It’s always a pleasure to hang out with my friend, D. L. King. Not only because she’s a raconteur, a polymath and a fellow ink-stained wretch, but because as another editor, we share the joys and frustrations in the world of author wrangling. (Otherwise known as making anthologies.)
It’s an honor to be asked to introduce any book; it’s kind of like being a godparent or sponsor for a kinky club, whichever seems more suitable. But I love that King invited me in for this one. Because…I have feelings about domination.
And I got to write about them.
From the introduction to The Big Book of Domination, edited by D. L. King
Dominate is a verb.
I have pronounced this line over a hundred times, maybe a thousand times.
And it’s not just because of the thousands of morons out there who helpfully alert smart users of dating websites with clever, well written ads like this:
Tall, handsome dominate with big dick seeks willing slave.
Or: KNEEL b4 this DOMINATE bitch and beg for MERCY!
Or: Seeking dominate goddess to force me to do these specific things until I’m done.
No, the confusion of “dominant” and “dominate” in text is merely a failure of literacy and attention span. Besides, it really does help weed out the people who can’t read well or who don’t care enough to proof their own invitation to the dating community.
What makes me stand up in front of thousands of kinky people all over the world, in small classes and at weekend conferences and remind them that “to dominate is a verb” is because there are a lot of myths about dominance â and the people who practice it â and the worst one of all is that merely by saying you’re dominant, submissives of all sorts will sway gently in your awesome presence, bend themselves to your willâ¦
And then, after some kinky sex, they’ll do your dishes, perform erotic dances, clean your bathroom, feed you breakfast in bed while dressed in alluring costumes, file your taxes, polish your boots in a leather bar and design your Etsy webpage for greater visibility. All without a single additional gesture from you, the beloved and submission-inspiring dominate.
Well, I have to call such a person something. And it sure isn’t “dominant.”
In actuality, to dominate requires activity. Ongoing focus, work, attention to detail, imagination. It also requires a high level of empathy, flexibility, a complete understanding of boundaries and limits and at the same time the ability to become distant, a certain rigidity, a willingness to take risks and the guts to accept responsibility when the risk doesn’t pay off. It’s not easy or simple, and it sure as hell isn’t something practiced by acting passive while someone else does all the relationship heavy lifting.
Plus, you have to actually inspire those submissive reactions. Some lucky people get a gorgeous physical form with which to attract their potential prey. And that’s all well and good, until they open their mouths or do anything. At that point, the shortest, most unassuming guy at the bar can out-dom the studliest stud there with just a well turned phrase or the whispered command given at just the right moment. That skinny lady who peers at you over the edge of her glasses might have all the power and romance anyone might yearn to beg for in the topmost layers of her creative and engaging fantasies, while the buxom, corseted and spike-heeled cover model believes making the right fashion choices are the hardest decisions she needs to make all day.
Then there are the mysteries of what it means exactly to be a dominant person, a dominant partner, a dominant lover. Does it mean someone who must be in charge of all the things, all the time? Does getting what you want make you sexy and demanding, or whiny and manipulative? Does it mean a partner who uses every item in a well-stocked dungeon, working their way into heat exhaustion with endless floggings, intricate bondage, fiendish devices and elaborate fantasy scenarios? Does the one who stretches back comfortably and purrs, “Please me,” also fall under this umbrella term? And what if pleasing them includes beating or otherwise performing acts one might confuse with “dominance?” What if their power ebbs and flows?
The misunderstandings of how these complex power dynamics work leak from real life into fiction and back again with disturbing regularity. Readers of hot, steamy volumes like this one venture forth onto websites with predictably kinky names, seeking living avatars of their heroes and heroines in the stories. Real folk hold their own adventures up to the impossible world of romance novels and think the real reason they’re not making things work is because they lack a twenty-room mansion, a staff of liveried servants, a dungeon of their own.
And we writersâ¦ahh, well. We have our own St. Andrews cross to bear. Because we supply the impossibly good looking characters and well-appointed play spaces and improbable coincidences. And while some excesses may be forgiven in the name of Making Shit Up because That’s What Fiction Is, there are some crimes against both the tales and the readers which cannot be forgiven.
And one of those is how badly the poor dominants can be portrayed.
Because of the limit of space and word count, it’s not always possible to show just how Mistress Malicious and Lord Larry earned the supplicating worship of Slave Salacious and Boy Baxter. But with no clue as to their worthiness, their dominance becomes a magical thing, given for seemingly no reason at all â aside from stunning good looks and an assortment of props and costumes. When they act, it appears to be by complete fiat, with no rhyme or reason; they are cruel and oddly thoughtless, selfish andâ¦bland. Dominance becomes a state of being with no effort from the top. They’re not performing dominance; they are standing in for it. They’re not sadistic; they’re assholes.
Then there’s the opposite situation. Drama often depends upon conflict. Conflict within a dominant and submissive world tends to be naughty behavior â or presumed naughty behavior â the dominant must than provide suitably dramatic punishment for. So now, dominance becomes equated with punishment, or worse, unfair punishment, over dramatized for humorous or melodramatic effect. Even bigger assholes.
And then there are the magical tops. You know them. They have it all. Good looks, pinpoint accuracy, talent with the most esoteric kinky skills, and they can read minds. How do you know? Because they mysteriously understand exactly what will work, exactly how far to push, exactly what words to say to make their lucky victims tremble, hiss, whimper, melt, and drip with assorted bodily fluids. They never make a mistake, and they’re never wrong and they probably ALL fly their own helicopters. You read them and simultaneously want to be/be with them, and think they’re annoying as hell in their unreality.
I’ve done all those things in my writing. And you will find hints of them right here, as well.
But what you won’t find are a tag-team of unimaginative, by-the-book, stand-and-model, inhumanly smart, precognitive cut-out characters standing strong for submissive feelings (and bodies) to be thrown against.
Oh, no. Here be dominants. Because not only do they inspire submission â and yes, some by beauty and style â but they also inspire jealousy. Or, they feel it! Deliciously, they feel it and let it wash over them because they have the power to do something about that pesky little feeling. And having the power is only step one. Figuring out how to use it and to what end is the real trick…
There’s a bit more, mostly about the actual book. You should get a copy. And perhaps buy one for that poor dominate you know. Why knows? Maybe they’ll pick up some tips.
Laura Antoniou (born 1963) is an American novelist. She is the author of The Marketplace series of BDSM-themed novels.
Antoniou is also known for her work as an editor and pioneer on the field of contemporary erotic fiction and in particular as editor of lesbian erotica anthologies including the three volume Leather Women series, Some Women, By Her Subdued, No Other Tribute, and a collection of her own short stories and essays titled The Catalyst and Other Works.
-The John Preston Short Fiction award from the National Leather Association for her short story "That's Harsh," published in the e-book edition of The Slave.
-2011 NLA Lifetime Achievement Award