What I Want out of Showtime’s “Submission”

Showtime teased and intrigued many of us with its trailer for Submission, which airs tomorrow (May 12th). Even people I know who aren’t as into kink have expressed interest in it, which makes sense to me… after all, it’s about sex, and plenty of folks are probably kind of open to different kinds of sex acts that they have no desire to practice in real life. That’s the beauty of fantasy. I think a lot of vanilla people are going to watch Submission unless they outright hate kink/BDSM or find it triggering.

I’m definitely going to watch it. I want to see what it’s like. How will it shape up compared to the well-loved (and totally shitty, in my opinion) 50 Shades of Grey? Will it portray people practicing Risk-Aware Consensual Kink? Will there be negotiation? How heavy will the bondage and impact play be? What will the characters be like?

It’s so hard to get what I want from mainstream portrayals of BDSM. People are naturally complex. Some people come to the BDSM and kink community after trauma has happened and use it to work through/past those experiences and the marks they’ve left, and it’s unrealistic to pretend that everyone goes into a scene centered and emotionless. Trauma can play into a person’s kinky/sex life in a huge way, and that may or may not result in unethical or unsavory behavior. I feel like we should be able to have complex characters and explore their stories, and I feel like we should see them make mistakes, but we shouldn’t pretend that a troubled past is to blame for mistakes and shittiness. Some people are just shitty.

I want to see characters who may be flawed, but who learn from their experiences. But mainstream media so often does a disservice to the complexity of human beings in minority demographics, so those of us who see behind the BDSM stereotypes revile Christian Grey, and those of us who don’t understand abusive dynamics in relationships end up celebrating Christian Grey: a controlling, jealous, abusive asshole who hides behind a dominant persona because his mom didn’t love him enough or whatever. So many 50 Shades fans think Christian’s possessiveness is “romantic,” and that his rough childhood is what drew him to “sexual deviance,” and that it validates “why he is that way.”

I do not want to see a Christian Grey in Submission.

Here’s what I want to see in Submission: I want to see someone who didn’t come to BDSM solely because of a “fucked-up” past. I want to see someone who respects boundaries and doesn’t feel compelled to track their submissive’s every movement. I want to see a submissive enthusiastically explore what kink has to offer. Hell, maybe the submissive should be the one with more experience – that would certainly change the typical BDSM narrative dynamic. Real life BDSM isn’t The Story of O over and over again.

I don’t know what the psychological dynamics will be like, but what I’m seeing in the trailer is a cast that appears to be composed of white, skinny cisgender people. I want more than that! I would lap up a show with a diverse cast – people of color, people with disabilities, trans and nonbinary people, people with bodies bigger than size 4, 8, or even 12. I want to see a show where characters talk about power dynamics in the context of American racism, where handicapped-accessible dungeons exist, where gender is disregarded or actively fucked, and where fat bodies are celebrated.

I’m not under the illusion that I’ll get this from Submission, but I think an inclusive series or film with humanized BDSM that is deliberate, careful, and powerful would have a huge impact. Somebody get on that because it will make a difference for a whole lot of people. In the meantime, we’re seeing representation in erotica, and I’m thankful for authors like Xan West, who sees us – the minorities – and gives us a voice. If you’re interested in heavy, kinky, well-written erotica, you can check out my review for West’s recent story collection titled Show Yourself to Me, and if you’re into the sound of that then you should absolutely buy it to support West’s work.