Rolequeer sex

Rolequeer sex is sex that focuses on resisting, disrupting, or divesting from power hierarchies, or on recovering from trauma induced by those hierarchies. It is a way to eroticize liberation from subordination. Rolequeer sex is often of interest to people who have sexual fantasies or desires that they feel uncomfortable with having or simply do not want to continue to have, people who want to have more consensual experiences in their sexual, romantic, and even platonic life, and people who want to experience different, often kinky sex acts without inviting dominant people and without relying on a fetish for domination/oppression/injustice.

Rolequeer sex does not mean the abolition of any particular sex act, but rather the abolition of domination as a part of sex. In other words, the idea is not that Submissive people should stop being who they are, but that we should stop telling Submissive people that they need dominant people.

I mean, we can all hum and ha about why people might be sexually interested in the subordination of women. Surely the most likely reason is that women are subordinated and we all grow up and see that every day. People are also often interested in the subordination of black people.

So it could be quite difficult to suddenly become the dominant person in bed when that is totally at odds with the group you are in in society, and why would you want to pretend to be part of the dominant group or play at equality if it isn’t real to you?

You are currently eroticising the power and oppression that exists in society. If you are now thinking about liberation in society, can you eroticise liberation from subordination instead?

—almondcakes, in response to a poster who stated she is uncomfortable with an aspect of her own sexuality (one which many people share), and seeking some advise to address that

Rolequeer sex differs dramatically from both BDSM sex and charmed sex (sometimes called “vanilla sex” by BDSM’ers), in that participants acknowledge the reality of a power differential between them and then strive to create intentional and increasing periods of power-equity. In contrast, “charmed”/“vanilla” sex begins from an imagined power equity between partners, and BDSM sex intentionally strives to create periods of increasing power disparity to reinforce a binary power relationship during sexual intimacy.

Rolequeer play is about breaking power dynamics — both ones that are internal and ones that are external to a given “scene” — and as such, it is oriented towards developing increasingly egalitarian sexual and social relationships. This is different from “vanilla” play, which begins from the assumption of a (fictional) power equity between partners (ed. “fictional” because sexual partners almost never have exactly identical sets of real world privileges and marginalizations); rolequeer play begins from the assumption of (ed. real-world) power differentials and makes power equity its goal. […] Still, many people consider the difference between “BDSM” and “vanilla” play to be the existence or lack of an (explicit) power differential. Since rolequeer play involves intentional and increasing periods of power-equity, rolequeer play will often appear more “vanilla” on the surface than much of the “BDSM” you’re used to.

—R. Foxtale (source)

Power differentials in rolequeer sex

In rolequeer sex, participants start from the assumption that they have different qualities and quantities of real-world power. This is because sexual partners almost never have exactly the same sets of real-world privileges and marginalizations. All partners then cooperate to create circumstances of intentional and increasing periods of power-equity, ideally during the sex as well as after the experience.

  • One obvious example of real-world power differentials is the case where a woman and a man have sex in the context of rape culture.

Rolequeering versus switching

Rolequeer sex is not the same as “switching” during a BDSM scene. 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.

“Rolequeer” is also not interchangeable with “switch.” Unlike switching, which is about moving power between people as if they were on a see-saw, rolequeering is about everyone involved helping everyone else divest of their abilities to use the power they have coercively.

maymay, "Rolequeerness is not about sex, it’s about power. It’s just that power, in rape culture, is about sex."

By way of analogy, two bisexual women having sex with one another are not having “lesbian sex.” They are having sex together, as women. Similarly, rolequeers who have sex with one another are not “switching.” They are having sex together, as rolequeers.

  • Switching in BDSM relies on the presence of a dominant/submissive or powerful/vulnerable binary power relationship at all times. At one point in time, one participant takes on the powerful role while the other participant takes on the vulnerable role. Then, at some later point in time, they “switch roles” so that the participant who once embodied the powerful role plays the vulnerable role, and vice versa.
  • In rolequeering, neither partner assumes a fully powerful or a fully vulnerable role. Instead, they both play their roles in such a way as to assist the other in having less and less power over them, while at the same time increasing their vulnerability to the other.

Examples of rolequeering versus BDSM’s D/s or switching in kink

“Rolequeer petplay seldom involves “puppies” and “owners.” It’s more likely to include a pile of foxcubs or a couple of tigers.”

R. Foxtale
  • In BDSM:
    • pet play often involves an absolute owner/pet distinction, which maps directly onto the dominant/submissive binary. BDSM pet play thus may involve “owners” and “pets,” such as puppies.
    • switching may involve the alternation of owner and pet roles between players, or it may involve two pets who are playing “dominance” games with the other. (This is a classic human misunderstanding of canine social behavior.)
  • Rolequeering, on the other hand, involves only animal role-play, never “pets” or “owners,” because “pets” only make sense in the context of “owners” and vice versa. Some examples include:
    • “A couple of tigers” roaming freely or “a pile of foxcubs” playing in the snow. Again, this is rolequeer because domination and subordination plays no part in the game, which is in direct contrast with BDSM’s D/s and with its notion of switching.
    • A person playing the role of a human (as in, a human animal) and another playing the role of a non-human animal (such as the first player’s familiar in an adventure role playing game). This is rolequeer because it is a cooperative dynamic in which domination over the other participant is not a goal, and helping the other participant have more desirable experiences that makes them stronger (“gaining experience points”) is a goal.

See also