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“What are you like?” - labels and such

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: When I first found ASS, I remember spending a lot of time thinking about and trying to define what I was. People in our community always seem to ask that, you know?

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: They seem to, yes. Did you only start even thinking about that once you found other people doing that, or was it always something on your mind? I have a feeling that it really didn't occur to me to think about labels and orientation.

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: I only started thinking about it once people started asking me. Before that I knew I liked the idea of being spanked (and in a more secret place liked the idea of being controlled) but I'd never attached names to that. I'm not sure if that was resistance to the labels, or just not knowing that they were there.

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: But at the very least you were sure that this was about (what we might now call) bottoming for you? I didn't even have a sense of being at either end of things. I've mentioned this before, but I think until I started meeting people and writing stories and becoming more aware of what other people did, this was always a very indirect thing for me.

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: <nod> I just didn't name it as 'bottoming' so to speak. But then, you had stronger feelings about 'switching' and 'switches' before we started talking via e-mail than you do now.

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: Well, yes and no. I mean, it hardly ever even occurred to me to place myself in my fantasies as either of the participants, so it's not as if I switched between the two. It was something else entirely, as if it wasn't a combination of the two orientations, but something like a third, somewhat voyeuristic orientation. Maybe that's because I'd never had first-hand experience of spanking as a kid.

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: Or maybe it's because you watched too much TV. :b~~~

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: <smile> Well, yes, that's certainly true. I'm by nature something of an observer rather than a participant. But I think that's the cause of how much I like television, rather than an effect.

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: <grin> Okay. I guess for the purpose of our conversation, we should find out if we mean the same thing when we use these terms. For me, 'top' is something I'm using as a verb, like 'to top', which for me means to be the spanker. And 'bottom' is an action too - the one who is spanked. I'm very comfortable with those as verbs; as nouns they give me trouble. 'Switch' for me is someone who can both top and bottom. Funny that that one bothers me less as a noun.

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: Well, maybe that's because it's by its nature less restrictive. I do definitely prefer them as verbs, yes. I do think it's important to be clear from the beginning that they're always rather crude oversimplifications of the spectrum of orientation. Just as a very simple example, using only those three, I'd have to say I was a switch, and yet there's a huge difference in essence between the sort of images and fantasies in my head, and those of someone who just whacks and is whacked, you know?

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: Right . . . and in a way that's where other terms come in - not that they simplify or capture things all that well either. For me, I'd describe you as a switch who, with regard to me, tops.

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: That works at this level, sure. Not to confuse things, but for you there are aspects here of submission as well as bottoming, right?

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: Yes. And that's where using these terms as nouns really does start to bother me a lot. Because I hate being called a 'sub' (I think Sparkle pointed out that was a sandwich). And yet I know my reactions and desires express very submissive qualities. I think my dislike of the label made that harder to admit. And also that for a while I wondered what would happen to us if I were to let you know I was a more submissive person. Because I didn't really understand that it was the label 'dominant' rather than the actual control that term carries that bothered you.

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: Well, I'm not sure either the word 'dominant' or 'control' feel right to me, though there may be all sorts of residual insecurities that contribute to that. I'm especially resistant to being thought of as a 'dom' or of 'dominating' anyone. It's perhaps a desire to distance myself from what I see as frequently clueless users of those terms, and maybe also a desire to make what we do seem more touchy-feely <smile>, but I think I feel more comfortable seeing it as support and caring and nurturing. Does that make sense? Is there a difference there, or am I just oversensitive to the words?

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: Honestly, from what I've seen as we've gotten to know more and more people I think what we do is an aspect of D/s, of dominance and submission. And yes, with regard to each other, our actions and dynamic is, well, one where you're in control because I've given it to you. But for me, I think part of the problem is I have a real distaste for the symbols that a lot of people who identify as 'dominants' or 'submissives' find very important. So for me, I tend to think our underpinnings are, even if I don't want to admit it, D/s, but we've overlaid it somewhat differently.

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: What are the symbols that make you uncomfortable?

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: Okay, just for me, I don't like the calling of someone 'master' or 'mistress'. For me it harkens too much to race or chattel slavery and seems almost disrespectful of that suffering - like playing concentration camp games would, you know? In addition, the capping and not capping thing bothers me - but for other reasons.

