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Defining the BDSM Lifestyle: The Essential Prerequisite

Author: Polly Peachum and Jon Jacobs

Filed in: dominance, submission, lifestyle, sm, definitions, bdsm, essentials

The following talks were given by Jon and Polly to a diverse audience on the IRC channel #surrender_discuss on October 8, 1996. Polly and Jon were asked to speak on the subject "Defining the BDSM Life Style."


Hello, my name is Polly Peachum. I and my master, Jon Jacobs, were invited to speak to you on the subject of Defining the BDSM Life Style by Artful and Natasha, presumably because we are writing a book on submissive women. I'll say more about our book at the end of my talk. For now, please understand that although both Jon and I will primarily speak about and address submissive women tonight, many of the points we make, especially about the S&M subculture, will be relevant to kinky people of both sexes and all power persuasions.

It seems appropriate that I am speaking to you first tonight. Although I know that people at various levels of experience and knowledge will be reading this talk, I have chosen to speak on a very basic level about the subject at hand. While some of you may find what I say here to be common, well-known information, please remember that many people new to D&S will find these same ideas new, and perhaps even shocking.

The problem in defining the BDSM life style is that there are really two BDSM life styles. The first is the life style of people actually engaged in full-time power-exchange relationships, living with one another, usually quietly and faraway from the public BDSM subculture. The other BDSM life style is the one you are probably more familiar with: the culture of play parties, IRC, AOL, and most of the infrastructure of the public S&M subculture. Most, but not all, of the people involved in this subculture are engaged in one or another kind of fantasy life, which they are forced to or are allowing to substitute for a real life that accommodates their sadomasochistic needs. A few of them move away from this fantasy world into genuine and permanent relationships. Most, however, are lost forever in the fantasy subculture.

(I realize, of course, that there are people who do not want more than this fantasy, or who cannot, for very good reasons, have more. An example of the latter would be a person exploring D&S desires who also has retarded children that need extensive, full-time care, leaving little time or energy for a full-scale romance or physical exploration of her sexuality. For such a person, an on-line world like the IRC can be a tremendous blessing, as it is her only outlet for expressing her desires. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the fantasy world and the D&S subculture. Far too often, however, the effect of that D&S subculture is that it keeps people from understanding their genuine needs or from pursuing them.)

By making the distinction between fantasy and reality from a number of perspectives, I hope to clarify why actually knowing what is real and what is not is essential, not only if you wish to define what a BDSM life style means for yourself but if you wish someday to live that life style successfully and happily.

My personal experience with dominance and submission is extensive and quite real, and it gives me a very good perspective from which to talk to you about what is real and what is not. Why should this experience matter? An example will make this clear: if someone says to you, "50 hits with a riding crop will make anyone bleed," you may believe that statement if you've never been hit 50 times with a riding crop. You might be particularly inclined to believe this if you've never been hit with anything in your life and all the hitting you'd heard about came from stories or fictional scenarios staged in on-line rooms. However, if you have, as I have, been hit on numerous occasions over 500 times with a riding crop with not even a bruise to show for it, you'd know, from your experience, that the person who made that statement is either a liar, a fool, or a fantasizer. The statements I'm going to make later in this talk about what's real and what's not are quite strong, even challenging. Therefore, I'm first going to tell you about my experience so that you'll know why I say these things with such confidence.

Distinguishing between BDSM reality and fantasy is extremely difficult, if all you've encountered in life is BDSM fantasy, as you have nothing else to compare the fantasy world to, no real experience that enlightens you as to either how true or how steeped in imagination are the attitudes or practices of others. An experience I had a week ago on IRC observing people in a BDSM channel points this out particularly clearly. I'll be describing that directly after I describe my personal history with S&M. I'm also going to provide a few more examples of fantasy BDSM versus the reality after recounting my IRC experience, just to make what I am talking about very clear. Then I'll move on to some of the common, real, and often quite disastrous consequences of spending one's life in a sadomasochistic fantasy. Finally, I'd like to present you with a brief excerpt from our book, a description of a common misconception that submissive women often have about power-exchange relationships. It's another example of a fantasy, a myth about submission, but unlike the fantasies we weave for ourselves in on-line environments, this one is not created for the submissive's and dominant's mutual pleasure. It's a fear that submissives new to power exchange develop based on their perceptions of how the reality of BDSM differs from the fantasy.
Personal History

