The Low-Down on Authority-Based Relationships

SLAP! has had the good fortune to host a number of very experienced and knowledgeable BDSM practitioners since we first started about six months back. In September this year, a lovely couple from Seattle passed our shores and expressed their desire to run a workshop on authority-based relationships. Of course, we complied. This lovely pair, BrianR and MelR, also happen to be title holders. Together, they hold the titles of Northwest Master and slave 2013.

If you read that sentence more than once, don’t worry because I was as bewildered when I first heard their titles. You mean there are competitions for BDSM? That was the first question that ran through my mind. How does one compete for the title of best slave? That was the second question. I had a brief image of a woman in fetish gear being put through her paces like in a dog show. Very kinky, but I had a feeling I wasn’t quite right.

I googled the competition and this is what I found –

The Northwest regional Master/slave contest takes place at Northwest Leather Celebration. This contest celebrates the Master/slave dynamic by providing positive outreach to the community at large. The purpose is education – promotion of healthy leather relationships. To qualify, contestants must have been part of their current self-identified Master/slave relationship for at least one full year. The contest is for pairs who identify as Master/slave regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. The title holders will be expected to honor the title by helping educate the leather community as a whole about the Master/slave lifestyle. It is also expected that title holders will attend/teach at a minimum of four events during their title year. Titleholders are encouraged (but not required) to actively pursue fundraising for the charity of their choice as a way of giving back to the community.

When I finally got to meet BrianR and MelR in the flesh, they gave us more information about the competition and reinforced that their titles were teaching ones. I was impressed and counted my lucky stars for having the opportunity to meet them in Singapore. What were the chances? Anyway, I learnt a lot from the 101 workshop entitled “Authority-Based Relationships” that BrianR and MelR ran, and I thought I would share my takeaways with you.

The main thing I learnt was that authority-based relationships can exist anywhere, both in the kink and vanilla spheres. BrianR shared that it isn’t uncommon for one party to ‘wear the pants’ in a vanilla marriage/relationship. I could relate because I was brought up by parents who were clearly in an authority-based relationship, but vanilla. My mother was in charge. She controlled the finances so tightly that she gave my father a monthly allowance of eight hundred dollars after pocketing the rest of his pretty sizeable income for “household needs”. She was the loudest person in the home, always forcing her opinions on others. Even as a mere child, I could sense my father’s displeasure at having to give up so much of his hard-earned money, even if it was for the family. It didn’t take long before their marriage fell apart and my father had an affair with a woman from a third world nation who looked up to him despite his faults.

While there are certainly vanilla authority-based relationships that thrive, it is apparent that my parents’ relationship did not because neither of them was entirely comfortable about the role they had ‘chosen’ for themselves. My father felt emasculated by my mother’s need to control everything, and my mother was crying out for my father to, for once, step up and ‘be a man’. I know this from the things she told me on the many occasions when she broke down in disappointment with my father. I didn’t know how to tell her that she was setting herself up for failure. Sadly, in most vanilla authority-based relationships, the exchange of authority or power is not something that is discussed earlier; in many cases, even if it is, individuals might find themselves adhering to cultural norms rather than choosing to take or give up authority.

The difference, therefore, between a successful authority-based relationship and what I just described is consent and negotiation. Whether a couple identifies as top/bottom, dominant/submissive or master/slave, the authority in the relationship is clearly acknowledged by both parties who make an informed decision about how they want to manage that authority.

A top/bottom couple usually find themselves in a transactional relationship. Polyskeptic describes a transactional relationship as “a relationship where both (or all) parties are in it for themselves, and where partners do things for each other with the expectation of reciprocation.” In such a dynamic, while the top is expected to accept responsibility for what he/she does and to work within the skills he/she has acquired and the consent negotiated with the bottom, the bottom is expected to accept responsibility for what he/she wants done and to provide the top with clear limits. At any time, either party can stop the scene without feeling a sense of failure. As you can see, the authority in such a relationship exists as something that the couple can manipulate for their mutual enjoyment. This empowers them both, something that was lacking in the example of my parents.

A dominant/submissive couple, by BrianR and MelR’s definition, and also by mine, is one in which areas exist where control is neither given nor taken. As with tops, dominants must accept responsibility for their actions and consequences within the scope of the negotiations, and submissives, like bottoms, need to accept responsibility for their own best interest. Both have the right to refuse to do things that are not in their best interest. The giving and taking of authority is, yet again, an empowering affair.

Finally, the master/slave dynamic, that Master and I subscribe to, thrives on the understanding that the slave’s consent needs only be given once. After this, they are not expected to dissent. Some of you might wonder about my psychological stability, but let me assure you that I am very happy and very confident in my relationship. This is not a case of stockholm syndrome. I thrive on the knowledge that I trust my Master to make decisions with our best interests at heart. Similarly, Master thrives on the knowledge that I have trust that he will lead our relationship the way that he deems best. Is it easy? No… But that’s fodder for another article that I will write some other day.

For now, I leave you with this conclusion on authority-based relationships. If you desire to be in an authority-based relationship, make sure that you first examine your motivations for doing so. Engage in lengthy negotiations with your partner to ensure that the two of you are on the same page. Deal with the authority in your relationship as something very precious. It must be given and received, not unwillingly lost or taken. With the correct foundation, an authority-based relationship can be extremely satisfying. You’ll still have to work hard to iron out kinks along the way (kinks… geddit geddit?), but at least you’ll both be working towards a clear goal.

If you’re interested, but you still feel like you need to talk to someone who has some experience, feel free to email me at amberwine@gmail.com.

Singapore Learn and Play (SLAP!) is a non-profit group that delivers quality learning experiences for the Singapore BDSM community. The SLAP! Skill­Share Series is aimed at helping members learn or refine techniques, with the main focus being on safety. These are either non-­demo (lecture style) or demo (hands­-on workshop) and are held in private spaces. For more information on our upcoming events, visit our Fetlife discussion group or sign up for our mailing list

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About truffleupagus

Amber has been an active member of the local BDSM community for the past 8 years, though she has practiced BDSM privately for more than a decade. Amber and her dominant husband love to travel and have connected with kink communities in the countries they have visited. Inspired by the people she has met and learnt from, Amber hopes to, in turn, help others along their journey in BDSM.

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