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: A disrespect for the English language? <smile> I do feel much the same way about those symbols. I don't associate them in quite the same way, but they seem to be play-acting in actually a rather juvenile way. You know the way schoolkids make secret codes and signs and things, in order to construct cliques to belong to. It shows they're insecure about who they are. Labels take the place of character. I guess I also find them rather silly. Those self-important men who call themselves 'Lord' something or other. <gag>

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: Well, it does bother me on an aesthetic level, but that's not really it. Your comments about insecurity make sense. But it's also because of something I remember someone on SSS writing once - that it seems to trivialize the act of submission, make it a game of letters and on-line rules. In addition, and here I'm referring to IRC channels where the owners and ops expect me to go as 'mija' rather than 'Mija' and even more the people who insist that I'm a domme or top because I have a capital letter at the beginning of my name, I feel like it's even a form of non-consensual play. That is, that I'm being sucked into someone else's fantasy world.

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: Sure. It is non-consensual. Just like my being addressed (and it has happened) as 'sir' by someone I have no relationship with on an IRC channel. But let me play devil's advocate for a moment. I'm certainly not disagreeing with you about the labels and silly on-line protocols and such, but wouldn't the people who do those things, without necessarily claiming they had any great inherent significance, make an analogy with the many forms of religious ritual. It's not what you do that matters; it's the careful adherence to it as a mark of respect.

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: Oh, yes, I would totally agree with that. And I honestly don't have a problem with people doing whatever they wish between each other and among themselves. But watching people do slave scenes isn't something I'm comfortable with because for me the symbolism is different. All I'm asking is that I not be made a part of it or judged through its lens.

BTW, I remember that time on-line when someone who knew you topped me started calling you 'sir' and you stopped them and told them why you saw that as rude. I remember feeling before you spoke to her like she was violating our relationship, because I sometimes call you 'sir', and it means something.

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: Right. I'm not sure if I saw it as a violation, but it did seem rude. Like it cheapened the kink for all of us.

But at least for me, the significance of your calling me 'sir' sometimes is entirely in the fact that you want to, choose to, and that it's not something I've somehow imposed. Because the way it is, it does feel right. But if I somehow expected it, then it wouldn't be the same, so there'd be little point in me expecting it, you know? I guess what I'm saying is that it's not about a kind of obedience. It's just a signal to me that you feel a certain way - a certain very submissive mood that I can respond to myself in certain ways.

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: <thinking> If you expected it because we'd agreed I would use it, that would have meaning for me. And yes, it is sort of a signal to you, but using it can also be at trigger for me - remind me of how our relationship is at that moment. Because we shift between so many different levels. My using it, and you, if not expecting, then not being surprised by it, is a marker of a certain level.

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: But, honestly, I don't think I ever would or could expect it. The only very limited context in which I might, might be a scene in which we were playing (which you can interpret however makes sense) with that sort of authority. In our 'real life'? I don't think so. For me, its meaning comes from it feeling right for you. If you hadn't started to use it occasionally - thereby telling me that at least some of the time it felt right for you - then I don't believe it ever would have happened. And it wouldn't have been a loss.

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: I know. All those things are true. And this is one area where we're not different enough to be in conflict, but where our differences do show a bit. Because if you wanted, which I know you choose not to want, but if you wanted to ask/tell me to call you 'sir' at those times when you are, in real life, in control, it would feel right to me. Just as you having control in aspects of my real life feels right to me. If that makes sense.

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: Yes, it makes sense. I agree that this might be a difference between us. I don't see it as a choice I'm making not to want this, any more than I could choose not to enjoy some sexual/kink-related activity. It just wouldn't be who I am.

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: Right. But I guess by choice I meant I'd made it your option. The fact that only one of them is comfortable for you is important for me, but I guess I would see you deciding otherwise within the area of choices our relationship has. I'm sure that seemed less confused in my head. Because, look, there is an element of parent/child that you're uncomfortable with for yourself that I wouldn't be for me. And somehow this is part of that, from my perspective anyway. I know that you would never 'demand' respect from me. Because that's not who you are. But my relationship with you is such that it would feel okay to me if you did.

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: <smile> Well, I'm not sure it's possible to demand respect, though I do know what you're getting at.

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: It is possible. That is, since I already respect you, and you know it (as you do me, by the way), your asking/telling me to show you that, especially if I wasn't, wouldn't be all that surprising.

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: Maybe. Again, this might be a difference between us. Even though I have what for a better word might be called bottoming desires and fantasies, I'm not sure I have anything like the same instincts for submission. Anyone who tried to demand anything from me, wouldn't get very much, least of all respect. There's a difference between having respect for someone, which obviously has to be earned, and showing that respect, which feels more like what you're describing here.

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: <nod> I honestly do think most people are like you. It's like a lot of other stuff in our relationship. It's there in part because there's something in me that reacts differently than most people do to being treated like a child. Which may well be at the crux of why 'master/slave' would never work for me. First, I don't think most people I know who are 'into' spanking are like me. Very few couples use spanking as a means of discipline for real life issues. We do, because that's what works for me (and it working for me works for you so to speak).

