Maxine's Journal

Adventures of the Polka-Dotted One

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The big, beautiful shiny rainbow of kink (A.K.A. there's no One True Way)

Copied essentially verbatim from a Fetlife conversation thread about 'service tops' - this is not quite the essay I'd been intending to write on this topic, but I've had it on my mind for a while, so I'm going to preserve the best attempt I've made at it yet for posterity.

Much musing about kink, logic, diversity, and all of the gorgeous colours of the rainbow.

Something that drives me crazy about kink communities, which I suspect is the cause of LOT of unsatisfying relationships is this: The assumption that (bottom=submissive=masochist) and on the flip side, of course, that (top=dominant=sadist) - and anything else is not the One True Way. Hey look! A recipe for a lot of dissatisfied kinky folk!

In my time I've come across masochist doms (Hit me, slave! Harder!), subbie sadists, dominant sensation play bottoms who hated pain, brats, service tops, service submissives, maids and footmen, slaves, rope bunnies, do-me queens, dollies, nurturing daddies and mommies of both the dom and sub persuasion, emperors, goddesses, virtuoso performers and a whole bunch of others... to me they're all different, and while it might not be obvious to the community at large, it seems obvious to me that there's something missing from the traditional D/s=S/m scale.

Over time I've come up with my own way of observing these relationships, which I find makes it a lot easier to figure out who I want to scene with, or have a relationship with, and how. From my perspective as a switchier than switch 'universal adaptor' I see several different indices people vary on in kink terms, not one single spectrum, and I try to get away from using D or s in my name scheme, because I think that's a label for a combination of characteristics, not a single scale.

The categories I use are:

Leader or follower (i.e. who is guiding the path of the scene, and who is following),
Active or passive (who is doing the physical action),
Giver or receiver (who is receiving sensation - clearly this can vary within a scene for many people, but not everyone.)
Sadist or masochist or neither

These all spring out to me as all being different and unrelated scales of variance. I'm not going to draw a graph since I have no idea how to build a four dimensional matrix, but I hope it's fairly self-explanatory.

To illustrate, the traditional stereotype Dominant is expected to be an active sadistic leader who 'gives' submissives what he/she knows they need - "I feel like giving you a good beating and then fucking in the ass, clearly because this is what I want you want it too, so I'm going to give it to you", and the 'classic' submissive is a passive receiving follower & likely a masochist too - whereas a different Dominant might prefer to receive tribute from willing service submissives, and would be a passive receiving leader. But a bratty bottom, who knows exactly which way to misbehave to guarantee a spanking - well s/he's a leader too.

To my mind then, a service top = actively giving follower: "Tell me what you want, and I'll do it to you", and is well paired with an active or passive receiver who is willing to lead.

And yeah, I've noticed a lot of pairings over time that just don't work - our dominant who wants to be worshipped isn't going to get on well with the classic submissive I described above, or a passive rope bunny or dolly, but they might not realise why because the stories we're told, and the categories we're given are just so darned limited. A service sub paired with a sadist could end up feeling abused. A service top and a service submissive are just not going to know what to do with each other (though I've seen a couple of these relationship drag miserably on for years)... there are a lot of combinations in there.

And of course, nobody need be stuck in one category. I've been most of them at one point or other. My longest standing partner swings between classic Dom and service top depending on his mood. I've had submissive partners who wanted to be ordered to beat other slaves and then be 'punished' for it. I've seen die-hard tops turn to mush when given the right sort of stroking. It's amazing just how big and beautiful the rainbow can get when we're not stuck in black and white. We're multifarious, complicated and beautiful.

...Opinions, comments and questions if you will, below.

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Blatently crossing the threads, your description of a "service" top versus a "classic" top looks to me very similar to the difference between Ask Culture versus Guess Culture. Complicated, I think, by the area being one that touches on people's inherited taboos which makes them, at least initially, even more reluctant to ask for what they want -- even if they were mostly of "Ask Culture". If this analysis is correct, then one might expect people to "grow into" working with a Service Top as they become more aware of what they want, and more comfortable with asking for it. (I have insufficient information to know if that's true, but my guess is that it probably is.)


