Master and Slave

To begin a discussion about the rules and guidelines of a master/slave relationship, you must first understand that there are no rules and guidelines for a master/slave relationship. The historical models stretch the entire length of the human experience, from ancient slaves in the Egyptian and Roman Empires to modern indentured workers. In the ancient world alone, the models range from gallery slaves that were mere propulsion to the major domo, a skilled and trusted administrator who ran the Roman household so the patricjan was free to write poetry, plot against Ceasar and throw up at the orgy. Some slaves had slaves of their own. What kind of slave and what kind of master did you have in mind? The American experience in slavery alone covered over two centuries and included field hands, house servants, skilled artisans and overseers who were themselves slaves. Which model do you favor and which did your potential owner/property have in mind?

Did you think this would be easy? Some sort of set, standard, off-the-shelf rules that didn’t require debate or decision, just blind obedience? Nope, sorry. Chains (and imagination) required past this point.

As it exists in our modern, SM community, a master/slave relationship is an artificial construct. Let’s face it, slavery is illegal so any form that exists is a voluntary agreement between two parties. many people sign contracts to outline their participation in the relationship. Such an agreement is glossary, a settlement of terms, but not primarily a binding oath. Since a slavery contract would be ultimately unenforceable (and unlawful) these two people are still only bound by the same thing all human relationships are bound by: Trust and mutual needs for sex, intimacy, a sense of place and companionship.

Threatening to publicly label someone a “bad slave” if he breaks a contract is no help because: 1) The leather/SM community is notorious for not believing or accepting someone telling us what to believe, 2) the community has a famously short memory, and 3) many tend to see “bad slave” or “bad master” as a recommendation rather than a warning. You can’t rely on the law or the community, so you had better arrive at an agreement that is enforceable because it meets the needs of all concerned and it works.

Clearly defined and immutable roles such as the sharply focused master/slave have certain advantages. In a relationship in which roles “switch” on occasion, it may be difficult to accept the powerful sadistic top one weekend as the groveling, abject pigslave the next as the same person. This is particularly important in couples who can’t keep sexuality and domesticity separate at inconvenient moments like an argument over overdrawn house accounts.

On the other hand, a partner who wishes to explore another side of his personality (say, a master who wants to be dominated every once in a while) is usually forced to go outside the relationship or leave that desire repressed. There are those who argue that that is how it should be: “A chair is a chair and a chair should never try to be a table,” one very certain elderly master once told me. “Just like a masteer doesn’t try to be a slave and a slave doesn’t try to be a master.” Appealing as that is to one’s sense of order, its narrowness and ultimate impracticality bothers me and I find that leatherfolk tend to be more complex, curious and greedy for exploration. Still, I would never argue with what works for a man and his furniture.

Painfully Obvious author Robert Davolt has been writing and publishing for over 28 years. He has been involved in several local leather communities as a club founder and officer, titleholder, radio commentator, panelist, contest judge and producer. His work has appeared in the San Francisco Examiner, SF Frontiers, OutNow, the Leather Journal, and Bound & Gagged. He is the former publisher of Drummer magazine.

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