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: Okay, so how do you feel about the long-discussed difference (whether it exists or not, and in what form) between spanking and BDSM? Is there just a different centre of gravity, or is there some core essence that 'spanking' needs? At least for you, of course.

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: I don't honestly think there is a general difference between spanking and BDSM. I think spanking is a subset under the larger BDSM community. As would be people who are only into say Japanese rope work. In general I think some of the people who've resisted seeing spanking as part of BDSM sometimes are uncomfortable with either the leather scene or the M/M scene that they identify as the whole of BDSM. (Could I say BDSM once more??? BDSM!)

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: Sure. I agree with all that. I wasn't claiming that spanking is somehow outside. I agree that it's a subset, but I don't think it's entirely fruitless to try to think about what might define that subset. Maybe 'define' is too strong a word, because there aren't any clear boundaries here. Sticking my neck way out, it's always felt to me (and only to me) that my flavour of the spanking kink is very much about childhood. If you try to mark out the intersection of BDSM issues and childhood issues, that intersection will be a very interesting space for me. It needn't mean that scenes are parent/child or teacher/student (or whatever), but it's about borrowing symbols and memories from our own childhoods and those of others.

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: Right, but I don't think that connection with childhood, which we both feel but isn't necessarily common among spankos (Randi being a good example), is a difference between spanking and BDSM, which was what you asked about. I do think that in general people into spanking are more comfortable with talking about children and the fetish than I see in discussions on the BDSM boards, but that relates to bias there too. I mean, one of the best discussions of ageplay I've had was with Verdant, who certainly sees what she does as BDSM.

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: Yup. It's a mistake to try to map out the boundaries for other people. I was thinking mostly of the two of us, though. I mean, it's certainly true that many aspects of more general BDSM have as little appeal to me (to the extent that the appeal to others is mystifying) as vanilla sex. I think we're back to the labelling problem again. Just as we all mean so many different things by 'top' and 'switch' and so on, it's farcical to try to squeeze us all into the label 'spanking' and expect much in the way of agreement or common experience. That's one of the really good lessons of the 'net, I think. That as much as we find people like us, we find people not like us.

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: Right. I do resist labels and try in general to deconstruct categories. Because in general they do break down. But specifically between you and me? What we do is very caught up in the world of childhood. Why? I think even that is different between us. For me because childhood is where I live . . . it's where I'm most comfortable and open so my feelings are deepest there. Spanking is part of that, but only part. For you? I'm not so sure. I know the connection between spanking and childhood is very strong for you. Complete with all the trappings of uniforms and school and stuff like that. Which is a place that feels very natural for me.

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: I know. But of course the paradox for me is that I very much don't have a child space to fall into - at least haven't found one, and don't know where I would look. Even as a kid I was oddly grown-up, so it might almost be seen as a kind of yearning for something I missed out on. But the problem with that is that because I missed out on it, I don't have the emotional vocabulary to speak the right language. Does that make sense?

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: I'm honestly not sure. I think for me I was a sorta grown-up kid, a bit weird, but basically stayed about the same. It's hard for me to understand where you come from . . . but you know what?

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: What?

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: I think 'Spanking and Childhood' is another topic. Maybe the next one. <g>

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: <smile> Maybe. Okay, so if we're going to wind this up, I think I want to ask you a really unfair and terrible question, which is: if you had only about 20 words to describe yourself in terms of your kink, what would you say?

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: (Fetish, not kink!)

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: Alright, sweetie. Fetish, not kink. <sheesh> Paraphilia, even. :-)

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: Okay. Basically at the core I'm a kid. Not a brat, not even very naughty, but a kid and feel most happy and comfortable when I'm being cared for. And you?

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: I think the most important thing for me is control. Everything is connected to that in some way. I don't seek control over others, but I've always (and no less as a kid) needed control of my own life. I'm not sure quite how spanking fits into that, but we've discussed that mystery before. <smile> So far as spanking is concerned, even 'switch' misses the point, I think. Because it doesn't address the fact that this isn't so much about whacking and being whacked for me. It's about support, nurture, care. And to that extent my kink (see, I can use the word. :-) is rather symmetrical. The things I enjoy providing for other people - well, for you, kiddo - are the same things my bottoming side feels. More than 20 words, I know. <smile>

[Image of Little Miss Naughty]M: <smile> Indeed. And I'd agree with your analysis of you. Mostly. But if anyone tried to be as bossy with you as you are with me, you'd be much sulkier than I ever am. So there.

[Image of Mr Impossible]P: You're so very tolerant of me.

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