This is a guest post from the Boy Wonders, my partner and my submissive. We have a 24/7 D/s (M/s) relationship, which has been an interesting space in which to dance whilst being actively polyamorous. Below is his perspective on it, and I will share my own soon:
It’s easy to see where our fears about being controlled come from. A glance at the newspaper shows how our actions are limited and shaped by economic and social pressures. This affects everybody but especially our community. Many of us are aware of the pressure to conform – we feel it whenever we kiss our same-sex lover in public, face discrimination at work or come out as polyamorous. Resisting these pressures has required courage. Time and again we have had to say to friends, parents or colleagues, “this is the way I want to live and it’s okay” – as a result we have developed into some of the strongest, most independent people around.
But although independence is a good thing, we will lose out if we out if we become trapped in a role which requires us to be independent all of the time. Remaining independent can feel like fighting a battle at times. Thankfully we have developed other strategies to resist and shape the world around us. My queer and my kinky friends have shown me that we can be strongest when we are weak and most radical when vulnerable and childlike. Play is powerful as it lets us rearrange the elements around us into a shape that works for us. Everything is up for grabs. We played with our Lego bricks, with gender and with our relationship structures. So why not also with control?
Going 24/7 has brought me face to face with forces that act on me while I am in a relationship – and allowed me to reshape them. In the past I’ve been controlled to an extent that I didn’t realise. Much of this has been bad but I’ve found that there are some forms of control that I like and can consent to.
My negative experiences with control were highly gendered and driven in part by behaviour that I’ve inherited. I haven’t enjoyed the time I spent pretending to be the “typical man” – the provider or the emotional rock – and I lost too much by being overly accommodating of partners’ whims, insecurities or convictions. These are behaviours I copied without thinking. It came as a shock to me that I was living out my parents’ relationship in my own life. That is not something I’m going to do. I was being controlled by other people and by social norms without my thoughtful consent.
Maybe I’m alone here but I’ve often found myself, in those moments when I’m happy and my partner seems like the most amazing person in the world, scooting down a little under the duvet to nestle my head beneath her arm or waist. I’ve felt safe, with my arm barely reaching her shoulder, small by comparison with the wonderfulness, wisdom, strength and authority that she can show. A few times I’ve woken up in the morning to be told to make coffee or put clothes in the dryer. I’ve done as I was told, unblinkingly, and felt secure and happy as I did so. And then there are the times in bed when I’ve been used, abused or objectified (I’m looking wistfully out of the window as I was writing this). So there were plenty of examples of control that I liked – and, I was to find, plenty more was to be discovered.
Becoming 24/7 has brought with it lots of benefits and more than a few challenges. I’m happier now that I’m living in a way that is more suited to me, have more energy, a higher libido. Being owned has brought new chunks of my internal monologue and decision-making process to the surface. I wanted to concentrate on one aspect, about decisions about whether to play with other people or enter new relationships. For me, these need my owner’s permission, or my owner initiating the process of finding someone themselves.
In poly relationships, decision making – who gets a say, when and how – is contentious. I’ve always been “anti veto.” My aim for myself and those people I love is to be set free: to blossom, unfurl and become more fully themselves. This is unlikely to happen if we hold each other back out of insecurity as, I’ve worried, is the potential that vetoes hold. But permission granted or denied within a D/s context is not the same as a veto. Any good dominant knows that the needs and desires of their submissive cannot be suppressed. Instead, theirs is the job to guide and hold space so that transformation can happen. A dominant has a responsibility to themselves to stay happy – but also to remove unnecessary obstacles to change. Speaking as a submissive, I’m learning to trust my partner to have my best interests and happiness at heart, as well as her own.
Bringing decision making into a D/s framework is not the usual way to do poly but, as a communication device, it’s not bad. For one thing, it guarantees that all changes are talked about (at least between the partners who are within the D/s structure). It means that change only happens after partners enthusiastically consent. It fits in well with transactional analysis, which suggests that, if one person begins a discussion in an adult (rather than parental or childlike) manner, the other person will respond in the same way. Although “master, please can I play with X” might not immediately see “adult”, it is in fact honest, up front and respectful – and much better than other examples of communication I’ve observed in the community. It also clearly gives the other person space to articulate their fears and concerns.
The main challenge of D/s in poly is now clear. D/s creates an inside and an outside: some partners are inside the dynamic (and are masters and slaves and so on) while others are outside (who I shall call egalitarian partners for want of a better word). Poly folk are exceptionally good at creating ways of classifying people. Think about primary/secondary, domestic/weekend, and proximity/LDR. And although labels can be useful, they also lead to hierarchies – particularly if there is a dichotomy (as in these examples) as one inevitably becomes privileged over the other.
And so the main challenge of D/s in poly is a familiar one. What do you do when an egalitarian partner wants to be part of the dynamic but can’t (for whatever reason) or when a slave or a master wants time out? Although the textbooks will say it’s about taking personal responsibility for figuring out what we need and asking for it, the reality is that when insecurities, fears, social norms and last experiences are brought to bear, it can understandably take time to figure out. We can all help by emphasising the many things people bring to a relationship and so enrich them and by making sure our language allows for more options than just two. When Dossie Easton talks about jealousy she sometimes says she hopes we all have at least three options – and therefore that we realise there are many, many ways to live.
There was one challenge that I was expecting but hasn’t materialised. I thought that, by casting myself as the vulnerable, less powerful person in the relationship, I might be shoehorning my partner into a role in which she always had to act strong, impermeable, not vulnerable, not emotional. And to be honest, she is strong – that was something that attracted me to her in the first place – but being 24/7 does not seem to have stopped her showing her emotions. As I have become more vulnerable with her, she is showing me her vulnerability more too. I’ve got a better idea now how she wants to feel looked after and taken care of, and we are providing support for each other in a mutual, fair and negotiated way that I believe is healthy. Some of the support I provide is within our D/s dynamic (for example, making tea in the mornings) and some of it isn’t.