November/December 2002
The Submissive Slave:
Thoughts, Reflections... Recognition

by dark whisper

There seems to be an ongoing debate within the world of D/s, particularly the online world of D/s, about the difference between a submissive and a slave. This particular topic comes up time and time again in the chat room I frequent, and so far… it has eluded real definition.

Semantics often plays a major role in these discussions -- often moving the focus from the thoughts… to the wrangling over word usage and pigeon-holing. Recently, I found myself speaking with a dominant that I trust and respect, about this very topic, and found that the discussion began to capture some of my own ideas, and I thought to share them here with you.

We all know the common definitions as pertains to BDSM~D/s:

A slave:
A person owned by another -- without rights, without choices, without the ability to drive their own lives and directions. A person whose very existence is at the whim and desire of another. Property. Cherished and loved, but still… given over to another to make all decisions for this person. The slave makes one choice, and one choice only. To become a slave. After that, they accept, without question, every decision the dominant makes. The only “out” is if the slave leaves the relationship. There is no negotiation after the initial guidelines have been set up, and the slave must accept everything the dominant decrees. Including being “traded” or accepting new people into their lives.

A submissive:
One who gives over their own personal power and control to another voluntarily. One who accepts the guidance of a dominant and gives the right of their own decisions/directions/growth to another in most aspects of their relationship. An exchange of power occurs, with both the submissive and the dominant giving equally of their time and emotions. A choice, or gift, that can be withdrawn at any time by either the dominant or the submissive. A submissive has many rights. Including: the right to be respected; the right to negotiate; the right to have levels of control over aspects mutually agreed upon in everyday life; the right to say no; the right to feel equal as a person.

It came to me, during this discussion, that there are many crossovers in these two seemingly different types of submission. The term slave has caused more hackles to rise than many other terms that are bandied about in the world of D/s. Definitions seem to change and move, depending on who is speaking, and their own ideas. Often, those who consider themselves slave, or those who consider the one who serves themselves to BE slave, equate “slavery” with a deeper level of submission. Conversely, those who are submissive (and by default, those who have submissives in service to them), often feel that being a submissive requires a deeper sense of submission than that of a “slave.”

The emergence of “Gor” and “Gorean” activities has muddied the waters even more. In Gor, a slave is literally property, with no rights. He/she is owned and is (hopefully) treated as a prized possession. The Gorean slave serves any dominant or “free person” whether they want to or not, whether they like the person or not -- if it is the whim or desire of their master or mistress, and in the case of an un-owned slave, any free person. As close to true slavery as is possible in the modern world.

This separation of slave and submissive is what causes the problems with definition. Most equate the term “slave” to the Gorean idea of slave, and forget about the very real life choice of consensual slave. And a new term came to mind: submissive slave.

I am a submissive slave. The dynamics of my own relationship give me so much freedom -- the freedom to do as I like in most cases. I maintain the rights of the submissive as detailed above, but with one major difference. I am owned. I have given him ownership over me, and he has accepted that ownership. Wow. Stop and think about that for a moment.

I am a very strong woman -- emotionally and intellectually. Yet, I am finding that I am not whole unless I give away the control I hold in my private life to my Master. Reaching deeper within myself to the core of who… I am.

It’s funny in a way, because I thought I had a pretty good idea of what real submission was. I looked to all the “activities” that I had engaged in, and thought of those things as proof of my submission. Recently, something happened with my Master that pretty much blew all of that right out of the water. I was being “disciplined” for failure to realize that by not communicating with him, I was showing him that I wasn’t thinking of him, and only considering my own needs. I didn’t realize that. I truly didn’t. I did not complete an assignment, and the reasons I did not were valid... yet, rather than telling him of those reasons and explaining why I was unable to complete his instructions, I simply waited for him to ask. Thereby giving the impression that I didn’t care that the assignment was not completed. Which was far and away opposite of what I truly felt, but didn’t realize… just how it appeared.

During his rather unique way of disciplining me (He doesn’t tell me what I’ve done wrong, rather, responds in a way guaranteed to cause me to think and feel -- struggling with the concepts until they are clear, and THEN helping me to understand even more clearly), I, for the first time, truly -- mind and soul -- surrendered to him. I gave up everything. I cannot describe what happened to me other than saying it was an epiphany. I had submitted to him many times before, but it was always a bit of a struggle. This time, it simply came. All control was given to him, and he took that control… and then gave it back to me in a way I cannot describe.

Later, I began to put the pieces together, and began to understand more fully this concept of submissive slavery. I knew that I was slave to him. There was never any doubt of that in my heart or mind, but I wasn’t able to actualize the concept beyond the feeling of what that meant to me.

Complete emotional surrender. That is, I think, the crux of the submissive slave. It’s not about the activities, rather, it is all about the emotions. Surrendering, not submitting. Giving up that tightly held kernel of emotional control, and allowing someone else -- one’s dominant -- to take that gift onto themselves, and then… give it back. Stronger and deeper than ever before.

This raises the question of dependence. Does it mean now that the submissive is dependent upon his/her master/mistress? To the degree that there is interdependence within most relationships, yes. But in this context, it is not necessarily dependence as a form of clinging -- an unhealthy aspect -- but surrender. A good dominant will take that surrender... as a gift... and then give it back as strength -- allowing the submissive slave to become stronger in who she is... and who she serves. The entire time... using that surrender to move deeper... and open doors that have been locked tight... with steel walls protecting a bruised soul.

Dependence can become unhealthy when it becomes a manic grip borne of fear and insecurity on either part. If a person (submissive or dominant) feels that they have to hold on, in order not to lose what they have, then something is missing -- most likely real trust. In a submissive, it might be categorized as clinging… in a dominant, it could be viewed as manipulation.

~realizing I have rambled, once again, away from the initial thoughts… returning to them~

So, having said all that, let’s go back to the difference between submissive and slave, hmm? Honestly, I think (and this is my own definition) that a submissive can be a slave under the right set of circumstances, to the right dominant for him/her. Not all want to be slave, nor should anyone expect this of themselves or of another. I believe it is a naturally occurring movement from submissive to slave under certain circumstances that only occurs when all the pieces come together in certain ways.

A “slave” holds a mindset of total obedience and control, and submits within those guidelines to a dominant, and in the case of Gorean slaves, submits to any dominant (the Gorean philosophy gives the impression that slaves are simply chattel, not much different than any expensive livestock). A submissive only submits to those she/he chooses to submit to -- on any level, and only under agreed upon activities/time. A submissive slave may not wish to give up control over every aspect of their lives, wishing to maintain some sense of identity and independence, but goes deeper inside to that place of total surrender.

This is not to say that any of these “types” are better, or a “higher form of submission” than the others, only that there are different ways to look at the common labels. I usually don’t like using labels, but there are times when they are useful to give a general idea of a concept or idea, and help clarify one’s own ideas and thoughts.

And at the end of this rather rambling article, it all boils down to this: A slave is one who feels, inside, that they are slave to their "One" no matter the activities and permutations that brings that revelation about. That is all that really needs to be said.