How Does One Develop a Command Presence?

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October 1994

by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1994 by William A. Henkin

<Q> How does a passive top develop a "command presence" and seduce a submissive correctly?

<A> "Command presence," a term more generally associated with police work than with sex play, includes the complex ability to identify the components of a situation, assess the need for action, determine the nature of the necessary intervention, and initiate the action – and also to be seen as having this ability.

Real command presence derives from really having the ability, having had it tested in real-life situations, and knowing from your own experience that you can rely on it in yourself. A sort of functional command presence derives from believing you have this ability and walking your talk, even though you may not have the experience to justify your belief and may, as a consequence, suffer some comeuppance down the line. A more theatrical command presence results from pretending you have this ability, chiefly for fun or for show.

How you develop a command presence depends in part on the kind of command presence you want to develop. A lot of what passes for command presence is simply an expression of someone's genuine self-confidence at work in an environment where other people can see, feel, or otherwise sense it. Since a real command presence is just that – real – you can't put it on like a bathrobe in the morning: either it emanates from you or it doesn't. If it doesn't, rather than learning to fake it, you might want to learn what prevents you from expressing the self-confidence that is natural to you.

I doubt you'd have asked your question if you already felt you had command presence, or if you believed you had command presence but did not, so perhaps the best advice I can offer in a column like this is to remind you that theatrical command presence, including the proper costume and props – such as a tight pressed uniform, shiny boots, a crisp walk, and a swagger stick; or heavy Victorian schoolmarm drag replete with canes, thorny roses, and wrist-snapping rulers – is often quite satisfactory for a Dominant play scene, and its entertainment and/or erotic values can quite happily seduce a willing submissive.

I don't think there is one correct way for a Top to develop command presence or to seduce a submissive, as I also don't think that there is one single correct way for a bottom to make him- or herself available to be taken. In my experience, every Top tops her or his own way and it is the relationship between Top and bottom – the dance between the players – that determines how well or poorly any one person's version of command presence succeeds. The real question, then, is what set or setting brings out in you the feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes that read as command presence to the particular bottom you want to play with? And what submissive presence in him or her enhances command in you?

Feeling passive does not mean you cannot control a scene, though it may add some complications in communication to be worked out in your negotiations. In The Master's Manual, recently released by Daedalus Publishing Co. (584 Castro Street, Suite 518, San Francisco, CA 94114) Jack Rinella provides two different sets of guidelines reflecting his notions of what makes a Master. As I read his requirements I see nothing that would prevent a passive Top from succeeding at his or her calling.

"Rinella's Six Attributes Every Master Needs" include:

  1. Self-confidence. "What a person thinks of himself contributes to the image others have of him.... Gaining self-confidence ... takes self-examination and a clear appraisal of oneself...."
  2. Trustworthiness. "The frequency with which the word trust appears in leatherfolks' conversation is no accident.... There isn't a single SM activity that doesn't depend upon and benefit from mutual trust."
  3. Consistency. "How the master acts sets the example and teaches the slave how to be.... For a slave to submit there has to be a framework in which he/she can 'know the rules' and develop dependable expectations."
  4. Responsibility. "As a master whom I respect a great deal once said, 'It's the slave's responsibility to serve. The master is responsible for the relationship.'"
  5. Acceptance. ".... until you accept yourself as who you are, there will be a struggle that will make true realization of your Self difficult, if not impossible."
  6. Expertise. "Experience is the best teacher and good technique is crucial to success...."

According to Rinella, Masters also:

  1. ...find other masters and submit to them.
  2. They do their homework.
  3. They are mature through self-knowledge and raised consciousness.
  4. They are self-controlled.
  5. They have reflected on who they are and what they want.
  6. They have actively sought to become better masters.
  7. They seek persons over whom they can exercise their mastery.
  8. They have mentors.
Whether you like my version or Rinella's, or find something else on your own, these outlines should give you a good idea of what command presence is. Once you think you have it, try negotiating with your prospective bottom rather than, or in addition to, seducing him or her, and don't plunge directly into a weekend marathon of erotic slavery. Instead, start slowly, so you can test your interests, skills, and responses to each other in a couple of short scenes. Once you feel comfortable with both your command presence and what it says about you, you probably need little more than the right bottom in order to be a seductive Top.

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