvet.

I’m naked. I love being naked with you, in your bed, where my body feels soft and silky, like a celluloid princess in a silent film. But I’m not a princess. Nor am I silent…not that I can’t be quiet as a mouse. I just don’t want to be. Silent. There is too much joy in your weight between my legs; and in the way my body feels fitted into yours.

You come closer to the edge of the bed. There isn’t much room, but now you’re squarely in front of the window, which is where I want you to be.

“Strip for me.”

You flush. You’re still cold from your run to the store. I imagine dark heat spreading through your cells, and seeping into your skin. We’ve done this before—the stripping. But your sloping shoulders seem bashful. So does the curl of your hand, as if you’re surprised that I want this from you…. But you do strip, meeting my eyes the whole time once your shirt is off.

“Slower,” I say.

I’m teasing you now and you know it. You’re already going slow. But you comply and go slower as your lips pull up to one side. You’re going to tease me back. You slow down even more. But I love it. I love the frustration and the time it gives me to watch your body move. And all the while, your eyes stay on mine, focused, very precisely, on me, and on us, and on the game we’re playing now.

You’re already hard when you take your pants off. I knew you would be—we’ve been playing all day and you’ve already fucked me twice. Once, slow and sweet, like spoons in a drawer with your arms wrapped around me and my hands clutched in yours. The second was  hard and fast, up against the counter after breakfast and tea. I was still soaking wet after the first time. I’m soaking wet right now.

Being around you makes me wet—your quick solidity; how small and strong you make me feel; your scent; our skin. I love the way we fuck. I love the noises you make when you come. I love the noises you make when you don’t. Since we woke up, I’ve come, in great, hazy waves, more times than I can count. You have not. You haven’t come at all because we’re playing a game and you won’t until I say.

I open my legs, half snuggled into your bed. My cunt feels soft and warm when I slip my fingers in. You watch me. You know what we’re doing. I don’t have to say. But you wait for me anyway.

“Lick your palm and stroke your cock.”

You do, eyes still on mine. My fingers slide over my cunt without my having to try. My body wants to be filled. It’s sucking at my fingers as I drag them out and push them slowly in.

My legs drop open even more. You pause and take a step.

“No,” I say. “Don’t touch me. Slide your hand up and down your beautiful, fucking cock and think about how good it would feel to be fucking me instead.”

I think about us when I get myself off. I think about us so often that it’s natural, even now, despite the fact that you’re less than a foot away. And all the while, your eyes are on mine. Your eyes bring me closer in ways that my hand alone never does….

I lie back and arch my hips, bringing my cunt up to your cock, as close as I can without blocking our hands. I want to keep the hard, thick pull of wanting you this bad. But I come, and I cry out as I do, a guttural, not-beautiful sound. And then I come again.

You’re sweating and your face is flushed, not cold anymore; I smile up at you and you smiled down at me. We are co-conspirators. You know what we’re doing. I don’t have to say. But you wait for me all the same.

“Don’t you fucking come.”

It’s a slow, slow burn.

Thank you to Exhibit A for the use of the words-fail-me, (very) inspirational image.

And if you haven’t read Exhibit A’s work, you should. The man is much more than just a pretty…em…face. He’s brilliant and his erotic fiction and sex writing are some of the best I know. Find more of him here.

Trigger

The Tightrope Walker. Portrait in The Haunted Mansion.

The Tightrope Walker. Portrait in The Haunted Mansion.

Being triggered doesn’t happen to me often anymore. When it does, I often feel like this girl, standing on a frayed tightrope over an alligator that I’d forgotten was there.

A Few Notes:

  1. This post has a trigger warning. I don’t usually use them, but I felt that I should as what I’m writing about is a trigger – my trigger – which got pulled not long ago. I’m going to touch on sexual, psychological and emotional abuse, shame and the lasting damage they cause, so if you feel like it would be better to skip this one, please do and consider yourself hugged.
  2. I neither advocate for trigger warnings nor do I oppose them. It’s a complicated issue that deserves objective consideration. This essay  is not that.
  3. It’s important that I explicitly state that consensual D/s play is not abuse. Unfortunately, my trigger overlaps this territory, which means that I have to take certain things into consideration when I play with power dynamics.
  4. Everything in this post is specific to my experience. Nothing I say is intended as prescriptive. I’m not even sure there’s any general wisdom to be had. I’m just feeling my way through.

On to the post….

