Differentiating Dominant Labels

I describe myself on the About page as “top, dominant, gender role reverser.” Are these different ways of saying the same thing, or are they applicable to different areas of my identity? Let me explain my current thinking on this subject.

I am dominant. In sexual situations, I would like to be in charge, to be allowed to do what I want, and to have my partner submit to my wishes. There is control here. I’m also a top because in these same sexual situations, I do not want to be penetrated or “taken”—I want to do the taking. (Or, in other sexual acts, the pleasuring.) The key to my idea of a “top” is both control and position: I am physically on top and leading the action, and I am also taking the top role in sex. At the same time, this slides into the idea of role reversal, because I want the position that is traditionally a man’s. I want that role in sex as well as in the relationship as a whole.

You can begin to see how the terms link together and where they separate. Let me elaborate further.

My dominance does not necessarily apply to everyday life, although there is a connection. I think it would be most accurate to say this: dominance is for sexual play, whether that takes place in the bedroom at night or in the middle of the day at a café. Outside of sexual play, I want equality, but still reversed roles. There’s a nuanced difference here. Role reversal can look like dominance, but the distinction is in the rules involved. In everyday life, I’m not going to command him to clean the bathroom (unless it’s part of sexual play), because we have an equal relationship, and I do not have to be in charge of every action he takes. What I am going to do is lead him with my hand on the small of his back when we’re in a crowd, like a man would traditionally do to his girlfriend. Or I’m going to have him sit in my lap when we watch a movie. They’re not commands so much as they are behaviours stemming from the masculine role. This is what I want in the relationship framework, and this is where “role reversal” comes in.

There’s actually another relevant term I want to bring up here in order to distinguish things further. A Female-Led Relationship and gender role reversal do not have to be the same thing. At least for me they don’t. I understand an FLR to be one where the woman makes all important life decisions, whereas I am just as okay with this as I am with having equality in making those decisions. An FLR would be fine, but it’s not part of my wishlist. To reiterate, role reversal to me is about behaviours, not control of all aspects of the partner’s life.

One thing that’s interesting about the term “top” is that a man who performs the same actions I do with his partner probably wouldn’t feel the need to use this term, even though it’s true. It’s what’s expected of him, so it’s the default, and thus needs no attention drawn to it. This means that “top” is unique out of my three chosen labels in that its relevance is gender-specific.

The differences between my labels can be small, and they become clouded when I try to differentiate sexual play from simple behaviours that turn me on. I.e. if he sits in my lap, it’s going to turn me on, but we may just be doing it to watch TV with no plans of play. Even so, maybe the very act of reversing roles is sexual foreplay for me, because it turns me on. Do you see what I mean? It gets tricky for me to distinguish them. What’s more, dominance is often at the source of masculine gender roles. Leading someone through a crowd by guiding them with your hand is controlling, after all.

These ideas cannot be separated completely, but I do think there are distinctions between the three, and this is how I understand them right now. I welcome your comments on the subject. Do you have thoughts about these specific terms, perhaps based on how they apply to your own relationship? Does anyone else use all three, like I do? Or completely different ones?

6 thoughts on “Differentiating Dominant Labels

  1. This is such an erudite expression of some seriously subtle, but critical differences in roles and titles. As a a dominant woman, I find myself at a loss to qualify, for others, the particulars of how dominance functions as a facet of my personality – that I can enjoy submissive partners is assumed, but dominance for me runs more deeply than play. Though “top” or “domme” or “femdom” could easily apply in any number of contexts, the most accurate descriptor for me is simply that of a person who will not be dominated.

    Your distinction of the word “top” was particularly interesting, given it’s gendered implications. You’re right – generally speaking, if a man is acting “toppish” it isn’t noteworthy – he’s just seen as being a man, but if a woman behaves toppishly, it opens her up to judgements and assumptions that are, quite often, neither flattering nor accurate.

    The distinctions you make in this post are subtle and nuanced and, I think, very important. Though I suspect that my form of dominance may differ in its particulars than those which you describe in your post, the take away is utterly relevant. Thanks for this – I don’t often have a chance to read another dominant woman’s thoughts on dominance. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.

    • I think your ultimate description of yourself as someone “who will not be dominated” is incredibly interesting. It actually speaks to me a lot, and I find I relate to that too. But although it may be true for both of us, it’s fascinating that we still choose to describe it in different ways, probably based on the different details of how that dominance works for us, how it manifests, and how it’s defined. Or maybe even based on what aspects are most important to us. I think the reason I break down my dominance into components is because I know that they’re not all necessarily in a BDSM idea of “dominance.” It seems to me, for example, that my own idea of “role reversal” does not apply to many femdoms, and so because it’s important to me, I attempt to identify those differences so that I can explain them.

      That’s a good point about the judgement it opens up to. I’m less familiar with a lot of the stigma on certain ideas, being essentially an outsider to BDSM, but I do have an idea of what kind of stereotypes likely come from a woman acting as a top.

      That you got something from this (and that you gave such a thoughtful response!) means a lot to me too. I love having this kind of conversation and I love considering other perspectives on my ideas. Thank you so much.

      • My pleasure! One of the things I found so fascinating about power dynamics is that dominance (and by extension, submission) manifest in such individual ways. We both identify as dominant women, but, as you noted, dominance probably manifests pretty differently for each of us. What I liked about your article, and the distinctions you draw in terms of labels, is that they acknowledge that dominants dominate in very different ways, depending on the personalities of the people involved, as well as on circumstance. Though I’m dominant in play and in my sex life, my flavor of dominance changes and adjusts to suit my partner and the situation at hand. Thus, while I’m toppy with some people, I’m just plain dommy with others. And the distinctions matter – both in the bedroom and in real life. It’s an excellent post. I’m really looking forward to reading more of your thoughts on this blog.

        • I agree! That’s one of the things that intrigues me most about power dynamics. Your point about suiting the person & situation at hand is an interesting one too, and “dommy” vs. “toppy.”

          Thanks for sticking around. 🙂 I do intend most of my posts to be along these lines.

  2. ” a man who performs the same actions I do with his partner probably wouldn’t feel the need to use this term, even though it’s true. It’s what’s expected of him, so it’s the default”

    I hadn’t thought of that. Very true.

  3. Pingback: Why Role Reversal is Key for Me | Knows What She Wants

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