Can a Black Feminist be Sexually Submissive to a White Man?

On giving up control while maintaining my power.

I’d associated being naked with being vulnerable, with being open to exploitation and judgement. So when he asked me to stand before him naked, I had a flicker of doubt and fear. But I did it anyway because this was an experience that I’d chosen.

This was my first time with my dominant. My Sir. The white man who controlled my Black body and its pleasure.

On our first date, I’d asked Jay about writing “kinky” on his dating profile. He talked about his experience with dominance and submission, telling me that he was a “switch” – someone who could and would serve as both dominant and submissive. I had toyed with the idea of submission for a few years; I imagined a time in which I could quiet my overactive brain and give power to someone else instead of trying to wrest it away from “the man” in my professional life. Jay told me that he could be my dominant and, even though we’d just met, I already felt drawn to him and his energy.

Having more experience with BDSM than I did, Jay suggested that we establish a foundation of trust before dabbling in power exchange. He took me out for a few dinners, some drinks. We spent a good amount of time walking around the city and sitting in the park, getting to know each other and figuring out what our relationship was going to be. At first, I wasn’t sure about having a relationship outside my race. Neither of us had extensive history in that area, and I’ve always thought of shared culture as necessary to a good relationship. But on our first date, he’d referred to a young, annoying white girl as “Becky,” so he got a pass. Then on another meeting, he talked about his consciousness as a white, heterosexual, educated man and how he was careful not to take up spaces that could be filled by other voices. Like he wanted to give cerebral reparations to the disenfranchised. I liked what I heard. And I liked what I saw. Jay was my type: tall and bald with glasses and a greying beard, and a body on the squishier side of average. I had a thing about men with light eyes, regardless of race, and his grey-to-green eyes had me transfixed.

We both carried the wounds of past relationships, so we decided to take our affair slowly and mindfully, not having sex right away. Our sexual energy, however, didn’t care for the slow and mindful approach. Our physical chemistry brought with it a breathless urgency, even though we’d opted to wait for intimacy until our emotional connection had deepened. I’d come to crave his touch on parts of my body that had been ignored by other men. On dates, Jay would stroke my chin with his fingertips. He’d rub my ear between his thumb and forefinger. He’d brush his hand across the back of my neck while talking to me. Each caress made my pulse quicken and my body respond as though already inviting him in. If he could elicit such reactions from me in public, it stood to reason that our eventual private encounters would prove exponentially more intense.

* * *

About four weeks into the relationship, we set a date for what would be our first night together. When the time came, I was nervous and excited as we entered my bedroom and he told me to take off my clothes. I obediently disrobed, discarding my dress and underwear in a careless pile near the door. He placed me purposefully at the end of the bed in a typical submissive’s position: shoulders back, chest out, hands open, legs spread. He explained that the pose was intended as a means of opening myself up to him, and that I was not to move until he told me to do so. I nodded and whispered, “yes Sir,” my heart beating rapidly while I made a mental note to work on my deltoids and traps.

As he corrected my posture he walked around me, letting his hands graze my skin lightly, seductively. My body tingled in response. He explained to me that when I assumed this position, I was to drop all my concerns, forget my worries and give my strength, my power to him. When he stopped in front of me, he sweetly kissed my forehead and my cheek in turn. Then Jay moved his mouth to my ear and insisted “you are mine,” his tone conveying both seduction and possession. I felt my knees go weak as I struggled not to break my bearing.

Being claimed as his surprisingly didn’t niggle at my sense of racial justice or feminism. I was raised in a Black household with parents who taught me to be suspicious of white people, no matter how they behaved. Not because my parents were anti-white, but because they’d both seen and experienced discrimination and violence growing up in the south and those experiences colored their thinking. I didn’t grow up a feminist, but I became one in college, declaring Women’s Studies as a second major. My early feminism was grounded in the second wave and its belief that the personal is political, and that institutions like marriage, childbirth and sex should be examined for their inherent misogyny. If I really believed as I was taught – that white people weren’t to be trusted and that intimate relationships with men were fraught with inequality – then I should have bristled at the idea of Jay claiming me as property.

