In the BDSM world, some people play exclusively one role, as either dom or sub. But many kinksters enjoy playing both roles at different times, dominate one partner and subbing with another. It’s common enough that there’s a term for it, ‘switching’.
Power exchange operates on a binary division between top and bottom, dom and sub, power-taker and power-giver. Switching up-ends that binary in a way that many kinksters find arousing. And it allows them to express different parts of their personality, meet different needs. And kinksters change and evolve over time. Guys who were doms decide they want to take a break from authority. Guys who were subs suddenly notice an interest in being in charge.
Subbing is a great tool for learning how to be dominant–it helps the dom understand what a sub experiences during play, thereby enabling him to control the sub’s experience more deeply. The first time my mentor tied my up and blindfolded me, I realized how much a blindfolded sub focuses on the sense of hearing to get clues about what’s about to happen. That’s a detail I’ve often made use of. I have a paddle that comes in a vinyl case; when I pull the paddle out quickly, it makes a kind of ‘zzzipp!’ sound. I often use that paddle on a blindfolded sub because the sound it makes is so odd that the sub immediately responds–he will jerk his head toward the sound, trying to figure out what I’m doing. That nervousness heightens the sub’s experience.
In general, the kink world accepts switches and treats them with the same respect it offers anyone else. It’s uncommon for switches to be shamed for enjoying playing on both sides of the slash. If I had to guess, I’d say that a majority of kinkster have had at least a taste of switching, even if they fall firmly into one camp or the other.
The one corner of the kink world where switches seem to be disrespected is findom. There, there is a strong sense that a switch can’t authentically be a findom, that somehow being a findom who enjoys subbing for other findoms is a sign you’re not a ‘real’ findom. Findoms enjoy boasting about taking tribute from other findoms, and finsubs sometimes get upset when they learn that a particular findom they like sends money to another findom.
I get that. Findom, like other forms of power exchange, relies on that binary of dom and sub. Many who enjoy findom like the ideology that their findom is so masculine, so dominant, that the sub just has to submit to him, in this case by sending money. It’s a very intense idea, and in the hands of a good findom it can be incredibly arousing to explore that feeling. So the idea of a switch findom deconstructs that binary and punctures the illusion of total uncompromising masculinity. (And I’ll admit I’m talking about the gay findom scene here–the dynamics between findommes and their male subs is different.)
And I love the idea of domming a dom. It enhances my sense of power to receive power (or tribute) from someone who normally only doms. It’s a testament to my own dominance, a suggestion that I am more dominant, more masculine, than he is. It can also be a source of humiliation for the finsub. I’ve done this myself.
But findoms don’t have an obligation to their finsubs to be exclusively dominant. It’s not ‘lying’ for a findom to enjoy tributing, any more than it is for a trans person to keep their birth gender private. Many professional dominatrices prefer being submissive in their personal lives. And switching is just an inherent part of the kink scene, because human beings are complex creatures that resist the binaries we try to impose on ourselves. The dom/sub binary is arousing in part because it’s so absolute and uncompromising, but it’s not an actual reflection of how the world and the human psyche actually work.
It’s as unreasonable for finsubs to get upset when they learn that a findom sometimes tributes as it is for a John to get upset when he learns that his prostitute doesn’t actually love him. Tributing to a findom is paying into a fantasy, the same way visiting a prostitute is paying into a fantasy. Sometimes those fantasies cut very close to the reality–sometimes prostitutes genuinely enjoy their time with a particular client and might consider a real relationship with him–but the fantasy is still a fantasy.
To be a good findom you have to genuinely understand dominance, which is why a lot of findoms give up after they realize it’s not the easy money it looks like; guys who aren’t really dominant don’t last long in findom. But you’re still cultivating an image, not just being 100% who you are. There is always an element of performance in it, because there has to be. Kink is a performance. Hell, sex is a performance. With the good findoms, it’s a performance of the real, but its a performance nonetheless. And no one can perform 100% of the time.
What compounds this is that findom is mostly conducted online, apart from brief cash-meets (and the findoms who are also prodoms). Twitter and findom websites are stages where people curate their lives, showing only whichever parts of themselves they wish their followers to see. That encourages finsubs to assume that their findom’s private life is similar to their public life. The internet has gotten extremely good at allowing people to fake a life online.
In-person kink plays out differently because after a scene is over, there is aftercare. The dom shifts his performance and brings out his more gentle, caring side. But findom generally eschews the idea of aftercare, perhaps because online aftercare is an unfamiliar idea and perhaps because the dom dropping his mask a bit seems like a way to lose income. There’s no immediate incentive for it. Without the bonding hormones that are released during sex, the post-sex cuddle would seem less important. But without aftercare, power exchange can often turn quite toxic, damaging the sub by confirming negative ideas about himself. And not coincidentally, the damage to subs is a big part of why most kinksters look down on findom.
Findoms have a right to their private life, to their varied sexual desires, to the full range of human complexity. That means that some findoms will enjoy switching and tributing to other findoms, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Attacking findoms for switch is unhealthy and unfair.