When I think about what I generally think of as regular people, and when I think about the views and the image they might have about kink (to whatever extent they might think about it at all), I imagine how much of it would be a complete shock and surprise to them if they had any idea it existed. I think for most people, their knowledge and understanding of the territory begins with rumors and insinuations and ends with the moment in that scene in that movie, right before the camera cuts away and we’re all left to use our imaginations.
To put it simply, what people refer to under the blanket terms of “kink” and “BDSM” covers an incredible variety of practices and interests, most of which, I would speculate, would be complete news to the uninitiated or the plain vanilla. There are a lot of people for whom 50 Shades of Grey is the textbook, and believe me, it doesn’t cover all that much.
Describing oneself as kinky, then, could mean almost anything in practical terms. It’s one of those things you can tell when you see it, but the fact is there is no spectrum, no grades or levels. There are all kinds of kinky people who are into all kinds of different things that may or may not have anything to do with what other kinky people are into.
But then there are areas where these aspects and territories of sexuality overlap, and it becomes harder still to make sense of things when two categories of people do the same things (or some variety thereof) for vastly different reasons, with different motivations, with different goals and objectives, and with very different ideas about who, what, how, and why.
Among the most significant and timely examples of this is the question of activities and play that bend the genders, whether in physical terms or in terms of role or appearance.
We’ve all heard things about them, or at least insinuations. The “crossdressers”. In the early 1900s the term referred mostly to women who wore trousers (when they weren’t being called “bifurcated women”), but today it’s something we think of almost exclusively as the province of strange little men, the J. Edgar Hoovers and god knows who else. The Silence of the Lambs character “Buffalo Bill” comes to mind as well, but as unfortunate as that association is we’ll leave it well aside for the moment. In short, outside of the world of kink it is certainly considered abnormal, and it’s not necessarily something you want to be associated with.
But now, gender issues at large are, of course, some of the most pressing and salient social questions of our time, and while in public there is still (always) the fight for the rights and empowerment of women, and now for trans and queer people as well, in private there are all kinds of activities and play that take place in the uncharted waters of the interplay between them.
Gender identities and gender roles are often amongst the most central aspects of kinky sexuality. Almost everything that interests a kinky person will take place within a context of their relationship both to their own gender and to the genders of others. Their sexual orientation comes first, whether straight, gay, bi, or some combination thereof.
The architectures of these relationships can be deeply complex. For example, you might have a cis-woman, who is bisexual, who may be dominant with men but submissive with women, but she may further be dominant towards women who are submissive, and along the way there may be exceptions to the rules according either to a particular person or a particular circumstance. To truly account for all the variations you’d also have to account for both the sexes and genders of each person involved, and you would have to consider that in some cases the gender is non-fixed, meaning those dynamics were subject to change under depending on the circumstances.
I can tell I’ve lost a lot of you already, but for a moment let’s look at the subset of people who are kinky, who are cis-gendered and heterosexual, and who engage in female dominant play with a gender-bending aspect. Now, these people usually come in a couple of different varieties, but what they get up to typically revolves around three symbolic and, both psychically and physically, pleasurable acts: 1) some element of crossdressing, whether mutually or on the part of the male, and 2) anal penetration of the male by the female’s use of a wearable strapon dildo.
That much is common to each of the sexualities I will describe here, but that much is about all the similarity there is.
The most overt and recognizable form of this particular kink is the practice of “sissification”, in which “sissies” are essentially transformed into living Barbie dolls in wigs, heavy (and heavily exaggerated) makeup, and garish, over-the-top clothing, whether in specific costumes or particular outfits in latex, fishnet, etc., with an ostentatious preference for both hot and powder pinks. There is often a large amount of both humiliation and degradation involved, specifically revolving around the sissy’s now debased status, and very frequently there are two additional elements: 1) the inclusion of situational or permanent male chastity, through the use of a (usually pink and effeminate) locking chastity cage, and 2) the implication or actual inclusion of some element of “forced” or “coerced” bisexuality.
