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Why I Submit: A Subby Gothicist's Attitudes on Metroidvania, Mommy Doms, and Sexual Persecution

I am a Gothic ludologist (a fancy way of saying I study horror videogames). This longread is an extension of my independent research, and examines my connection with the subject matter.  It explains why mutual consent, power exchange and gender equality are paramount, but how this attitude is societally on the backfoot. Atypical stances on power, from mommy doms to cat boys, are ostracized by the "silent majority" (re: cis white heterosexual men) as castrating and alien. I shall explore this persecution phenomena as well. 

This post is divided into the following sections:

  • Me, Pansexual: This section covers my pansexuality. This includes the people I'm attracted to—who they are, why they matter, and what struggles they face. 
  • Mommy Doms and Metroidvania: I submit to female forms of power—mommy doms and Metroidvania—within boundaries of mutual consent. I explain what these things are, why I study them, and what the appeal in our arrangement is; I also explore how various persecuted groups—women and trans people—adopt these various, powerful personas in an attempt to reclaim some sense of sexual autonomy.
  • Tyrants: Female power is frequently demonized by those with actual power. This section explores the value in being able to tell the difference when confronting "tyrants" versus tyrants—in Gothic media, but also in human relationships more generally.
  • Persecution: The consequence of demonization is persecution. This section explores how those in power punish and fetishize various ostracized groups. I explore my connection to these groups—what my attraction to them is, and how their attempts to reclaim power in the face of adversity has inspired me.
  • A Brave New World: A reclamation of power includes these persecuted groups being recognized as sexually autonomous. This includes the fact that they have sexual desires to being with. How they might illustrate them by responding visually to sexual markers, and what battles to do they face moving forward?

Before I begin, a few things: One, trigger warning! This piece discusses domestic abuse, including rape and physical violence against women and trans people.

Two, ethnic and gender studies are a complicated field. I won't be able to discuss everything in a single article. I will do my best to be inclusive; my focus remains on cis women, mommy doms and trans people, though especially AFAB (assigned-female-at-birth) trans. When addressing issues that apply to cis women and trans women, I will say "Cis women/trans people" when referring to both. I'll use the pronouns "she/they" in this case, but might fall back on "she" to emphasize singularity. I know singular "they/them" is totally valid, including its non-binary function. I also don't meant to exclude AMAB (assigned-male-at-birth) but the area of Gothic I specialize in focuses on "female" elements like monster mothers, female knights, and vaginal spaces.

Three, I want to thank my partner Lindsay for providing me with a safe and secure place to voice my own thoughts—a room of one's own. Thank you, my love!

Me, Pansexual:

This article is about partly about me, so I should explain my own views on sex and gender. I'm currently in a relationship and am extremely happy with my partner. However, my orientation remains pansexual*. This means I'm attracted to persons of all genders and sexes. This isn't so unusual; Chris Stuckmann, a former Jehovah's Witness and popular YouTuber movie critic, is also pansexual. Nevertheless, the term is oft-misunderstood by the right, and viewed as threatening by them. It's not a declaration of war against straight people, my dudes; it's just a statement of one's sexual preferences and gender orientation. 

*Some people say "bisexual," and it, without too much fuss, largely means the same thing in practice. In other words, both terms are largely inclusive—unless that is, you're a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) using the term unironically to enforce a gender binary. Most people don't do that, and those who do are transphobic.

The idea that pansexuality negates preference is a myth. I certainly have mine, am primarily into androgynes, specifically AFAB cuties (assigned-female-at-birth) with a boyish appearance. That's basically a fancy way of saying "I like vaginas," but also that the people they're attached to are equally important, including their gender performances. My partner Lindsay certainly qualifies. They are the apple of mine eye, my prince, my knight:

"Boyish" can mean a lot of things. To illustrate my preference further, I've supplied some images from @ur_hot_bf, posted with their permission:

Androgynes excite me, specifically when their natural bodies contrast with their chosen genders. Or, as ur_hot_bf puts it, "wild that i have a pussy wtf LMFAOOO." The pussy does not define the performance, but it can enhance the performance. For me, it does. Like most folk, I'm drawn to people through sexual preferences. When I see androgynes, specifically individuals who perform differently than what others might prescribe to their bodies, I think to myself: "There's a critical-thinker—an autonomous somebody with a fully-formed identity. That's hot!" Not just a critical thinker who personifies the complexities of real life, but a rebel and survivor who faces adversity with dignity.

Roughly half of the world's population is female. Roughly 1.4 million adults in the United States openly identify as trans. Out of a population of 328.2 million, that's less than half of one percent. The actual number is undoubtedly higher, but obscured by fear. Not everyone comes out because of potential abuse: murder, wrongful termination from employment, homelessness, and so on. Women are pushed into the periphery by sexist men, and trans people don't exist at all; if they do, they are generally demonized, even killed, their murders protected by sexist, transphobic laws, aka the gay panic defense.

I have male friends, but most of my friends are women or trans people. Most of my partners have been trans or gender-fluid. The same goes for the women in media I relate to or am inspired by. For me, a powerful woman or female space is captivating and educational, especially the "mommy dom" and Metroidvania.

Mommy Doms and Metroidvania

I've always have felt attracted to female power—be it in teachers, heroines, or videogame characters. But female power is usually androgynous, having pre-conceptions about male power mixed in. I admire Joan of Arc and Elphaba, but also Ellen Ripley and Samus Aran: tomboyish girls, female knights. I especially love the Metroidvania—a chaotic, "female" stronghold to lose myself inside, but also the focus of my PhD work. There, I can explore myself sexually in relation to power and trauma. This is why I submit. When I do submit, I submit to "mommy doms." 

