I’d gawked the hell out of her FetLife profile photos: There’s one of her on her knees, arms tied to a spreader bar, and another of her nude on all fours, wearing a plush pair of cat ears and lapping milk out of a bowl — all for the gaze of her Dominant husband.
But when we met, she had me bent over an examination table as she painted my butt red and purple with her artisan tools — the trusty leather flogger, stinging bamboo canes and her favorite wooden paddle.
Driving home in her car, she asked how I felt about BDSM as a feminist. This was not long after showing me her lower back tattoo: “Property of My Husband’s Full Ass Scottish Name,” a permanent devotion to her role as a submissive. Earlier during our scene on the exam table, before she pulled her panties down for the big ink reveal, she had prefaced, “This is a little embarrassing.”
Her lower back is not my jurisdiction, but sitting as her passenger on the other end of her question, I felt the sting of the hot seat against my already-bruised bottom. So there we were, side by side in her Prius, reeling from the joys of consensual, negotiated Dominance and submission and feeling like shitty Asian American feminists for doing so.
She stalled at a fork off the I-80, unsure whether to go left or right. I stalled, too, at her question. I quickly checked Google Maps for the right direction, and it pointed me to your standard argument: submissives have equal power because it’s a two-way street. When a sub says no, the Dom can’t go. But that wasn’t enough. Yes, subs have equal power in any sex act we consent to, but we’re also burdened with defending that power to those outside of Dom-sub relationships — and that burden is one I never agreed to navigate.
What does it mean to be 1) a submissive, 2) an Asian and 3) a woman? It means my vagina wears three different types of oppressed, inferior identities. It means I have to work thrice as hard against stereotypical assumptions I had no say in creating. It means threefold forces working against a people who constantly need to justify their empowerment — a weight those with Dominant identities hardly ever need to carry.
Women already have to combat the anatomical notion that our vaginas simply “take it” — that the penetrative force of the phallus always wins, always gains something we don’t.
As socially conscious Asian Americans, we bear a rickshaw with the docile China doll type in tow. The Asian-female fetish assumes an attractively petite, delicate personage. We’re a natural submissive delicacy, wok-tossed just for the Western plate. And they feed on us endlessly.
As consenting submissives, we communicate through a physical language of sadism and masochism. Visually mislead, tourists read our language as signs of brainwashed servitude, a dialogue of abuse and a monologue of loud feminist betrayal.
Still stuck at the fork, we are passed by cars on either side. Some honk at our confusion, unforgiving of our hesitancy to do wrong.
Of course, not everyone sees the need to hem and haw over the intersections. And to them, I submit my wholehearted jealousy. Because I can’t condone race fetish as “just a preference” without hearing the same “it’s a compliment” bullshit used to justify catcalling. And as long as there are people “preferring” me for my race, there are people who think the worth of a submissive-Asian-female identity weighs on their approval.
I get lost in my anxiety as a Chinese American, BDSM-practicing feminist. Like my tattooed friend, I often feel guilty for entertaining this type of sex, bearing the risk of perpetuating threefold stereotypes. But I traced the breadcrumbs and found the origin of this guilt. It’s not from my desire to receive Dominance or deliver submission, but from foreign, outside judgement.
I’ve experienced a handful of good Doms, but Judgement was never one of them. Judgement wrote me off as naturally weak, demanding I accommodate its opinion on my identity. But Judgement forgot that my power isn’t only in a safe word. It’s in the ability to choose. Judgement forgot that choosing a role in the bedroom is a means to my end first and its end last.
We chose right that night. We stopped fumbling with directions, winded down Martin Luther King Jr. Way, up Adeline Street and straight through the green lights of Shattuck Avenue, the familiar streets more forgiving than the zipping freeway.
I know how I feel about BDSM as a feminist. Safety, sanity and consent permitting, I feel everyone should identify however he or she pleases, and anyone distracted by how those identities come across should ask for directions.
When she pulled up to my apartment, she fiddled her phone again to figure out a way back to her own home in Hayward. I thanked her for the ride.
We both agreed it wasn’t entirely up to us to map this out. As much as we’d like to get to a place in this world where everyone is understanding of complex sexualities, it falls on the judgmental to meet us there.
My question, then, is age old: Are we there yet?
Jennifer Wong writes the weekly Sex on Tuesday column. You can contact her at [email protected].