Dominant (Cultural & Personal) Narratives of Dominance:
“Dominants are Born; Not Made”
(I call bullshit)
A few weeks ago, I described the moment I knew I was dominant, and prefaced the the story with this:
It was my admission that my experience didn’t adhere to the conventions of predominant cultural narratives about dominants and dominance.
Though it wasn’t as direct as that, a thoughtful commenter, James, noticed:
James is right. Lots of dominants claim one or more of the following:
- I’ve always been dominant.
- I’ve always known I was dominant (which suggests knowledge of what dominance entails), even as a child.
- Looking back, there are signs that indicated dominance, but I didn’t recognize them at the time.
All of these suggest (albeit indirectly) ‘Dominants are Born; Not Made.’
I don’t believe that, nor do I believe the constructions and interpretations of the narratives that support it.
It’s not that people consciously lie, it’s that we’re all prone to confirmation bias (as James later suggested) and selective memory. Looking back, it’s easy to see signs that best suit our purposes and selectively ignore the rest. We interpret signs in ways that confirm the ‘rightness’ of who we are, in ways that assure us who we are is who we’re meant to be.
Certainly, when I look back, there are events I could interpret as signs of dominance. But I could also interpret those events in a number of other ways. Because I don’t consider my sexuality immutable, nor do I consider my current sexual preferences as central to who I am, I’m not inclined to interpret signs in any which way.
Some part of me wishes I had a better story, one that confirmed or legitimized my dominance, but I don’t. And constructing one wouldn’t feel honest. Besides that, I suspect prevailing narratives about dominance do more harm than good.
Why “Dominants are Born; Not Made” is the Prevailing Narrative
My hunch is that certain cultural narratives about dominance prevail because they fit with our idea of what a dominant should be. Dominants are supposed to be sure, decisive, and confident. Any admission of the contrary (self-doubt, indecision, unawareness, hesitance, etc.) undermines dominance — it makes someone seem less dominant. (Perhaps it even means they’re less dominant.)
I can tell you from experience that it doesn’t feel dominant to admit I had no fucking idea I was dominant. In fact, it’s part of why I called this place “Dumb Domme” – my own personal, acute, and chronic case of imposter syndrome. Worse than suspecting I’m a fraud is the possibility of someone calling me on my fraudulence. Calling myself “Dumb Domme” neutralized that threat — you can’t say much about me that I haven’t already said about myself. It’s not possible to call me out on something I’ve already admitted.
Besides all of that, I also suspect prevailing narratives of dominance are what they are because dominant characteristics (such as leadership, decisiveness, and confidence), are ‘male characteristics,’ and we privilege those over ‘female characteristics.’ It’s all part of the same system that values maleness over femaleness, and dominance over submission. It’s why so many people believe that submissives must be trained, but dominance is ‘natural.’
Alternative Narratives are Important
It’s important to offer alternative narratives – non-dominant narratives about dominance, if you will — in order to subvert gendered notions about dominance and submission (and subvert the privileging of ‘male’ over ‘female’). But it’s also important for other reasons, too.
It’s a Numbers Game: Lily, of the now defunct “Black Leather Belt,” put it best:
The notion that there’s one path to dominance and that path is ‘you have it or you don’t’ means fewer dominants. If that false dilemma were true, I wouldn’t be dominant because I wouldn’t have thought there was any opportunity to explore dominance. If it was an ‘either/or’ situation — either you know you’re dominant or you’re not a dominant — I would have fallen on the side of ‘not a dominant’ (and what a shame that would have been!).
Bad Dominants: The idea that ‘you have it or you don’t’ doesn’t support a culture where dominants are encouraged to ask questions, admit mistakes, or use caution — and that’s dangerous. It doesn’t promote honesty — I suspect that’s why many dominants lie about their experience — out of fear of not being ‘true’ enough or ‘natural’ enough to be a ‘real dominant.’
Borrowing from Stuart Hall here, I tend to think sexual identities are “a matter of becoming as well as being.” I’m sure some dominants are born, but some of us are made. Some of us are and are becoming — and I’m okay with that.
What Say You?
What about you? Does your personal narrative (of coming into dominance, submission, sexuality, etc.) fit with the popular, dominant cultural narratives?