I was born 38 years ago on the west coast. Like many submissive women here tonight, my earliest memories involve fantasies and play with elements of dominance and submission in them, with myself always in the role of slave. And, like many submissive women, I repressed those desires once I reached puberty and young adulthood. I had boyfriends. I had a girlfriend. I had a 12-year nonkinky relationship which ended in marriage. But through it all my sexual fantasies always involved being controlled, overpowered, beaten into submission, humiliated. In my late 20s I read some sadomasochistic pornography that woke me up. I realized I was a submissive. I realized I wanted a power-exchange relationship in which I was utterly controlled. And, like many others here tonight, not knowing the first thing about what I was doing, about who was out there, about just what was possible and what was only fantasy, I set about bringing this into my life. I did it on line, through a computer.

Unlike many submissive women whom I know, I lucked out. I had almost no bad cyber-encounters. I ran into no predators, no abusers, no fantasizers, no ignoramuses who knew as little or less than I did but who set themselves up as experts. I didn't spend weeks or months involved with someone who eventually turned out to be incompatible. I did not spend years living a virtual life, hundreds of miles away from my dominant. In fact, I found exactly what I was looking for almost immediately. I met the man who has now been my master for seven and a half years within a week of joining CompuServe's kinky message base, Variations II. When I say he's been my master for seven and a half years, I don't mean an email or hot-chat relationship. I mean we've been physically living together for that long (we moved in together about six months after we met). And he's been directly controlling my life for that long.

Seven and a half years is a long time, and I've spent much of that time thinking about what it is like to be a slave, writing about my experiences, and comparing them to those of other submissives. I've realized, over the years, that I have a perspective that, although not unique, is certainly quite rare, at least within the kinky cyber communities and among those who are publically vocal about their D&S experiences. First of all, even after this much time, I'm extremely happy and content. Also, I'm aware that my relationship has been a success, that my master's twin promises--"that nothing barring a physical disaster like an accidental death would ever threaten what we have," and that "You will never escape me"--have come true, despite all my doubts and suspicions to the contrary. In addition, the sense of newness, of specialness, of being in exactly the right place and time, being exactly where I should be and who I should be, has never worn off. Finally, while I have no doubt whatsoever that there are numerous submissives in very private relationships, relationships no one will ever know anything about, who are as at peace and as joyful about their lives as I am, these people seldom, if ever, come into the public eye and speak openly about their lives and experiences. My position as a writer and as the wife of a known D&S author put me in an unusual--and perhaps unique--spot: while my sympathies, understanding, aesthetics, and background all belong to the private, little-seen S&M life style, I myself am in a position of visibility to that other, more public subculture. I am known, in part, by a society with which I don't have much to do with. To paraphrase the sufis, although these circumstances place me very much in the S&M Scene world, I am definitely not a part of that world. Thus, I see myself as a sort of bridge between these two very different worlds.
Private Life Versus Public Life

The reason for the lack of outspoken, experienced, genuine submissives and dominants is simple. The public BDSM life and the people you encounter in the Scene communities, especially as lived over a computer, are perceived by many of those who have experienced the incredible depth of real power exchange for many years as not worth bothering with. The people who have the most experience, who have the most to offer those of us trying to learn and to feel our way through the difficulties and challenges of making a D&S relationship work, take one look at the fantasy-based and ego-driven world of cyber S&M and run in the other direction, never to return. But not because they're sacred of this world, you understand. Rather, they are horrified and repulsed by the alienating, hostile, almost entirely clueless, pathetic, blind-leading-the-blind subculture that makes up most of the public S&M world in the United States. Someone with a lot of real experience looks at the lies people routinely tell themselves and others in the name of thrilling romantic fantasy and she shudders in horror. It all seems so ugly, so desolate, so stripped of anything delicious and real. There is so much wrong with the public side of S&M, that version of the life style, that one barely knows where to begin. If I were to write a 500-page critique of the Scene, I wouldn't even get half finished with what needs to be said.

