Let’s get organized…..Here’s what I want to accomplish in this essay:
1) To share my thoughts on a recent discussion in which I both observed and later participated on the subject of Tops/Dominants and vulnerability
2) To explore my own thoughts on “strength” and “weakness” as it pertains to the concept of vulnerability and/or the exposure of said vulnerability.
3) To offer suggestions on how someone on the topside might find comfortable and meaningful ways to express their vulnerabilities without losing what it is that helps define that role for them.
Here’s what I do NOT want to accomplish in this essay:
1) To share personal information about real people who participated in the discussion without their consent, or make them feel like what they shared was not done so in a safe environment where it would not come back to hurt them. To avoid this, I will speak mostly in the abstract; but if you were there and you recognize your words and you want to help clarify, you are welcome to do so publicly or privately as it suits you.
2) To make someone feel like if they cannot or will not expose their vulnerability it makes them a bad person, so if you’re reading this and you think “nope, I can’t do what she’s suggesting,” that’s okay. You don’t gotta. I’m not the boss of you or the leader of the planet. Yet.
3) To tell anybody how to live their life. See above.
And one more thing…
What I inferred from the discussion may not be what the person speaking had truly intended to convey. On a couple of points, my partner (who also sat in on a large part of the discussion), picked up different messages than I did from the same person’s comments. Therefore, I’m not saying my interpretation is the be all and end all to what was discussed, so take this for what it’s worth. An incomplete attempt to understand a concept I do not have personal experience with as a Top; but I do as a person who is very much in control of her own understanding of her wants and needs, if not those of anybody else.
On to the meat of it…
Over the weekend I attended the Los Angeles GRUE. This is my third time attending this annual event, and in many ways it was the best one yet.
I participated in more discussion sessions this time than in hard-skill types of sessions. So, while last year I spent a lot more time in rope than I did this year; this year, I spent a lot more time engaging with people than last time.
And that’s pretty cool.
One of the earlier sessions during the course of the day was a discussion of the vulnerability of dominants. At the top of the discussion the person who’d organized the session asked for people to only speak if they were doing so from the perspective of a Top/Dominant; and to hold off on offering perspectives from the bottom. I completely understood the purpose for that request and myself and may of the other “bottom only” types in the room gave the rest their space to speak.
(Thankfully, after some time had passed, the discussion leader opened up the discussion to everyone in attendance and there were some really great insights brought up by the bottoms in the room who’d remained silent up to that point).
The big takeaways I had from the Tops only portion of the discussion were as follows:
1) A significant portion of the vulnerability a top feels stems from the idea that they find it uncomfortable to express needs. I want to say it was mostly emotional needs, but i think there were physical needs as well that they did not feel comfortable addressing with their bottoms.
2) Another portion of the vulnerability stems from the cognitive dissonance of being a sadist, for example – of recognizing that somewhat frightening part of you that gets off on hurting someone else, and trying to reconcile that enjoyment with what you know to be “right” or “wrong.”
3) This is the part that might have been up to interpretation – what I was hearing was that some of the tops felt like they couldn’t be as open about not “having all the answers” or not “being in complete control” of every situation. They felt the need to hide their vulnerabilities because it weakened them or glaringly exposed their inability to control all things.
A while back I know I wrote something about finding the strength in exposing my vulnerabilities. I can’t find it, though I found bits and pieces in other writings that support that notion. I recall I went on a date quite a while ago, after which I received a text from him that said that something about my vulnerability making him want to jump up and protect me from anything or anybody that may want to hurt me.
He saw my vulnerability as a weakness he wanted to protect and defend. I saw it as a strength that could draw in an army of protectors. And, of course, with great power comes great responsibility; so I mitigated the temptation to take advantage of that power by attempting to solve my own problems before asking for help.
But I also am able to recognize when I do need help to solve a problem, and am quite capable of “exposing my vulnerability” by asking for that help when it’s appropriate.
I don’t believe that makes me weak. I actually thing it is a show of strength that I am capable of opening myself up to rejection by asking for help.
People have needs. Take away the labels of top or bottom or switch or whatever being a “dominant” means to you and you are a person who has needs. The people who love and care about you are invested in helping you get your needs met.
It is very likely that the people who love and care about you are not mind-readers. Some may be highly intuitive and may be able to make you feel like you’re a really good communicator; but in the end – if there is something you need that you’re not getting, one of two things have happened: 1) you are not asking for it, or 2) the person you asking it from doesn’t want to or cannot give it to you.
I feel like this is the part where a few caveats must be explained: 1) the way one interacts with a long-term or intimate partner is different than the way things go down with a play partner or someone in a one-off situation. Most of my examples and analogies are more in line with how I think long-term relationships work, over pick-up play situations. Also, 2) I have a very clear-in-my-head differentiation between a want and a need; so when I say “need” I am talking about things without which a relationship suffers.
So, let’s take the second takeaway as an example…the cognitive dissonance. That thing that makes you feel vulnerable when you admit to yourself that hurting someone else just made you wet.
I don’t experience this. What I know of this feeling is purely through having heard from many people and empathizing with the feelings they have expressed. On more than one occasion, people to whom I’ve bottomed for or submitted to have been the ones to tell me that these feelings exist.
