Friday, January 9, 2015

Riding the Iron Bull - Kink and Dragon Age: Inquisition

So, like I’ve said, I’m not a gamer. But I know gamers. I love gamers. I am an encouraging and appreciative observer of the gamer culture. I will never be fluent in the language. I will never be able to navigate it without a guide. But I love that there are people out there who are and do. It’s an under-appreciated medium whose stories are often rich and unlike anything else out there.

That all said, I’ve spent the last two days obsessed with Dragon Age: Inquisition. Specifically, with Iron Bull. I’ve been watching clips of him on youtube on loop. Literally.

I’m not a gamer. I’m not into big, burly, muscle-pumped, beefcake men. But I think I’m in love with him. Like, giggle-into-my-hand-whenever-I-see-him, daydream-longingly, construct-long-drawn-out-fantasies-both-mundane-and-hot-as-hell, haven’t-felt-this-way-since-junior-high level love. He’s fantastic in just about every way. He is the perfect kinkster dream. They couldn’t have done him better.

He’s SSC personified. He negotiates, uses safewords (“watchwords;” love it!), provides after care, can articulate and critically think about his kinks, and has excellent boundaries. He’s smart and funny. He’s thoughtful and considerate. He’s capable of being soulfully eloquent as well as sinfully foul-mouthed. He has this sexy swagger to him that just makes a bottom’s knees feel weak. No joke; he may not be my physical type and I’m not submissive by nature, but I would fall at this man’s fictional feet and be extremely happy there. And make damned sure he was happy with me there too. Without question, he is absolutely one of my favorite kinky characters out there (if you couldn’t tell, because subtlety is such a strength of mine).

Which is why I can’t understand why so many people are so upset by him. I cannot see how they could look at this complex character who is thoughtful, in every respect of that word, and see “a relationship that’s a minefield of issues (unsolicited sexual advances, disturbing sexual fantasies, lack of balance, no natural progression, NO APOLOGIES, unhealthy dynamic, […] lack of respect/ignoring partner’s wishes).”

I’ve been watching clips of Iron Bull’s relationships with both the Inquisitor and with Dorian, seeing as many of the different options available as possible. And…how? How can anyone look at this fantastic character and see a rapist or an abuser? Possibly because I’ve seen so many options, I’ve been able to piece together what kind of man the Iron Bull really is and, man, have people got this whole BDSM-mistaken-for-abuse thing ass-backward wrong.

As for consent, this is ridiculous. The game goes way, way, waaaaaaay out of its way to make everything the Iron Bull does above reproach. He is king of consent. He literally does everything right. By the book. Flawlessly.

Let’s look first at his romance with the Inquisitor. The scene where they negotiate the rules of their relationship is textbook. It goes through every tenet of SSC BDSM. He uses open and clear communication. He lays out his expectations and boundaries. He gives a safeword. He establishes that the rules only apply in-scene. He checks in so often it’s a little ridiculous. He gives the Inquisitor (and thus the player) every opportunity to opt in or out before anything remotely sexy or kinky happens. He makes sure to obtain enthusiastic consent every step of the way. That is the epitome of consent. There is literally nothing more he could do.

And yet there are still people saying that they were triggered by this. That this romance option left them without options or choice. How? By the fact that the Iron Bull won’t have a relationship with the Inquisitor unless it’s a D/s relationship? Well, guess what? Some people are kinky and that’s what they want. And that’s their right. You, as the Inquisitor, don’t get to dictate what the Iron Bull wants. “The Inquisitor is fully within their rights to say no to a BDSM relationship. And Iron Bull is fully within his rights to say no, that doesn't work for me. Your rights end when they begin infringing upon another's. To say that Iron Bull should compromise for a normal relationship is like saying his sexual needs are less valid than our Inquisitor's. Why?”

If kink isn’t your thing, if it’s not how you want to play the game, that’s fine. I’ve been assured that there are many, many other options with other characters where you can get all the vanilla you want; I wish you your fill. But your “normal” isn’t everyone’s “normal” and what you want won’t fulfill everyone. Have yours—have lots of yours—but let everyone else have theirs too. That isn’t infringing on your consent. That isn’t abuse. That’s life. “[People] use the fact that the inquisitor does not have a ‘choice’ as further proof that [the Iron Bull] is abusive. I'd like to be very clear about something. Your ‘choice’ in any romance is the option to say no […] you can still choose to say no. What you cannot do is pretend that a choice to say yes is ‘no choice.’ ” If you listened to what the Bull had to say and chose to “ride the Bull” anyway, you knew what you were getting into—there was no way not to; he’s not exactly subtle. You don’t get to claim foul if you give fully informed consent. You don’t get to be upset that you can’t get everything you want exactly how you want it from him because he won’t love you the way you want him to and you don’t want to be loved the way he wants to love you. If you can’t handle him, if you find that the two of you are innately incompatible, you can always tell him no. I’ve been assured that he respects that boundary well and backs off. There’s your choice. You don’t get to change who he is and what he wants just to suit you. His consent is just as important as yours. To act otherwise, is in and of itself an act against consent.

As for the Dorian relationship, I’ll admit this one gave me a bit of pause. Out of context—which is kinda how the game presents it, as you really only get gossipy eavesdropped moments—many of the comments you, as the Inquisitor, overhear sound bad. If you don’t romance either Dorian or the Bull, I’ve been told, the game ships these two together automatically, if they're both in your party. Which is the worst idea ever. 

But not for the reasons people think. 

Adoribull is really anything but. I Googled the two and heard way too many people talking about how horrible the Bull is to poor Dorian. How he seduces the poor, poor man with a drinking problem while he’s drunk. How that’s a case of lack of consent. About how the Bull abuses poor Dorian by sex-shaming him by rubbing their affair in Dorian’s face in front of everyone. About how he sexually harasses poor Dorian by hitting on him all the time. “GIVE ME AN OPTION TO BAIL OUT ON THIS SHIT IN MY GAME, THAT’S ALL I’M ASKING!!!!! Give me an option to stop it from developing, because if it’s skevy enough it can be 'chosen to be interpreted as abusive' don’t you think I’d like to have a choice not to see my favourite character stuck in this relationships, without being able to utter a word about it???”

I’m sorry. Were you watching the same scenes as me? They’re constantly giving each other shit. About each other’s races. About each other’s appearances. About each other’s fighting styles. They’re just one big dick-measuring contest. The first time you really hear the Bull hit on Dorian, they are hilt-deep in such a cock-swinging fight. Sure, the Bull is crass and graphic, but so what? From what I can tell, that’s just the Bull. And when Dorian says no to that kind of talk, the Bull acts surprised at the mixed signals and backs off. Then, as the game progresses, it seems like they bond further, having much more intimate moments about shared experiences.

