BDSM etiquette


(This could alternatively be titled, “If Teppycat is Bottoming, It MUST Be Time to Talk to Her!”)

After my car’s iPod adapter was recently resurrected (yeah, first-world problems), I was listening to Graydancer‘s podcast, Ropecast, on the way home from work today. One of the things he was talking about with a group of people was play party etiquette, and it reminded me of what has been a constant theme in my kinky public life: if I’m bottoming at a play party, *someone* WILL come up and start talking to me, my top, or both of us.

WTF, right??? I thought everyone knew that actually talking to people WHILE THEY’RE IN A SCENE is uncool. Unbelievably un-fucking-cool, man. But I apparently have a sign tatttooed on my ass that says, “Please, come talk to me; why would I want to achieve subspace or any sort of intimacy with my partner?”

Literally every party I’ve ever played at — except one, which I will describe below — when I’ve been the bottom, people walk right up and start talking to me. Once, at a play party at an event (which means, yeah, a BIG play party, where you’d think people would be adhering to the rules lest they get bounced by the DMs), I was bottoming to T. He had me tied with my wrists above my head, attached to the crossbar of a pillory post. Because I’m self-conscious and have body image issues, I had on underpants (but nothing else). I have a lower-back tattoo (not to be trendy [although it’s nobody’s business *why* I have it]; rather, I had back surgery 5 years ago, and the tattoo serves to partially cover the scar and to also re-claim that part of my body).

While T. was pausing to switch floggers, someone walked up to him and asked him if he would PULL DOWN MY UNDERPANTS SO SHE COULD SEE THE REST OF MY TATTOO.

I think my eyeballs fell out of my head. WHO DOES THAT?!? That’s so fucking rude. Because (1) hello, we’re PLAYING, HERE; and (2) you want to see my tattoo, you come around to my face and ask ME (I have big-time boundary issues when it comes to my body, although I will grant that, if someone had never met me before that event, and then the first thing they saw of me was to watch me bottoming, it wouldn’t be an absurd conclusion to think that I was owned, and the appropriate person to ask would be my master).

But still. Even if I were owned, you still don’t walk up and ask to see someone’s slave’s tattoo while the master is changing floggers!

(Interestingly — or, really, NOT — when *I* top T. at parties, NO ONE comes up to talk to me or him. I have a very effective “Do NOT fuck with me or I will KILL YOU DEAD” demeanor. Plus, I don’t make eye contact with anyone while I’m topping, because I’m just hyper-focused like that.)

As for the party that was the exception, where no one walked up to try to talk to either of us during the scene: I had grumbled at length to T. before the scene about the fact that people always interrupt, and I felt like putting up a sign that said “Stay the Fuck Away!” Because T. is a nicer person than I am, we compromised and, on the back of a chair that was between us and the rest of the party, taped a sign that said, “Do Not Talk To The Animals Or They’ll Bite! You Have Been Warned!”

Worked like a charm. But, seriously? It shouldn’t take a sign, you know?

There are many other people in the BDSM world who have written about manners, and done so far more comprehensively than I’m about to. (And whose writing is undoubtedly better than mine, also.) Still, what’s a blog for, if not to spew forth one’s own opinions and crackpot theories?

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve experienced some surprisingly bad manners at munches. This morning, when I read Mistress Matisse’s description of some truly appalling behavior that happened to a friend of hers at a munch, I decided to offer up my 2 cents.

Honestly, people? I just don’t understand when people show up at a munch or a party and can’t even behave with the most rudimentary of manners. I’m talking the kind of manners that anyone, in any situation, whether vanilla or kink, should know and be able to actually USE. Don’t get me wrong; I am a big scaredy-teppycat when it comes to new situations and meeting new people. I totally understand that being in a new situation can make people feel awkward, and that can lead to some social gaffes. I totally get that. Hell, I’ve totally DONE that.

But I just don’t understand what thought process leads people to abandon even the facade of politeness in a situation where they are the newbie (meaning, yes, because you’re new, you’re being evaluated, since we don’t know whether you’re a kink god or a registered sex offender). It’s just common sense to bust out the good manners in order to make a good impression, no?

At one munch, I recommended a particular dessert to the people sitting around me (and, okay, by “recommended,” I actually mean “raved and swooned and extolled its virtues with terms befitting the food of the gods”), some of whom were new to the munch. They ordered the dessert, as did I, it was served, we ate, I made sounds of gastronomical bliss.

One of the new people, who had ordered the dessert on my recommendation, was sitting silently, having finished his dessert with no comment. Feeling flush in the postprandial glow of one truly kickass dessert, I leaned across the table and asked, “So? What do you think?”

The guy responded with an expression devoid of any reaction, save for his curled lip, and said, “Eh. I wasn’t impressed.” And so I just chuckled, hoping that he was trying to make one of those jokes-by-way-of-saying-the-opposite-of-what-you-mean.

He repeated, “Really. That wasn’t anything special.”

Okay.

No one has to share my opinion of dessert (or any other topic, come to that). And anyone who disagrees with my opinion shouldn’t lie to me if asked. But I just feel like maybe, just maybe, sneering at me and dissing something that I had praised to high heaven isn’t the best way to make a good impression on me.

