Submissive, adj.

image_1-5For four years exactly – from March 2009 to March 2013 – I identified, almost unquestioningly, with the term ‘submissive’, as a noun. ‘A submissive’. That was me. It sat right, it turned me on, it gave me what I wanted, and it represented me in a way I could communicate to others. I don’t know exactly what happened in March this year that made me stop and think, but almost over night it changed. I woke up and I no longer felt like a submissive. That’s not to say I woke up feeling dominant; there was just something about the term that no longer fit. And even now, three months later, I couldn’t say with complete certainty why it happened.

At the time I asked four different friends whether they thought I was a submissive. They are all people who had witnessed me being used, or used me themselves, and initially three out of four said yes, they felt I was a submissive. The fourth said that perhaps ‘bottom’ would be a better term for me, that she understood why I was asking, and that it might be worth exploring a little further. After a little more conversation, and as much of an explanation as I could give for my query, the other three wisely responded that ‘a submissive’ is just a label, and it is what I make of it, and how I define it that matters; that it is a suitable descriptor for me, and that I just needed to figure out, for myself, what being a submissive means.

This seemed a very reasonable answer; a good, sensible response, which gave me the chance to be creative and exploratory when it came to my sexuality. But for weeks and weeks, I still couldn’t pin it down, still struggled with the term, and wondered what it meant. I coined and claimed the term ‘submissive-ish’ for myself, but even that felt temporary, and it wasn’t until a few nights ago, as I lay in the bath, that I realised why I was having such difficulty with this one little descriptor. The thing is, I do have a definition for what it means to be a submissive. A definition I created, one that used to fit me, that I fell into easily. Some parts of it are difficult to describe, intangible almost, but I have a better consciousness of it now.

To me, a submissive is a person who gives control of him/herself to someone else; sometimes it is only a small part of that control, and sometimes it is almost more than we might think anyone has to give. His/her submission is gifted to another human being; usually a dominant human being. The submissive enjoys the moments when this control is exerted, when decisions are made for him/her. The submissive follows orders from his/her dominant. Perhaps not all the time, but in moments when these roles are active, and probably more often than not. The dominant person may take from the submissive, but only when the submissive gives. That’s not to say it will always be answered with “Yes sir” or that orders will always be followed unquestioningly or even with a smile, but in the grand scheme of things it happens within a place and a time when control and submission have been gifted. For me, this is what it means to be a submissive. I know that each submissive will define it for him/herself, and I would never presume that my definition fits anyone else, but this is mine; and in retrospect I understand that this is what it meant when I identified as a submissive. It might seem odd for me to have defined this term when I no longer identify with it, but perhaps there is – possibly subconsciously – a part of defining anything that means defining everything else; in order to know what we are, maybe we have to know what we are not. It feels a little like seeing the negatives clearly in order to make the positive sharper.

But this definition sums up very well why I don’t call myself a submissive any more. When it comes to my kinks, I give consent, and I do take a submissive role, but I do not give my submission; nor do I give control. For me, those things are taken against my will. Almost all of my kink and sexuality exists within an umbrella of consensual non-consent. The idea of giving doesn’t sit well with me; it doesn’t feel correct. That is to say, I do give, but not in a way I can easily describe; not in any of the ways covered by my definition of a submissive. I do not give my submission to anyone; I consent to having it taken from me. Of course, I understand that for some, this may be what it means to be a submissive. For some my definition doesn’t fit, and even if all their play is to do with consensual non-consent, they may still call themselves submissives. But that simply doesn’t ring true for me.

This realisation, as I sat in the bath, was actually triggered by semantics. Perhaps you have read thus far and understood, but wondered why it bothered me so much in the interim, why I felt such a desire to define and understand. I wondered about it myself, because even though I stopped referring to myself as a submissive, I still felt at home describing myself as submissive. I recently read back over the piece I wrote about submission in February, and it still seems to apply. Which is where the semantics come in. Perhaps it is blatantly obvious, but for some reason I hadn’t consciously made the distinction: the word submissive is, traditionally, an adjective. But when it comes to kink, it is a noun. Submissive: adjective. A submissive: noun. And the noun doesn’t fit me any more; or rather, my definition of the noun doesn’t.