In a BDSM framework, the mommy dom is a powerful female figure, one with the power to punish and nurture inside a consensual framework. Just remember that I'm a switch; I'm not submissive all the time. However, when I am, I submit consensually. It's not for everyone, and it shouldn't be. That isn't the argument that sexist men make, though. For them, only women can or should submit. Men who submit are weak, or impossible. Clearly they're not impossible, but homosexual composer Tchaikovsky's words on submission (towards a young servant) were nonetheless treated as impossible—his amorous words furiously repressed by the Russian state: "My God, what an angelic creature and how I long to be his slave, his plaything, his property!"

For the sexist right and equally intolerant groups, sexism conflates homosexuality with womanhood and trans people with demons, criminals. Think of an abject dumping ground for anything that doesn't conform to the two-sexes/two-genders binary (man/woman; masculine/feminine). This "female" vantage point becomes alien and dangerous, almost invader-like. Xenophobia is a common sexist response to powerful women and trans people (re: Stonetoss's horribly sexist comics). I'll explore this reaction more in the Persecution section.

Male protagonists in popular (mainstream) media are ubiquitously portrayed as heroic: Luke Skywalker, Conan the Barbarian, or the Man with No Name; etc. Not only are these fairy tale men autonomous; they're center-stage. The women they encounter are generally the prize, princess, or prostitute; or, as Cass Erin explains about the Jungian school of thought, the dragon or mother-monster for the hero to slay (re: the Medusa). Jung's ideas remain popular through the likes of Jordan Peterson, a sexist thinker whose sexist ideas* appeal to sexist men (re: the alt-right) through mythic patterns. Conveniently these so-called "essential" patterns, when discovered, are found to benefit men and maintain "order." Fancy that!

*Peterson's book, 12 Rules for Life, is full of problematic ideas—so many that Cass needed 40 videos to analyze them all. Unlike Peterson's arguments, though, Cass's videos are actually pretty good!

I don't agree with Jung for essentializing these tropes (what he called "archetypes"); I do agree he was touching on unspoken biases present in larger society. Some, like Joseph Campbell's "monomyth" the Hero's Journey, are sexist, and lay the perennial groundwork for sexist-but-popular movies (re: Star Wars). Men make movies for other men; both project their own insecurities onto women. This can be on the screen, but also in the real world. In men's eyes, impotent women are infantilized; powerful women are either demonized or assimilated (re: acting "like a man"). 

Women are forced by society to submit. Sure, Jean Rys might be more freely expressing Antoinette Cosway's "alien" perspective in Wide Sargasso Sea (formerly "Bertha" from Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre); it's still a response to something else, something legitimately antagonistic (re: male colonial bullshit). Female authors face a similar issue: lots of trauma and baggage tied up in any attempt to consent playfully. While it is true that consensual submission grants tremendous pleasure and power, compulsory submission is the female default. Compulsion blows.

As a man, I can pick and choose where and when to submit. I can consent. The slow shift towards societal equality doesn't bother me. Sexist men will argue they're not consenting to the paradigm shift. But theirs is stranglehold on total societal power. No matter how hard they play the victim, these people have victimized women, trans people and ethnic minorities for centuries. To adopt a victim's rhetoric is not only bogus, it's hypocritical. This behavior accelerates the more these men feel threatened. The more under attack "traditional values" seem, the more men summon their essentializing myths—not just Jung's female dragon, but other, smaller myths. More castles for women and trans people to navigate and dismantle.

Videogames have non-consensual elements, namely clothes. Nevertheless, the player consents to playing the game. Consent is important. Victims of abuse use consent as a healing tool. I have never been raped, but I have been physically and mentally abused by men. Consensual submission helps me acclimate to non-threatening variants of "trauma," allowing a stable daily existence where no trauma actually exists. Because I'm a switch, I seize power (consent) by alternating between positions of dominance and submission in my social life, but also through the media I consume.

Consider my Gothic crisis of choice, the mysterium tremendum. The Numinous, or so-called "wrath of god," is a powerful, alien, mysterious force, as destructive as it is fascinating. It's also a traditionally "female" experience, filling the view up with the presence of fearsome, alien power. This isn't true nihilism; it's an intense jouissance (re: Radcliffe's "faculties of life," which activate in the presence of terror). This submission is something I've historically experienced when playing Metroidvania. For these scenarios, my avatars are generally semi-martial, especially the "half-knight, half-damsel" popularized by Ellen Ripley's videogame counterpart, Samus Aran. 

The ambivalent paragon, Samus is the perfect switch for me to control. She's also linked to the monstrous castle: its heir, the potential gorgon. And I, attracted to female heroes, project onto it. She's my conflicted sense of self, including my conscious desire to be a woman—not Marilyn Monroe or Emily St. Aubert, but a capable scrapper who's decked in armor and easy on the eyes (for me this means "boyish," like Tolkien's Dernhelm ["hidden protector"] and Joan of Arc). These women are not "armored" in the Radcliffean sense, swooning at the first sight of danger to protect their fragile sense of female self. They fight back, grappling with the tyrant, but also the castle from which their own identity springs. 

