Subbing and Following

This post may end up as a complete flop. While it’s an idea I’ve wanted to explore, finding any language at all for it has been difficult, and finding common language with Gabe, much less with an entire audience, may be near impossible. But I’ve enjoyed the contemplation of it, and I think it’s an important piece of self-understanding to tease out and watch grow. So, as always, if you have any insights as to how these dynamics play out in your life or what bubbles up in you as you read this, I’d love to hear about them.

The word sub has never quite felt right to me as an identity, even though many – perhaps a majority – of my sexual behaviors and activities with Gabe resemble what others are talking about when they use the word. It feels accurate, up to a point. In certain contexts, in certain moods, at certain times, it comes close to describing how I’m playing with him. I tried on the other common names for subbing/bottoming, and none really fit well either. There is sometimes a submissive dynamic in how I relate to Gabe. But at the heart of what we do, there’s some other separate dynamic going on for me that needs to be distinguished from submitting.

I’m going to borrow a term from my training in improvisational dance, and say that I am, at heart, a follower. One way of interacting while dancing is to be a leader or a follower (you can also switch from leader to follower and back quickly, or meld them together, but for the sake of this discussion let’s paint in broad strokes). We value leaders a lot in our culture… but without followers, leaders don’t exist. Followers, simply put, choose to join a leader in some sort of action. Without followers, you don’t have a chorus line. You only have one person kicking. Without followers, you don’t have ballroom dance. Without following energy, you don’t really have multiple people dancing in any connected way. It takes some level of cue-taking, some level of mirroring something about the first person’s dance for the second person to truly be dancing with them. There must be following going on for a duet to happen.

So, a few things about following that are important to me in sorting this out:

1) Following is a rhythm my body naturally, easily adopts. It is as second nature to me as breathing. It’s the same behavior that leads to me picking up others’ accents or mannerisms easily, or picking up others’ emotional states. It’s the same dynamic that leads me to get tired easily in groups, or to match someone else’s exuberance or quietude easily. It often leads to me working well with mentors, supervisors, or in groups at a workplace. Often Gabe might desire a certain kind of sexual interaction (that may or may not include power exchange), and I can easily meet him there in that mood and be ready. That’s following energy. I can turn it on or off; and after many years I’ve learned how to adjust it to some volume or another in between on and off. But it’s always there in me, active or dormant. One of the great nourishing comforts of our relationship is that it is safe for me to open up to that following energy when we are together. While following is a great gift, it can also be dangerous to indulge in this world. Following, as it exists as a rhythm in me, is rather simple in its nature. It can be highly versatile, but it is a pure thread of who I am. It is a constant presence.

2) This rhythm of following is not about being submissive. It’s not inherently about power exchange, though it can enhance power exchange greatly. I am not generally mimicking someone or adopting some part of them in order to give them control. I’m doing it because my body enjoys feeling that resonance, and because I learn about the world that way. When I was acting in a theatrical setting, I learned new facial expressions and vocal patterns that way. When I was a counselor, I saw more clearly how someone was feeling with this skill. I do not automatically give someone control when I use this part of my nature, though it does lend itself easily to crafting an experience of submission.

Now, about submission. Submitting in a power exchange context is, for me, what I refer to as a role. It’s a whole orchestra of actions, behaviors, decisions, and ways to interact with another person and the world around me. Like being a daughter, or a teacher, or a proofreader, or a babysitter… a role can reflect vitally important parts of ourselves, or be smaller in nature. But they include a level of decision-making in their very existence, and may or may not be a part of our identity. I am not, by identity, a submissive. But I have a relationship and a set of personality traits that open up submissive experiences for me as something that is frequently very satisfying and sacred. A role is what I make of it, what I shape it to be. My submission is a complex crafting of my skills, desires, hopes, fears, and willingness to hand myself over to an experience, together with Gabe’s gifts and direction. It’s a wonderful channel for some of my following energy.

I recently changed my kinkster orientation on Fetlife to ‘switch’. While it’s still not as accurate as I’d like, it’s the option on the list that feels most accurate to me. Those who have watched me in power exchange settings so far may be surprised to hear that some part of me connects strongly with the idea of topping. I was unsure myself at the accuracy of this self-observation, until I flashed on an old learning style inventory I took years ago, and remembered being told that I start the bulk of my learning with a long period of observation. I gather information on options and techniques, and eventually I find a relational way into something. Something clicked for me in remembering that. That’s how it has felt, observing various ways of domming and topping, and feeling this insistent thread of desire and self-expression grow very slowly inside me. I have, after all, used leading also as a rhythm in my life many times, with success. I expect that, since it took connecting with Gabe to really explore my bottoming side, that finding the right moment and the right relationship and environment might open up my topping side. Perhaps it will be a third person, or maybe there’s some bottoming in Gabe we haven’t found yet. Since I don’t know what my style is yet, and I don’t know what the future holds, I can’t begin to guess. I can only have faith that I am unfolding in beauty.

One Response to “Subbing and Following”

  1. stoat Says:
    December 16th, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    thanks for this, following is a great term. energy is so hard to describe, but so fundamental to sexuality. i don’t know your experience but some moments of the journey can be lonely for me, i.e. when the typical terms feel wrong and i can’t find the right words…but hearing a strong + beautiful voice like yours noticeably lights the way for me.

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