At the moment I am skipping between terms; sometimes I am a bottom, sometimes a masochist, often a little girl, occasionally a pup. I change my mind all the time, and I don’t mind being indefinable overall, because I have finally found an answer to my question: yes, I am submissive, but I am no longer a submissive.

And I adore that it all came down to words; clearly I am not an English student for nothing.

8 thoughts on “Submissive, adj.”

  1. agatha-luise says:

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

    1. Harper Eliot says:

      Thank you for reading.

  2. Brigit Delaney says:

    Yes, I can totally see myself having this same argument in my head over semantics. I do it all the time. And I’ve had the same bothersome “label” confusion. I know a lot of people will just say you don’t need a label. But for some of us, the label is what gives us a way to think and to define.

    You wrote, “…in order to know what we are, maybe we have to know what we are not.” I agree; and that takes “labels,” to some extent. And understanding those labels, owning them, and growing in (and out) of them helps us to find ourselves.

    Somehow, that happens in the bath a lot. I think it has something to do with the quiet – and being naked, both figuratively and literally. Stripped of all else. Able to see ourselves for what we are…not what the mirror shows. It’s a time and place for quiet introspection.

    I love this topic, too. I struggled quite a bit with the term myself. My husband and I tried to define what we had (gets a lot more complicated when 2 people are trying to define the same terms). We knew I was submissive and that he was dominant. But how did that impact our roles and our future? Where did we want to go with that? We tried “collaring”. Didn’t work. Didn’t feel right. I’m not a “slave”. And then one day, after doing a journal exercise he gave me in which lots of stuff about “father figures” came up, he asked me to research Daddy/little girl relationships. Interesting, I’m pretty ignorant about the topic. And as I read, I found that, while I’m not into age-play, and I don’t plan to go as far as using a pacifier or dressing in frills and patent-leather Mary-Janes, I do like the term Daddy. It encapsulated everything I wanted from my dominant. It helped define the relationship. And things really fell together when he called me princess one day.

    Terminology, semantics, definitions – they are all part of the meta-cognitive process of understanding ourselves and our place within it.

    As usual. Another thought-provoking post. This may somehow find it’s way into my own tonight!

    1. Harper Eliot says:

      Funnily enough, I do identify as a ‘Little Girl’ – although I haven’t come across that term as often as I have ‘babygirl’ – and I have a Daddy; those are two labels that we both use happily, although if you asked us what we actually do and what kind of Ds we share, it would take a few hours at least. The only thing we can say for sure is that we’re into extreme transgressions around incest-play and non-consent. But the thing is, I only have one Daddy, but I have several dominant partners, and figuring out what I am when I’m with them has been interesting.

      On the topic of collaring: this is something we’ve been talking about. I love the idea of being owned, but the literal act of wearing a collar doesn’t feel right, to me. Since I don’t give my submission, why would I keep a collar on? We are, however, discussing our own kind of semi-collaring. Something that marks a bond, and signifies our roles, but won’t interfere with the dynamic.

  3. Cammies on the floor says:

    You are evolving, and it’s awesome that you are using language to keep up with your fluidity.

    1. Harper Eliot says:

      I might go mad if I couldn’t find the words.

  4. Kristina Lloyd says:

    Great post. I’ve had similar wranglings with the terminology over the years, and submissive (n) has never sat comfortably with me. Now I tend to say ‘I sub’ ie it’s something I do rather than am, or that ‘I’m sexually submissive’, to give the adjective context and ensure no one mistakes it for a personality type. I then qualify the above by saying I’m into ‘forced submission’ rather than ‘service submission’. The two are very different for me.

    1. Harper Eliot says:

      I agree: they are very different things. And there’s even a lot of grey area in between as well… but finding the right language seems key to self-describing.

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