This precarious arrangement has been vicariously entertained by Neo-Gothic readers. For them, the Radcliffean castle is the seat of confusion, one forged by a female mind: Ann Radcliffe's. Her reclusive genius led her male contemporaries to label her "the Great Enchantress." Not to be confused with medieval Gothic buildings, Radcliffe's castle was a lateral strategy: charging a fortress with "female" power instead of an actual female body. At first glance, critics would see the male tyrant lurking inside (re: Lord Montoni, Father Schedoni, etc) and attribute the menace as male. Or they might see the awesome gloomth of the place and think Horace Walpole. 

But the Castle of Udolpho belongs to Radcliffe. Female-authored, the castle is the story's protagonist. It is central and superior, and has many terrifying properties. There are many ways to frame power. Given Radcliffe's female status, and her emphasis on terror, I liken her castle to the Dark Mother, the uncanny matriarch with the power to entice and annihilate. Instead of a person, the "mommy dom" is a space (for more of my thoughts on Metroid and "female" space, read my blog post "War Vaginas"); Samus is the vehicle to navigate that space. 

In Gothic media, the mommy dom helps readers explore sexually taboo material in non-abusive, even protective ways. Sexist men will label this behavior as castrating or stupid. In truth, both parties (the player and the game, in this case) consent inside realms of play where both sides exchange power back and forth. Here, men like me can assume traditionally female roles: the Gothic heroine (re: Samus, part of the time). Women can assume traditionally male roles: the warrior or the tyrant (re: also Samus, part of the time). For both, the performance exits a sexist framework, becoming arbitrarily performative in beneficial ways. Sometimes this includes dumb, tongue-in-cheek fun: Samus kicks monster ass; so does the female warrior-android from Jason X, showing Jason Voorhees who's boss:

Chaos has been historically attributed as "female," but only because written history is largely patriarchal. No matter how destructive they actually are, the patriarch represents order (re: Immorton Joe, "a renaissance man [who's] simply trying to bring order into an apocalyptic world”). American women have only been allowed to vote for roughly a century (since 1920—101 years). They could be legally raped by their husbands until the 1970s (marital exemption wasn't abolished until 1993). Chaos denotes a lack of control that men like Jordan Peterson view as "outside" their sphere of control. But this selection is arbitrary—merely prescribed by those currently in power. 

The reality is, chaos is the byproduct of not having control, and this itself can be regulated and administered in healthy ways. In BDSM, this results from a trusting relationship, one that permits one person to be bossed, bound or blindfolded by another. This enables playful feelings of submission within boundaries of mutually-informed consent. But "mommy doms" include Metroidvania, which aren't people. Even so, I relate to the chronotope of the castle (re: Bakhtin) as an agent of power, specifically a repository of time. Written on the walls are promises of danger and power. The halls are dark and deep; the caverns are twisting, maze-like passages that threaten isolation, live-burial, and trauma. Samus is the shield from, but also the gateway to, these Numinous feelings.

As the player inside the dungeon, I have control over Samus but also the console; the power button amounts to a "safe word." Paralysis is never total, and I can stop the game whenever I want. I usually don't because I am lost in rapture, submitting to "matriarchal" forces (re: the castle, Mother Brain and, to a lesser extent, Samus). I place matriarchal in quotes because the Numinous isn't gendered. It's merely the unknown, which for me, a white male in Western society, is largely "female." This gendering is not supplied by me, but provided ahead of time by older male authors through the archetypes they ceaselessly promote. Men, but especially sexist, heterosexual white men, denote powerful women (so-called "phallic" women, which Lindsay and I have a podcast episode about) as dark and mysterious, but also attractive. 

"Mysterious" is always venerated by traditional dating schemes (re: Keats' "unravish'd bride of quietness"). Personally I think consent is less about total mystery and more about the yielding of further information across a relationship's lifetime. A relationship is like a dark well; something new is always found inside, even if it's only re-remembered. The Metroidvania can be played for years, but even the seasoned vet can discover something new after their 1000th outing (world record-holder Zoasty has speedrun Super Metroid for at least eight years). Every playthrough amounts to a retelling of the same, basic tale inside the same, giant maze: Samus is doomed, investigating her ruined childhood home.  Now an adult, she occupies the same place her Chozo ancestors roamed; so does any Nintendo player who's ever controlled her.

Just as Metroid reconstructs Alien's gothic castle for a new generation, Zero Mission (2004) does the same for Metroid (1986). Some players return to this place, having played Metroid in their youth. I remember Alien scaring me as a boy and feeling echoes of that fear in Super Metroid. In Metroidvania, each "run" through the maze yields fresh excitement in various forms, including "trauma." The game can't kill you, but it can kill Samus! Though hardly constant, old abuse (from a story-telling standpoint) can resurface in front of Samus: traps, ghosts, monsters, etc. This confrontation is important. Whether inside Metroidvania or through interpersonal relationships, attempts to generate fake "trauma" can help someone address actual, real-life abuse. These events become memories themselves, armoring the individual from their past trauma. 

In this sense, Metroidvania are a façade, a decorative front that leads down a path of "danger" and excitement. There's always an element of the unknown. For me, the elimination of mystery is never total because I'm always discovering something new inside the castle: "punishment" and nurture dolled out through a continuous, shifting power exchange. For a female or trans player, this dynamic is asymmetrical, the threat of trauma less imagined by a privileged member of society like me, and one that's actually experienced by them; or, at the very least, are much more likely (re: rape, 1 in 5 for women, versus 1 in 59 for men; for trans people, this climbs to 1 in 2). AFAB can also become pregnant. For them, pregnancy and rape are tied to sex; navigating sexualized spaces like the Metroidvania castle can help them face their fears in a very literal sense, minus the consequences. 

