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‘Rules are made to be broken’: Meet the BDSM dominatrixes destroying archaic ideas of femininity

We all know the name of that film that took to the box office in 2015 and brought the word ‘BDSM’ to our living room conversations. The moody Christian Grey and his infamous ‘Red Room’, where pain becomes pleasure, were inescapable. BDSM soon became a code word for the world of whips and constraints, consent forms signed in boardrooms and tall white men who live ‘scandalous’ double lives as a dominant (dom) to a female damsel—one who is a meek submissive (sub).

However, the movie (as well as the books it is adapted from) failed in presenting the fact that BDSM expands much further than such binaries. From women in the position of the dominatrix to men finally finding a safe space to explore an identity outside toxic heteronormative masculinity, the subculture is a catalyst in redefining what the face of femininity looks like and could be the key to changing the idea of gender norms as we know it.

What is BDSM?

The acronym BDSM represents ‘Bondage’ and ‘discipline’ (or domination), ‘sadism’ (or submission) and ‘masochism’. Within the movement is an explorative playground where partners can take on different roles and delve into a wide array of sexual activities, kinks and dynamics. Generally speaking, in these dynamics, there’s often a dominant/master, who is a sadist and administers pain, coupled with a submissive, who is typically a masochist and receives pain—both derive pleasure from their respective roles. This can be through various physical forms such as spanking, biting, bondage, role-playing and more. Through BDSM, one can find pleasure in pain but also discover other, intimate hidden parts of themselves—a journey that uncovers their personal limits and desires through means that are not always sexual in nature.

A journey that is now, thankfully, being led by women.

The female frontiers of domination

When we think of those who would be considered dominant in BDSM relationships, we often marry our ideas with those who society has conditioned us to believe normally hold power. This is why we often think of men as doms. These concepts are further reinforced by, pardon-the-pun, dominant pop culture moments that have us in a chokehold like the Fifty Shades of Grey era, whereby a dom is depicted as a tall brooding white cis-male who solely possesses the authority to dominate in the dom/sub dynamic. Yet in the real world of BDSM communities, women and non-binary people can also be doms—a fact that is often ignored. It is the assertive confidence and curiosity of female and non-binary doms that continue to breakdown the rigid binaries that still exist in gender conformity.

Aurélie, an afro-feminist dominatrix from Brussels, first entered the world of BDSM when she met a romantic partner who wanted to push her into further exploring herself. “I have always been a free spirit,” she told SCREENSHOT. “I believe that rules are made to be broken, especially if they are not there to protect me.” Through BDSM, Aurélie has been able to further exercise her naturally dominant and expressive energy—despite the fact that, as the dominatrix herself admitted, it has always been rare to meet women who are doms in the BDSM scene, “especially black women.”

‘Rules are made to be broken’: Meet the BDSM dominatrixes destroying archaic ideas of femininity

Aurélie’s upbringing was rooted in femininity. Without a significant father figure in her life, her family life consisted of just one strong woman who raised her children independently. Despite this, Aurélie was still unable to escape the traditional African and colonial-Christian ideals of womanhood in the midst of her adolescence. “When you grow up in an African household, at parties, the aunties only tell the girls to get up and serve the food—but I am wearing heels and tired. Why do I need to do that when the men are wearing sneakers?” she said.

Being a dominatrix has allowed Aurélie to live in complete actualisation of who she is without the constraint of false, arbitrary ideas of femininity that continue to envelop us in a patriarchal society. “BDSM allowed me to discover myself more and to inspire others. I’m not less of a woman, I’m just being myself and for that, I don’t care [what people think].”

Mistress RaeRae, a dominatrix and LGBTQIA+ activist, has also experienced the rigid gender ideas that plague black womanhood. “Black women are told how they’re supposed to be, how they’re supposed to act and what they’re supposed to be doing—be it through society, music or the media,” she told SCREENSHOT. RaeRae, who was introduced to BDSM after being approached by someone at a party, found that being a dominatrix allows her to re-appropriate the power she thought she had lost after being a victim of a sex crime. She explained, “BDSM is a way of communicating and making sure that everyone is feeling how they want to feel, everyone is feeling safe and heard and actively giving consent.”

‘Rules are made to be broken’: Meet the BDSM dominatrixes destroying archaic ideas of femininity

For RaeRae, the notions of femininity that she had been taught as a young black woman are now non-existent in her BDSM practices—which ripple into the safe spaces she creates for her subs. “In BDSM, we are trying to remove all of these types of gender roles and coding,” she shared. “Femininity is a broad spectrum and the definitions of femininity that we normally look at in our society are very one-sided. Femininity can be expressed in many different forms.”

