Third Person Address

So today we have a kind of throwaway column. Sunday died because I was on the road. Drove back Monday, and at about 3:30 Tuesday morning woke up. There is nothing quite like the experience of trying to maintain one’s composure as a Dom while explaining to your submissive that you believe you are coming down with the flu, and may soon be absolutely incapacitated, and need to get away and isolated and so forth. A credit to the girl in question, who handled having her Dom come down with the Black Death quite well…

Add to that the fact that there was a family medical emergency (in-laws) exploding on channel 2, and I hit that point where I’m glad I’m not hiding my lifestyle from anyone or keeping a lot of secrets, as I was in no shape to drive safely (which is saying quite a lot given my ex-hacker creds), and having various people not know about the other elements of my life would have been…embarassing to say the least.

There was in fact no flu, though for about thirty hours I certainly felt like there was. Whatever was wrong cleared up, but predictably pre-empted a Wednesday post. So I throw a late, lame ass post out, and we see if I can get something of measurable worth out on Sunday. It’s kind of like an update if they happened several days late and several hundred words short…

So. A week or so ago I was having a conversation with someone and the topic of “formal address” came up. Specifically the style where a submissive refers to herself in third person. An acquaintance was referring to that as “Gorean.” Now for those of you who have been living in the Kuiper belt for the last forty years, “Gor” is the ethos of a popular and interminable series of schlock fantasy by author John Norman. It’s also a fairly popular BDSM subculture. In the 1970s, well before BDSM was publically acceptable, you could go into a Safeway or Drug Fair and buy these books beside the fucking “Perry Rhodan” series. Kids could thumb them.

I never read Norman’s novels myself. I’ve thumbed one since to get a feel for the writing style and might have liked them when I was a sex starved twelve year old. But they were fantasy and I wasn’t much interested in schlock fantasy. Still, for a lot of people they were a gateway to BDSM, so you can’t hate them too much. That said, Norman has a strident point of view that most people in the community don’t agree with – that women are naturally submissive, and that all women, no matter who they are or where they come from, desire to be dominated by men. So that tends to make Gor an outlier, and…well if your BDSM practices come straight from a grocery store bookshelf without passing Go or collecting $200, there is more than a hint of geekiness that it takes a lot of personal poise to overcome.

At any rate, there are a number of basic procedures I use when I do a full training drill and formal address is one of them. I never thought of this as “Gorean” but it occurred to me I really had no idea where the fuck it did come from.

I mentioned in a previous post that there really isn’t a technical manual for D/s. So the practices and training procedures I’ve patched together come from places as bizarre and far-fetched as a Season 1 Episode of “The Wire.” There’s no one person I’ve “trained with” just various books, seminars, demos, workshops, etc. down the line.

I’m a historian by training and inclination, so I got interested at this point. Where the fuck does the concept actually come from and when did it enter the BDSM world? When I get interested in something I tend to get obsessive, which may be good with women, but is not so good with etymology.

So here’s what I gathered, after some reading and extrapolation

The fact is that “organized” BDSM may have existed in the hetero community from the Victorian era, but there’s no evidence it was really vey organized. There are some rumblings about an “old guard” that had setups in the 50s and 60s like “Story of O,” but there’s better firsthand accounts that say there was no such thing, or rather that to the extent it did exist it was just roleplay organized along the only lines anyone had much reference for.

However the same could not be said of the Gay BDSM scene. Gay Leather culture was exploding in the 1950s and 60s, and predictably, had strong military elements. Boys and Daddies often used military discipline and codes of behavior. It’s very clear that a lot of our actual practices came through the exposure of Gay leather culture in the post-Stonewall era, and even before. Certainy it’s a mélange, but there is a very strong influence in the “leather” scene, down to the fetishization of leather itself.

Given this, the origin of the tradition of “third person” address would seem to be the Military, which provides a lot of the backbone for modern interpretations of discipline, and most likely it comes to us through the Gay Leather Community. It’s been posited that slaves as far back as Ancient Rome were made to reference themselves in third person, but I find the Military antecedent far more likely and relevant.

Still the Military use isn’t identical

I did a bit of poking around about the Military usage.

In Military and Naval Recognition Book: A Handbook on the Organization, Insignia of Rank, and Customs of the Serivce of the World’s Important Armies and Navies, by Lieut. J. W. Bunkley USN D. Van Nostrand Co., New York, 1917 we learn that:

“An enlisted man in speaking to an officer, always stands at attention, uses the word “Sir” and addresses him in the third person.

“Sir, the corporal directed me to report to the Captain.”

“Did the Lieutenant wish me to, etc.”

Of course this doesn’t account for “the girl” referring to herself in third person. Where does that fit in?

Even without an exhaustive knowledge of the military, it seems clear that this is a more exaggerated form of address common in the military. Specifically we can establish that it was common in boot camps. The simple citation is of course Stanley Kubrick’s classic “Full Metal Jacket.”

Sir, it is the private’s duty to inform the Senior Drill Instructor that Private Pyie has a full magazine and has locked and loaded, sir!
But however good Kubrick’s research department, I’m not entirely satisfied at a movie reference, so I looked around for something more definitive and substantial.

I found this in Daniel Borgström’s “Free Speech Zone” blog.

At the time I was pretty gung-ho on-the military, so maybe it was a good thing for me to experience it first hand. If you’ve seen the movie “Full Metal Jacket,” you have some idea of what boot camp is like.

When addressing the Drill Instructor we always had to speak in the third person. If you needed to go to the bathroom, the proper dialogue would go like this:

“Sir, Private Smith requests permission to speak to the Drill Instructor.” “Speak, Private.” “Sir, the Private requests permission to go to the head.”

And there in general we have the construction of formal address…

I imagine the matter has been researched more thoroughly, but I found it interesting to give some thought to where the custom comes from and how it was derived. I’m easily fascinated by these things. Probably a little dry and technical, but it’s a stopgap.

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One Response

  1. Star 16 July, 2008 at 8:02 pm | |

    i find this very interesting as my Dom just recently requested i start referring to myself in the third person.

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