Which leads to an “ill-considered night after drinks,” as it sometimes does. Which, by the way, doesn’t mean that Dorian was drunk. It means they were having drinks. And then had a perhaps more uninhibited evening together, but it clearly wasn’t something Dorian regrets or there wouldn’t have been the “second time, and then...” Not to mention at the end of that arc, Dorian sticks around in the hopes of spending more time with the Iron Bull. Yeah, if Dorian is saying no, I really can’t blame the Bull for not hearing it. Cause that sounds like a pretty clear and consistent yes, even if Dorian doesn’t “know what’s going on, to be honest,” even if he knows that it’s “a whole lot of something.” For fuck’s sake, Dorian gets so turned on by what they do together that he magically sets the curtains on fire!

Seems to me, if anyone is being taken advantage of, Dorian is using the Bull. Badly. He’s so pearl-clutchingly riddled by “the shame” of it all that he’s taking it out on someone who’s just trying to be there for him. Look at how they both describe their relationship to the Inquisitor. When asked, the Bull talks about how good a guy Dorian is underneath it all and about how he hopes that they’ll be good for each other and how their relationship—hot as he finds it—will also help them come together in a more meaningful way. When Dorian is asked the exact same question, he laments on how much of a blabbermouth “that lumox” is and how he’s so ashamed about anyone knowing about their “dalliance” and how he wishes that no one knew about it.

I’m sorry, if you’re ashamed to be sleeping with someone, you shouldn’t stick your dick in them. They aren’t your secret shame. They aren’t your blow-up doll that you get to drag into the closet with you. They’re a person. And, whoever they are, they deserve better treatment than you’d give to a vibrator furtively hidden in your bedside drawer. If Dorian were so ashamed of sleeping with a black guy or an overweight man or a trans man that he refused to acknowledge the relationship in public, how infuriating would that be? How is this any different?

Far as I can tell, there’s a few ways to read that shame, none of which reflect well on Dorian.

One, this is self-hating homophobia leftover from an unfortunate upbringing. I’ve been told that Dorian had really shitty parents from a really shitty culture who tried to use blood magic to pray the gay away. As an ex-Catholic with her own share of heavily ingrained Catholic-guilt, I feel you. You get my sympathies for that and my congrats for getting out. But you don’t get the right to treat someone else like shit for no good reason. You don’t get to spread the shit someone shoveled on you onto someone else just because you don't know what to do with it. If anything, you should know better. Because, Lord knows, the Bull deserves better.

Two, this is kink-shaming. Dorian is riding the Bull to get his jollies. To walk on the wild side for a bit. All the while, looking down his nose at it all. Acting as if he’s above what gets his rocks off. The way he compares the Bull and their relationship to beer—this low-brow, undignified, dirty thing—is offensive. As if someone like him ought to be above something like that.

I’ve been people’s walk on the wild side and it sucks. You’re less than human at that moment. You’re just a novelty. A new experience. A soon-to-be memory. A story they can tell later. A titillated feeling of shame and excitement. That sex—that experience—is never about you. It’s all about what you can do, about what you can give, about what someone else can get off of you. You’re just a sex toy to them. A simple means to an end. Something someone wanks into without really much thought to you at all.

So, yeah, if that’s how you treat your lovers, fuck yourself. Because you haven’t earned the right to even touch the person you’re currently screwing over.

Three, this is a race thing. Listening to Dorian talk about the Bull’s race is disturbing in a way that hearing some of the other characters do so isn’t. Because when Krem calls the Bull a bastard because, within the traditions of his culture, he doesn’t have a mother, you never feel like Krem means it. It’s just banter between friends. But when Dorian talks about how he can’t trust the Bull because of who he is...that feels like truth. Dorian, in his heart of hearts, believes the things he says. Yet he’s having a sexual relationship with the Bull. That feels like fetishization.

Again, I’ve been people’s exotic destination too. Where you’re just a set of cultural expectations wrapped up in an ultimately strangely attractive package. Where that same titillated feeling of shame and excitement is now mixed with a strongly-held sense of superiority and a desire to claim the unexplored. You’re just sand they get to stick their flag in. Makes that beer line look even darker through this lens.

Four, maybe Dorian just doesn’t like the Iron Bull very much. Maybe his personality, his crassness and baser nature, offends him. Fine. That’s his right—no one has to like anyone; you can take a dislike to someone for any reason you want. But then stop sticking your dick in someone you don’t respect. Because that makes you a prissy, little hypocrite. So the Bull is good enough for you to blow your load in, but not quite good enough to talk to the morning after? Classy. Too often, we glorify hate sex. The kind of sex where it’s made hotter because there are no emotions, no attachments, involved. The kind where we get to do anything to and with that person because ultimately, at the end of the night, they don’t matter. We dehumanize them without realizing that it’s us who are throwing away our humanity. I’m not saying you have to love every person you fuck, but if you can’t give them a modicum of basic human respect, stop. Please, stop. It doesn’t do either of you any service.

Like I said, I don’t much like Dorian, after seeing this side of him. He’s cashing a lot of my past partners’ bad checks. And maybe that’s not his fault. Maybe I’m reading too much into this. But I feel like I understand where the Bull is coming from in this relationship. I’ve been there.

Which is why I find it so infuriating that people are taking the scene where the Bull seems to out Dorian about their relationship in front of the group so grossly out of context. At the beginning of that scene, the Bull approaches Dorian, using a very soft voice, asking to talk about their relationship. Because he’s, at his heart—strangely enough for a spy—really open and honest. If you matter to him, he’s going to treat you like you do. To which Dorian shuts it down. Complains about discretion. Essentially wants to dismiss and deny that the relationship even exists.

So, yeah, the Bull, in a then much louder voice, does what Dorian is too chickenshit to do. Acknowledges their relationship. In crude, crass, graphic language? You betcha. Because, guess what? Make a kinkster feel like they should be ashamed of being who they are and chances are good they’re going to prove to you just how unashamed and unapologetic they are. Because they have nothing to be ashamed of. They have nothing to apologize for. And, for most of us, it took a really long time—filled with shame and apologies abound—to get to that place. And no one has the right to make us go back. Much less the person we’re currently having kinky sex with. Tip to the wise: Just don’t. You may not like the reaction. But you will have deserved it.

To be fair, it took a few viewings (like I said, it’s been on a loop for days) for me to see this. And I got a much better view after watching both sets of clips. One of my favorite Inquisitor scenes is the one where the Inquisitor downplays and dismisses their relationship with the Bull as “blowing off steam” but then is surprised when the Bull walks away. I think this was the moment I fell for the Bull. The amount of self-respect it took to do that is beautiful. To know you deserve better and to walk away so you can get it; kinksters could use more stories like that. Where we demand to be seen and treated as people. And I love that you get to see the Bull use his sexuality as a defense mechanism here. To use that part of himself that people are trying to shame and hurt him with as his own weapon. It really helps to inform the scene with Dorian, even though you’d never see those two scenes together in the same play-through. The Inquisitor hurt him with the truth about how little he thinks of the Bull so, in turn, the Bull takes a bit of that same sentiment and turns it onto the Inquisitor. Again, that mentality of “you will not make me less just so you can look like you're more” is so well done in this moment.

