Collars and Identity

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
(Paul in his letter to the Galatians, 5:13-14)

I was given my first collar in 2006, by a church in Texas. It signified a bond between us as members of the body of Christ, and their acknowledgment and support of a unique vocational call for me. I had been a hospital chaplain for a few years already, and continued that work in their name for a few more years. As with any symbol that’s been around that long, that collar means a lot of different things to different people. To me, it came to mark me as someone in a liminal space. There is a strong differentiation in mainstream Christianity between clergy and laity, that I have never fully accepted. I wore the collar as a sign of servanthood: the education of a leader without the authority over others, the grassroots positioning of a layperson with the devotion that I hoped to find in my fellow congregants. Continuing a long theme in my life, I was “both/and”, combining categories often kept separate. I still have the right to wear that collar… though on the rare occasions that I am fulfilling the duties of that role I tend to wear other signifiers, like the collar-like stole.

I didn’t anticipate ever receiving another collar, until Gabe gave me one on Sunday, July 18th. This collar is specifically a signifier of a relationship between Gabe and one of my age play personas. So, he has a slutty twelve-year old sub! This collar is first a signifier that Lucy is Daddy’s, as Daddy is Lucy’s. Lucy has what are perhaps the most impressionable elements of my personality. She has a purity of desire that other parts of me can access through her, but don’t embody themselves. When she feels, she feels with her whole self. She is completely centered, or completely swept away; entirely in her strength, or entirely vulnerable… sometimes all at the same time. There’s no prevarication, no adult-like tempering of feeling or holding back, no going half-assed. The collar has that purity of devotion to Daddy, and more, without being less full of devotion. The collar reverberates through the rest of me as well, as it does through Gabe. The love he wove into it, and the love I give it as I wear it casts its own spell, and carries its own larger meaning… through us and around us. Symbols are powerful, and carry their own reality… especially when they have their own color, and texture, and weight on a body.

With most labels in my life, it’s been easy for me to realize that they apply both to my whole self and to only a part of myself. I am fully bisexual, but that label best describes one specific thread of me. I am fully female, though there are individual parts of me for which that label doesn’t make sense. When my vocation was minister, all of me was a minister, though being a minister was not all that I was. For some reason, this dance of the parts and the whole gets frequently gummed up in BDSM. There’s a lot of essentialist categorization floating around in the air. For some folks, if you submit or dominate, one of those is all that you are and you are always that. Obviously, there are those who think otherwise. And I believe there are those who want to think otherwise but get a little of this communal gunk rubbed off on their brain. It’s difficult to avoid entirely. I think this essentialism is a key dynamic in the “there’s no such thing as a switch” meme. It’s an inability to hold the paradox of the whole and the parts of an identity. Hard as it is to believe, it’s a reality that eludes a Venn diagram. When I am one of my ageplay personas, I am fully them, and they are a deep and authentic part of me. But they are not all of me. When I am subbing to Gabe, I am subbing with my whole self, though my whole self is not submissive. It’s the same paradox of being a partner, a friend, a massage therapist, a daughter, an office manager, a Christian, an anarchist and more, all at the same time.

This reminds me of one of Gabe’s favorite statements, from Walt Whitman: Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large; I contain multitudes.


It’s taken me a couple of months to write this. Talking about age play and how it works for me makes me feel quite vulnerable, and knowing it’s a kink that bothers some folks makes it even more difficult at times. Luckily Elizabeth had another moment of brilliance and wrote some amazing things that helped shake the words loose for me. If you’ve not yet read Elizabeth on Age Play then please go do so. No really, I’ll wait.

Got that done? Well, here’s what she helped me to figure out about what it means to be a daddy and to be her Daddy.

While not our primary dynamic, being Elizabeth’s Daddy and her being my babygirl are important parts of our relationship. Explaining those roles, though, and how they fit into the rest of our relationship feels very elusive. It’s just… who we are. And who we are together.

Identifying the energies that we’ve come to know as her two little personalities came early in our relationship, and we’ve spent the last 2+ years naming them (Grace and Lucy), fleshing them out and getting to know them. I’ve learned how to be Daddy to each of them, how to spot them, what they need and want from me, and what I need and want from them. It’s been intense and beautiful and amazing. Despite her having multiple littles, I’m the same Daddy to them both. Obviously we interact in different ways, but the energy comes from the same place in me, whichever I’m tending to.

So why age play? The simple answer is that it turns me on. Being her Daddy makes me hard. That’s the biggest drive behind it. There’s an area of my and of her sexuality that is best reached through embodying these parts of ourselves with each other. Age play was a fetish of mine before I ever got the chance to act on it, though. Before it became this deep part of my relationship with my partner it was an unfulfilled fetish. I devoured Daddy/Girl erotica and I fantasized about roleplaying the scenarios. I understand that for many people age play isn’t necessarily sexual, but that’s not how it works for me. Even cuddling one of my little girls and watching a silly movie turns me on. Why? Who knows. It makes about as much sense as finding stockings with seams to be hot, only it’s stronger because it’s the intimate interaction of people.

