cw: some frank discussions about D/s, medical issues, touching on disability, etc.
Note: This was written prior to my partner’s most recent surgery, so doesn’t necessarily reflect some up-to-date details. The gist of it, however, remains the same.
In the past four or so years, I’ve read a lot about dominant and submissive dynamics. Some of it’s fantastic advice, some of it’s awful and annoying cishet assumptions, some of it’s heavily fictionalized Tumblr “anecdotes.” Most of it has value, even if sometimes that value is learning what, exactly, I don’t want in my own dynamic.
There is a trend I see a lot throughout the Magical World of Internet Kink, and that is the fact that many (not all, never all) submissives and bottoms like the feeling of being taken care of. I do, too, to be honest. I like feeling like I’m worth the time and mental energy. I like the gentleness and the attention. When it comes to kink and disability, or kink and illness, or kink and mental illness, most of what I’ve found are articles and anecdotes written by submissives or sub-leaning switches, like Kate Sloan’s article about her experiences with BDSM and chronic pain.
What I rarely, if ever, manage to find is anything about a dominant or top who needs some kind of care. I managed to find a collection of really nice posts from Chronic Sex. Otherwise? Not a lot. Certainly none of those romanticized Tumblr stories seem to feature anything of the sort—they’re almost all doms in the peak of health and subs in the peak of health or slightly, charmingly, dependently mentally ill. And what about when a dom needs temporary care? What about serious illness, or an unanticipated low in otherwise well-treated depression? According to the Internet, the only weakness doms are allowed to have are subs in knee socks.
(I mean, my dom isn’t an exception to that one, but that’s beside the point.)
As I’ve written about many times, my partner Damien has spent the last few years enjoying a lot of medical treatment. They have had multiple surgeries, and spent most of 2019 going through preventative chemotherapy. While I’m delighted to report that there’s no sign of cancer at the time of this writing (!!!!!), it’s been an intense ride all around, full of anxious uncertainty. Even prior to the first surgery, they dealt with a lot of fatigue and a limited, entirely home-cooked diet as we attempted to figure out what was wrong. And now after all of this, they’re left with a permanent condition called lymphedema, which requires a lot of care and monitoring.
Basically, for a good chunk of our relationship and all of our time in D/s, my dominant Damien has been the one in need of some kind of physical care or another, to say nothing of emotional support. And because at the time I could find no articles to read, no real suggestions from Tumblr’s kink community, no relevant blog posts, we’ve had to figure out a lot of it ourselves. And for us, one of the biggest obstacles was simply this: How do we maintain the D/s dynamic that we both want when the dominant is struggling physically, and emotionally?
For a lot of people, the easy answer—at least for a relatively short term situation like chemo—would be to put the D/s stuff on hold, and this is extremely valid. A D/s relationship is a lot of work, and at the end of the day, it’s the core partnership that matters most. If you’re faced with this scenario and realize you can’t do both, that’s fine! Focus on what’s most important to you. No judgment from me!
But for us, D/s is extremely important, both to our relationships and to being our authentic selves. Because our relationship is largely nonsexual, D/s is one of the biggest ways we connect intimately. And Damien likes dominating me. They like spanking, and bossing me around, and knowing the effect of The Dom Voice. They like rewarding me and telling me I’m a good girl and watching me improve under their guidance. Their personality and interests didn’t vanish when the doctor said the word “tumor”–they weren’t suddenly not dominant anymore because they had a chemo schedule.
Damien likes having control over something, and throughout chemo I think it was especially important. They couldn’t control how fast their body healed, but they could control what I was doing. They couldn’t easily make dinner, and they were exhausted getting up to get a Q-tip from the bathroom sometimes, but they could say, “Hey, Pommy, go do this thing for me.” What was taken from them in autonomy, they could reclaim or redirect through domination.
My submission style has some CGL aspects, as I’ve written before, but I also really like being of service. I like to feel useful. Damien’s issues have made that an especially important quality. There’s even a nice bonus—it’s a way to be submissive in public. They’re in their chemo chair and want some cookies from the snack area across the treatment room? I can do that! Look at me go! They’re too tired to do much today? Welp, here I am! Overwhelmed with researching certain aspects of your condition? I’ll summarize like I’m getting graded on it! We recently went to a convention, and Damien’s legs weren’t up to the task of traveling all over downtown Atlanta, so they rented an electric cart, and in a spirit of service I took on the role of Fezzik, demanding EVERYBODY MOVE.
Service has its own rewards, but this also allows Damien to be the gentle, praising dominant they like to be. They recognize that sometimes things are difficult, and regularly tell me, “Thank you for being such a good girl through all of this.” Sometimes they get me little treats to show they’re thinking of me. This is so encouraging for both of us–for me, because I feel like my hard work and emotional labor is valued and acknowledged, and for them because they can be demonstrative about their dominance in a powerful, positive way.
