View From The Top: Desire That Looks Like Mine

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.”

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is “the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queer women” (AfterEllen), who “is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places” (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Sinclair identifies as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor and an introvert. Follow their writings at Sugarbutch Chronicles.

Sinclair has written 43 articles for us.


  1. Oh yeah, I get this. I came to realise that I generally hate the whole BDSM scene, but it seems that if I want to have sex in the way that I want, it’s easier to engage with it at some level. The problem is that despite living in a big city, I haven’t been able to find the people whose desires reflect mine: mostly it’s just people like your terrible cis het dom guy above. Still working out what to do about that.

  2. “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 are this experience for many people, Sinclair, through this column and elsewhere. Thank you — and thank you for Autostraddle for this column and Alaina’s, both of which give me that stomach-ache, breath-holding feeling you get when you recognize yourself so strongly in someone else’s words.

  3. Slavery is real thing – both a horrific stain on American history and a contemporary reality for thousands of people. There is something that feels very wrong about claiming “master” as a sexual identity when keeping someone in slavery is one of the worst things one human being can do to another.

    I understand that Sexsmith’s relationship is consensual, and that their partner is actually free to leave and free to make his own decisions, and I am not claiming that what is described here is literal slavery (if it was I’d be alerting the authorities, not writing a comment on the internet) – but then why call it that?

    I have no problem with safe, consensual, BDSM – I know it provides a lot of people with a lot of pleasure. But the desires described here seem to go beyond a simple sexual kink – you don’t have sex 24 hours a day. I feel like the line between a 24/7 master/slave “consensual non-consent” BDSM relationship and an abusive relationship is a very fine one – yes, the “slave” consents to the arrangement initially, but if someone is constantly controlling your life and treating you like they own you, it can wear you down and make it difficult to assert your own needs. You shouldn’t have to feel like you need to obey your partner in order to retain their love, that doesn’t seem healthy.

      • I’m not shaming anyone Joanna. I am respectfully disagreeing with the author and critically engaging with their writing.

        If a cis, straight, white male wrote about how his sexual identity necessitated his girlfriend kissing his shoes and vacuming the house on command you know the progressive response would be quite different. Even the author themself notes that they felt uncomfortable with that dynamic. The heterosexual couples at the group they originaly atteded also had (or claimed to have) consensual M/s relationships, but the author criticized what they observed there as at least potentially problematic – if I am “kink shaming” then so are they.

        I don’t think being queer or being kinky absolves you of the responsibility to critically examine your own relationships and desires, and it’s clear that Sexmith doesn’t either. They too questioned whether their desire to treat their partner like property was something to be challenged or embraced. I think the author seems like a thoughtful person and I respect that they examined their own choices and didn’t just take for granted that every desire ought to be indulged – I’m just not sure I agree with their ultimate conclusion. I’m open to being convinced, but glorifying slavery is a hard sell.

        • I think that cishet white male sexual identity is often problematic, BDSM or not. What matters is if they are aware and willing to listen and challenge themselves in a mature, objective, and critical way.

          I do not believe in any way that Sinclair is glorifying slavery anymore than LGBT people in general are “glorifying immorality” be virtue of us existing and having desires.

          I am just tired of ever single article being a place where so many who are not part of the community want to unpack all their problems. Are you a part of the BDSM community? Because that would fundamentally alter my reaction. The same reason I don’t enjoy any outsider of any community I’m in trying to lecture me or unpack their issues rather than trying to learn and listen.

    • Hi Dialethia. I suggest you look up Andrea Zanin ( and Raven Kaldera and read about full time, consensual, authority and control dynamics. They are not talking about extending a scene. Talking about Mastery/slavery I believe (and maybe also be wrong) comes from gay leather men culture. It seems like you are upset by the words, and I can see why. I hope you consider there is a small, persistent sub culture that uses these words in very different ways than you might, and they hold that power, authority and control ethically, reaponsibly and with 100% consent from the people choosign their control.

  4. Thanks for this. I’ve often bounced off the M/s community for exactly the same reasons. It’s nice to know there are communities out there that aren’t horrible about sexism and failure to analyze themselves.

  5. Right, so I know I’m late to the party and I don’t know if the writer will even read this, but I feel compelled to speak

    A bunch of people pretending to be slaves, for *fun* absolutely screams of privilege and racism.

    I am speaking as a trans person of colour who left the BDSM community because of things like this

    Am I kink shaming you? Maybe. I’m not really sure what that means.

    Is your kink making light of the systems of racism and oppression that warp and end the lives of people of colour around the world. Is it making light of the millions of people of who are living and dying in slavery now? Yes, I sincerely believe so.

    Should you be ashamed of that? Yeah, I reckon so.

    Slavery is not a costume. Slavery is not a game you can play and walk away from. It is not a lifestyle choice. It’s the exact opposite of all these things? How, *how* can you possibly think this is okay?

    I am literally pulling at my cheeks an holding back tears right now. the complacent, selfish cruelty that this suggests to me just staggers me, it really does. I am looking at you and this article with astonishment and horror.

    I only recently found out that on the island in the Carribean that my family comes from, there are mass graves full of slaves that will never be properly marked or given their last rites. Their bones scream out to me from the ground. I haven’t stopped having nightmares about that.

    I found out that my grandmother was one of the last of the indigenous people, who were almost entirely wiped out to make way for sugar plantations. I’m remembering walking out of that film, Twelve Years a Slave, sobbing and trying not to be sick. While my white “friends” complacently sneered at me for wishing there was a place nearby where I could lay flowers for all of those who suffered and suffer still, saying

    “Jess, you can’t stop and have a moment of silence for everything”

    Writer, I hope you stop and take a moment of silence over this. Please, just take a moment to read what I’ve written. Please consider, perhaps, calling yourself a servant instead.

Comments are closed.