Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The week of letter-answering continues...

Dear Matisse,
I’ve gotten into fairly light BDSM play -- short sessions, nothing too extravagant -- and keep running into people who feel that the only way to be a good dominant is to have had extensive experience as a submissive. I'm really not into subbing, not wired that way and while I have had a few experiences, mostly it's play acting and that isn't giving anyone what they want either. I don't see myself subbing again in the future (never say never, but it seems unlikely) Do you have an opinion about this topic?

Yes, I have an opinion. I am of the opinion that you should excise the word “sub”, and “subbing”, and all other variants and diminutives of the word “submissive” from your vocabulary, forever. I hate all those terms, they are so…inelegant. They are clunky, ugly faux-words. That is my opinion.
Oh, you meant about you bottoming? Sorry, I was having a writer’s moment, there. Sure, I have an opinion about that, too: don’t do anything you don’t want to do. If you don’t wish to bottom, then don’t.
It is a rather old-school BDSM belief that all good tops spent time bottoming - I was certainly taught that when I came into the scene. But I have seen that idea fade quite a bit from the culture, so I’m a trifle surprised that you’ve encountered it. If you’d signed a female name, I’d suspect you’d run into some male tops who were making a play for you by saying this. But you seem to be a guy. (You still could be getting hit on by men, but I haven’t heard as much about gay guys using this as a come-on.)
I do think if you played with someone who was a more skilled and experienced top than you are, you’d learn something. For example, Monk is a top. Our relationship now could be described as “switchy free-for-all”. But we did some more structured scenes when we were first dating. I’m the only person he’s ever bottomed to – which flatters me - and he says it taught him a lot. I could tell. There were times when we played when a look would flicker across his face, and I could almost see him making a mental note, “Oh, yeah, that’s a really good trick she just did, I should do that next time I top someone.” And I’ve picked up techniques and style ideas from him, too.
So I think it’s often a very educational experience for tops to bottom. But it’s not an absolute necessity. I have played with a couple of tops who had never bottomed who were extremely skilled. (And some other great ones who did so few times as to be almost never.)

I also asked a dominant man I know, who has never bottomed, what he had to say about this question...
What a great question. My first thought - any statement that includes the phrase "the only way" is likely to be off base - and probably offensive to boot. Presuming that "one size fits all" is rarely a path to understanding.
Topping requires a raft of technical skills like how to handle a flogger, how to tie a knot and how to negotiate. It also requires a bunch of softer skills and attributes - communication, empathy, attention to detail, integrity. Sure - some of these skills can be learned through by bottoming. Most can also be learned through observation, education and practice.
It's valuable to know what an implement feels like. I'll often smack myself with a new crop to get its measure. And I (accidentally) hit myself plenty of times while I was learning to use a single tail. Still, every person and every scene is different. Spending years as a bottom won't tell you what your partner is feeling - only they can tell you that.
So don't let other people define your path for you. If you want to bottom and feel that it would be a useful way to gain topping skills, great. If you'd rather go to workshops and work with mentors, that's fine too. Whatever you do, realize that your skills will always need development and that you are always limited by your experiences. Does that mean you're an inadequate top? I don't think so. It just means you're not perfect.
Play within your limits, pay attention, keep getting better and have fun.
I definitely agree that if you get into intense sensation play, I think you should have the sensations you’re going to do done to you. You don’t have to do it to an extreme. But I don’t think you should be cutting someone’s ass to ribbons with a cane or a single-tail, or sticking 18g needles through their bits, if you’ve never gotten hit or poked yourself. You need to understand what you’re dishing out. So experience what it’s like to get even one stripe on your flesh. Get pierced with even one 25g needle. It’ll make you appreciate what your bottoms take for you all the more.