While chaos and power, as an attractive agent, can assume whatever form excites the reader, the patriarchal threat is generally male. Not always. Exceptions include the evil nun, but also the Archaic Mother. The latter example is a patriarchal boogeyman—what fearful, sexist men see in their minds when they imagine a powerful woman. For these men, women are inseparable from sexual reproduction; for women, this "unbreakable" connection to sexual reproduction is a nightmare. In Metroidvania, the heroine must confront this fear to progress (re: Ellen Ripley vs the Queen, Samus vs Mother Brain). This includes what men project onto the powerful heroine: objects of disgust—the bitch, harridan, or hag—or objects of lust: the hapless bride, damsel-in-distress, or slut.

The Jungian model has been colonized by sexist men. It allows for women and trans people to don the armor and slay their own dragons, an ambiguous symbol of challenge towards pre-existing biases. Told through an altered Hero's Journey, this archetype becomes equally vital for cis women and trans people in various ways; it's a rite of passage, one that helps the individual interact with other people in society. Cis women/trans people can learn how to nurture, just not in ways necessarily tied to men or sexual reproduction: the mommy* dom. The individual gains control through a power market, one where their role is dictated by what they can demonstrably offer. They can give what they want to give, and do so according to desired appetites: what they want others to want from them. To this, the "mommy dom" can select a partner or a client, offering them a product during the negotiation phase. 

*Gender fluidity and flexible trans identities are performative, thus allowing for female/trans "daddy doms." I confess it's perhaps not as ubiquitous in Metroidvania, given their latent themes on motherhood, birth trauma and female monsters. Nevertheless, Samus and the Metroidvania are androgynous; the player can choose how to project onto them. I could totally picture saying Samus to Mother Brain, "Yeah, who's your daddy, bitch?"

Every healthy relationship has a negotiation phase. It's merely a select point, or series of points, where both parties say what they want. The better the communication, the better the result. For the mommy dom, she/they can use the negotiation phase to seize the means of production for herself. This product can be sex or power. Some men want to relinquish control—a luxury the mommy dom can provide (I'll explore this more in a moment when I discuss Lady Dimitrescu). Sometimes being in control isn't fun. That's why I'm a switch, and play Super Metroid.


As a gamer, I play Metroidvania for their variable power scenarios, unfolding through recursive exploration; every journey into the partially-explored sphere unearths new treasures that enable joyous forms of locomotion (re: Metroid power-ups). Gothic stories have been traditionally told as stories of motion. When I play Metroidvania, I am the Gothic heroine in this respect. I face my fears, including a vulnerable lack of agency. This is fun, but also helps me progress by understanding my feelings and identity relative to the world around me. 

When cis women/trans people play Metroidvania, they also face their fears. A common AFAB fear is rape. Another fear is change. As Samus Aran, the player is in a constant state of change. Eventually she/they become(s) a powerful monster, but needn't be the total abuser that scared sexist men portray her as. Instead, she can literally seize control, using the videogame controller to become a mommy dom herself. This make the castle a teacher of sorts. The Metroidvania is the mommy dom—the Master—and Samus Aran is the apprentice.

So am I. Playing Super Metroid, I see a tall, fearsome Amazon—one I can submit to, but also embody through my attraction to her ambivalent aura and home. They're literally why I pick up the controller. There's always an uncanny element to Samus because she has power. Conversely Samus herself proves she isn't the monster. She could be Mother Brain, but rejects the matriarch's abject position, retaining her humanity. For me, this becomes another form of consent, one informed by sexual desire. I choose to interact with Samus and the castle because they teach, but also excite me. I want to fuck what I want to be: sexy. For me, that means a powerful woman like Samus.

Yes, Metroid spaces and heroines are "traumatic," and echo trauma (re: child abuse) and "trauma" (re: watching Alien) from my childhood. They remain sexy because Samus chooses to protect me inside the space, the carrot to the castle's stick. To quote Spike Spiegel, "I love the kind of woman who can kick my ass." The Metroidvania castle lets me adopt a traditionally "female" stance: fear of physical abuse. Intimations of trauma are inevitable; framing them within boundaries of play grants me an element of control, according to a partner I can trust. I trust the Metroidvania to "imprison" me. Inside the castle, I control Samus, an avatar whose powerful persona chases my boogeymen, tyrants, away.

Before I continue onto tyrants, I want to address the luxury of submission provided by a particular mommy dom making the rounds: Lady Dimitrescu, the villain to Resident Evil 8. Real performers have seized Lady D's persona to market themselves: a tall, powerful woman who, despite her fearsome acts, can no more hurt the player than a cooperative lover. There's just enough sting to entice, without dealing damage ("hurt, not harm"). She loves her position, and benefits from it. But it requires a human performer. Her creator made her to scare people, but male gamers use Lady D to show their subby sides (with often hilarious results). Much to the chagrin of sexist forces in male gamer culture, potential members are openly swearing fealty to female lords; this adoration and patronage is callously dismissed as "simping" by advocates for total male power (re: "These so-called 'simps' have no backbones, the cucked, virtue-signaling virgins!"). Conversely cosplayers see Lady D as a chance to be the monster—the sexy nurturer who owns her body's fearsome power. 

