It’s been awhile since I’ve had to think about how I define myself, about the meaning of certain words that we, as a community, use to define our roles; as well as (and sometimes as opposed to) how we, as individuals, define and label ourselves. I’ve always been a proponent of using labels – as a starting point. Humans need to be able to communicate with words, especially as so much communication takes place in text and as so much of our lifestyle depends on the definitions of roles. One way to embark on effective communication about who you are is to find a word to use as a starting point and discuss what it means to you, individually, and how that mirrors – or differs from – their definition. Thus, labels.

W and I had several years to discuss, hash out and refine what we meant when we said certain things about our relationship; how we defined our roles. That doesn’t mean that those roles and definitions were static, they evolved over time and with discussion and in reaction to changes in our lives, just as in any healthy relationship. After awhile we no longer even talked about it much – we were who we were – but early on, we did have some serious and fruitful discussions about it, because we both had an interest in exploring how the other thought and felt about This Thing We Do, and understanding the differences between us.

After Warren died, but before I started seeing anyone in a serious way again, I had occasion to revisit my thoughts on the topic, to ask myself if what I believed of myself, of who and what I thought myself to be. I questioned whether what I had wanted in relationship then was what I still wanted now. Whether it was still healthy for me, whether it still drove me, whether I still needed it.

And regardless of that – whether I still wanted it.

Did I want to submit to another the way I had with W? Did I want to enmesh my life and my sexuality so deeply with another person that mine would become theirs, and theirs mine? Because one of the things I started to realize, as I slowly began to become “me” again – the me I am without W – was that this me was different than who I had been with him. I liked things that he didn’t. I didn’t like things that he had. I had desires and interests that were mine, and mine alone.

Don’t mistake me, he never once asked me to subsume myself to him, or my desires to his. That’s just…the way it works for me. It’s part of being “submissive” for me. And that is exactly why, after he passed away and I began to see how much I had done so, I started questioning if I would ever want to go there again.

Of course another aspect to consider in this is that “wanting to go there” isn’t exactly how it works for me. Submission is simply a part of who I am, of what I am. It’s not something I can call from within – it is something that I am called to. I can’t explain why I felt submissive to W, but do not to Ad, or to some others who have wished it so. It has nothing to do with love, or trust, or even authority as such. Maybe it’s something chemical. I don’t know. I just know that it works with certain people, and others it doesn’t. It is innate and beautiful and frightening and true. It may be one of the deepest truths I know, aside from love.

That is why I considered what I wanted carefully. That is why, while I played with physical abandon, I was careful with my heart, careful not to allow myself to get too close, and deliberately chose people to play with that I enjoyed immensely, but was fairly certain would not inspire my submission – or if they did would be compassionate enough to refuse to accept it from me. I was a “bottom,” a label I have always worn with certainty, and in fact is what I have always had on my profile, even while I was submissive to W, because I always knew my submission was to someone – it was a verb, not a noun. (Thanks for giving me that way of understanding/explaining it, Viper.)

And a bottom I remain. I don’t Top, I don’t switch, I’m not feral or primal or dominant or any of the other descriptors. I am a bottom sexually, that’s what I am and what gets me off, even if – like being poly even when I only have one relationship, or being bisexual even if I am not currently involved with people of both sexes – I’m being sassy or mouthy or aggressive or ::gasp:: bossy.

So what happened? Why am I sitting here pondering words and labels again?

Because, once again, I have found myself feeling more than “just” a bottom to someone. Again, don’t ask me why…it should have been just a straight play relationship. Thankfully, unlike with W, who was (at first) vehemently opposed to such things, so that we negotiated a “bottom/Top play partner only” relationship (that I – willfully – broke) (and ok, just to be clear, it wasn’t like it was torture for him, he came around to love me back and to at least accept my submission from me), my new play partner and I had no such agreement in place. We both agreed to simply see where things would take us.

Apparently, this is where it has led.

This morning and last night we had discussions about labels and roles. I was hesitant to bring up the term submission…he knew/knows that I desire the structure of a (at least nominally) D/s relationship, so it was no surprise to him, I am sure, to hear me say it; still, I am cautious with the terminology. Once named, it has power. Once named, it confers power. Also (and this I am keenly aware of and even more cautious with) it carries with it the obligation of responding in a certain way…or people believe it does. I maintained with W that it did not…and I was true to that. What I felt towards him did not require that he feel the mirror of it to me. I wanted him to, sometimes with a desperation that I thought might kill me, but most of the time, the ways he chose to be the “D” to my “s” – physically, sexually, in the bedroom, in controlling only my sex – were more than enough. As we grew closer, there were subtle changes, so that even he recognized and (I believe) welcomed them. I turned to him for guidance, for authority, for – at times – discipline. And he – naturally, because he was, of all things, a leader and a teacher – guided me, wielded wise and fair authority, and even, a time or two, disciplined me when it was called for. But I know that these were not things he had wanted in the beginning, and perhaps would have been just as satisfied without. D/s can be complex, and relationships complicated…I was, and am, loathe to complicate ours more by introducing elements that may not be what he has envisioned for what it is we do.

Still…now…again…there is this dance of words. Of defining ourselves, to ourselves, to each other and to others.

It’s not a question we have resolved, not a discussion that has been concluded – and, truthfully, probably won’t be as long as we are together. Because, as I noted above, healthy relationships are evolving things, alive and growing and changing.

But it’s good to be thinking about these things again. To be exploring them, physically, mentally and emotionally, to be allowing myself the space and freedom to be – and discover – who I am.

Word Play
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