This page offers easy access to some of the most frequently asked questions about rolequeerness.
- 1 Definitions
- 1.1 “Rolequeer”
- 1.2 There’s too much read. Can you summarize what rolequeerness is about?
- 1.3 Rolequeerness sounds very contentious and often leads to arguments. Why is it framed like that?
- 2 Rolequeer community, people, and participants
- 3 Identity
- 3.1 Is “rolequeer” an appropriation of queer identity?
- 3.2 Is it possible to be a “rolequeer Dominant”?
- 4 Political theory
- 4.1 What is the connection between rolequeerness and BDSM?
- 4.2 What is the connection between rolequeerness and queer theory?
- 4.3 What is the connection between rolequeerness and anti-racism?
- 5 Questions about sex or play
- 5.1 How is “rolequeer” any different from “switching”?
- 5.2 How can rolequeers simultaneously identify as “Submissives” but insist that “Dominants Are Rapists”?
- 5.3 Stop telling me how to have sex!
- 5.4 How can you call yourself kinky if you say you are anti-BDSM?
- 5.5 Why does what I do in the privacy of my bedroom with a consenting adult matter?
Describes any thing or person that “queers” — or disrupts hegemonic binary notions of — human relationships to power.
Someone is rolequeer when they’re making it more difficult (or ideally, impossible) for a person or institution to exercise power over other people. Rolequeerness is the intentional sabotage of domination. Rolequeerness rejects the belief that people have to relate to each other hierarchically. It especially prioritizes making it easier (and less dangerous) for targeted people to fight back or escape from coercion.
There’s too much read. Can you summarize what rolequeerness is about?¶
Yes. In a nutshell, rolequeerness is about:
- developing a personal felt-sense of consent
- taking actions that make consensual experiences more likely rather than less likely, for all people, forever
Put another way: rolequeerness is an explicitly liberationist ethos that is about promoting consenting experiences and active resisting all forms of domination (such as economic, sexual, racial, political, and religious domination). Rolequeerness can and should be applied to every aspect life.
Rolequeerness sounds very contentious and often leads to arguments. Why is it framed like that?¶
Because, at its core, rolequeerness and rolequeer thinking is about understanding and criticizing power inequality. For example, discussions of “income inequality” are often contentious because they are fundamentally discussions about who has more money than other people, and why. Similarly, discussions about “power inequality” are often (even more) contentious because they are fundamentally discussions about who has what power, how much, and why. Since rolequeer theory is a direct critique of power inequality in its generic form, it is directly relevant to discussions of all forms of socially constructed inequality, including income inequality, racial inequality, religious intolerance, and more. These are not “polite dinner conversation” topics and they are not meant to be.
The entire point of rolequeerness is to make it difficult for people who hold coercive powers over other people to justify having that power. This can, and should, lead to conflicts. As one mother in the United Kingdom put it when discussing rolequeerness, “The whole point of [rolequeer] is that it is political. That is entirely what it is. Politics is about how power operates in society.”
Rolequeer community, people, and participants¶
Who is talking about rolequeer stuff?¶
The short answer¶
Pretty much everyone, and more are beginning to discuss these ideas all the time. In fact, most people who take the time to understand rolequeer ideas find that they are directly relevant to their personal, professional, sexual, and political development and empowerment both as individuals and as part of collectives.
The long(er) answer¶
We’ve seen many people discussing rolequeer ideas and rolequeerness in many different contexts! These include:
- parents, particularly mothers;
- professionals; notably dancers, photographers, choreographers, teachers, project managers, and software developers. Generally, anyone whose day-to-day life or interests deals with multiple, simultaneous and complex relationships between people in different positions or types of authority;
- activists and political dissidents, especially cultural commentators and critics;
- scholars, students, and professors, particularly people who study sociology, philosophy, ethics, and social justice issues;
- musicians and artists, primarily youth and usually on various fan forums;
- authors, particularly fanfic writers and readers.
Consider doing a Web search in your favorite search engine to find more examples like these! :)
Is “rolequeer” an appropriation of queer identity?¶
No. Rolequeer is a subset of queer identity, not something that exists outside of it. Rolequeerness is sometimes described as the intersection of queerness and anarchism. The majority of people who identify as rolequeer are also queer-identified. Rolequeers are queers “who identify with rolequeerness, with rejecting the legitimacy of hierarchical power structures, as a core element of our queerness.”
Is it possible to be a “rolequeer Dominant”?¶
See also Origins of Rolequeer theory.
What is the connection between rolequeerness and BDSM?¶
Rolequeerness is not about sex or kink, it is about power. Rolequeerness can be a tool to subvert power in education, the state system, the job system, etc. But as it happens, a lot of rolequeer writing is about subverting rape culture and particularily the branch of rape culture that is BDSM.
This is because a lot of the people who first came together to discover rolequeerness did so in opposition to BDSM. These people were not vanilla people who looked at BDSM from the outside and thought it was weird. They were kinky people who were tired of being told that being kinky meant doing BDSM, tired of being pushed into BDSM spaces and tired of the systematic rape that goes on there. What was born from their experiences was first a critique of BDSM, then a critique of power and finally a tool to subvert power: rolequeerness.
Rolequeerness exists in opposition to power hierarchy. As a result rolequeer sex is the opposite of bdsm sex. But rolequeerness is about much much more than just opposition to BDSM.