Luckily for us all, I don't have time to upload 500 pages of critique, one line at a time. But I will give you a couple of topical examples of what I mean.
First IRC Experience

I went onto the IRC for the first time on a recent Saturday night in hopes of getting a feel for the assumptions and attitudes of the individuals I would be speaking to tonight. I entered two BDSM channels at random. I was appalled by what I saw. The level of knowledge and experience out there appeared to be much worse than I had ever, in my darkest moments, imagined. (I have since learned that not all that happens on IRC is as awful as what I observed. But keep in mind that a new and probably confused submissive exploring her interests for the first and looking for answers on a BDSM chat channel is far more likely to encounter the types of people I ran into as those who are more experienced or helpful.) Let me describe, briefly, a few of the things that I observed:
TO CASE or not to case: is that the question?

In both a playroom where scenes were being enacted and in a support room, allegedly there to help new submissive women confused or in trouble, I heard the following advice being dispensed to submissive women: if you're a submissive, you should lowercase your nickname, like this: Polly to polly. No explanation was given about why they should do this, and so, in an attempt to clarify, I asked the support group people if this were some sort of "IRC Hanky Code" (i.e., a system, like the gay tradition of wearing a colored handkerchief in the right (sub) or left (dom) back pocket, that allows others to recognize one's sexual orientation and fetish interests). Apparently it was not, because my question was met with incredulous giggles and chuckles.

So I had to assume that subs are being told regularly to do this lowercasing because most people in IRC chat rooms actually believe it is only right and proper for a submissive to lowercase her name. Am I the only one that finds this belief incredible, even preposterous?

Uppercasing and lowercasing one's nickname doesn't seem like such a big deal, and, in fact, it is a mighty convenient way to identify your place on the power continuum to attractive members of the opposite persuasion (maybe we should call this the "Hanky Panky Code" ;). Unfortunately, this practice suggests to people new to both D&S and IRC that all that submission consists of is a conglomeration of outward postures and attitudes, an idea amplified by many elements of the D&S subculture. Walk the walk, talk the talk, capitalize your name correctly and not only will everyone accept you as a genuine submissive but you will be a genuine submissive. If only it were actually that easy!
The Ugly Clash Between Fantasy And Reality

Reinforcing the idea that submission is composed primarily of an outward pose are the fantasy cyberscenes that so many like to partake of on IRC. I watched one such scene: a "Gorean Whiskey Ceremony." A woman with a lowercase Grecian name enacted a scene right out of one of those John Norman science-fiction novels about the planet Gor. The people watching this scene applauded her as if this were a superb performance of Madama Butterfly--only these people, unlike the average opera audience, apparently were convinced that the act she was putting on (her demurely lowered eyes, her kissing of the cup before handing it to some guy with an Uppercase name, her rubbing it against her bosom and the ritual speech of "May my service please you in every way") represented some sort of D&S reality. Yes, people, this is what BDSM relationships are actually like in the face-to-face world of squalling kids, rush-hour gridlock, and parents in nursing homes. You don't kneel down and find that your middle-aged knees won't hold you because of a sports injury or because you're overweight. You never accidentally catch the "goblet" against your nipple ring, causing you to spill the cold whiskey all over your Lord's "little lord." You're never interrupted in the middle of your pretty "passing the cup" speech by an annoying message on your answering machine from your mom, by your master's beeper going off, or by an angry child banging on the locked paga tavern door while screaming, "Mommy! Tommy won't let me watch Melrose Place!" Your dominant never takes the whiskey glass, takes a sip, and exclaims in disgust, "Bleahhh! Will you PLEASE stop wearing that TERRIBLE tasting lipstick!" Oh, no, none of this ever happens, because this is True D&S, and D&S relationships--as anyone can see from watching our Gorean slavegirl--are magical and perfect.

