A Chautauqua: On D/s Philosophy – Stages of Submission by MsKestrel

I am no expert on submission or subspace, but I am an explorer in this land, and I’ve witnessed and experienced some wonderful and amazing events involving submission. My current journey involves a first person singular examination of the states of submission.

While I have done some light research on this topic and tapped into my own experiences and identification with submission, I do not expect what I present here to be the definitive and all encompassing final work. In fact I am certain there is much more to say. If you would like to contribute to the discussion, please follow the titled links to reach the discussion thread. For the purposes of this discussion I have separated the continuum of autonomy-submission into four states of being:

__Willful Autonomy__
__Willful Obedience__
__Transitional Submission__
__Responsive Surrender__

Thank you for your time, and do share your thoughts.

On Submission – Willful autonomy

To come to an understanding of submission I propose we begin in that place where submission is not.

In our willful autonomy we pay bills, attend school, work for an employer, and negotiate the traffic in the streets of our cities. We care for spouses and children and close friends and those who need us. Our behaviors and choices are shaped by our environment; the expectations of our overarching culture, mainstream society, our extended family, and our friends. Our language, tone, attitude, emotions, and habits are the manifestation of our inner philosophy: our beliefs and self-image. We understand our place in the great scheme of things from the unique subjective perspective that separates us, and makes us unique.

We operate in this state from an internal locus of control. The affordances of the environment guide our choices and responses. A park affords “outdoors” behaviors, while a grocery store affords “shopping” behaviors. When at work we adopt one set of behaviors to meet the needs and expectations of our employers and clients. Public interaction has a different expectation of behavior, dress, and speech. Visiting a friend’s home may have more restrictive expectations or be more in line with our own home environment. Ultimately the responsibility for personal behavior lies within.

It is from this state of willful autonomy that choice is our highest power. The choice to believe or refute. The choice to accept or reject. The choice to lead or follow. The choice to remain an agent of action or to surrender to submission.

It is from the status of willful autonomy that we can identify our interests, and exercise our intellectual analysis of a proposed situation. It is in the status of willful autonomy that potential partners are identified, plans are made, successful negotiations are settled, and informed consent is established.

On Submission – Willful Obedience

To continue the understanding of submission, I propose we cross the border to where submission exists.

In our willful obedience the act of submitting is first a choice. It is a decision that necessarily entails an affirmative action to embrace a defined role. There is an expectation within our subculture that someone who self-identifies as a submissive will demonstrate acceptable behaviors and fulfill expectations. Perhaps submission has a service style, but it is just as likely it has a sexual style or an SM bottom style. Perhaps submission moves in a transgendered or pansexual direction, or it may have a fetish focus. The truth of the role may be species, age, or gender bent. But the role of submission is distinctly different from Willful Autonomy, and does necessarily distinguish between autonomous behaviors and obedient behaviors.

In willful obedience we operate still from our internal locus of control. Rather than responding to the affordances of the environment we begin to shape our environment. We may dress differently, choose to attend to a specific venue, or directly rearrange our home environment to assist in setting the atmosphere that will facilitate submission. A simple change in environment might be to wear jewelry or clothing that helps to invoke the feelings of submission. The most obvious environmental alteration is being in the presence of a dominant, but willful obedience does not require the presence of others.

In the state of willful obedience we have made the choice to engage already. While we can still negotiate the details of a scene in a similar manner as we would in the state of willful autonomy, there is a slight element of coercion already in play. Whether originating from external forces (environment, potential partner, group behaviors) or internal forces (lust, surrender, need, desire), those involved in the negotiation would be wise to keep in mind that in the state of willful obedience some compromise is present for the parties directly involved. We begin to shift into our chosen role. A dominant makes a similar type of transition as well, from passive dominant to active dominant.

The flow between willful autonomy and willful obedience can be undetectable by a casual observer. The more overt the behaviors of submission, the easier to spot, but it is entirely possible for one to be in willful obedience and none other to be the wiser. Likewise, it is possible to be in a state of willful obedience and not realize that it has happened until attention is drawn to specific behaviors. At that point it may be difficult to pinpoint the transition point.