A few months ago I had a panic attack. I haven’t had one in nearly eight years. It’s been so long that I didn’t quite realize what was happening until an hour later when I still wanted to throw up. When I realized I’d been triggered, the shame was immediate and intense. There is always shame, but even more so in this case.

There are a few reasons for that. The first has to do with ego—this damage was done so long ago that I should be over it by now…right? Well, while I know, intellectually, that that expectation isn’t fair, my feelings feel differently. Shame and egos aren’t interested in fair.

The second reason is a little more basic—the act of falling apart feels shameful because I never want to be an emotional burden again, and panic attacks level me to such a degree that I fear I’ll become one. And then, there’s the serious, primal reason for the shame—the fact that I have a trigger to begin with. But I’ll get to that.

Shame is not something I enjoy feeling, but I’ve accepted it because I know that, for me, it’s part of the triggering mechanism. Complicating this episode, however, was something I’ve never felt before—a deep, panicked resistance.

I didn’t want to be negatively affected by what I’d read. I don’t mean this in a wow-wish-that-movie-hadn’t-made-me-cry kind of way. What I mean is that I didn’t want this piece, very specifically, to affect me negatively. I didn’t want my history to shadow something that would usually turn me on, particularly given my relationship to, and feelings for, the author.

But that’s the thing with triggers. They are intensely specific. The piece that triggered me could have had warnings all over it, but it wouldn’t have made a difference. I’d have read it anyway because, regardless of the warning, I wouldn’t have seen it coming. Change any number of external factors and I’d probably have been fine. In fact, six months ago, I may not have triggered at all. Six months ago, I hadn’t received an email that I never wanted to get. I was getting more sleep. I hadn’t just finished a difficult piece…. There was just no way to prepare for the very specific, collective effect that all of those factors had on me right then. There’s never any way to prepare. At least, not for me. And it’s for that reason that I stand by the piece that triggered me, because it’s really good and in no way at fault for affecting me in that way. It’s just one of those things….

This is going to seem like a random transition, but bear with me.

I’ve written before about the fact that, while I’m not a Domme, I am sexually dominant, and that my dominance formed, (in part, at least), in response to several traumatic things in my history. That’s where triggers (warning!) come in.

When I was very young, I was sexually abused. As a result, I learned that my will could be supplanted. I learned that I couldn’t rely on my parents and that love doesn’t keep you safe. I learned that I had to protect myself. And I also learned that I couldn’t. In other words, at four years old, I internalized that I was powerless.

This led to all sorts of borderline abusive situations as I grew up. Eventually, I graduated to a genuinely abusive relationship. My ex was charming and intelligent. He made me feel strong. He loved my anger and my hunger and my insatiable sexuality. He wanted me to own the world. And he wanted to own me. He taught me about power and how to use it, and then he flipped the tables and showed me how powerless I was.

That’s my trigger. Powerlessness. Helplessness. That’s where the shame comes from—the uneasy knowledge of what I allowed to happen after a lifetime of trying (and failing) to protect myself. And no, I’m not blaming the victim (although the word doesn’t sit easily with me). What I am doing is acknowledging that I made choices. I chose to stay for longer than I should have, and that decision installed a trigger that was pulled because I read something beautiful, written by someone brilliant, that was too much like something my ex had done to me.

My trigger unmoors me from the strong foundation I’ve built. It reminds me that I can be leveled by things that are out of my control. It makes me feel like I can’t protect myself. It makes me feel like I have to, and it’s that last part that’s especially hard. It’s my vigilance that saddens me most. I feel most like the self I might have been in those rare moments when the vigilance drops…when I am soft and relaxed. Those are the sweetest moments. And to that end, my trigger is also a gift.

What made this episode different, and especially disturbing, is that it didn’t stop. I remained unsettled for weeks, so much so that I finally went to a therapist for what has always been diagnosed as depression. This time, I came away with an additional diagnosis. PTSD. And now, thanks to the awful discomfort of being triggered, I’m doing the work that I wish I’d done years ago.

The only way I know to recover is to get stronger. That used to mean making myself invulnerable. Now, it means the opposite. It means bending. I need to learn to accept the abuses and my vulnerability, and I need to learn to trust my strength. I can’t tell you how sweet it would be to feel that acceptance and trust. To drop the resistance and shame. Vulnerability can be such a beautiful thing. One day, I would like to experience it as such.

