The Alpha Performance

One of the popular forms of power exchange lately has been the emergence of alpha/fag play. From what I’ve seen, it’s mostly an online thing. There was a great deal of it on Tumblr before the Tumblrpurge (fuck you, Tumblr! Suck that 30% drop in traffic long-term!), and it’s migrated to BDSMLR and to Twitter, where it mostly manifests as findomming.

The core of this is the Alpha Ideology, which asserts that some guys are just born superior, and that gives them the right to demand money and sex from ‘fags’. Typically Alphas are self-designated and are often, though not always, bodybuilders or athletes. The assumption is that their superior athleticism is what justifies their supposed superior position in society and it justifies the verbal abuse, demands, and violence (in the porn) directed against the ‘fags’.

Theres a shit-ton to unpack here. First, there is more than a whiff of homophobia to this stuff. The alphas often present themselves as straight, despite the fact that wanting to use a guy to give blow jobs and provide anal sex is pretty much the definition of not being straight. If you want guys to blow you and bend over for you, you ain’t straight, sweetie. The wildly heterosexual posturing feels like an effort to overcompensate for desires that seem unacceptable to the alpha.

The constant deriding of submissive gay men as fags reinforces my sense that there’s a lot of homophobia here. The ‘fag’ is presented as the antithesis of the alpha and the absolute undesirable submissive. So there’s a whole lot of false binaries being mapped out here: alpha/masculine/aggressive/hetero/desirable/good vs fag/unmasculine/submissive/homo/undesirable/bad. So this ideology positions both homosexuals and submissives as essentially bad things.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a dom and sub agreeing to treat the sub as a worthless fag who deserves verbal abuse, aggressive fucking and so on. But that’s within a framework of consent–the sub has to agree to become a worthless fag for his dom. But the alpha ideology is usually positioned as being beyond choice–the alpha is just automatically superior and the fag automatically inferior. The only choice in the scenario is supposedly which fag the alpha is going to use. By establishing that alpha identity is inherent rather than conditional on the sub’s submission and then declaring that being a submissive homosexual is just bad, this ideology is expressing a profound hostility to homosexuals, to the point of alphas frequently denying their own homosexual desires.

Another problematic issue here is that the alpha ideology very easily shades over into outright Neo-Nazi ideology. If you look at the posts that circulate on Tumblr (even after the Purge) and BDSMLR, you’ll see a LOT of Nazi ideology–swastikas, Nazi salutes, double S being capitalized in the middle of words, and so on. It’s not hard to see why. Like the alpha ideology, Nazism is rooted in the idea that gender roles are essentialist rather than socially constructed. The alpha is the embodiment of the Nazi Aryan–supremely confident of his superiority, willing to take what he wants without asking, and resorting to threats and violence to achieve his ends.

Another problem with the Alpha Ideology is that it rests on a set of false premises about how wolf packs operate. The idea that wolf packs have rigidly-defined hierarchies divided into alphas, betas, and omegas was proposed in the 1940s by Rudolph Schenkel, one of the first animal behavioralists to study wolves. However, by the end of the century, scientists recognized that wolves don’t operate in packs but rather family units. What Schenkel had identified as the alpha wolves were, in fact, just the fathers of their families, to whom the other wolves generally deferred because they were his children. It’s also become clear that wolves play different roles over the course of their lifetimes as need requires, so that the actual hierarchy of a wolf family, far from being biologically fixed, changes in response to new situations.

Furthermore, ‘alpha wolves’ rarely engage in aggressive shows of dominance. Instead, they tend to be characterized by a quiet confidence, an ability to cooperate to achieve goals (such as taking down a large animal like a moose), and a willingness to share. Alpha wolves, typically the strongest member of the family, often allow the rest of the family to feed before they eat.

The idea that alphas are born, not socially constructed, is highly appealing to a lot of young guys struggling to find their place in the world. They don’t have to accomplish anything; they can just declare themselves alphas. To my eyes, the constant posturing of alphas looks not so much like confidence as it does insecurity, a frantic desire to reassure themselves of their own value through non-stop performances of a fragile peacock-like beauty that serves minimal value but looks impressive. As I see it, genuine masculinity knows what it’s capable of and doesn’t need to constantly announce it.

What so much of the alpha porn misses (especially many Findoms on Twitter) is that alphas aren’t naturally superior. Rather they are choosing to perform a dominant role for an often-paying audience. Twitter Findoms typically employing a set of tropes that include expressions of arrogant superiority, camera angles that emphasize their feet (and therefore position the viewer as inferior), flipping the camera the bird, shirts hiked up to show washboard abs, and deriding the sub as fags, slaves, and worthless. Indeed, these things have become such clichés of the genre that I’ve seen tweets of finsubs talking about how tired they are of seeing guys’ feet and wishing findoms would do something new.

The performative nature of alphahood disguises the fact that many of these guys aren’t actually dominant in their personal lives. Some certainly are, but many of them are just regular guys who’ve figured out they can pay some bills by performing as alphas for the camera. I’ve spoken with several who admitted that sexually they prefer to be submissive, but they play the alpha role because that’s where the money is. It’s the same thing as the prodomme who prefers to be submissive in her private life.

Because so many of these guys aren’t actually dominants, they often fail to understand that, as with all things kink, there are ethical standards one shouldn’t breach. Just in the past month I’ve seen discussions of findoms blackmailing, exposing, or threatening to expose their finsubs; finsubs being ridiculed or attacked online simply for saying they aren’t attracted to a particular alpha; finsubs saying that their alphas pushed them into financially precarious situations; and more. (This certainly isn’t every findom–I’ve also seen several who have expressed concern over their finsub’s well-being, including one whose sub told him that he probably stopped the sub from committing suicide. Some finsubs have a sense that their dom is helping them achieve discipline or other goals.)

Many findoms also have little awareness that they’re sex workers who are offering a product (images of their bodies and their alpha performances) in exchange for cash. Some findoms deny they have any responsibility for their cashslaves, say have no reason to actually communicate with them, and express a sense that they simply deserve the money they are tributed. These ideas reveal a shocking lack of awareness about how BDSM actually works, a complete lack of awareness that there is an Inner Layer to BDSM. The reason for that is, as I’ve said, many of these guys don’t recognize that they doing sexwork and engaging in BDSM, so they don’t understand the genuine dynamics of power exchange. Because the internet decontextualizes porn, these guys see the findom phenomenon and decide to jump aboard simply by mimicking what they see online, without bothering to understand what they are doing on a psychological level.

It’s clear that there is a burning need in the online kink community for a deeper discussion of how alphas and findoms fit into the wider practice. Established kinksters are aware of these problems and have tended, from what I have seen, to simply scorn findom as a bottom-feeding practice instead of trying to draw these guys into the conversation and work to establish a clearer set of ethics. That’s what the point of this post is, to start a conversation with the findoms (and I’l freely admit I do some findomming as well, although from a more ethical position).

I think it’s a mistake to just write off findom as a practice, because it’s clear a lot of guys find it immensely appealing, and there are definitely findoms out there who are aware of their status as sex workers and ethical doms. Hopefully we can increase their numbers.

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