So what does it mean to be Daddy? As uncomfortable as it may be to say so, I learned how to be Daddy to a large degree from my own father. To be Daddy is to be gentle and loving, offering guidance but only being stern when it’s needed. Daddy is playful and loves cuddling, and is protective of the fragile parts of his girls while letting them experience bumps and bruises when they can handle it. All of this is then filtered through my life with Elizabeth and my sexuality and it’s become this integral part of my sexuality.

Being Daddy to these two delightful girls isn’t something I undertook to re-write earlier experiences in a therapeutic way, but I’ve also seen ways that it’s helped me. I have a strong caretaker streak, and learning how to take care of Lucy and Grace as their Daddy has helped me learn how to do that in a healthy way. I’ve been able to strengthen boundaries and learn when it’s good for me to take care of someone and when I have to say no. I have a long history of unhealthy caregiving, and so this is a special gift that I wasn’t expecting when I first asked her what being a little girl felt like.

And I’ve seen my Daddy persona become more integrated with the rest of me. At times it becomes hard to define, because Daddy is Gabe, at least in relation to Elizabeth. That doesn’t mean that she’s constantly in little space, or that I treat her like a child, but I’m more aware of my affection toward her, and my protective streak. We could be doing something simple around the house, and I’ll tell her to stop if she’s about to do something that will hurt her. She may not be embodying Lucy or Grace at that moment, but Elizabeth is just as much my babygirl, and I will protect her.

Beyond our relationship I’ve begun to identify to some degree as a daddy-type dom. Daddy, as a name and a title, is part of my identity that is, at least right now, linked to my relationship with Elizabeth. The name and title “Daddy” doesn’t get used with anyone else but Elizabeth, but I can see similar tendencies in the way I top someone, or even in how I interact with someone with little girl energy. I’ve even had a play partner refer to me as “Daddy Gabe,” and that made sense to me, and was quite hot. Being a daddy-type is more of a descriptor of how I interact with some people. I’ve been wondering about why I gravitate to that word to describe myself and my style. Obviously it’s a very subjective word. In his Toybag Guide to Ageplay, Lee Harrington discusses universal, cultural and personal archetypes, and I think the differences in being Elizabeth’s Daddy and being a daddy type have some relation to those varying types of archetypes. With Elizabeth I fall somewhere between the personal and cultural, whereas with what I’m describing with a lower-case “d” daddy is somewhere between the universal and cultural. Sort of. As I said, pinning all of this down is rather elusive.

So then what do I mean when I say “daddy-type dom”? I can’t point to specific things I do or expect that make an interaction fall into that category, as it’s more about the way I feel toward the person. It’s a mix of tenderness, adoration, protectiveness, playfulness, control and certainly a few other things I’m not thinking of at the moment. It’s neither tied to nor divorced from SM, though daddying tends to focus a somewhat more on somewhat more conventional pleasures. The D/S element is strong, as my daddy side does put effort into remaining in control. But that control is often more focused on guidance than on punishment, and on the little one following willingly more than on her being pushed too hard. Even the SM elements that have been incorporated have been focused on nurturing, guidance or sheer hedonism more than punishment.

Guiding is a good word for the D/S element of ageplay for me. It requires meeting the person with whom I’m interacting where they are, without expectations of how their own energy will manifest or take them. It is accepting that energy and directing it in ways that best serve us both. Where and how I direct changes depending on who I’m playing with (or which alter ego I’m playing with), the moods we’re both in and any goals we may have. Elizabeth recently described that kind of guidance as “a love that doesn’t fully shield from bumps and bruises, but very specifically works at a person’s growing edges, the edges of our ability and draws us out further and helps us grow.” And I think that nails it.

An important element in accessing my daddy side is my trust in the other person’s maturity and ability to care for themselves. Being a daddy in an age play context is far removed from being a parent. I don’t want someone completely dependent on me. I don’t want someone who can’t take care of themselves. The littles that play best with this daddy are the ones who are, when they want or need to be, self-sufficient. If someone can balance their childlike delight or teenage awkwardness with their ability to be a grownup when they have to, then we are more likely to find common ground on which we can come together. If I can have that trust they they can and do care for themselves, then I feel more free to care for them myself.

With only two years of daddying behind me, I have a lot more to learn about what that means and how to do best function in that role. How will it change and expand over time or with different people? How integrated is the sweet, gentle daddy with the sadistic fuck who loves his little girls’ tears? There’s a lot to learn, and I look forward to it all. I love this part of my relationship with Elizabeth and this part of myself. And I’m so thankful to her for helping me grow and develop this way and to get to know this new part of me.

