There is a scene in the fifth episode of the second season of the very erratic, but occasionally jaw-dropping, Netflix series Peaky Blinders in which the corrupt cop gloriously played by Sam Neill humiliates the sister of his Midlands crime boss nemesis, played by the preposterously (and, I suspect, incongruously) gorgeous Cillian Murphy. It’s a foregone conclusion that she’s going to have to fuck him, but that’s not enough for Inspector Campbell. He wants her to be small and weak, and calls her a Gypsy Fenian slut. I found the scene remarkably poorly directed, but I…got it.
I think I know where my proclivity for erotic dominance comes from — a subconscious dread of being my dad, and perhaps a complementary desire to avenge him. There wasn’t a day in my childhood and adolescence that my mother didn’t emasculate him with her tongue. If he’d stopped, at her request, to pick up a few things at the grocery store on his way home (she was too busy with keeping the house almost unlivably immaculate and tidy), and had bought the oranges that were 29 cents per pound, rather than 27, she would react as though he’d just lost the house in a game of craps. Kids accept as normal that to which they become accustomed, and I was as accustomed to my father’s being humiliated as to breathing. It was only after I began flirting with adulthood (a flirtation not yet consummated, by the way) that I realized how deeply fucked up my parents’ relationship was.
What I’ve been saying erotically since my mid-30s is, I guess, This one’s for you, Dad.
My great dilemma has always been that I detest the patriarchy nearly as fervently as I detest racism and homophobia. Those countless hundreds of millions of brilliant women cruelly suppressed, muted and blinkered, over the millennia! Male dominance very quickly came to look to me like shooting fish in a barrel. The culture stacked the deck for those of us with balls and cocks. And when I began meeting others Into Kink, there were two kinds of men to which I immediately took a passionate dislike — the knot-tiers (the beer-bellied boyos who thought kink was all about the many intricate ways you could put your partner in bondage) and, even more, those who began braying, “But there isn’t a submissive bone in my body!” whenever the idea of letting their partners get behind the steering wheel every now and again was expressed. God forbid someone should think of them, even for a moment, as anything other than traditionally manly, unfalteringly brave 'n' strong 'n' resolute.
As I saw it, though, dominance and submission were opposite movements of the same muscle. For me to submit, I had only to channel my dad. I might have been better at it if I had more patience, but I found myself nearly always wanting to grab the proverbial steering wheel. An implacable topper from the bottom, as we say in the trade, I.
The real thrill of kink, I don’t think, isn’t reveling in absolute power over another, on the one hand, or in helplessness, on the other, bur rather about the exhilaration of the dance. The sublime fun of it, done right, is probably comparable to being a member of a basketball or hockey team firing on all cylinders, or to playing music with skilled, sympathetic collaborators. At its best, it’s two dancers understanding each other so profoundly that every action elicits the desired reaction, which in turn inspires another pleasure-inducing action. Around and around they go, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in gleaming black latex.
We do have the best outfits, of course, and yes, one does indeed dress for sex, as to go out for pizza, as to meet prospective lovers in bars.