Bottoms Up: Did My Feminist Ancestors Burn Their Bras For This?

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I’ve tried everything to manage my meds: alarms on my phone, a picture of Zoe Saldana on my bathroom mirror with a reminder, my planner’s habit tracker, a note on the back of my front door that I see before I leave the house every morning. Like clockwork, I take them, I start to “feel better,” and I fall off the wagon. The thing that’s actually helped me stay on it? Kink.

When L and I are together in the mornings, she watches me take my meds. When we aren’t, I send her a picture. I want to take my meds, but more compelling to me than that, I want to be good for L. Since we started to include me taking my meds as part of our protocols, I’ve been consistently medicated for longer than I’ve been in years.

My coping mechanisms are also healthier. I have to communicate how I’m feeling, and we have a safeword — “yellow” — for when I need some time to organize what’s going on inside of my brain before I can talk about it. (L checks in on my after an hour.) It’s hard for me to say, “I’m hurting, please help me,” to anyone who isn’t my therapist, even to someone who I know cares about me a great deal, but now I’ve found a way to do just that.

I’m anxious about money, afraid to save or spend, afraid I have simultaneously too much or too little. My capitalism-induced fear can take over my life if given a chance. L and I set a budget together every week, and if I don’t follow it, all of my cards get locked away in my safe for a predetermined period of time. I discuss decisions with her before I make them, though only I have control over my accounts. Now, I spend money with less anxiety.

When I start to pluck my eyebrows (a terrible stress habit), L firmly takes my hand, and reminds me that this isn’t one of our pre-approved coping methods, and gives me the opportunity to talk about how I’m feeling, use my safeword or go to bed.

A lot of the protocols between L and I are centered around the sexual side of kink, but a lot of it also centers around helping me form good everyday habits. These protocols didn’t happen overnight. Just like we’ve dedicated time to sitting down and talking about our sexual relationship, we’ve dedicated time to sitting down and talking about our non-sexual relationship. Before one conversation, I’d read a piece of D/s erotica about a lesbian couple that agreed that the dominant partner should have some control over the submissive partner’s life in non-sexual ways that mirrored things I wanted in my life. I mentioned them to L, and it felt like I was saying that I wasn’t a feminist anymore. I’ve worked hard to hold onto my independence, and here I was giving it up — to someone more dominant and more masculine. My feminist ancestors didn’t burn their bras for this. Except what if they did?

What made that conversation work, and what makes our protocols work as we continue to negotiate and change them as needed, is that I felt and still feel like I have an important voice in our relationship. Our kinky butch/femme relationship doesn’t mimic traditional heterosexuality. We are both here because we want to be, and we create or take or leave interactions and power exchanges and ways of moving through the world because we want to, not because it’s compulsory. L isn’t in charge because of divine right, L is in charge because I asked her to be. I’m the child of an abusive marriage, so I know what it looks like when a woman changes her behavior because she fears her partner. It doesn’t look like this.

Instead, our dynamic is strict, firm and consistent. It’s everything I want from a dominant. It makes me feel calm.

It’s hard to feel calm when your brain is busy remembering that time you screwed up in seventh grade. It’s even harder to want to be accountable to yourself when your brain is telling you that you’re useless because of that screw up. I have coping skills for these feelings and thoughts: journaling, exercise, coloring books, and mindfulness are a few of them. It’s not that I don’t use these coping skills because of my kinky relationship, it’s just that kink has made it easier for me to want to cope.

Before this arrangement, I still had these skills, but I used them a lot less. I cared about being well enough. I’d use the skills to stop a panic attack in the middle of the grocery store, but would call myself mean names all the way home. With kink, I just want to serve well. It’s a way for me to trick myself, like putting kale into a smoothie. I’m here for the kinky fun, but if it comes with a side of mental wellness, all the better!

All of this essentially equals that extra push when I don’t want to take care of myself for myself. Sometimes I’m tempted to skip therapy or my meds or go on an internet spending spree when I’m feeling sad, but I want to be the best submissive to L. That means that when I can’t do things that are good for me for me, I do them for her; and in doing these things for her, I help myself, and I help us grow as a couple.

