“I am not a Master because I say so, but because people older and wiser than me have said so” -Master Skip Chasey
Those words stuck with me. It was one of the first classes I ever attended on a BDSM topic. The title was “The Servant Master” and it was, and still is, one of the most influential and memorable events of my life.
It is nothing new, but recently my attention has been drawn to the ongoing frustration that many members of the community feel in regards to new (and usually young) individuals who choose to use the word “master” before their name. As I have participated in these discussions, I have done a lot of thinking on the matter and decided to go ahead and write about it.
First I will admit to being only 25 years old, and many in this community don’t believe that someone of my age could possibly have the experience or knowledge to claim the title of “Master”. And I don’t. When I attend events, it is simply my name that appears on my name tag, with no title. My relationship to my girl is that of “owner”. Despite the fact that I aggressively seek to perfect my craft and diligently research the various topics that are relevant to me, I still don’t use the title. Despite the fact that I have been invited to travel thousands of miles to present seminars on BDSM theory and practice, I still believe that I have a lot to learn. And so far, I have not received the honor of being referred to as “master” by anyone whom I respect and who is “older and wiser than me”. Until that happens, I wouldn’t feel comfortable using the title.
However, if my girl wanted to take our relationship farther and be my slave, and if I agreed to it, why should I not adopt that label for our relationship?
I think the real issue here is that the word “Master” has many different meanings to many different people.
To the leather community, the word “master” denotes someone who has earned their stripes and worked their way up from the bottom. And in the most traditional circles, you may not call yourself master until your have been presented a master’s cap. Depending on which community you’re in, this presentation must be done by either another master or by a group of leaders within your community.
My first experience with the word came from my martial arts training. From age 4, I was taught by the masters of the various styles in an effort to one day join them, an effort which took many, many years to achieve.
But just this last weekend, just outside of Washington DC, an event was held specifically for “Masters and Slaves” and within my community, their is a group called MAsT (Masters and slaves, Together). It seems to me that for many people, when the term “master” is paired with the word “slave” if ceases to be a title or a badge of honor and instead becomes a descriptor of the relationship between two people. In other words, it is possible for someone to be your master without necessarily being a master.
I am one of the organizers for Colorado”s TNG group (The Next Generation). I am often one of the first contacts for new, young kinksters in this area. I have met many of these late-adolescent “masters”. And I can tell you that, by and large, the following is almost always true:
1. They are using the word to describe the relationship they are looking for, not attempting to cheat some unearned respect or power
2. They don’t understand that it can have any other meaning
3. They would not expect anyone to be offended by their use of it.
Many of them, once they have joined the community and begin to learn, will drop the title. That’s what I did. When I noticed that the people who were being called “Master XXX” by anyone other than themselves were highly experienced and respected members of the community, I realized I had no business using it.
But if my partner chose to call me “master” and I allowed it, I don’t believe that it is anyone’s place to tell me, or her, otherwise.
I have, and will continue to, advise new people to avoid the word master until they have a better understanding of its meaning, but I don’t fault them if they ignore me. That’s their right. But by doing so, they must accept the consequences of that choice, which may include being similarly ignored by the people they will need if they want to learn and grow. In some communities they may be completely ostracized. But that, again, is their choice. I don’t think that’s right, but that’s the way it is.
While so often we tend to look at the collection of people around us as a single community, we need to realize that there is no kink government that determines the rules. And while the use of a specific word may be traditionally reserved for certain type of person or is customarily withheld until it is earned, no single person or group of people have the right to tell someone what they can and cannot call themselves.
That’s what I believe.
But I’m just a kid, so what do I know.