This same power can literally be the cis woman/trans person's body. As something to give, or to sell, the dom's body isn't just a mighty persona; it's a product employed during various exchanges. These include in-person roleplay sessions, but also lucrative extensions of the cosplayer's sexual and gender identity. A monster is seldom naked, and mommy doms like "Lady Dimitrescu" (counterfeited by many different persons) are dressed for photographs the cosplayers can either sell—per set, or via subscription—or otherwise use to promote her/their brand of merchandise. Though not always explicitly sexual, this currency grants the cosplayer presence and power. They're a queen, and the men around them publicly submit—performatively and through patronage. Both acts amount to power being exchanged to the mommy dom.

Tyrants

Gothicists fear the return of the past, including older forms of power—Archaic Mothers, but also tyrants in general. These fears are not so easily escaped, nor do their agents simply roll over and die. Instead, Mother Brain's "castle" rises out of the ground, waiting to be explored. For me, this is hardly a prison sentence; it's a funhouse. Meanwhile Samus, my avatar, navigates a liminal* position. She's Persephone, having one foot in the over- and underworld; a constituent of order and chaos, dreams and nightmares, dominance and submission. Any binary you want is fused, deconstructed by Samus walking of the tightrope inside various Gothic castles (re: Zebes, SR388, the B.S.L. Research Station, Talon, etc). 

*a state of someone or something being "in between." In other words, not dichotomized into a binary with discrete (re: clear, obvious separation) boundaries. Not black-and-white.

Samus' role is complex; so are the desires produced by controlling her. As already stated, I'm into Samus; I want her, but in more ways that one: I want to be her by being inside her (eat your heart out, John Donne)—not just sexually but ontologically. By playing Metroid, I become Samus, assuming a liminal, disempowered role: the warrior encased in ancient armor, the maiden threatened by Numinous wrath. It's this wrath that I submit to. This isn't emasculation (re: the "ignominious death") because the submitting occurs within a healthy exchange: I am looked after, and I benefit. I am the agent seeking power, and the lover embodying his champion. Samus is all of these things for me, because, like her, I am touched by, and fascinated with, trauma. In other words, Metroid is fun.

You know what is else fun? Being with someone who isn't a tyrant. Lindsay treats me the way I want to be treated. Sexist men might decry me as weak, a so-called feminine man on par with "fem boys" and "cat boys." There's nothing wrong with those personas. The attackers are to blame, their misogynistic assaults indicative of tyrannical abusers or hopeless hateful virgins locked into "black pill" incel death cults. This might sound extreme, but incels are real. So is the so-called "neutral" stance that ignores domestic abuse in one's own neighborhood (re: my dad's side of the family overlooking my father's abuse against me and my brothers, or my mother). Alienating someone doesn't place them outside of this territory, and domestic abuse is real for everyone; the priviliged can simply choose to ignore it. In fact, "domestic" implies a default position, occurring with the home as "inevitable." So often, Gothic stories embrace the domestic sphere as invaded by a nightmarish realization that violence is inherited, and must be confronted. 

Metroidvania grant me the opportunity to confront violence, but also the power imbalances that result when violence remains a potential outcome. I'm also granted opportunities to confront power (that isn't strictly mine) during my relationships. I do this with powerful women—instructors, friends (consent to friendship is power on behalf of the woman)—and powerful spaces like Metroidvania. In the past, these woman could "destroy" me in various ways, and I was sexually interested in at least some of them. Likewise, my partner Lindsay can consent, and has equal power in our exchanges. She could do me harm if she wanted to. But I trust and love her. We exchange power on a regular basis, continually enacting it for our combined benefit in all aspects of our relationship. The process isn't mysterious; it's fulfilling.

So if patriarchal men want to exclude me from their reindeer games, I have my own games to play. I play them inside Metroidvania, and with Lindsay. Our pleasure not only promotes free thought, but ideas that discourage disempowerment. Ours is a healthier world, one where imprisonment, enslavement, or rape are fictions, and sex is openly communicated through exciting stories and hilarious jokes (my partner sarcastically to me, mid-coitus: "Those incels say that submitting is bad, eh? Oh, well, you're totally submitting right now!" Such wit, pumpkin blossom). We might be lovers; we're also artists, exploring the entirety of the human condition together. Our exhibits expose real abusers as impotent, cowardly charlatans, but treat actual abuse with respect. 

"We live in Gothic times," Angela Carter once said (times arguably more "Gothic" [read: entropic] in current media than stories from the 1790s). The world is full of tyrants. If the powerful cis woman/trans person is a "cross-dresser imposter" in the eyes of sexist men, these same men would do well to remember that patriarchal tyrants are the real phonies. Their power is generally false, but occurs within a grander cycle of violent, bloody succession (re: the fascist colonial West). Macbeth may have been a total dickwad through the choices he made; his environment informed these choices, teaching him to be viscous, opportunistic and cruel. 

Metroidvania and other Gothic stories raise awareness towards tyrants and their deplorable behavior. They prepare the reader to recognize power in their own lives—and be happier for it! Consensual submission is not enslavement, nor is cooperation a myth; it's the key to healthy power through mutual exchange. Done right, the sub is not a slave; they're an equal partner in relationships that forbid actual abuse (and no, taboo roleplay isn't a "profane gateway" that inevitably leads to actual abuse; it merely exposes harmful "voids" in persons who medically lack empathy). This pact can be broken, but still plays a vital role: It outs the oath-breaker as an abuser. 

