Discovering The Brat
There’s nothing quite like those moments when you find out that there’s a word for what you feel, when you feel a concept snap into place. In moments like these, I feel connected to histories, experiences, and something so far beyond the “me.” Finding the words “bratty bottom” was like that. I first heard the term “bratty” being thrown around with bottom when I read The New Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy. Ultimately, with just the appearance of the word, something clicked. “That’s it!” I thought to myself.
For a long time, my definitions of D/s didn’t have room for resistance, and I was shy towards these notions. There was something…I felt like I was almost hiding, in a way. I was really hesitant to talk about it. If I did, I was convinced I would be outed like a fraud.
Recently, I was watching Shine Louise Houston’s “Shiny Jewels,” prepping for an academic lecture. I feel like this short film resonates so much with my own experiences, particularly when one of the *Shines* talks about how for those of us who were raised as women, we are taught and rewarded for constantly doubting ourselves, for feeling as though we are imposters in our own work. I felt this way about my own kink. I felt as though I couldn’t be that thing that I was supposed to be.
It didn’t make sense.
I didn’t have a reference for it.
No one was shaming me, I was shaming myself. And as my vocabulary expanded, as I learned and soaked up the concepts at the core of consensual power exchange, discipline, and punishment, things began to shift…in a good way.
The Daily Crises of Ambiguity
For many folks out there, play offers a space to be and do and create in ways that they cannot in the real world. For me, playing the bratty bottom became a way to temporarily solve my many crises of ambiguity. For those who know me, or have heard me speak, you’ll know that I save my harshest words for politics and academic scholarship that attempt to solve ambiguity. Eve Sedgwick calls this type of writing “paranoid,” in that it functions primarily to expose what one already knows to be there. “Paranoid” writing shuts itself off from surprise, complexity and contradiction. When I write I face my contradictions, I open myself to surprise….and terror. Nothing is ever static, always changing, always becoming. My position is never set, I contradict my own contradictions. It can overwhelm me, stress me out. It’s magnificent and exhausting.
When I’m bratty and I act out, I know I will be punished. It gives me the space to explore a more concrete set of relations. Which is not to suggest that I am not denied punishment from time to time. When I beg, I feel my need for that connection, those causal relations I so adamantly avoid in my work.
The Brat is a role and/or persona. William A. Henkin does a good job of explaining the difference between roles and personas and how the two are related. While a “role” is an already established part that either fits or doesn’t fit, a persona is “a state of mind or a single facet of someone’s personality expressed as a whole, if limited, personality…” 
We discover our personas, Henkin continues, through role-playing in a kind of fantastic loop.
The Brat, as a role, can unearth a whole host of personas, and allows me to strike when I feel an urge, allows me to react fully—-to a feeling, a suspicion, a want. And in turn, I know that when I do this, I will receive the slap of a hand.
Thoughts on Bratty Bottom Play
Bratty bottom play can be a little difficult to carry out. Sometimes a brat wants to resist to the point where they are forced into submission, but I tend to “switch gears.” But, in order to shift smoothly from an impetuous little brat into a dutiful sub, the timing must be impeccable. I have to be fully aware of where I am mentally and emotionally, make the transition at the height of my bratty bliss before I turn to a more, what I call “cat” stance in which I peel back and brace for impact play.
This does not go smoothly all the time. Especially, because I am new and clumsy and, though definitely not as much as say 3+ years ago, still easily triggered.
In the current cultural imagination, the presumed threat of abuse in BDSM communities tends to perpetuate stereotypes about Dominants and tops—-that the greatest threat comes from Top to bottom. But, a brat has many responsibilities, none of which should be eschewed. It is never ok to go for harsher punishment than s/he* is willing to administer, it is not ok to strike back or instigate something when this relation hasn’t been established.
Resistance is something I enjoy a great deal, but it’s difficult to know when I want my boundaries to be pushed and when doing that may lead to a negative, or perhaps even triggering, experience. To put simply, bratty bottoming that goes smoothly often needs established codes and a refined skill for reading and understanding energies. Unspoken check ins, like the Tap Twice (suggested by Easton and Hardy—-where one person taps the other twice and if the other person is ok, they tap twice back to let them know), are nice because they don’t necessarily disrupt the flow and can easily be integrated into a routine.
Lashing out to incite punishment can be super fun, however, the energy and state of the Top is extraordinarily important. It should go without saying that to lash out without any consideration of the where that person is at mentally, physically, and emotionally is unacceptable.
Some Final Thoughts
The role of the bratty bottom taught me a lot about my sexuality. It gives me space to end my endless cycles of ambiguous crises.
D.W. Winnicott describes the place of play, as being neither inside nor outside the self. He’s speaking, of course, about children, but he makes it clear that his theories also apply to adults. It occurs on a level where what is within us and outside us is complicated by a series of experiences. Taking on the role of the brat involves what occurs within me (that is not to suggest an essence, but instead more of what I recognize to make up me) and what occurs outside. It is the fantasy, the role-play, with the added sting of the actual slap. It is where I can resolve my many ambiguous fragments, if only but for a moment.
1. Henkin, William A. “Some Beneficial Aspects of Exploring Personas and Role Play in the BDSM Context.” Safe, Sane, and Consensual: Contemporary Perspectives on Sadomasochism. Ed. Darren Langdridge and Meg Barker. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. 235-46. Print.
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