“When did you know?”

“When did you know?”, they ask eagerly. This question strikes me oddly. I always hesitate, unsure of how to answer. There was no big discovery. Their face swims before me, open and seeming to expect some big confession while I imagine waking up one morning, suddenly aware of my deepest desires. It didn’t happen that way. It really didn’t *happen* at all. I always knew, I say, and watch skepticism screw up their features.

But it’s true, curious asker. The fact that I was different from everyone’s expectations (except my own; I remain unsurprised with myself) was not news to me growing up. While I voraciously eyed every boy and girl that caught my eye in the school yard and talked them into games that always ended in me being tied to trees with invisible ropes or chained in a jungle gym dungeon, I was constantly being told by adults and peers alike that everything from my taste in books to my clothes sure were “different”. I was unconcerned with my failure to conform to conventionality, but massively alarmed by everyone’s desire to fit into predetermined boxes. I happily created and entertained very serious theories to explain why everyone was the same (or wanted to be), which ranged from cultural brainwashing via Disney to, ahem, aliens (I was 10ish at the time, and had read every Animorphs book in my elementary school’s library, ok? It wasn’t much of a stretch).

Fast forward to the budding adolescence of middle school. I had a simultaneous crush on my algebra teacher and my best friend from 6th grade (who dumped me like a hot potato as soon as the rumors rolled in that we were lesbians. True enough, cruel 11 year olds, but did you have to tell?). My peers had grown out of playground games and into school dances. After one sweaty evening in a darkened room, I couldn’t run fast enough from those uncomfortable (and heavily supervised) gendered interactions to the sanctuary of the card table in the science room. Always there, too, cutting his card shark teeth on vicious games of rummy, was a dark-haired boy I knew from orchestra. I knew immediately that he was also “different”. A few card games and furious debates about the Lord of the Rings later, we were the best of friends.

One day not long after my 14th birthday, this dear boy (we’ll call him M) and I were discussing some aspect of orchestra class (most probably, how terribly attractive we both found the substitute music teacher, a slender young man who played the flute) with a mutual friend (we’ll call her Y) when we were joined by the small girl who sat behind me in class. I watched in fascination as Y and M gave her some small directions while she mimed being a cat, and M patted her head appreciatively as she hurried off to do as she was bid. To answer my curious stare, M explained that she was their pet. It was a game they played, he explained. I could, M said slyly, be their pet too, but he thought I would be better suited to being a slave. He presented terms: hang out with them at lunch and in class, and do as they asked. I would be 50% his, 49% Y’s, and I would have 1% for myself so I could consent and negotiate. We all agreed, and I spent the last weeks of the 8th grade in blissful playful service.

I carried their books. I walked with them to class. I waited patiently as M fed me whatever special snack he had brought to lunch that day, and I disposed of our trays afterwards. I answered happily to “R” (a play on “our”) and waved away concerned friends who informed me that I could not be owned. I could, I explained, if I wanted to be. While Y steadily lost interest in the game, M didn’t, and often reminded me that I could stop it at any time if I didn’t want it anymore. I always opted to keep it going, and he consented. Our friendship deepened beyond the innocent kink and we found an array of mutual interests to keep us on the phone all night. I was in love in the summer lightning way only young teenagers can be, and he never even kissed me.

It ended on the last day of school. He packed up his cello in the morning, and removed the identification tag and lanyard from its neck, replacing it around mine. I spent the rest of the day’s festivities with his name bouncing against his chest. At the end of the day, he signed my yearbook, proclaiming that he was releasing me and giving me the remaining percentage of myself. I was moving that summer and neither of us were sure we’d see each other again. Incidentally, we did, many times, both that summer and after I moved, but I remained released.

I had never felt so free as when I was his.

So when did I know? I always knew. But if there’s a “how it happened” to my service submission kink, I guess that was it.

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