Definitions in BDSM . . . An Exercise in Frustration

There has been an ongoing debate on Fetlife about whether one can be a slave if one is unowned. That has led me to thinking. I wonder why it is that in WIITWD we can never come to agree on the base definition of terminology. It’s such an interesting phenomenon to me. In my opinion, the base, understood definition of a word shouldn’t change just because we’re using it in a BDSM context.

And yet, because the base definition doesn’t apply to the person who wants to use the term, usually a title, because they like the sound of it or they believe the title fits their personality, people think it’s okay just to change the basic definition to fit themselves rather than come up with a term that DOES fit what it is that they do or are. And they become outraged when someone points out that the term doesn’t fit them. Because they can be anything they want to be and make words mean anything they want them to mean.

We talk about community. We talk about lifestyle. The bottom line is that if we truly allow people to come in and label themselves or what they do anyway they so desire, even when their use of the terminology changes the base meaning of the word, we no longer can say that we have a community or a lifestyle. What we have is a free-for-all. BDSM has now become the catch-all for anyone who just plain doesn’t fit in anywhere else, and because we accept everyone and allow everyone to call themselves whatever they want, the terms Justin and I use for what it is that we do no longer have any meaning or value whatsoever to anyone with whom we communicate unless and until we clarify definitions with them first. How are you supposed to be able to communicate with anyone about WIITWD if you can’t even agree on very simple terminology? I just don’t get it.

I’m not talking about defining things down to the minute details. I’m just talking base definition. For example:

  • Top: a person on the giving end of SM activities (no suggestion of dominance/control is implied)
  • Dominant: ruling, governing, or controlling; having or exerting authority or influence
  • Master: 1. a person with the ability or power to use, control, or dispose of something. 2. an owner of a slave
  • Owner: a person who owns; possessor
  • Sadist: one whose sexual gratification is gained through causing pain or degradation to others
  • Bottom: a person on the receiving end of SM activities (no suggestion of submission is implied)
  • Submissive: inclined or ready to submit; unresistingly or humbly obedient
  • Slave: 1. a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another. 2. a person entirely under the domination of some influence or person
  • Property: that which a person owns; the possession or possessions of a particular owner
  • Masochist: 1. one whose sexual gratification depends on suffering, physical pain, and humiliation. 2. one who finds pleasure in self-denial, submissiveness, etc.

Now, none of the definitions give any indication of value and none define anything to do with degrees. That’s up to the individual using the term to give it a value or a degree. There also is nothing that says terms can’t be combined. Dominants, masters and owners can certainly top or be sadists, submissives and slaves can bottom or be masochists. Bottoms can also submit, and tops can also dominate. In fact, dominants/masters/owners can even be masochists and vice versa. But that does not change the base definitions of any of the words themselves.

I think that we’ve romanticized things to such a degree that people just want to be that thing, whatever it is that rings their bell. They talk about slave hearts and being a born slave. I don’t doubt for a second that they do have that. I know that I’m wired to be a slave in the right dynamic. When all the right emotional and spiritual connections are there, you betcha I can and will submit in slavery. I do that now with Justin. He truly owns me completely – heart, mind, body, and soul. But that does not mean that I am a slave always. I have the ‘ability’ to be a slave with the right person. I’m with the right person so I am now owned property, or a slave. But if our relationship were to end, I would no longer be property or a slave. I would still be submissive, and I would still be ‘slave-wired’ (to use a new term I’ve stolen from someone on Fetlife because I really like it). But I would not be a slave again until I found a new relationship in which I felt the connection to submit in slavery, to be owned.

I find the continuing argument about this to be downright silly. Words have meanings. We don’t get to change the meanings just because we think we should be able to. One of the arguments I see all the time is that we can define ourselves however we want and it has no bearing on anyone else. Well, I guess that’s true. I have all the qualifications of a teacher. I once was a teacher. But I’m not currently a teacher and haven’t been for several years. I could probably still call myself a teacher if I wanted to. I have the qualifications and have done it before, I’m just not doing it now. But calling myself a teacher now is very misleading. I am a trainer in my current job. But I’m not a teacher. Because teacher implies K-12 education. Someone who currently teaches. If I were to start looking for a teaching job again, I still couldn’t call myself a teacher. Because while I have the experience, education, and qualifications, I’m still not actively teaching. But I can call myself a teacher. And then when I have a conversation with someone and say, “I’m a teacher”, and they say, “Oh, what do you teach?” how am I supposed to answer? Say, “I used to teach high school English?” And then have to explain that really I don’t teach now, but I used to teach, now I’m a trainer/tech for a software company. Just like when someone unpartnered says, “I’m a slave”, and someone says, “Oh, who is your master?” They respond, “Oh, I don’t have one right now, I’m currently unowned”. Alrighty then.

If we really do want to have some form of community, then we have to have a common language. Instead of picking a word because you have given it value, decide who you are and pick the word that actually fits. How hard is that?

©Beachgurl 2009

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