Many people experienced with cybersex forget that new people, watching such scenes, think this wordplay is the real thing; they think that something like this "Gorean Whiskey Ceremony" is actually how D&S takes place between a dominant and submissive. Years ago, when I was first exploring, I did a few cyberscenes and watched many more. And I, too, developed from my observations and experience a basic confusion between fantasy and reality. Once I participated in an on-line slave auction, and the fellow who "bought" me got to call me up on the phone for a talk session. He told me to go get an ice cube from the freezer and put it between my legs. Having watched and learned from other cyberscenes, I replied "Yes, my lord, I've got the ice cube now. It's wet and slippery between my fingers. Ooohhh, it's so cold! Please can I remove it, etc.," and all this time I never once moved from my chair or did a single action besides hold the receiver and speak. I wasn't trying to disobey the dominant. I wasn't trying to deceive him. I simply had picked up the idea from watching others do cybersex that D&S was done with words only, not with actions. Finally, after about 15 minutes of this entirely verbal ice play, it suddenly occurred to me to ask my purchaser, "Say, did you want me to get a real ice cube out of the fridge and actually touch it to myself?" And do you know what? He didn't know what to say! Apparently, the thought had never occurred to him, either!

To me, the most disturbing thing about cyberscenes such as the one I witnessed on the IRC is that they reinforce the idea that the way one becomes a good submissive is by putting on an act, by pretending to be a good submissive rather than by doing the hard inner work it actually requires. Whoever writes the most poetic or erotic fantasies is the best sub on IRC, even if, in real life, she is actually the most resistant, disobedient, manipulative, arrogant, vanilla little bitch ever to claim to be something she is not! Submission is something inside you, not something you convince others of by faking an attitude. Unfortunately, few on IRC, unless they're lucky enough to run into those few who either have actual experience or are intelligent and lucky enough to figure out the difference between fantasy and reality, realize this very basic fact. A new submissive comes on line, and, wanting attention and acceptance, she emulates the most popular cybersubs, the alpha females, and she moves up in the social pecking order. Then newer subs come on, and they emulate her, and so a grand hoary old tradition of fantasy, of being someone you are not, is perpetuated.

What really put the capper on this little scene for me, however, was what happened when the whiskey-serving was over. When our darling, demure Gorean slave was finished offering up her goblet to the uppercased one, she proceeded to whiplash verbally some poor confused soul who had the nerve (and the bad luck) to wander into the room and say point blank, "I remember when you would enter a room and people would actually talk--about cool stuff." "I remember when one would enter a room and not act like an ass," she jeered back at this rather rudely direct but essentially honest comment (ever notice how hard it is to tell the truth without someone taking offense at it?), to the cheers of her followers. It wouldn't have hurt her, or someone else as experienced with IRC as she appeared to be (she was the room's op), to have told the newbie where to find a room with serious D&S discussion. But instead she chose instantly to go on the defensive and jab back, as this person's rather awkward comment made him a very easy target. New submissives watching this scene get another couple of free lessons: real discussion is frowned upon among popular or seemingly experienced D&Sers, and your submissiveness only lasts until someone ticks you off and you forget to stay in role. But it doesn't matter. As long as you can make those purty little phrases pour onto the screen a few minutes later, you'll be admired--at least by the indiscriminate majority--as one of the deepest submissives who ever lived.

So, in a few short minutes, I learned that if I go into an IRC BDSM channel, I can become real popular if I act like a character out of a misogynistic and terribly written sci-fi novel; that if I make direct or honest comments, I will probably be lynched for them; and that if I want to fit in and be recognized as a True Submissive, I'd better lowercase my name instantly or get used to being called "Sir" all night long, as I was by one confused woman.
Telling them Apart

When such incredible ignorance about very basic ideas exists and is perpetuated by so many in the S&M subculture, those people who want to live a BDSM life style need to make a clear distinction between the fantasy aspects of BDSM and the real aspects. There are hundreds of realizations that make up the process of distinguishing fantasy from reality. Here are a few simple examples that I hope will give you an idea of the scope of this undertaking:

THE FANTASY: Every dominant, everywhere, must always be addressed deferentially as "Sir" (or "Ma'am," if she is female), and possibly, obeyed as you would obey someone who actually owns you.