Like I said, I think the Iron Bull is one of the most considerate lovers ever written. If I had to give him a fault sexually, it's that he's too considerate. He gives and gives and gives. He's all about giving other people what they want and need. And, while I think he definitely enjoys it, we never get to hear about what he—at his core, separate from his partners or circumstances—desires. He's such a service kinkster. The game even has a perfect scene where Cole comments on the fact that the Inquisitor “submits, but you serve.” Someone at BioWare smiles as wide as I do at that line every time they hear it. Because it’s true. I love me my tops, but bottoms rule, baby. That’s just the way of it.

In fact, the only thing we really ever see him demand is acknowledgement. Is the basic respect of recognition. Literally the bare minimum of common decency when it comes to relationships. Dorian goes on and on about the Bull’s lack of discretion, which is bullshit. Because he has discretion. Lots and lots and lots of discretion, so long as you acknowledge that you do indeed have a relationship together that matters. If you treat it and him with respect, he goes out of his way to do the same for you. Do the opposite…and, well, tit for tat. He just wants to feel like he's not being used. And yet to some people he's the rapist. He's the abuser. He's the predatory monster with “that mother clucking sick banter. Add one banter when Iron Bull RECOGNISES HE’S A CREEP AND APOLOGISES! Seriously, one more banter would have fixed it, instead of this Bull goes full 'I know you want it' Robin Thicke/50 Shades.”

The goal of a good service kinkster is to know what needs your partner has and to fulfill them without being asked. To anticipate what's needed and to meet that need. To observe and know your partner so well that you can be that in-tune with them. It’s the highest goal and something every partner ought to aspire to. The difference between that—which I would hope every partner, kinky or vanilla, aims to do and be—and what Fifty Shades and "Blurred Lines" do is that, in those other examples, the partner-in-question doesn't necessarily want what the speaker assumes they do. In "Blurred Lines" we never get to hear what the girl actually wants; no one ever asks her. It’s all about what the speaker wants couched in eye-brow-wiggling “you want that too, right? Right?” In Fifty Shades, we're stuck in Ana's head—for better or for worse—and she actually flat-out doesn't want what Grey assumes she does. That's what makes those things murky if not out-and-out red-flag consent issues.

However, in DA, when the Iron Bull, who was hired to be a people-reading super spy, says that he knows what that person needs, note that he tends to be able to back that up with why he thinks that. And really stop to observe that the other person tends to confirm that, yes, that is in fact exactly what they wanted. And they enjoy it. Over and over and over again. I may not have played the game, but I can clearly see that every time—EVERY SINGLE TIME—Bull talks about giving you what you want, you as a player get the opportunity to choose. To opt in. To opt out. To say "hell, yeah, let's go" or "nope, I'm out." As the Inquisitor, you literally have to choose him. Over and over and over again. To the point you want to scream at the screen, "Take yes for a goddamned answer already!" That's what makes it different. That's what makes these stories polar opposites. To compare the two as anything but contrasts shows not just a lack of knowledge about kink, but a shocking lack of basic knowledge about consent.

And, as for the relationship between the Bull and Dorian, you could make the argument that we don’t get to hear enough about it to say definitively that it’s not abusive. After all, it is extremely hard for abuse victims to leave their abusers for all sorts of reasons that might not be obvious to someone from the outside of that relationship looking in to see. Again, taken out of context—stripped of both their personalities and histories—the few scenes we get could be read that way. There’s an easier way to read them, but they could be read that way. But, here’s the rub: If we don’t have enough information to say definitively that it’s not abuse, we don’t have enough information to automatically assume that it is either. The Inquisitor goes to both of them individually to see what’s going on between the Bull and Dorian. And, as I said, from what I can see, if anyone’s a victim in all this, it sure as fucking hell isn’t Dorian. “Evidently some people interpreted […] the potential relationship between Dorian and Iron Bull is abusive. I really don’t know how that could be the case, so let me clarify: Dorian is very much a willing participant in what occurs, if less-than-thrilled at his life choices (or, at least, that’s what he evinces), and while their relationship might possibly be less-than-healthy on the whole, it’s possible for that to be the case without it being abuse. If you still feel such, go right ahead, but *I* certainly never said so. Got it? Excellent.”

Like I said, yes, a lot of my own past experiences are informing how I view this story. Just as I’m sure it was the same for the people who were triggered by that same story. You can make a million different people look at the same story and each one of them will see it differently. Sometimes slightly. Sometimes completely. Because we’re all coming at it with different experiences, different stories of our own. Stories are, after all, a conversation, with every story ever told informing all other stories. That’s how stories work. That’s their magic. Which means, if you want emotionally compelling and evocative stories, you have to be willing to risk being triggered. “Allow me to clarify, if I may, that we writers would never intentionally put triggering situations into the romances we write. We are, however, in the business of providing drama…and it’s very possible that drama might be interpreted by some as unhealthy or worse, so thus I cannot and will not offer a guarantee that someone will not encounter something triggering in the course of a game. I can’t even guarantee that it will be recognized in-game, considering all the possible interpretations one could make of a situation. Yes, I understand that some will consider that insufficient. They have my sympathy, but that is all I can really offer on the subject.”

And it’s really all the game creators should. Because they didn’t do anything wrong. They, in fact, did everything right. Even with my take on Dorian, I may not like it because I wish the Bull nothing but happiness and pleasure, but the story was so well done. Because there are people out there like that. There are people who’ve done what Dorian does. Who think they way I think he thinks. I may not like them, but that’s not the story’s fault. If anything, that’s to the story’s credit. That it could tap into that experience and portray it so well.

To be honest, when I read the comments from people who look at Iron Bull’s behavior and see abuse, I wonder how they can when they put so little effort into citing exactly what makes them think so. Maybe I have read into and thought far, far, far too much about all this, but at least I can explain exactly why I think the way I do. It makes me wonder if they’re even being all that honest with themselves. If their opinion really means what they think it does. If “what he’s doing is wrong” really translates into “what he’s doing makes me uncomfortable.” I’ve talked about this before, where people tend to demonize that which they find different. And kink and non-normative sexual orientations are today’s demon dejour.

Which seems odd, considering how popular they seem to be nowadays. Everyone claims that kink isn’t being demonized anymore. After all, look at how many copies of Fifty Shades have sold. Think about how many tickets the movie will inevitably sell. How can real-life kinksters claim that we still feel so invisible?

All you have to do is tune into CBS’s latest Moms episode "Godzilla and a Sprig of Mint" where the main character begins dating nice guy Colin Hanks who—surprise, surprise—turns out to be kinky. Into puppy play, really (which really does beg the question how and why he had such a lavish, Red-Room-of-Pain-eqsue dungeon; not that he can’t, but it seems unlikely that he'd need an elaborate setup like that, if that’s his kink, but I digress…). To which Christy pearl-clutchingly runs screaming. Because ew, gross, how can I ever even look at him again! Where, after having promised that she could be trusted with his truth, she can’t even bear to look at him afterward. Sound familiar? At least, DA has the decency not to demonize the Bull by making him crazy or over-the-top, like Hanks’s pathetically pouncing, door-scratching performance while Christy cringes in horror.

