Is talent a thing?

It’s probably not an answerable question, but I have to wonder: is talent a thing? I’ve read some interesting articles about whether talent actually exists as an independent attribute or if it’s just a consequence of really loving an activity and doing it a whole lot.

I have to say the idea that talent doesn’t exist and that people who are described as talented just really love that thing and did it so much they got really good at it makes sense and seems more likely to me, but I every so often I still take the idea of talent out and poke at it.

The reason I do that is because I’m a really good programmer. In college where other students struggled, things were just easy for me. At work where coworkers struggled, things were just easy for me. It seems like a bit of a dick move to say talent isn’t a thing because, particularly in college, there were people who worked much harder than I did for lower grades. I’ve worked with a lot of perfectly lovely human beings who work really hard but are still mediocre programmers. What is it that makes me so special?

It’s funny, but this finally occurred to me just the other day: I am literally the kid who was programming when she was 12. Of course I’m good at this, I’ve been doing it for a long fucking time and because I started so young those years of practice probably shaped my brain.

Some of my skill is luck, of course. If I hadn’t happened to go to a small school run by a principal who believed computer skills were really important, I wouldn’t have had such good teachers, wouldn’t have gotten excited about programming, and wouldn’t have gotten so much practice in. Without those years of practice, I wouldn’t have gone to college with such an advantage over all the students who were completely new to programming and wouldn’t have immediately had my confidence boosted when the first programming exercise we did was easy for me.

Another piece of luck is that thanks to a history of less than ideal family finances, I had a serious fear of going into debt for a degree only to find out I didn’t want to do that for a living or couldn’t get a job in that field. I worked a couple of shitty part-time customer service jobs for a while after highschool, then switched to full-time graveyard shifts (11pm to 7am in my case) because I couldn’t fucking deal with never having a full day off. Having a stable schedule and actual days off was amazing at first, but after a while I started really struggling to sleep during the day, and started thinking about whether I really wanted to spend the rest of my life doing a job a monkey could do if only there weren’t animal cruelty laws.

The idea of going back to school terrified me, but thanks to the misery of graveyard shifts it was a lot less terrifying than the idea of drinking myself to death while doing a completely unfulfilling job and living with total assholes (if you think it’s okay to wake up a person who works nights for any reason aside from the house literally being on fire, put yourself in the garbage where you belong). Compared to a slow death doing a job I hated, moving to a new city (because if I was going to go into debt for an education, damned if I was going to waste it on the local community college), going into debt, and doing something I was really scared I wasn’t smart enough for didn’t seem so bad.

All of which is an extraordinarily long winded way of saying I was very, very motivated when I went back to school. There’s nothing like the fear of going into debt only to end up back in the miserable pit where you started to motivate a person to do her homework and study her ass off.

And now I’m back at my original thesis that talent is much less likely to exist than hard work and love of a subject. Funny how writing works out that way. Maybe I just had more practice and wanted it more than my classmates, and maybe it’s only imposter syndrome that makes me think I didn’t earn it.

I will, however, freely admit that things were easier for me than they could have been. Sure, it sucks always being the only woman in the room, and it sucks when people assume I’m an idiot because I’m a woman, but it would suck a lot more if I were a person of colour (quick, how many black nerds have you ever seen in any media at any time ever?) or disabled, or mentally ill or trans or not straight or non-neurotypical. That’s a separate issue from whether talent exists, though.

Humility is all well and good, but I think in the long run it hurts people to hold up the myth of talent as if it matters. There’s nothing talent can do for you that hard work and trying not to be an asshole can’t do just as well.

It’s okay to like intense play

This is a companion piece to Sadism Is Not An Excuse to be Awful. It’s extremely important to know that it’s okay not to have any interest in masochism or in any other kink, even if it’s extremely common and it seems like everyone except you is into it, and it’s also important to know that it is absolutely okay to like things that freak other people out. Just because some little asshole implies it’s inherently abusive to verbally humiliate someone even when everyone involved is into it doesn’t mean it’s true. This is mostly a post for bottoms since they get an incredible amount of shit for wanting things that other people consider too extreme, but I’ll address tops too.

