This post is part of a miniseries exploring the nuances of different headspaces I access through kink! You can find all the other posts in this series by clicking here, and I hope this one serves you well. (Get it? …I’m sorry.)
I grew up assigned female, disabled and queer in a misogynistic, ableist and queerphobic society. I also attended a fee-paying high school solely because of some inherited money that was tucked away in a trust fund, which did not automatically equate to living in a wealthy (or even, uh, financially comfortable) household. Society and my peers made it clear to me from day zero that there were aspects of my life and my identity – of the very foundation of my being – that were undesirable, unworthy or wholly unacceptable.
This did not make for a very sturdy foundation upon which to build self-esteem, as I’m sure you can imagine.
One of the most harmful concepts that our capitalist society presses upon us is that our value as human beings is directly and inextricably linked to our “productivity”. I’ve read a lot of leftist theory and done a whole lot more psychotherapy, but I don’t think it makes me a bad anti-capitalist punk to admit that it’s going to take me a very long time to truly unlearn this particular faulty concept. It’s everywhere.
I’ve already talked a fair bit about the relationship between my disability and my service, but I haven’t actually unpacked what service space feels like for me, or why I enjoy it. It starts with all of the above: in a society that values “productivity”, whatever that means, and with disability already holding me back from being productive in any sort of traditionally capitalist manner, I was desperate to be worthy.
This manifested in my vanilla life first. Some of the things I was doing were all well and good, like donating blood regularly and knitting for charity… but others, not so much. I continued emotionally draining, outright harmful friendships wherein I acted as an unqualified therapist and/or crisis worker because I was desperate to make a difference. I took on responsibilities I couldn’t or could barely carry out because of my disabilities, like staffing a bake sale (which my joints, anxiety and autism all prevented me from doing) and helping my mum redecorate her house from bottom to top. As a pattern of behaviour, it was unsustainable.
Enter service submission. I stumbled across the term during one of my many blog binges and realised I was already kinda-sorta enacting it in the relationship I was in at the time – when I visited my then-boyfriend, it made me feel a great deal less anxious and burdensome to tidy up a little, do some dishes or massage his back. I slowly came to notice that I was deriving a sense of satisfaction from these acts of service that was similar to that which I experienced when doing helpful things in vanilla life – but it felt more profound.
When I’m in service space, I often hyperfocus. In other settings, hyperfocus is a double-edged sword, because I can end up overexerting myself, or forgetting to attend to other things. Under the watchful eye of a dominant partner, though, I can hyperfocus for the length of time it takes to complete a specific task, and then be gently pulled back into reality. It borders on hypnotic. I can immerse myself in the minute details of a task with the safety net of being ordered to stop if it seems like I’m at risk of exhausting or hurting myself.
Within a 24/7 dynamic, my Daddy and I have been able to account for my tendency to hyperfocus even when he isn’t supervising. Sometimes, this involves him being very specific about the level of energy he wants me to put into a task – he might explain that he wants the kitchen “quickly cleaned”, which means that I load the dishwasher and wipe down the countertops – but only the countertops, not the microwave or the toaster or the cupboard doors, etc. Sometimes it also involves him reminding me to check in with myself about whether my joints are hurting and how many spoons I have left, and he specifically tells me that stopping when my mind and/or body want me to stop is included in the service task.
I feel useful when I serve, in the exact ways I was seeking to feel useful in vanilla life. Service space also feels a lot more psychologically safe because it’s so predictable and the parameters are so clear: I am given a task. My job is then to complete this task to the best of my ability, and/or to communicate with my Daddy about any difficulties I’m having with its completion. My Daddy commends me for my execution of the task and/or my insight and communication, and I glow with pride at having done a good job. My experience of service space is almost entirely psychological – the sensory components (like wiping things til they shine, or the smell of citrus dish soap) are a bonus, but entirely incidental to the headspace itself. With a partner giving me specific, achievable goals, I feel like the embodiment of that capitalist myth: a cog in a well-oiled machine. And because my service submission is entirely removed from capitalism, I feel like I’m at liberty to set boundaries and I can even run the risk of “failing” without worrying about the loss of my livelihood. I feel intensely, deliriously safe in service space.
I also feel genuinely pleased with myself for my tangible impact on my dominant’s life. Formalising acts like a back massage or loading the dishwasher by doing them within subspace can help to keep their significance in the forefront of both our minds, meaning that my partner rarely overlooks my labour and so I rarely feel taken for granted. My tangible impact on him and his praise in response to it starts to fill in the cracks in that foundation I mentioned earlier. It’s not a substitute or a replacement for self-worth, but it gives me somewhere safe and reliable to start rebuilding my self-worth all on my own.