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D/s question

This is prompted by a flame war on alt.polyamory in which someone is objecting in a really rude and obnoxious manner to someone else's 24/7 D/s relationship.

I don't object to consensual relationships of whatever type that work for the people involved.

But the person who's being obnoxious is in fact bringing up a point that I am curious about.



A lot of people use terms such as "slave" and "owner/owned" to describe their D/s relationships.

Historically, slavery was non-consensual, and being owned meant not having much of a say in what happened to you.

But practitioners of D/s usually emphasize that there is choice involved in what they do. Maybe it's a one-time choice, but it's still a choice.

Given the existence of this choice, I don't understand why the word "slave" is used to describe these relationships. It seems a contradiction in terms.

Historically and culturally, there are many types of hierarchical, dominant/submissive, superior/inferior relationships that go by other names. master/pet, master/servant (indentured or otherwise), master/apprentice, sensei/student, lord/vassal, etc. etc. etc.

Those relationships would seem closer to what most D/s actually is than slavery, since those relationships (except "pet") usually involve at least some choice.

So how come (it seems to me) "slave" is more often used?

Comments

( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
iceblink
Jul. 27th, 2003 10:57 am (UTC)
IMHO
It sounds more "sexy" to those involved. I think slave is kind of the ultimate gift a submissive gives to his/her dominant. But I don't really know.
griffen
Jul. 27th, 2003 11:00 am (UTC)
*hand gestures, flails for a minute* Hm. I'm trying to figure out how to say this in words.

Words have a feel, a flavor. "Submissive" and "slave" do not have the same feel. Everyone defines them differently.

Danny, who is submissive to me, prefers to be called my "slave" because for him, that makes it more real and more profound. The word *does* make a difference. "Submissive" is ungainly, "subbie" may be too cute-sy.

There are people I know who consider themselves slaves and have no safeword. For them, the line is drawn between "has a safeword" and "doesn't have a safeword" -- submissives have them, slaves do not. But that has to be the submissive/slave's choice.

And some submissives need it not to be a choice, once they've made that choice to *become* a slave. They need any further decisions to be things that they have no say in. And the word "slave," for them, is appropriate.

Does that help?
nex0s
Jul. 27th, 2003 12:10 pm (UTC)
i'm just going to piggy back your post...

from the book "DIfferent Loving", page 49 --
Slave: usually refers to a submissive who -- in fantasy or reality -- participates in ownership scenarios.

i recall reading in one of my books about other kinds of 24-7 relationships that weren't master and slave. i recall reading something about a daddy/boi r'ship that is often codified in butch/leather communities, but i don't remember the source and can't seem to locate it. but that one read more like a teacher/sensi relationship.

my D/S r'ship isn't 24-7, but i would never call S my slave, although we do play with "ownership". i would call him "mine" though.s

"n"
firecat
Jul. 27th, 2003 04:30 pm (UTC)
It helps me a bit to know that some people have associations to "slave" such that they feel the submission is "more real and more profound" than if they use other words for their role in the relationship.

I don't understand why they have those associations though.

I know that some people have no safeword, but if I am understanding correctly, they did agree at some point to enter into a relationship where they had no safeword. So they had more choice in the matter than slaves (non-BDSM definition). To me a more "accurate" word to describe that role would be "vassal," because becoming someone's vassal means vowing them fealty - making a choice.

(I don't think it's important that people use "accurate" words, I'm just curious why words I think are more accurate aren't used more often.)

Sounds like you're saying some people in the submissive role want not to think about the fact that they made a choice at one point, and that's why they use "slave"?
griffen
Jul. 27th, 2003 08:57 pm (UTC)
Sounds like you're saying some people in the submissive role want not to think about the fact that they made a choice at one point, and that's why they use "slave"?

That's very likely exactly why, for some of them. I asked Danny why it is important to him, and he said that he can't explain it logically, but "slave" makes more sense to him than "submissive" ever will.

Danny says: "The person who is submissive is the one who is actually in control, because they have safewords (or most of them do). But it's not about choice or not-choice. I have final veto power over anything that Griff wants to do with or to me. But 'slave' also has the connotation of 'being taken care of,' like a harem slave, because your master is responsible for feeding, clothing, protecting, and taking care of you in return for your service to him."
firecat
Jul. 27th, 2003 09:34 pm (UTC)
But 'slave' also has the connotation of 'being taken care of,' like a harem slave, because your master is responsible for feeding, clothing, protecting, and taking care of you in return for your service to him."

