Thursday, October 13, 2011

Being and Seeing

One little item at the Shadow Lane party gave me a lot to think about. It's the name cards everyone wore in order to make conversation easier. The little tags not only showed the name, they also gave information on the spanking preferences of their carrier. There were four options one could choose: “dom”, “sub”, “switch” or “other”.

Of course one might already debate the choice of the words“dom” and “sub” instead of, for example, “top” and “bottom”. I've been told that Eve, our Shadow Lane host, is of the opinion that “top” and “bottom” might imply a hierarchy and an according difference in value, which is why she uses “dom” and “sub”. Others like me simply interpret “top” and “bottom” as descriptive terms that  express on which side someone prefers to play, while “dom” and “sub” say something about the intention and attitude someone has during a scene. I've already written about my understanding of these different labels here, though, and that is not the point I would to discuss today.

What I found highly interesting, however, was how much the choice of one's label says about how people see themselves. Most of the people I know consider themselves either predominantly a top or predominantly a bottom. But most of them also switch, at least from time to time. Interestingly, these people made very different choices when it came to ticking one of the label boxes and that's what aroused my curiosity.

As you can see in the picture above, Ludwig introduced himself at the party as a “dom” (although he too prefers “top”), while I chose the “switch” option. I guess that there are several reasons why Ludwig didn't choose the “switch” label as well. First of all, Ludwig is of course predominantly a top. He does switch, but only on very rare occasions, and he is very picky about the people who get to top him. Without exception, it is either for video clips or for me in private. So, chances for him to bottom on any occasion during the party were virtually zero. Why use a “switch” label then? And last but not least, even when Ludwig switches, he does it with an attitude which he calls auto-aggressive sadism or self-sadism. That means he doesn't really explore the scene in a bottom mindset. Instead, he appreciates the resulting reactions and marks on a video clip from a top perspective. Another reason for him not to choose “switch” as a label.

I, on the other hand, am predominantly a bottom. But, playing on the top side from time to time as well is very important for me. The fact that I switch in my relationship with Ludwig means a lot to me because it shows me that Ludwig trusts me enough to give himself into my hands and that there is no one-sided power dynamics between the two of us, not even in our kinky play. In many of my fantasies, especially the M/M ones, I also switch between the mindsets of the top and the bottom characters, even though the bottom perspective might be slightly more important for me most of the time. And third, when it comes to kinky play at parties and with others than Ludwig, I have more fantasies about and feel a bit more comfortable with playing as a top than as a bottom. In conclusion, switching is very important for my self-image as well as for my public persona, and I feel much more comfortable with the label “switch” than with the label “bottom” (or worse, “sub”).

A lot of different choices could be seen among our friends, though. Paul for example, despite of switching about as rarely as Ludwig does, and I think also almost exclusively with Mija, chose the “switch” label. When Mija brought up the topic, he explained that it didn't matter how often he switched, the only thing that mattered to him when he chose the label was that he switched at all.

Indy and Mija both introduced themselves as bottoms. Indy with the additional hand-written comment “kind of”, though, which I think says everything about this woman and her special attitudes. The label “bottom” of course didn't keep Mija from topping Indy at the party – and Indy's account of the scene clearly shows that Mija definitely has a toppy side as well!

I was especially curious to see which label Leia-Ann Woods had chosen. After all, she plays a lot on both sides and tops very often nowadays. To my surprise, her name tag said “bottom”, though. So, this is either how Leia-Ann sees herself (predominantly) or how she wanted to be seen at the party.

Looking at these different examples, I think that there are several aspects that determine how we present ourselves at a public event like a party and which labels we chose. First of all and I guess most importantly, there are our own fantasies and general play preferences. Secondly the choice can of course also reflect a person's momentary mood and which kind of play someone is looking for right at the time.

But I think there is more to it than that. In my opinion, it is also about how we want to be seen in public, by the people we know and especially by those whom we meet for the first time. For example, I've heard that there are often more male bottoms at spanking parties than female tops and that the females who are willing to top are in great demand. This might keep some women from ticking the “switch” box if they don't want to be constantly asked to top others. My own choice was determined by similar motives. One of the reasons why I didn't introduce myself as a bottom was that I wanted to keep away any men who belonged to the “spanking is naturally always M/F” and the “I want a woman who finds satisfaction in submitting or being made to submit to a man” faction because this is an attitude I don't feel comfortable with.

Maybe there are even more variables that influence one's choice for a certain label at a public event? So, I would like to ask our dear readers about your thoughts on labels at spanking parties: How would you introduce yourself and why?  Anyone who would choose the “other” option? Would you add any handwritten comment on your name tag? Has anyone made special experiences with the different labels at parties? And, last but not least, which value and how much influence do the labels on the name cards have at all for you at spanking parties? You are all very welcome to share your thoughts, ideas and experiences in the comment section!


PaulAtNorthGare said...

