Autostraddle Strap Week 2021 – All Images by Demetria.
I was destined to be a pervert.
I grew up in that sweet spot of time between early-days Millennial internet and Gen Z digital wasteland. As a kid, I searched YouTube for “Girls Kissing” and bookmarked every video of women spitting in each others’ mouths I could find. As a tween, I watched reruns of Futurama and had unexplainable fantasies about Leela putting me in a chokehold and as a high schooler, I logged insane hours scrolling through GIFs during the Golden Age of Tumblr Porn. With 100% unsupervised access to the internet, I consumed an inordinate amount of porn, fanfiction, erotic art, and borderline-NSFW Instagram model posts.
Alongside my salacious internet activities, I was a pathological people-pleaser. In middle school, I started feeling increasingly different than my peers, which I can now identify as being deeply closeted. Around that time, too, my parents went through a messy and angry divorce. I made it my mission to excel in school, keep my parents happy, and appear as functional as possible—all at the expense of my identity and mental health. What do you get when you put together an insatiable appetite for hardcore porn and an ingrained desire to please? An extremely perverted, service-oriented leatherdyke.
I started having kinky sex at age 22. I learned that consistent with the experiences of my youth, I don’t have a bratty bone in my body and I really like when girls spit in my mouth. Service naturally became a huge kink of mine, from domestic servitude to leather care to body worship. In real life, my people-pleasing habits lead to overexertion and poor interpersonal boundaries that blew up in my face, but being a service-oriented sub allows me to act on these impulses in a space where I know exactly how I’ll be rewarded instead of being hurt by the outcome. Oftentimes, that reward looked like performing an act of service and being mercilessly fucked with the strap afterward. Strap-on sex where I was on the receiving end made sense to me both as a reward and as my role as a submissive bottom. Bottoms bottom. Bottoms don’t top. That was how I understood strap-on sex.
This oversimplification really limited my understanding of submission and bottoming, especially when it came to penetration. Based on what I saw in the BDSM community, in porn, and on wildly out-of-date kink forums, I had a narrow idea of what a submissive bottom is or does. Chief among the list of don’ts: bottoms don’t penetrate. I had seen the term “Service Top” thrown around and thought it was just a long-winded way of describing someone as a top, period, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to start “topping from the bottom.” I was comfortable with someone’s foot jammed in my mouth, but was apprehensive about using a strap-on on a play partner out of fear that it would somehow taint my identity as a bottom. There was no fear or trauma around the act of strapping, just a desire to be a leather bottom in what I thought was the right way.
I had fallen into the trap of conflating topping with dominating and bottoming with submitting. Top and bottom refer to physical acts; domination and submission describe a power dynamic. The physical acts you perform don’t dictate your place in a BDSM relationship. You can fist your Dom, you can have your sub fuck you—it’s more a question of who’s in control. Like Anita Phillips says in A Defence of Masochism, “Enjoying being sexually dominated does not preclude you from also taking pleasure in all kinds of other sexual possibilities.” That was a big lesson I had yet to learn. The role I played in an S/M dynamic was as restricting as it was liberating, even though at the time I felt like I had no growing left to do. I thought I could predict the desires of my dominant partners simply based on the labels we identified with.
When my most recent Dom expressed an interest in me using a strap-on to fuck her, I was of two minds. At first, I jumped at the idea of giving her what she wanted, but I had internalized my role as a bottom so much that it almost felt like a strange thing to ask of me. In my judgier moments, I questioned my Dom for wanting to bottom in the first place when that was my thing, my role. Of all the kinky shit I’ve done, the idea of using a strap for the first time brought me back to the scared, toxically people-pleasing part of myself. I wanted to do this for her, but I didn’t want to sacrifice my S/M identity.
Was this really something that felt safe to explore, or was I doing it for a perceived reward? I had blinders on, viewing myself as either strictly a submissive bottom or strictly a dominant top with no room for exploration, play or nuance. But our Dom/sub relationship created a safety net for me. I didn’t have to be beholden to something just because I agreed to it, I could give it a good-faith try and so we went for it. We negotiated a scene where I would fuck her with a strap-on as an act of service. I didn’t have to commit to something I didn’t enjoy in an unspoken attempt to earn someone’s respect or affection. There was already respect there and I had nothing to prove.
I was terrible at using a strap-on and felt like an inexperienced teenager, never quite able to keep the dildo attached to its harness. Fumbling my way through most of it, I found that that was the fun of it all. There were no expectations for me to be an incredible, brutal, skillful Dom top, just the parameters of the scene. I was doing something out of my comfort zone to service my Dom. I got out of my head, eschewing the definitions of bottom or submissive I was desperately clinging onto out of fear—fear of being misidentified and fear of losing an identity that had become so meaningful to me. It didn’t matter that in that moment, my submission looked far different than it ever did; I was secure in my identity. I discovered a dynamic and a sex act I actually enjoyed, despite being embarrassed about my ineptitude (but let’s be real, the embarrassment was hot, too). Above all, I was happy to please.
I now understand the magnitude of my perversion in ways that I could have never predicted as a curious kid or a newbie submissive. I still love service, but strapping for the first time expanded my very definition of the word. My close-minded view of an S/M bottom’s role wasn’t doing myself or my partners any favors; I was missing out on a vast world of pleasure. My identity as a bottom and a leatherdyke is ever-shifting, the way it has since I was a young person with a desire to explore the dark, sensual, complicated parts of myself. For me, it’s no longer as simple as “bottoms bottom.” No matter what my submission might look like these days—whether I’m strapped up or on the receiving end—I can embrace what I’ve loved about BDSM from the beginning: the fulfillment, the joy, the freedom.
🙌🏻 This was an excellent read! So stoked to see kink stuff making a return to autostraddle.
Although I identify more closely as a service otter, this has given me much food for thought.
Love this! Question for fellow kinky folk: When I hear “strap” I think “spanking implement” rather than “penetrative toy” (which, to me, is a strap-on). Does anyone else have this occasional confusion?
I felt exactly the same! I’m assuming this is a common shortening of the word, but not one I’d heard before.
Strap-ons are often referred to as “Straps” when using AAVE in many queer Black & POC circles :)
As it pertains to this instance tho’ — This series was created by A Black person, and many pieces in the series are written by Black folks. They may or may not have AAVE in them and I as the editor am happy to do the work of breaking down terms that may not be familiar to some of the audience — just drop a comment and I will help out!
Thanks for reading y’all!
I hadn’t heard “strap” used as a shorthand for strap-ons until recently online and I assumed it was a generational thing. Thanks for informing us!
ahh! thank you for this comment, Shelli! I had not realised this.
This was excellent, thank you! Aside from the much-needed conversation about the distinction between top/bottom and dom/sub and excellent presentation of your personal experience and lovely writing, one detail I appreciated was that your discomfort with the idea of topping wasn’t about trauma or bad experiences, just discomfort (and a less-complete understanding than what you have now). I think it’s good to be reminded from time to time that trauma doesn’t have to be present to not want something/be uncomfortable/still have internalized a less-than-ideal mindset around something. I find I can forget that sometimes