I was reading a piece recently about Domism and Sexism in the Scene. It talks about how the research out there shows the pansexual scene being predominately heterosexual male dominants, and their heterosexual, heteroflexible, or bisexual submissive females. Sure there’s female tops, male bottoms, and lesbians and gays, but they’re marginal in the BDSM Scene. By BDSM Scene, I’ll use a similar terminology to the linked blog: the social spaces for public BDSM in cities around the country/world. I’m talking about things like munches, coffees, play spaces, play parties, and other various groups meant to facilitate the gathering and socializing of BDSM-minded individuals. This pansexual scene is rife with domism and sexism, which overlap and intersect into one mess of misogyny.
I’ll not go into the long list of examples the above blog had, and rather sum it up nicely. Domism is the structure in the scene that privledges dominants and devalues submissives outside a negotiated relationship. It’s the things like making jokes at a submissive’s expense, or trying to force submissives into a submissive role outside the bounds of their consensually negotiated power exchange. Or even just trying to force submissives into submissive behavior regardless of the situation or circumstances. It’s the attitude that expects the tops to lead and speak in any situation, and expects the bottoms to stay silent and “in their place.” It even extends so far as to how we type online, often capitalizing the noun dominant, while keeping the noun submissive lowercase. It’s toxic, and it’s unethical. It devalues the individuality and the person-hood of the submissive. It’s just not right, but I’m as guilty as the next person of falling into the trap.
Domism couples with sexism. Maybe it’s because the demographics of the Scene is predominately male dominants, and female submissives, or maybe it’s because we come from a sexist society, but sexism prevails in the BDSM Scene. Every woman who walks into the scene is seen as a submissive, whether she is or not. If she’s not, she has to prove it, yet will never be seen as equal to the dominant males in the Scene. In some cases, people in the scene find it impossible to see woman as anything other than submissive, and think they’ll all end up under someone someday. Nor do they tolerate male submissives or bottoms. The blog goes on to theorize that this is because it breaches the gender-normative assumptions in the scene. It also goes to the thought that bottoms are somehow broken. There’s a reason submissives are submissive, past abuse, too fat, something that leads them to accepting their role.
In the end, both together seem to lead to a predominant feeling of misogyny in the scene. Dominance is equated to masculinity, and anything that doesn’t conform to that ideal is somehow wrong and looked down upon. It’s why male bottoms aren’t tolerated, it breaches the ideal of masculinity being dominance. Female dominants, unless complete butches (and thus exhibiting masculinity), aren’t seen as the equal of male dominants. This leads to further competition, seeing who’s the most domly, the most masculine. It’s a toxic attitude in the scene and goes against the idea that we rebel from society. Unlike sexual orientation which is considered fixed (you are what you are, whether that be bi, gay, or straight), research and anecdotes show our role in BDSM is not fixed, and shifts with time. While someone may at one point identify as a submissive, they often will slowly shift roles over time and become a dominant. The same goes for dominants who can get past the misogyny and domism in the scene. Because the moment a dominant steps in to bottom for a scene, the suddenly lose their social standing in the BDSM Scene.
So what can we do to change this? Treat all people as equals, unless they’ve consensually negotiated to be under you. Treat women who enter the scene as people, not as fresh meat to play with. Use proper grammar online when using the terms “dominant” and “submissive”. Don’t make jokes at a submissive’s expense, or have expectations that a submissive act as anything but an equal in a social environment. Accept and celebrate our diversity. Take the time to befriend those who don’t meet the socio-normative gender/role classes. Befriend that trans person that walked in, or that gay submissive male. Make them feel welcome and wanted in the Scene. Don’t treat bottoms as broken, instead treat them as whole individuals. Together we can break this hold domism, sexism, and misogyny holds over our Scene. Together we can make the Scene a better place.