A young man reclines on a couch in the sunlight, smoking a cigarette. He is naked except for wearing heavy leather boots, a padlocked leather cuff on his right wrist, a collar with an O-ring, and a cockring at the base of his semi-erect penis.
I’ve been enamored with this arresting photograph for some time. From the markers of a collar and especially the single leather cuff around this man’s right wrist, it’s clear that he’s presenting as a submissive or a bottom. And yet everything about his body language speaks of an assertive, willful presence. His pointed gaze is insistent, bordering on demanding, and his unabashedly open pose screams shamelessness. After all this, I find the addition of a cigarette almost too much, as though the photographer didn’t trust the viewer to recognize the playful “bad boy” tone without it. Nevertheless, I think this picture is gorgeous.
It’s also particularly incisive because pairing submissive signals with such an imposing presence is rarely seen and even less often understood. The idea that submissive people (of any gender) can and should assert themselves in their submissiveness is, infuriatingly, heretical in both heteronormative and alternative communities. The idea of a submissive person as purely passive, or receptive—as, in the case of men, “womanly” and “less-than”—so thoroughly overwhelms hegemonic society that those of us who are submissively-inclined struggle to claim satisfaction in the face of our own desire for unfairness.
Recently, Thumper wrote a must-read blog post highlighting his struggle with this situation:
I was suddenly struck by something very profound. Something I’ve danced around and paid lip-service, but have not really owned up to. Something that has, oddly enough, left me somewhat shaken.
I am submissive.
Seriously, I know. Isn’t that ridiculous? Like, it says that right up there in the blog description. “Submissively inclined.” I’ve known this. But no. It’s different now. I’m not submissively inclined. I am submissive, period.
Considering the hegemonic masculine ideal as dominant, I posit that personal realizations of this sort are more difficult for submissive men than for women. By way of explanation, Thumper continues:
I admit to carrying around a prejudice against submissive males. […] It’s like I’m the white supremacist who just discovered the black grandmother he never knew about or the uber-masculine father of 12 who suddenly figured out he was gay. This is all horrible and all nasty and sad and not anything I’m happy about, but I see now that I’ve never fully embraced my submissive nature because I don’t especially like the archetype as it exists in our culture. In fact, there is no archetype. No role model. Nothing positive to look towards. Just layer after layer of stereotype and ridicule and cultural indifference. And now I know I’m one of them.
Submissiveness, and especially submissive men, are depicted as so undesirable by so much of contemporary culture that it’s no wonder “submissively-inclined” men like Thumper (and me, for a long time) refused to own the label. Moreover, common perception of what it means is hampered:
I’m very self-centered. […] You can’t be a self-centered submissive, right? That’s not actually possible, right?
Of course it is. There’s a distinction between self-centeredness and submissiveness; they’re apples and oranges! You can be a self-centered donor to charity, for example, because you get tax deductibles. Being submissive has nothing inherently to do with selfless service, an oft-cited misconception. Both dominance and submissiveness is entirely about satisfying one’s own sexual desires, just like any other sexual orientation or inclination. Submissive or not, we all deserve to have what we want.
strange get up … but very sexy boy