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© 2001 Mistress Constance
Posted with the author's permission
May be reproduced in whole with credit to the author.
One of the things I most enjoy about the munches is the conversation. I have always held that great conversation is nearly as stimulating as great sex, while good conversation is far better than bad sex. I had a number of interesting conversations, some of which will probably pop up here in the future. At the moment, I wanted to speculate on the definitions of some of the words we use.
One of the essential requirements of conversation is that we all agree to a specific set of building blocks that we will use for that purpose, namely language. I believe that the better we use and understand language the more precise our communication will be. It's one reason I ask those who post here to take a few extra minutes and re-read their posts, because I truly want to understand what they're telling me, and if you're using language imprecisely or incorrectly, you are defeating your own purposes. Again, I am certainly far from perfect, and you will find occasional typos or misspellings in my posts as well. I never require perfection from anyone, myself included. I do require effort.
Having prefaced these comments, the words I want to discuss and define within my own terminology are Master and Mistress, Dom and Domme, and Top. Each of them to me has different flavors and shadings. I am not implying that everyone's definition would be the same, though I believe that they are generally used in a similar way by most people I know, I am saying this is my definition of them, and the differences I see between them.
Being a Master or a Mistress implies, for me, a certain relationship to someone. I would say I am Mistress to those who submit to me. I fulfill that role, within that relationship. If one is looking for a courtesy title for me, my preference is "Ma'am," though it's never a requirement. I prefer to be called "Mistress" by those to whom I am indeed Mistress. I wouldn't correct anyone who called me that out of respect, but if asked, I choose "Ma'am." I occasionally use the title "Mistress Constance" primarily so I have two names to use in forms and programs that want a first and last name, when I am unwilling to use my legal names. When it's used by others, I hope it's only used out of respect, never out of any assumption that I require it. In that sense, the word Mistress or Master is a title on the same level as Mister.
In addition, I also consider a Master or Mistress to be someone who is not only dominant, but who is willing to accept responsibility for another, someone who is willing to be mentor and teacher and confidant and guide. When someone reaches a level of accomplishment in a craft, we refer to him or her as a "master woodworker," or a "master draftsman." It is an acknowledgement of their understanding of what they do, the experience they have within the field, the knowledge they bring to the table. I believe, to some extent, it's an accolade that is best conferred upon one by others, rather than a title claimed by oneself.
A Dom is a male dominant. A female dominant is a Domme. It's often pronounced "dom-may," though I pronounce them as synonyms. I've never seen a pronunciation guide for this particular word in Webster's dictionary, so I don't know what the "correct" pronunciation is, or if there is one. If anyone out there has some definitive information on that particular aspect, I'd be very glad to know it. In any case, to me, that's the essence of the definition. It implies dominance, and the person so described may or may not also be a Master or a Mistress. It's rather like the difference between the terms "President" and "leader." A President may well be a leader, too, or he may not. President describes the position he holds, while leader describes his ability to influence others and inspire loyalty.
I see a Top as someone who is willing to direct a scene, someone who can fulfill the role of a Dom/me, someone who may, in fact, be a Master or a Mistress, but basically someone who is in control during a specific time period. I use it often in generic terms. I might, for instance, say that the Top in this situation should do this, if this should happen. It is for me the most basic reference, so the safest one to use. If I were to differentiate that one person was what I considered a Top versus a Dom/me, I would mean that it was someone who enjoyed that power dynamic on a limited basis, usually during a scene, but wasn't interested in a true power exchange. It might be merely someone who enjoyed kinky sex, but didn't want the dynamics to spill over to other portions of their lives.
Before I go on, let me make it clear that none of these terms are used in a pejorative sense, at least by me. There's nothing at all wrong with liking some things included in your sex life without including them in the rest of your life. Not everyone who enjoys spanking someone else's bottom for sexual stimulation, or even as a means of behavior modification, would choose to identify themselves as a dominant elsewhere, and that is a definition that no one else has a right to make for them. Being a Top is no less than being a Dom/me, it is simply different. For me, Top is the broadest term, Dom/me is the next most broad, and Master/Mistress is the least broad definition. It moves from the general to the more specific.