What is the connection between rolequeerness and queer theory?¶
What is the connection between rolequeerness and anti-racism?¶
Questions about sex or play¶
How is “rolequeer” any different from “switching”?¶
Within an erotic play context, here’s how rolequeerness is different from “switching” in a nutshell: In switching, hierarchical power roles (e.g. “top” and “bottom”) are static, but the players take turns trying on different roles. In rolequeer play, the roles themselves are discarded or disrupted. In other words, rolequeer “scenes” do not involve a “top” or "bottom"—or, if they do start with those roles at the beginning, the roles have blurred and disintegrated by the end.
Learn more about rolequeering versus switching.
How can rolequeers simultaneously identify as “Submissives” but insist that “Dominants Are Rapists”?¶
The idea that people who identify as submissives can only experience true fulfillment by playing (having sex) with a person who identifies as a dominant has the same obvious problem as insisting that someone who identifies as a given gender can only have “real sex” with someone of the “opposite” gender. For instance, that a woman can only have sex with a man. Likewise, a submissive person can enjoy erotic power-play by playing with another submissive-identified person. In such a scenario, there does not need to be any person who identifies as dominant, just as there does not need to be a man present for two women to have sex with one another.
Moreover, many people who identify as “Dominant” in the BDSM Scene today insist that they “have no interest in simulating non-consent,” in which case rolequeer theory asks, “then why identify with dominance at all?” In other words, rolequeer theory shows that there are many ways to access all of the consensual sensations and experiences sometimes associated only with S&M sex, and that these ways of accessing those experiences do not require the presence of or interaction with Dominants at all. Therefore, we ask: what does domination add that dominance and only dominance can add? Clearly, the defining element of dominance is domination. By definition, domination is the application of force in a way that violates (or at least constrains) another person’s agency. It’s very clear why that’s rape-y.
This why we say “Dominants Are Rapists.” If you are interested in playing with power, but are not interested in (simulating) non-consent, then there is no compelling reason to call yourself a dominant. Indeed, the most immediate impact of rolequeer theory on the BDSM Scene in terms of its tenet that “Dominants Are Rapists” has been that previously dominant-identified people have stopped using that term to identify themselves. Given the obvious relationship between domination and oppression, rolequeers see this act of collectively shedding a dominant identity as one that is good for everybody, precisely because the fewer people who are legitimizing a dominant identity, the less culturally acceptable domination and its inherently violative aspects become.
Stop telling me how to have sex!¶
Contrary to popular belief, rolequeers are not claiming that nobody should do BDSM or that everybody should have rolequeer sex or any other moral imperative.
What we are doing is having a conversation about what it means about our society that BDSM exists, that rolequeer play exists, that there’s a need for either one of these models of intimacy, that some people are strongly drawn to one or the other (and sometimes, yes, what it means about what type of person those people are, the content of their character, or how they’re positioned within oppression culture), and what peoples’ reactions to the existence of rolequeerness, the existence of BDSM, the existence of the “vanilla” myth, etc. mean about the world we live in.
—R. Foxtale (source)
How can you call yourself kinky if you say you are anti-BDSM?¶
In short, kinky rolequeer play is kind of a through-the-looking-glass analogue to BDSM where, instead of eroticizing experiences of oppression (like enslaving/being enslaved, raping/being raped, or objectifying/being objectified) as BDSM sex relies on for erotic charge, rolequeer players intentionally eroticize experiences of liberating themselves and each other from oppression (like resisting or ending slavery, recovering from sexual violence, viewing each other respectfully, etc.) This sounds super corny in theory, but it’s really fun and sexy and intimate in practice. And, for those of us who are into it, it can feel very healing and consciousness-raising in certain ways, too. :)
Learn more about rolequeer sex.
Why does what I do in the privacy of my bedroom with a consenting adult matter?¶
There is a relationship between what we do “in the bedroom” and what we do “outside the bedroom,” even if connections between the two contexts are not always obvious (although they often are). The idea that what happens in one context is or even should be segregated from the other is not a rational representation of how humans actually behave or interact with the world around them. Therefore, arguments that rely on a strictly binary differentiation between “the bedroom” and the rest of life are neither convincing or practical. Moreover, arguments in favor of a strict delineation between “the bedroom” and elsewhere only serve to strengthen other forms of binary thinking, or in the service of a binary power relationship:
The “in the bedroom” vs. “outside the bedroom” binary is, itself, a false dichotomy. People don’t go around saying, “I’m attracted to blondes and I think a great laugh is sexy — but only in the bedroom!” or “Ooh, I love the taste of fresh whipped cream on warm skin — but only in the bedroom!” It’s generally understood that certain preferences and desires are more salient within an erotic context, without need to qualify that. […]
But BDSMers cling hard to the notion of “the bedroom” as a sacrosanct zone of apolitical eroticism with which they can pre-emptively caveat any questionable activities. “I like smacking my partner across the face until her nose bleeds — but only in the bedroom!” […]
BDSMers need “the bedroom” because they believe they’re doing something wrong — but they don’t want to have to change their behavior, they just want to make sure they’re not punished or judged for it. They’re like my elderly grandmother who always leans over to whisper in your ear when she wants to make a racist comment in public; she’s whispering because she knows it’s not okay to make racist comments, but knowing that doesn’t mean she tries to stop making racist comments, it just means she tries to make them in a way where nobody who might judge her will overhear.
—R. Foxtale (source)
See also bedroom fallacy.