After more than a year of emails, texts, phone calls, and occasional meetings, Chicago object and I are still negotiating. The primary thing we have in common is our persistence in trying to develop a relationship.
I recently wrote an email to him, mostly concluding that "On the other hand, I may have skewed the conversation into the wrong direction. Perhaps it would be better to forego the idea of being an 'object' and instead focus on 'intense slavery, chattel slavery,' or some other variation on that theme."
To which he replied, "So what is the difference for you in 'chattel slavery' and objectification?"
My conclusion was prompted by the strong possibility that no one could or would live as an object. Chattel slavery, strictly defined, is illegal and immoral. Perhaps what we are really discussing is some kind of intense, on-going domination. What then are the differences?
It really amounts to a discussion of the nature of intimate human relationships, be they parental, spousal, sexual, or familial. For our usage, a dominant-submissive relationship can be considered both human and intimate, since intimacy also comes in many non-sexual varieties. So let me expand my thinking far beyond objectification or even slavery. Let me just talk about relationships.
It seems to me that consensual, intimate, and human relationships have certain qualities in common, in spite of the fact that we often ignore them. I would list them as: Mutually defined; On a continuum; Fundamentally human; Necessarily meeting one's needs; Unique; and Highly changeable.
When I discuss these relationships, I am purposefully excluding those that are dysfunctional, for whatever reason. Of course I do so at some risk, since most relationships probably have some (even though minor) kind of dysfunctionality.
So let me start.
Though many relationships have much in common, I'm going to venture that every relationship is unique. No two children are treated the same way by their parents, no two marriages are exact copies of each other, no two best friends are best in the same way.
I say that because we often think that there is some (even one) way that a relationship ought to be. Though we can certainly expect certain characteristics to be "given," there is still a wide variety of possibilities available in each and every one of them.
That then leads me to an axiom that I have held since the very earliest days of my writing career: Every relationship is defined by the two people in it. I say that with the understanding that even non-negotiated, non-intentional, and irrational relationships exist because the couples in them consent to the relationship, creating it by their interaction with one another. That applies even if their consent is simply by default, by inertia, or their inability to change.
The definition of the relationship is mutually arrived at, even if it doesn't seen that way. If it's not mutual, then it falls into the class of being dysfunctional. OK, I admit that "mutual" includes "agreed upon by default."
By the way, I would also say that agreement by default is probably a very common occurrence as too often we don't give enough (or even any) thought to the multitude of factors that create a relationship. I remember, for instance, that on the first day of our honeymoon, my wife was startled to find that she had married a man who squeezed the toothpaste at the wrong end of the tube. Oops, we had forgot to negotiate that.
And yes, I am guilty. Even to this day I still squeeze the tube near the cap.
It may seem strange that I write about toothpaste in a column on kinky sex, but fundamentally all our relationships are human. Too often we ignore the "human side" of what we do. No matter what your fetish might be or how kinky you want to live, it still boils down to the fact that some 95% of what is going to happen is simply going to be what happens in any and all human relationships. Putting on the black skins of dead cows (or whatever fetish gear you wear) doesn't remove the foibles, faults, and idiosyncrasies that we all share.
In order to begin a relationship and then to keep it alive, it has to meeting your (plural) needs. I know that some would deny that, i.e., masters who think it's all about them and bottoms who protest that they only want to serve. Honestly though, if you're not happy in a relationship, it will sooner or later end.
All that, then, is to answer the question "What's the difference?" The difference isn't as well-defined as you would hope. Relationships exist on a continuum, "A continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, although the extremes are quite distinct." Think about a rainbow. We know there are seven colors in a rainbow and we can see each of them. What we can't see is where one color ends and the next one begins. They just blend from one into the next.
So for instance, there are "slave relationships" with strict authoritarian masters and others with daddy-like easy-going ones. Between those two poles are innumerable variations in style, domination, surrender, protocols, and fetishes. "Each to its own," my mom used to say.
In this example, the difference is one of intensity, in other words, "management style." That's why we negotiate. Until we both know the expectations, the limits, and the rules of engagement, we really don't know what we are getting into. I can tell you I'm a master but until I tell you what I mean by the word, it really is an empty concept.
That may be the problem with the idea of becoming an "object." Does it mean that you're going to act like a lamp for the rest of your life or does it mean that you will be treated as an animal, with no regard for your feelings, that your life will be simply one of utilization as your owner's work horse?
Continuum? Do you eat food off the floor? Or eat food in a dish on the floor? Or eat food in a dish in the kitchen? Or eat food in a dish on the floor of the dining room? Or eat food at the dining room table with the rest of the household? Of maybe you're just kept in a cage all the time and food (on a plate or not) is served to you in the cage? Each is a different way of eating and has a different degree of humiliation.
My experience with all of this is rather illuminating. When Patrick moved in with me to be my slave nearly 17 years ago, I gave him a list of rules. Within a month of having done so, it's safe to say that most of the rules had been thrown out the door. I had this grand notion, for instance, that he would balance my checkbook. Boy was I misinformed. Some things are just not to be.
That food in the cage idea is one of them. I had a friend who kept his slave in a dog cage for four days. At the end of that time, the poor guy was both numb and sore and he had lost feeling in his hands and feet. It all came back in a few days so there was no long-term problem, but it just goes to show that as much as we might want to define a relationship in a given way, we still have to include the human factor.
And that human factor means that everything is changeable. Our relationships evolve and mature daily, even if the movement is imperceptible. No matter how it starts and how you define it, it's going to be different sometime along the way.
None of the above, of course, really answers Chicago object's question. The best way for him, or any of us for that matter, to know what it will be like is to try it, to let it grow and evolve naturally, roll with the punches and enjoy it as much and as long as we can.
Recognize that relationships aren't cut in stone, they are lived in real flesh in real time. Experiencing as much of it as you can is the best way, in fact the only way, to know what it will be like and from there to fashion it into one that you meet both your needs.
Have a great week. Jack
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