Written by Lin Hammond.
Art by Desirea Agar.
“Ack, I’m feeling a little weird…” My thumb hovered over my phone as I tried to decide if I should hit send.
When I started Domming, I was excited to have an outlet to care for others. I thought that having a high nurture drive, a love of planning, and a bossy side would make me a good Dom. These are important skills and I think they’ve served me well. But what I didn’t realize was how Domming would turn into a place for me to practice accepting care from others, which can be just as challenging, especially for people socialized into nurturing roles. What I thought would be a chance to show my hard side turned out to also be a chance to show my soft side.
In my vanilla life, I’m a graduate student in seminary working towards a degree in practical theology (basically, the theology of caring for people). I do volunteer work providing emotional care to people in crisis. I believe that building a culture that values care is a powerful step towards a just world. It’s safe to say that I spend a lot of time thinking about how to care for others and how I care for myself.
When I started Domming, I was excited to have an outlet to care for others. I thought that having a high nurture drive, a love of planning, and a bossy side would make me a good Dom.
And yet, I still found myself curled up in my big armchair, feeling weird after a scene, and wringing my hands over whether or not to text my play partner. We were pretty new to playing together (this was maybe our fourth scene) and we were really hitting it off. The dynamic was new and exciting and we were building trust and starting to figure out what types of scene really worked for us. The scene had been really fun! But, somehow, about an hour afterwards, I was feeling down and obsessing over tiny details of the scene, convincing myself that what had felt good was actually somehow bad.
I don’t think I’m unique among Doms in that I am attracted to caring for others. Mommy Doms, Daddy Doms, and other Caregiver Dominant roles emphasize this aspect, but all types of domination involve some kind of exchange, whether it’s power exchange, pain, pleasure, service, humiliation, or praise. In the context of a consensual and negotiated interaction, all of these can be forms of care.
As someone who was assigned female at birth, I was socialized to give care to others without regard for how that might affect me, and I was not taught how to ask for and accept care from others. Even after coming out as non-binary, I still find myself in unhealthy care relationships based on my early socialization. In my vanilla partnerships, I’ve struggled with unhealthy imbalances of emotional labor and care. I gave care but didn’t know how to receive it, and my partners received care but didn’t know how to give it. These caregiver-receiver dynamics are gendered, racialized, and otherwise politicized. Women, people assigned female at birth, and people of color are often taught that we are only valuable insofar as we can nurture others, no matter how detrimental offering that care is to ourselves.
Top drop, the general icky feelings that tops and Doms sometimes experience after a scene, is another opportunity for me to build a healthy relationship to care by—get this—asking for care!
For me, Domming subverts and transforms this unhealthy relationship to care by making it a part of a well-negotiated power exchange. In my unhealthy relationships, we just sort of fell into caregiving and receiving roles without acknowledging it was happening or discussing how it impacted us. When I’m Domming, the exchange is acknowledged. I’m giving care and I’m receiving power. It isn’t necessarily an “equal” exchange; in fact, inequality is kind of the point. It’s an equitable, clearly negotiated, and respectful exchange. Subbing can also transform unhealthy care dynamics. Subs offer care on carefully negotiated terms and expect care in return.
Top drop, the general icky feelings that tops and Doms sometimes experience after a scene, is another opportunity for me to build a healthy relationship to care by—get this—asking for care! I tend to get top drop after scenes where I’m (consensually) punishing my sub, playing with consensual non-consent, or otherwise adopting a strict/mean Dom persona. Transitioning out of that mindset back into my authentic big softie self can be tough. In my experience, it’s really hard to shake myself out of top drop on my own. I need my play partner to assure me that they enjoyed the scene, that they know I’m not really a mean person, and that our dynamic is good for them.
That reassurance is a form of care, and asking for it is difficult, subversive, and very healing. In the kink community, Doms can be flattened into a tough, unfeeling, always-game-for anything, always-pushing-the-limits, domineering caricature of the real, complex people who Dom. Asking for care, having limits, safewording, and experiencing top drop are not signs that you’re a bad Dom. They are signs that you are a person who is aware of their own feelings, limits, and needs.
So, I hit send. A few minutes later I got a text back: “Wanna hop on the phone?” We chatted, they reassured me, we cracked some jokes, and I felt better. It was that easy! The hardest part was asking for care. Learning to ask for and receive care, like learning to give care, communication, negotiation, and so many other skills vital to kink, is an ongoing process. You’ve never arrived. Just when you start to feel like you’ve got it down, you can expect to be challenged again.