Woman in Repose

Woman with arched back lying on a dark bed

Woman in Repose by Steve Harris

The past few months have been challenging. A series of difficult things destabilized what had been a very stable foundation. It was a bit like playing Jenga. Each thing that happened removed a pin from my tower, until I was leaning and listing everywhere – nowhere near falling, but structurally unsound.

As a result, it’s  fair to say that I haven’t been myself. The people in my life have had to deal with me being unusually emotional and term bound while I struggled with a limited sense of perspective. I’ve been anxious, reactionary and far more taxed (and taxing) than I ever want to be. It’s a state of mind that made me want to unzip my skin and divorce my body from my brain until I got a handle on things. And that’s essentially, what I did. The result was a general disinterest in sex and, to a greater degree, D/s.

There are labels I use for myself, and others that I don’t even though they could superficially apply. The primary example of this is “Domme”. I never refer to myself as a Domme even though I am sexually dominant. (To be honest, I’m dominant in general though I try to keep that checked. I’d rather be accessible than in control…unless there’s a reason to be in control).

I make the distinction between dominant and Domme because, while I enjoy playing with power, I can just as easily not and be very satisfied. The label “Domme” comes with implications that I feel don’t quite apply because my dominance isn’t formalized, nor do I want it to be. My recent situational reticence with D/s underscored that distinction for me in a very concrete way.

Side note: Drawing this distinction deserves its own post, so forgive the broad brush I’m using now.

While I love playing games, I’m equally happy to meet my partners without a power dynamic in play. What keeps me from being even remotely switchy is the fact that I won’t submit sexually to anyone. Ever. My aversion to sexual submission is serious enough that I couldn’t do it for love or money. There are reasons for this, but I’m going to save those for a separate post.

I’d be lying if I said that I don’t enjoy gentle cruelties or imposing my will on consenting partners. I’d be lying if I said that there isn’t a carnivorous part of me that gets off on taking control. But I’d also be lying if I said that that particular kind of assertion is an integral part of who I am. It’s something that I do, not something that I am (unlike my resistance to submission, which is a fundamental part of my personality). That’s why I love sex with an equally dominant partner just as much (and often even more) as D/s play. 

The result of dealing with what I’ve been dealing with is that I haven’t really wanted to play in a D/s sense. I haven’t wanted to control, create or weave scenarios. So much of my energy was going to keeping myself under control, that the idea of taking external control in a play context was exhausting. Unfortunately, I didn’t consciously realize any of this at the time, though I wish I had. I was pushing myself in ways that I shouldn’t have.

In hindsight, I can see that what I needed was something else – good sex, balanced dynamics and, perhaps most lowering, a sense of safety so that I could get out of my head and back into my body. I’ve been sexually reticent and, though not passive (because I’m almost never passive), I’ve definitely been more cautious and reserved – what a friend of mine would call a woman in repose.

While I was in London, Exhibit A and I went for a short run. Afterwards we talked about how, after you’ve been injured, you tend to go more carefully and not push yourself as hard. It’s an understandable thing but, at a certain point, that self-protective instinct can get in your way. Then again, sometimes it’s what you need, even if only for a short time…the hope is always that you’ll return to running at speed.

To circle back to where I started, certain facets of my sexuality and personality have been feeling fairly injured of late – facets that are tied to my relationship with sexual dominance. In a sense, I needed to rest those muscles – the ones I use in D/s – because D/s is not my home base. Sex is. I needed to get re-grounded in sex while those other parts of me rested. I needed to feel, not think or plan. I needed to be spontaneous and basic, so I didn’t go out on available limbs or explore interesting possibilities. I played it safe because, as with running after an injury, I needed to respect my boundaries and get the lay of my land again.

I didn’t realize it until I wrote this, but sex was, and is, the key to that for me. Good, connected, uninhibited, back-to-basics sex with someone I trust.  And now, on the tail end of what turned out to be a pretty difficult patch, I’m happy to say that I’m in better shape than I thought I was. The muscles that needed resting are stretching and waking up. I’m feeling like myself again, and it feels awfully good. I really am happiest on my feet.

Guest Post: An Evening with Alex & Em

Back in February, I had a birthday. As a present, Exhibit A wrote me a guest post called “Strong Foundations”, one of the sexiest birthday presents anyone could wish for. He tailored it to my kinks and tastes, so what I ended up with was a piece of erotica specifically designed to turn me on. I am happy to report that it did (and continues to do) its job very well.