And a white man asserting his ownership of a Black woman wasn’t politically correct by any means. The last time my people were owned by white men, we were being treated like inanimate objects, forced to toil and threatened with violence if we disobeyed. Slavery was so bad that we fought a war to end it, yet here I was, signing up to be possessed and, eventually, spanked and bitten by a white man. But our covenant was the opposite of the owner/property relationship that slaves had with their masters. The foundations of our relationship were communication and trust, not disregard and punishment. And my submission was to be safe, sane, and consensual, putting it out of the realm of servitude and into the bounds of a healthy relationship.

But still I worried, because Black womanhood has been put upon by white men for generations. We not only had to pick Master’s cotton and clean his house, we also had to bear his children if he took his sexual pleasure outside of the main house. This scene of me exchanging my power with a white man, a mortal enemy, probably wasn’t what my great grandmother had in mind for me. She bore a daughter for a white man who was not her husband, and I doubt that their relationship was consensual. My light caramel complexion affirmed that erstwhile miscegenation and reminded me that my current rights as a Black woman – including the right to choose mates and sexual partners – have only been in place for a few generations.

While I didn’t believe that my foremother chose her white lover, I’d chosen mine carefully and deliberately, specifically because my race was not the salient issue in our relationship. I was neither his fetish nor the receptacle for his interracial fantasies. The myth of Black hypersexuality still pervades our society as much now as during the time of the Hottentot Venus – an African woman who became a 19th-century European traveling exhibit – when a Black woman’s nether parts became proof that we were freakish and sexually insatiable. My Black female friends and I have been approached by numerous white men who assume that we’ll be untamed spirits and wild lovers. In the BDSM community, there are plenty of white men who want to be dominated by Black women, getting off on humiliation and degradation at the hands of someone with less power and access than them. But it wasn’t that way with Jay. I wasn’t just my race, but rather a woman whose strength he acknowledged, whose intelligence he admired, whose determination he saw as equal to – or even greater than – his own. And the combination was heady and arousing.

* * *

With all the lights on, I steadied my feet on the floor and watched Jay crawl onto my bed fully clothed, the pillows and covers still expertly arranged from after I’d changed my linens. He propped himself up in bed to watch me. I watched him, centered confidently on the mattress, exhibiting an aura of control and command. We locked eyes and he smiled at me slowly yet broadly, his delight evident even as his eyes turned the same cool colors of green and grey as the color scheme of my bedroom. I could see and sense his admiration as flickers of desire leapt across his face. We remained still and silent for what could have been five or 50 minutes until he said, “you’re so beautiful.”

Of course, I smiled at the compliment, my grin a mix of sensuality and acknowledgement. The six or seven feet between us sizzled with energy as our eyes locked. After a few minutes of silent consideration he asked me how I felt.

“Powerful.”

From this moment of vulnerability and uncertainty I took more physical and sexual power than I’d ever imagined. I’d never been one to hide my body from my sexual partners, but it was another animal to stand, splayed, presenting myself to another person.

In my romantic relationships, I’d always tried to use my sexuality to gain control over my partners. If they pulled back emotionally, I became more sexually aggressive. I always felt that I could get what I wanted – attention, affection and quality time – from men once I’d slept with them, and I exercised that power whenever I could. I made promises. I sent pictures. I used my body and my sexual appetites to bully my way into getting my needs met. Of course, sometimes it didn’t work and I’d feel rejected and impotent. I knew that I was trying to manipulate my partners so that I could feel the power of my sexuality instead of the fear and inadequacy that came from hiding my real feelings under sexual bravado.

This was different. Standing in silence and choosing to be exposed in this manner gave me the power of truth. The power of confronting my fear of opening up to another person. The power of being accepted and cherished as I truly was and not as I pretended to be. I did not experience shame about displaying my physical imperfections. Instead I wallowed in my bravery at choosing to be vulnerable and forgot about the trappings of my body; the belly that simultaneously protruded and hung from my frame like a big, soggy steak. The flabby, wrinkled inner thighs – perhaps the only wrinkles on my entire body – that I forgot about until I saw them sliding from the bottom of my swimsuit each summer. They didn’t seem to matter, not because he thought me beautiful, but because I’d chosen to engage with him on a level that went deeper than sex.