four problem words

To many readers this may a boring blog. (That’s an opening line one is told never to start with).

You see, this is essentially a word study. I get excited by word meanings, connotations, nuances, word imagery — but I know most people aren’t into words as I am.

Perhaps it helps that this relates to the lifestyle of D/s, practices of BDSM, and my own sexuality. In any case, bear with me. I’ll try to keep this short, but I wish to say a few words about words that cause me pause.


Normal.

The dictionary definitions of normal take us into two different directions, and that’s the problem when using it in the context of the D/s lifestyle.

One definition contains the idea of “common” or “usual.” It’s normal (common) for it to be hot in summer. It’s normal (usual) for a person to feel anxious during a thunderstorm. Normal is what happens most of the time. Normal is what most people are and do commonly — what usually is the case. This definition derives from statistics, bell-curves and such, and, of course, normal has a lot of defined uses in the sciences. Normal in this sense is a statistical truth.

The other definitional direction of normal is the idea of natural, healthy, whole, or sane. The problem in this is more easily seen in its opposite, the antonym abnormal. We laughed at the classic line in Young Frankenstein, where Igor (Marty Feldman) produced a jar with a preserved brain. After the operation, Dr. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) asks Igor, “Whose brain did I put in?” Igor says, “Abby someone.” The doctor presses, “Abby who?” And Igor replies, “Abby Normal.”

In talking about D/s, abnormal is the problem with normal.

As a submissive, I accept that, according to statistics, I am not normal. Most people are not predominantly dom or sub, not significantly wired as such. I am different from the majority. Yet I do not accept its opposite definition for me — that I am Abby Normal — deficient as a woman, twisted because I’m a submissive, abnormal.

The word is true in its one sense, untrue in its other. But in writing it’s hard for me to get away from the word normal. I still use it of myself. I guess I make a distinction between “not normal” and “abnormal.”

Some observe that “no one is normal,” meaning that everyone has a difference or two from the norm, that in the vast panoply of human life, there is great variety. True, but that’s not the point. Normal does not mean everyone needs to be identical. It means that, in particular areas, one thing is common and another thing is less common. In the category of dominance and submission, the largest group of the population is not into D/s (normal), and a much smaller group within the population is into D/s (not normal). That’s just true.

Again, I accept myself in this particular measurement to be “not normal.” Some try to correct me away from that, feeling that I am engaging in negative self-thinking. They’re just trying to make me feel better. Thank you. But when I say that I am “not normal,” I am not putting myself down.

I just mean I am, perhaps, rare. 😉


Lifestyle.

For a long while, I avoided this word, but ultimately had to give in to it. Now I use it all the time.

One problem I have with lifestyle is that it carries an elitist tone, a sense of lah-dee-dah with a tinge of posh. Maybe from my girlhood I was influenced by the TV show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” In my use of the word, I certainly don’t mean Amanda and I are richer or better than everyone else. We aren’t.

But another problem is that my D/s life with Amanda isn’t exactly a lifestyle. Though it is. That seeming contradiction is a nuance at the crux of my word troubles.

My submissiveness, which I consider to be “inborn sexual orientation,” is not a “lifestyle.” It is what I have been made to be. While my submissiveness has led me into certain D/s relationships and the life that accompanies them, it is not, properly speaking, a lifestyle but rather a trait or characteristic. Nor is my life lived with and under Amanda a lifestyle. It’s a relationship.

I feel the same about poly arrangements — multiple-partner relationships fulfilling various wants, needs, and loves. The mainstream world tends to look at that and label it a “lifestyle,” while those poly partners in it think it’s all simply about relationships.

The etymology problem is this: it’s like calling “marriage” a lifestyle. It is, kinda, but not really.

However, relationships do lead us to live in certain ways. As Amanda’s D/s slave, I wear a collar 100 percent of the time. Per her order, I serve her coffee in the morning on a tray, and upon her order wear not enough clothes, and on occasion am bound to the wall in the entryway. All of these practices are part of our way of life, our style of living.

So, what lifestyle expresses, effectively, is simply the idea “We have chosen to live this way.” And the term “our D/s lifestyle” quickly identities the group of like-minded people who “live this way.”

So, lifestyle is a word I cannot get away from in writing. It’s just necessary, it seems.


Slave.

I have become sensitive to the social implications of the word slave. It certainly can be understood as having a racial context; it also can be seen in the context of sex-trafficking. Of course, in my use of the term, I don’t intend either of these associations. God forbid. And I never wish to offend people or be insensitive to serious social concerns.

