I paused, my hand on the doorknob. I took a deep breath, turning to rife, and he kissed me. “It can’t be that bad,” he said, then mocked: “I mean, you know how long it takes to vacuum a room.” We both laughed.
At our first Masters And slaves Together (MAsT) meeting in Houston — a meeting we attended with friends, despite our hesitations — a cis het dominant guy had made a terrible, forever quotable comment about how he had no idea how many tasks to give his female slave while he was at work: “How am I supposed to know how long it takes to vacuum the living room?” Everyone else chuckled. I was appalled, and my stereotypes about the M/s community were confirmed.
That line has become a symbol of the attitudes we dislike in M/s — whether it was meant that way or not — particularly the inherent sexism often present with male doms and female subs. “Maybe it’s intentional,” rife whispered to me at the time. “Maybe it’s their fetish.” Maybe. But I shook my head. It read so sincere, and so clueless. These were not my people.
But, I wondered aloud to rife later, if these aren’t my people, who are? How do I learn how to step into this role as a master? I knew that identity was what I had sought for so long, but the community around it was so awful that being around it made me question my own identity.
After that experience, I was ready to give up on learning from other masters and slaves entirely. But I couldn’t shake the nagging desire to share my hardships with people who understood. More than three years later, we attended another MAsT meeting, this time in San Francisco. The leather women who recommended it said the chapter was totally queer, mostly gay men, very experienced. rife had to be right; it probably won’t be that bad again, and the possibility of finding our kink community — folks to talk to, who struggle with the languaging and semantics, who know how to live this 24/7 — gave me the courage to take another deep breath and open the door.
The people inside were just people. Masters and slaves, in relationships or single, able to articulate their deep need and desire for these identities, not mythical or unreal, just people. They brought my fantasy desires, the ones I’d bound up in shibari inside of me and read about in books and seen in fleeting moments over leather weekends, into reality, talking about 24/7 and live-in slaves and polyamory and vacations and work and catching common colds and who does the dishes.
It was refreshing and soothing and terrifying.
If you’ve never seen your own desire reflected back at you — in the porn you watch, the erotica you read, in rom-coms and pop songs and your communities — then you know what it’s like to suddenly hear the words that have been pinching your tongue and cheeks for years coming out of someone else’s mouth. You know what it means to hear someone else describe the process that for you has just begun, the journey to discovering parts of yourself, to uncovering things you always feared would burn your eyes if you looked at them directly.
Finding others with similar identities has been essential to my exploration of becoming more like myself; to better articulating who I am and who I could become; and to feeling valid, valued and vibrant.
It happened when I came out as queer: that examination and reassembly of all of my molecules, from my temples to my toes, that swept through me like a rush of air down a mine shaft. I didn’t know which way was up for a while, but finding, creating and devouring queer community not only realigned me, it gave me a comprehensive view of myself, allowing me to see above and behind and all around things that were previously unseeable.
It happened again when I came out as butch, and again when I came to a dominant identity as a top in the leather community. It’s been happening again, recently, as I come to a deeper understanding of how my particular neurodiversity works, and how much my depression affects my view on the world, myself and my relationships. And it happened when I was coming to a “Master” identity in the M/s communities.
I’m grateful to have found folks with whom I can share the hard and amazing parts of my life. When things get rough or I lose my focus, I call friends to steady myself. When our power shifts and flails, I have people to talk to who have gone through similar situations. When work or money or eviction or death or family drama smacks us, we share it at MAsT and we come away, at the least, having been seen in our struggles, and, at best, with new insight from folks who relate to our experiences. And when rife and I decided to have a collaring ceremony, we invited the whole group to attend and celebrate with us, along with many of our less D/s-oriented friends.
From the back of that first meeting, I kept having to shake myself out of an open-mouthed stare. The more everyone shared, the more I felt those pings of recognition, those lightbulbs of understanding. These are people whose desires look like mine, I thought. I heard people struggle with inner critics, I heard uncertainties and insecurities, I heard self-esteem and self-doubt, I heard heartbreak and grief and triumph and bad puns. The experiences reflected what I’d been learning, validated my own feelings, and shaped my expectations of what was to come. Finally, finally — maybe these people would have a road map, some new book recommendations, some new theories, some concepts to chew on and learn about.
I repeated that wonderment to rife on the drive back home. “These are people whose desires look like ours.”