Updated: Aug 23
At some point in the last decade culture in the United States started demanding that people be certain about everything. We collectively lost the capacity to allow grey areas, to question our believes and understandings, and to change.
I noticed this first in the political world. The parties stopped negotiating and became set in the quicksand of political certainty. When I started in politics 25 years ago, elected would negotiate, would reach across party lines to do good work, would even compromise. **GASP!!!** All of these things are seen as unseemly and political liabilities today.
It has happened with religion. The idea that faith is based on the capacity to believe in something we cannot prove has moved into steadfast beliefs that whatever their concept of God, the hereafter and morals are absolute certainties. Even atheists have to be certain that there is no god. Questioning doctrine or religious politics is no longer tolerated.
Certainty and Sexuality
It has also happened with sexuality. We demand that people declare their gender orientation, their D/s orientation, and their preferred kink with absolute certainty (see my post on this here). This is as ridiculous and impractical as demanding an elected official never compromise. It is also unhelpful and unhealthy.
Sexuality is an evolving thing. We are not born knowing if we are gay or straight or somewhere in-between. We are not born knowing if we are a sub or Dom, top or bottom, and probably not a man or a woman. These are all constructs that we use to describe desires, feelings and behaviors. Yes, gender, sexual orientation, and kink can be pretty innate for most of us. We learn words to describe it. But the reality is, for many of us we will change and grow and develop and not everything stays the same.
The problem is, when we are in a world which demands certainty, especially when coupled with social media, we create a situation that either locks someone in a box they don’t always fit or makes someone look flighty.
In the U.S., most women entering the kink scene gravitate toward identifying initially as submissive. There is a lot of cultural pressure to do this and we are told as women submission is more natural. This is fine for the most part if your natural inclination is submission. However, women seeking to find their dominant side face a much more difficult journey than submissive women.
Many of the Dommes I know have, at some point, explored their submissive side. Some even identified as right of the slash for a period of time. When I came into the kink community, this type of personal journey was accepted. In fact, in many leather families, it was traditional to start on the submissive side and be trained and grow into your dominant side over the course of years.
Today, we have people entering the community and claiming identities and status because they have some cursory belief is might be who they are. We all know the 23 year old who came to his first kink coffee three months ago and is now strutting around calling himself Master Whatever. We know the submissive who discovered dungeon parties and two months later has got herself collared and is calling herself a slave. We also all know there is some crash-and-burn time coming for these folks.
Kink and D/s is a journey. You grow into who you are. You learn. You need time to try things, to reflect and to process your experience. I don’t doubt that some people have very strong natural inclinations for one side of the slash or one identity. But we can’t demand certainty from the outset.
The Problem with Certainty
The problem with certainty is it locks someone into a box. I know a woman. She was a newbie. After three months or so of playing the top in a relationship she and her newbie guy decided to switch roles. He was over cock-sure and called himself a master immediately (never mind he had never topped and the prior week had been locked in a dog crate while he watched his partner get fucked by another man he disliked). She immediately called herself a slave.
Anyone in the community for some time knows there is a learning curve and need for trial and error. However, for this couple, they immediately adopted ridged definitions of “master” and “slave.” She believed, and he asserted, slaves have no autonomy whatsoever in a relationship from day one. When unhealthy relationship behaviors developed, the relationship quickly became abusive and ultimately failed leaving a trail of bodies.
Yes, newbies make mistakes (so do not-so-newbies). The added pressure of having to be absolutely certain about your identity out the gate makes growing and evolving much more difficult.
Certainty is horrible for politics. Horrible for religion. And it is detrimental to kink and sexuality. We as a community need to practice opening up space for people to question who they are. We need to allow exploration. We need to encourage people to look at lots of identity options. That is part of the fun. And it is necessary to be a healthy and mature kinkster.