If there’s one thing you quickly notice when you enter the scene, it’s how much a D/s or M/s relationship can mimic and resemble an abusive one. It’s as if we’re both wearing the same suit of clothes, only one is finely tailored out of a rich, Merino wool, and the other is an ill-fitting off-the-rack polyester affair from your local Wal-Mart. There simply is no comparison.
But it’s something which can often make people uncomfortable with entering into any sort of power exchange relationship. Worse, many new (and even not-so-new) people can’t quite tell them apart, which I’ve seen often enough lead to disaster. But really, the difference is actually pretty simple and generally as clear as a freshly-cleaned window pane.
It’s one of informed consent, that it’s something which is given, and which can be just as easily revoked.
And as difficult as it can be to tell if you’re actually a part of the lifestyle, imagine how things can look from the vanilla side of the world. It can be entirely too easy to appear to be in an abusive relationship, particularlly when people on the outside looking in are inclined to think in that direction.
I’ll take a quick break here to posit my own theory, based on some vague and statistically insignificant personal experience. That dominant inclinations can become warped and twisted, turned to the Dark Side if you will, and become the same psychological motivations that make someone abusive. It’s that alpha drive, the need to control, the need to be catered to; they’re on the same coin, but on opposite sides, one the shadow of the other.
Similarly, the need of a submissive to serve, to satisfy, to cater to, can also be twisted into the mentality of the chronic abusee, the person who can’t seem to leave an abusive relationship and, when they do, simply flits from one to another.
I’m not certain that an abuser can be made into a good Dominant, but I have seen more than one abusee become an excellent submissive upon entering the lifestyle and being helped to understand the difference. But they’re all-too-often initially preyed upon by abusers masquerading as Dominants.
But back to the suit of clothes, with a hopefully-not-too-lengthy personal anecdote.
I’ve experienced the perspective of vanillas, that lack of comprehension between D/s and abuse, firsthand. Some years back I found myself in a very bad relationship with a narcissist masquerading as a submissive/slave (I won’t go into details here; that’s for another column). But long-story-short, the breakup was ugly, she was vindictive, and elected to take the dark road of revenge.
She went to all of my friends (whom she had charmed very successfully) and convinced them that our consensual M/s relationship had actually been abusive. I forced her into the lifestyle, made her move in with me, to submit to my perverted sexual desires, and even beaten her when she acted out. I had forced her to wear a metal collar, to submit to me, to only wear clothing I approved of.
It was all untrue. She had very much consented to a 24/7 M/s relationship, painting herself as considerably more experienced than myself. But to my vanilla friends it jibed up well with my history of being a rather blunt, bossy, alpha male. And she was an extremely personable, convincing liar.
So I was in the doghouse, a pariah, for several months. I generally weathered the storm okay, and watched with some small glee when her house of cards inevitably collapsed. That my friends accepted me back was satisfying, but that they never really apologized for believing her over me still stings more than a bit.
But at the same time I can’t entirely blame them. They didn’t see the difference in the two suits, having no experience with the fine, Merino wool variety, but only the cheap polyester, off-the-rack junk. And it can be very difficult to educate someone outside of the lifestyle of the subtelties, regardless of how clear-cut they actually are.
Moving on, here’s another personal anecdote, this one once-removed, so perhaps a bit more lengthy but considerably less self-indulgent.
The lady-in-question had been in a highly physical and emotional abusive relationship with a textbook malignant narcissist, with whom she’d had several kids. Circumstances being what they were, it took her entirely too many years to extricate herself because of the shared kids and a narcissist’s implacable need for control and revenge. Still, she eventually found herself divorced and elected to explore the local BDSM scene.
But like many a wayward femsub she was quickly led astray by the classic abuser-in-master’s-clothing and found herself in yet another abusive relationship, albeit this time a part-time one. Enter zeirah and myself. We met her at a local munch, took a shine to her (and her to us) and took her under our wing. Talking at some length, I explained consent, clear negotiations, and the concept of power exchange. We helped her understand that, at the end of their time together, she should feel blissfully happy and satisfied, satiated down to the bones of her soul. It needed to be about her every bit as much as him.
She dumped him soon after and I swore to help her in finding a worthy Dom/Master.
It took a few years, but we finally tripped over her perfect Dom. After a few false starts they entered into what appeared to be a very successful, satisfying D/s relationship.
But here’s where the whole suit-of-clothes thing rears its ugly head again.
Her kids, having seen at close hand the abuse their mother endured, and having undergone some considerable therapy aimed in that direction, had a better-than-usual eye for the behaviors of an abuser. So as their mom’s relationship became more serious with him moving in, they began spotting controlling behaviors, and even unexplained bruising, that they found suspicious and troubling.
How could they possibly warm to this new gentleman when it seemed that the past was repeating itself? Worse, how do you explain to two under 16 year olds precepts of a D/s or M/s relationship? They were keeping Mr. New Dom at arms length, and rightfully so from their perspective.
Between gently explaining that, no, this guy wasn’t an abuser like your father, his being overall fantastic and patient with the kids, and her overall day-to-day happiness, eventually all won them over. A few months in and everything’s copacetic.
So be careful as to what suit of clothes you’re wearing, and how it’s being perceived by those around you. It’s easy to say that it’s none of anyone’s business, but a grievous misperception by the wrong person at the wrong time could be potentially disastrous.
About the Author
PirateStan has been involved in his local BDSM community for over 11 years, after having had a lifelong inclination towards it. He currently lives a contented life in Southeastern Virginia with his girl, zeirah, while working by day for a Major Metropolitan Publication.