Now this, I think understandably to most people, represents one extreme of gender play, one particular, specific fetish that appeals to one specific subset of kinky people. But what about the rest of us?
For a lot of people, even within kinky circles, the whole dramatic, hyperstylized, and fairly surreal business, though perfectly tolerable in keeping with the “live and let live” culture of BDSM, is somewhat confusing and disorienting, even philosophically objectionable, and personally I’m inclined to agree. It’s one of those things that rings false to me when I see it, that just isn’t for me, but there is a way in which it approximates (to some degree) some elements of things that I find valuable to explore and consider.
For starters, let’s address the two elements I first described, and I’ll take them in order:
Let’s take as read the prevailing cultural assertion that men’s underclothing is ultilitarian and women’s is ornate, that men are supposed to think about and involve themselves in this aspect of their dress as little as possible while a woman who does the same is considered less feminine.
In a way, the female purview and prerogative in this regard has an element of luxury which is theirs and theirs alone. Women are supposed to have exquisite, carefully crafted, beautifully form flattering and accentuating underwear that entices and arouses, while men are supposed to be basic, and if they put any thought at all into it it should be around the question, “Boxers or briefs?”
And, too, it must be said, that when a man wants to put a little effort in and find something sexy that suits his anatomy, the options available to most men are either plain, sporty, or in the case of what is sold in most sex shops, abundantly childish and tacky. It can be very difficult to find something tasteful, well-made, and attractive, even when you want to.
But what, then? Do the men who want to feminize just have “lingerie envy”? Perhaps, to some extent, but there are other aspects of the interchange as well.
For me, there is a particular element of wearing something sexy for my partner that is not only a representation of my desire to look good and be attractive for her, it’s also a desire to honor and do justice to her femininity by observing a certain amount of decorum. That much of it is an extension of the same desire that leads me to clean and groom myself before we interact or to make sure the sheets are clean and that the house is tidy, and so on. It’s being a gentleman. It’s the desire to be and act a certain way that reflects well on her and shows a gratitude and appreciation for her and her presence and attention.
To put it simply, if you have sex as if you’re interacting with and in the presence of a sublime natural divinity, whom you admire for her spiritual grace and sophistication, are you going to do so in a saggy pair of Wal-Mart Fruit of the Looms?
Moreover, if the underclothes in question are hers (or picked out by her), whether particularly feminine or not, there’s an element of sharing in her unique sensibilities of taste and style, of having that projected onto you. It’s letting that perspective and that disposition conform to you and letting it govern you. In the queen’s court, how does she dress her servant?
But let’s concede that, yes, there is something more to it when you add in the element of actually being represented as feminine or female yourself on top of wanting to be presentable, well groomed, and well dressed. How do we interpret donning feminine clothing for a partner on the grounds that it transmutes you in some way as to your own gender?
Leaving aside the possibility that you are genderfluid and that this act enables you to express that and sets the stage for a more accurate or appropriate version of your lesbianism, suppose first that it can indicate a measure of gender solidarity, meaning to say the desire to be “on the girls’ team”. It’s wanting to be accepted as one of their own even if that’s not what you are, and the underwear can be totemic of that, almost emblematic. That represents a lot of trust that they have for you as well as the trust you have for them.
That’s why, in feminization, panties are often a privilege, not a punishment. [There are valid and compelling ways of making them either.] They’re a way of saying, “You get to be this way because you’re special and this is something I want to give you access to and for us to share.” It’s an invitation, and a way of being included in something exclusive. And that’s being recognized as something special.
But there’s also something to the idea that it involves, by the same token of solidarity, a measure of symbolically taking on the woman’s unique burdens and strains, the idea of asserting that, “Whatever a woman is, I want to be that too.” Whether it’s being emotionally aware and involved, whether it’s being sensitive and vulnerable, whether it’s strength through resilience and compassion, whether it’s any of the things of which women are wondrously capable, a feminized man wants to express his desire to share that.
