When I took a leave of absence from this column late last year, it was to complete another very challenging project: guest-editing the August/September 1997 issue of International Leatherman magazine (#14) on the theme of real-world Master/slave relationships. In the process I spoke at length with several dozen men who are or have been involved in such relationships. Now that Im back, I thought it would be appropriate to share some of what I learned about consensual male-male slavery today.
Full-time, long-term M/s relationships are relatively rare and very difficult to make work but the number of guys who fantasize about them, or have tried them, seems to be growing all the time. Take a look at the ads in the back of this issue, and youll see quite a few seeking slaves or Masters. While the typical BOUND & GAGGED story still involves college-age jocks who take turns binding and gagging each other, more and more we see accounts where the guy tied up is the property of the one handling the ropes or other gear, if only for the course of the scene.
It makes sense if you think about it: submission and slavery can be extensions of bondage, with the physical ropes or chains enhanced or even replaced by the mental constraint of surrendering to someone elses will. If you like the combination of security and helplessness that comes from being tightly bound, slavery extends it to many more aspects of your life. Or if you like the control over another person that having him tightly bound and at your mercy offers, making him your slave may seem a reasonable next step.
Literal enslavement is against the law, of course, as well as morally wrong. A guy may truly want to be a slave, but if he finds no satisfaction in that position, he can always walk away. A Master needs to find and maintain the right mixture of strictness and ease, rewards and punishments, reserve and affection to keep his slave keen to serve, suffer, and obey. Some slaves need a long leash so that they can fulfill career or family obligations, while others feel neglected unless theyre kept on a very short leash indeed, with scarcely a moment to themselves. What works with one slave may be unsuitable for another and somehow the Masters own needs and desires have to be met as well!
A Broad Spectrum
The variety of possible Master/slave arrangements is quite striking even in the small sample represented in the International Leatherman issue. The relationships range from a couple of years to more than a dozen years in duration, and the participants ages range from the late twenties to the late fifties. While a few of the relationships are monogamous, in others the Master has additional sex partners, in some the slave serves other men at the Masters behest, and still others are a menage with two or more submissives and one Master. One of the couples has an open relationship sexually: both Master and slave are free to play (safely) with others.
One Master says he never lets his slave come at all and feels that erection alone is sufficient climax for a slave, while another almost always lets his slave shoot when they play because he loves to watch it. Most fall between those extremes, allowing the slave to come once a week or at some longer interval, on the theory that a horny slave is more attentive and the slaves tend to agree. (Amazing how many guys find it enormously exciting not to be allowed to come!)
A couple of the IL Masters prefer not to have their slaves live with them, while others hardly let their slaves leave their presence. Most fall somewhere in between because the slave has an outside job a few have professional careers. While some of the slaves work in their Masters own business, none in this sampling is kept as a pure house servant or sextoy, and I think thats typical for such relationships today. Masters can come from all socio-economic classes, not just the ranks of the wealthy.
Several of the couples in the issue have detailed contracts specifying their respective rights and responsibilities. Though such agreements have no legal standing, they can clarify the ground rules of a relationship and provide a touchstone for resolving disagreements. Others feel that a contract freezes a relationship and keeps it from evolving over time. Precisely for that reason, however, one couple supplements their basic contract with rules and rituals that they revise and update annually. Many of the Masters in the IL group follow such traditional practices as not allowing slaves to use the furniture or wear clothes at home, and some forbid their slaves to use the first person in speech or writing but others consider such rules demeaning and more trouble than theyre worth to enforce. All these Masters want is for their slaves to behave respectfully and do what theyre told.
Some of the Masters always sleep with their slaves, while others make them sleep on the floor, in another room, in a cage, or elsewhere. Many of the relationships have a strong Daddy/boy component, but in others the slaves status is quite different from that of a quasi-son. Most of the slaves wear collars full-time, though not always the same collar. Some may wear a light chain at work, a leather collar most of the time at home, and a heavier metal collar in the playroom.
Slavery means being owned, but voluntary human property is not like a loaf of bread that gets consumed or a piece of equipment thats used until its worn out and then discarded. A consensual slave is more like leased property, which must be used within agreed limits and relinquished in good condition at the end of the agreed term (including options for renewal!). Even if the agreed term is for life a term that is hardly ever actually achieved, except when one partner dies prematurely from HIV or another disease any sane Master must remain aware that his slave is a person and a citizen with certain inalienable rights and responsibilities.