You're right that one of the reasons I tend to choose "switch", when I need to make a choice, is that it's basically how I see myself. There's more to it than just that, though, I think. I generally don't like the orientation tags at all, and would ideally prefer to do without. I'm aware of people in a party situation noticing tags, and can almost hear them mentally pigeon-holing people. We're much more complicated than that, and our orientation is to a significant degree defined by who we're playing with, so to claim an orientation in the abstract is missing the point. I'd much rather people were forced to, you know, talk to each other, than just read tags. The labelling is a bit like a meat market.

There's also a political element, I think. I'm aware that too few people who are switches - whatever that means for them - and especially too few men, are willing to identify themselves that way. I'm particularly aware of that because the vast majority of my presence on the 'net - in stuff that Mija has written, and that I have - portrays me as a top, and I really like to remind people that, no, things are much greyer than that. Also, I am trying to nurture the bottoming side of my kink a little more these days.

What I don't see orientation tags as doing, in my case, is serving as an advertising banner signalling how I want to play there and then. As you've written, for me it's more about who I am than what I want to do in that specific context.

Erica said...

I'm a bit contrary when it comes to those name tags (what a surprise!). I detest them. I'm not sure why; something so overly cute and convention-y about them annoys me. And while I can see that it makes things easier to know people's names, I don't like the orientation label.

At Shadow Lane, John and I eschew the tags altogether. We've been going for 14 years and most people know us. And if they don't, we're happy to introduce ourselves.

At another party, the tags were a requirement, because they monitored very carefully for party crashers. I put my name on that one and left the orientation blank.

Why so contrary, especially since I clearly identify as a bottom? Dunno. Just my nature, I guess.

Anonymous said...

It's not about what you are in general, but how you feel at a particular moment.

Some times I label myself top, and go out dressed as a top with a toppy attitude to the others I meet.

Other times I feel like a bottom so go out labeled as such, and act submissive to others.

Which can confuse a lot of my friends until they really get to know me realise that I switch.

I don't switch mid scene or mid party, I am one or the other for the whole duration.

I don't like labels, I think society labels us all too readily, and the kinky scene should avoid labels.

You are what you are.

Ursus Lewis said...

As my Fetlife profile says, I feel being a "toppy switch". So why do I label myself as a top at parties and not as a switch? First, I never came across an "other" option, in such case "toppy switch" would probably be an option. I think I label myself as a top at spanking events because it's what most of my plays are now and it's the "home" of the mindset for the vast majority of my spanking fantasies. Plus I usually don't bottom to somebody I just met. Now, I'm very selective in choosing to whom I bottom to.

It's very interesting how I changed my labeling habit through time. When I came out to the scene I was only bottoming. Not because I did not know I'm a toppy switch, but because I was not ready to top back then and I needed to have experience as a bottom first. So, knowing I would not top, I choose the bottom label for the first multi day event I attended. Coming back to the same event six month later and after having my first plays as top I choose to show both, top and bottom signs (at that particular event you have three differently colored name labels to choose from, one for bottoming, one for topping and one for "I'm not available for play right now"). Another six month later and ever since I'm only labeled as top. During that span the bottom/top play ratio went from 100% bottoming to maybe 10% bottoming, if at all.

I feel being a toppy switch, but introduce myself usually as a top. As soon as people get to know me better they'll find out I switch every once in a while. It's no secret.

Our Bottoms Burn said...

I have never been much on labels and I don't care much for parties where I don't already know the others.

While I am a switch, I have found that proclaiming that fact, greatly reduces the number woman who will play with me as they do not care to be asked to switch. So if I was at such a party and had to wear a label, I would check top.

Pandora Blake said...

Fascinating post! It touches on something I've been thinking about a lot recently, which is the erasure of switch identity in a lot of kinky media - not necessarily out of prejudice, but simply because in most scenes a switch is playing one or the other role, and so it's hard to express their switchy nature if they don't actually switch within that scene themselves. (Much the same problem that monogamous bisexuals have.) The same could be extended to switches in relationships, although my anecdotal impression is that there are more people who switch within relationships than there are published spanking scenes which show someone switching roles.

Personally, I've come from a "sub" identity to a "bottom who sometimes subs" one, and thence to a "bottom-leaning switch who sometimes subs". No doubt over time I'll add "and sometimes doms" to that, although so far I'd say I've only played a top role, not a dominant one.

Faced with that namecard, I'd be torn. On the one hand, like you, I'd want to acknowledge the switch/top side of my identity and playing style, and I'd partly be motivated by a desire to stomp on the gender essentialist expectations that associate women with submission/bottoming. But on the other hand I'd be wary of claiming a switch identity which might imply I top more than I do; or with more people than I do (only one, so far, not counting films). I'd perhaps be concerned that identifying myself as a switch might cause expectations that I might switch at the party when chances are I'd only be interested in bottoming (unless I was actually attending the party with my plaything Jacq). Even though I fully agree with the commenters who state that identification on a namecard has nothing to do with one's play intentions at that particular event.

