Playing with Paradox: the Ethics of Erotic Dominance and Submission
Liz Highleyman [“Bitch Goddess”; 1997]
…As we approach the 21st centry — with the embers of the “sex wars” largely cooled — perhaps now we can look at the ethics of dominance and submission in a new light.
Legitimate and Illegitimate Authority: […] SM play involves interpersonal power exchange, which is diametrically opposed to real world authoritarian roles, which are typically unidirectional. Pat Califia has noted that perhaps the reason erotic dominance and submission is so threatening to the established order is because SM roles are so fluid. An SM role is not predetermined on the basis of one’s occupation, gender, sexual orientation, race, or class, and each partner may take on the role(s) that meet their individual or collective desires. A top’s authority comes from the consent of the bottom (and from the reputation they’ve developed for responsibility and skill), not from an external authority […]
SM can help people break through usually existing boundaries, such as when a lesbian and a gay man play together. A top in a scene may take on and play with types of power they are never likely to experience in real life. And roles may be reversed — the faggot can handcuff and fuck the cop, the prisoners can lock up and torture the warden. Although partners do not always switch roles within a given scene, and some SM players maintain a more or less constant identity as top or bottom, the potential for power exchange is there.
As with state-sanctioned roles, those who play with parental, religious, or medical roles can subvert, pervert, and make overt the erotic subtext of power and authority. Erotic dominance and submission can help us learn about power — how to recognize it, how it works, how to counter it, remake it, and hopefully use it wisely and ethically in the real world.
Wow. One of the best commentaries I’ve ever read on BDSM.