Such awareness may spoil the fantasy for some, but thats better than a misguided attempt to recreate the kind of chattel slavery we once had in the U.S. and that still exists in parts of the world even today. Unlimited power over another person tends to corrupt the Master and to destroy the slaves humanity. There is a middle ground, I think, even if it is hard to define, between such absolute slavery and erotic playacting purely sexual behavior that may have little or no connection with the rest of the participants lives.
Committed, consensual slavery has so much potential for satisfaction of both Master and slave precisely because it is sustained neither by law, by custom, nor by force but by their own wills. Each knows that he is wanted by the other, in different yet complementary ways. And, as in any good marriage, the whole is more than the sum of the parts.
On the other hand, the failure rate for full-time Master/slave relationships is even higher than for conventional (hetero) marriage these days. The level of commitment that such a relationship demands, from both parties, exceeds what most guys who try it are able to sustain past a year or two. Some will find satisfaction at a lower level of intensity, some will continue trying to live up to their fantasies, or ideals, with different partners, and others will say goodbye to all that, probably not without regret. Perhaps such ventures should not be regarded as failures but as learning experiences.
To my mind, a Master who doesnt respect his slave, who thinks of him as dirt and treats him accordingly, is cheating himself devaluing his own property. Whats the joy in owning someone whos worthless? Moreover, a Master who is too full of himself, who forgets how much he owes to his slaves efforts and devotion, is riding for a fall. A Master without a slave is like a rider without a horse but a slave without a Master is like a jewel without a setting.
The best Masters I know all manifest a bone-deep humility and lack of pretense. They dont doubt themselves or their abilities, or even their right to rule those who submit to them, but they have no illusions about being Gods gift to the universe. They realize that commanding and controlling are no more praiseworthy than serving and obeying. Both are necessary, and both require discipline to do well.
No one can really deserve to own another person to be blameless, ownership must come as a gift. A slave gives himself because he trusts the Master to make the best of both of their lives. Possess me, use me, and you can do great things, his submission implies. And accepting that gift implies that you will do your best to become the Master he deserves for a good slave does deserve a good Master.
And what makes a good slave? Obedience, first of all, but not mere obedience. Always doing exactly what a Master tells you and no more is the sign of a slave whos either rebellious or stupid. A busy Master cant give detailed orders for every contingency or constantly stand over a slave with a whip to correct every mistake. Dont do anything without orders except breathe may work in the playroom, but its impossible to get through an ordinary day like that.
A good slave will not just follow instructions but be on the lookout for additional ways to serve, anticipating routine commands and relieving the Master of concern over trivia. One such slave I knew (now, sadly, deceased) was so accomplished at managing his Masters affairs that the man rarely had to issue an order. As a result, they were dogged by rumors that the slave was really running the relationship; in reality, he did nothing without his Masters approval. The slave was well used, the Masters energies were freed for more important matters, and they were both very happy.
Absent orders to the contrary, an attentive slave might rub his Masters feet, or massage his neck, while he reads the paper, bring him something to drink when hes too busy to ask for it, supply a pad and pen when hes taking a business call, record a favorite program that hes not home to watch, help him undress when he retires for the evening, or any number of other services that go beyond what hes been told to do. Of course, what is a routine chore for one slave might represent extraordinary thoughtfulness or a punishable presumption for another. It depends on the relationships rules, the slaves abilities, and the Masters personality. But in most cases, striving to be of service is a better way of slaving than passively waiting for orders.
There is a danger, however, in taking this approach too far. Many slaves make the mistake of thinking that their job is to please their Masters. A slave cannot be responsible for his Masters feelings, because he cannot control them, and its impertinent to try. Sometimes hell be in a bad mood through no fault of yours, and youll just have to respect that and try not to make it worse. Having the best of intentions is no defense if a slave disobeys express orders.
Finding Your Match
Despite the explosion of gay publications and organizations over the last couple of decades, and now the Internet and Web, for many of us the first place to look for men interested in bondage, s/m, or slavery is a leather bar or any gay bar in a small community. It is certainly possible to find men who are open to a relationship in a bar, but I dont think its the optimal place. Even aside from such drawbacks as noise, dim lighting, and too much booze, bar culture is strongly biased toward tricking rather than courting, with a premium given to costumes and appearances rather than character or skill. A Master and slave might meet in a bar, but the prolonged process of getting to know and trust each other will likely take place elsewhere.
