(As a heads up, this post will discuss consent and negotiation in BDSM, and specifically focuses on D/s. It briefly references consen violations, abuse, and sexual assault)
“Building Something New” is a D/s focused story centering two trans queers who have been regular play partners for two years and are exploring taking their D/s dynamic outside of scene-based play and into the world, on their first romantic date. The story begins with their negotiation of whether they want to do D/s in public and what public D/s could look like for them.
That negotiation is led by Rickie (the submissive character). His focus is on supporting Jax (the dominant character) to say what he wants, and on Jax’s consent. You can see that in his thinking about the conversation before they have it, as well as the conversation itself. This moment in the story holds the dominant character as vulnerable, as someone with needs. The submissive character wants to be a support to him, but only in the context of a D/s dynamic if it actually will be supportive. They will be in public, and doing it discreetly, which means nonverbal communication is important, so that’s part of the conversation as well.
Rickie leads the negotiation, and makes sure he understands what Jax wants, that he establishes a safe signal they both can use in public to indicate that they want to ease off a bit on the D/s dynamic. His own consent as a submissive is important, too. He talks about what he wants. But the framing of the conversation, Rickie’s intention, really starts with Jax’s needs and wants, with Jax’s consent.
I have never read D/s negotiation like it.
Negotiation is one of those things in kink life that is theoretically mutual, but often much less mutual in reality, especially when D/s is part of the picture. Scene negotiation often solely focuses on the bottom’s needs, what the bottom desires, and what the bottom consents to. That’s what is modeled in kink education, depicted in kink fiction, the norm in kink communities. In power-neutral scene negotiation, where D/s is not part of the picture, tops sometimes advocate for their own needs and desires. It’s rare, but it can happen. Dominants are expected to focus on the needs, desires, and consent of the submissive. Dominants are expected to not bring up their own needs, desires and consent. To either not have them or quietly take care of them without drawing attention to them. Submissives are not expected to ask about them, or even to consider them.
I’ve referenced these issues before, discussed how talking about top needs and consent is taboo in kink communities and how I think that’s due largely to domism and misogyny and an over-valuing of top inscrutability. I have written about the ways that sadistic desires are taboo and folks are afraid of what people outside our communities might think if tops talk openly about what we want. I’ve written about the impact these norms and values in kink communities have had on me as a disabled top, how they do not make room for disabled tops to have needs. I’ve written about my own consent as a sadist, and the mutuality I need in play where I trust a partner to hold my sadism.
I haven’t written much non-fiction (yet) about the importance of a dominant’s consent. Specifically consent for D/s, and for service. That’s what this post is about.
For the most part, dominant consent is elided, silent, invisible, assumed and ignored in kink communities, kink culture, and kink fiction. In negotiation, a dominant is often thought of as the partner who facilitates the process, asking questions to aid the submissive in communicating what they want, what they need, what their limits are, what they consent to. It’s rare to imagine that a submissive might initiate or lead negotiation, that a submissive might be concerned about a dominant’s consent, or that a dominant might need help in articulating their own needs and desires.
These cultural norms have an impact. They create a culture where dominants feel like they have to be the only one watching out for their consent and needs in a scene. They make it harder for tops to articulate their needs, including access needs, aftercare needs, etc. They make it less likely that negotiation will include an easy way for a dominant to pause dynamic or end a scene, which may make it more difficult for dominants to do those things when they need to. They create a culture where people aren’t thinking about or careful around the consent of the dominant. Which helps to shape a kink culture where dominants who are abused, sexually assaulted, or have their consent violated by submissives have very little room to articulate that experience, much less be believed or supported by others should they try.
All of which makes it harder to create full consent for dominants. This is especially the case for marginalized dominants where other power dynamics may be at play in a relationship, for dominants who have communication difficulties, and for dominant trauma survivors who may have complex concerns around consent.
I write queer kink fiction to reflect the realities of queer kink life, to reflect my communities. But fiction does more than offer a cathartic mirror. It offers a vision for the future. It challenges the status quo. It gives insight into how things are and also what it might feel like, look like, be like…if they were different. I am invested in offering kink fiction that honors top vulnerabilities alongside bottom strengths. That values mutuality between and consent for both dominants and submissives. That shows what consent could look like if we valued the dominant’s consent and needs as well as the submissives. Given the impact of the cultural norms that I discussed above, these things feel especially important to me.
Part of what I love about “Building Something New” is that it shows Rickie leading the negotiation as a way to support Jax, and then following Jax’s lead when they are doing the D/s. I love the dance of that, the way he takes both aspects of it seriously, the care he brings throughout the story, the way he shows who he is by how careful and invested in attuning to Jax he is. He gets strength from their dynamic, from following, and caring, and being present and open. And leading the negotiation to focus on Jax’s needs is part of that, not in contradiction to it.
These are characters I love deeply. I’ve been writing them since 2014. You may recognize them from the story “My Pretty Boy” in Show Yourself To Me, and in excerpts I have posted from Shocking Violet, a novel I have been working on for the last three years (and am trying to finish writing in the next month or so). This moment in their relationship is a turning point, a precious one. I am incredibly glad that it has been published in a book about submission because it so deeply centers Rickie’s submissive self, in all his complexity.
“Building Something New” just came out today, December 19, in the ebook version of The Big Book of Submission Vol 2, which was edited by the amazing Rachel Kramer Bussel!
I’m joined in the table of contents by a cadre of brilliant erotica writers, including:
- Sommer Marsden
- Rob Rosen
- Annabeth Leong
- Jade A. Waters
- Giselle Renarde
- Malin James
- Sonni de Soto
- Donna George Storey
Ebook available now! Print version available in January.