Western culture and capitalism have overemphasized the role of independence in our societies. Independence is not the sign of a life lived successfully. Especially mine. I am submissive because to a degree, I thrive on being dependent on others. That is work. But that work has been fulfilling. When I was independent by necessity, I felt like I was always faking it. But now there’s someone standing next to me when I want and need her to be, and it feels easier to step out on my own.

Alaina is a 20-something working on a PhD in Performance as Public Practice. They are a mom to three cats, they listen to a lot of NPR and musicals, and they spend a lot of time on Pinterest lusting over studio apartments. They are actively trying to build A Brand on twitter @alainamonts. One day, they will be First Lady of the United States.

Al(aina) has written 267 articles for us.

21 Comments

  1. Loved this. When you’ve been working at being independent and looking after yourself your whole damn life, it gets tiring, and it feels so good to have someone take over a bit and tell you what to do. And while I still highly value my independence, I’m realising more and more this is just one, Western way of being in the world.

  2. thank you so much for writing this…tbh i would love more on the independence/capitalism thing (and how it intersects with western psychiatry), even if it’s not part of this particular series. i’ve thought about it a lot but would love to hear what you and other AS writers have to say about it.

  3. This really opened my eyes, thank you! I had never thought about independence as something that you could also freely choose not to engage in. Gives me something to think about! I think the best relationships are the ones that somehow inspire you to improve yourself in some way, which it sounds like you really have!

  4. Great peice, both beautifully written and personal but also full of interesting ideas to mull over.
    While personal independence is arguably a pan-western cultural goal, (as an outside observer) I think US-Americans take individualism and individual rights etc another level than we Europeans. Eg, it’s almost universally accepted that our societal right to live free from gun violence trumps our individual right to own firearms. Or (while noone likes to pay tax and may quibble with small adjustments) we generally accept that our taxes are in a certain ballpark because we expect state provided/regulated health care and other government services.
    I dont know if this sounds off topic, I guess what I’m trying to say is that outside the USA its not such a foreign concept that voluntarily submitting yourself to a larger entity, be it a partnership or larger group, and forgoing individual freedoms can lead to better outcomes for you and everyone else.
    The other thing this made me think of is the idea that just because you ‘can’ do something, doesnt mean you need to actually do it in order to prove something. Like in an Atticus Finch – dont shoot something for the sake of it – type way. Just because you can be independent if you want to, doesnt mean you have to choose to do live like that on a day to day basis just to prove you can. It shows strength of character and conviction that you dont have to necessarily exercise that freedom to know its still there.

    • Culture in the U.S. can certainly be toxic regarding independence, but in some cases it may also be a bitter necessity. I survived abusive parents, a previously abusive marriage, and a great deal more through an ability to be independent, even if it meant homelessness. I always reached out to anyone who would help me, but I maintain that fear of losing my independence to this day, because I associate it with personal survival.

  5. Our feminist ancestors burned their bras so we would have a *choice.* If we all expected each other to be independent and self sufficient, is that really better than men expecting us not to be? I mean maybe, but it’s just a different box.

    True feminism empowers us all to choose the lives we want. This is your choice – and it’s fucking beautiful. Our bra-burning ancestors should be proud.

    • Yes, I agree. I was trying to articulate this in less than a huge essay… but for me our feminist ancestors didn’t give us independence, they gave us equality – equality at law, equality in wages (well in theory) and equality of opportunity. That last one translates into the right to choose how we want to live.

      If that’s our free choice to give up power to another so we both have a better relationship and life (which is how I live) then that’s good for us. If it’s to have another give us power (which is how Mistress lives) then good for her (and me too). If it’s to live a kink free life in an equal relationship in work and at home with another, then good for them too.

      Hopefully they’re all proud of the fact we can this conversation and live the lives that make us strong and proud and happy.

  6. My partner and I are gonna try a code-word for needing time to unpack some feelings! Such a good idea, not even in a D/s context, just to let a partner know that you need a little bit of time and then you can do all the lesbian processing in the world.

  7. Alaina I love all of your articles! Can you write something about aftercare? It’s something that I definitely struggle with. Asking for what I need is hard but I’m finding that it’s actually harder for me to figure out what it is that I need in the first place.

  8. Every time I read your articles I am instantly reminded of our first camp together where we realized all of our similarities, and I am also reminded of how incredible a writer and person you are. Thank you.

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