If you do meet someone of interest in a bar, the same cautions apply as for a bondage liaison: Talk extensively, and honestly, and dont leave with him the same night. Get his number, or make a date to meet at another time in a restaurant or other neutral (safe) place. Ask for references, and see if any of your friends or acquaintances knows him. If he insists, its now or never, walk away. Capable Masters rarely have difficulty finding all the sex they want, so they can afford to wait. Experienced slaves may be hungrier, but they, too, have usually learned patience. Its the poseurs, the novices, the game-players, and the psychos who are in a hurry.
Personal ads, whether in print or online, are usually a more efficient means of finding potential partners, if youre clear about your needs and what you have to offer. Placing your own ad may work better than answering others try both, and rent a P.O. Box to receive responses to print ads. Be wary of those cryptic ads that tell you little more than the mans preferred role and how to contact him. Experienced Masters and slaves tend to be rather specific about what theyre looking for and who they are.
Club events and play parties can be good places to meet Masters and slaves at least those who enjoy playing in public though because these affairs can be cliquish, it helps if youre not shy. Watch how other men play and interact, and approach those whose styles seem compatible with your own. Also notice how they behave when theyre not onstage doing a scene. If there is a huge difference between the play persona and the relaxed persona, they may not be able to sustain the role of Master or slave throughout a relationship. But if, like many men, youre only interested in these roles during sex, that may be okay.
The best Masters, in my experience, act pretty much the same all the time. They dont pretend to be what theyre not, and they approach everyone with a courtesy rooted in self-confidence. They laugh or smile more often than they bark orders. A Master who tries to bolster his own self-importance by treating everyone like a doormat is bad news; its the same for slaves. The ones who fawn over the hottest-looking Masters and treat everyone else like dirt only want to serve their own libidos. Be respectful to everyone and deferential to those who outrank you, by role or experience, but not obtrusively servile or obsequious that gets annoying real fast. A helpful, willing attitude, genuine humility rather than low self-esteem, and a sense of humor go a long way.
Correspondence, whether e-mail or regular, is a good icebreaker, but it is no substitute for a real-life meeting. You can tell more about a prospective partners character and trustworthiness in fifteen minutes in person than from months of letters or even phone calls. Go with your gut feelings, but learn how to read them! Volumes can be conveyed, in both directions, when a Master touches a slave for the first time whether he shakes his hand, plays with his nipples, grabs the back of his neck, or rubs his ass. Allow yourself to respond in the moment, but then take a moment to ask yourself what youre feeling.
If youre the slave, do you feel safe? wanted? controlled? valued? If youre the Master, do you sense fear? eagerness? doubt? relief? When two men who are right for each other touch for the first time, there is often an immediate, palpable drawing together, like iron filings to a magnet. But despite any compatibility suggested by correspondence, there can just as easily be an immediate repulsion, or resistance, that tells them no match is possible.
Such initial impressions are clues that can tell you whether to continue exploring, or to pull back. If you continue, there is much else to be learned, not only in the first meeting but in subsequent ones, including longer trial periods a weekend or, better, a week or two where you can test how well you fit together in your chosen roles.
If I were looking to be a slave again, the main thing Id want to get from a first meeting with a prospective Master would be the sense that if he owned me, Id be cared for and used well, not wasted. To help determine that, Id want to see how he treats his other property: his clothes, gear, vehicle, house or apartment, perhaps other slaves. Carelessness or indifference to his possessions are danger signs.
If youre a Master interviewing a prospective slave, and the first touch is promising, follow up with simple tests of his desire and ability to submit. He might exhibit some doubt or fear in fact, its likely but the yearning to surrender should outweigh it. If he doesnt already call you Sir, see if he begins to do so spontaneously, and gauge how natural it sounds in his mouth. Where do his eyes go? How carefully does he listen to you? If you tell him to sit and dont specify where, does he take a chair or kneel at your feet? You may desire to put this male animal under your control immediately, but it can be more profitable to see what he does without prompting. And spontaneous gestures of homage, such as kissing your hands or feet, are so gratifying!
Finally, be absolutely honest about yourself, and demand the same from your counterpart. Good Masters know the difference between a question thats truly impertinent (there really arent many!) and one thats merely awkward or painful to answer. Both parties should have done their homework and really be ready to embark on this most demanding relationship. Making promises you cannot keep, or claiming qualities you dont possess, never works in the long run. If a Master, or a slave, doesnt want you as you really are, fooling him into accepting you anyway will just make the inevitable rejection more painful.