In fact, it was such a fantastic birthday present, that when Exhibit A turned 34 a few weeks ago, I decided to return the favor. The story I wrote for him is called “An Evening with Alex and Em” and it’s a saucy little mash-up of a few of his many and varied sexual interests – Femdom and CFNM, with a little voyeurism and exhibitionism thrown in for good measure.

When he asked me if I’d mind if he put it up on his blog, I very demurely acceded (meaning I said yes without even pretending to hesitate). In fact, it’s up on his site as a guest post right now. You can read it by clicking here.

And if you haven’t already, check out “Strong Foundations” too. It’s a hell of a hot story, and it inspired “An Evening with Alex and Em”, a story that was a hell of a lot of fun to write.

Going Down

Cast Painting 1 - Lips by Julie Beck.

Cast Painting 1 – Lips by Julie Beck.

I had an interesting conversation awhile ago. The person I was talking to mentioned that if there were such a thing as a blow job spectrum, he’d have data points all over it, because while he enjoys blow jobs with some partners, with others it’s just not something he actively craves.

I liked the idea of a spectrum because, if popular opinion were to be believed, every man everywhere wants blow jobs from everyone all the time, which is a bit like saying that every woman on the planet wants chocolate every minute of every day, regardless of what it’s in. (Personally, I’ll take custard over chocolate any day, but that’s a different issue).

The conversation also made me realize that I cover a similar sort of spectrum as the giver, rather than receiver, of blowjobs (though I should say that, as a bi lady, I have a totally different spectrum for going down on women, a subject I’m sure I’ll come back to at some point).

For the most part, I’m happy to go down on a guy but, generally speaking, it isn’t one of the primary things I fantasize about. There are, however, notable outliers. I have had partners whom I have actively preferred not to go down on and, way over on the other side of the spectrum, there is a very small handful of men that I absolutely LOVE(D) to suck off. I suspect the variety in my data points has quite a lot to do with my first experience.

I gave my first blow job just a few weeks before I had sex for the first time. I was, for all intents a purposes, a virgin at 19 and grimly determined to rid myself of the label. I didn’t feel like a virgin. I felt hypersexual, and yet there I was, 19 years old with many, many trips to third base under my belt, but no partnered orgasms, no blow jobs and no penetrative sex….

I decided to rid myself of the innocence I didn’t want, so I hooked up with the guy who would pop my cherry a few weeks later. We went dancing and had a genuinely good time. Later that night, we started making out in his car and he asked me to suck his cock. And why wouldn’t he? We were going at it hot and heavy after a pretty successful date. There was no way he could have known that I’d never done it before, because I’d very purposely avoided discussing myself. I wanted so desperately to have already had that experience that I let him assume that I had.

So, I sucked his cock. After years of curiosity and waiting, I was prepared to love it. But I didn’t. I hated it. Once my mouth was on him, he held my head and fucked my face. Now, before alarm bells go off, I will tell you that he would have stopped if I’d told him to. I could have jerked my head back at any time, but I held myself there far more firmly than he did. I didn’t know that a face fucking wasn’t the ideal way for me to experience giving head for the first time. Even if I had, I wouldn’t have cared. I wanted to check that box, so I did, knowing the entire time that I was shortchanging myself, and defiantly not caring.

It wasn’t long before I found other partners, but it took me awhile to learn to like sucking cock, and even then it was a sort of skill-based enjoyment, rather than a primal one. I liked experimenting. What would happen if I focused on his head? If I fondled his balls? If I did this or that with my throat? It was all very academic in a way. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I experienced what I will call The Joy of Sucking Cock.

The first time I lost myself in giving a blowjob, it was completely unexpected. I’d been dating A for close to six months and I’d already gone down on him more times than I could count. I’m still not sure why it was different that day, but it was. Maybe it was just that we had the luxury of time, but I sucked his cock without thinking about it. For once, I was totally unmotivated by getting him off and for the first time what I was doing turned me on. I enjoyed myself in a way not unlike this, and while I did, that hard edged, dangerous, son-of-a-bitch of a man bucked and begged to come. Finally, he dragged me onto his lap and fucked me harder than he ever had, and with far less finesse, because I’d worn down his control. That’s when I realized that I actually loved sucking cock – it just had to be attached to the right man.