Boundaries like these are important, as are the implements of mutual power exchange. They must be taught, which means the tyrant can always return. We owe it to ourselves to be rid of tyrants, relegating them to ghastly fiction. Nightmare spaces like Metroidvania can be beautiful, but only if we have control over them. To this, ludic dreams only appear horrific and delusional; in truth, they show a dreamer who's societally aware and in control (as much as anyone can be). Whether it's Metroidvania or one-on-one time with a loved one, these scenarios promote a better world.

Proof of this "better world" is me and my partner's happiness. We delight in the weird and naughty things. They're not holding a gun to my head as I write this; I'm doing it of my own accord, and they support me. They make me happy beyond words. How happy are patriarchal men? So many alt-right conservatives play the victim card despite their own privilige. Their ignorance about healthy power relationships outmodes them; they constantly feel threatened and afraid, or at the very least surrounded by people they can barely pretend to tolerate. Often, they don't bother, causing harm not only the people around them, but also themselves. They fall on their own swords, alienating everyone.

This is a societal problem. Often men are taught to hide their feelings. They act tough, and militarize their emotions, seeing those around them as competition, possessions or threats. I myself was trained from an early age not to hit women, and tip my prostitutes ("It is a service!"). I was taught that women could consent, and that they ultimately had power in relationships. The more power women have, the more say they have in what unfolds. Or as Lindsay puts it, "Treat women as human, and they may want to touch your wiener." Truer words were never said.

The Gothic isn't just a playground for people like me. It foreshadows past trauma reified by kingly tombs—the old king's ways: killing his fellow men, raping women and enslaving minority groups. Out from the past and into the present, the Gothic can raise awareness towards these dangers. The gullible saying "that could never happen today!" fails to realize how recently domestic abuse laws were enacted, and how easily they could be undone (re: Trump). Such regressions are enacted by the divine right of male kings, entitled pricks who long for an idealized past (re: "Make America Great Again").

The reality is, sex and power are more enjoyable when shared in healthy ways. It rids the word of instability by teaching people to respect one another on a private and societal level, and to appreciate consent. I was taught this, and learned to enjoy shared power. As a result, my friends (most of which are trans people or women) have remarked on my skill at dating and getting laid. The irony is I have never dated (not in the traditional sense of "proper courtship"). But I am good at treating people like humans! Turns out, if you ensure that people feel comfortable around you, sex is a pretty normal result. Sex shouldn't be taken by force (note: rape isn't about sex, but taking power from someone by force); sex should be a treat that cuties can give because they're able, and they happen to choose you. Imagine someone letting you enter them because they like you. Wouldn't that make you feel special? And if you didn't care about that—what they think or want, or how they see you—what does that say about you?

The fact that I have had sexually healthy relationships isn't a coincidence, it isn't magic; it's literally how I was taught. The mere fact that I exist and reap the benefits of my own tutelage is proof enough that men saying I can't exist (nor consent to women or trans people) is bullshit. My tutelage includes Ridley Scott, but also media inspired by his works: from Metroid to Axiom Verge to Hollow Knight. It was less of an ideology and more of a simple observation that women could be just as powerful (and awesome) as men—terrifying, even. By comparison, sexist men use the "female exception" as an excuse to say, "There, you had your fun; now quit ruining our movies and videogames, SJWs!" And by SJWs, they primarily mean women* advocating for equal rights.

*Sadly "women" includes trans people. For your average conservative, trans people are impostors. Newsflash: trans women are women, trans men are men, and non-binary people are valid. They are because they choose to be, and their identities have no effect on cis people's lives—that is, unless you think that trans people are just cross-dressing murders (re, Contrapoints: Sleepaway Camp, Silence of the Lambs, and Psycho). In which case, you probably don't have any trans friends do you?

Ask yourselves this, my heterosexual dudes: Is it sexier if a powerful woman (cis or trans) wants your cock on neutral ground? Or do you prefer exclusively dominating her as the man-in-charge no matter what? "Submit to my will or leave." That isn't consent, and it certainly isn't healthy. 76% of all physical domestic abuse cases are committed by men; women are victims in 94% of all murder-suicides. The perpetrator doesn't care about her, only that she stays. That's what patriarchal "love" is, and is no less healthy or sincere than that of Catholic priests or cult leaders.

There's no shame in communicating about these things and having one partner decide that they like to submit. Conversely some partners like goofy dudes built like Randy Savage. More power to them. However, if they can choose, they can also refuse. And this is normal and ok, my dudes. It allows for stability and happy partners on both sides—security, and isn't that what everyone ultimately wants? That is why I voluntarily submit—to Metroidvania, to mommy doms, and to my partner Lindsay (a mommy dom). I do it through informed choices, knowing what I enjoy—what we enjoy. 

That's literally why I'm writing this: to say what works and what doesn't; to educate society and prevent persecution of minorities who just want to live in peace.