In fact, I would agree that there is no hard line recognizable step between willful autonomy and willful obedience, and that one can readily fluctuate in and out of these two states depending on internal and external environmental factors.

On Submission – Transitional Submission

To further our understanding of submission, I propose the creation of an artificial state of being; that of transitional submission. To clarify why I feel the need for this distinction I need to jump ahead a little and introduce the next state, Responsive Surrender. While I will go into more detail on responsive surrender in the next section, I want to assert that I do not believe it is common to go from willful obedience to responsive surrender without fluctuating back and forth for a bit. This state of fluctuation is what I am addressing in Transitional Submission.

In the state of transitional submission the act of submission gains greater depth and intensity, but does not continue down a slippery slope toward responsive surrender in a linear fashion. Rather, intensity of focus, surrender of power, and responsiveness to stimuli will wax and wane. The vehicle for transition is the means of the power exchange. The vehicle may be ritual, sport, or protocol. It may take the form of formal arrangement, or it may arise from impromptu banter. The sport may include verbal engagement, physical warm up, struggle and resistance, or intense initiation. The protocol may be established daily routine, or a negotiated scene specific arrangement. And of course it can be any combination of these possibilities along the continuum.

The signature sign of transitional submission is the shift in locus of control. From an internal locus of control present in both willful states, to an external locus of control present in responsive surrender. Transitional submission is noted by the presence of the locus of control shifting back and forth as the interaction progresses. More-so than the realization that one is already willfully submitted and has been for a period of time, it is definitive for this transitional state to kind of sneak up on the practitioners. That is to say they may recognize that this state has been reached but be unable to point out specifically when that happened. And to over analyze the state is to break out of it. Transitional submission is the process of the suspension of disbelief – and the invitation of *flow.

Herein lies a hazard to some forms of communication, such as scene negotiation and consent. This state of transition may be recognized by the shift in initiation. Initiation comes from an internal locus of control, and as initiation shifts to the dominant, the one in submission surrenders initiation. In transitional submission, initiation does frequently return, as the influence of willful obedience returns, but the hazard to negotiation and consent is that it is not a clear distinction from an observer’s perspective when the locus of control is internal or external. For this reason, all negotiations should be concluded before this state is attained. Further, if it is possible this state has been attained before the negotiations have concluded or consent has been granted, it would be wise for the dominant make the effort to guide the submissive back to at least willful obedience, if not willful autonomy in order to be certain that informed consent has truly been attained before resuming.

If the formal scene was not initiated in the willful obedience state, it is certainly active in the transitional submission state. The elements of power exchange, pain perception and processing, time compression and *flow, obedience and resistance are factors in the experience of transitional submission. The response time to query, commands, and gestures is often delayed due to the influence of these factors.

Lets look at a hypothetical check-in for well-being. Understand that it may not be perceived in context, and with a delayed response time it may not appear to be a clear answer to the query. “Are you with me?” may be answered by “cookies”. And while the dominant is puzzling out what exactly that means, I assure you it makes perfect sense to the submissive. Allow me to illustrate: Dominant says, “Are you with me?” Submissive thinks, Oh how wonderful! He’s checking in with me. He really cares about my well-being. I love this feeling. I feel secure, and I’m warm, and he’s so powerful and oh he’s leaning closer and waiting for something, so he must have asked me something. It was something good and this is so yummy being like this. Oh I need to answer! – and it comes out “cookies”. Now not everyone does this, and not every time will it be this disjointed. But it is important to know that the submissive’s intelligence has not been compromised. This is a very normal response to a deepening state of submission.

The transitional stage is arguably where most scene play operates. Many practitioners never take things further than this space. The safest play does not exceed this stage. The ability to reach from this transitional state back up to willful submission is readily possible. So I feel comfortable in asserting that relying on the submissive’s ability to initiate a safety cue is reasonable for someone in a state of transitional submission. The hazard in communication here is that unless the submissive has drifted up towards the willful state in the last few moments, it is possible they may have slipped into responsive surrender without the dominant yet realizing that the safety cue is no longer going to be an effective tool.