I had hoped that Fifty Shades would at least give the world an amount of awareness. Instead, it’s just reinforced the same ole crap. In fact, the MPAA gave the Shades film an R rating because of “the strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior.” Unusual behavior? Thanks, MPAA; you have such a way with words. Way to sugarcoat the word "perversion."

Even the twit actor, Jamie Dornan, they got to star in this movie could see that’s crap. “If people are into that they’re into that. By the way, if people make such a hoo-hah about the violence against women aspect of it, it’s far more common for men to be the submissive. And it’s consensual! There’s weirder sh– than that. I think plane spotting is far weirder than S&M. That I really don’t get. I can understand why people are into S&M, but standing outside Heathrow Terminal 5 waiting for Ryanair to come in?” 

Okay, so he’s wrong about what’s common in kink and could have put that better. But at least it’s better than that time he told Elle, “I saw a dominant with one of his two submissives. It was an interesting evening. Then going back to my wife and newborn baby afterwards … I had a long shower before touching either one of them.”

We’ve—for better or for worse—had our truths thrust out for public consumption. And, for all the strides we’ve made to normalize our lifestyle in the mainstream, we still too often get awful portrayals of who and what we are, where the media parades us around and treats the BDSM community “like ‘circus freaks.’ "

So when creators and storytellers like BioWare get it right, can you just let us have this? Without whining and bitching and moaning all over it? Enjoy your vanilla and let us relish in the rest.

Or, if you really just must, could you at least do us the respect of attempting to make a good argument for all your whinging?

Edit: Sorry for making a ridiculously long past longer, but I’ve had it repeatedly pointed out that I’m being dismissive of Dorian’s past. And, yes, I’ll admit that I don’t know it as well as people who’ve actually played the game. I know the basics of it and have listened and watched bits and pieces about it.

And does it make me like the Dorian character more? …Yes, in terms of that I like that he’s fully fleshed out and has a rich backstory and, yes, a very sympathetic history that does speak to very real and very important experiences that many players can relate to and that even more need a better understanding of.

That said, it still doesn’t make me like Adoribull any more than I did before.

Because, even as a service partner who is invested in the well-being of his partner, the Bull isn’t Dorian’s therapist. Lord knows, I doubt he’s qualified for such a position. I’m sure that, if you explained to him what a shrink was and told him to be one, he’d look at you like you were nuts. As intelligent and thoughtful as I think he is, there has to be someone else more qualified than him for that kind of thing. Sex and affection might make you feel good, but it’s not magic or a therapy-replacement. It’s not the Bull’s job to fix Dorian’s past. And it’s certainly not his job to teach Dorian how to be an out and proud gay man. And, in fact, I still feel like the best way for the Bull to do so is to lead by example. With someone other than Dorian. Someone who’s also out and proud and living with integrity. To show Dorian that, yes, it does get better. Eventually.

But, right now as it stands, Dorian isn’t ready for the kind of relationship he’d have with the Bull. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that he never will be. I’m saying that at the moment of their relationship in the game, Dorian is not there yet. You cannot still be half-in-denial and ask your fully out partner to give up their own integrity and climb back into your closet with you. If you cannot comfortably acknowledge your partner in public, you don't deserve that person as a partner. You haven't earned that right yet. Because that kind of behavior is not discretion, that's denial. They left their closets or never had the luxury of one. They went through the work to claw their way past their own past demons; it’s not healthy or right to ask them to crawl back through yours.

Even if that service partner is willing to. Because the likelihood of that ending badly for both parties is high.

Dorian needs to do the work of coming to terms with who he is and what he wants before getting into a relationship with someone else. Because, like Dan Savage always says, people need to be in good-working-order before they get involved with another person. Because asking someone you love to fix you isn’t a loving gesture. Putting that much demand and responsibility—that is ultimately your own job to do for yourself—onto someone else’s shoulders isn’t fair and has the possibility of doing more damage than good.

After all, how many times will Dorian’s self-shame spill over onto the Bull? Because if your self-shame is telling you that your being gay is wrong, what does that say about the person you’re having gay sex with? By believing you’re wrong, you are tacitly saying they are too. You are, intentionally or not, dragging them through your shame with you. How many times is it okay for that to happen? The Bull is a strong man and, yes, I know he can take it. But does that make it right for Dorian to ask him to? How likely is it that Dorian’s wish to downplay or dismiss the relationship they share—and thus by extension the person he’s sharing that relationship with—is going to chip away at the Bull’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth? Does building Dorian up make even just the possibility of whittling away at the Bull right? At what point is it okay to acknowledge that the Bull, who’s already done the work of living openly with integrity, deserves better?

But, all right, he’s a service partner and he is choosing to stay. As is his choice and he has every right to make it. Just wondering whether that’s as great or helpful or romantic as people make it seem. So the Bull helps Dorian baby-step his way toward living openly and having a better self-image of himself. Great. What happens when Adoribull ends? What happens when one or both of them walk away or get ripped away by circumstance (they are engaged in battle quite a bit after all)? If the Bull was responsible for raising Dorian up, what happens when he’s gone? How likely is it that all that new-found confidence and comfort with himself will go too? How likely is it that, without that person who he’s now learned to lean on to bolster himself up, he’ll be worse off later because he never learned how to stand on his own?

That’s why I don’t like the idea that what makes Adoribull okay with a lot people seems to be that Dorian is being helped by the Bull, so Dorian can get over his past and find a better future. Because it glorifies and validates relationships that probably deserve closer examination.

I’ll admit, I don’t like Dorian for personal reasons. Because I’ve stuck my metaphorical dick in those waters and come up burned. But I don’t think he’s a terrible person. I think he got handed a really shitty hand in life and is learning how to deal with it the best he can. 

And that’s life. You can be sympathetic and likable and still do awful things. You can have good reasons—good and perfectly understandable reasons that make perfect sense—for doing bad things to other people. But even perfectly sympathetic reasoning doesn’t make bad things right and, when the dust settles, that’s small comfort for the people you hurt along the way. I’m not saying that Dorian is abusive. I’m not even saying that he’s a bad person or character. I’m saying, of the two of them, the Bull is more likely to follow the Savage Love Campsite Rule and leave his partner in better shape than he found him in. And will likely be the one to walk away worse for the wear because of all this. Does that make Dorian horrible or a monster? No, but it does make me wish better for the character I love.

And I hope that, in his future somewhere—be it Dorian or the next person—someone endeavors to be as good a partner to him as he is to them. 


Don't forget to take a peek at the comments below,
there's some great discussion there. And, of course,
please feel free to join the conversation.

Also check out my Adoribull fanfics:

 For a peek at this relationship through Bull's perspective: 
"What You Want of Me"
And, to see Dorian's response, read:
"Watch Words"

For more fun, take a look at my Gender-Swapped Iron Bull Cosplay

And, as always, hope you enjoy!


