Devolution of TNG

In the field of biology “Devolution” is the notion that species can revert to more primitive forms over time. It’s a term that is used less often because we favor progress and have an optimistic view of the future. Within BDSM we often approach change with that presumption that new things are making BDSM better. The reality is mixed – some things have been improvements while other things are devolution. Sorting it all is somewhat subjective but if we look at our rich history we can often see more clearly which things have made BDSM better.

In 2010, Tyler McCormick became the first openly transgender man to have the title of International Mr. Leather. History was made yet again at International Mr. Leather 2019, as Jack Thompson became the first transgender person of color in the contest’s 41 years. Those are just two of an endless list of examples how diversity and inclusivity have positively changed BDSM as a whole. What was once a largely homosexual cisgendered male scene, BDSM is now practiced by all types of people.

So we looked at a positive change, what is the an example of devolution in BDSM? To understand devolution we have to look at something those in our history did well. When we look back we see one of the best things about our history was the clearly defined Dominant and submissive roles with a hierarchy that was modeled after military regiment. Older BDSM Dominants emphasized strong leadership characteristics and compliant subordinate submission. Religion often saw them as sexually immoral and taboo driving the scene underground. Yet BDSM emphasized the same strong personal character as military leaders were taught to hold.

Modern BDSM has seen a devolution of roles. We are seeing more softer Dominants and noncompliant submissives – Dominants acting more like followers and submissives asserting more leadership. What was once a well-defined structure is much more fluid. The biggest breakdown of any relationship dynamic is inconsistency. When a Dominant is less than dominant, for example, it naturally causes a submissive to break their role and act more dominant.

BDSM has three types of relationship dynamics: Power Neutral, Power Exchange, and Authority Exchange. Within a Power Neutral dynamic both persons are autonomous. This is a classic Top/bottom dynamic. Within Power and Authority Exchanges there is a consensual power imbalance: one person leads and the other follows, one gives power/authority over to the other. The reason this softening of roles is a devolution is that it pushes people out of a Power Exchange into a Power Neutral dynamic while simultaneously calling it a Power Exchange relationship.

Prior to around 2005 there was a Top/bottom (Power Neutral) dynamic called Sadist/SAM. A “S.A.M.” was a smart-ass masochist who used their autonomy to push a Sadist into punishing them with pleasurable pain. Progressively that Top/bottom role became popular with new people who self-identified as Dom/sub. Over the last 15 years, the two combined meaning that the couples were in a very limited (or sometimes non-existent) Power Exchange and had shifted to a mostly (sometimes entirely) autonomous Power Neutral dynamic. Sadist/SAM has become archaic and is largely replaced with Soft Dom/brat.

Power Neutral are not less than Power Exchange relationships, they are simply different. Keeping your autonomy is awesome if you are looking to be Topped or Bottomed. If however you are wanting to be Dominant or submissive, you will have to exchange some power and you will be most fulfilled when you let go of autonomy and give or receive that power.

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