He Looks like a Dom and Quacks like a Dom , but is he really a Dom?

Thoughts on the difference between appearing to be in control, and actually being in control

By Sensuous Sadie

"In the vanilla world there is a very active game of dominance and submission, one that is largely unspoken and unacknowledged, but in some ways more grounded in reality. Vanilla 'dominants' are dominant by virtue of both the circumstances of their lives as well as by their basic natures. They don't 'act' dominant, they simply are dominant. On the other hand, BDSM Dominants are bound by a loose set of traditions and customs that have little to do with whether they are really in control, but rather with whether they appear to be in control."
~ Jonathan

One of the reasons I love visiting my friend Dylan is because while I'm at his house, I am enclosed in his circle. Although he isn't involved in BDSM, he's what we might call a "Vanilla Dominant," in that he creates an environment where I am free to submit. I get to enjoy the comfort and security of the control he provides without ever feeling as though my own independence was compromised. In Dylan's world, consent is not overt, but rather implied, although by being there, I am in a sense giving consent. This is a different scenario than the checklist-exchanging consent of the BDSM scene.

What is Control then?
Dylan's control over his environment, and of me is a very particular kind of control. My awareness of his gift comes out of my feelings about love; that to be able to love, we must love ourselves first. Similarly, to control another person, we must be able to control our own lives. This does not mean never having fun or being spontaneous, but rather that each of us creates our lives and takes responsibility for what we have created. If wish to be a Dominant, I need to be able to demonstrate that my life is what I have chosen, rather than a bit of flotsam and jetsam tossed about in the storm.

Dominants in the BDSM Scene
Our community puts forth a model of what a Dominant is, and provides lots of instructions about how to speak, act, dress and conduct a scene (also known as quacking like a Dominant). The good part about this is that these models offer a way for community members to interact with a clear line of communication. The downside is that if a new Dominant doesn't have a grounded sense of self, these trappings create an artificial construct, a persona which unfortunately can fool novices and even experienced players. My friend Stacey says that "For people who are truly Dominant, they use whatever protocol, clothes, etc that they want. That's what it means to be the Dominant, they get to do things the way they want. The community does have a structure, but when it's used by people who aren't intrinsically dominant, it just looks silly." One example of this silliness is a local Dominant named Colby who dresses to the nines, is highly articulate, and has a collection of expensive accoutrements in his basement dungeon. In this very dungeon, I watched as an experienced player developed a crush on him, or at least the him that she could see on the surface. Unfortunately, what Colby doesn't have is emotional, financial, or personal stability, the things that in my opinion establish a foundation for someone to control another person. My friend Julia might be thinking of Colby when she says, "Most of the dominance I've observed in the BDSM worlds looks like a cartoon to me."

You could say that Colby is "acting" like he is in control, while my vanilla friend Dylan is simply "being" in control. Of course not all Dominants in the BDSM scene are like Colby, and many of them are indeed stable on all fronts. What I want to look at here is how Vanilla Dominants do what they do, and how to identify Dominants in the BDSM scene who are also simply "being" dominant.

Vanilla Dominants
One distinction between the dominance you see between the scene and the vanilla world is the role of sexuality. Stacey describes it this way, "Dominance is something inherent in a person and it doesn't matter whether they define themselves as a scene Dominant or not. A vanilla dominant is simply a strong dominant person who revels in that dominance, but doesn't necessarily use floggers, bondage or any of the other accoutrements. They just don't identify with the 'rackem and whackem' scene." Julia adds that, "In the BDSM world, sex is the sine qua non (the prerequisite) of dominance and submission. In the vanilla world, sex is just one part of a much more complex set of relationships." The key messages here are that dominance, sexuality, and BDSM can be combined in a number of ways irregardless of the labels we in the scene often use.

When I look at Dylan's life, I observe that he is stable on a number of fundamental levels: career, financial, family, and personal. While Dylan has changed jobs a few times, he has consistently moved up in his career. He may not be rich, but he lives within his means and can afford the things he cares about. He has a number of long term friends, and is active in his community. Julia adds that, "Vanilla Dominants don't take pride in the fact that they own eleven different floggers and they are skilled at wax play. They take pride in how much money they raised for their church or how they coached their daughter for the debating team."

In contrast, when I'm at Colby's house, I'm expected to scrape up my own lunch, which likely as not will require me to wash the dishes piled up in the sink. While waiting for him to finish e-mailing his friends I might enjoy checking out his collection of single tails, but then I also know that he makes excuses for not having enough money to visit his kids. Here at home with his armor set aside, Colby is in control of nothing. He's simply a guy looking for another temp job, eating peanut butter sandwiches just before payday, and finding a new gal pal submissive who won't see through the masquerade for a few months. Julia is hard on guys like this, but there may be a kernel of truth in what she asks, "Do you know a single BDSM dominant who donates his dominance to anything of social value outside of the scene? People who are into the lifestyle are often selfishly focused on their own sexual pleasure, and little else." If Colby really was a Dominant, his gifts would not only provide him with better than a rundown lifestyle, but he'd be contributing something to the larger world.

How do we know which is which?
Colby of course is just one person in the BDSM scene, and there are certainly plenty of Dominants who have more balanced lives. The challenge then is to identify Dominants who are actually in control, not just acting. My approach is to ignore the visual and sexual trappings, what the person says, wears, and acts – even whether or not they have a submissive. Instead, I look at how they are managing their lives. Are they passionate about their work? Are they responsible parents? Have they been able to sustain a long-term relationship? Are they living in a comfortable home? Are they emotionally stable?

Is he or she in Control, or Controlling?
Being "in control" is a bit of a loaded term, so let's look at some related issues. One is the distinction is between being "in control" and being "controlling." Being in control is about being certain and sure-footed about who you are and what you are doing. When you are dominant with those around you, you are allowing others the benefit of this control. Being controlling is about being insecure and demanding that others assure you that you are okay. It is the antithesis of, and yet is often mistaken for real dominance. The control of a Dominant is also different than the control we talk about in relation to twelve step programs. There, we seek to turn over control of our lives to a higher power, a quest which I work on every day. However, this doesn't mean that we're sitting back and expecting God to do all the work. God has the big picture in hand, but it is still up to me to roast up the shish kabobs and scrub the grill.

Can we judge Submissives by the same Yardstick?
Another interesting side issue is whether we can apply these same ideas to submissives. Does their ability to control their own lives relate directly to their ability to actually submit, versus only appearing to submit? Submissives are rarely measured by their ability to control their own lives, but a submissive whose career, financial life, and social network are in shambles is clearly not someone who is prepared to engage in any exchange of power. Giving someone control of a messed up existence is not a gift, but a burden. Stacey agrees with me, saying, "Many submissives are strong individuals and their submission is to a strong partner, not to the world at large. There has to be a tension (in a good sense) between two people who are equal in strength and completeness, a push and pull between worthy opponents. What thrill is there for a Dominant in having someone weak surrender their teeny bit of weakness?"

What I find really fascinating about Vanilla Dominants is that they model a substantive approach to control. It's not that we in the community don't have this already, but that it can get obscured in the bells and whistles of BDSM. We may think we have it all figured out, but in some ways this organic approach to dominance has a step up on the gee gaws and costumes of the scene. Dylan's way of dominating me may not have the explicit consent step I'm used to, but I'm pretty sure that if he ever wants to move that dominance into the bedroom, I'll be the first in line.

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