First, she says to list all the powerful women you admire – from fiction, film, history, myth, your family, everywhere, anywhere. She had Brunnhilde, RuPaul and her grandmother, among others.
Then she says to go down the list and identify the qualities that make them so powerful for you, both light and dark. That’s your inner dom.
Yingtai takes the exercise and turns it around to investigate her submissive icons, and it makes a fascinating study. So I thought, “Why don’t I try it, too?”
First question: which identity? There aren’t a lot of genderfluid or genderqueer icons that I can think of, that I know well enough to say, “I admire hir as a powerful person”. It’s also a pertinent question of whether I wanted to investigate my inner Dom, or follow Yingtai and explore my submissive icons.
I decided that since Dominant is my dominant (hah!) identity, I should do that, at least first. Then I decided that gender could go screw itself, I would just pick all the powerful icons I could think of, male, female, or other (if such should come up) and count it all as “me”. It’s true that I think different parts come to the fore when I am in different moods or roles, and that engaging with my female self can draw out different elements. But it all seems to be part of the same jumble.
The next challenge I faced was choosing honestly. I already have an image of myself as a Dominant, and it was ridiculously easy to start thinking, “Yes, he’s got that element of me, she’s got this element, I’ll include those”. It took a conscious effort to remind myself that this was not, “Whom could I use to describe myself?” but rather, “Of whom do I think when I think ‘powerful person’?”
I fond I could think of many people or characters whom I admire, but did not particularly think of as “powerful”. I could of plenty whom I recognise as powerful, but whom I do not particularly admire. Like Yingtai, I found that I picked, “Practically no one from real life.” I felt bad about that and scrabbled through my brain for a couple more. But it occurred to me that perhaps this should be no surprise. Real people have flaws, and powerful people tend to have flaws that become magnified by their power. In seeking to admire a real person, I invariably come across plenty of reasons to think very poorly of them as well, and if that is tied in with their power, then I don’t admire them. It’s easier to admire those whose flaws are invented by an author. To admire someone whose deeds and decisions I only know through the popular version of history feels wrong.
I won’t follow Yingtai’s format of displaying the traits next to the names, because there were a lot of them, and it got quite challenging. But here’s the names (initials only for people I knew in r/l):
- Hercule Poirot (David Suchet’s performance in particular)
- The Doctor (Doctor Who) – especially 1, 2, 7, 9, 10
- Gandalf the Grey/Mithrandir
- Galadriel (The Silmarillion/Lord of the Rings)
- Cpt. Jean-Luc Picard
- E.M. (Charity shop manager)
- J.B. (Grandparent)
- Jonathan Strange (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell)
- Pandora Blake
- Thorkhild (The Saga of Erik the Viking – book)
- Yoda (Episodes I – III)
- Freddie Mercury (on-stage persona)
- Hope Powell (while the FA’s women’s team manager)
I then faced a new challenge, which was to try to take the many terms I had used to describe these 13 people and create some kind of summary that made sense of it all.
I picked out seven themes, plus some scraps left over. Caring/principles/passions; Leadership; Controlled/waiting; Potent (capable of acting, and does so); Thinking/Deliberate; Happiness/Humour; Stylish.
The scraps were mostly the “dark”, and constitute the first big surprise (yes, I’m copying Yingtai’s format):
Arrogant. Unapologetic. When these terms came up, and more than once for the first one, I felt staggered. Am I really an arrogant Dominant? Do I really act without apology even when I may be in the wrong? I know people have seen me as arrogant sometimes, though usually when I have felt a need to establish boundaries – or, back in my teen years, when I was a bit of a git. But then I saw these as the flipside of other qualities. Leadership, with its connotations of confidence and decisiveness, can also be arrogant or even need it on occasion. To be able to be potent and act, one must be able to do so without reservations – be unapologetic and determined.
No “strict”. The closest I had was, “stern”, and “exacting standards” (the other scrap left over). I could see how these terms overlapped with others, perhaps, to produce strictness, but no one in my list seemed to possess that quality. Strictness has always been a big thing in the way I have Dommed my partners, to the point where I would say I don’t know how to not be. Is it just an emergent quality from all these other aspects?
While I knew I admired certain people for their look or flair, i didn’t really think of it as a Dominant thing. But dressing confidently, whether it’s impeccably smart (Poirot), eccentric and alien (The Doctor) or flamboyant and showy (Freddie Mercury), proved to be a big theme. Poise, elegance, stature: all words that came up. Hope Powell looked so sharp in her suits on the sideline at England matches. I have paid more attention to my wardrobe and style in the last year or two but now I see that it’s more important. As long as I feel confident in my look.
The different themes, in the way that I ordered them and the terms that outlined them, overlapped considerably. Leadership is as much about listening and thinking as it is about action and decisiveness; being potent was so often linked to caring and there being a reason to act. Being happy is another aspect of being emotional, and caring about people. And so on.
It was not surprising to me to find terms like “parental” and “suffers from losing” turn up (both of them came from the Doctor, though “suffers” was an undercurrent for some of the others). My dominant icons care about stuff, and people, especially. Losing, failing, letting people down, really matters. While the “thinking” theme, and “controlled” theme, both speak to a certain aloofness, when it comes down to it, my icons need to be people who will act to do the right thing. They are emotional. They are, in fact, vulnerable. They can be hurt.
Yingtai wrote, “Who wouldn’t want to be them? And I’m not. … God knows I’m not there yet. But thank you, Midori, for helping me to see what I want to become!” When I saw my list of terms, and of themes, growing, I thought I had created my own perfect Dom list. Some of the qualities seemed laughably distant from my self-identity.
But the themes are all things that, while I am not perfect on them, they are what I want to be, and what I have improved on, and continue to improve on.
And that’s what it’s about.