I’ve never agreed with the idea that some individuals implicitly deserve an elevated level of respect across the board. We all have different values and their importance to us varies as staunchly as their nature; to expect a person to turn a blind eye to behavior that contradicts their more significant values is neither fair nor reasonable. Since much of kink is based on experience - with most activities demanding it to be competent - there tends to be an unfortunate conflation of being experienced and being more deserving of respect. Everyone deserves respect, and that includes respecting their dissent about an individual’s esteem - at least long enough to assess its validity.
One of the most significant pillars of the BDSM community is an emphasis on players in an active role experiencing what they will subject their passive partners to. Whether it’s a specific implement, method of inducing pain, level of restraint, etc, there is a pretty strong consensus that it is the correct way to handle training a new Dom. The idea is that you shouldn’t do something to a person that you haven’t had done to yourself, both to ensure that you understand logistically what it feels like and to instill a degree of reverence for what is being done. It’s a sentiment that comes from a very well-intentioned place, but it has some side-effects that I take serious issue with. For starters, this ideology is overwhelmingly applied exclusively to physical actions. In this way, leather got it right; you have to be a boy to become a proper Sir, not just experience a series of things being done to you. Not only does this give insight into how specific protocols could impact you mentally, it also shows the work it takes to allow yourself to enter that mentality. Unfortunately, as the fetish community has grown and the leather community has a shrinking piece of that pie, some of the nuanced reasoning behind these things is lost on people who may be less educated about kink. What this does is enables those who only engaged in the physical aspects of submission to hold themselves in the same regard as those who have experienced submission as it relates to dynamics. Needless to say this is a baseless ego boost, and it leads to a sort of entitled Dom that denigrates subs because they can’t understand the strength lifestyle-oriented submission demands. These are the same Doms that are likely to deem the experience of submissives as less valuable to the point of discounting them. While this model creates respect towards submission for those within the community that wish to become a Sir, to those not involved in the culture to the same degree it instead serves to erode the legitimacy of submission by establishing a higher standard for only one half of the dichotomy.
If we look at respect conceptually, it’s primarily based off of things like competency, experience, and accomplishments. This is a nearly universal concept regardless of community, and it’s the lens through which people see respect; when greater respect is given it is presumed that some of these qualifiers have been met and vice versa. What this means is that when someone not associated with the leather community sees this imbalanced level of respect, it is fair for them to presume that being a sub is less demanding and requires less aplomb because the role appears to garner less respect. I want to emphasise again that this is by no means their fault; it’s a fair and logical conclusion based on how respect normally functions. As the BDSM community continues to expand, this disconnect will only grow more and more prevalent due to the influx of new people unaware of how these roles function.
I have a lot of reverence for the level of tradition and protocol the leather community has to offer - and the quality of Sirs it is capable of producing - but I have always had a very averse reaction to anything that tries to dictate my identity. Similarly, I also try to be very respectful of how people identify and make deliberate efforts to never tell someone part of their identity is invalid. Naturally, staunch rules like requiring someone who identifies as dominant to undergo training as a submissive flies in the face of those efforts. Compounding these identity issues with the side-effect it has on how subs are viewed by newcomers, I can’t bring myself to participate in a system that would diminish those who don’t follow a certain path; the proof is in the pudding, not the recipe.
Despite how much I appreciate the sentiment behind leather’s approach to cultivating Doms, I think it is based on an overestimation of how relatable or translatable experiences are. When you over-emphasize the value of how you experienced something, it downplays how unique every person’s experiences are; nothing in your history will help you understand what a boy is feeling as you accidentally dig up a buried childhood memory, or the fear a boy feels as you stumble upon a phobia even he was unaware of. The ability to understand what someone else is going through does not come from having experienced it yourself, but rather respecting that you couldn’t possibly understand it yourself. To put it more productively, the first thing on a Dom’s mind should not be looking to his own experiences, it should be making 100% sure he is being receptive to everything his boy is communicating.
As we consider ensuring the healthy growth of the community and empowering a new wave of both Doms and subs, our focus should instead be on encouraging a universal standard of respect: identity, experiences, preferences, and negotiated consent should all be honored, immutably. When we have a paradigm that enables discrediting one’s experiences based on their methodology, we’ve already torn down one of these pillars and replaced it with an emphasis on esteem. The reason these particular pillars should be immutable is that they relate to an individual’s dynamics with specific individuals, which is no one’s business but those involved. No one should be obligated to bow to a part of someone’s identity that is irrelevant to them, and adults should be mature enough to understand that a person’s dynamics with others does not necessarily impact their own. Two play partners should be able to switch as they see fit without it altering their dynamic and, inversely, a sub locked into an exclusively submissive dynamic should be able to feel the Dom’s control even if someone has him in layers of rope and hoods. Let people hash out their own dynamics and they will continually strengthen them in whatever ways they feel are healthy for those involved
If we can encourage respecting others’ dynamics as described above, we reduce things like kink-shaming and end up creating an environment that is conducive to exploration. It empowers people not only to trust their own experiences, but to feel that they are in control of what happens between them instead of feeling obligated to proceed a certain way. What’s more is it doesn’t preclude people having very rigid dynamics, it simply empowers everyone involved to make their own decisions free of judgment.