Until last year I’d never owned a collar: I’d worn one for an evening of tomfoolery at a swinger’s club, and another on a Saturday afternoon’s worth of mucking about at a porn cinema in West Berlin. The first time anyone ever put a collar on me was halfway through a very unsatisfactory one night stand- I didn’t say anything at the time, because it shocked me a little, but I was very angry about it later and sent him a strongly worded email saying that I wasn’t into being collared without consent.
He seemed a bit bewildered by how cross I was about the whole thing, but I was pretty new to kink and BDSM (I’m still pretty new, for that matter) and at the time had the slightly one- twue way idea that a collar was necessarily symbolic of a commitment, and felt almost violated by having one put on me without any prior discussion. I don’t in retrospect think I was wrong to feel that way- he should have checked what a collar meant to me before assuming that I would see it solely as a play accessory. But it was a good lesson: it taught me that in BDSM collars can mean everything or nothing. They can be the equivalent of a wedding ring, and symbolise a long- term if not lifetime partnership, but can also just be a thing that you wear because you like the aesthetic, or a thing that you wear during play, or, even, a thing that you wear because the collar is a symbolic to you and you alone.
A few years ago I bought a red vinyl dog collar with hi- viz features and an LED, designed to be worn by actual pups on night walks, and wore it to a kink night with my latex halter neck and skirt and a scarlet fake fur coat (and I looked fucking badass). Later that night I had a conversation with an old- skool kinkster who assumed out loud that because I was a kink newbie wearing a poundshop dog collar for shits and giggles that I didn’t understand that collars could or would have a deeper meaning for other people in other contexts. He said it dismissively and with some sadness, and I expected to feel defensive but I didn’t.
His assumption was ironic on many levels, not least because I’d had to send that angry email just a few months before. But another reason was that in my first D/s relationship I had a very difficult first introduction to the concept of the collar as symbol of lasting D/s commitment. Around my birthday my ex asked me my neck measurement; I wrapped a measuring tape round my neck and texted him the answer. He makes kink gear out of leather and other materials, and I was starry eyed with the romance of it all- the unspoken promise that I would receive a handmade, personalised symbol of my submission to him, my status as his partner, girlfriend, property and fucktoy. I pictured myself wearing it during play, imagined it being fastened round my neck, his finger hitched underneath it as he pulled me in for a kiss… and yes, there was a part of me that was excited about achieving a collar, as if it would convey some sort of status of Official, Community- sanctioned Subliness.
And then I never received it: my birthday passed, and so did our anniversary, and no collar materialised. Our relationship was dissolving at the seams at the time, and I wouldn’t have worn it for long if he had ever finished it; I’ve long assumed that’s why it never got made or handed over. Collaring me, and the commitment inherent in that to both us, felt briefly like a plausible thing… and then it didn’t. But it was an unspoken promise broken, and the sadness and hurt took a long time to lift. So after that terrible one- night stand, which did at least have the side- effect of showing me that a collar could just be a thing that you wore around your neck and not a repository for all your hopes and dreams for a lasting D/s connection, I’ve mostly worn them in moments of kinky fun, in passing.
Except for the first collar I bought for myself, which, in classic self- collaring style, I wear- sometimes, not always- as a sign of my commitment to myself. I bought my collar a couple of months into the Pandemic. It’s a very basic collar: black leather with a steel O- ring. I wear it around my neck when at home and, if I’m leaving the house, I wrap it twice around my wrist as a bracelet. The O- ring jangles sometimes as I walk and reminds me it’s there, but I’m not obviously wearing a BDSM collar; my fashion aesthetic is not one alongside which there could be any plausible deniability that it was a Kink Thing if I were to wear it around my neck, but I also live in Berlin, so I don’t even really know how much that would matter. I just like the combination of wearing it publicly but somewhat discreetly.
Often a major impulse when looking for a D/s dynamic has been to look for a Daddy/dom who is happy to dominate and micro- manage me out of the aspects of my slightly chaotic ADHD nature that I find difficult: agree with me bedtimes, to- do lists, deadlines and chores, and praise their Babygirl when she gets everything done as ordered. Mostly I’ve found myself with partners for whom that was not in any way interesting, and that’s fine, because our kinks lined up in other essential ways. But a thing I’ve realised recently is that when your impulse is to feel like there is a huge raft of everyday stuff that you find difficult and would prefer to have help with, it’s useful to have a visual reminder that, actually, you can (actually, have to) do this stuff without referring to an external locus of authority. If I choose not to that’s because, until I engage in a negotiated exchange, my power is mine.
I have autonomy over my life: my priorities in every day are mine to decide, my actions are my own responsibility. It helps me to think about what I would be handing over, if (I hope when) I engage in any future power exchange relationship of that sort. I wear my collar when I’m feeling unmoored, to remind me that I cannot give away what I do not have: that I have the power I often feel I lack. I find that thought really comforting, and I enjoy having a reminder of it.
Loving BDSM did a podcast episode back in 2018 about feeling Dominant or Submissive when you’re single, and it’s an idea I’m really interested in as someone whose relationship style often defaults to singledom. Some people are rarely without a partner; I’m rarely in a relationship. There are reasons for that, and I’m always working on detangling them- often so hard that I forget to pursue relationships alongside. Over the last couple of years it has felt a little bit as if one of the reasons why I’m so usually single is because I’m deeply ambivalent about what kind of relationship I want: romantic, comradely and platonic, deeply committed, sluttishly casual, D/s, vanilla… and, even when you throw polyamory into the mix to take away some of that ambivalence (I can have them all- if I work out where to find the energy!) there’s still a lasting thread of whether I deserve any of those sorts of relationships, let alone all of them.
One thing I do know is that there is something about that classic symbolism of being an owned, collared submissive that resonates with me deeply. For all that it’s fun to wear a collar for the duration of a kinky scene, or as an accessory to a badass outfit, I know that on some level I do still have that aspiration- I want the level of commitment it denotes and the depth of connection. I wonder as I write this if some of my reticence to admit that comes from the fact that it’s a symbol that has been given meaning by former generations of BDSM lifestylers, many of whom would look askance at a newb like me arguing that collars can mean whatever you want them to mean, that I shouldn’t want to have my cake and eat it too.
Whatever. Wearing my collar as a single and unowned submissive paradoxically reminds me what I want from a relationship one day- a 24/7 D/s power exchange. I don’t say that out loud very often; I’m not often very explicit with myself and others (and the Universe, if you want to be a fucking hippy about it) about that being a thing I want. It occurs to me that, as a submissive who is once again back in that space where all of my energy is available to think about what I do want in my sexual and D/s relationships, it’s not a bad time for me to start doing just that.