I disagree. I think it's important to distinguish between someone's behaviour is a scene and outside it, which can be complete opposites. I'm a very Ask person and I will communicate my kinks/likes/limits very clearly outside the scene. However, in a scene, I want my partner to lead and I *want* to follow. A service top wouldn't work for me.

(I find the Ask/Guess culture idea very useful though.)

Only insofar as much as both are basically inadequately defined concepts. The world is clearly [1] not defined into 'ask' vs 'guess' - there is a distinct grey area between the two.

Likewise, whilst Maxine's post is a good one, it still only works in a narrowly defined scene.

There's nothing preventing a somewhat more organic arrangement of a scene - aside from rigid thinking from the participants, of course.

Still, it's a much better scale than reducing everything to D/s.

[1] To anyone with any experience. Even Julian Sanchez misses the point - not only are people negotiating where on the relationship gradient they lie[2], but they're also implicitly deciding how far they're willing to commit.

[2] I suppose you could also define relationships in two dimensions rather than one. Involvement vs commitment, perhaps. These things are complicated already though.

Hm, no, I don't think so. I think the categories I use are more about the motivation for being in the scene that the way in which these things are communicated (which is my understanding of what ask vs. guess refers to) - the 'classic' top feels a sense of their own satisfaction from doing x, y or z to other people, which if they're a good top they will play out consensually with someone who enjoys that... whereas the service top is motivated less by their own pleasure and more by that of the recipient (and more likely to vary their repertoire depending on the wants of the receiver, also).
And yes, as syllopsium points out, these are binary categories imposed on an analogue world, and thus imperfect (and occasionally confusing the issue more than clarifying it) - but since we're creatures of analysis, one has to begin somewhere!

Where I was coming from was from the point of view of the bottom, on the assumption that the top desired to provide the scene the bottom wanted, with the "classic" top relying more on intuition to "guess" what was wanted and the "service" top relying more on explicit requests. Perhaps in your analysis these are both minor variations on the "service" top; certainly you (now?) seem to be suggesting that a "classic" top is playing out their own scene (and the bottom is merely a "walk on" actor in that play) compared with the "service" top who is the "walk on" actor in the bottom's scene (which wasn't the reading I got from the initial description). So perhaps these two things are actually orthogonal.


Thank you for this. Anything that clarifies and celebrates diversity seems good to me!

Ah, that helps, a lot! I'm going to borrow your categories to help me (and others) think about things to make it easier to understand each other :)

Yep, I'm going to borrow the categories too - that should make my life much much easier, thank you!

I'm not really in the world of kink, just the poly world, but these look like good clarifying dimensions to me. I'd be interested to see what kinky folk make of them.

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Ooh, that is something I left out of this, and I hadn't put my finger on the lack. The 'naughty sub' or the 'Dom is a better person whose wishes are more important' things just don't work for me either, and it seems to be the only image a lot of folks have of kink. I have had to work for years to train toppy partners out of the 'you've been a bad girl so I have to punish you' shit when it really was not appropriate to me. I *hate* bratting, and a spanking is a reward to me, not a punishment - and making something I love into a punishment feels like abuse to me. YMMV

I have no problem with the folks it works for, I just wish the image of kink included more variety.

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Spot on! This is why I describe myself as "a safe and deserving person available to be worshiped by those who must worship someone," and not a "Dom" in the classic sense.

Heh, nice phrasing. I like it! :)

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Yes, Frolicon is awesome that way. I get the impression that there are a lot of switches in responsible roles in the community, which might make a difference, I don't know.

Thanks for commenting, glad you appreciated. (My service-oriented side likes to write blogs people find useful!) :)

Also, you reminded me I totally forgot to list 'service dom' in my ramble above - i.e. 'You *will* sit there and let me Look After You, dammit!' which is another thing of Lex's that I find adorable.

...would you say you'd be willing to receive service as an act of meta-service? :) I'm always delighted by how many levels these things can extend to (and this is essentially how I ended up domming in the first place).

You've done a great job of articulating and clarifying something that I'd previously only thought about on an intuitive level. Thanks for posting this!