[I mean, I don’t know of anyone whose feminization involves imitating childbirth or the menstrual cycle, but the sentiment is there.]
Which leads us to the other hallmark of feminization, or gender sharing, and that is the man receiving anal sex from his female partner, via the use of a strapon.
To me, and to many, the practice of “pegging” is the single most symbolic and profound form of gender exchange that a couple can engage in, because it’s the thought-completing foil to what I described above. It’s the yin to the yang, and the other side of the coin.
I once talked to a new Domme who expressed an anxiety that men who want to be pegged want, “to be dominated by male energy.” In fact, I would submit that the opposite is actually true. Pegging is about a man voluntarily and deliberately removing the masculine prerequisite for penetrative sex, or conferring that privilege to his Mistress. It’s abdicating what less enlightened minds would describe as his anatomical and biological birthright, and ceding that to her.
Giving one’s Mistress this power is a way of saying, “She has all of her own divine power as a woman, and now she has whatever I also possess as a man.”
And again, it allows the man to take over what it means to receive penetrative sex, which is the solidarity aspect combined with the desire to demonstrate his gratitude for when the tables are turned, and it’s a chance to physically submit himself to the burden of that as a way of showing love.
Additionally, the act of being penetrated as a submissive is further enhanced when viewed as a form of worship. In other words, just as a slave delights in worshiping their Mistress’ body with their hands or their mouth, being penetrated can be a way of embracing that extension of their partner’s body with another unique part of their own anatomy.
Humiliation and Punishment
Now, with everything I’ve described, it could be hard to imagine that erotic humiliation and punishment might play an important role. Like domestic servitude, like chastity, this is a persuasion unto itself for many, but it’s important to discuss the differences in approach between the humiliation of gender sharing from a D/s perspective and the more aggressive denigration associated with sissification.
In many depictions, humiliation is an aspect of any erotic feminization, and more often than not the feminization is forced feminization. Nothing wrong with this exactly, because who doesn’t like being forced to do something they love, but too often this centers around the feminine itself being what there is to be humiliated for.
This is present in what’s also called bimbofication, where apparently once one has arrived at their closest approximation of femininity, they resemble in both appearance and utility, a garish blow-up fuck doll. I, for one, object to that construction as symbolic or representative in any way of the female, and I also don’t know why if I was going to be feminized I wouldn’t want that experience to feel like it was an expression and extension of my self. It’s caricaturizing and depersonalizing, and I’ve never personally gotten on board with that.
But suppose for a moment that in submitting to feminization as an element of power exchange was really a question of enabling one’s Domme to assert control over the gender expression of their sub at her whim, whether as punishment or reward (and, of course, either gender expression could be characterized as either one). In essence, she takes on an almost shamanistic control over how you express yourself sexually, and that has enormous potential.
If she happens to amuse herself with this power, all the better! Imagine some transgression for which you lost either your masculinity or femininity privileges, or that participating in one or the other came with specific consequences, or that being one or the other entitled or dictated your circumstances and privileges. There are lots of ways to explore all kinds of kinky feminization without having to lower or berate the idea of femininity itself.
In all, I think I’ve illustrated what I meant at the beginning of this effort, which is that people have little or no idea how complex all of this is, and we shouldn’t rely on the highly visible trend of sissy pornography to account for it.
There are so many ways to explore this form of intimate companionship and dominance, and it deserves more respect than we give it.
In closing, because I’m a word nerd, I’ll leave you with a simple linguistic distinction between these two forms of gender exchange. An “-ification” comes from the Latin ficatio or ficare, which means “making equivalent to”. Think gratification, purification. An “-ization” comes from the Latin izare, meaning “to render or transform”. Consider crystallization, actualization. I think there’s something to that, but I think the latter has a better ring to it.
Click here for more insighful essays from The SMUT Project!