Foucault, in an interview in Salmagundi, said “Men think that women can only experience pleasure in recognizing men as masters”(1) (talking about cisgendered regular men who buy into the compulsory misogynist hegemonic paradigm, of course). He also, in the same interview, “praises sado-masochistic practices for helping homosexual men (many of whom share heterosexual men’s fear of losing their authority by “being under another man in the act of love”) to “alleviate” the “problem” of feeling “that the passive role is in some way demeaning”(2). The article this was in, by Leo Bersani, was one I had to read for my Queer Theory class. Bersani basically says that Foucault is wrong, and that the point of the “passive” or bottom or powerless role is that it is degrading and it should be valued as degrading. I think they’re both right.
In some ways, the point of submission, the point of putting oneself in the powerless role, is the ability to feel that loss of control, the ability to not have to think, but it also is a way to grow. Though experiencing degradation (and I don’t mean specifically degradation play, I mean degradation in the sense of being “reduced in rank, position, reputation, etc.” (3), which is, the way Bersani used it as well) one is able to find out what is truly valued as well as truths about the self which may not be known any other way. When one is reduced to a state of powerlessness, that is when one is degraded, there is a vast amount which one can learn about oneself. In this way it should be valued as degrading, as Bersani said, but viewing it in that light can also take away from the fact that it is degrading and demeaning, as Foucault said.
There is great power in submission and powerlessness, and great value in it. However, I wonder if it is the ability to be powerful or powerless at will that makes this more valuable. That is, if one is always powerless, constantly powerless, and unable to change their power for some reason or another would the worth of powerlessness be able to be seen, or since it is simply the way that one has to be would it not have the same kind of value? I’m honestly not sure. I’m also not sure if there is a situation where power could never change, never being so absolute. I think this is a catch in/emphasis of my power drag theory as well.
Since bdsm is power drag, and power drag is emphasizing the non-essential nature of power dynamics, that power dynamics are ever present, and that power is fluid and changeable, what would it mean if there were situations where power was never able to change? Like I said, I’m not sure if there are instances of this, but there probably are. Though, looking at gender drag and mirroring it, I’m sure there are situations where people feel like there is no way they would want to or could change their gender, so this might not be much of a snag after all.
(1) “Sexual Choice, Sexual Act: An Interview with Michel Foucault,” Salmagundi, nos. 58-59 (Fall 1982-Winter 1983), p. 21.
(2) Bersani, Leo. “Is the Rectum a Grave?” The MIT Press October, 1987 p.212-213.
(3) “degraded – Definitions from Dictionary.com“