On the Use of Labels in the BDSM World

This has become more and more of a pet peeve for me over the past several years.

No one fits neatly into any of these little boxes, in my experience. Even those who most seem to always have elements that don’t fit what someone else sees as “the definition”, once you get right down to it.

The older I get, the more I realize this – and the crankier it makes me to see everyone else and their cousin still wanting to stuff everyone into the same little boxes, and to make those boxes and labels mean the same thing to everyone – or more precisely, the same as it means to them. I’ve ranted about this publically for years in a variety of locations, but I’m crankier than ever about it.

We are much too complex to be reduced to one or two word definitions as labels to fully describe who we are, whatever those labels may be – at least any of us with more than a few functioning neurons who aren’t so completely damaged that we let anyone kick us around any way they want. The more neurons, the more complex, and the less well these labels generally function as definitions or descriptions.

Even doormats have limits and issues that may often belie whatever simple label anyone might hang on them. And God knows that even the most fully M/s-identified people certainly do. It’s never, ever as simple or clear-cut as it may look from the outside.

These labels are, at best, starting points for a discussion. Shorthand, if you will. Continue reading

A Slave is Not A Submissive

By Deborah Teramis Christian

A submissive explores the piquant terrain of the surrendering of power. It is not surprising that folks engaged in D/s often spend a fair amount of energy determining what are the appropriate bounds of submission and control to incorporate into their play. For those for whom this kind of power exchange is a lifestyle expression, the scope of dominance and submission excercised may be quite extensive.

Into this mix then often comes the tricky word of “slave” – a concept which never fails to muddy the water, especially in discussions on the internet or among kinksters with limited D/s experience. While some people insist that the word “slave”, like the word “submissive”, can mean to the individual anything they want it to mean, it is nevertheless a fact of the established and more experienced leather community that slavery in an M/s sense of the word has specific connotations, and that slavery differs from submission in significant ways. I want to explore those differences here and illustrate why I believe that a submissive and a slave are two entirely different creatures, as unlike as apples and oranges.

Definitions

To start this conversation I will offer a definition of submissive and slave first put forth by Steven Davis on the old alt.sex.bondage newsgroup on Usenet in 1995, paraphrased here with permission. (Also, when speaking of D/s which is a gender-neutral endeavor, I tend to use the gender neutral pronouns of sie and hir in my discussion. I write for an audience that spans many orientations and I find it helps avoid the pattern of thinking of D/s as happening in any one set of gender configurations). That said:

A submissive renews the choice to submit every time a demand is levied upon hir. A slave makes a one-time choice to submit, up front, and thereafter it is incumbent upon hir to obey.

I am fond of this definition because it describes not only my personal experience of submission and slavery, but with some minimal qualification also applies to every submissive or slave relationship I have known of. To elaborate, then…. Continue reading