WHAT MASTERS NEED


Copyright ©1998 by david stein; all rights reserved. A slightly different version was posted to the gl-asb and gl-subs e-mail lists and the soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm newsgroup. Please do not reprint or repost without explicit permission from the author (gorgik@aol.com), though copies for personal use are encouraged.

A while back, i posted some “night thoughts” under the title “What slaves need.” The essay was well received (i’ve had more requests to make copies or to post it on Web sites than for anything else i’ve written). For some time i have wanted to accompany it with a complementary analysis of what Masters need, but the gestation of that has been longer and more difficult, no doubt because the mindset of a Master is foreign territory to me. Nonetheless, with input from some Masters i know, i feel that i’ve arrived at a conceptual framework that may at least be worthy of discussion.

To clarify at the start, i am talking about “Masters” in the sense of consensual slave Owners, not in the sense of Masters of an art or craft — though the two are by no means mutually exclusive! And by “needs” i mean something like “necessary conditions”: that is, what is needed to be a Master in this sense at all, not necessarily a good Master or a Master of a certain type. Many other factors go into the make-up of individual Masters! Furthermore, while my use of male pronouns is not meant to imply that i am describing exclusively male traits, women readers (or heterosexual ones) will have to decide for themselves how much applies to their situation. As i am a gay man, i can only speak directly from gay male experience.

To recapitulate the earlier essay briefly, i identified certain fundamental needs that voluntary slaves have — needs that must be met or the slavery itself tends to unravel. These are not necessarily what any particular slave wants but what he must have in order to function in that role, and i suggested that a slave is therefore justified in being as “selfish” as necessary in terms of insuring, both in negotiation and after a relationship has commenced, that these needs are met.

These slave needs were identified by three key terms, each of which really stands for a whole constellation of related concepts:

• DIRECTION, which encompasses leadership, purpose, goals, values — all that is entailed by allowing another person to control how you live and move and have your being. It is impossible to give up that kind of control to someone who has no plan for your life but simply issues orders at random. If a slave is to blindly follow a Master, the Master must know where He is going and how to get there. To be collared and leashed implies that you are being led somewhere.

• DISCIPLINE, which encompasses not merely punishment, if needed, but rules, standards, judgments, evaluation, oversight, and training. Being disciplined, following rules, being held to standards, being supervised and corrected — all these are ways that a slave feels connected to the Master’s will and held within His plan. A lack of discipline is immediately, and rightly, felt as a lack of interest or attention, and if slackness persists, a slave will feel alienated from his role and his Master.

• SERVICE, which encompasses not only working for the Master’s benefit, or as He directs, and being used sexually for the Master’s pleasure, but also all other ways in which the slave shows respect for the Master’s position and honors Him as Owner, Mentor, Guide, Elder (not necessarily in years), Authority, and even avatar of Divinity. The slave who is not allowed to serve, who is not used to the best and fullest extent of his capabilities, is like a believer who is denied the opportunity to worship his god.

Are there comparable leading concepts to express the essential needs of a Master? i believe that there are, and they also fall into a trio: Independence, Connection, and, again, Service, though in this case it is being served rather than serving that constitutes the need.


INDEPENDENCE
A Master must be free to follow His own path, or He cannot lead a slave. No one is completely autonomous, of course, but, relatively speaking, Masters are people who manage to arrange their lives so that They are primarily answerable to Themselves. This is not to say that a Master must be wealthy or self-employed, though having “independent means” or “being one’s own master” on the job can certainly help meet the need for independence. It is possible, if difficult, to maintain one’s independence even while earning a salary — so long as you are prepared to walk away if the demands of the employer conflict with your own conscience, goals, or chosen lifestyle. A Master can be relatively poor if He has the discipline to live on small means without feeling pinched. A Master can be young if He is able to live on His own terms and not have to account to His parents for every coming and going. What He cannot be, at least while exercising Mastery (that is, control over a slave) is at someone else’s beck and call, dependent on that person’s approval before taking action.

A degree of independence is essential to Mastery even when the Master is part of a heirarchical organization such as the military, the police, the church, or the old-guard leather families, or in the more recent sorts of relationship webs in which one may play both dominant and submissive roles with different people. A journeyman or apprentice can be looking over his shoulder all the time for the approval of his superior, but a Master cannot. When the Master is subordinate to a higher Master, He must still have the freedom to make His own decisions, and mistakes, and be answerable for them only after the fact, as we all are answerable for our behavior in one way or another.


CONNECTION
The counterweight to a Master’s need for independence is the need for connection to other people and to the world around Him. A Master cannot be a loner, or how could He hold a slave? A Master is unlikely to be a drifter or wanderer, because such personalities tend not to hold and possess property. Having roots and possessions aids independence (unless you let your history and property own you instead of the reverse). There are exceptions, but Masters tend to create their own domains where They can be surrounded by things of Their own choosing arranged according to Their wills. This impulse may be expressed in a “dungeon” for BDSM play or a house or a great estate, but it is a rare Master who will not want to make His own castle to be king in.