While we’re here, I need to mention that it is absolutely not okay to pressure people to try verbal humiliation or any other kink just because you like it. You can do serious emotional damage that way, and unlike a physical cut or bruise, that shit doesn’t just go away.

Verbal humiliation, since I already mentioned it, is a kink that many people consider a harm limit, that can easily go horribly wrong, and is simultaneously a thing that’s super fucking awesome for people who are into it. It is okay to like verbal humiliation! It is okay to be turned on when someone calls you a worthless plaything or a dirty slut or whatever else both/all of you are into. Even if other people are freaked out by that, even if other people would immediately safeword if someone called them those names, even if some jackass thinks doing the things you like is fundamentally abusive, you are not a bad person for having a kink.

Now, I’ll give you shit for it if you refuse to admit that forced feminization depends on misogyny, or that race play depends on racism, or that cuckolding is often problematic in multiple ways, but I don’t think that you’re a bad person for having a kink. We don’t get to choose our kinks. If we did, there wouldn’t be any sad stories on Fetlife from people who got married thinking they could live without their kink on only to find out 10 or 20 or even 30 years later that it’s not that easy. What pisses me off is when people refuse to admit they’re doing something problematic, or refuse to admit that people have a right to worry how someone’s play might reflect their actual attitudes toward women, or people of colour, or submissive men.

That said, some people like their kinks mild, and some people like them extra spicy. Everything in that range is okay! If some people are freaked out by the stuff you like, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. For bottoms in particular: you are not sick or wrong or asking to be abused because you like some kinks extra spicy. For the tops, however, I do have to add that there is some stuff we don’t get to ask for. To use race play as an example, I completely agree with Mollena when she says that (in the context of having only once ever had someone say they’d like to do a race play scene with her) ‘I make it bloody fucking clear it is NOT ACCEPTABLE for you to EVER ask someone to bottom to you in that type of scene. I feel it really has to come from the person being the “victim”‘. To quote Mollena again: “FOR ME, I feel it is wrong to ask because I now know you want this specific thing, and I have to trust that you don’t have creepy ass motives.

In the privacy of your own head, I feel very strongly that it’s okay to like whatever you like. I will never support the idea of thought crime, no matter how illegal or harmful or evil the things you think about would be if you did them in reality. Just don’t be a dick about how and when you tell people about what you’re into and we’re cool. As a tip, no matter what you’re into there’s probably a group for it on Fetlife. If people deliberately joined a group about a certain topic, you can assume they won’t be freaked out by hearing that someone is into that thing.

Aside from a very few exceptions like race play, it’s okay to ask for whatever it is that you want. You’re not bad or wrong for wanting to play in a way that scares other people or squicks them out, whether that’s intense impact play or needles or blood play or scat or humiliation or extreme bondage or being treated like a toy or anything else you like.

For submissive women in particular, because I believe you get extra shit for this, it’s okay to want to play in a way that reminds people of abuse. You are not asking for abuse if you want your partner to consensually do things that you like in the context of a respectful relationship (not necessarily romantic, but please don’t play with people who don’t respect you), even if other people freak out about the idea of a woman being heavily bruised or slapped in the face or called a whore. You’re not setting the feminist movement back either, but that’s a separate post. The short version is that assholes gonna ass whether you get off or not.

Like what you like, and if anyone shames you for it they’re the asshole, not you.

Trying to make your partner dominant is not submissive

To quote Male Submission Art:

Dear “Submissive” BDSM’ers: trying to “make your boy/girlfriend into a Dominant” is an intensely dominant act involving severe behavior modification, and you should at least own up to that.

I sympathize with people who wish their partners were dominant, but there is nothing submissive or ethical about trying to make someone into something they aren’t without any thought to what’s best for them.

It should be obvious to anyone who isn’t a sociopath that trying to rebuild your partner without their ongoing enthusiastic consent like some sort of cartoon mad scientist is evil. Being remade into something better, or getting to shape someone into your perfect partner are both common fantasies, and if you’re very careful and have your partner’s full support they can be done ethically, but there is simply nothing okay about deciding for them that you’re going to rebuild them to suit you better.