  1. YES, YES, A THOUSAND TIMES YES. This whole article made me smile ear to ear. Thank you for saying all this and thank you for saying it so eloquently and personably. I love this, and I'm definitely bookmarking this blog because I like what you're saying and I'm sure more of it will make me happy!

    1. Aww, thank you so much! For reading and for the amazing compliments! Hope you enjoy.

  2. Read your article, and I think you got many interesting points here. But still, what's in the game is in the game: FIRST the Iron Bull has BDSM sex with the Inquisitor as sub without clearly warning the Inquisitor, and THEN, after the sex, he sets the ground rules and the safe word. In my not-so-humble opinion, the ground rules and the watchword and the warnings should come before and not after. But then again, my watchword is "stop", so what do I know?

    1. My watchword is also "stop;" I'm a big fan of plain-speak too even if I can see the fun and intimacy of safewords between partners. It can create a language that only the two of you speak; yeah, I can see the appeal of that, even if I don't personally find it useful.

      As for the Bull's first sexual encounter with the Inquisitor. I've watched that scene a lot. Like A LOT a lot. (So hot!) Pretty sure that the Bull does say that he's into the kinky stuff. Not explicitly, sure--I'm sure video games are subject to certain standards about explicit content just like other mediums and, as Britian has proven lately, hot as it is, explicit BDSM can get you in a lot of stupid trouble with censors. Even more so than more explicit vanilla sex. But the Bull does say, "I don't think you know what you're getting yourself into here." A lot actually. Like I said, you have to say "yes, take me now," like, three times before the Bull actually starts doing anything sexual with you. And, yeah, after how much exposure kink has had lately--again, for better or for worse--pretty sure we all know what that means. When someone says "I don't think you're ready for the kind of sex you'd be having with me," I can't think of anyone whose mind doesn't jump immediately to something kinky. Usually to a kind of exaggerated, crazy, swinging-from-the-chandeliers, cartoon version that's probably way weirder than what the actual kinkster has in mind. Pretty sure, the Inquisitor has a pretty good inkling what they're getting into. Especially after the last time they get asked if they're sure, when the Bull has got their hands restrained above their head. Like I said, God love him, the Bull is not a subtle man!

      But, you're right, the Bull doesn't establish official rules until afterward for an official BDSM relationship. Because until that moment, they don't *have* and official BDSM relationship. The fact of the matter is the game does a fade to black before any of the good stuff actually gets going--more's the pity. So we don't know what kind of sex the two had. As a kinky person, let me assure you, we're quite capable of vanilla sex too. Most of our sex, while usually informed and touched by our kinky desires (hence the hands over the Inquisitor's head), looks pretty vanilla. Maybe a bit rougher. Maybe with more colorful language. Maybe with a bit more...flair, shall we say. But not really all that different than you'd see with anyone else. Especially the first few times we have sex with someone. Because we're still figuring each other out. We're still building a solid base for the more complex stuff. I've said this before in another piece, but kink really is vanilla sex's expansion pack. It's not a starter set for anyone. Chances are high that that first encounter with the Inquisitor was some vanilla sex with some basic, rudimentary D/s woven in. I don't know about anyone else, but I don't think you need to go through the whole schpel for that. After all, in that moment, for all the Bull knows, this is a one-night stand. I'm not going to go through all the official legwork for a wham-bam-thank-you-man night. What would be the point?

      But, again, I've spent A LOT (probably way too much) of time thinking about all this.

  3. Really awesome article, thank you so much for writing it. I think that fandom is weirdly super overprotective of Dorian, and that results in a lot of simplifying and dismissing the nuances of Bull's character.

    I think I'm a bit more inclined to view Dorian more kindly, perhaps. In addition to having grown up in a culture that enforces discretion (to the point where his dad literally tries to blood magic the gay out of his kid specifically because he refuses to keep it hidden) he's also sleeping with someone who is essentially his country's hundreds of years old enemy. He's cautious with the Inquisitor too, and is constantly aware of and bringing up how people will view them. The Inq romance just A) gets actual private moments, and B) lacks the context of the Tevinter/Qunari conflict saturating their early banters. Dorian sort of constantly pretends that everything is beneath him, but I think this is just a defence mechanism, and Bull in particular gets the brunt of it because of their people's histories.

    Fandom is definitely too quick to overlook the racial tensions between them, though, and the fact that Bull is, I think, to some degree trying to depower those accusations by sexualizing them. He may play the conquerer in bed, but the Cole dialogues especially reinforce over and over that he serves, not commands; he defends, not conquers. This is so consistent about him. I really think that Dorian/Bull is a relationship where, early on, their defence mechanisms (Dorian's of feigning disdain, Bull's of humour and occasionally bawdiness) are just crashing violently into each other, which, when you add in their clear attraction to one another, makes for a tumultuous start. I think those two have a lot of baggage that they're still working out, esp. if Bull is Tal'Vashoth, and by the end of the game it's nice to see that Dorian openly admits both his happiness and his intentions to stay with Bull to the Inquisitor. If anything, I think that Dorian's gradual willingness to open up about their relationship shows a lot of growth on Dorian's part, and only emphasizes that Bull is a good guy who helped him get to that point, and actually made him happy, whatever he was doing! The dude just doesn't attach any stigma to sex!

    Anyway, sorry to ramble. Your article just got me thinking, oddly enough, about Bull but also about Dorian as individual characters. Thank you for writing it out.

    1. Thank you and you're very welcome. DA has some amazing content that's just so easy to get absolutely entranced by. They really do flesh out their characters so well.

      And, again, as someone who isn't into games as much as many of the people I know, it always amazes and impresses me to find this kind of complexity and depth in games like this.

      And, yeah, I'm probably being unfair to Dorian--I relate much more to the Bull than to Dorian as a kinky queer woman of color who's pretty solidly comfortable and open with every aspect of my own varied minority statuses and have been for a really long time.

      Like Bull, I've never been able to hide in any closets. When you look visibly different from the majority--be it skintone, gender, or horns on your head--you never get the luxury of a closet. Your difference is generally the first thing everyone sees. Often, it's the only thing some people see. Becomes pretty pointless and rather tedious to hide anything else about yourself at that point--you're already different, what's a few more differences added in?

      I think it's why I'm less tolerant about other people's closets and, I would assume, is probably why the Bull is as well. I *have* to be me; I don't have the ability to pretend to be otherwise. And the idea of a partner choosing to hide our relationship to keep up appearances...that's beyond hurtful. Not just because they *would* do that, but also because they *can*. They'd have made me their secret shame that they can pick up and put down at their convenience, while I'm forced to wear that same shame all the time for everyone to see. And, if I've worked very hard to not see my difference as shameful--which, if you know someone who's different who isn't burdened by it, they have--having a partner *make* it shameful, make it something worth hiding for whatever reason, is one of the worst betrayals you could do.