THE REALITY: Some dominants will hit you upside the head if you dare to address them in this way unless you know them really well. Not only does "Sir" assume a certain familiarity or the existence of a power exchange when none is actually there, but honest dominants do not want to be called by such a title unless they have, in your eyes, earned it.

THE FANTASY: A submissive who doesn't wear a collar is not a True Slave.

THE REALITY: True submissives are made by what they are inside, not by their (or their masters') BDSM fashion sense. A slave is someone who is owned by another--period. If her owner doesn't want her to wear a collar, that slave will not wear a collar, unless she's rankly disobedient.

THE FANTASY: A person who does really good cybersex, who is able to paint delicious erotic scenes with words, is in reality a wonderful dominant or submissive, with profound feelings and extensive experience.

THE REALITY: A person who does really good cybersex, who is able to paint delicious erotic scenes with words, is simply a good or an imaginative writer. To believe otherwise is the same as believing that an actor is in real life the same personality he or she plays on the screen. In actuality a superb BDSM cyberscener may be as vanilla as they get. Or he may be a cop. You will not know anything about such people, you cannot know what they are really like, by watching them spin pretty scenes. You have to get beyond their words, somehow see more of what they're really like. This involves talking to them on the phone. This involves meeting them in real life. At the very least, this involves observing them carefully over a long period of time and questioning them extensively about their real feelings on sexual and other issues.
Moving From Fantasy To Reality

The fantasy D&S life style can be very attractive, especially to those who have not yet experienced the reality. It's incredibly easy to be an "absolute master" if your slave lives hundreds of miles away from you and isn't in your face all the time with resistance, anger, frustration, and other problems of training. It's awfully easy to obey orders over a computer screen or a telephone, as the person ordering you can't really see what you're doing or know how well (or how poorly) you are carrying out each duty. It's a wonderful escape to pretend that you are not stuck in a miserable marriage with a man who cannot satisfy you, that you have three snotty kids or a relatively low-paying job in a small, conservative community and that your buttocks are beginning to respond to the call of gravity. Instead you are Kajira-Tantric, proud and beautiful slave princess of Gor, or Lady Inglenook, beloved possession of the Great Lord Sky Pilot, the domliest dom in all the wide land. And people on line will accept you in the role you paint for yourself, especially if you are creative about it. What a wonderful way out of the drabness of ordinary life the on-line world can seem!

But this land of dreamy dreams does have its drawbacks. Because other people attracted to the same fantasies tend to be like yourself: dissatisfied or deeply unhappy with the reality they have (and also often too scared to change that reality), the types of people you are most likely to meet on line are often very limited in actual experience and the knowledge that inevitably flowers with experience.

Some dominants and submissives who meet over the computer do attempt to take their relationships out of the realm of fantasy. They divorce their husbands and wives. They arrange custody, according to their and their spouses' needs. They move in together and attempt to build a life as dominant and submissive or master and slave. But, after the initial honeymoon period, which can last anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of years, trouble comes to paradise. Both the new submissive and the new dominant--despite possibly extensive cybersex experience (or perhaps because of it)--are usually extremely ill-equipped to deal with the problems and challenges that are part and parcel of trying to make one of the most difficult kinds of relationships in the world--a power exchange--work.

The problems that come up are quite extensive and complex to describe, but I've noticed that certain predictable patterns tend to repeat. One pattern is that the so-called "dominant" in the relationship, after a number of months or years of acting the role, seems completely to lose his interest in controlling his submissive. He turns vanilla on her, and, if she has sincere submissive needs, she is, sexually, right back to where she was before she met him. Another extremely common pattern--in fact, I would go so far to say it happens in almost every D&S relationship--is that the submissive begins to resist her dominant's control. She doesn't want to obey his day-to-day orders. She finds doing what he says unpleasant. She gets upset when they do scenes together. And, seeing this unattractive behavior in herself, she begins to question whether she really is submissive or not.

