DANCING IN THE CENTER OF THE STORM
A Review of The Bottoming Book: Or, How To Get Terrible Things Done To You By Wonderful People
by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt
San Francisco: Greenery Press, 1994.
Review Copyright © 1994 by William A. Henkin
Originally published in Spectator
Some time ago a very successful professional dominant complained to me that she had been taken to task by one of her colleagues for showing up at a party in a collar and on her Master's leash. "What if you met a client there?" the colleague had challenged; "wouldn't it undermine your credibility as a Dom?" And my friend was worried: would it undermine her power?
Well, no, I told her, it needn't undermine anything. Instead, if you're genuinely comfortable with who you are and what you're doing, it might demonstrate that you're strong enough to do what you want to do; it might show that you had experienced some of what you require of your clients. But right bottoming, like any form of right living, is not automatically easy: you can't give away what you don't already have, so you have to have power yourself as a bottom if you're going to give power to your top in a real exchange of erotic energy.
But yes, Gentle Reader: even in the middle of the 90s, years after Versace and Madonna made SM into a fashion statement, even now some people still believe that tops are better than bottoms. Never mind that they know their position is PI, never mind that it's something they will only acknowledge covertly, never mind that they know their belief is inaccurate. Wonderful as faith can be, it can also be terrible, when placed in the service of one's own prejudices.
Undermining the prejudice that bottoms are somehow "less" than tops has been a long-term project for Dossie Easton, who coined the term "full-power bottom" and who is something of a legend in her own sphere for her abilities to embody the phrase. In The Bottoming Book she has teamed up with Catherine Liszt, who as Lady Green is author of the very useful introduction to topping, The Sexually Dominant Woman: A Workbook for Nervous Beginners. Both women are literate, both are bright, and both have a depth and breadth of experience that allows them to write about SM in a highly informed way. Both also have experience on the opposite end of the cane from the one they usually prefer: "Dossie," as they say, "is a bottom who tops,'" and "Catherine calls herself a top who bottoms.'"
The Bottoming Book begins with a wise and generous Introduction in which the authors encourage people who are not already familiar with SM to learn about "fundamental SM techniques, safety practices and negotiation skills" before taking up this second level manual.
Most of the remainder of The Bottoming Book covers important material that is discussed with some frequency at least in some parts of the SM communities, but which many people outside such a community have little or no opportunity to explore. The book includes discussions that are, therefore, of considerable value, such as those on finding play partners, negotiating to get what you want and need, distinguishing fantasy from reality in SM play, and exploring various sorts of scenes and SM roles.
A section about SM and spirituality takes an especially eloquent position. "Think of a moment of perfect wholeness," the authors write, "of yourself in perfect unity, of expanded awareness that transcends the split between mind and body and integrates all the parts of you in ecstatic consciousness. Sound familiar?" As the authors note, "Every orgasm is a spiritual experience."
But the heart of The Bottoming Book is its second section, in which the authors redefine bottoming along prouder lines than the usual run of SM porn portrays. Bottoming, they say, like topping, is a way of playing with power, and they distinguish "power-over" from "power-with." Power-over is used to control others, so its viability is necessarily relative to the power those others have; the need to compare one's power with other people's power results in a ceaseless struggle that promotes competition and insecurity. In that regard, power-over is a lot like false pride, or the puffed-up pseudo-masculinity some men like to exhibit and that these days is seen, pejoratively, as macho. Power-with, on the other hand, forms the basis for mutual support, and enables everyone concerned to be and feel powerful. "When I'm being flogged," Dossie explains,
early on I often come to a place where I need to stretch to take in the intense sensation, where I struggle and wonder if I can take it at all. That struggle seems to make me stronger, and soon I feel this intense energy running through me, as if all the force with which the whip is thrown at me is injected into me, becomes my energy to play with. While my tops throw the whips at me as hard as they can, I take in their power and dance in the center of the storm.
Obviously, the authors do not see bottoming as a wimp's activity. Power-with is the concept that underlies full-power bottoming, and full-power bottoming is the concept that powerfully underlies The Bottoming Book.
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