Moving from transitional submission back to willful obedience initially will be relatively easy. Cues from the dominant can bring the submissive back “up”. The longer it takes for the submissive to come back toward willful obedience the deeper they have been. Return to willful autonomy is possible, but if immediately required the submissive is at a high risk for vulnerability, and may not be possible if demanded too quickly. It would be wise to keep this in mind and plan for it when considering environmental safety issues like earthquake, fire, or outside intervention (other players, neighbors, police, etc).

While someone in a state of willful obedience can certainly function well alone, I would like to propose that if someone is in a state of transitional submission that they not be left alone. Once that locus of control shifts to external, it becomes the responsibility of the dominant to protect the submissive until such time as they have their power back.

On Submission – Responsive Surrender

To wrap up our understanding in this chautauqua on submission I propose we conclude with the depths of Responsive Surrender.

In the state of responsive surrender the act of submission is in direct response to the actions and vocalizations of the dominant. The locus of control is completely external, by definition. Responsible negotiation is not possible in this state. Consent must have already been granted, as it is not possible to grant informed consent from this frame of reference. The power to control is entirely in the hands and the will of the dominant. This is the state of raw vulnerability.

From responsive surrender a practitioner cannot return directly to willful autonomy, and must be supervised. It is possible to obey short, direct commands, provided the submissive is given ample time to comply. Communications are compromised in this state. Prompting for status checks may garner a grunt, moan, or illogical vocalization. Recovery to a state of willful obedience can be facilitated by prompting for emotional response in discord with the current context. As an example, asking the submissive to laugh may help them engage their will and transition the locus of control, however briefly, back to an internal focus. Repeatedly prompting in this manner can bring someone from responsive surrender to transitional submission, and from there back to willful obedience. Timing varies.

While in responsive surrender, the submissive practitioner cannot initiate a safe cue of their own volition. Reliance on safewords should be considered high risk. It is possible that a safe cue – such as a released item might work for some practitioners in this state, but the same cue may backfire as the submissive clings to the cue rather than releasing it. Close observation is required.

While endorphins kick in during transitional submission, the biggest distinction between transitional submission and responsive surrender is the sustained deep state. Some practitioners have identified this state as being “blissed out”, or “flying”. The submissive’s behaviors are subject to the will of the dominant at this point.

It is worth mentioning that some people in this deep state of surrender, under the heavy influence of endorphins, and after being in this state for a sustained period, have responded to additional stimulation in a violent manner. I hesitate to distinguish this state as a deeper level, however, as it does not appear to manifest with any documented consistency, and many practitioners never experience this set of behaviors. So this may not be a valid separate state.

However, I would be negligent in the treatment of the topic if I did not bring this up – for safety considerations if nothing else. There appears to be no rational responses available when the violent responses begin to manifest. These practitioners cannot be reasoned with in this state. It is more likely that responses will continue to manifest physically rather than verbally without some change in the stimulus (perhaps soothing tones, a distinctive scent, or some other trained cue or command).

Someone in a violent-response state is dangerous, to themselves perhaps, but certainly to their partner. Their subjective experience of their partner may be reduced to an objective environmental factor, rather than with recognition of the dominant as a individual. I have witnessed a female submissive attempt to bite – with intent to do harm – at her dominant from this state, and not recall the moment at all later. Practitioners who know they are capable of reaching this state need to communicate clearly and plan in advance with their partners. But if, as a dominant, you suspect you have taken someone to this head space, be aware of your risk and take appropriate measures to “recover” the person to a transitional state.

Please be very careful and take this situation with all seriousness, as these situations require __skilled__ supervision until the submissive have returned successfully to a willful state. If such a situation occurs in a public play space, get some “back up” from the Dungeon Monitors or another experienced dominant, to ensure safe public play.

Play at this level is inherently edgy. However, it does not follow that all edge play takes place in this state, nor that this state is necessarily a desirable state of experience.

Keep in mind that responsive submission is on the same continuum as willful autonomy, and during the process of submitting, it is only one possibility. It may remain a state never explored, without detracting from your experiences of submission. Your journey is unique to you, and your experiences are powerful and valid, just by the nature of fact that you’ve experienced them.

I am very interested in your thoughts. Please feel free to message me directly, leave your comments below, or click the underlined links to contribute to the discussion on each of these states in the individual discussion threads.

Thank you for your indulgence.