There’s always a tactful way to indicate that you don’t agree with someone. Sure, I’m not known for being the queen of tact (or even possessing one iota of tact, actually), but I know how to behave with strangers upon whom I might wish to make a good impression.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m being too judgey, but when I have a very limited amount of interaction with someone as the basis for forming my opinion, I’m going to be feeling less than warmly towards someone who sneers at me and my choice of dessert.

It might be silly, but there it is.

One of the most comprehensive Web pages I’ve read on etiquette in the BDSM scene is by Ambrosio, who I also have linked in my sidebar. His page on protocol/etiquette covers a wide variety of situations, ranging from basic good manners that everyone ought to know for all venues, both kink-related and vanilla, all the way to etiquette at play parties, high protocol, and even the protocol surrounding the hanky code. It’s an excellent resource, and I highly recommend it.

My BDSM group has a fair amount of e-mailing and other regular monthly communications, like a newsletter. Because I am INSANE, I offered to proofread/edit these monthly communications. It’s what I do for a living, you know? It’s second nature to me, and I figured it would be easy-peasy. I had NO idea what I was getting in to.

I have an inveterate loathing for the upper-case/lower-case alphabet soup that way too many kinky people use in their writing (i.e., “i am looking for my Master’s bullwhip that He lost last weekend. If A/anyone finds it, Y/you can reach my Master on His cell phone. Or, i will be home all day if Y/you would prefer to call me. Thank Y/you all — the whip is O/our favorite, so W/we really hope S/someone finds it.”).

Sweet fancy Moses, every time I read an e-mail like that, I want to jab my eyes out with a spork so that I never have to see such execrable treatment of pronouns ever again.

I hope it goes without saying that I do NOT follow this convention. Setting aside for a minute the fact that I’m a switch (what do I do — capitalize *every other* pronoun?), I just cannot do it. It makes my teeth itch. Ack.

So, in editing the group’s monthly newsletter, etc., I’ve tried to change things to be properly capitalized (or lower-cased). This started a fight that approached the intensity generally only seen during “mayo or Miracle Whip?” debates. I did not win this fight. I had one victory, actually, and it was the most important one to me, but I also failed to change the status quo on the rest.

Basically, I convinced the P/people W/who use the slashes in T/their writing to pick a case (ideally, the grammatically proper one, given whatever context it’s in) and stick with it. They can capitalize all the pronouns They wish when They are referring to Dominants, and submissives can even lower-case “i” (although I twitch every time I see it).

Unfortunately, for me to NOT use this convention (or, as an editor, not *allow* people to use it in their writing) is seen as disrespectful by some. I don’t agree with that — my intent is NOT to be disrespectful, just to be grammatically correct. But it still pisses off the P/people W/who demand respect through capital letters. So far, the only solution that *I* can think of is to beat them with a copy of Strunk & White. Which, I suppose, wouldn’t be taken very well.

But oh, dear god, how I want to.

(And, relatedly — though this is a spoken communication issue, versus written — “domme” IS PRONOUNCED “DOM”!!!! Not “dommay”!!! Jesus, is it THAT hard? If you want to be sure that someone understands that you mean a dominant who is a woman and not a man, then say “femdom,” if you must. But “dommay” is simply. fucking. incorrect. So just stop it.)

I was listening to an older podcast episode by Graydancer (Ropecast, which is a kick-ass podcast, and I highly recommend it) that featured an interview with Instant Expert, who talked about how NOT to be a dominant; that is, bad behavior that doms (or wanna-be doms) exhibit. One of the things he mentioned was the touchy-feely, “everybody hugs!” atmosphere that many BDSM groups seem to have, and how that can be an area in which people end up violating others’ boundaries.

I have really narrow boundaries. I don’t like it when people assume that my physical space — and my physical body — can be impinged upon freely. I’m not anti-hugging, but I’m also not the type of person who self-describes as “Oh, I’m a HUGGER!” I will happily hug people to whom I feel close. I’m not, however, very keen on hugging someone who I just met. (Sometimes, when I have an obvious, instant connection with someone new, then a hug when we part is something that feels right. But, for the post part, I don’t like hugging new people.)

Frankly, I’m uncomfortable with giving up my personal bubble to people I don’t know. I won’t go so far as to call it a violation, but it sure is an imposition.

Back to the touchy-feely BDSM group. I understand why BDSM groups might be more physically affectionate — there tends to be more acceptance of bodies of any size, obviously there are genuine friendships and other relationships between group members, and, well, what we do *is* very physical and very revealing. If someone is brave enough to literally bare it all at a party, and is willing to engage in extremely intimate activities in front of other people, a sense of closeness with that person can develop, which might naturally be expressed via hugs and other physical contact. (I think, however, that that sense of closeness can be artificial, particularly if it’s based solely on “I’ve seen her get flogged while she was nekkid! Whoo!”)

I went to a play party a couple of weeks ago, thrown by a BDSM group that I was meeting for the first time. Everyone was very nice and welcoming, and the party was a great time. When we were leaving, however, and saying our goodbyes, I said goodbye to a male dom who had been part of a larger group of people I was making idle chit-chat with. We didn’t even talk one-on-one, and, in truth, I don’t think we were actually introduced to each other. