Before we go any further let’s define forced feminization. Forced feminization is a type of play in which the dominant “forces” the submissive to act/dress/appear in a traditionally “feminine” manner. This can include wearing “female” clothing, the application of makeup, the use of a “feminine” name, the removal/concealment of things associated with masculinity (“forced” depilation) and training on “feminine” subjects, for example a dominant might force a submissive to learn to walk in high heels. This form of play can involve dominants and submissives of any combination of genders, sexes, and usual level of butch and/or femme-ness, with the goal of having the submissive be more “femme” by the end of the scene than at the start of the scene.
Sometimes it can also include play involving the sex of the submissive. This is usually but not always “forcing” a non-female identified submissive to imitate body characteristics traditionally associated with femaleness, such as tucking back the penis should the submissive have one, or the use of breast forms on the submissive.
Forced feminization is a complicated kink, and a mine-field of anti-femme bullshit, transphobic bullshit, misogynistic bullshit, and homophobic bullshit… but despite some of the more unfortunate implications it can have it’s a popular fantasy and can actually be really progressive and obviously can be a fun way to blend gender play with BDSM. It’s important to remember that gender play isn’t just for straight and/or cis people. In some ways being comfortable enough with our gender to break out of our gender role, to play with it sexually, to present and perform in unexpected ways can be (for people who enjoy it and are comfortable with it) a really freeing experience. If a trans woman gets off on strapping it on it doesn’t make her less of a woman, if a trans man gets off on wearing panties it doesn’t make him less of a man, if a non-binary person gets off on wearing attire very associated with a binary gender it doesn’t make them less non-binary. Of course for a lot of people this is a delicate area of play, being misgendered and dealing with people’s shitty attitudes can make the use of gender in play tricky at best, and turn forced feminization into a nightmare rather than a fantasy. For other people playing with gender can be a way to reclaim parts of the self, work through aspects of one’s gender, and/or deal with painful experiences surrounding gender.
So, now let’s talk about how all this can interact with social structures, misogyny and the rest.
On the one hand you can think of forced feminization as based around the idea that femininity is inferior, or somehow inherently degrading. Well, personally I say enough of that second wave noise. Despite the fact that one can interpret forced feminization as a way of reenforcing the “masculinity = dominance/activity” and “femininity = submission/passivity” paradigm or interpret it as a statement about how either femininity is humiliating, or being a non-woman in “women’s” clothing is humiliating, I would say those are over simplifications. Which is not to say there aren’t people who use this as a shitty passive aggressive way to enforce exactly those things, but those aren’t the only ways to interpret it.
In a more progressive and positive light one could say forced feminization play for some people, can be a form of forced bravery play, or forced honesty play, with a submissive who due to internalized misogyny and anti-femme messages from the larger culture has suppressed whatever femme qualities they happen to have.
Being “forced” to wear the heels you secretly want to wear anyway can be a really great way for a submissive to learn to accept that they want to wear heels.
I’m genderqueer/genderfluid, I don’t always feel female, but I’m always very femme. I’m also actively involved in feminism and have been interested in it since I was a child. Being female assigned at birth I’ve dealt with shame and discomfort surrounding my femme-ness, both in terms of my gender identity and in terms of my politics.
I grew up in the nineties, a time when “girl power” reigned supreme, and I was told I was weak and too “girly” because I preferred playing barbies to playing soccer and because I preferred skirts and (later) heels to jeans and sneakers, and it took me a really long time to realize that belief in equality and the rights of women were not inherently opposed to my liking lipstick. I remember actually having an argument about cosmetics with a writing teacher of mine, and similar arguments about fashion and so on with other teachers. No one ever told me my femininity didn’t automatically disqualify me from viewing myself as a feminist (with the exception of my parents).
Later as I hit puberty I realized I wasn’t straight, which was another problem for me navigating my natural tendency to be feminine in society. I was sick of being invisible as a dyke, and sick of being seen as hopping on the homosexuality bandwagon (back then I identified as bisexual, and then pansexual… though technically neither made sense as a label for me) and so I desperately tried to butch it up, I cut off my hair (something I honestly really didn’t want to do) and dressed differently. Shortly thereafter I began to realize that I wasn’t entirely female, but that I still didn’t feel butch. I longed to be androgynous in makeup. I went through intense periods of dysphoria, and yet no one would listen to me about my gender identity because it wasn’t wholly male, and because I wore about five pounds of makeup all the time.
It took me a lot of time to deal with the idea that my femininity, my flamboyance, and my love of makeup invalidated my gender, my sexuality, and my politics, and to allow myself to be who I really am deep down.
Not only all this, but being femme, especially as flamboyantly femme as I personally am wont to be, attracts attention. It makes one a target for sexual comments (especially from men) more than “butch” attire, it leads to being stereotyped in certain ways more than more neutral attire, and on people who are read as male it often draws derision and insult.
Basically, because of a stew of societal hang ups, it takes courage to put on that lipstick and slide into that dress because of what people might think of us. Having someone force us into the dress and lipstick can be pleasurable because it takes the responsibility off us for a moment, as well giving us (in a strange way) the sense that what we’re doing is ok.
Forced feminization can be an outlet for that repressed femme part of our personality, or a way of helping a sub develop the courage to be their whole self, a reminder that femininity doesn’t invalidate any other part of their identity, or even a way of “humiliating” a sub for their lack of self acceptance, and enforcing the importance of having the courage to be themselves.
The part that’s a little harder to navigate in a positive way is when body parts get involved (E.G. where boobs are suddenly a part of feminization, or not having a cock is a requirement) or when it involves actually misgendering someone (E.G. intentionally using the wrong pronouns for erotic effect). In terms of the first element it can be a way of again doing something the submissive wants to do (have boobs, or not have a cock, etc) but doesn’t have the courage to do themselves without someone pushing. In terms of actual misgendering, I think that can be chalked up to eroticized fear. Sometimes it can be oddly comforting to hear what one fears hearing most in a safe and controlled environment, being misgendered is something very unpleasant to experience so hearing it in a safe environment can in an odd way lessen the impact (for some people) when/if it actually happens and lessen the sense of dread it causes.
Of course there’s also the option of “forcing” someone to be the gender thet feel themselves to actually be, which again brings up the “force” as way to supplement courage, and way to reduce fear of social stigma.
Obviously no one should be actually shamed for being closeted or having discomfort surrounding their identity, but being pushed towards self acceptance in a D/s context can be very valuable.
In essence forced feminization can mean a lot of things, it really depends on how one looks at it.