      I'm sure Dorian has redeeming qualities--most people and characters do--but that part of him just taps into a part of my history that can't be redeemed. I know there are people who hope that Adoribull lasts and that the Bull is able to help heal Dorian. I hope the Bull realizes that he deserves better and his leaving becomes the catalyst that forces Dorian to be better. With the next guy that comes along. Ya know, leaving room at the Bull's feet for a pint-sized, Asian non-gamer with a schoolgirl crush...

  4. For every other romance (that I’ve played through), you click the heart dialog option once and you begin the romance. For Bull, you must do this on three separate occasions. They are really serious about making sure you understand what you’re getting into. My Inquisitor is having a great time, as you can see here. (And as my Inquisitor is female, I’ll proceed using female pronouns for her.) In my headcanon, we took the curtains down first, but as I’m a knight-enchanter, no curtains were set on fire.

    Sure, the watchword scene happens *after* the initial encounter, but keep in mind that this is a video game and I’m not sure if turning that initial scene into a major info-dump would have been entertaining. Yes, they were looking to portray a responsible BDSM-style relationship, but they still needed to consider the flow of the narrative and to keep things engaging.

    Plus, we the players have no idea what actually went on in that first scene. It faded to black and then resumed with Bull telling Leliana that she needs rest. Maybe all they did was some light spanking while Bull explained everything. Maybe they did more--I don’t know and neither does anyone else. The writers at Bioware tend to leave a lot of the relationship stuff to player headcanon. The medium of video games makes this a necessity. I think they handled this scene as well as they could.

    I really do think you’re coming down too harshly on Dorian. Granted, yes, maybe in your headcanon he’s ashamed to be sleeping with Bull. The way the dialog is written, the way the player catches only bits and pieces, you certainly can interpret things that way. My take is that Dorian isn’t ashamed of the relationship itself, he is chagrined by Bull’s oversharing. He sounds less than enthused when you ask him about it, because he’s not totally comfortable with sharing. You kinda have to badger him into telling you, because in his opinion, a gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell.9

    Tevinter isn’t exactly down with the gays, as you’ve pointed out. Dorian is still getting used to the idea that it’s OK for him to be out of the closet, that it’s OK for him to be into someone like Bull. If his father ever found out he was fucking a goddamn Ben-Hassrath spy, he’d have an aneurysm. This matters, because Dorian still loves his father in spite of all the abuses he’s suffered. Dorian is literally sleeping with the enemy.

    Go back to the start of this video and listen through Dorian and Cole’s banter. One of the benefits of having a telepath in the party is that you get an extra peek into the character’s brains. You mentioned last night that Dorian needs a shrink. I think Cole is as close to psychotherapy as one can get in Thedas

    1. I also think that Bull has too much self-respect to waste his time on someone who really, truly was ashamed of him, as evidenced by the breakup video with the Inquisitor. It’s really telling that in the video, his reason for walking isn’t because his feelings are hurt, it’s because he’s not doing a good enough job for the Inquisitor. Bull can see that Dorian has a real need to loosen up, accept himself for who he is, and acknowledge his own needs and wants. Bull, like Cole, likes helping. I think he sees potential in Dorian and hopes to help him unload his internal baggage.

      While Dorian has his issues, Bull has plenty of his own. Allow me to go into wild-speculation/headcannon territory for a bit.

      As a follower of the Qun, Bull was trained from birth to know his place. The Qun is about purpose, about making the best use of your resources, about never having to question. I think this is why he instills his sexual enterprises with the purpose of helping his partners. It gives the act meaning and usefulness aside from just his own pleasure. After all, in the Qun, people visit the Tamassran whenever they feel horny. I think he’s kind of approaching sex from a Tamassran point of view--it’s his job to relieve the sexual tension of his partner. That’s all he’s ever known. He tells you not to worry when you ask him what his needs are.

      That’s why the relationships with the Inquisitor and Dorian are a big deal. Bull is not used to the notion of having sex with someone he loves. This is him growing and developing too, especially if he goes Tal-Vashoth. I’d like to think that if these relationships go on for a long while, Bull will eventually reach a point where he will start asking for the things he wants.

      The point I’m trying to make, is that I see Bull and Dorian’s relationship as being mutually beneficial. It has the potential to help them work through their pasts and grow as people and as lovers. And yes, as Gaider mentioned, the relationship could turn sour and one or both of them could later regret the whole affair. But in my headcanon, they both eventually reach a state of mutual happiness and respect over time.

      But a lot is left to headcanon. Ultimately, both of our takes on the characters are equally valid. This is the joy of video games.

    2. Hahahaha! I heart you so hard, lady!

      If anyone's curious as to who inspired my current obsession, right here, Instigator!

      And, yeah, to be fair, my obsession isn't really with DA as a whole. I'm obsessed with the Iron Bull's love life (because HOT!). So I'll admit, I did not listen to all of that over-5-hour clip you sent me (like some people...*ahem*). Just the part with the Bull and Dorian. Because, I'll admit, I suffer from a very myopic kind of loyalty. I love that man fiercely and will *fight* anyone trying to mess with him!

      So, yeah, like I said, I realize I'm being unfair and being defensively overprotective (such is the way of true love).

      But, to be fair, I do believe that, while there are valid and understandable reasons for why people do the things they do--like Dorian's past influencing his present--I don't think that those reasons are always justifications. Other people's past behavior doesn't excuse his current behavior.

      And, as a fellow Savage Love listener, you know that, while no one is obligated to divulge the specifics of their bedroom activities, if you want to be in an adult relationship, you kinda have to acknowledge your partners. Especially the ones asking to be acknowledged.

      And, as Dorian cut him off immediately, we have no idea what the Bull was going to ask him the morning after. It's quite possible, since--as you pointed out--the Bull is very concerned with his partners' overall well-being, that he was just going to ask if Dorian was all right, as his initial tone would imply. He only gets graphic after Dorian gets huffy over the mere insinuation of their involvement. And, I'm sorry, I don't care what your past is, if that's your reaction, you're not ready for an adult relationship and I do wish that the Bull had walked away at that moment.

      But, you're right, we don't get enough context for what happens next. Maybe they had a come-to-Jesus heart-to-heart in private that smoothed over both their ruffled feathers. Sure seems like it, since they do continue their relationship.

      I guess, if that's the case, I wish the game had put a point later where Dorian, like the Inquisitor, does ovary-up and own-up to his own actions and choices and acknowledges his relationship with the Bull.

      Like we both said, the Bull is above all a service partner. He uses sex and kink as a form of comfort and support as much as a form of pleasure. As a service kinkster, most of his pleasure would come from not necessarily the act in and of itself; it would come from the pleasure that act gives to his partner. If his partner weren't getting off on what he was doing, it's entirely likely that the Bull would get zero pleasure from the act as well.

      Which, like I discussed in my piece about the Domme in the show Forever, puts the Bull in an extremely vulnerable position.

      And that's what upsets me most about the commentary running around about the unhealthiness of Adoribull. The automatic assumption that Dorian must be the victim, must be at risk, when in reality the one most likely to be hurt by their liaison would be the Bull. Because the Bull, as the care-taking service partner, is looking out for Dorian's best interests.