I see. "Slave" does not have those connotations for me. If I wanted to connote those things, I might use "pet," though.

(I'm not saying it's wrong to have those connotations.)
pir_anha
Jul. 28th, 2003 02:46 am (UTC)
master/slave terminology
*nod*. for me neither. and while "master/pet" is something i can handle with some judicious attempt at overlooking the fact that pets have no choice (cause at least we have a humane society), the slave bit just feels like an offensive trivialization of what it means to be a real slave. i think orlando is an obnoxious twit, and i have better manners, but i can't say that i haven't felt like calling a spade a spade at times, so to speak.

and yes, i am a cantankerous, judgmental arse at times -- i don't like sports teams with native american names either. whatever cranks somebody's private moments is zir business, but when one goes public with one's hormonal poetry, well, it can be tempting to comment on one's form.

i sure wish LJ had killfiling ability. and apropos nothing, if i never see this stupid ashanti video again it'll be too soon, oh baby uh baby rock wit U.
eve_l_incarnata
Aug. 5th, 2003 12:28 pm (UTC)
Re: master/slave terminology
the slave bit just feels like an offensive trivialization of what it means to be a real slave.

Thank you for saying that! I brought this up on the discussion "forum" on Polymatchmaker.com some time ago, and people talked around me.
housepet
Jul. 27th, 2003 11:43 am (UTC)
Those relationships would seem closer to what most D/s actually is than slavery, since those relationships (except "pet") usually involve at least some choice.

Can you say some more about the '(except "pet")' part?
I have trouble understanding intent sometimes and like to look before I leap to a conclusion! *g*

So... do pets not have choices, or don't have relationships, or aren't slaves... or maybe something else altogether? [*confused look*]
firecat
Jul. 27th, 2003 04:13 pm (UTC)
I mean that dogs and cats (for example) don't have a full choice about whether humans keep them as pets, just as slaves (not the BDSM variety, but the historical variety) don't have much of a say in what happened to them.

So if a human wanted to use a term for their D/s relationship that included the implication of choice, "slave" or "pet" would not be a good name because those words imply lack of choice on the part of the submissive.

(I'm not saying anyone should or should not use those terms, but I don't understand why the term "slave," which to me has a strong implication of lack of choice, is frequently used. I don't understand this because I understand consent -- at least at some point in time, if not all the time -- to be very important in D/s relationships.)
(Anonymous)
Aug. 12th, 2003 10:41 am (UTC)
The lack of choice implied by a term like "slave" is exactly the point, for some (perhaps most) of the people who find these terms carry a strong emotional charge when applied to consensual play. Firecat, many observers, and many people who do different kinds of consensual dominance play, find the emotional charge is negative, or excessively strong...they flinch from the terms. They want to keep it very clear, on all levels, that they are talking about *consensual* dominance, with no hint of anything darker.

Other people find it exciting to hint at scarier themes in their play. Referring to oneself as a "slave," can evoke something frightening and thrilling. The illusion that one did *not* choose to be in a relationship (even though one really did) turns some people on. Meanwhile, it scares others green. I don't believe this connects to edge-of-consent, or any other high-risk play. People can use words to create an illusion of exciting danger, even when they're just necking and whispering scary fantasies to each other.

Consent is too important for most of the people who play with d/s to risk violating it. But there's still a substantial minority who find the idea of certain nonconsensual activities exciting...the compromise is to talk about it (sometimes just hinting it at) while actually doing thoroughly consensual stuff.

Adrian
chiefted
Jul. 27th, 2003 08:40 pm (UTC)
To me it is just different flavors, and what folks take from the buffet and bring to there D/s relationship if that is there bent.

Example: To me playing without a safeword is a good way to get oneself in trouble. So for me I wouldn't do that.

I think for some the use of the word slave is part of the meal that is BDSM, and for some that word isn't part of the meal.

There are a few words I have used that I know others would object to but the person I am involved with likes them (again part or our meal)

To me I guess my question would be what is the person who objecting to this other persons 24/7 relationship..really objecting to. Is it the question here or is there something else.

Just curious.
firecat
Jul. 27th, 2003 09:31 pm (UTC)
The person on alt.poly isn't objecting to the word "slave" per se; they have a larger objection to the whole concept of 24/7 D/s. For example, the phrase "bourgeois fad" was used.
sps
Jul. 27th, 2003 08:55 pm (UTC)
Consider, for example, the use of the word "no".