One very specifically told me what he needed from me. He told me he needed me, as the person he just got off on hurting, to absolve him of his guilt by letting him know that I enjoyed it. That I wanted it. To tell him that he was not an evil person for wanting to do this to me nor for enjoying having done it to me.
That was a very vulnerable thing for this very domly dom person to admit to me, and it did not take away from his ability to exert his control over me (when that was our dynamic). In fact, from my point of view, it strengthened his control because he exposed his humanity to me; and I was able to trust more that there would not be unexplained passive aggressive retaliation toward me for his negative feelings because he’d been honest with me about how he processed what he does.
To be honest – what killed that relationship was when he STOPPED being honest with me about his vulnerabilities and he started behaving in passive aggressive, retaliatory, and explosive ways to our disagreements. I lost my ability to trust him with my emotions when I felt like he couldn’t trust me with his anymore.
I don’t think there’s a “solution” to cognitive dissonance. I think the best we can hope for is acceptance and coping. Similarly, I don’t think one needs to “fix” vulnerability. I think the better option is to lean in to it, expose it, and accept the consequences, whether positive or negative.
As a bottom, that’s kind of our jam. When we are hit, it hurts. But for masochists, we’ve found a way to lean into that pain and transform it into something our brains find pleasurable. By virtue of what we do, we place ourselves in vulnerable positions for fun and profit, and we get a ton of enjoyment, catharsis, and in some cases, growth from it.
As a top, you might also be able to harness the power of vulnerability by exposing yourself to the potential to be disappointed, let down, or ….wrong.
The example I gave as a concrete step to take to open oneself up to their vulnerability is something I do all the time and have written about on several occasions. When I am having a negative feeling, I dig down into it until I understand what is causing it. Until I know what it is that I want or need from someone else that I am not getting that is causing this negative reaction. And then, I tell my partner what I want or need from him.
So, I text him and say “I’m feeling kind of down. Can you please say something nice to me?”
I always get a response. The response is never no. Not with this partner. I’ve had two partners in the past that had rejected my request. They are no longer partners.
Let’s say, (and this is another real example), that I’m starting to feel a little down because my partner doesn’t hit the love button on my fet photos very often. I notice he does with his other partners, but not mine and it makes me sad.
What is that really about, because the comparison to his other partners isn’t fair. The reality is that I know he finds me attractive and I don’t need him to hit a button on a photo on social media to know this to be the case. And yet, I’ve gotten into a situation where I’m feeling down because he’s not doing it, and to further the feedback loop, I want him to do it without my having to tell him to.
That’s where you get into that mind-reading thing. If you’re not getting something you want or need out of someone else, the two reasons are that they either don’t know you want it, or don’t want to give it to you.
So, what am I doing by not telling him what I want? I’m trying to hide from him that something hurts because I want him to intuitively know that it hurts and fix it without my having to tell him. He doesn’t, ’cause he’s not a mind reader, and I just keep on being butthurt because there’s no resolution to this problem through the power of magic.
There is, however, a resolution through the power of communication.
Now, if you think that it’s easy to tell your partner you want public validation of his attraction to you, believe me, it’s not. I processed this shit in the poly chat group for days before I felt comfortable bringing it up with him directly. It was really hard to admit that I wanted this from him; but there was no solution to the problem that didn’t involve my directly telling him so.
Guess what he did?
He loved a couple of my pictures.
And every once in a while, when he does do this without my having to remind him that I want it, it feels really good.
Does that mean I’ve never had to bring it up again? Naah. This comes up. It is what it is. It never means he doesn’t love me or that I don’t make his dick hard. It means that there’s a part of me that wants the public validation of that fact once in a while. By exposing that truth, I took away its power to make me sad.
That’s not a top/bottom thing. This could easily have gone the other way. I might be a top who wants her bottom to like my pictures once in a while and not want to have to order them to do it. I might let it make me feel sad, or become passive aggressive in my behavior toward them because I think that by saying “I want your feedback when I post sexy pictures” means that the feedback isn’t genuine.
At the root of this example is the knowledge that my fear doesn’t stem from any ideation that he’s not attracted to me; but from a place of feeling like he doesn’t want to publicly acknowledge my place in his life. Again – that’s not a top/bottom thing. That’s a relationship thing, and more specifically, that’s a phi thing.
So, something to think about – if you struggle with exposing your vulnerability; start small. Start by not expecting your partner to read your mind when something is nagging at you. Start by figuring out what behavior you want from them, and ask them for it.
Another, much less exposing example is the difference between saying “Brrr….I’m cold.” and “Darling, can I borrow your sweater?” If you’re not getting what you want from your partner by announcing that you feel cold; then follow up with the direct ask. And if your partner says no, then …well, now you know what kind of person they are.
I think that’s all I have for now. I mean, there is so much more but those were the main points of what I wanted to accomplish with this writing. I welcome any continued discussion that comes out of this, though I can’t promise to be very participatory in it until I get home in a few hours.
If you ever have an opportunity and the means to attend a GRUE in your local area…
I highly recommend it. For reals, yo.
Oh, and one last thing. In my search for whatever writing I’d done in the past that had to do with vulnerability, I came across this bit of erotica I’d written a while back. I think it’s a subtle portrayal of how the Top/Sadist/Dominant’s attempts to hide or mitigate his vulnerabilities served only to delay the gratification of a truly deep and personal connection with a potential partner.