I’ve been meaning to write posts for the No True Way prompt since it started (I mean it’s a prompt pretty much made for me. Write opinions about BDSM topics? Fuck yeah) and finally had the time/energy to do so this week. I’ve got some big thoughts about the idea of the Alpha Male and how it plays a role in BDSM.
Dominants tend to be the “Alpha Male”, and that is why “Dom” is always spelled with a capital, while “sub” is always lowercase.NTW #4
One of the things that caught my eye on this prompt is the presumption of gender. “Alpha Male” implies a man – most likely a cis man – is the Dominant. This isn’t true since a person of any gender can take on any role or perform any task in BDSM. Gender expectations and roles crudely warp power exchange as I’ve come to know it and, digging back in my kink heritage, fundamentally misunderstand some of the points. If we limit ourselves to our gender and societal expectations, what are we really exploring in BDSM?
But I want to dig into the idea of an “Alpha Male” and all of the toxic masculinity that clings to that. To be Alpha is to be top of the pack. Right?
The Wolf Problem
If you’re not familiar, the idea of alpha dominance came from an old theory regarding the social structure of wolves. Rudolph Schenkel wrote a paper about wolves in 1947 studying captive wolves in zoos. He identified two primary wolves in a pack (the male dog and female bitch) and every other member coming beneath them. Schenkel drew parallels to domestic dogs with this theory, bringing the theory right into our homes.
Another scientist, L. David Mech, published a book in 1970 that reinforced the idea of “alpha wolves”. He wrote about competition-based hierarchies and that dominance played a role in wolf social order. You can read more about the theories and why they have been debunked here.
Because they have been debunked. The “Alpha Male” wolf is a myth. It isn’t replicated in true natural situations – such as wolves in Yellowstone Park. Wild wolves live in family units with the “leaders” being parents and the rest of the pack made up of offspring.
If we examine the idea of an alpha male through that lens, the leading male is a parent. He is a caretaker and teacher. He helps his partner guide their offspring through their young life, showing them how to hunt, where to sleep, how to patrol territory. They teach social skills and communication skills. They are a guide.
Don’t get me wrong – dominance is real. Dominant acts are performed by wolves and dogs. However, the Alpha Man is an archetype built upon a poorly constructed understanding of captive wolves and the ideas that men need to be a particular way in order to be seen as A Man. These ideas can be harmful, not just to men but other genders that interact with men.
If a man believes he must be aggressive, smart, cunning, perhaps a trickster, always “on”, rich, powerful, etc, he will spend more of his time thinking about how to give off those qualities rather than examining if they even apply to him or what exuding them really means. Is chasing a fantasy rooted in insecurity the best way to live your life? The Alpha Male myth is also rooted in conflict – in order to prove you are Alpha, you must be willing to fight others to secure this social status. I use the word “fight” very loosely since this isn’t necessarily a brawl. Any kind of competition to prove self-worth works here.
When it comes to wrapping this up in BDSM, the toxicity doubles. You are now taking a man who believes that in order to be a Dominant, he must be aggressive at all times. He is domineering. He is overbearing. These traits lead to a power exchange relationship in which the submissive has no voice because the Dominant “knows best”. He is large and in charge. To question his orders is to question him as a person.
From my time in the community, these men absolutely exist. They seem to go one of two ways: they don’t last long because they are too overbearing and can’t get a sub on a spanking bench or they are clever and worm their way into being the hottest Dominant around even if they aren’t safe to play with. Their arrogance and aggressiveness come out as charm and seduction – the “ideal” Dominant to many newbie submissives (including myself!). But power is never truly exchanged. The Alpha Male gives up nothing to have a submissive at his beck and call. He does not give vulnerability. He does not give emotions. He does not give a relationship. The Alpha Male is a taker.
So to paint this archetype to all Dominants is insulting to the Dominants I know. It’s insulting to my own. Dominants don’t “tend to be” anything other than dominant. They exude this all in their own unique way. Dominance is as much of a unique path as submission is and there is no true way for either party.
A question that comes up time and time again from newbies is whether or not oral sex is inherently submissive (or penetration or…or…or…pick something). Nothing is inherently anything. I have absolutely been dominated via “inherently submissive” acts and only gained respect for Daddy, not lost it. I’ve seen dominance performed with a word, a gesture, a facial expression. I am biased towards quiet dominance, a dominance that doesn’t need to be loud to be heard. If you have to shout to get me to obey, there is something fundamentally wrong.
To Capitalize or Not?
To circle back to the prompt regarding capitalization, it’s important to realize that many things that we pass off as true or accepted in BDSM grew out of chat rooms. The internet revolutionized how kinky people could find each other and introduced a whole new element to the game. In my own chat room history, Dominant is capitalized and submissive is not because it reinforces the hierarchy. It creates a clear delineation between the two roles. Third-person speech and slash-speech (W/we, U/us) mimic the same thing. Capitalizing the Dominant’s pronouns and lower casing the submissive’s pronouns is another example of this.
These things have lingered and I know several different power exchange couples that enact variations of this as part of their protocols. I know a slave who uses third-person speech but doesn’t capitalize their Master’s pronouns. I know another slave who does capitalize their Master’s pronouns (and thus uses slash-speech) but speaks in first person. I have to consciously not capitalize Daddy’s pronouns because it was something I did previously in my early chat room days (where I was once collared to a man who went by Alpha, funnily enough). Daddy doesn’t like it so I don’t do it, simple as that.
I don’t think capitalization of D/s has anything to do with Dominants beyond personal protocols. What you choose to do within your own dynamic is your business. You can’t expect or force others to follow the same protocol as you, even if you think it’s the “right way” to do things. The only thing you can control is yourself and your relationship. Everyone else on the internet gets to do what they like.