Elizabeth on Age Play

Gabe and I do age play, and have done so since we began dating. Despite our prolific writings on our sex life, we haven’t written on this subject yet. Part of my hesitation is that it’s a sacred and vulnerable thing for us, and is difficult to put into words. Part of it is certainly that this subject has a high squick factor for a lot of people, and is sometimes misunderstood as a dangerous “slippery slope”, and personally I haven’t yet wanted to deal with the potential responses. But I have eventually wanted to find a way to share.

So, here goes. I have two personas that I will occasionally inhabit (one at a time): Grace is 5 years old, and Lucy is 12. I have been surprised to see how nuanced both of them have become as personalities. Gabe has one persona: Daddy, that plays with each of us separately. Grace is very playful, and very much about joy. She likes soft blankets and making forts with them. She likes making up stories, and making animal sounds. Gabe can tell from my giggle when I’ve fallen into Gracie headspace. Being Grace is a delight, in so many ways. She is an altered state of effortless eagerness and pleasure. Lucy is 12. She is both a child and a grown-up. She’s trying everything on, and everything is new… and she is beginning to shape her opinions of it all. She enjoys romantic gestures and romantic movies. Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras are two of her favorite holidays. She likes both pajamas and sexy lingerie, and has been known to really like wearing make-up. Gabe can often tell from my word choice that I’ve gone into Lucyspace, without any other cues.

Part of the challenge of finding words is a fear of spoiling what is preverbal about our age play. They are each a near-complete shift of consciousness for me. There is an immediacy that is unique to our interactions as Daddy and Babygirl (a nickname for all of me) that bypasses the usual analytical and heady elements of our relationship. The sensations I receive as Gracie are very different than the sensations I receive as Lucy, and the sensations I receive as my overarching identity Elizabeth. Since I’m not sure that I can describe the difference, or want to right now, I’ll leave it at that.

Some element of both Grace and Lucy is what I call “redemptive lying” — together Gabe and I create an alternate universe where I am having a much more pleasant 5 year-old and 12-year old experience than I actually did. Lucy especially has been a great gift to me in that regard. When I was actually 12, I was already the primary caretaker for my mother, who is deeply mentally ill and yet passes for functional. I secretly had a terrifying home life at the time, and everything related to being a teen has had a thick veil of dread around it that I have slowly fought to tear away piece by piece. With Lucy, I can effortlessly be a different me, and experience the both/and teen years in a place of being loved into great personal strength, and being cared for when overwhelmed. I don’t have to start in Elizabeth’s constant starting place for adult relationships, and work my way out of that hole. I can be Lucy, be lighter and freer. My previous trauma is not the reason for her existence; she was born out of something more life-affirming than that. But it is a healing that Lucy gifts me with. Grace is a similar outlet, a way to step outside my usual heavy use of analysis and careful attention to boundaries and others’ needs. None of those things are bad; in fact I adore them all. But occasionally stepping outside them leads me to experiences I wouldn’t otherwise have. It makes me feel more whole as a person, and gives me insights I can bring back into my Elizabeth self.

Both Grace and Lucy are stories we tell with one another that bring out a different experience of joy and pleasure. They’re two whole new palettes of colors to paint with in creating our sex lives together. Some will say that their age play is not always or not even primarily sexual. I have occasionally been Grace or Lucy without sexual play (if you’ve seen me coloring at events recently, I’m often in one little space or another). But for the most part it’s a very sexual connection, specifically with Gabe. Yes, Daddy and Gracie have sex, and Lucy and Daddy have sex. It is very much about the sex for Gabe and I, where we can touch those parts of me that interact with those parts of him, and bond them in a sexual way. It is NOT in any way about violating real-life childhood sexualities. It is about exploring something very much in the context of adult sexuality. I can relate one part of this dynamic to the way memory is created — my memories of being a child now are heavily shaped by my adult experiences. In the same way, my alternate experience of being 5 and 12 can only be understood through my adult self, and my adult sexuality. They are facets of me and my full adult self, my connection to my life force and to Gabe, and so they are naturally erotic in nature. They are stories I am writing, and I make them sexual. Gabe does not play the role of a biological father, but of a caregiver to me as I surrender certain specific parts of myself and take up other parts. I can’t speak to others’ experiences, but incest has little to no draw for me. Age play is a far different kink.

Grace and Lucy have not yet played much with others, at least not to the knowledge of others around. I’m very protective of them. I suspect it will eventually happen, but can’t really speak to the future. They both live very much in the present moment — another gift they give me.

(For a brief but thorough introduction to age play, I suggest Lee Harrington’s book The Toybag Guide To Age Play. It is a very quick and informational read.)