Mistress RaeRae embodies a form of domination that allows for the fluidity of gender to exist—doing away with such gender-restrictive boxes. And in a community where most subs are expected to be women, RaeRae believes that even receivers hold their own power, dominating doesn’t indefinitely equate to ‘the strongest’—further challenging the prevailing ideas of womanhood. “Being a dom has made me understand that there is power even in submissiveness. It isn’t a bad thing to be a nurturer and you don’t lose any power in this because subs are letting the dom know whether they can or cannot continue what they are doing.”

Domme Claire is a dominatrix who has TikTok in the palm of their hands. With over 200,000 followers, their daily videos about their experience as a dom incites curiosity and inspiration. For Claire, BDSM has been a vital tool to tap into both their feminine and masculine energies. “I have always felt a bit weird with the idea of femininity. I think my autism plays a really big role in that because for me, gender is such an abstract concept,” they said. “Even if I’m wearing my seven-inch boots, I feel very powerful and I feel both masculine and feminine at the same time.”

Claire’s ability to tap into both sides of themselves mirrors the vastness of their clientele. “I thought only straight men would want to submit to me—I never thought women would want to pay for my services or even gay men,” they admitted. Domme Claire first got into BDSM while working in a strip club. After getting interesting requests from men, they soon started to play around with kinks and explore their naturally-inclined dominant nature. Their continued professional work as a dom has allowed them to self-actualise themselves in their everyday life, “BDSM has helped me to be more confident and not afraid to speak up. It has been incredibly empowering to break down the social constructs that I have had growing up and become myself more.”

BDSM beyond pop culture

Pop culture trends tend to often mimic—or react to—the core, foundational beliefs of our otherwise-conservative societal structure. Therefore, it is no surprise that BDSM and other alternative ways to practise sex, intimacy and physical relationships continue to be seen as deviant and taboo—take the controversy around solo polyamory, for example. The issue with this perception is that many people are repeatedly blind to how these alternative ways of exploring oneself can actually breed transformational growth within a person and change them positively forever.

Domme Claire has witnessed an inner-growth in their clients that continues to surprise them. “BDSM is a very useful tool, especially when you want to deal with trauma, [though] it is best when you use it in conjunction with therapy,” they said. “There are men who have feminisation kinks which allow them to explore their femininity in a way that is safe and away from misogyny and it’s honestly incredible to watch them grow and embrace all parts of themselves.”

Aurélie further pointed out how BDSM is not just about pleasure nor is it really about pain. “BDSM is about communication, listening and respecting boundaries,” she mentioned. These are all pillars of human connection that need to be constantly worked on and developed, ones that can be nurtured in healthy BDSM relationships and in turn, evolve into the core of our everyday relationships. Mistress RaeRae echoed the same sentiment, “Everybody practises a level of BDSM—they just don’t realise that what they are practising is BDSM,” she said, adding how the practice centres around consent, asking and checking if the participants are okay. “It is a constant exchange of power,” she summed up.

As we speak, female and non-binary doms are redefining gender and pushing a form of BDSM that has personal evolution at its centre. Through the practice, people can find a power within themselves that is often present when one is curious and in tune with their sexual being. With that said, let’s rid ourselves of the limiting taboos surrounding the BDSM community and instead be pleasantly surprised at the transformed version of ourselves that appears on the other side.

Platonic marriages are marking the end of the nuclear family as we know it

We have long been taught that the main foundation of marriage is romantic love, that we must find the perfect Romeo to our Juliet and live happily ever after with our two dogs and cats, a couple of kids as well as a shared Netflix subscription. But what if we turned those traditional ideas of marriage on their head? What if we decided that we didn’t need to wait for the lover of our dreams before we tie the knot, buy the family home and settle down? What if that notion of romance was replaced by a different kind of love—a platonic kind—and instead spent the rest of our lives with our best friend? Turns out it can be done and it is being done. Introducing platonic marriages and the climax of the nuclear family.

Platonic love versus romantic love

For people like April Lexi Lee, 24, the platonic love she experiences with her best friend Renee is so special that she knew she had found her life partner. Now they live together in Los Angeles. “Renee and I wanted to do life together and be each other’s first of kin,” Lexi Lee told SCREENSHOT. The Singapore-born writer and creative producer has amassed a following of over 48,000 followers on TikTok, many of whom are intrigued by her platonic partnership.

