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What's with Switching, anyway?

Author: Franklin Veaux

Filed in: switch, definitions

"How singular is the thing called pleasure, and how curiously related to pain, which might be thought to be the opposite of it; For they are never present to a man at the same instant, and yet he who pursues either is generally compelled to take the other." --Plato

So what's a switch? What's with this whole switching thing?

I am a switch.

What that means, in the simplest terms, is that I am neither 100% dominant nor 100% submissive. Rather, I have a dominant side, and a submissive side, and at different times I explore different aspects of dominance and submission.

In some parts of the BDSM community, this is greeted with the same derision that might greet someone who says he or she is bisexual in certain corners of the gay and lesbian community--and, I think, for similar erroneous reasons.

The term "switch," like the term "bisexual," has a simple, functional definition: You are a switch if you engage at different times in BDSM practices from both a "top" or "dominant" role and from a "bottom" or "submissive" role, just as you are bisexual if you have lovers of both sexes.

Of course, a functional definition can't tell the whole truth, and a question of sexual identity may not be as straightforward as all that.

Be that as it may, there are people in the BDSM community who will make the preposterous statement that there aren't "really" any switches, just as there are people in the gay and lesbian communities who make the equally preposterous claim that there aren't "really" any bisexuals.

Well, it makes sense to me--after all, you can't be both dominant AND submissive!

Why not?

It's been my experience that there is no contradiction in the idea that you can gain satisfaction from taking both a dominant role and from a submissive role in a relationship, any more than there is a contradiction in the idea you can enjoy both cooking food and eating food.

A small but vocal minority of people in the BDSM community maintain--often at great and tiresome length--that anyone who can switch roles is not "really" into BDSM at all, that they're just "playing" at it and don't truly understand dominance or submission, and so forth.

Not only does this commit the fallacy of "one true wayism"--the mistaken belief that there is only one correct way to practice BDSM or engage in a D/s relationship--it also ignores the fact that human beings are capable of a very wide range of experiences and responses, and that many people for whom BDSM is more than mere bedroom tittilation do, in fact, have the capacity to experience BDSM from more than one perspective.

In fact, it's tempting to argue that a person who can experience a thing from many different perspectives--a person who can, for example, experience what it's like to be both deeply submissive and extremely dominant--probably has a better understanding of that thing than someone who can experience it only from one direction.

BDSM is not necessarily just about dominance and submission, either. Many folks are "bottoms," people who prefer to be given pain or other stimulation, but who do not give up psychologocal power or control; or "tops," people who take pleasure from inflicting pain orother sensation on their partners, but who are not interested in psychological control.

For me, being a switch encompasses both of these things as well. I am a sadist; that is, I take pleasure from inflicting consensual pain on my partners, provided they take pleasure from it as well. I am also a masochist; that is, I take pleasure from having consensual pain administered to me by a partner. Again, there is no contradiction here, any more than there is a contradiction between, say, taking pleasure from giving a massage and taking pleasure from receiving a massage.

Dominance, submission, masochism, and sadism are not bipolar opposites. A person can be both a masochist and a sadist, and can have both dominant and submissive personality traits. And none of these things is necessarily directly related to any other; you can be a sadist but not dominant, or a masochist but not submissive, or dominant but not sadistic, and so on.

Yeah, but people who switch don't really understand true D/s.

Nonsense. In fact, one can easily argue that by exploring both roles, and being familiar with the headspace and psychological experience of both dominance and submission, a person can get a better grasp of the dynamic of power exchange--better, in fact, than the person who is familiar only with one part of it.

Of course, every human being has a unique experience, and the experience of one person never maps directly onto the experience of another. Nevertheless, we all share many psychological traits in common, and while I may not feel exactly what you feel when we are both submissive, my understanding of what it's like to be submissive--what the state of surrendering one's will to another feels like--can certainly help me to identify with you if I am dominating you--which in turn can help me to create an environment where I can put you in the state I want.

So how does it work? You just flip-flop on command?

I'm sure some people can do this; for me, it's much more complex than that.

I can't flip from being dominant to being submissive at the drop of a hat. I personally find that I tend to be highly dominant by nature, and that I derive great satisfaction from dominating my lovers most of the time.

However, sometimes a need to be submissive will grow over a period of time, until I find myself deeply craving this submission and wanting to relinquish control to my partners. When this happens, it becomes very easy for me to submit on an extremely deep level, and that this side of my personality is, during these times, at least as strong as my dominant side.

It tends not to happen overnight; generally speaking, I would say that I'm about 80% dominant and about 20% submissive. There may be a period of many months during which I am completely dominant, followed by weeks of being entirely submissive. Were I to be entirely dominant all the time or entirely submissive all the time, I would unquestionably feel that something was missing from my life.

Nonsense--that just PROVES you aren't REALLY dominant or submissive!

And if you like both Cantonese and Thai cooking, it proves you don't REALLY have a taste for foreign cuisine, right?

The idea that if you are "really" dominant you can't also be submissive, or vice-versa, rests on the fallacy that these two things are opposed to one another, rather than two facets of the same thing. It also denies the basic and observable fact that human beings--or rather, some human beings--are complex, multi-dimensional creatures capable of a startling array of different emotional and philosophical responses.

Of course, I can't speak for everyone here; I've met some people so astonishingly shallow that a walk through the ocean of their souls would barely get your feet wet. But not everyone is like that.

There are people who are not shallow but who nevertheless do not have a submissive element or a masochistic element or a dominant element or whatever to their personalities, just as there are people (like me) who are entirely straight, or people who are entirely gay, and do not have an element of bisexuality in their sexual orientation.

But often, the people I have seen most vocally decry the idea of switches are not these people; rather, the most vocal of the "one true way" contingent in the BDSM community is made up of the people who are most insecure.

For some people, their ego and their sense of self are tied up in their identity as a dominant or a submissive. This is particularly true of many dominants, who may use their dominance to shield a weak sense of self or a fragile ego. Suggesting to such a person that he or she may have elements of both dominance and submission, or even thatother people can be both dominant and submissive, is very threatening. When your ego is protected by your sense that you are dominant and there is a clear, distinct difference between dominants and submissives, the notion of someone who switches is as threatening as the notion of bisexuality is to a person unsure of his sexual orientation.

But at the end of the day, the fact still remains that not everyone has an identity or a role which is so cut and dried. Many people (I suspect most people) who practice BDSM are capable of doing so from more than one direction. And that's a feature, not a bug.

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