Sophie Morgan’s book opens up with a prologue that many of us no doubt have witnessed before. A man and a woman are outside; the man tugs on her hair forcibly and we hear him call her a slut and whore. We look into her eyes and see fury behind them as she restrains herself and the man’s hand tangles tighter into her hair as we, the outsider watch. Immediately our thoughts range from calling for help to intervening, but as Morgan describes the scene, it plays out as that of a D/s (Dominance and submission) relationship. It’s an uncomfortable read as you realize what she describes could be any couple located anywhere, but at the same time she plays it off as part of the lifestyle. We the reader/outsider are left to wonder if the woman is in trouble and as they walk away, one can’t help question if we should have intervened. That scene is disturbing because abuse is not something to take lightly, but as she points out how can we tell what a relationship is? She craves the experience and is sexually aroused by it, while we, the outsider, can’t tell what’s going on. This is how our journey with Morgan beings; a mad, bad, and dangerous journey into the BDSM lifestyle.
I sometimes wonder how someone develops a fetish or a particular kink. Morgan doesn’t delve into that, but rather how she came into the lifestyle. She touches upon the normal childhood she had growing up in England; mentions her family was a typical middle class, but received no corporal punishment and was just sent up to her room when she misbehaved. This is important because her first experience involving anything remotely close to a BDSM experience was with an American she met while at university. Ryan turns out to be her first foray into the world of kink. Morgan explains how excited she was to get to know his sexual preferences and how to please him. While she says she had a good imagination, the use of a hairbrush as her first official spanking shocked her. Yes the spanking hurt and was nothing like she had imagined; yet she found the sensation pleasurable to the point of arousing her. She credits Ryan with her “first taste of playing with someone who was a dominant foil to my submissiveness, who didn’t judge me for what turned me on,” and we see how her life is forever changed.
What does Morgan teach us about being a submissive and those in the lifestyle? First of all, our misconceptions regarding those into BDSM are challenged. She shows us this through the introduction of three distinct men in her life. These men are different from each other in looks and in their choice of career. All three show her what she wants in a relationship and how much of a submissive she is. Morgan calls herself a feminist several times and yet she calls certain behaviors demeaning to her. I found these sections to be contradictory to her nature. Wouldn’t a feminist put a stop to these behaviors? Or is she using the excuse of pleasure her significant other clearly gets as way to justify the demeaning behavior? Is she hiding behind the mask of arousal to justify his behavior? Yes her limits are pushed and it’s clear that we as readers begin to separate exactly what we wouldn’t find acceptable in the bedroom, yet we have to remind ourselves this is her story and her life. While we may not agree with the behavior (yes I found it to be contradictory to her descriptions), she fully explains it’s her choice. She reminds us about this when she’s talking to one of three men, James. James is trying to come to terms with a sexual encounter between the two of them and she says, “Yes, you hurt me. But you do it with my permission. I beg you to do it, literally sometimes. Hurting me isn’t a bad thing in this context. The fact that you’re you – kind, intelligent, polite, lovely James – is what makes me feel confident and safe enough for you to do that. I wouldn’t give any old person that power over me. I give it to you. In fact, I’ve never given any other person the level of power over me that I’ve given you, not even Thomas. And I give you this power because of the vanilla you. If you were as merciless and harsh all the time as you are when you’re choking me then I wouldn’t want to play with you.” Suddenly it all makes sense. The level of trust she gives to another and giving up control is what she wants. She shows us that she’s educated, holds down a hectic job, and just like everyone else suffers from the same angst. There’s nothing deviant about her because she likes to be a submissive. Sure there are scenes that are hard to stomach, but then they just serve as a reminder what my hard limits would be and honestly, I’d be calling out my safe word.
While reading Diary of a Submissive, I agreed with a lot of what Morgan said. To the point I began to question myself and wondered if perhaps I’m secretly one of them. When I began to talk to others about this book I breathed a heavy sigh of relief with others indicated they agreed with Morgan. I’m not saying being into the lifestyle is bad or something to be ashamed about. What I admire Morgan for is putting it out there. A lot of women and men have read that other book, yes, Fifty Shades of Grey. A lot of Fifty fans are being recommended Morgan’s book as a “Fifty fix” because it’s “real life BDSM,” and alas I believe that’s a wrong approach. EL James herself has stated that the BDSM in her books is background, so in many ways filler and the heart of her novels is Ana and Grey’s relationship and not the fact he’s into BDSM. So when Fifty fans are given this to read to fill the Fifty void I cringe; I cringe mostly because they come into a pretense believing Morgan’s book will give them that love story that captured their hearts. You don’t get that with Morgan. What you get is a realistic glimpse of a BDSM lifestyle and what it’s like for her. Not everyone in the lifestyle will share similar experiences. I think it’s important to keep that in mind when reading other BDSM books in the genre. Not everything Morgan describes may sit well with a reader and again I remind you that Morgan’s book is her life and lifestyle which is varies greatly from a series in fiction as well as real life. Ana and Grey have nothing on Morgan.
In October, I had the opportunity to ask Morgan a question via Twitter. I asked her what she what thought of people recommending her book to Fifty fans and if it’s healthy for women to read about BDSM in fiction or does she worry about the misconceptions. Her response was “We just need to differentiate between d/s and abuse. It’s a grey area (no pun intended) but important, obviously.”
ETA: I always research a new author before I begin a book as a way to familiarize myself with their writing style and to compile a background portfolio on them (just so I know what may or may not influence their writing). I broke this personal rule before reading Diary. I did the research after and I as an academic, feel I need to report my findings.
In 2010, Kate Marley published a book, Subtext, and there’s some confusion whether or not it was fiction or nonfiction. Sometime between 2010 and this year, Subtext was rewritten, acquired a new publisher, and published as Diary of a Submissive. Research suggests both books are identical with parts of Diary expanded and names changed. When the opportunity came to interview Sophie, I jumped at the chance to seek clarification. Sadly, the question was not answered. I admit, I personally struggled with the rating because of that unanswered question. My immediate reaction to was to bring it down, but in the end I decided to keep it and while some do believe Diary is fiction (based on Subtext), I’ll leave that up to you to decide.