Yet, in the D/s lifestyle, there is need to identify the extent of my life in service to another, the extreme of it as I live it. I am a submissive, but more — my submission is not occasional or casual, but much more extreme — I am property owned, kept 24/7 as someone’s slave. I live at the lower level. I say that not as a brag, that my submission is better because it is to this extreme. If anything, people look down on me for allowing myself to be made a slave. Yet, my being a slave is simply true — it’s what I literally am to Amanda and Master McKenna, and how I see and accept myself.

So, slave is another word I cannot avoid in my writing.

But as a partial remedy to those social associations, I more often now say “D/s slavery” or “lifestyle slavery.” I’m not consistent in that as yet, but I try.


Vanilla.

In writing about my D/s slavery, it’s necessary to refer to non-dominants and non-submissives — the mainstream world. You just have to.

The term vanilla, of course, has a general usage even in that mainstream world to refer to that which is conventional or traditional: “I considered the blueprint for the new building to be vanilla, too safe in design.” “Without its best player, the team executed a too-predictable vanilla offense.”

Of course, this same meaning has been adopted by the BDSM world, mostly to delineate it’s lifestyle from the mainstream: “The guests were vanilla, witnessing the act of bondage for the first time.”

The problem I have with vanilla is that its proper definitions of conventional and traditional can also have the connotation of bland and boring. It can sound disparaging. When I use vanilla, I don’t mean to put down those who are not of my D/s persuasion. I just wish to refer to them as being different from me. Vanilla is the “other crowd.”

So, I use the term. Have to.

Here in Pennsylvania, I live in the mainstream world and interact with non-D/s people most of my time. And I find them well-meaning, caring, and lovely, even though they and I are so very different in what we believe. They are vanilla, yes, and I am different from them, yes, but we are all human. Yes.

Recently in my writing I have come to use normal as a synonym for vanilla: “The vanilla world of normals.” I mean it without judgment but just as a distinction. They are normals and I am not.

So, we’ve made a full circle in our word study.

We’re back to normal. 😉


I think the guiding light in all of this etymology is to aim for usage that is descriptively true and fair and honoring of people.

We don’t need to tear down people that aren’t us.

6 thoughts on “four problem words

  1. In the words of tunesmith, Bruce Cockburn, “The trouble with normal, is it only gets worse.” Willie Nelson says, “I may not be normal, but nobody is” in the song “I’d have to be crazy,” written by Steve Fromholz. “Normal” is “normally used” to compare people, events, or things to a standard that does not exist, as if there is a community of “normal people” somewhere. Unfortunately, to most people, “normal” means, “like me.”

    I have always had a problem with the BDSM usage of “the lifestyle.” It would seem to infer that those not in “THE lifestyle” do not have “A lifestyle.” While M/s is my personal preference, for most of my life I have gone to work, applied my abilities as best I could, paid my taxes, mowed my lawn, went grocery shopping, tried to save some money, checked my mail, etc, etc. All these things have consumed much more of my time than M/s has. While M/s has certainly been part of the way I live, calling it a lifestyle is a bit of an overstatement.

    “Slave” is certainly a misnomer in the BDSM context. A slave is someone who has been forcibly removed from their locale, taken elsewhere, held captive, and forced to do the bidding of others. A “slave” in the M/s context is free to walk away at any time. While that might be problematic, such as a slave who is married to his/her “owner,” the choice is still there.

    “Vanilla,” as used in the BDSM community, is a bit pretentious. It is like a disparaging comment referring to someone who gazes at the fifty-one flavors and chooses vanilla, as if they are not adventurous or have no imagination. But it is a relatively harmless way to refer to those who do not practice any form of BDSM. Perhaps we could borrow from Ms Rowling and use the word “muggles,” instead.

    As you said, shae, they are problem words, but are easy to use in communicating to others without having to make explanations. You have written a good piece, here and I enjoyed reading it. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sir, for the compliment. You make a good point re “lifestyle.” I think for most in D/s, like yourself, it’s not so totally defining of a life that it really applies, as you say. Though for me it is exactly that… You and I, as we have discussed before, see “normal” a bit differently. I understand your point, which is true in a way, but I still think there’s a use of the term in representing what’s statistically most common. Most people are not submissive like me, therefore they are common (normal), and I am uncommon (not normal statistically). That doesn’t mean that I am damaged or faulty.

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  2. Lifestyle has always been a funny word to me. People always seem to use it to soften the impact of what they’re trying to so. To a swinger, “lifestyle” sounds like a codeword that’s the linguistic equivalent of the pineapples or flamingos in the front yard. To a non-swinger, it always seems to be uttered with air-quotes and all the judgement that you’d expect. Depending on which side of the lifestyle they find themselves, they are either using it to recruit, condone, explain or judge.

    Liked by 1 person

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