Even now, while I generally enjoy going down on a partner, I’ve only experienced The Joy of Sucking Cock with a handful of men. Physically they’ve all been different – cut, uncut, longer, shorter, curved, classically proportioned and not quite as much so…. There are two things these men have in common, however. This first is that they all felt right in my mouth – a sort cock sucking version of fit vs. fill. The second is they’ve all had an incredible energy both in and out of bed. Like many people, I feed off my partner’s enjoyment, and the men whom I’ve loved sucking off have all had voracious sexualities that synced up naturally with my own. More than anything, it’s that syncing up that makes the difference for me. It’s what transforms the blow job into a feedback loop, with one giving and the other receiving, and both of us spiraling out of conscious control.

There’s another component, as well, one that goes back to my first experience in that car. It also (unsurprisingly) links to control. That night, I was not in control. I rendered myself an object and I hated it. To compensate, I spent many years treating blow jobs as a way to exercise power over my partner – my way of owning a sexual act that I’d first experienced in a very passive and, as a result, negative way. (Even now, I can’t stand having my head maneuvered and I hate having my face fucked). The small handful of partners that I described above have all been men who a. instinctively knew not to test my boundaries in this regard b. were men I could honestly talk to and c. were partners whom I trusted, implicitly.

The joy I described feeling with them – that syncing up – is the direct result of my letting go of control and relaxing enough to simply enjoy having his cock in my mouth. It’s the result of knowing that when his knees buckle or his hips buck, he’s sharing his pleasure with me. There’s a ton of power in that feedback loop and power is fucking hot – all the more so when you’re enjoying it together.

This is my contribution to The Fellatio Project, hosted by Marie Rebelle. To read other entries, click the pretty picture below.

The Fellatio Project

Femme Fatales & Dames

My daughter was sick for most of last week, so I spent a lot of time on the couch, jotting notes on a legal pad. One of the things I scribbled was something I’ve been mulling for awhile – different portrayals of women in media, and how archetypical images of femininity and sexuality can affect a person’s development. On a whim, I made a list (because I freaking love lists) of women that I’m drawn to in film and history. It’s short so I’ll include it here:

Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not (1944)

Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not (1944)

Boudica (the Celtic queen who led an uprising and killed a lot of Romans after they raped her daughters)

Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer’s. Of course)

The female vampires in Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Lauren Bacall

Myrna Loy as Nora Charles

With the exception of Boudica, who is in a class all her own, every woman I listed falls into one of two categories – dames or femme fatales. There are a lot of superficial similarities between the two – dames and femme fatales have a certain energy about them, a sexual assertiveness for lack of a better word, but beneath the superficial gloss they are actually fairly different, as was my attachment to them at different stages in my life.

Femme fatales are the image I was most attracted to as a girl, so their influence wove itself into my sexuality at a pretty young age. Moreover, femme fatales have been around for centuries, while dames are a 20th century phenomenon.  The femme fatale first manifested as a supernatural evil – Lilith, lamias, succubi and vampires. Later they took the form of dangerously sexual and often villainized women, like Mata Hari.

The femme fatale, as  a figure, is problematic. She was, quite literally, created to embody the perceived evils of an assertive (i.e.: predatory) female sexuality, a sexuality that is almost always punished. While I’m aware of that now, I didn’t know that as a girl, so my attraction to this type of woman was fairly simple. Because of that, I’m going to skim the deeper cultural issues attached to the femme fatale (for now – I’ll eventually write a post on it), to focus on her relevance to a younger me.

The Brides, Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

The Brides, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

When I a kid, I was, like a disturbing number of people, made aware of how vulnerable I am. My response to this realization was multilayered. On the surface, I became mousy, quiet and reflexively apologetic. I shrank and made myself as small as I could, driven by anxiety and the desperate need to avoid confrontation. Beneath the surface, however, my real, private self was angry – massively angry, all the more so because I wouldn’t allow that anger to show. By the time I was thirteen, I was a seething ball of sweetness. As my sexuality kicked into gear, I bifurcated all the more, becoming the ideal good girl on the surface, while having violent sexual fantasies in the privacy of my head. That was the year I saw two movies that influenced my sexuality to a great degree – Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Dracula and Batman Returns. These movies introduced me to the femme fatale.

I remember watching the scene in Dracula where the three brides ravish Jonathon Harker. It’s a sexualized assault wherein they seduce and then literally consume him while he writhes in horrified ecstasy.  As I watched that scene, something in me clicked. I wanted to be one of those brides. I wanted to wield my sexuality like a weapon, just as those women did. Of course, they were punished (stake through the heart, beheaded, etc) and, of course, they were subject to the control of the man who had made them, but I didn’t care about that then. What I cared about was that they were predatory women, claiming what they wanted without remorse or apology. It was a revelation to me.

Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, Batman Returns (1992)

Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, Batman Returns (1992)

Then I saw Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, a different sort of femme fatale, one that I identified with all the more because I felt like her mousy alter ego, Selena Kyle, who was pushed out a window for being too clever. Rather than die as she should, she resurrects herself and becomes something else, something hard and sexual and overtly predatory (once again, the predatory). She goes from being a victim to owning and asserting herself in a way I could only dream of.

For me, the femme fatale represented overt, rapacious sexual freedom. More to the point, the archetype was a picture of the violent reclamation of sexual agency that I desperately needed. As a result, my early relationships were fraught. I was angry and deeply hurt, and I wanted to make other people, especially men, hurt too. I was a toxic mixture of hollow weakness, rage and simmering sexuality and, as a result, I did a lot of damage, both to others and to myself.

Enter the dame. The definition of the word “dame” varies greatly, so here’s what I mean when I use the word. A dame is a woman in full possession of herself. For me, Lauren Bacall is the ultimate dame – smart and sexy, cool under pressure, holding her own in every situation. Whereas femme fatales seduce on instinct, dames watch. They play power dynamics like hands of poker. They make moves, but only when they’re ready. Femme fatales are about carnal impulse. Dames are about control.

By the time I entered the The Reconstruction (the period in my early twenties that directly followed my inevitable breakdown), the archetype of the femme fatale had welded itself to my sexuality so, rather than uproot it, I tried to explore it in a healthier, less aggressive way. I needed agency, a sense of autonomy and power. I enjoyed the slightly wicked, predatory streaks in in my sexuality and I didn’t want them to go away, I just wanted to be in control, wielding them, rather than letting them wield me.

Bogie and Bacall (1944)

Bogie and Bacall (1944)

Around that time, I went on a Lauren Bacall binge. Even at eighteen, Bacall was something. Paired with a man over twice her age, she held her own so well that when she cocks her head and teaches Bogie how to whistle, you know he’s the one in trouble, not her. Even when he holds her jaw as he kisses her, you get the sense that she is allowing it because it pleases her. She is a fully present partner, owning her half of that kiss. That’s why their chemistry is so insane – she’s right there with him every step of the way. Now, that’s a dame.

So is Myrna Loy, though in a very different way. As Nora Charles, Loy was unfailingly charming. She had such a light, funny social grace that it’s only when you really pay attention that you see her gently maintaining the upper hand in nearly all of her interactions. She’s at the top of the social curve, not for any overt reason but because she’s open and confident, so confident that she literally has nothing to prove.

Myrna Loy (1926)

Myrna Loy (1926)

The difference between the femme fatale and the dame is the difference between what I aspired to at two very different stages in my life. I needed the agency and self-possession represented by both, but beyond that I wanted control after I had so thoroughly lost it. I wanted calm where there had been chaos, perspective where I’d had none. I wanted measured looks and unflinching gazes and dry observations and crooked smiles. I wanted to relax and finally be myself, without apology or aggression. So I embraced the dame and subconsciously rebuilt myself in a different mold.

It would be easy to think of the these figures as constructs – personas that were / are separate or laid over my actual personality, but that would discount the fact that for many people, personalities are fluid. We all have baseline characteristics – compassion, cruelty, extroversion, introversion – but different people bring out different qualities in all of us, just as different events change and shape who we are. The femme fatale and the dame are that for me – responses to events that shaped the woman I became.

Iconic figures are complicated and how we related to them is even more so, but for me, they were a mirror, not only into what I was, but into what I wanted to be. They were something to pattern on while I explored and found myself. I didn’t (and don’t) try to be predatory or sexual or wry or watchful. At various times, in various circumstances, I just am, all while maintaining the priority of trying to be an essentially good person. I will never be fully rid of the anger, but because these two different versions of feminine sexuality resonated so deeply at pivotal times, they allowed me to stop being the apologetic mouse with the target on her back. The femme fatale took me too far to one side, whereas the dame helped me find my natural self.

On Corsets

Vogue 1939. Corset by Detolle for Mainbocher

Vogue 1939. Corset by Detolle for Mainbocher

It’s no secret that I love corsets, both for their aesthetic value and for the sheer pleasure of wearing them. I’ve worn cinchers, under-busts, Sweethearts and Victorians but none of them have felt so right or so comfortable as the custom corset I had made last year by the brilliant modistes at Dark Garden in San Francisco. It took three fittings to get my black brocade beauty to fit like a glove, but it does. It’s perfect and I would wear it every day if I could.