I can’t fucking believe I have to say this, but people who are not dominant are still people and deserve to make their own choices about who they want to be. Whether your partner is submissive, or not interested in power exchange, or not interested in your type of power exchange, they have the right to be that way. I don’t understand what’s so complicated about this.

Issues of being a decent human being aside, it’s just not submissive to try to make your partner dominant. Submission is about giving control/authority to your partner, not about deciding for them who they should be. How can you call yourself submissive when you won’t even let your partner decide whether or not they want to be dominant? Am I supposed to believe that after showing that level of contempt for who your partner is as a person, you’re going to turn around and do what they tell you to do if it’s inconvenient or you’re tired or you’re not turned on? Do you care at all what your partner wants?

If you somehow magically succeeded in making your partner dominant, they would most likely end up leaving you for someone who was actually halfways competent at submission. Why would a dominant want to stay with someone who clearly doesn’t give a shit what they want?

You’re allowed to want what you want, but stop pretending it’s remotely submissive to try to make a person into a dom.

Gender roles and dominance

In any group, forum, or blog about female dominance or male submission, sooner or later the topic of gender roles and dominance comes up. Questions like how do gender role expectations affect your submission / dominance? Does it put a limit on your practice or does it encourage you to explore further? Or doesn’t it matter at all? are something we all have to think about, even if many of us end up sticking our heads in the sand and yelling “La la la I can’t hear you.”

It irritates the shit out of me when people try to side-step that entire discussion by saying that somehow they’re magically unaffected by the gender role expectations of the culture they’ve grown up in. No, you lying liars who lie, you’ve goddamn well been affected by what society told you about how to be a man or a woman. Even if you are extraordinarily self-possessed and have never once felt like a freak or a failure as a woman or man because of your kink, you are aware that you’re going against what society expects of you and that some people will reject you for it. Congratulations, gender role expectations have had an affect on you!

For people who aren’t busy lying to themselves, of fucking course gender roles affect how comfortable you are with your kink if you’re a submissive man or a dominant woman. Seriously, how many posts have I alone written about how much shit submissive guys get for being submissive? Gender role expectations are especially rough on submissive men, and pretending they aren’t is a waste of everyone’s time. We can’t have a conversation about how harmful it is to try and force yourself into the man box or the woman box if we can’t admit the box exists in the first place, and we as a culture really fucking need to have that conversation. As well as keeping so many submissive men from enjoying their sexuality, toxic masculinity literally kills men. Men die of depression and of treatable diseases because it’s not manly to talk about your feelings or go to the doctor when you feel a little off. And of course toxic masculinity kills women too, but I’m trying to focus on how gender role expectations directly harm men.

Submissive men often struggle enormously to accept their submission because it’s impossible to both be submissive and fit into the man box. These guys are stuck either feeling like failures as men or doing the enormously difficult work of redefining what manhood means to them. Pretending that not everyone goes through this struggle just makes the guys who are going through it right now feel like shit, so cut it the fuck out.

Dominant women struggle too, just in different ways. At least we have the stereotype of the sexy dominatrix to tell us that it’s okay to be a little bit aggressive in bed as long as we’re conventionally attractive and don’t do anything too weird and don’t insist on having any real power. I’m not saying the stereotype doesn’t suck a whole lot, but women are told that it’s possible to be a little bit dominant and still be desirable where submissive men get told they’re completely worthless.

So dominant women do have it easier than submissive men, but things still suck for us. The woman box says we’re supposed to sweet and nurturing and patient, which makes it pretty fucking tough to want to beat your partner with a cane and still be a good woman. Pursuing men is often seen as acting like a man and scares off many of the men we’re interested in. Demanding any actual power suddenly transforms us from sexy vixens into emasculating bitches, and god fucking forbid we should expect submissive men to ever see us as real people with thoughts and feelings that have nothing to do with their boners. Spend five minutes on any forum, group, or message board frequented by dominant women and you’ll hear us howling that we’re people, not kink vending machines or life support systems for a whip. I think the biggest problem dominant women have with gender role expectations is “submissive” men who expect us to dominate them exactly when, how, and where they want because that’s what women are for, right? We couldn’t possibly like things our male partners have no interest in. We couldn’t possibly be dominant because it turns us on, not because it turns men on. We couldn’t possibly expect to be treated like people first and doms second.

