I’m a Submissive Brat and No, That’s Not a Contradiction

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a brat. When I was young, toddler-age, it was seen as an adorable quirk. Who knew such a little girl could be so stubborn and strong-willed? As I got older, I noticed a shift in tone when they called me a brat. It was often accompanied by accusations of being bossy, a drama queen, and — as I approached adolescence — a bitch. Over time I learned to read between the lines of these words. I realized that bossy was just another word for assertive, drama queen a sneaky way to repress my emotions, and bitch an attempt to make me feel small. Instead of growing out of my brattiness as my mother had always hoped I would, I decided to own it instead.

That’s not to say that I throw a tantrum when I don’t get my way or am incapable of discussing matters like an adult. I like to think of myself as more mischievous and sassy than outright rude or immature. In my day-to-day life my brattiness shows up as snark and a tendency to play devil’s advocate. It wasn’t until I entered the BDSM scene five years ago that I learned to express it in new and unexpected ways.

I’ve always gravitated to power exchange dynamics in my relationships, even before I had a language for it. My favorite fantasies involved punishment and I enjoyed egging my partner on. I craved that push and pull for control, and the vulnerability of relinquishing to my partner.

I was first introduced to the concept of brattiness in BDSM by my friend Brandon. He was working for a sex therapist and lived in a downtown warehouse with the rest of her crew. On Friday nights she hosted a radio show and he’d often invite me to attend as his guest. I was still too shy to participate at that point, but through observation I was introduced to the limitless options outside of a monogamous, vanilla lifestyle.

I realized that I wanted to be able to express my brattiness more freely in my relationships, and began looking for open-minded partners to safely explore my fantasies with. I wasn’t having much luck meeting people “the old fashioned way” and found that many of the people I did meet either had no interest in kink or saw my inexperience as an invitation to take advantage. It was around that time that I discovered Fetlife.

Fetlife is a social network for people interested or active in kink and BDSM. Membership is free, and members range from folks who live the lifestyle 24/7 to those who are just dipping their toes in. I’d spend hours reading other users’ journal entries and lurking in the various forums. I joined a group for newbies and began taking note of the more persistent advice. I attended local munches, which are basically low-pressure get togethers that are an easy way to get to know people who have similar interests without showing all of your cards right away.

As I made friends in the community, I became aware of the ever-expanding list of identities one could claim. Mary Jane (names have been changed) referred to herself as a babygirl sadist, meaning she indulged her childish side with stuffed animals and brightly colored barrettes, but enjoyed causing pain in her scenes. Pixie identified as a feral lesbian princess. I met a lot of people like them, who proudly touted seemingly contradictory labels.

For Anna, another self-identified brat, this plethora of options allowed her to find her place in BDSM. “I started out identifying as a submissive, but I was always so frustrated in scenes!” she told me. “I started to think that maybe I was a dominant, but I eventually got bored with that, too. It wasn’t until later on that I realized submission doesn’t have to be one-size-fits-all.”

I place myself towards the bottom of the power exchange spectrum. Most of the time I prefer to be in the submissive role, but I’ve been known to switch from time to time. While I enjoy a certain amount of protocol in my relationships, I’ve learned that I need a dominant who can anticipate my tendency to bend the rules, and give clear instructions that can’t be misinterpreted. It’s that extra effort that makes it feel safe for me to ultimately submit. If I can find loopholes in their protocol, it makes me feel insecure, like they haven’t thought it through. Bratting allows me to exploit these oversights in a fun and playful way, and challenges my dominant to stay one step ahead.

To some, dealing with a brat is a chore they’d rather avoid. I’ve been told by others in the kink community that I’m not a “true submissive,” and that I’m “topping from the bottom” or overstepping my role in a scene. What they don’t see are the constant behind-the-scenes negotiations between my partner and I to make sure that our scenes honor, and never diminish, our individual roles.

As another bottom-leaning brat named Sabrina told me, “Being a brat doesn’t mean I want to secretly be in control. It means that I want a Dom who can push me into submission. If I can control him just by being bratty, then I question his ability to push me and take care of me. If I can easily have him in the palm of my hand, then I don’t feel like a sub.”

In truth, being a brat makes me feel more in touch with my submission, and wrangling a brat strengthens my partner’s sense of dominance. I know that they’ll signal immediately if my antics cross over from amusing to annoying.

