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The leader hat and stop-button (2020)

You can listen to this musing here, or read it below.

In a BDSM-play, there is a leader hat worn by person suggesting the path forward. The ways available to pick from depends on the relationship between the dominant and the submissive. At first glance, it may look like the hat always sits with the dominant. However, the submissive often gets to wear it, both consciously and unconsciously. For example, when given the task to pleasure the dominant, or to set up an elaborate serving ritual. The hat can also be taken by the submissive when being a brat and looking for “punishment”. I like to view this a suggestion more intensity, rather than something negative. So the leader hat can shift around during a session, and this is healthy.

There is also a stop button—a hard one in the form of a safe word, and soft one commonly achieved by body language. And it works in conjunction with the leader hat. The hat suggests, and stop-button either follows along or halts. However, for this dynamic to work, the button and hat must be worn by different people. Or maybe, I should say, I haven’t discovered a functional solution for one person being responsible for both. In the least fucked-up cases, I have seen people in the dominant role receiving a blow-job that they are not enjoying at all, or pushing themselves to make a too complicated rope bondage suspension. In these examples, the submissive holds both the leader hat and stop-button. But in the most unfortunate case, when the dominant holds both the leader hat and the stop-button, it is a bomb just waiting to go off.

So I think one should be very cautious when either person in a power dynamic is either trying to give away or take control of both. The most classic example of this is maybe when a submissive says.

When I’m deep into surrender and high on endorphins
I can no longer say stop.

My suggestion to deal with this situation is to move the leader hat to the submissive, and let them describe in detail how the dominant should act out the scene. And I see this happening a lot. But then the dominant needs to take on the stop button… yeah you get the idea.

If you are curious about the difference between submission and surrender, you can read my text about just that, and if you want to know more about endorphins, then there is a text about pain and kinbaku.

But what if all involved want
one person to hold both anyway?

Well, it can be just a shared fantasy about a BDSM relationship with an owner, mistress or master, and their slave. And inside that fantasy, the leader hat and the stop-button is still moving around. But there is a tendency in the BDSM-culture to keep both with one person for longer and longer periods. One jargon for this is Total Power Exchange (TPE). What happens then, I would describe, as a continuously increasing risk-taking. That is, hopefully, both conscious and consensual, and regular check-ins can mediate the risk. I believe the reason for playing like this is the connection between risk and desire, and a longing for permanence. I have described so many times before and you can check out my text In search for awe for an introduction.

A good question to end this – how much risk are two people willing to accumulate together before moving the leader hat and stop-button around, or closing the power play? But actually, I believe that one can and should avoid this question altogether by not having the same person holding both at the same time because there are plenty of other ways to create excitement. And as one of my clever Instagram-followers pointed out most of the dynamics that we can consciously play with are already acted out unconsciously in the outside world. So how are the leader hat and stop button affecting you in your regular relationships?