Thursday, August 25, 2011

Whipping Girl FAQ: "Submissive Streak"

Originally posted on LJ 8-22-08
In this, the third in a line of posts that address some of the more frequently asked questions I’ve received about Whipping Girl (WG), I want to talk about chapter 15: “Submissive Streak.” I’ve found that that’s been the most “polarizing” chapter in the book, in that lots of people have told me it was their favorite chapter, while others have told me that it was the one chapter in the book that they were bothered by or didn’t like.

I think a lot of the issues people have had about the chapter stem from the fact that it is a deeply (and entirely) personal piece within a book where I make a lot of general claims about gender and sexuality. I think that for that reason, people sometimes get the impression that I am speaking *in general* about submissive fantasies, when in reality I am only talking about my own very specific experience. (In retrospect, I probably should have included a disclaimer to that effect along with the piece).

With the piece, it was not my intention to imply that “forced feminization”/submissive sex embodiment fantasies are the only type of submissive fantasy out there. There are countless different types of submissive fantasies and they are experienced by all types of people: male and female, queer and straight, cis and trans. Different people can have very different relationships with their own submissive tendencies. I did not intend “Submissive Streak” to erase or invalidate anyone else’s submissive fantasies, desires or experiences.

The people who tend to like that chapter the most are other trans women who have experienced “forced feminization” or submissive sex embodiment fantasies similar to my own. They have told me that they feel that I captured the role that societal misogyny plays in the development of such fantasies. There is also a lot of bullshit theories forwarded by psychologists about such fantasies, many of which make false presumptions about causation—i.e., they assume these fantasies *cause* crossgender identity, whereas most trans women I know who’ve had such fantasies experience crossgender feelings prior to such fantasies, and come to recognize these fantasies as a coping mechanism for dealing with their own trans feminine gender expression/identity in a world where they are physically male, and where femaleness and femininity are viewed as subordinate and subservient to maleness and masculinity. Many trans women have told me that they have appreciated the way that chapter reclaims or reframes the role and significance of such fantasies in our lives.

When writing the piece, I never meant to imply that all trans women experience “forced feminization” or submissive sex embodiment fantasies, because many don’t. I also personally know some trans women who practice BDSM, but who are Dominants rather than submissives. So there is clearly more than one trajectory that trans individuals might take, and there is not a 100% correlation between transness and submissiveness. Thus, I do not believe that transgender feelings necessarily lead to, or cause, submissive fantasies (nor vice versa).

In WG, I do not go into what causes submissive (or Dominant) fantasies and desires more generally (as opposed to gender identity, gender expression & sexual orientation, where I make the case that many people have natural predispositions/inclinations toward specific gender or sexual identities/practices/experiences). The reason for this is simply because I am simply not sure what the answer is.

I know lots of other BDSM practitioners believe that they were influenced by social forces or specific events that occurred earlier in their lives. For example, I have had more than one cis woman tell me that she believes the rape fantasies she has grew out of the shame she experienced for having strong sexual desires in a world where “good girls” are supposed to be sexually innocent and pure. I’ve heard others have claim that their Dominant or submissive fantasies arose in response to sexual abuse, or parental dynamics, or overcoming a repressive religious upbringing. This is just what people say about their own experiences—I am not implying that any of these claims regarding causation have been “proven” beyond a shadow of a doubt.

At the same time, I have also met BDSM practitioners who have no clue why they have submissive (or Dominant) fantasies or desires. The fact that such desires seem to be inexplicable could point toward some kind of natural predisposition or inclination...I am not sure. The only thing that I think is clear beyond a shadow of doubt is that, like other aspects of gender and sexuality, BDSM fantasies/desires are a complex, heterogeneous phenomenon, and there is a huge amount of variation (both in the desires and in how one conceptualizes their own desires) in the population.

Finally, I have had friends who are not trans women, but who practice BDSM and have submissive fantasies/desires, who were bothered by “Submissive Streak” because they felt that I was conflating shame and submissiveness in a way that they found disempowering, and possibly even pathologizing. First off, I can assure you that I do not have a pathologizing view of BDSM fantasies/desires. For example, I do *not* view BDSM as a psychological problem, as a sign of illness, as an aberrant or abnormal form of sexual expression, as an “erotic target location error,” nor do I believe that BDSM desires require an explanation. I believe that all forms of consensual sexuality can be healthy and beautiful for those involved, including BDSM. The *only* problem with consensual BDSM (in my opinion) is that it is intensely stigmatized in our culture.

Second, I absolutely do *not* feel that my own submissive fantasies are disempowering at all. I feel like I make that case in the last section of the piece where I say this about my submissive streak:

“It’s like a scar I keep hidden up my sleeve, a scar that still sometimes opens up and bleeds. Like a shark bite, it literally tore me apart when it was first happening to me. But these days, my submissive streak is just another reminder of how I survived.”

For me, practicing BDSM and exploring my submissive fantasies can be extraordinarily empowering. It’s about reclaiming aspects of myself that I used to feel ashamed of. For me, overcoming the shame I felt as a young trans child is still an ongoing process—it is the driving force behind both my focus as a trans activist/writer to debunk commonplace cis-centric assumptions about trans people, as well as my erotic desire to sometimes explore my submissive fantasies. This may seem contradictory on the surface, but to me they are both about reclaiming and becoming self-empowered, rather than letting other people’s definitions, expectations and assumptions dictate who I am.

*one final note: “Submissive Streak” was originally written to be a spoken word performance piece, and it predates WG by several years. The piece has two quite disparate influences. The first is Anne Lawrence’s essay “Men Trapped in Men’s Bodies,” which introduced me to the concept of “autogynephilia.” (This was before Bailey’s book came out). I felt that that essay—which tries to provide an explanation for the sex embodiment fantasies many trans women experience—was remarkably incognizant of, and silent about, misogyny and the rampant nonconsensual sexualization of women in our culture, and the role that those phenomena may play in way trans feminine spectrum individuals cope with, and come to conceptualize, our own crossgender desires/feelings. So I wanted to write a piece that *did* address those vital issues, as I felt (and still feel) that these phenomena are the primary cause of my own “forced feminization”/submissive sex embodiment fantasies.

The second influence was a spoken word performance piece by the Suicide Kings (who I got to see all the time in the SF Bay Area poetry slam scene in the early 2000’s). The piece was called “Exit Wounds,” and it was about the ways in which their experiences being abused as children have shaped/influenced their adult sexualities. I would practically be reduced to tears every time I saw them perform it. It resonated with me at such a deep level, despite the fact that (to the best of my knowledge) I was not physically or sexually abused as a child. I realized that for me, what I experienced as a young teen—being filled with shame about my wanting to be female (so much so that sometimes I wished I was dead), and feeling like I couldn’t share my feelings with anyone else—did amount to a form of abuse on some level. It was a form of self-abuse, as I took it all out on myself. While I would never claim to know what it is like to be physically/sexually abused as a child, I did realize that I was a survivor of sorts. And to this day, I still carry those scars around with me...

[note: If you appreciate this essay and want to see more like it, please check out my Patreon page]

1 comment:

  1. I for one really liked that part of the book. I suppose it's no wonder. I am a TS female and I work and play in the BDSM community. Your honesty and willingness to reveal your self with such introspective writing really resonated with me.