      I don't know if the same can be said for Dorian.

      Maybe Dorian grows into that role. Just would have been nice to be privy to that growth.

      Even at the end, when Dorian sticks around to be with the Bull, he only quasi-admits to it after being directly asked about it. I suppose that's progress but, as someone who loves the Bull, I want better for him.

      But I'm stupid in love with him, so you know bias abound.

  5. I'm glad this article exist. Even if you're not a gamer in itself, hearing someone talk about Iron Bull who's not only into Kink, but also (I'm assuming being I haven't checked out the rest of your blog) does BDSM activities makes me happy and you did research to back it up. Seriously, everything I love about Bull is said right here in regard to his romance path (that and he's a big, stupid, lovable dork, seriously).

    Though in defense to those who do happen to be triggered whether it be adoribull or Bull as a whole: Some of those people happen to be rape and abuse victims/survivors. Even something you would think is a little nothing, it could still trigger them. I don't think it's fully fair to dismiss their claims being rape/abuse and the trauma that comes with it is a serious issue and just a saying can give them flashbacks to those events. Of course, I know/heard just as many who were abused in the past that had no problem with Iron Bull's romance; but it's still something to note.

    Otherwise, good article.

    1. Yes, I'm into and do kink. I love it. And, yes, the BDSM community is fill to the brim with big, stupid, lovable, dorky nerds. Kink is essentially nerd sex. Think about it. We role play. We use code names and special jargon. Our world is built upon inventing, learning, and perfecting specialized skills. It's taking the very basic, simple act of sex and over-thinks the fuck out of it. Who else would do that but the geekiest nerds you can shake a pair of ten-sided dice at?

      And, it's not so much that I'm trying to trivialize people with trauma--we all have pain in our pasts and, believe me, I understand the strength it takes to get up in the morning after someone or something tries to tear you down.

      Rather, what I'm confused by is how anyone could be trigged by this when the game creators went out of their way to tell this story so responsibly. I'm confused as to where and how they see abuse in a character who, for all his rippling muscles and inclination to hit things, is entirely loving. But, like I said, maybe they're seeing something I'm not.

      And, like the game creators, I'm sorry they've suffered trauma, but that isn't the game's or the game creators' fault. Or their responsibility to cater to. After all, if a very conservative Christian complained that having LGBTQA characters in the game was triggering for them, would we still be having this conversation? What about a racist who was upset by seeing characters of color? Or would we understand that while they found that offensive, they can choose to play the game according to their own preferences or choose not to play the game altogether because inclusivity and honest and responsible storytelling means sometimes telling stories that not everyone can relate to. And just because they were offended by it or couldn't relate to it doesn't mean that those stories don't speak to and represent other people. People who are too often underrepresented and misrepresented in a world that would rather ignore them or spread offensive stereotypes.

      I'm sorry that they were offended. But I am constantly offended by people who take one look at the surface of us--at the lies and deliberately dismissive misrepresentations of us that are spread by people not even trying to learn or understand--and think they know more about who and what we are than we do. What we do is valid. Who we are is normal. What we share is just as healthy, happy, and loving as anyone else. And our stories are worth telling. And the only way--the ONLY way--we will ever get anyone to see that is to have our stories told.

      When we're silenced, we're never allowed the opportunity to be seen as anything more than the monstrous abusers or helpless victims most people are too happy to relegate us to. When silenced, we're robbed of our voice. Of our humanity.

      I'm sorry that getting a brief peek at our world triggered some people. But I will never be sorry that BioWare let us be seen.

  6. yes yes YES!!! Such an insightful read thank you!!!

  7. Wow. What an impressive essay.

    I've always been a big believer in social justice. I've gotten called names like "feminazi" and "social justice warrior" and all that crap. But at the same time, I am a submissive woman. Seeing the social justice community lash out against Iron Bull has been incredibly painful. It feels like being stabbed in the back by the few people I thought were reasonable and safe.

    I feel insane every time I read a new post about how Iron Bull is "abusive." Like -- are we even playing the same video-game? It's been a real eye-opener for me. It's horrifying to realize that what I consider a safe, respectful dream relationship with the perfect dom looks like abuse to other people. And I'd like to have a calm discussion about that, but I'm honestly not sure I can.

    Reading this essay was an enormous relief to me, and I'm really glad you put this out here.

    1. Thank you. And I understand and empathize with you completely.

      I'm also a feminist. A *BIG* one. A loud, opinionated one.

      But the sex-negative, kink-negative messages we're too often getting from far too many feminists out there is upsetting and hard to know how to deal with.

      On the one hand, I don't want to discount feminism and there's already far too much dissent among our own ranks.

      But, on the other, we need to stop this kind of rhetoric.

      Feminism is about choice. About giving women--and men and people of all genders--options. And the unfortunate thing about all this is that we forget that giving people choice and options means that people are going to sometimes pick choices and options we don't agree with or don't relate to.

      I'm all for fighting against women being seen and used as sexual objects forced to playact according to male desires and fantasies. But I'm also for women being allowed to reach for and realize their own desires and fantasies, whatever they are. Even if they're fantasies we too often and erroneously presume are solely male-centric. You cannot tell women to go after and be whatever they want and then judge them for the things they choose to go after.

      In the same way there is absolutely nothing wrong with girls who defy gender stereotypes and love sports or science or video games or math, there's nothing wrong with girls who legitimately like and enjoy traditionally feminine things, like the arts and language and fashion and the color pink. In the same way there is absolutely nothing wrong with women who dress sexy, there's nothing wrong with women who dress conservatively. In the same way there's nothing wrong with being a career-driven woman, there's nothing wrong with women who choose to be stay-at-home moms.

      Too often, too many feminists are being prescriptive and presumptuous, stripping away women's choices in almost the exact same way the patriarchy historically has and still does.

      We cannot afford to attack each other.

      We owe it to each other to be better to each other.

      And the first step in that is, like I said, living openly and honestly and with integrity.

      Because, like with gay people, society has certain ideas about what it means to be a kinky person, most of which is ass-backwards wrong. And the best way to counter that is to be who you are and let people know who you are. Because nothing changes a person’s mind faster about stereotypes than realizing that someone they know is a person they hold biases about. It's much harder to hate and look down at kink when you know and like a kinkster.

      When I first came out as kinky, I wouldn’t say that people were surprised, per se. I’m sexually different. In an entirely obvious way. In a way that most people can tell upon first meeting with me. Most people assume that I’m gay or bi or poly. So, when I came out as kinky, it was like something clicked in their heads and they could finally put their finger on—could give a proper name to—that thing that they always *knew* was there.

      And, yes, when I first came out—and still sometimes now—people, even people I love and who love me in return, said and asked hurtful things. Made macro-aggressive moves here and there.

      But, you know what? That’s life in the minority. And all it took—all it ever takes—is stopping and talking about it. Putting yourself out there. It's scary and not always fun, but it's necessary. If we want people to see us differently, we need to allow ourselves to be seen. And, if those people know you, if they care about you, they’ll take the time to really think about their preconceptions and about how they do or don’t apply to this real, whole person they already know and love.