There are dozens more problems that pop up when people try to move from fantasy to reality. But often, because they've lived in the fantasy world so long and have been indoctrinated by the fantasy ideology that everything about D&S is easy, they are extremely ill-equipped to come up with workable solutions to the inevitable problems and challenges of power exchange. They don't know what in the world is going on, they don't know why their wonderful dream of bliss is turning into such a horror, and they don't know anyone whom they can turn to for help, as everyone they know in fantasyland is pretty much at the same level of knowledge as themselves. (Remember, the people who really do know a lot about the reality of S&M are usually deeply hidden from the rest of us. They tend to keep to themselves and refuse to become a part of any social Scene whatsoever.) And so what does the beleaguered and inexperienced kinky couple do? Break up, usually. Renounce the BDSM life style as an impossibility--not just for them, but for everyone else, often. Or return to the comforting, false, easy world of cyber relationships--and stay there for good.
The Essential Prerequisite

If you want to define a real and workable BDSM life style for yourself, you must initially do a lot of hard work. You need to get to know yourself very well. You must determine what you really need from power exchange and the type of person that you want in your life. Finally, you must set out somehow to find what you want, to get it into your life, and not settle for anything less, anything second-best. But before you can begin to do any of that, you must take one very important step: you must give up the seductive, addictive fantasy world of BDSM and step out into reality with the rest of us who have struggled and thought and worked hard for what we need. Shedding the comforting cloak of fantasy, just as a child gives up his security blanket when he gets too old for it, is the first hard step that a person who really wants to live a real-world BDSM life style must take. You must realize that most people in the S&M cyber society around you will not take that step, and, in fact, not only do not want personally to take that step but do not want you to take that step, as they feel that your doing something different from them will invalidate their life choices. When you do choose reality over fantasy, you may find--as so many of us before you have--that the seemingly warm, loving family surrounding you suddenly becomes a hostile tribe who close their ranks to you. When you're no longer willing to play their games, to accept them at face value, when you try to dig a little deeper and get at who they really are, many people dedicated to fantasy will start to hate you: you're ruining their fun with all this tedious probing. Expect that, and it won't come as such a shock when it happens. Fantasizers have a right to pursue what they want. Just because you may want reality, this doesn't give you the right to force this choice down their throats. But it's important not to forget that you, also, have every right to get what you want or need. This means that the fantasy players who try to force their attitudes or codes of behavior onto you have no right to do so (and in fact, they cannot do so--unless, of course, you cave into them out of a desire to be liked or admired).
Our New Book

The book I am writing with Jon Jacobs, Submissive Women Speak, is aimed at people at all levels of experience who are interested in dominance and submission. I hope, however, that some of what we write will make that extremely difficult (and often quite lonely) step from fantasy to reality a little easier for those who feel that they need to do this.

Recently, I finished a rough draft of a chapter we are tentatively titling "Myths and Misconceptions." I'd like to present to you right now a short excerpt from that chapter. In the excerpt, I write about what I call The Topping from the Bottom Myth, and it talks about just one of the misunderstandings about submission that a woman often acquires during her time spent in the largely fantasy-based S&M Scene world. This myth is only one of over twenty that are explored in this chapter.
The Topping From the Bottom Myth

The Topping from the Bottom Myth is the idea, held by a submissive woman, that she is really the one in charge of the relationship with her dominant. Whether through covert manipulation or direct demands, she calls all the shots, and her dominant is simply a figurehead. The submissive who believes this myth thinks that she controls her dominant in the same way that she's controlled all her conventional partners in the past. If she has genuine submissive needs, then being in control is the last thing she wants, but she believes that this is the only way things can be, and inevitably she is miserable in the relationship. Of course, some "submissives" do try to manipulate and control their dominants without seeming to. In addition some submissives wind up with non-dominant partners who cannot control them. In such cases, the myth is the reality. The Topping from the Bottom Myth, however, is usually held by sincere submissives who are not trying to control their situations and who have genuine dominant partners who actually control them.

Submissives acquire the misconception that they are in control from a number of sources. One is the Scene, many of whose citizens spend a lot of time spreading this propaganda. Not only do well known Scene personalities intone, in that certain voice that means they are imparting a great wisdom, that "the submissive is always ultimately in charge," but the heavy promotion of safewords, negotiation, and slave contracts in which the submissive makes it absolutely clear what she will or will not do gives newcomers the distinct impression that the powerlessness of the submissive in a power exchange is a sham.

