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.