Confession: I’m a sub who has never experienced subspace.
I’m not talking about being in a submissive mindset, or headspace, but rather the euphoric or flying feeling some people feel in response to pain or strong emotions.
There have been a few times when I’ve felt like I needed to lie still after a scene and not talk, and, at the time, I wondered if maybe that was subspace. But upon further reflection, I rejected that possibility because—much like an orgasm—if you have to wonder whether it happened, it probably didn’t. In reality, I think what I was experiencing was just a good old-fashioned case of post-coital bliss.
Most of the time I’m fine with the fact that I’ve never experienced subspace. After all, I’m not a masochist, and although Vagabond and I incorporate impact play in our scenes, it’s generally not the centerpiece. Nevertheless, there is sometimes a nagging voice of self-doubt in my head that accuses me of being an imposter because I haven’t managed to figure out the password to enter this secret society I’ve heard and read so much about. Hell, even Vagabond has experienced subspace while bottoming in the past, and he identifies as a dominant!
Submissive Imposter Syndrome
I’ve come to think of this particular inferiority complex as a subset of imposter syndrome, or the fear that one is a fraud despite evidence to the contrary. I already suffer from imposter syndrome in my career in my vanilla life, despite having done the same type of work and receiving glowing performance evaluations for more than 20 years. One would hope that sex would be an escape from such anxieties. Evidently not.
Does my inability to reach subspace make me any less of a sub? This is like asking if my inability to orgasm without clitoral stimulation makes me any less of a woman. Obviously the answer to both is a resounding “no.” And yet part of me still struggles to accept that answer regarding my submissive side. FetLife and various other BDSM online forums are filled with accounts of subs who can withstand huge amounts of pain and have the photographic evidence to prove it. Although I’m not drawn to photos of extensive dark bruising on an aesthetic level, I do sometimes covet the pride these people have in what they’ve been able to endure and the subspace payoff many of them achieve as a result.
Some canonical BDSM guides don’t help matters, either. For instance, The New Bottoming Book, by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, while valuable in some regards, presents subspace and general feelings of transcendence as a given. “Some people may feel they leave their body, others feel an intense psychic connection, or perhaps an awakening of kundalini,” they write. “Sometimes we may envision ourselves shape-shifted into a totem animal. . .” Later, they describe a suspension bondage scene in which one of the authors slipped into subspace the instant her top rang a chime in her ear.
Had I read this book before I had any real experience, I would have expected to be transported to subspace easily and frequently during play. In reality, I don’t drift into an altered state of consciousness as a submissive; I’m just me. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t derive intense physical and mental enjoyment from being a sub or am any less kinky than someone who does experience those mental states.
What Really Matters
At the end of the day, having a high pain threshold or being able to enter subspace are not synonymous with being a good sub. Communicating effectively, being open to new experiences, and being generous are far more important qualities because those are the things that foster trust, which, in turn, makes for great scenes. Being able to withstand a beating is meaningless if a sub can’t speak up when something’s wrong or communicate his or her desires and needs.
Overcoming traditional imposter syndrome involves realizing you’re not alone, telling someone else why you feel the way you do, reminding yourself of the things you’ve accomplished, and reframing the story you tell about yourself. It seems to me that the same principles apply here.
Confession: I’m a
sub who has never experienced subspace damn good sub.