Literally all of us have to fight against society’s gender role expectations. Don’t make the struggle harder by pretending it doesn’t exist.

“Scared that I’m not a good femdom”

Whoever found my blog with the search terms “scared that im not a good femdom. help?” I just want to hug you and tell you you’re okay.

First of all, it’s completely normal to be scared that you’re not good at this, scared that you never will be, scared that you’ll hurt someone by accident, scared that you’ll disappoint your partner, scared that you’ll never find a partner, scared that no one will ever take you seriously as a dom or a thousand other things. Anyone who tells you they’ve never doubted themselves, never felt uncertain, never made a mistake is a lying liar who lies. Or a narcissist with no capacity for self-reflection. If you doubt yourself sometimes, all that means is that you’re a decent human being who cares about your partner.

Seriously, every last one of us feels like a total dork sometimes. Nobody is magically good at this the first time they try it, it takes practice to feel comfortable taking charge. Some people get that practice in different ways, some people start much earlier than others by bossing their childhood playmates around, but literally everyone has to practice before they’re good at running the show.

Also, it’s really, really common for d-types to hate feeling or appearing vulnerable. There’s this pervasive myth that “real” doms never doubt themselves and always know exactly what to do, so when (not if) we do feel uncertain or scared, we try to live up to the myth by hiding our feelings. I do that too, even though I know it’s unhelpful for a bunch of different reasons (but that, of course, is a whole other blog post). Where this relates to new doms feeling like they suck at being doms is that they end up comparing themselves to people who they think always know exactly what they’re doing, but those people are actually just hiding it when they feel uncertain. New doms end up trying to live up to this impossible standard because it can be really hard to find experienced doms who are willing to admit they fuck up sometimes and don’t always know what they’re doing.

Another thing that can make things tough for new doms is not having the experience to know whether you just need more practice or whether you’re not compatible with the person you’re playing with. Being a good dom is kind of like being a good roomate – it’s not an absolute thing. Just because you’re a great roomate for one person doesn’t mean you wouldn’t end up wanting to throttle each other if you lived with someone else. It’s handy to have a bit of experience and a few basic skills, but being a good dom for any given person is more about compatibility with that particular person and being able to explain what you want than it is about whether or not you’re objectively a “good dom.”

If things just don’t work with someone, it might not be anyone’s fault. The two of you might just want different things. There’s an enormous range of ways to be kinky, and as common as it is to assume that any two kinky people are compatible with each other it’s just not true. Maybe you’re a low protocol, easy going dom who is happy with any meal you didn’t cook yourself (like me!), but maybe your sub loves high protocol and feels hurt and ignored every time you don’t notice when he gets everything just so or don’t punish him when he makes some tiny mistake (one of my big fears as a dom). Maybe you want to work toward a total power exchange style relationship and your partner only wants that level of intensity a couple of weekends a year. Maybe you like sensual domination and your partner is a super heavy duty masochist. Nobody’s wrong in any of those situations, but it’s very easy to feel like you’re failing your partner when the two of you aren’t compatible.

Just like taking charge takes practice, giving up control does too. Some people aren’t very good at that, but when things don’t work they don’t want to admit it could be their fault, so they lash out and blame the dom for not somehow magically making them good at submission. It’s really common for men in particular to struggle with submission, and given the way men are usually raised they have some very good reasons for having trouble with it, but it’s still not fair to blame the dom when it’s you who can’t or won’t submit.

Finally, the d/s dynamic (or in fact any non d/s relationship dynamic you might have with your partner) is incredibly fragile. If both of you don’t hold up your end, there’s no way for a relationship to work. One of my very favourite posts, and one I wish had been around when I was first getting into the scene is When your submissive says ‘no’ by Ferns. Seriously, if you skip the entire rest of this post, please read Ferns’ post. I spent years thinking that I must not be a real dom because I didn’t know what I’d do if my submissive said no to me. I bought into the myth that real doms always knows exactly what to do too, so don’t feel bad if you got sucked in.

Readers, do you have any advice for new doms who are worried they’re not any good at it?