@psychottie

Reply to @naptimeno hope everyone had a good night’s sleep 🥴🥴🥴@hotmilkwong #platoniclifepartner #qpr #queertok

♬ Sneaky Snitch - Kevin MacLeod

For Lexi Lee, the decision to spend the rest of her life with Renee was simple. Their friendship, which has spanned across eleven years, is one steeped in healing and safety, “I credit a lot of who I am today to Renee and vice versa. We’re on this journey to be the best version of ourselves, to heal our traumas and go after our dreams and we give each other the fuel to do that.”

Platonic partnerships are not simply two best friends living together but partners who build their lives together—sharing finances, making significant life decisions in consideration of one another and all other major components of marriage without the romantic or sexual aspect involved. “Your life partner doesn’t have to be your lover,” Lexi Lee explained, “I want to come home to Renee because it’s two different criteria to being a good life partner and a good romantic partner. We don’t have to force lovers into the life partnership box.” And these two aren’t the only ones.

Jay Guercio, 24, is legally married to her platonic best friend Krystle, 29, and together they are raising a teenage boy. Based in Tampa Florida, the pair are a testament to the fact that our best friends can truly be our soulmates. “During quarantine, she was the only person I let myself see because the risk of getting COVID could not be compared to the risk of not seeing her,” Guercio told me. For her, romantic love cannot be likened to the transformative growth she continues to experience while in partnership with Krystle, “I’m a hopeful romantic but it’s based on chemicals that may one day fade, based on a physical or emotional attraction that isn’t necessarily stable but my friendship developed and grew and cultivated into something very stable.”

@thelovelyjaybird

Platonic love is valid screw society’s norms #societalnorms #platonicmarriage #platonicpartnership #bestfriends #love

♬ Lofi - Domknowz

Both Lexi Lee and Guercio are polyamorous, choosing to pursue multiple relationships outside of their partnership. The permanency of the platonic partnership they share with their best friend allows them to have more stable romantic relationships too. “My platonic partnership with Renee improved me as a romantic partner because I already know I have a life partner at home and so I don’t need any more from someone I’m romantically involved with,” Lexi Lee shared. To Guercio, monogamy is simply a construct that doesn’t work for people. “No one person can fulfil another one person’s desires or needs completely,” she said.

The dying idea of the nuclear family

Platonic partnerships and polyamory are ways of loving and living that threaten the very idea that the nuclear family is the natural mode of a family unit.

Doctor Haley McEwen, a decolonial researcher and lecturer, has published work that points out the colonial origin of the nuclear family. In her work, McEwen provides context to the reality that the nuclear family is fused with notions of gender, racial hierarchy and civilisation. “The idea of the nuclear family is seen as apolitical and ahistorical which it is not,” McEwen explained, “It has been used in the interests of certain groups and power and has a deeply political history implicated on political and colonial conquest.”

The nuclear family was used as a tool to destroy many traditional African kinships during colonisation where polygamy and platonic partnerships, as well as communities, were found to be the norm. “The nuclear family served a particular function to insert people into capitalism machinery. It was used as a measuring point—measuring civilisation to construct indigenous and African people as inferior,” McEwen said.

In David Brooks’ article for The Atlantic titled The Nuclear Family Was A Mistake, the writer also discussed the brittle nature of the nuclear family and the danger it poses to community-building. Brooks mentioned how the nuclear family created a shift from big, interconnected and extended families to smaller, detached nuclear families and how this affects the most vulnerable of society—from the working-class to the poor—who need forms of kinship which are more expansive to be supported and ultimately survive.

The nuclear family, which is the greatest asset of romantic love, appears to be impractical for the changing times we are in. It evades community and interconnectedness—while historically representing how racism, homophobia and sexism have built many of the traditional markers of family, love and identity that no longer suit humankind today.

Platonic partnerships are a rebuttal to the nuclear family, they represent the communal love that friendships thrive on and prove that such a love can be a safe place for children to be brought up in, animals to be owned and houses to be shared. It is liberating in ways that romantic love is not because platonic partnerships allow romance to exist simultaneously outside of it, creating family units that are widespread and, therefore, long-lasting.

The future of love

I encourage anyone reading this article to ask themselves if they could build a life partnership with their best friend, someone who’s been there for them through thick and thin, their source for laughter, tears and joy.

“I didn’t want to wait for a romantic partner to sweep me off my feet and help me to create the beautiful life I knew I could live,” Guercio shared, “Why shouldn’t I build the life I want with Krystle? We both deserve it.” And that is exactly it, there is no need to wait for romance if you want to build a life of your dreams with someone by your side. As relationship anarchy takes reign, it is time to reconsider what type of love truly liberates you in your journey.