BDSM Labels

October 24, 2011

This post originally appeared October 7, 2011 on BDSM Book Reviews.

Included in Chapter Three of Connecting to Kink

“How do you identify?” is a loaded question, no matter who’s asking. The query can refer to your gender, sexual orientation, or role in the BDSM lifestyle. In all cases, binary or even ternary systems leave many people out and can create a great deal of confusion, especially online.

With one exception (to my knowledge) every BDSM networking site offers only three or four labels from which to choose: dominant, submissive, switch, and possibly slave. This has made it difficult for those interested in learning more about kink to figure out their place in the spectrum because they have no clue what identities are possible. I know of one exception. Fetlife currently offers a more realistic 15 choices for BDSM role (and 12 each for gender and sexual orientation).

What follows is my opinion of what some labels mean. I don’t hold myself out as an authority. But, I am a FemDom (and a top) and I own a submissive who lives in my home, serving me 24/7. I have spent a fair amount of time at various community events and also communicated with way too many online players. So for what it’s worth …

Domme: This term created controversy (and also confusion about how it’s pronounced). When I first signed onto Fetlife a few months after it went live, if you selected “female” and “dominant” you were automatically identified as a “Domme.” This did not sit well with many. In general, the term refers to a female dominant as does

FemDom: Personally, I prefer FemDom because being a dominant female does present significant challenges in a patriarchal society and the dynamic of a F/m or F/f relationship tends (but isn’t always) to be different than that of a M/f or M/m. Which brings us to:

Dominatrix is a professional who gets paid to top someone (usually male) in a BDSM scene. Often they’re not dominants. They deliver what their client want when it’s wanted. Although their clients may profess to be submissive, in reality, they’re usually a

Bottom, someone who is a masochist or has other fetishes that puts them on the receiving end during a BDSM scene. Bottoms get bound, hurt, and/or humiliated, but they choose with whom they want to play and whatever form of play their scenes involve. They negotiate the level of restraint, pain, and degradation their scenes will include. Bottoms can use safewords to reduce the intensity level or stop the scene all together. The bottom’s role ends when the scenes does, unlike a

Submissive: Online you can find endless lists of profiles in which the writers try to convince the reader how submissive they are using words like “well trained” and “obedient.” Then they go on to describe how much they enjoy pain, bondage, and “punishment.” A submissive is someone who serves, who cedes control of themselves and some or all aspects of their lives to their dominant in a relationship. Whereas bottoms ask tops to perform certain tasks for the bottoms’ (and presumably the tops’) pleasure, submissives enjoy serving their dominants’ needs, even when that means performing tasks they would otherwise find onerous. The ultimate example is the submissive who is not a masochist, but who takes pain from their sadistic dominant only because the dominant enjoys hurting them. Depending on the relationship, submissives may not have safewords. One can demonstrate submission during a scene. But, if one wants to be submissive in a Dominant/submissive (aka D/s) relationship, it works best if your partner(s) is a

Dominant: The key to domination is control. In D/s relationships, dominants make decisions about everything from what their submissive will wear and eat to whether and where they will work and play. How much control a dominant has can vary greatly and defines the relationship.  The parties involved negotiate the level of control and type of relationship, but for months and years, not the few hours or days that a scene might last. If you’re negotiating a scene, you’re probably doing so with a

Top: In a BDSM scene, the top administers restraint, pain, and humiliation. But tops only deliver what the bottoms have requested and agreed to.

None of the definitions above are exclusive. One can be, for example, a dominant top (common), a dominant masochist (not so common), a submissive bottom, or a submissive top. A submissive who tops a masochistic dominant, delivering pain in exactly the way it’s requested during a scene, may or may not be a

Switch, someone who can assume either role: top/bottom or dominant/submissive. Usually, the latter folks do not switch with the same person. They might be submissive to one person and dominant of another. Sadistic and masochistic (aka S&M) switches are more likely to change roles with the same person, although again some may only top different people than those they bottom to. Because switch can refer to either dominant/submissive or top/bottom, the term can become confusing so some folks prefer, in the latter case,

Sadomasochist, someone who enjoys both sadism and masochism. A

Sadist is often defined as someone who obtains pleasure from inflicting pain on others. However, that definition is missing a term. The word is derived from reference to stories about cruel sexual practices written by Count Donatien A.F. de Sade (who, despite modern references, was not a marquis). Paper dictionaries and psychiatric texts almost always include “sexual” in the definition. But online references often leave it out and many people claim not to find sexual gratification in certain S&M activities. Consensual sadism usually involves, on the receiving end, a

Masochist, referring to someone who gets sexual pleasure from being hurt or abused. The word derives from references to writing about bottoming sexually by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (born more than two decades after de Sade died). Again, online references may omit the word “sexual” from the definition.