I consider the term sadist to be apart from these definitions as well. A sadist is clinically defined as someone who derives pleasure from causing pain. Sometimes the clarification is added that the pleasure derived is sexual. I have known a number of dominants that were and are not sadists, as I have known a number of submissives that were not masochists, those who derive pleasure from having pain inflicted on them. I define myself as a sadist in the company of a masochist. I do enjoy the infliction of pain, when I know that the person on whom I am inflicting it welcomes the sensation. I would not be a sadist in other circumstances, and it's even arguable that if my enjoyment of the infliction of pain depends on their enjoyment of it as well, I am not a true sadist at all. I also believe that one can be a sadist without being a dominant at all.
I believe, as well, that the same sort of definitions applies to terminology for submissives. The broadest term is "bottom," meaning someone who chooses to be in the submissive role during defined times. In a more specific sense, I might define someone as a bottom, in contrast with a submissive. The bottom, in that definition, enjoys the role of being submissive at times, enjoys certain kinds of play that are probably primarily sexual, but isn't interested in a true power exchange, in giving up their own autonomy outside that defined parameter. A submissive is someone for whom that exchange comes more naturally, because they are, indeed, submissive. They choose to submit their own will to another's, choose that way of life in the way a Dom/me chooses to be dominant. The term "slave" is defined by a relationship, or may be a title as well. This person may be slave to that one, or they may be referred to as slave mary or slave john, a type of courtesy title rather than a judgement, in the same way it may be more appropriate for a child to call your best friend Aunt Mary or Uncle John. It offers a title and a level of formality, while acknowledging that this isn't someone who might like to be called Ms. Smith or Mr. Jones.
On a final note, let me take a moment to discuss capitals and their use. My general personal preference in all situations is for correct English over manipulations, with a couple of exceptions. I find it both harder to read and harder to type to use conventions like: "W/we hope that Y/you are able to come and bring Y/your F/friends." I would say, regardless to whom I was writing, "We hope that you are able to come and bring your friends." The only reference to myself I capitalize is, in fact, the word "I." My feeling is that I am dominant, not God, therefore using conventions like "I will bring My toys in My car, if My schedule permits," is rather presumptuous on my part. That's not to say that I object to anyone else using it, or believe they shouldn't. For me, it feels wrong and I'm unused to typing it, so I don't. I spent enough time, though, on IRC that I got very used to the convention of not capitalizing a submissive's name, and I do tend to do that one by habit. Normally I try to do that only when I know the submissive and know that it is their preference, or know that they use that convention themselves. I am probably inconsistent in that, but it is never meant as an indication of lack of respect, in the same way that capitalizing someone else's name indicates respect. The first is done out of habit and because it was a convention on line, the latter is done out of habit in the use of standard capitalization. I also, out of that online habit, capitalize Master, Mistress, Dom, Domme and Top.
Let me reiterate that I am not implying that everyone who uses these terms will use them in the ways I do, though I believe the general differences I've mentioned are fairly universally accepted. If anyone has differing opinions, they are more than welcome to present them, each of us has different perceptions. If we didn't, one crayon would suffice and we'd never have gotten those lovely boxes of 128 different Crayola colors, with the built in sharpener.
Color me a sort of chartreuse with hints of butter yellow.
- Perverted Vocabulary: a Glossary of Terms Used in BDSM by Ambrosio
- Leather vs. BDSM by Philip the Foole
- "Safe Sane and Consensual" a Proposed Definition by Chris M.
- Origin of RACK: RACK vs. SSC by Gary Switch
- Edgeplay by Sir Bamm!
- For more related reading about scene terms and jargon, see the General section.