If I’m honest, it’s a fine line and requires a lot of communication on all ends. Dominants are people too, and just like everyone else, their patience has an end. It’s important to establish limits and be aware of any triggering behaviors that should be avoided. Before a scene, my dominant and I discuss our expectations, our moods, and anything else that might be relevant before we get started. I can tell from a look when they are not in the mood for my shenanigans, and they can tell from my tone when I’m legitimately upset versus baiting them. We don’t use spanking as a real punishment in our dynamic, so I know if they give one it’s because they’re participating in the scene, and not out of anger.

I used to think of service-oriented submission as household chores and errands, but lately I’ve begun viewing brattiness as its own kind of service. After all, our “creative disobedience” forces dominants to stay on their toes and is done with the intention of helping them improve their techniques.

In turn, we become better brats. It might not be a straightforward exchange of power, but it’s a dynamic that works for me. It reassures me that it’s okay to exist between labels, to claim contradictions, and exist outside of the box.


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Danielle is an LA-based writer/editor and moonlights as a tarot reader. Her work has appeared in Rogue Magazine, Scripps College Magazine, LA CANVAS, The Africa Channel, Matador Network, Wear Your Voice Mag, and FORM Magazine. She is the founder/organizer of Free the Nipple Yoga, a monthly women's workshop that promotes body positivity and empowerment. You can visit her personal blog at DanielleDorky.com.

Danielle has written 6 articles for us.

15 Comments

  1. Also how did you guys get started with Fetlife? it was recommended to me but I find it overwhelming (in the meantime i’m stuck trying to find the one dominant in my area on OkCupid :/).

    I think part of it is that it all seems already formalised? So many people who identify as doms/tops/masters&mistresses will have this formal way of writing their bio like they’re expecting me to call them Madam or Mistress or Queen right during the first exchange which… I’m so not into. I realise that I’m not interested in exploring the community before I’ve had a chance to explore kink in the bedroom, at least a little. What’s left to me…?

    • I totally get where you’re coming from, it’s hard to know where to start.

      FetLife was intentionally built to NOT be a dating site, but a way for people to socialize and connect. I recommend using it to find events in your area, go to a few different events and see what communities you like and feel safe in, meet people at those events and then ask them if you can friend them on Fet. Many site users are wary of unsolicited messages from people they don’t know.

      And regarding people who expect you to address them in a particular way right off the bat… the people I have connected with in the scene are ones who recognize that D/s power exchange is something that requires trust, communication, and negotiation, and thus don’t expect or even want people to address them with a title or follow any D/s protocol right off the bat. There are lots of people like that out there, even if their profiles are not the most famous/prominent ones.

      • Thank you for this! I haven’t ever been able to get into FetLife. It seems to be full of people failing to understand consent and propagating misogyny and outdated gender roles. Which I realize describes the vast majority of the internet and doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of people working hard to make it into a welcoming and useful community, as evidenced by your thoughtful and useful answer. It just overwhelms me and it’s good to get a perspective from an Autostraddler.

        I’m also super introverted and the idea of going to a munch makes me want to throw up, but one day I really hope to work up the nerve!

        • Best of luck to you! I’ve found that in-person is usually the best way to meet people but of course it depends on what area you live in and what communities and events are available.

          Another option is to join groups on FetLife, they’re basically just online message boards like any other forum, but they’re a good way to start conversation and meet people with similar interests.

  2. Ah Fetlife. The cesspool I love to hate to love. I’m not active in my local scene or anything but I’m still a kinkster. Hit me up if y’all are interested in a non creepy friend who basically only comments in one group. I’m EllesBells over there. (Bossy Wax Top and aspiring rigger is my identifier) I’m not remotely dominant or submissive, just kinky.

  3. Ahhh this article has come at the perfect time for me. I’ve recently realized I’m a brat and I LOVE it. I’m cheeky, I resist, and I make the dominant work to control me…and once they really exert their control I turn in to either sulky because I haven’t got my own way, or really docile, until the end of the scene or until they give me a clear opportunity to be bratty again. I agree that it does make me feel more secure in my dominant’s ability to control me if they maintain hold of the power dynamic.

    This was great thank you 😊 and I like “creative disobedience”! Recently I learned a way to describe brat in Spanish is “sumisa provocadora” which I also love!

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