I’m not going to try to define  Master or  Mistress (which requires diving into gender politics). Many folks believe the terms can refer only those who own property. Others will claim they are such, regardless of their relationship status. Controversy around the term “slave” starts with how one differentiates between a slave and a submissive and includes disagreement over whether someone can claim to be a slave if they are not owned property.

Labels can confuse anyone, especially someone new to the lifestyle. One advantage of in-person over online interaction is that you’re less likely to get trapped by a label that doesn’t accurately define you, preventing you from wasting too much time corresponding with a dominant looking for a service submissive when you really just want a top who will blister your bottom.


Sex in Sin City: The Erotic Author’s Association Inaugural Conference

October 18, 2011

This post originally appeared Sept. 19, 2011 on 4-Letter Words.

Over the past decade, I’ve attended a dozen or so writers’ conferences. But the Erotic Authors Association’s (EAA) Inaugural Conference, held September 9-10, 2011 at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, was more of a reunion than a conference.

Don’t get me wrong. The event included all those things that make a writers’ conference wonderful: great workshops, fabulous networking opportunities, panels with editors and publishers talking about what they would like to see (and not see) from writers and the opportunity to spend a weekend with kindred spirits.

Of course, this event had many features not usually found at writers’ conferences, including many of the workshop subjects (Queer Erotica, Taboos, Your Sex Life as Story Fodder, and Hands on Kink to name a few). Also spicing things up were One Very Steamy Las Vegas Evening at the Erotic Heritage Museum Event, readings of erotica that could keep you wet/hard throughout each day, a rope bondage demonstration at the closing cocktail party, a cupcake orgy, and more swear words than most non-erotica writers hear in a year.

But for me, and many of the more than 80 other participants, what made the conference so special was the opportunity to meet in person for the first time colleagues we have known for years. We were constantly checking out each other’s name badges with exclamations of delight and exuberant hugs erupting when we encountered someone with whom we had a special relationship. I met authors/editors/publishers who have purchased my stories, appeared with me in anthologies, shared radio air time, reviewed my books, published my blog posts, etc.

E-Publishing-Class-300x194Cecilia Tan of Circlet Press and  Lori Perkins of Ravenous Romance teach e-publishing.

Although the conference started on Friday, folks arrived as early as Wednesday and many informal get-togethers occurred before registration opened. I finally got to meet D.L. King., author, anthologist, Erotica Revealed editor, and one of the conference organizers, Thursday morning when I dropped off my and Mahalia Levey’s (who was touring Hoover Dam with my submissive and her husband) contributions to the goodie bags.

Jeans-Class-300x178Jean Roberta teaches Sexy Grammar.

Then, I had the opportunity to enjoy scrumptious chocolate delicacies (we mostly skipped lunch and went straight for dessert) with the amazing Cecilia Tan at Max Brenner. Cecilia and I have known each other for years and consider each other friends, but had never met. Sitting across the table from her, dipping our spoons into deep fudge chocolate cake and profiteroles fondue, we talked about everything from the intersection of speculative fiction and kink to our personal relationships.

That evening my submissive, Patrick, and I shared TexMex with the fascinating D.M. Atkins, omni-sexual, gender-queer, polyamorus, kinky writer, graphic designer, editor, and publisher with whom I’d only recently corresponded regarding the launch of Forbidden Fiction. We had a great time discovering how much she and I (and my submissive and her husbands) have in common.

Way too early the next morning (apparently there was a run on weddings for 9/10/11 which pushed back room availability), we lined up to collect our goodie bags along with purple-ribboned name badges, programs, etc. Joining D.L. King behind the table was the brilliant Kathleen Bradean who came up with the idea for the conference after being disparaged for writing erotica by a presenter at another conference. When she took over as director of EAA last year, she immediately started work to make it a reality.

Jolie-Reading-242x300Jolie du Pre reading.

Kathleen burst into almost hysterical laughter when someone told her the conference was one of the best-organized she’d ever attended. Having spent many hours on Kathleen’s side of the table for one of the largest writing conferences in the country, I assured her that the fact that those in attendance didn’t know about all the problems behind the scenes only proved what an amazing job she and the other organizers were doing.

At breakfast, I found myself sitting next to Hazel Cushion who started Xcite Books (now one of the UK’s largest erotic publishers). Two of my stories have found a home in Xcite e-book collections and it’s one of the outlets where I publish my own short story collections. Hazel Cushion also was one of the publishers who appeared on the first panel of the day along with M. Christian representing Renaissance E Books, Brenda Knight of Cleis Press, Lori Perkins of Ravenous Romance, and Cecilia Tan of Circlet Press .

MAuthor and editor M. Christian.

As I mentioned, I’ve attended many writers conferences and they often start the day with panels from editors, agents, and/or publishers. But, I’ve never sat in the room for one of those panels where each and every participant is someone I’ve submitted work to (and in all but one case, although I can hope that will change, had acceptances from).