The desire to bend His surroundings to His will paradoxically means that a Master will tend to be more aware of His surroundings, and more respectful of what can and cannot be expected of the things and people He encounters, than others who go through life with a more lackadaisical attitude. You cannot control what you don’t understand, and you can’t understand what you don’t even notice. Mastery is like a dance, or a form of jiujitsu, where you lead by following and overcome by yielding, so long as you remain acutely aware of all the forces and masses in motion at every instant. Few people possess the inherent power simply to impose their will on others or on nature. Rather, it is necessary to seduce, to cajole, and even to trick your opponent into conquering himself.

Specifically with respect to slaves, a Master needs to understand His slave better than the slave understands himself. Energy expended holding a slave against his will is a waste, because it doesn’t serve the Master’s ultimate goals, but merely secures one means to His ends. Rather, a Master needs to enlist the slave’s own will and strength “against” himself, that is, in enslaving him. In order to succeed in capturing a slave’s spirit, so that he is his own jailer, the Master needs to have a profound connectedness not only to the slave but to the whole world that encompasses their relationship, because the spell can be broken from any direction. Remarks by the slave’s family or friends, things he reads or hears, random encounters at the gym or the grocery store — any of these could spark a rebellion if the Master is inattentive and disconnected.

The foregoing might seem a little sinister, but the most effective kind of connection between a Master and His slave is love and caring. A slave who knows that he is valued highly — a prized possession — will be better able to overcome the kind of passing disaffections and disillusions that are inevitable in the life of anyone who is used hard and expected to make constant sacrifices. And sometimes it is the very fact of ownership and control that breaks the emotional ice, as it were, and enables a Master to express the deep love that He would hesitate to reveal to a peer or a nonsubmissive partner. Some will advise that a Master should never fall in love with His slave, but for others, it is only Their slaves that they can truly love. Other men are seen as competitors, opponents, perhaps temporary allies, but in any case independent powers to be wary of, whereas your slave is your own, your other self, your mirror, your always faithful companion and support.


SERVICE
For both Master and slave, service is the defining transaction. (i owe this insight to Joseph Bean, a Master in every sense of that term.) The Master, needing to be served, accepts a slave’s service, or takes him “into service,” while the slave, needing to serve, renders service or “enters service.” It is a reciprocal transaction, and often quite an intimate one, very different from the predatory sense of “using” another person that is often confused with Mastery. If someone is used against his will, he is not serving. Nor is there service in thrusting your attentions onto someone who doesn’t want them.

Not everyone who has achieved a measure of independence and put down roots needs or wants to be served. Many (most?) people in the U.S. and Canada, in fact, regardless of their level of affluence, are uncomfortable with service, whether giving it or receiving it — this is perhaps the dirty little secret of the vaunted “service economy.” Those who serve for a living often do it badly and with ill grace, and those who are served often accept it apologetically and self-consciously, or are even afraid of it. The advent of mechanical servants, like automatic bank tellers and online shopping, is a great relief to many people. Even telephone shopping is more pleasant for most of us than interacting in person with a salesclerk at a store.

Masters and slaves, in contrast, are virtuosos of service. They are able to receive and give service, respectively, with joy and flair. It may appear that the slave’s need to serve is greater than the Master’s need to be served, since slaves are so often pathetically grateful to be allowed to serve (though it’s important to distinguish between “serving” and “doing sexual things you enjoy”; they may overlap, but the former is not defined by the latter). Personally, i found it very hard to accept that a Master’s need for service is as great as a slave’s need to serve. But the more i’ve thought about it, the more it seems true, because no ordinary person would put up with as much service as most slaves are required to render their Masters, let alone enjoy it! “Mother, please, I’d rather do it myself” was a catch phrase in the 1950s when i grew up, and most American men are still socialized to be as self-sufficient as possible (with certain notable exceptions, such as cooking, cleaning, and mending clothes!). Actually having a slave sitting at his feet waiting for orders, or taking the initiative to start massaging them, would give even most gay American men the willies — there have been several comical treatments, in erotica and elsewhere, of the overzealous slave whose constant readiness for service gets on “Master’s” nerves.

Lack of interest in being served is one reason most Tops aren’t Masters. Wanting simply to control a situation, to have the bottom do what he’s told, or to make him do what you want, is very different from wanting him to serve you. Certainly, a Master can be a Top as well, and a Top can be a Master, sometimes both at once with the same bottom/slave! And yet, the mindsets are very different. The Top works to exercise His will on the bottom, producing a desired result in the bottom’s body, sensations, and emotions (whether the bottom enjoys that result or not, or only enjoys it retroactively, is irrelevant to the principle). The Master seeks to exercise His will through the slave, producing desired effects in the Master’s body, sensations, emotions, and surroundings by the slave’s efforts. The Top in effect imposes His own will on the bottom, whereas the Master seeks to bring the slave’s will into harmony with His own so that the slave can be trusted to act as an extension of Him.


Just as a slave, or a potential slave, is well advised to be ruthlessly “selfish” in terms of getting the basic needs for Direction, Discipline, and Service met by a relationship, so a Master, or a potential Master, needs to be just as ruthless in providing for His own Independence, Connection, and Service. Anything else can be negotiated or compromised on in a viable Master/slave relationship as long as these essential needs are met for both parties.

That’s how i see it anyway. Comments, corrections, and amplifications are welcome.

with love and respect,

slave david stein


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