Persecution

I don't advocate for objective morality. I still insist that a happy world is one where people are not enslaved, but free to choose what makes them happy without harming other people. Cat boys are happy being themselves. So are fem boys, basking the consensual "subby" power experienced by women and queer people for millennia. There's not only power in this, there's beauty as well:


Easy on the eyes, aren't they? This beauty isn't a joke: the "stupid" sort advertised by Flanders' skin-tight snowsuit. Rather, it's beauty that someone actually wants and values unironically. And if sexist men think someone is weird for expressing themselves, they're the one with the problem, not the fem boy. These same men wouldn't bat an eyelash at "traditional values," including the sexual, semi-nude depiction of women in media that female players don't actually want

Unfortunately these attitudes also bleed into the public sphere. Here, cis women/trans persons are forced to see vulgar displays of power—not the expression of physical beauty alone, but the male-mandated conscription of AFAB into gratuitous exhibits (or manly displays for AMAB). Gratuity isn't the problem. Compulsion is. Today these behaviors are informed by nostalgia, of a return to a "better" time, where "men were men and the women were sexier":


I have nothing against tan Brazilian booties. The booty extends life; the booty expands consciousness. I just believe they shouldn't be enslaved and monopolized by men who flood the public sphere with nothing else. So many cis woman are "empowered" by men, placed into dubious positions of sexual power (for a male equivalent, see the Hawkeye Initiative). For the sex-positive feminist there's nothing wrong with AFAB who actually consent to these positions, nor is the content they produce harmful. Well, maybe "WAP" is slightly crass, but even that yields some killer mashups and clever parodies. Let the discourse flow!

I digress. Non-traditional alternatives should also be made available to the public. This includes the aforementioned cat and fem boys, but also the male variant of a Gothic heroine. "The greatest anxiety for the woman reader was the Gothic heroine’s lack of agency," writes Avril Horner. Postmodernity makes the role performative, letting cis women/trans persons consent to submission. They can voluntarily yield to greater forces. And from cradle to grave, I can be the Gothic heroine too—Samus, or even subbier forms when I'm with Lindsay. 

The same phenomena is happening with men everywhere. Not just male members of the Lady Dimitrescu fan club. From all walks of life, men are escaping outmoded traditions—expressing themselves freely in public. This growing freedom allows for the inclusion of feminine boys in a wider sphere. Not just in public, but through content creation as a form of public expression. Now more than ever, male actors and models can perform Gothic scenarios; this includes being "in danger" in traditionally "feminine" ways (sadly to wear "feminine" clothes can very easily make someone a target):


Unfortunately there is a real element of persecutory danger to this performance. Not because the performers are being impudent, but because sexist, fearful men will attack them. Note @CursedArachnid (the e-boy to the right); their position and clothing are "feminine," and their shirt reads the words "orgasm denial." There's an element of sexual tension combined with the uncanny—the familiar and the foreign, but also the taboo.

When I was younger, my uncle had a shelf of books in his living room. One row featured Hot Blood, a horror erotica series by Jeff Gelb and Michael Garrett. I was fascinated. Time passed, and eventually I watched Bible Black, a hentai series, in secret. A scene stuck out to me: a man under a female witch's power. "Let me cum!" he begged, his face twisting horribly as she rode him. The voice acting is absolutely awful, but the concept remains theoretically attractive. Not just orgasm denial, but naughty witchcraft as a whole: The whole show was soaked in black magic, every scene a dark ritual that explores the forbidden and the profane. 

In reality the assignment of an "outlier" status isn't always agreed upon; society at large is prone to witch hunts, but also lusting for the witch they seek to destroy. I've always felt attracted to witches, especially Joan of Arc and the Wicked Witch of the West. I attribute this to two childhood texts: The Legend of Billie Jean, and Gregory Maguire's Wicked (this being said, Margaret Hamilton is a total boss). 


When I was in middle school, I saw The Legend of Billie Jean on TV. A local girl, Billie Jean, is almost raped by a sleazy store clerk. She escapes, but is pursued through the whole movie by the police, who believe the man, not Billie. On the run, Billie watches Saint Joan, a 1957 movie about Joan of Arc, and cuts her long hair. The whole adventure is slightly dorky but the message remains vital; also, the theme song is absolutely great and remains a personal favorite of mine to this day.

Wicked was published in 1995 when my parents divorced. My grandmother and mother read it for their book club; I heard them raving about the book and read it for myself. Elphie is a powerful, rebellious woman. Unlike Glinda, she doesn't submit to tyranny; she's a civil rights activist, standing up for minority communities oppressed by the powerful, not-so-wonderful Wizard. By and large, the entire story is  dark, X-rated, and violent. Though mostly G-rated and lacking Maguire's sardonic wit, the musical is still fun; I saw it with my father for my 21st birthday. 

My interest in Billie and Elphie is partly sexual. However, I feel an open interest in the persecuted through their performances in media. According to legend, Joan of Arc dressed as a boy to fool the French. Her suffering in Dreyer's version, The Passion of Joan of Arc, is hypnotic, intense and profoundly sad. Nevertheless, Shakespeare likened her to an Amazon, besting the French prince through combat in Henry VI:

CHARLES: Then come, o' God's name; I fear no woman.

JOAN LA PUCELLE: And while I live, I'll ne'er fly from a man.

Here they fight, and JOAN LA PUCELLE overcomes

CHARLES: Stay, stay thy hands! thou art an Amazon


In Metroid, I liken Samus to St. Joan—strong of body and mind, but not always in control. But the greatest heroes seldom are. This is especially true for cis women/trans people, written about by men for centuries (re: Jane Austen, “Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”). Though not exactly a knight, Elphie is still a sexy rebel herself. In the musical, she rises from the ground, defying gravity in Icarian fashion while thrusting her broom upwards. Her joy is palpable and orgasmic, and she sings her loudest; she's also isolated, abandoned by her friends and surrounded by enemies. Elphie's song is a challenge to them, a "fuck you" to the tyrannical Wizard of Oz.

