Labels: A Disposition, or State of Being?
By Mr. Michael
Our communities have a unique lexicon of terms that, at first glance, seems very descriptive of various power-orientations, relationship dynamics, kink interests, and personal proclivities. Other times, the way we use our terms can be misconstrued or have a vagueness that is not as concise as they could be.
The language we use helps us not just to find suitable mates or play partners that will be compatible with us, but useful in finding so many worthwhile relationships amongst all the people in our community.
If someone were to describe themselves to you as a "leather daddy," most of us would probably have very similar assumptions of their disposition and preferred mode of relationships than if they described themselves as a "kinkster" or as a "top." The language we use helps us not just to find suitable mates or play partners that will be compatible with us, but useful in finding so many worthwhile relationships amongst all the people in our community. The consideration for our labels I wish to inspire is not just an exercise in semantics, but an effort to more effectively hone our tools of language to better communicate concepts and our dispositions to each other.
Let's touch upon the philosophies that some hold about certain labels and whether they describe your disposition or your current state of being. Some people opine that a term such as "poly" (short for polyamorous) is descriptive of their disposition, in that they are potentially open to multiple love and sex relationships. This same philosophy can also be applied to other terms such as gay, bisexual, straight, asexual, master, slave, dominant, submissive, top, bottom, and switch. Their opinion is that you do not need to have been in or be in a gay relationship to be a gay person, nor do you need to be owned by a Master in order to be a slave.
...it is my experience that most people subscribe to the former philosophy that those labels more accurately describe your disposition or potential rather than your current state...
On the other hand, there are those who believe that those terms are descriptive of our state of being. For instance, they would not refer to someone as poly unless they have love or sex relationships with more than one person at the current time. Similarly, they would not refer to someone as a master unless they own a slave as their property, and would not refer to someone as bisexual unless they have had sexual encounters or intimate relationships with more than one gender.
In our community, it is my experience that most people subscribe to the former philosophy that those labels more accurately describe your disposition or potential rather than your current state, but let's investigate the latter set of ideas, because I think there are some very valid arguments here.
Many people not only describe themselves as being dominant or submissive, but also being a dominant or a submissive.
There are many relationship terms in more vanilla settings that are only applicable to your state of being. You would not describe yourself as a husband or wife unless you are married, describe yourself as a brother or sister unless you have a sibling, or refer to yourself as a parent unless you have at least one child. These labels are almost absolutely dependent on your current and active relationships. When you divorce or your spouse dies, you are no longer a husband or wife. When you graduate, you are no longer a student, and when you are married, you are no longer a bachelor or bachelorette. Why wouldn't describing yourself as a master be dependent on having ownership of a slave, or using a label such as "poly" be dependent on having current multiple love or sex relationships?
I recently had a friend tell me that they knew someone who was asexual. To me, the word "asexual" describes a person's disposition, rather than their current status. Are they asexual because they are not having sex with anyone currently? Would they only be asexual if they were not inclined for sex with either gender at any time? Are they asexual if they have had sex with someone before, but are no longer inclined? I'm not asking these questions so that I might propose any sort of answer, but it is relevant to this issue to decide for yourself how the words in our library of terms and labels fit into your own language.
The water gets even murkier when we talk about two specific labels very common to our language that we, somewhat oddly, use both as nouns and adjectives, "dominant" and "submissive." Many people not only describe themselves as being dominant or submissive, but also being a dominant
or a submissive
. Are those words descriptive of one's state of being, one's actions, or both? In common use, they can be either or both. I have heard it said that "I am a slave, but I am not submissive." Doesn't that seem to be some sort of contradiction? Do you not submit, at least to one person? The confusion in the way we each individually use these terms becomes more and more apparent in these instances, because most people do not submit to everyone, nor do they dominate everyone they know. If someone is submissive to one person, does that make them a submissive, or does it also depend on how many relationships they have in which they are dominant or where there is no clear power structure? Would you say they are a switch?
At one time, I felt like I committed a faux pas when I used the term "submissive" when describing a slave. They were quite intent on making sure I knew they were a slave, and not a submissive. I was using the word "submissive" as an adjective in that instance, but I think they thought that I was using it as a noun. How important is it really? Apparently, some slaves don't like to be thought of as being submissive, and probably vice versa.
Fortunately, with all this confusion about the labels we have in our language and the way that we use them, we still seem to be able to agree on some general concepts behind them. Does it really make a difference whether a Master needs to own a slave in order to refer to themselves, or to be referred to by others, a "Master?" I really don't think so. Our community still seems to be able to communicate and get their points across using the fuzzy terms and labels we have. I do think it's something worth thinking about, though, and how we might better use labels to describe ourselves and our interests to each other.