The morning proceeded with the need to make difficult choices between panel discussions, workshops, erotic readings and networking. Patrick, who was staffing the table where I had books for sale, researched less expensive lunch options and found one right next store. After the morning sessions, I headed over to the Victorian Café with the exquisite Jolie du Pre and the entertaining Jim and Zetta Brown from Scotland and Logical-Lust Publications. We grabbed the biggest table in the restaurant and I collected K.D. Grace, Sharazade, and Katie Salidas of Rising Sign Books who were sitting by themselves. Then, Patrick sent along Jean Roberta and her wife, Mirtha Rivera Mazuela, to join us, making us a party of nine at a table for eight. We lucked into an amazing waitress, who treated us all as her long-lost best friends while providing nearly perfect service. The conversation ranged from how-we-met tales to discussions of ways to increase book sales and maximize social media.

I made it back to the Flamingo just in time to catch K.D.Grace’s reading of a sizzling hot excerpt from her novel, The Initiation of Ms. Holly that involved sex on a Harley flying across the A-3. I doubt if there were any dry panties in the room.

KD-Grace-Reading-273x300K.D. Grace reading.

After the last workshop, Cecilia Tan invited everyone to a Circlet Press party. We crowded into her room for wine, cheese, chocolate and great company. A few passer-bys who tried to crash the party were both taken aback and impressed to find a room full of (mostly) women who write wank-off stories.

The evening culminated with a trip to the Erotic Heritage Museum for the Erotic Literary Salon on tour. Surrounded by penis sculptures taller than we, interrupted twice by a boisterous performance from the Sin City Dolls burlesque dancers, Susana Mayer, Ph.D. moderated hot and steamy five-minute readings from about 20 writers. Stories ranged the gambit of sexual combinations including male/male, female/female, female/male, male/male/female, female/hot wax, and male/ballet slipper. One of the most impressive performances was given by Laura Antoniou reading an extract of “That’s Harsh.”

Laura-Antoniou-225x300Laura Antoniou reading an extract of “That’s Harsh” at the Erotic Heritage Museum.

Many raved exuberantly online about the evening, but my favorite quote came from Charlotte Gatto who tweeted “I discovered that it’s possible to be turned on by things that don’t turn me on.”

The next morning I finally got to meet Remittance Girl who’d ventured al the way from Southeast Asia to attend the conference. Our conversation, which included Cecilia Tan and D.M. Atkins lasted well into the first session of the morning. The second session, a panel on taboos moderated by author Kate Dominic, included Remittance Girl, Cecilia Tan, Blake C. Aarens, and Andrea Dale. One of the most interesting things to come out of the panel was a discussion about the fact that it’s more acceptable to show a young woman being raped than enjoying sex. According to D.M. Atkins, “The right to say “No’ should also include the right to say ‘Yes.’” The panelists also talked about, as Remittance Girl said: “why offending your readers might be a good thing.”

Another point made was that the stigma against erotica writers doesn’t extend to, say mystery writers. No one believes an author of murder mysteries has accumulated a collection of dead bodies or is facilitating murder. But, erotica writers are accused of encouraging everything from promiscuity to rape.

Taboo-3-300x166Panel on taboos: Cecilia Tan, Remittance Girl, Andrea Dale and moderator Kate Dominic.

The conference ended with a cocktail party that included Graydancer tying up the lovely Sharazade in a full-body rope harness, a submission call from Essemoh Teepee for Vegas Windows Audiobook Anthology, and a cupcake orgy courtesy of Retro Bakery who sent a dozen delectable cupcakes to Rachel Kramer Bussel. She photographed, sampled, and shared. I must admit, until that moment, I had never understood why she goes crazy over cupcakes. Now, I do.

Rachel-Kramer-Bussel-and-Cecilia-Tan-260x300Rachel Kramer Bussel with Retro Bakery cupcake and Cecilia Tan

Unwilling to let the conference come to an end so early in the evening, Aisling Weaver and Wyeth Bailey hosted an after party in their suite at the Cosmopolitan where they had chosen to stay after seeing a commercial called “Just The Right Amount of Wrong.”

I left this fabulous reunion/conference with an envelope full of business cards for new-found friends/colleagues, wonderful memories, and requests for more work than I’ll be able to produce. Despite the passage of a week since the conference, I’m still overwhelmed by all the conversations, connections, and acquired information. On Twitter writers who were there raved about what they learned and who they got to spend time with. Follow up e-mails continue the conversations.

Thanks again to Kathleen Braden, D.L. King, Nan Andrews, Kate Dominic, and Jolie du Pre for the incredible vision and hard work required to produce such an amazing conference. I’m looking forward to next year’s event.

*Thanks to D.L. King for the use of her photos.