I am making a distinction between the idea of being submissive and being “a submissive.” This may be a distinction only a writer cares about, the difference between an adjective and a noun, but I’ll play it out here anyway.
In the memories of my journey, I am unclear exactly when I began to be aware of my submissive nature. I know now the signs of it when I was a girl, and other inclinations when I was a little older, and certain fantasies I had as a teenager — but at the time I had no vocabulary for this nor was I self-aware I was different.
As a young woman of eighteen and into my twenties, I was still naive about my submissiveness, although I found myself unusually warmed by an occasional stray image of a woman collared and stilettoed. I might then have been vaguely aware I was drawn to “something about that,” but yet far from knowing what was within me.
I think it must have been when I was twenty-four or so when I might have first entertained the thought my sexuality was oriented a certain way toward submissive experience. I don’t remember there being a particular trigger for that. I was not a virgin but still modest and restrained in my sexual life, and yet perhaps the rare sexual experiences I had, coupled with my fantasy life, served to rouse me, a least a little, to what I was.
There’s another reason I may have pushed this to the back of my mind. I grew up, as you all know, in a conservative religious church and home. One of its firm teachings was the second-tier status of women. Men were leaders, women helped. Women were taught to be submissive to men.
As I left for college and began to shed my fundamentalist indoctrination, this was one of those mindsets I left behind. In fact, while I was never political or outspoken, I privately advocated then for some version of feminism, as I still do.
And so the submissiveness within me was confusing. I didn’t want to acknowledge anything that dragged me back into the mysogeny I had left, the iron-handed imposition of female submission. Yet I had these submissive feelings and fantasies that I started to be more conscious of.
Of course, these are different things assuming the same name. But back then they felt the same. For a time, as I see myself in the rear-view mirror, I think I suppressed my submissive awareness for this reason. Ironic that overcoming my childhood repression became itself a repression of what I was.
I don’t remember a specific moment, as this kind of growing self-awareness has few signposts. It’s like floating along a slow-moving river without specific landmarks to note your progress. But it seems to me that around the time I was twenty-six or so I was finally accepting myself as being submissive. “Submissive” the adjective.
Twenty-six was the age at which I actively and consciously decided to rebel. My father had died several years earlier, and while that rocked my world emotionally — losing him was hard for me — he was also a symbol of my childhood morality and repression. Several years later, I decided I needed to move on.
“Rebellion” for me was by most standards tame and mild. It had nothing consciously to do with my submissiveness. But it was my effort to become more adventurous personally and sexually. That led me into a relationship with a man, an artist, which was sexual and daring. Among other things, he took me to visit a BDSM club.
It was a short-lived relationship. Artist-types are my Kryptonite, and I fall for them every time. He was not what he seemed to be, although most of us aren’t, so I don’t blame him for not living up to the pedestal I’d placed him on. We broke up after a while, and that was that.
However, the casual experiences we had at BDSM clubs stuck with me. Mind you, he and I never did anything there. We observed. For him it was a kinky view through a kaleidoscope. For me it was a awe-provoking revelation: I saw submissive women collared and bound, and I saw myself in them — “I’ll have what they’re having.”
I then was acknowledging that mine was a submissive sexuality. “Submissive” the adjective.
I was submissive, so I thought then, in parts of my life, parts of my sexual nature. It was an element of me but not all of me. In fact, for a while I fought hard against the notion that for me “submissive” was more than just an adjective but also a noun.
This is where I feel I need to pause and offer a bit of a disclaimer. I think most submissives are submissive “in part.” There are many degrees of submissiveness and they’re all good. Many live fairly normal, vanilla lives, and indulge their submissiveness (as an adjective) on the side. Some live the life of it, yet it’s a part of them. We all do this differently. For me, it went beyond that, but in no way do I suggest that “submissive” as an adjective is limited or lacking. In some ways, I wish that were true of me once again.
“Submissive” the adjective is a characteristic, like being a redhead or feisty or introverted or slender. It is an aspect of you, something that’s “a part” of you, yet not all of you. Not what you are. It’s descriptive not prescriptive.
“Submissive” the noun is all of you. It’s not just what you “do” sometimes on the side. It’s what you are even after you leave the BDSM club. It’s what you wake up into. It’s what is in you even as you do the ironing.
This was the dawning realization I came to on a fateful day in 2014. I’ve written about this here, my experience, ironically, in a church.
I won’t re-tell that but to say it was a wrestling math within myself. The notion that “this submissive thing” was not just an interesting sideline but my whole being was difficult to face. It felt like a life sentence. It was something I wanted not to be true. It was not the story I’d written for myself. Yet, I could not deny the depth and pervasive submissiveness within. It was all of me.
This was the point when I accepted that I was “a submissive,” that my whole identity was wrapped up in my submissive nature. This was the point when I acknowledged this is “who I am.” This was the point I committed myself to living the submissive life full-time.
This was when, for me, the adjective became a noun.