Another source that supports this myth in the mind of a submissive woman may be, strangely enough, her dominant's kindness to her. The submissive who believes the Topping from the Bottom Myth misinterprets such kindness, such interest in her welfare and opinions, as weak, nondominant behavior on her master's part. She, who probably has been suckered by the Sir Steven Myth (described earlier in this chapter), compares her master's behavior to the ways in which she thinks the ideal dominant acts. If her dominant is not cold and aloof, if he is not arbitrary in his commands and completely oblivious to her needs in most matters, if he says "please" or "thank you" to her, if he cracks jokes at erotic moments when she is deadly serious, then he doesn't really own her or control her. It doesn't occur to her that he's being kind or gracious to her because he enjoys doing so; it doesn't occur to her that a benevolent dictator is still a dictator; it doesn't occur to her that most genuine dominants do exactly what they want to do and don't censor themselves to please a submissive's sense of propriety; all she considers is the clash between her fantasy of proper dominant behavior and how her dominant actually acts.

Often an inexperienced submissive won't talk to her dominant about this belief because she fears that he will instantly see its reality and be crushed by the realization (see the Deep Dark Secret Myth, below). And so, in isolation, she builds a case about her dominant's perceived lack of control. She notices every little thing that seems uncontrolling to her; she conveniently ignores or explains away as a fluke all actual dominant behavior that doesn't fit the case she is building.

Of course, some submissives really are manipulative: they do try to control things subtly or obviously, with passive-aggressive and deceiving behavior. If such a submissive's dominant is more conventional than dominant or is extremely inexperienced, she may succeed. But this sort of submissive doesn't generally feel a lot of grief over her table-turning; her taking the control--however deviously--provides her, at least initially, with relief, not stress and misery.

A submissive who feels miserable because she thinks that she is in control could be right: she could be paired with a nondominant person, but it's equally possible that her ideas stem from the Topping from the Bottom Myth and not from reality. A submissive in this situation can learn a lot from talking openly and honestly to her dominant about her belief that she is the one in control and explaining why she believes this. Someone who is actually dominant will be able to explain clearly to her why he does what he does and how this does not diminish his dominance over her one iota. He will also be able to point out all the ways in which she is strictly controlled, which she may have forgotten or denied in her distress over thinking that she's in charge.

As in other areas that involve confrontation with her dominant, if her partner is defensive or angry or unwilling to discuss her belief that she is in charge without a lot of manly-man posturing and arm-flapping, she may have reason to believe, in fact, that she is dealing with a person unable to shoulder the responsibility or deal with the complexities of dominance. A submissive in this situation often feels very alone: terrified that her worst fears about this man and the relationship are true, but not entirely sure, thanks to the vigorous and angry denials of her partner. A person in this situation should try to look for someone whose opinions and insight into D&S relationships she respects and see if he or she would be willing to act as a sounding board, to help her to discover if her perceptions about her relationship are accurate. Before seeking help outside the relationship, however, she must convince herself of the futility of talking to her partner and also prepare herself to hear the worst from the person she seeks advice from.
We have set up a Website for Submissive Women Speak that contains information about the book, a copy of the questionnaire, and some spirited writings by submissive women, who, like me, are living the real life. If you are interested in knowing more about this project, we invite you to visit our home page: (now defunct)

If you should know of writings by others submissives that you think should be linked to or published on this page, please ask the authors to get in touch with us. We'd love to expand our small library of submissives' writing about submission.

A big thanks to Artful and Natasha for inviting me to speak here tonight. And thank you, everyone, for listening to me. Finally a very big thanks and slavely hug to my Master Editor for helping me turn this mess into a coherent speech.

Polly Peachum

Before taking questions, I'd like first to present my master's speech. He's decided this cutting and pasting is a slave duty while his job is to sit back in his easy chair and smoke a cigar. When his speech is complete he'll come to his computer and then we'll both be happy to answer any questions you may have about what we've said or about our forthcoming book.

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