Someone once asked me why I love corsets so much – they’re commonly thought of as anti-feminist and uncomfortable (they really aren’t, if you’re wearing the right one). Plus, lets be serious here, I don’t exactly have full, swelling breasts to showcase. In fact, if anything, my figure is quite spare, or “minimalistic” as one lover once put it. What could a modern woman who wears yoga pants and workout gear most of the time possibly get out of something so lush and apparently torturous as a corset? Well, I’ll tell you. Power.

I didn’t wear my first corset until I was in a stage production of The Seagull in my early twenties. I’d done quite a lot of Shakespeare, but it wasn’t until I landed a role with an deeply funded, very established company in San Francisco that I got to wear proper period costumes. At the first fitting for a dress that would involve layers of petticoats and skirts, I was laced into a corset for the first time. The other actresses made a show of complaining about how hard it was to breathe, but I didn’t. I was quiet, because I’d never been so relaxed wearing anything in my life.

That corset was a plain, steel-boned muslin thing – there was nothing sexy or elegant about it, but I felt beautiful. My tightly compressed body felt  efficient and spare – strong, for lack of a better word. I walked more gracefully, laughed more spontaneously and held my own in conversations that would have intimidated me had I not been wearing that old-fashioned, arcane thing.

Custom corset by Dark Garden

Custom corset by Dark Garden

A different part of me emerged. Suddenly, I was confident and socially nimble because, for some reason, wearing the corset made me feel like I could get away with it. I hadn’t yet realized that being myself was not something to get away with, but my natural right. For the first time in my life, I felt comfortable in my own skin.

After the production ended, I saved my money to buy my own corset. I didn’t want a one of the pretty fashion corsets I saw in clubs. I wanted the real thing, which would cost me more than $300 at a time when I could barely pay my rent. The scrimping was worth it though. After six months of austere living, I bought a rose and gold pinstriped silk over-bust that I wore with everything from slacks and suit jackets to white oxford shirts and pencil skirts.

The thing I’d been taught to think of as a torture tool of the patriarchy had, very ironically, given me access to the social autonomy that my young, insecure self so desperately craved. If I could find strength in something that had, historically, been seen as an oppression, maybe my love of red lipstick and high heels wasn’t such a cop-out either. Maybe real power came from pleasing myself, rather than worrying about the male gaze and what my fellow feminists thought.

A woman’s relationships with make-up, lingerie, high heels – all those things we think of as commercially “feminine” – are intensely personal; it’s too easy to dismiss them as simple bids for sex appeal. While it’s true, corsets have been fetishized, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, so long as the woman wearing it feels genuinely happy. Corsets are sexy, and I feel sexy when I wear them, but the reason I feel sexy is very specific to me.

Note: This isn’t meant to imply that not liking corsets (or make-up or heels or any of the rest of it) is a feminine failure. It just means that every woman should feel free to pursue the things that make her feel goodwhether it’s Nike’s or FMP’s.

To me, corsets feel good, like very comfortable armor. When I’m wearing one, I relax and when I relax I am fully myself. My energy concentrates and drops into my hips and my dominant, predatory impulses rapid fire. I feel sharp an subtle. Far from being restrictive, corsets unlock me. I breathe more easily when I wear them. I stand taller. I let myself occupy all the space I want, which is generally quite a lot. For me, corsets have less to do with their effect on other people, and everything to do with their effect on me. They are a kind of second skin, one I no longer need to wear to feel like myself, but which I value and always will.

Though I love reading them, I don’t often have a chance to participate in any of the wonderful memes this writing community has to offer. This week, I’ve accidentally written a post that fits two different prompts – the Kink of the Week is corsets (which inspired this post) and Wicked Wednesday is all about trying new things. Given that my first time wearing a corset was so pivotal, I thought it would fit. Click the badges below to read more entries in both! 

 

 

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I’ve Got What You Want

How far do you think he'd go for that pie?

How far do you think he’d go for that pie?

I’m hypersensitive to power dynamics. I intuit hierarchies the way a cook intuits whether or not a soup needs more salt. It’s one of the reasons I’m drawn instinctively to D/s, and why I love Secretary so much. But more on that in a bit….