In this instance, I would probably have seen the options as checkboxes rather than radio buttons, and ticked both "sub" and "switch". Interesting however that few other people seem to have used the card that way. Did you see anyone who had ticked multiple boxes?

Peter8862 said...

Those tags go too far - gently probing the other person's current orientation is surely an essential part of the game?


Indy said...

I like this post, too. For me, the question of which box to tick at a party is a much simpler one than defining my kinky preferences. For me, it's just a practical question. There are far more men looking for a toppy woman at a party than there are toppy women. People who know me know that I switch, and I'd probably be happy to top any of my kinky friends who want to be topped. At least, once I get past my insecurities about my skill level.

I'm more flexible as a bottom than as a top, and I enjoy playing in a range of different styles in that role. Had the name tag said "bottom," I probably would have just checked it off, but it said submissive. I don't self-identify as a sub, so I couldn't quite bring myself to check that off without comment.

Kaelah said...

@ PaulAtNorthGare:
Thanks a lot for the further explanations concerning your choice. I can definitely relate to the mixture of “that's how I see myself” and “I want to show that there is not only black and white but that there are also different shades of grey”. I think it also makes a lot of sense that you don't see the orientation tags as advertisement banner for your play. As far is I understood it, you don't play with strangers at parties, anyway, rather with friends – and those of course don't need any name cards at all to know who you are and what you like.

@ Erica:
I can relate to your mixed feelings about the orientation tags! For some reasons I didn't mind too much, though. Maybe it is because I had chosen a mixed orientation label, anyway. Or maybe it is because I just see them as a first orientation point for a chat, since they are too vague to say much about a person and their fantasies. I guess it also has to do with the fact that I don't care too much about being labelled any more, as long as the label seems to be in a way correct for me, which means that it describes at least one aspect of who I am or what I like. So, you can call me for example a geek, spanko, trekkie, masochist, dachshund or switch. All these terms don't cover me fully, but I like them and don't mind being reduced to one of them at a certain time.

Of course you are right, you definitely don't have to introduce yourself to most of people at SL! :-)

@ Fred Bloggs:
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the topic! As I already wrote in my reply to Erica, I don't care too much about being labelled any more. As long as a feel comfortable with a certain label at a certain time it is okay for me. People who just meet me one time and don't want to look behind the label I'm wearing don't have any long-term importance for me, anyway. And those who for example read this blog surely won't think that I can be reduced to one small label. Like you I have a top and a bottom side plus many other aspects that make me being me, and people who know me better are aware of that and understand it.

@ Ursus:
I think I would also have introduced myself as a bottom earlier when I didn't feel experienced enough for topping! It absolutely makes sense to me that you introduce yourself as a top at parties nowadays. But I like the term “toppy switch” very much as well and referring to Paul's comment that some men are likely to hide their switching I find it very cool that you don't make a secret out of it. To my mind tops who openly switch from time to time don't lose their toppy aura, on the contrary, in my point of view it gives them a special credibility and an aura of experience. His switching experiences surely were one of the reasons why I chose Ludwig for my first kinky play.

Kaelah said...

@ Our Bottoms Burn:
That's an interesting point, Bogey! It makes of course sense that men don't want to chose the label “switch” if that reduces their chances to play with others, just because women are afraid that they might be asked to top them. It's a mess that people obviously sometimes prefer to shy away if they are not sure about the preferences of a possible play partner, instead of talking openly with each other about desires and limits...

@ Pandora:
I think ticking two boxes would of course have been possible, and it sounds like a good idea that would give people a first impression of your current identity. I didn't recognize anyone who had chosen two labels, but I have to admit that I didn't look at too many name tags. At the fair and during the dinner I spent most of the time with friends. And at the suite parties most people didn't wear their name tags any more.

Concerning switching and kinky media: I think it is indeed difficult to acknowledge the phenomenon of switching by permanently coming up with scenes that involve a switch element. Storylines which involve switching can of course be very exciting, but in my opinion it becomes boring if that element is used too often. From my point of view the best way of acknowledging switching is having models who play on different sides in different scenes. I find that especially cool if the different kinds of scenes are shot by the same producer for the same site because then the switch element becomes very obvious for the viewers. I think this is an important part of your upcoming site and I enjoyed being able to both top and bottom at our shoot very much.

@ Peter:
As I already wrote in my previous comments, I don't find the name tags so bad. I just see them as a starting point for further communication. And since they neither say much about the current orientation nor about particular fantasies, there is surely enough mystery left which can be solved as one gets to know each other better throughout a conversation!

@ Indy:
Being a fellow “NT” type, I'm not surprised that you look at the name tags and the labels from a rather practical point of view! But it absolutely makes sense for me that you couldn't tick “sub” without any additional comment (you are anything but submissive ;-) ). I just loved your way of commenting! I would most probably just have written “bottom, NOT submissive” or something equally blunt. The “kind of” formulation was so much cooler.