Or (a few steps more vanilla) "slut". Or (a few steps more vanilla) "bunny". We're talking hormone-fuelled poetry here (even if it's hormone-fuelled lifestyle poetry), not literal meaning (though come to that I challenge you to roduce a linguistically, mathematically and philosohically coherent theory of literal meaning...!).
firecat
Jul. 27th, 2003 09:52 pm (UTC)
I guess my hormonally fuelled poetry varies. Not at all surprising, given all the other things about me that vary.

And I'm not touching that challenge with a 50-foot-poet.

No matter what hormones are fuelling them.
rmjwell
Jul. 27th, 2003 11:45 pm (UTC)
My two cents
I don't use "master/slave" terminology in my d/s relationships because I specifically dislike the connotations those two carry. Not the historicity you cite but there is a degree of... accepting/delegating more responsibility than I feel comfortable with,

Instead in d/s relationships where I'm the dominant partner I prefer "lord/servant" or "liege/vassal" because they denote more of the service orientation I'm comfortable with. I'm accepting a pledge of service and my submissive partner is still responsible to be creative and dilligent in executing their duties, where --for me-- slave seems to imply an almost homuncular sort of being. Empty and controlled in an automaton-like fashion.
femery
Jul. 28th, 2003 09:33 am (UTC)
My personal guidelines/needs on d/s and m/s:

First off, for me, all the titles require great "trust" and to be practical and work
for more than the "date, time spent face to
face" and to be emotionally and physically healthy, for all parties are earned roles and/or titles.

Dominance/Submission is negotiated choices on
both parts with the Dominant making choices of
style, etc. and the defending of choices of
style together with the submissive ... in
a nutshell "Freedom of Choice."

In a M/S relationship, the Master/Mistress accepts
responsibility for choice (he/she may make the
choice after negotiation or not ... again,
her/his choice). For the slave it means "Freedom
from choice" ... as a slave you would make and
give the authority once to your Master/Mistress.
Often in these days there will be contracts; time
limitations; etc., but not necessarily.

In the past with my long term d/s partner
I included "Waiving my right to say "no."
I did this because there were no specific and/or
clear guidelines and/or boundaries set as my
partner wanted to "Celebrate what "is."
This particular d/s style for both of us
was unfortunately too advanced, too
confusing and painful, both physically and
emotionally.

Lastly, IMHO I believe any relationship that includes
power dynamics (almost all relationships do)
require great personal responsibility, self-awareness,
and mindfulness to grow Trust, Honesty, Personal
Safety, Value and Love ... and that regardless of
whether you're a husband, wife, poly partner of
any variety, master, slave, submissive, dominant,
loving friend, etc. we all yearn to be safe, valued
and most of all Loved.

Diane




johnpalmer
Jul. 29th, 2003 12:48 am (UTC)
Well, I think the key to slave is that the master has total control. I think that's what gets people going. Of course, what gets people going is individual... but the idea of total submission, the complete loss of control, is what is the big rush. Plus, I suppose, there is the idea of permanance.

(Herm. One random observation that is potentially more vino than veritas: it seems to me that a lot of folks who want to be slaves want attention and want to be loved, and want certainty. "If you follow my every command, you will be loved and given my attention" seems to be what many - I'm not claiming 'most' or 'all' - seek.)

It should be noted that there is always a choice... anyone stupid enough to insist to the Friendly Police Officer that the slave has given up the rights to the protection of society will be lucky only to have those words taken down and used against them in a court of law.
sashajwolf
Jul. 29th, 2003 06:38 am (UTC)
Given the existence of this choice, I don't understand why the word "slave" is used to describe these relationships. It seems a contradiction in terms.

I think of it in terms of different levels of communication. The consensual negotiation of boundaries etc happens on one level, and on that level the two partners are equals, so using any kind of imagery that suggests inequality is potentially misleading. The d/s interaction happens on a different level where roleplay is used - kind of a mutually-sustained fiction - and since it's fiction, the historical inaccuracies only matter to the degree they bother the participants. If they find that the intensity of the master/slave metaphor or the pretense of non-consent enhances the experience more than the historical inaccuracy jars or detracts, that's all that matters. Just like some people can cope with more inaccuracies in a book than others for the sake of a jolly good read, so it is with d/s.

