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Wednesday, June 28 2017 @ 01:48 PM MST

Earned, Not Assumed by Jack Rinella

CommentaryNow here’s an email that can set me off and running: “I have been active in real life BDSM since 2000. I started out as a top and after a while I became aware that the more control I had over a scene, the better I liked it. This love of control seeped into my relationships as well. I therefore felt comfortable calling myself a dominant. I feel very comfortable in my own skin being the dominant partner in my present relationship. [Meanwhile] my partner of the last four years has made the leap from submissive to slave. She sees herself as my slave. I cherish her and take care of her as my most valued possession. We got engaged in January and plan on having a formal collaring this summer. So at what point can I define myself as a Master rather than as a Dominant? What do you think are the differences between Dominant and Master?”

Let’s see. How does one begin?

Well, it’s interesting that my reader talks about real life BDSM. My how things have changed since the days when all BDSM was done in real time. When one fantasized about it, it was fantasy and no one imagined that any part of it was real. Fantasy was fantasy and we all could tell the difference between that and the world in which we lived.

But the writer didn’t ask me about that. Instead he describes what is a very common and natural situation: as he has become more experienced in what it is that we do, he has gradually defined himself more closely and probably more accurately. Likewise his partner has done the same. Experience, after all, should increase one’s self-awareness and improve one’s ability to see him or herself more clearly.

It takes time to do so, which is why it’s best to enter the depths of any culture or relationship only slowly. Notice, for instance, that he writes that awareness “seeped” in. I know it’s a digression but the concepts of slowly, experiential, and progressively seem to me to be rather well-ignored in our subculture, which is a reflection of the instant gratification attitude so prevalent in America today.

In a recent discussion with my friend Sean I said that we are increasingly surrounded by an adolescent community. I don’t mean that as a reference to age but rather as to the general BDSM maturity level. Now that reflection probably flows from my years in the scene. It is also a reflection of the tremendous growth we have experienced in our numbers and from the emphasis our educational processes put on technique rather than personal growth. Now back to the topic.

As I’ve noted before, a main difference between the words “dominant” and “master” has to do with semantics. The first is an adjective that describes a characteristic of one’s personality, while the second, in this usage anyway, describes a relationship. Therefore it is more appropriate to say “I have a dominant personality” rather than “I am a dominant.”

There is much more to what we do (when it is done well) than technique. Ethics, compassion, sympathy (in its fundamental conception), and tolerance stand out as important but relatively under-taught subjects. Since I’m on that subject, when was the last time a weekend event had basic and advanced seminars about human sexuality?

Now there’s another area for ranting. My better *censored*-sucking class is usually well-received but when the educational program chair for a rather large weekend convention scheduled it, it was cancelled by the board --- or something like that as I don’t have all the details. Shouldn’t we be teaching about sex? Do any of us really think we know all there is to know about it? How much of what we do know is accurate? Well, it’s obvious I can’t stay on topic this morning!

In the way of instant gratification and superficial education, then, is it any mystery that one can adopt the title master before they attend their first event? OK, so it may be done in ignorance. In fairness let me also note that those of a more submissive inclination do the same thing. Instant labeling seems to be a favored practice. You get to pick your colored wrist band. Where is the white one that says “I’m still learning who I am”?

I never call myself master. I am Patrick's master and he calls me that. I am master to no one else. Some people call me master out of respect because they think I deserve that title -- and I hope I do. Experience has taught me that titles come with responsibilities, obligations. They have meanings that should not be easily discarded or ignored, though we often do so.

The effect is that our labels have become trivialized by indiscriminate use and, even more tragically, by the acceptance of that triviality by our community. The end result is that titles become meaningless and real communication ceases. Ask yourself what is communicated by the term boy, slave, or master? What qualifications does our subculture place on the use of the various titles we use in our communities?

Rather than give titles to those who say what they will do, or what they want to do, ought we not give them to people who can show us what they have done? Wouldn’t it be better to cancel a contest than to have one with contestants none of whom have more than three or four years’ experience in our scene?

Don’t get me wrong here. I am advocating for an improved methodology when it comes to titles -- that they first and foremost reflect reality not fantasy and that they be earned, awarded, bestowed, not assumed. Be sure, too, that I am not merely talking about titles as in contests but titles as in “This is who I am.”

So you want to be a general? Even generals started in boot camp! It is as simple as that. Instead we have this unspoken creed that you can call yourself anything you want and that sitting in an audience watching a demo is enough to make us safe, sane, consensual, and polite players. We all know that wearing a collar does not make one a slave, yet how often do we politely challenge that wannabe to learn about slavery before the collar goes on? If we are merely about fashion statements, let’s put on fashion shows, not dungeon parties.

I accord many people the title of master because there are many who rightly deserve it. The word master certainly holds the meaning “dominant” but as far as I can tell it’s more important meaning has to do with proficiency and skill. I think it’s time we accepted that fact in our community.

As I reread the above email I see that the one person qualified to judge the author’s mastery is his partner -- she knows him well enough to evaluate his skill and proficiency. It is their relationship, no one else’s, and therefore they can best name it. Likewise it is a relationship they have between themselves and no others, hence there is no need for others to act or name them otherwise.

If we are not first and foremost a community of equal players, then we have missed the most important and fundamental tenet of who we are: adults who recognize each other as equals and play thusly. Though our roles may be at opposite poles, neither is, nor ever will be, superior to the other. In that vein we all need to be masters in our proficiency and slaves in our service to one another.

Have a great week. You can leave me email at mrjackr@leathermail.com or visit my website at http://www.LeatherViews.com where you can subscribe to this column and receive it weekly. Copyright 2009 by Jack Rinella, all rights reserved.


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