Awesome, thankyou! :)

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Definitely. I'd previously commented that B, D, D/s and S/M are four different axes, and this adds a couple more.

It also identifies a key problem with my current relationship... hmmm :-). More thought needed.

Key problem? Uh-oh!

I would like to add that I don't have any formal qualifications in psych, so any action taken based on my wurblings are at your own risk! Best of luck, though!

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*giggles* I think I know the type. It's a sign that you are awesome, and exude a whole lot of in-chargeness that's a very attractive thing to a lot of people. I recommend not threatening them with painful punishments if they're annoying you. They'll probably like it. :P

[I was referred to your post by drtalon @ FL]

I think those four axes are a good starting point - better than the conventional D/s-S/m axes. Obviously someone's coordinates may change dramatically with moods, etc. I think there are some complications, though, in your system. Are all the possible combinations definable? Is it possible for someone to be an active receiver? At face-value those seem a bit oxymoronic - how can someone be the receiver of his/her own action? Although the axis labels are easy to remember, I think they would need to be more explicitly defined.

I think that's why the standard labels are so persistent, despite the varying definitions. Dominance and submission is a state of mind and power. Who has the *power* in a relationship between two people. D/s exists all the time. Being a Dominant is part of who I am. I cannot change that. Top vs bottom is almost exclusively a scene dynamic. That falls in line with your "Active or passive" differentiation. In my mind I consider Top/bottom to be just that - who is doing what to whom? With these two axes all four combinations are definable:

Dominant Top
Dominant bottom
submissive Top
submissive bottom

...with varying degrees, as illustrated on a Cartesian plane (oh, did I mention that I was a math major in college? LOL)

Sadism vs masochism is, in my opinion, completely separate. Being a personal preference, sadism or masochism doesn't change with a scene, and it isn't always relevant to a scene. I see it as more of a fetish - a prop in a scene. Sadism/masochism is a manifestation of the combination of other dynamics. That being said, I would not see an issue with adding it as another axis, if someone felt that it was an important part of their identity.

I agree with the rest of what you wrote - as a Dominant who loves being flogged, I find myself always having difficulty explaining myself and I am always unsure of how other people will react to my explanation. And hell, sometimes I still don't really know where I fall.

Thanks for the considered response!

Yeah, I think all combinations are possible. Sitting on someone's face is a good example of active receiving, I think - and that can be dominant or submissive (which kindof translates, but not quite, to leading or following) depending on how that's set up. Whereas the passive version of that would be to allow someone to go down on you (or ordering someone to, if you're dominant). Pain isn't the only sensation involved in kink, after all!

I think it probably needs a bit more work/study/research and fleshing out of descriptions if anyone else is going to use it as a system. These are just the categories that appear in my head if I'm figuring out whether (and how) I might play with someone. It's awesome if other folks find it useful though. :)

Sitting on someone's face is a good example of active receiving, I think

LOL, that is a matter of perspective (literally, visual perspective, lol).

The person on top could say that they are actively receiving pleasure (or, combined, literally "taking" pleasure), but the person on the bottom could say that *they* are actively receiving pleasure...

This is wherein my issue lies. Standing alone, each combination has a theoretical definition, but there is no way of applying those discrete definitions to real life situations. Everything is a matter of perspective, completely changing from one person to the next, one scene to the next, and one moment to the next. Thus, while the matrix can be very useful in personally identifying oneself, I feel like the terms and definitions would become moot in conversation.

I feel like your four-dimensional matrix can actually work to define scenes within each of the conventional dynamic labels. That is, a Dominant Top can enjoy scenes in which they are actively receiving more than passively receiving, or prefer passively giving, etc.

On one hand, defining the terms would make the system more useful, but on the other hand, by defining the terms you run the risk of falling into the same D/s-S/m trap - there will inevitably be someone who doesn't feel like they match any of the ideas.

I should also note that I'm very logical-mathematically minded, so it's very difficult for me to make sense of any system without explicitly defined variables and constants. I think this conversation could get lengthy and complicated in the forum of LJ, but I find this extremely interesting.

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