Toronto
3 min

Swearing to honour & obey

Collared connections versus marriage

RING FOR SERVICE. Although collared relationships don't receive the same sort of societal support as a marriage, some feel a collar is just as meaningful as a wedding ring. Credit: RJ Martin

Signing a wedding contract is still somewhat of a novelty for Ontario queers, but there’s another flavour of contractual relationship – one that is both highly personal and completely unregulated by the government – that’s been going on for decades. For many kinky folks, participating in a collared relationship demonstrates a level of commitment comparable to marriage.



“A number of collared relationships are remarkably similar to an old-fashioned relationship in which the wife promised to love, honour and obey the husband, while the husband was not expected to obey the wife,” says black, aka Ian Turner, who is in a collared relationship with Master Barry.



Although modern marriages generally aim to be more equitable, collared relationships find their meaning in the difference in status or power between participants.



“The essential similarity for me is that both collaring and marriage are about commitment,” says Duncan MacLachlan, who was married this past June. “Collaring is about a commitment to explore a dom/sub [dominant/submissive] relationship whereas marriage is about exploring a life together.



“I’ve never been married before. I’ve collared three men at different times and I’ve been collared for a scene but not beyond that. In a daddy/boy relationship it tends to be the daddy who initiates the collaring whereas in marriage I think for most couples it’s something that is planned over a longer period of time.”



While there may be similarities between the two types of relationships, assumptions of monogamy and permanence are not always present in a collared relationship the way they are with traditional marriage. For example, many collared relationships explicitly allow for emotional and sexual relationships with other partners.



“There’s poly-service,” says alex dunlop, who is currently in a collared relationship serving a gay male master and a dyke madame. “Arrangements such as a daddy who has three boys or a master with five slaves.”



“In daddy/boy or master/slave relationships, it’s quite common for the master to be free to go out and play with whomever they want,” explains black. “However the boy or slave may not have that freedom – or may have an arrangement where they can play with someone else with permission. Sometimes that’s set up, at least in fantasy, by having the master ‘lend’ the slave to someone.”



Black was collared in September 2001. Master Barry owns black, Turner’s bootblack persona; he does not own Turner’s top personality. With Master Barry’s permission, Ian the top can go out and play occasionally.



“Another difference between marriage and collaring is the legal aspect,” black adds. “The legal implications of getting married are awesome. Under modern Canadian law, even living together in common law carries significant legal responsibilities. The legal aspects are further complicated if one person has considerably more money than the other. Even after a divorce, these legal and financial responsibilities can continue. A collar carries no legal implications, beyond what would already be there in a similar relationship without the SM aspect.”



There’s also the understanding that not all collared relationships are meant to last forever. “Marriage is supposed to be a commitment for life,” says David Kloss, who has been active in the gay male leather scene since before he won the first International Mr Leather competition in 1979. “Collaring may be a contract for a period of time. It is generally related to training. Marriage is for love. They can both have love in them but collaring is not necessarily an emotional relationship.” Kloss married his partner, Remi Colette, last year.



“Some people believe that romantic love is a hindrance to a service-based relationship,” echoes dunlop. A service-based relationship might describe someone who does boots, runs errands or cleans house for their dominant. “Although the emotions and the level of commitment can be just as intense, it’s not a love based on equality.”



Many people are perplexed by the concept of service in SM relationships, where the benefits to the submissive aren’t always apparent. But people enter these relationships freely, and often after searching for years to find an appropriate partner or situation.



“People who are in service aren’t without power – they’ve chosen to give it up,” says dunlop. “I’ve heard several people say a collar is as important as a wedding ring.”



Collars these days are not all leather or chain with locks. Many wear a precious metal chain, for example, or leather thong. Others may wear a ring on the wedding finger but are not necessarily married in the legal sense. Bondage imagery in the fashion world has further complicated the meaning.



“If someone wearing a collar wants to bottom to me, I first check out what the collar means and who owns the key to the lock,” says Turner. “I will only play with him once I have established that this is okay with the owner of the key.” This is a big difference between typical marriage, where one would not normally ask one partner for permission to play with the other.



Most importantly with a collared relationship, the expectations from each individual involved is negotiated beforehandand made explicit in a way that it may not be with marriage where the traditional interpretation is often taken for granted.



“Expectations are out on the table and can be met,” says dunlop, who has just spent months finalizing his own service agreement. “In the vanilla world you have expectations. Levels of communication are paramount in both. Within the [dominant/ submissive] world we consider negotiation as part of the relationship. Roles are more defined. When you’re someone’s collared service person your service is highly valued.”