      And, if they can’t do that for you, they’re not really feminists and they’re not really your friends. You, like the movement, deserve better.

  8. This is WONDERFUL and I'm happier for having read it. :D Everyone's already said stuff I wanted to say, and I don't disagree with 99% of what you said. That last 1%, though, I... also don't disagree with but would like to add a touch of context. Or a thought.

    Thought works.

    With how quick Bull is to go "nope, peace out" if the Inquisitor is dismissive (which is my favorite breakup, is that a weird thing to say?), I'm inclined to think that Dorian is much, much more affectionate in private than we think he is. I've watched all the Iron Bull videos and I've romanced Dorian myself in-game. The last things he says to the Inquisitor are "You're terribly dull, and I hate you" and "I hope this ends soon" (i.e. I love you, I want to stay here forever.) Dorian's all bluster without much bite, and his affection is really obvious. It really makes me think that Dorian and Bull in private is different from Dorian and Bull in public, because I don't see Bull actually tolerating Dorian's wishy-washy defensive bullshit in private conversations. I'd be genuinely surprised if Dorian didn't get a bit self-deprecating and mouthy and Bull didn't go "real talk, though, you can flip-flop all you want in public but I need you to be totally honest with me RIGHT NOW so I don't hurt you", and he'd know damn well if Dorian was lying in his reply.

    So I take Dorian's urrrrrgh attitude with a grain of salt. To an extent, that's just how he flirts, and he REALLY doesn't like discussing his personal relationships with other people, even with the Inquisitor, and especially if he's being asked about romance or sex. I think if it was just walking on the wild side for him, he would have just stopped after the first encounter; Dorian's a pro at walking away from things, and I don't see him lingering around Bull for more than a night if it was just curiosity or rebellion or fetishization. For him to sleep with someone more than once, Dorian needs some validation and affection rather than just the novelty, and Bull is clearly a relationship kind of guy if he finds someone he likes as much as Dorian or the Inquisitor.

    They could have made that more clear, I think, and even Gaider admits that a lot of their relationship is best left to headcanon. But I do think that, although their relationship isn't cute or sweet or 100% positive, it's probably sweeter and more affectionate than we think it is just by virtue of seeing so little of it. For something so long term and so open, Dorian needs a supportive partner who doesn't let him beat around the bush, and Bull needs someone who truly isn't ashamed to be with him, and they're both staunch enough in their defense of those needs that I have to think their needs are being met, even if they're just in private. Bull's probably making some concessions about how Dorian speaks in public to make extra room for the massive amounts of trauma Dorian's dealing with that is a specific result of his queerness, but I don't see him making that same compromise in private and wouldn't stay if there was any genuine dislike or vitriol in Dorian's teasing.

    1. Thank you and I'm glad that you enjoyed reading.

      And, yes, you have a point that, with Dorian and the Bull, we aren't privy to a lot of their relationship and a lot is left up to headcannon. And only the Bull really knows whether Dorian is worth it in the end.

      I just still think that for a character who is so defined by his place in the world and with the people he surrounds himself be dismissed and denied by someone he's invovled with--even if it's just in public and not in private--is incredibly hurtful (hence the oh-so-emo Adoribull fanfiction I wrote--I need so much help for this obsession of mine ::sigh::). Even if that denial is for a good and reasonable reason.

      I get that Dorian had a very difficult, very painful past. And he is definitely allowed to be emotionally affected by that. He is allowed to struggle with his own identity and, indeed, his own place in this world. That makes him an honest and realistic character and I love that the creators made him that way.

      Still think that *that* exact same excellent character development makes him ill-equipped to have a relationship with someone like the Bull.

      Think about if a white person from a racist family were dating a person of color. No matter how much that white person might say that they loved that person of color in private, how healthy would we say that relationship was if that white person wasn't willing to acknowledge the relationship with that person of color in public? If they were affectionate and loving behind closed doors, but wouldn't even hold their hand in public? If they wished no one knew they were involved with a person of color? If they were embarrassed and ashamed to be involved with that person of color? Even if they weren't racist themselves only suffering from the psychological muck-up of having been raised that way, would we be more willing to admit that, even if that white person does truly love that person of color, sometimes love isn't enough.

      Because, when you're different--undeniably different--in a world that too often doesn't accept you for things you have no control over, when all you want and need in this world is just a place to belong, being denied by someone who says they love you is worse than not being loved at all.

      And, if Dorian's love-style is denial, is mocking, is sarcastically dismissive...I don't know, maybe the Bull is more emotionally masochistic than I would be in that situation, but I wish better for him. I want him to have a partner who, no matter how discreet they may be, would *be a partner to him,* in public as well as private. Who would at least not insult him behind his back and to his face. Who would look at the amazing man they were with and not feel the need to downplay, dismiss, or deny him. Who would be as good to him as he is to them.

      You're right, we don't know what Dorian is like with the Bull in private. But we know what he's like in public. And, for me, I don't see how one makes up for the other. But, I'm not in that relationship and have had worse of my own in my past, so who am I to say? I still think the Bull deserves more. I think most people do.

  9. This is so perfect!!! The Iron Bull is the best character in that series in my opinion, not in the least because he's a kinky character. He's smart and funny and caring and authentic, I'm so happy you found that to be true as well!

    I also love that you make a point of the bringing up that he is a service partner, and through all of this I was thinking about his goal of giving what his partner needs. Part of me wonders if he drew attention to his relationship with Dorian because that's what Dorian needed. I imagine a discussion behind closed doors between the two of them with Dorian wanting an easy way to address this with the rest of their companions and Bull putting the onus on himself of being indescreet.

    In the game Dorian and his father argue and it's revealed that Dorian left his home because his father tried to change him, which you mention. Dorian's goal throughout the game is to prove that not all Tevinters are bad, not all mages are bad, and that Tevinter is redeemable. He wants to fix it and make it better. So part of me wonders if Bull decided to be the indescreet and 'dirty one, blurting out their relationship to everyone so that Dorian wouldn't take all the 'blame for indecency. If Bull could take on part of that it would mean Dorian can stop focusing on how people will find out and react to a gay Tevinter mage who is also kinky... now he's a gay Tevinter mage with a kinky partner instead... it's not all on him.

    And yes it's certainly not Bull's job to take that on himself, but that's Bull. He cares about Dorian and he wants to give him what he needs. He's not afraid of being 'that guy' because he is already out and proud, nobody is going to argue that he's wrong or dirty, he's a hulking qunari who could crush anyone who tries it. Dorian is just as hated in this part of the world because of his magical inclination and his being from Tevinter, so they share this burden and cope together, leaning on each other, sometimes not equally, but then Bull isn't trying to change the way an entire nation operates, he can afford to be the bulwark a little more.

    That's just my take anyway. Great article! As a kinky person myself I thoroughly enjoyed your take!