Reid Mihalko’s site is the latest resource I’ve found in my “Serenity/Courage/Wisdom” search. He already inspired a dark and twisted short story, which has nothing to do with the quest but was a useful bit of creative spark for other reasons. More immediate to my concerns is a piece he wrote about three years ago, called Romance is for the Cats and Dogs.
The article describes two different ways of feeling romantic about things, that Reid characterises as the “Cat” approach and the “Dog” approach. Reid describes these as a “continuum”, but my intuition is that they are probably independent, so a person can be both very doggy and very catty, or neither doggy nor catty, as well as being one or the other or half-and-half. (There’s also a thing of “most of the time I’m a little bit catty, but sometimes I’m very very doggy” or vice versa, so that time and circumstance as well as preference affect the total sum of dogginess versus cattiness a person has.) The same goes for most binaries, such as gender, sexuality, etc. Anyway, quibble about variables/continuum aside, the idea looks intriguing to me and I, of course, want to look at it through the lens of BDSM – or look at BDSM through the lens of the idea – and see what happens.
So what are cat people and dog people like?
Romantically speaking, “cat oriented” people tend to feel warm and fuzzy when they have proof someone is thinking of them. “Dog oriented” people tend to feel gushy and sweet when they get told, “good dog!” Forethought and acknowledgment: cats and dogs.
Romance for “cats” is anything that you can do which proves you were thinking about that person before they walked in the door. Its forethought at is most simple, and has a great chance of occurring to these cat people as being romantic. Knowing and having proof that you were thinking of them when they weren’t standing right in front of you gives them the warm fuzzies.
What is romantic for “dogs” is having their likes and dislikes validated. Being told “bad dog,” or being scolded or made to feel like the things they like are wrong or silly isn’t very romantic for a dog. Appreciation and acknowledgment are what makes a romantically oriented dog person rollover and want their belly scratched.
Coming from a BDSM perspective, the immediate inclination might be to say, “A-ha! Subs are dogs and Doms are cats, right?” There would certainly seem to be a lot of ways to support such a claim, by looking at the surface dynamic of a D/s relationship.
I have lost count of the number of times I have heard or seen a Submissive-identified person say, “The best thing in the world is when my Dom tells me, ‘Good girl/boy’.” Isn’t that the ballgame in understanding that Subs are dogs? Isn’t that exactly what Reid describes?
And for Doms, too, there are countless anecdotes or discussions of those situations where the important thing is knowing that the Sub partner is focussed on you. Doms have a tendency to plan ahead for the next session, to know what’s going to happen next. We like there to be things like “anticipation”, “consideration”, “obedience”. In those dynamics that extend beyond the bedroom to varying degrees, there are usually instructions that are to be followed even when the Dom partner and Sub partner are not together. These may be occasional little homework tasks, they may be protocol observances, they may be regular duties. The point being that they produce evidence that the Sub partner was thinking about the Dom partner even before the Dom partner is reunited with them. And isn’t that the ballgame in understanding that Doms are cats? Isn’t that exactly what Reid describes?
While it may very well be the case that the underlying current in D/s is a “Dom = cat, Sub = dog” situation (and it is intriguing how prevalent “puppy play” as a form of roleplay seems to be, as opposed to “kitten play”) it is somewhat simplistic to take that as fundamentally true for all D/s relationships. And I’ve so far said absolutely nothing about SM dynamics in which power exchange is purely in the form of “you have the flogger”, or, “I am tied up” – where the bottom is understood as calling the shots.
I think that SM is more likely to be about two dogs. An SM top is looking for the reaction of the bottom, a lot of the time. An SM bottom may be looking for many things from the top, but responsiveness and appreciation are some of the key things that make an SM scene feel more “romantic” than one that is done for the purely physical pleasures of bottoming (e.g. “Thank you for taking that beating, it felt good to do” or, “Wow, you really did well under the cane, that was impressive!” or, “That was such an awesome moan you gave there!” – all of which would translate as “good dog” (and of course, the moan itself translates as “good dog” to the top)). It feels more likely that it is about that “good dog” dynamic. But even then, a “cat” bottom would be more impressed that, before zie arrived and the scene began, their top partner was preparing all the equipment and making sure it was all set up (duties that have to be performed, even if you’re both dogs, but it becomes romantic to the cat if the manner shows that it was done specifically for hir – a dog might wait to find out what sort of play is wanted, a cat tries to anticipate). And a “cat” top might, for example, find more romantic the sexy outfit that the bottom chose to suit the top’s kink (e.g. “you remembered my nurse fetish and chose a nurse’s uniform! I feel loved!”)
And what of D/s? Are there cat Subs and dog Doms? What do those look like?
A cat Sub is going to be a Sub who feels most respected and cared for and loved by hir Dom partner, when the Dom partner proves that zie was thinking about the Sub even when they’re apart. Zie is going to find absolutely natural all the protocol and service tasks that happen when the Dom is somewhere else, and is going to want to come home (or have the Dom come home) to find the Dom has prepared a new set of challenges or instructions for the Sub to carry out, and has crafted them around the Sub’s kinks and abilities. “My Dom was thinking about me, and did all this for my benefit!” thrills the catty soul in the Sub, while the Subby soul says, “My Dom knows how to get the best out of me for hir entertainment, isn’t zie wonderful?” The reward is not being told “well done” at the end, so much as it is the evidence that the Dom remembered all this stuff about the cat Sub’s kinks and abilities.
A dog Dom looks for the pay-off in terms of appreciation and praise. While zie may enjoy producing the elaborate scene and planning it in advance, the pay-off comes at the end. While zie may love setting instructions or tasks, what zie wants is to ask “was it hard?” at the end, and be asked, “did I do well, Sir?” In this sense, being a dog Dom still takes a fair amount of forethought to get that “good dog” pay-off. The dog Dom’s favourite thing to hear is “I love the way you take control of me”, or “You are so good at making me submit,” or, “I like how you always know what you want from me.”
At this point, I should probably point out that I, personally, have a strong element of dogginess to my Domliness (something worth noting for my SCW project). My ex-partners – at least one of whom sometimes reads this blog – all know that I like to have long debriefing sessions at the end of a scene. Partly this is about getting down out of Dom space, making it a form of aftercare for me. Partly it is just about hearing “good dog”. I always ask, “What worked well? Which bits did you enjoy most?” I often ask, “What about when I did this thing? How did that work for you?” I also worry, “Were there any things I could have done better at, or that didn’t work so well?” It’s all about “good dog, well done.” During a scene, or when I’m setting homework or daily tasks, yes, that’s about being catty, but I need that doggy affirmation as well. The best words I can hear when I’m in Dom role are, “Thank you, Sir.” In fact, they are so important that I ban them when a “punishment” is being administered (even a “funishment” or “play punishment”).
While the surface of D/s may be cat/dog, the fact is that any BDSM role can work for any orientation or combination of cattiness and dogginess in a person, and any pairing (or more, if you like poly dynamics) of dog or cat in any role, can be found and can find what they need from this world.
Thus, thinking about whether you are a cat or a dog, regardless of how you define your BDSM role, is very useful and can make you better in that role, whatever you are.