Interestingly, power doesn’t have nearly so much to do with position and title as one might think. Boss / employee, parent / child, even Dom / sub – these relationships are vertical in theory, but in practice situational power is fluid and highly dependent on external factors. An influential title is not enough to guarantee that a power dynamic remain static. That’s because situational power has little do with rank, and everything to do with having what someone wants.

Take the boss who is caught embezzling by an employee. He wants to avoid jail, so suddenly the person who relied on his good will at review time has the power. It shifted with context, leaving the boss who once had control at the mercy of his subordinate.

This kind of power simmers beneath the surface of any situation in which people interact. Generally speaking, contextual power goes to whichever party has what the other person wants – love, approval, sex, money, security, respect, whatever. This form of power is leveraged by the honey pot, not by the person who wants a taste.

But there is another kind of power, one that is far less fluid. This other kind of power is defined not by the situation, but by self-possession and control. You can see it when the context shifts, and the honey pot changes hands but the person who should be pursuing it doesn’t.

Let’s go back to the example of the boss who was caught embezzling. What if his employee comes to him demanding blackmail? What if, rather than pay the blackmail, Mr. Embezzler weighs his options and chooses to make a deal with the authorities? While he would still be subject to the institutional power of the law, he will have preserved his autonomous power of choice because he exercised his will and addressed the situation on his terms, and not the blackmailer’s.

That is personal power, which supersedes context. This is the kind of natural authority that claims situational power. While someone who exercises personal power can still be affected by changes in context, their response is entirely their own. It is not determined by the pursuit of what they want. Unlike contextual power, personal power is dictated not by desire, but by choice.

The sort of decision I described Mr. Embezzler making requires incredible personal power. Rather than reacting on impulse to the change in his fortunes, he exercised control over his response and defied his employee’s bid at taking control of the situation – not to spite the employee but, rather, because addressing his crimes on his terms would likely lead to more leniency than he might otherwise get.

That is not easy – the impulse to follow a knee-jerk response is strong. But that’s what personal power comes down to – defying that first, knee-jerk impulse. Do you react immediately or measure your response? Do you take the high road or jump in, guns blazing? Are you ruled by your reactions or do you weigh your options and pursue the one that most aligns with the preservation of your terms? Are you aware of what your terms* are?

*Quick note: I’ve used the word “terms” here a few times, and it occurred to me that I should explain what I mean. When I say “terms” in the context of interpersonal relationships, I mean those things that are most important to you. Terms can be anything from your principles and values, to your needs. Knowing what your terms are in any given situation makes it easier to ensure that you keep them.

Movie poster for The SecretaryOutside of corporate crimes, where can you see this sort of power exchange play out – hopefully in a completely legal way? While power dynamics underlie even the most mundane interactions, there are few places in which both forms of power are played with quite so explicitly as in D/s and BDSM.

In D/s (and other forms of kink) the dynamic of a scene is controlled by one person. Ostensibly, that person is the top, but only if he exercises his will successfully over the sub. In other words, the top has to inspire the bottom’s submission – holding the title of “Dom” isn’t enough. As Laura Antoniou wrote, to dominate is a verb, which means topping requires taking active control of the scene though the assertion of personal power.

This doesn’t always look like what we read in fiction. Take the scenario of the recalcitrant sub. I’ve read many stories in which the top snarls and makes a great cock swinging show of his dominance while the plot put him back in control. It’s much rarer to see a fictional Dom portrayed as possessing, let alone asserting, genuine power. That’s why I love Secretary so much.

Edward Grey is subtle and tremendously considered. He watches Lee and maintains control over their dynamic not through grand displays of dominance, but through the nuanced manipulation of their shared context. He ensures that situational power stays with him by exercising patience and control – the opposite of responding to impulse. But what makes Secretary so wonderful is that it also chronicles Lee, the submissive in the relationship, as she develops her self-possession and gradually asserts power over other aspects of her life, including, at the end, successfully managing contextual control over her relationship with Grey. It’s a well-rounded portrayal of a nuanced power dynamic, one that capitalizes on the complexities of contextual power and personal will.

Power is a lovely game, one whose stakes are defined by the players. Personally, I love to play the game almost as much as I love to watch it play out. It’s endlessly interesting because it’s as varied and dynamic as the people involved. But in a far more serious sense, being aware of power dynamics can help you keep your footing when the going gets rough (and it will always get rough, if only for a bit). Knowing your position in a power dynamic can help you navigate a situation without letting context steer you into a wall. The key is knowing what you want, and whether or not you want it badly enough to compromise your place on the curve.