(Note that when I say "fiction" I do not mean to deny the reality of the 24/7 d/s interaction to the participants - fiction has a reality all of its own).
eve_l_incarnata
Aug. 5th, 2003 12:23 pm (UTC)
I find it funny how it's always white people who don't object to the term.

I hate it. I won't talk to anyone who calls themself a "slave" or who says they have one.
pir_anha
Aug. 12th, 2003 04:59 pm (UTC)
master/slave terminology
well, at least some white people here are objecting, little as that may mean.

of course now i am curious -- i am not into BDSM, but among the pictures i see i don't know that i've yet glimpsed a black person, and none of my black friends are into it. i'd be interested to read the stories of those who are -- whether any of them use the master/slave terminology; if so, why; whether they do any sort of submission at all; etc.
sashajwolf
Aug. 17th, 2003 02:43 pm (UTC)
Re: master/slave terminology
I know at least two submissive black women, both of whom have used master/slave terminology and imagery. The people taking the "master" role were white in both instances.
eve_l_incarnata
Aug. 5th, 2003 01:04 pm (UTC)
One more post before my head explodes:

Modern slavery.
firecat
Aug. 5th, 2003 02:23 pm (UTC)
Yes...
fatmuttony
Aug. 12th, 2003 05:22 am (UTC)
Jargon
I think that the boudaries about what is acceptable inside four walls and outside them are constantly being redrawn. I did not know that something like a consensual 24/7 D/s relatiosnship existed till i bumped into the journal of eve_l_incarnata.

Here in India, homosexuality is still a big taboo and is illegal and ppl are not at all openly gay. And in India, ppl like me are considered 'live and let live' heterosexuals. But i must admit this one shocked me. But i guess as time goes by, these boundaries might become more easy or more tough and what is acceptable in terms of words may also change to be more lenient.

The problem, however, is that slavery exists even today right at my doorstep. I have personally interacted with former bonded labourers and believe me they have terrible stories to tell. I am still quite unclear about where to draw the line. Considering it's a personal term of affection(??)

But then, stretching the analogy, i feel terms like Baby and Honey and Pussy are equally gross.
tedesson
Aug. 12th, 2003 09:58 am (UTC)
History of Slavery
There's an interesting discussion of the history of slavery (not just US slavery), in _An Intimate History of Humanity_ by Theodore Zeldin. (This is an amazing book, and I suspect you would enjoy it a lot with some of the questions you've been raising lately.)

"We are all of us descended from slaves, or almost slaves. All our autobiographies, if they went back far enough, would begin by explaining how our ancestors came to be more or less enslaved, and to what degree we have become free of this inheritance. ... The world is still full of people who, though they have no recogized slave masters, see themselves as having little freedom, as being at the mercy of uncontrollable, anonymous economic and social forces, or of their circumstances, or of their own stupidity, and whose personal ambitions are permanently blunted thereby."
firecat
Aug. 12th, 2003 10:04 am (UTC)
Re: History of Slavery
Ooh yes, that book does sound really interesting.
The world is still full of people who, though they have no recogized slave masters, see themselves as having little freedom, as being at the mercy of uncontrollable, anonymous economic and social forces, or of their circumstances, or of their own stupidity, and whose personal ambitions are permanently blunted thereby.
I resemble that remark at times, although I know that my freedom is much greater than most people's and I certainly wouldn't use the word "slave" to describe my situation.
curiousangel
Aug. 12th, 2003 10:39 am (UTC)
It's a headtrip thing; as many others have said, the person is getting into the whole idea of someone else having "absolute power" over them, while not buying in to the complete associations.

It's much like "flogging" -- if someone at a playparty actually was given the sort of flogging that slaves received in the 18th or 19th century, the cops would be on the scene in a heartbeat, and the person inflicting the flogging would go to jail. Check out some of the old pictures of the scars inflicted on slaves by the lash, and it becomes obvious that it's something completely different than today's version.

Let me also point out that "chattel slavery", which is what Americans tend to think of when we use the term "slavery", is one of the most extreme versions of slavery in history, although slavery was never easy or insignificant. Instead, the people who use the term to refer to themselves in a BDSM context have... well, "romanticized" it to an extent -- it's understood that Master will not kill you for being displeasing, nor will the slave be sold off or forced to row a galley.

Mostly, at least in my exposure to those relationships, the closest historical analogue would be "body servant" or "harem slave", but the Hollywoodized versions of these have acquired more significance to people through greater exposure. They think of themselves as something closer to temple prostitutes than field hands.
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )

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