By Sensuous Sadie

If I had a nickel for every submissive who hit on me, I could open my own dungeon. The real bummer about the whole thing is that I'm submissive myself. Oh sure, I top now and then, but when it comes down to it, my BDSM orientation is submissive. So, you ask, why are submissives glomming onto me like those alien pancakes glommed onto the officers of the Star Trek enterprise? That answer is easy - it's my dominant personae. It starts with being a plus-sized woman, one who wears sexy and dramatic clothing. It continues with my articulate mind, my direct way of speaking, and my forwardness in asking for what I want.

Yet that person, that public person, is not my sexual orientation. I say orientation in the sense that I've committed myself to the lifestyle and no longer date 'nilla guys. When it comes to the bedroom, I love to serve. I love to be taken. I love to suffer. I love it all.

So why's it so hard to believe?

We've all seen media images of the powerful male executive who sees a mistress on the side. We understand that men like this need some time to let go, to not be in charge. Yet we never see media images of the powerful female executive slipping out for a quick bondage session, although the housewife donning a PVC catsuit to whip up a few afternoon callers is common enough. These are roles we're all familiar with - the successful male executive and the housewife. These are roles that don't make any waves in our patriarchal culture, at least in public where it counts. You'd think that in a culture that teaches women to give up their own needs for others, the obvious rebellion would be to go Domme, but the obvious is not always the reality.

The dynamics of who we are in the bedroom (broadly speaking) versus who we are as people are circuitous. Just as the mind and soul and body are all intertwined, so is our sexual orientation intertwined with who we are a whole person. Yet it does not automatically follow that they should present the same. If that were so then we would all be exactly as we appear. We would no longer have our humanity of equal parts art and soul. Why should a person submissive in the bedroom also be assumed to also submit in life? There's no obvious rational to that statement, yet it's so commonly asked of me I have to believe that people cannot understand the difference between sexual orientation and personhood. The corollary is that dominants, usually men, often assume that I will submit to them simply because they are a master, even though they are not MY master. Is this arrogance or just inexperience? Is it simpleminded and simpleheaded, or simply ignorant?

On the broader level for both men and women, there is often a confusion between submission and passivity. Being submissive doesn't mean you let people take advantage of you. In fact, having a strong self means that you have more to give a dominant. If you are nothing, if you are a doormat, there's no challenge or excitement in dominating you. Being a doormat is not an act of submission but rather state of helplessness which invites abuse.

I am a submissive, which is a proactive choice of seeking to please my partner. He, in an equally proactive way, gives me the control and care I need. It's an equal exchange, so unlike the vanilla world where women are often taken for granted. One if the wonderful differences in the D/s community is that the submissive (female or male) may well bring home the bacon as well as fry it up in a pan, but because the exchange is a negotiated agreement, her contributions are fully appreciated and taken into consideration. This is not the assumption of the traditional family dynamic where women are often working full-time and have to come home to care for the home and children on top of that, with little help from their partners.

Generally speaking, both female and male dominants carry the trait of dominance in their sexual orientation as well as in their lives. And while the image of the successful male executive who is submissive may be a popular stereotype, I don't actually know any men like this. In fact, my experience with submissive men is that they tend to also be submissive in a broader sense.

The interesting dynamic arises with submissive women. About half of us are like me - powerful energetic women who love to submit. The other half (or so) are submissive in all areas of their lives, quite often even passive.

What does this gender difference mean? I'm guessing that the traditions of women's roles in our culture particularly affect those of us who are submissive sexually. Many of us struggle with wanting to express our submissive sides without losing the independence our foremothers fought for. We recognize that feminism is threatened by women who claim their submissive sexual nature. Of course, we don't want to lose what feminism has given us - freedom to vote, to work, to make our own choices. But real feminism is about freedom to choose - which includes choosing our orientation. It is only through educating our submissive sisters and our vanilla brethren that we will help everyone understand that being submissive does not necessarily diminish our strength as women, individually or collectively. It is only when we become passive that we are truly diminished.

On the most superficial level, I too am that executive woman. I make decisions all day; I don't want to make them in the bedroom. But it's far more than that. One of the downsides of being a strong woman is that people figure you don't need attention or nurturing, but they could not be more wrong. In fact, because we receive less, we actually need it more than most. Being submissive allows me to accept the nurturing that I need, that everyone needs.

Part of that nurturing is being the center of attention. This person, this dominant has spent time, money, and energy planning a scene designed just for me. It is so focused on me that he may not even orgasm, and is entirely understanding when I do the classic obnoxious lover's move of rolling over and falling asleep after the scene. On the surface, the classic scene is enacted by the dominant, but at the foundation, it's about taking the submissive into a different headspace. And, hackneyed as the phrase has become, it also comes down to the submissive being ultimately in control. I give up my power within a certain sphere of influence, but even then, even at the very last minute, I can make it all stop anytime by simply speaking my safeword.

On a deeper level, serving is a spiritual act. Although I'm not a Christian, I like the story about how Jesus washed his follower's feet. In serving another, I put myself aside. My demanding, selfish, childish self. The self that wants what I want when I want it. But for those few minutes of serving, I am lifted above my mundane wants. When I am free to fully express that side of myself, my submissive side, then I become even more of the strong woman that I am outside the bedroom, the strong woman who revels both in her strength and in her submission.

Sensuous Sadie is a BDSM columnist and edits SCENEsubmissions, a free e-newsletter for the New England area and beyond. She is the founder and leader (1999 - 2001) of Rose & Thorn, Vermont's first BDSM group.