There's a tragic element to characters like Joan and Elphie, ultimately hunted by society's greatest "paragons." Whether they're openly racist and sexist, or bad faith allies, these manly abusers lust for the oppressed behind closed doors. Like the plantation owner raping his or her slaves, the misogynist clamors for the witch's death or the fem boy's murder, all while jerking off to them. It's the power imbalance they seek, without which they're flaccid, impotent; they crave reminders of their own domination over the oppressed. For the witches being hunted, power is gained by taking ownership over their performance from their abusers; their position remains liminal, trapped between the desire for self-expression and unwarranted persecution (see: Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive, by Kristen J. Sollee).

A Brave New World?

A 2014 neurological study exploring what heterosexual men jerk off to includes four main body parts: boobs, butts, feet, and penises. Yes, penises. So an unhealthy attraction to trans people is bound to occur. The video's observation is just that, an observation: Men are visually stimulated. Maybe the neurologist sees this as an essential component of male brains; I see it as a symptom of society. The idea that women aren't visually stimulated is bullshit. As women acquire more power, visually stimulating cuties—cat boys, fem boys, me—appear by virtue of demand: Women want us. And you can bet your collective asses they get off to us visually. 


This might come as a shock to some folks, but AFAB masturbate. Having a clitoris does not exclude the possibility of sexual desire, and many of the women and trans people I've encountered are just as horny and visually stimulated as I. I feel like I have to mention this, if only to answer the question as to why women and trans people play Metroidvania, valorize Lady Dimitrescu, and dominate subby boys like me: They have the same sexual desires that men do! 

Sexual desires are tied to our bodies (and stories of trauma that serve as an extension of our bodies or bodily desires). Honestly the only major difference between AMAB and AFAB is the shape of the tissue. AFAB have a vestigial prostate, sometimes called the Skene's glands; the ovaries are what become the testes in men; the clitoris is the female equivalent to the head of the male penis; and the spongy tissue of the vaginal walls behave near identically to a tumescent shaft. Like the male penis, the so-called G-spot is a "plexus," or network of nerves and blood vessels; stimulating it can produce orgasms. Female penis, female desire; female heroes rescuing male "damsels." My heart palpitates!

I'm a cis white male who submits to mommy doms and Gothic castles. I cannot say why I empathize with the oppressed, merely that I respond to humanized, educated power. Nor can I answer why my own history with abuse didn't close my mind to the suffering of others. This willingness to learn has exposed me to the struggles of different oppressed groups: cis women, ethnic minorities, and trans people. This life-long journey through Gothic media like Metroidvania has led me to conclude the following: Intentionally harming other people for the sake of monopolizing power is demonstrably bad and should be discouraged. 

Tyrants are irrefutably sexist, racist and transphobic. Alas, as esteemed fancypants and Shakespeare simp (avaunt, you rapscallions; I jest, I jest) Steven Greenblatt puts it, so many tyrants are enabled, and have been for centuries. Oppressed people refute them, often at great risk. So many voices of the formerly oppressed are heard in Gothic stories—stories that open minds and expose the real dickheads of the world. How many necromantic baddies are eventually defeated by the talking bones of their victims? This sphere of awareness is constantly expanding as time goes on. 


The Gothic has always always centered on trauma, but its progressiveness is hardly total; it's more like a work-in-progress. Older works have frankly disempowered women (re: the Neo-Gothic heroine of the 1790s). More recent examples works have reversed this stance in increasingly outspoken ways. Not just Jane Eyre, Ripley or Samus. Sometimes this empowerment reaches monstrous, near-adversarial extremes (re: the Radiance from Hollow Knight, 2017; and The Invisible Man, 2020).

Unfortunately the struggles for women are not symmetrical with ethnic minorities and trans people. Sometimes they overlap; sometimes they conflict. Gothic stories have historically demonized ethnic minorities (re: Zofloya) and trans people (see, above: Contrapoints). This progression continues into the present. A woman like Agatha Van Helsing in Netflix's Dracula (2020) might be a far cry from Stoker's Abraham; she remains likeable, smart and capable. Meanwhile J.K. Rowling's 2020 novel, Troubled Blood (written under her male penname, Robert Galbraith), is transphobic, depicting the male villain as a cross-dressing maniac—on par with Norman Bates, Frank Zito or Buffalo Bill. Not only does it scapegoat trans people; it flat-out misrepresents who they are.

And just as I'm struggling to include the struggles of each party in this closing section, no story can include every trauma and struggle. Black Earth Rising (2018) tells the story of a Rwandan refugee whose foster mother, a UN prosecutor, investigates war crimes; its message has a target audience that isn't white or trans persons. So did Wide Sargasso Sea, The Picture of Dorian Grey and Brideshead Revisited speak to their own select groups. The importance of all this entropy is the ability to communicate one's humanity. Above all else, this is the Gothic's critical power, whether in movies, books or Metroidvania.


Obfuscation only gets a tyrant so far, and newer generations have started to claim the power needed to express their humanity. To those with privilege and power, take heed: If your well-being and pleasure are derived by harming others, you're the worst sort of vampire. You need to open your eyes and wake up before the world around you changes, and you turn to dust. 

***

About me: My name is Nick van der Waard and I'm a Gothic ludologist. I primarily write reviews, Gothic analyses, and interviews. Because my main body of work is relatively vast, I've compiled it into a single compendium where I not only list my favorite works, I also summarize them. Check it out, here!

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