Brats get a bad rep in the kink community.
Dominants write them off immediately with a dismissive “I don’t care for brats”, submissives make it an “us vs them” situation. Some folks like to take them on for the challenge; “brat tamers” they’re called. People ask me all the time in workshops how they can make themselves stop being bratty, or how they can “fix” their bratty submissive.
But why? Why are brats looked down on like this? Honestly, I think it stems from a misunderstanding of what a brat really is, and insecurity on the part of the dominant.
It’s no secret that there are lots of abusive and/or manipulative kinksters out there. There are many selfish people, people who play games, and people who just want to push you in bad ways, no matter what – many identifying as dominants or as brats. Both groups often shrug off their behaviour and excuse it as “well, I’m just being dominant/a brat. That’s what we do.” Kinksters as a whole know the telltale signs of these annoying “alphas”, and they know that this behaviour isn’t an accurate depiction of what a dominant should actually be.
But with so-called brats? Play partners and kink networks alike see this “just being a brat” behaviour and come to associate it with brattiness, expect other brats to be like that, and don’t question it further. That often becomes their working definition of what a brat really is.
Full disclosure – a lot of this is kind of semantics. “Bratty” vs “sassy” vs “rude” vs “smart-ass masochist” vs….the distinction is important to me, but where I draw the lines will be different from the next person. That’s why you use your words and talk to people you like to find out what they mean by the words that you use.
But to me, being a brat does not mean that you are a bad submissive or treat people poorly. It doesn’t mean you manipulate people in ways that they don’t consent to or purposely act out in ways that are genuinely hurtful or disrespectful.
It’s a personality trait. A way to be playful and teasing or to see if the dominant is someone who is safe for you to submit to. It can give the submissive more room to ask for things that are hard, communicate their wants, and speak up for themselves – especially survivors. In response to my Twitter question about what brattiness means to a person, Betty Butch summed up my feelings perfectly; “as a survivor it gives me an actionable connection to my agency”. Because it does. Having the space to be a brat has been (and still is, to a lesser degree) absolutely integral to my healing and well-being.
If I’m comfortable around you, I’m going to be playful. I’m going to (usually) feel capable speaking up to communicate my needs and wants. I’m going to quip back, both in and out of a scene, and I’m going to tease you as one of the many ways that I show affection. This is my personality. It’s a way for me to connect with you, be engaged, and protect my agency – when you tell me I’m not allowed to be a brat, what I hear is that it isn’t about me, you don’t want a connection, and you don’t care if you trample over my triggers. If you give me a boundary for how far I’m allowed to take it, I will obey without question – I don’t want to annoy you or be defiant, I just want you to like who I am, not who you would like me to be.
Interpreting the fact that I’m upfront about what I want as being bratty behaviour that I need to be broken out of is both incorrect and actively harmful to my well-being. My personality is not a thing that’s allowed to be “corrected” without my consent unless I’m causing unwanted harm. I am not here to be “tamed”. I am a lot, I am a handful; a strong, capable person who is there to compliment you and your abilities, not to be bent until I forget who I am without you.
When I was younger, less comfortable with myself, less experienced in kink, I internalized so much of the derisive comments about how bad brats are, about “topping from the bottom” (as if expressing what does and does not feel good to me is a bad thing). I tried to dial it back. I had dominant folk punish me in ways they knew that I did not like or want in order to try and break me, “fix” me, because they didn’t like that I was and am unwilling to put aside all of my own feelings and wishes and listen just to theirs.
This doesn’t make me a bad submissive, it makes them a bad dominant.
You have every right not to want a bratty submissive, just as you have every right to not like one who is too serious. But if you don’t like us? Don’t pursue us. Don’t play with us. Don’t expect us to change a core element of who we are for you. Be upfront about what you do and don’t like, and we – if we’re decent – will be upfront about if we can give you that. But it is not fair or healthy for you to initiate a dynamic with us with the intention of making us give up a part of ourselves for you. Relationships and kink dynamics are about building people up, not destroying pieces of them. Many dominants love us, we don’t need ones who think we’re not worth it unless we become their idea of worthwhile.
Yes, of course being a brat can mean a sign of trouble. If someone suddenly starts behaving brattily out of nowhere, this could be an indication that something isn’t working right, that they aren’t getting what they need, and may benefit from a check in. But more often than not, people who do things like throw your rope off right before you tie it off and toss all of it into a big mess on the floor are just…jerks. Not fun, playful brats, just disrespectful and rude. And their behaviour is not an indication of ours, nor should we be punished based off of their actions.