In some ways, this has been helpful, too, with the anxiety I feel about their health. Like Damien, there often isn’t anything I can do, and that’s frightening. I’m an anxious person anyway, prone to finding the worst case scenarios, and being presented with several extremely bad scenarios is pretty stressful. Being able to help, to look after some things and try to serve to the best of my ability, being there to support them, helps me to reframe some of my anxiety. And perhaps I cope with a forced lack of control by giving up control to someone, voluntarily, because I want it to be a choice. Maybe that makes it a little bit less horrifying.
One would think that would make everything extremely easy. I’m serving, I’m obeying, I must be happy with that aspect, and submission should be the easiest part of this whole process. Sometimes that’s true. But the truth is, at the end of the day, we’re both mere mortals. So sometimes it’s still a struggle. I love Damien, and I love being useful, and I am compassionate to their suffering. But I am also not a perfect beacon of selflessness, and sometimes, I’m tired as hell. I have days when I want to be babied, and Daddy can’t always do that for me.
Most often, this manifests in days when I want or need something, and I’m too scared to ask, because I don’t want to be burdensome. No matter how many times they tell me that the worst they can do is say no, it’s tough to look at your partner whose hair is falling out, open your mouth, and say, “Hey, could I get a spanking today, and then a cuddle, and then maybe you could make me some mac and cheese?” So, naturally, I say nothing, and then get vaguely grumpy from the stress I’m holding onto, and forget to say “sir,” and maybe snap about something and end up in trouble. Sometimes that helps reframe things, helps me feel the submission I crave, but it’s also much worse because instead of asking, I’m creating more stress for both of us.
Over time, I’ve gotten better at communicating, at stating what I need and identifying when I’m overwhelmed, at expressing when I want to be put in my place instead of forcing their very tired hand. Sometimes they’re able to take care of it, to make me feel looked after, and this is especially true now that the chemo fatigue is past.
And yet it’s still true that sometimes I ask, and while Daddy wants to take care of me, they can’t today. But what I fail to take into account is that they’re a creative soul. They can usually work out some way to make sure my needs are met. If I’m in need of a spanking, they might have me get on the floor while they sit in a chair with a long implement and thwack me until we’re both happy. If I want to have someone take care of me for a while, they have no problem draping a blanket on me and cuddling me, or sitting nearby while I make chicken nuggets and praising me through it like they’re teaching me how. Sometimes when I’m clearly stressed and not taking care of myself emotionally, they’ll tell me to stop what I’m doing and go take a bath. They might not be up to running it for me, but they assure me that they’ll be fine alone for forty-five minutes while I sit in hot water and read. And if I’m straight up having trouble feeling submissive, and craving some sort of reminder that I’m not in charge, they have no problem telling me to sit on the floor, or shoving a gag in my mouth, or giving me particular instructions that I must follow, right now.
The truth is, spending the last few years, and especially the last few months, taking care of Daddy has made our D/s connection stronger. We’re both better at communicating what we need, which is one of the most vital skills in any relationship, and especially a full-time power exchange. We’ve gotten more creative with our kinky activities—trying out different spanking implements for the greatest impact with the least work, not to mention trying out wax play, body writing, and other sensation play because they still want to top when they’re worn out. The fact that they need to use words to dominate more than anything means that I get more of the verbal praise and instructions that I value, while before they struggled with that somewhat. I’ve also learned to do service acts more thoroughly, and I’m more prone to applying a serving spirit to general work around the house instead of just specific instructions.
I don’t know what the future will hold. At the time of this posting, Damien has just completed another surgery (to fix an error made in one of their previous surgeries) and many, many cancer screenings ahead. We’re also still working with a physical therapist on their lymphedema, and working out what that means for our future. On the other hand, Damien is beginning to regain some of the energy (and hair!) that they didn’t have during chemo, and they’re making plans for the future instead of just let’s get through this. They can walk through a grocery store without getting winded. They can attend a convention and enjoy the entire experience.
As for me, I want to say my anxiety is less now that chemo is done, but it’s not. That’s largely because I have an anxiety disorder, but there’s also the constant fear of what future screenings might show, and all those lovely worst-case scenarios in regards to their lymphedema. On the other hand, I’m starting to remember things that interest me, to read books again, to sing to musicals when I make dinner. So maybe things are better. Certainly things will get better. It may not be the normal we once envisioned for ourselves, but we can achieve a new normal.
But whatever happens, we’re together, and I’m theirs, whatever that might look like. Our D/s dynamic is, indeed, dynamic—it will change for our needs, and as we learn new things about ourselves.
Maybe I’ll get more of that coddling that I occasionally crave, and maybe I’ll find I don’t care for it as much as I imagine. Maybe I’ll find other things I need from Damien, and other things I can give them. Maybe my submission won’t look like it does now.
And maybe we’ll find that, as they get stronger, I don’t need to take care of Daddy anymore—or, at least, not in the same way. Diagnoses aside, there will always be bad days, and there will always be times that Damien needs someone to be there for them, just as I sometimes need them to be my rock. And that’s good. We’re partners. And I’m submissive; at the end of the day, I’m glad to be of service.
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