When people are talking about BDSM and kink, a lot of labels start flying around. Slave. Master. Sub. Dom. Bondage. Switch. Even Unicorn.
Everybody's got their own definitions of these labels, their own way of thinking about what these words mean, or at least, should mean. And a lot of times, people get pissed off when they think someone else is using a word or label wrong, to the point that they will "correct," or even ridicule, that person for doing so.
One of the big red-button words I see come up now and then is using the word "gift" to describe a bottom's submission. What's ironic is that I see a lot more Doms than subs take umbrage at the word. Many say submission is not a gift, it is an exchange of power, with a list of expectations put in place (or at least, should have been put in place before play began) that both people must meet if the relationship and play is to continue. Since there is something expected in return for the bottom's submission, namely, controlled dominance by the top, it's not really a "gift." A gift is something given freely, without the presumption of reciprocation.
The thing is, I disagree with that definition of "gift."
Very rarely, if ever, do gifts get handed out without some kinds of expectations attached.
A grandmother might give a child a family heirloom as a gift, with the expectation that the heirloom will be protected and cherished until it can be passed on to the next generation. Parents might give their older child money as a gift, with the expectation he or she will put the money towards food, rent, or student loans. A teenager might give his time as a gift to a charity group, with the understanding that his time will be put to good use, helping others.
Defy the expectations of the gift, and the recipients risk their chance of ever getting another gift from giver. That's how these things work.
Yes, ideally a true gift shouldn't come with expectations, and the giver should bestow the gift with no strings attached. But how often does that really happen? The fact is, gifts usually come with debts. Nothing in this life is free. You get something, you're expected to give something in return.
I think that's why many subs call their submission a gift. It's something they give to a respected (and perhaps loved) Dom, with all their heart--but they expect their submission to be respected and held dear. They expect it to be treated with the same reverence it was given.
On the other hand, at first sign of abuse, the giver will often take their "gift" back, and bestow it upon someone else. I can see how a Dom who thought he had a sub's complete submission, and could treat it however shabbily he wanted, would feel cheated and angry to find his "gift" could be pulled away from his tight-fisted grasp.
I don't know if I would call my submission to Husband a gift. He has certainly earned the right to hold my submission, and continues to earn that right every day. But I, also, have to earn my right to my title, Wife, and with that title comes my responsibilities, one of which is my submission. So there is a definite complete power exchange going on, even if it is obviously not even or fair.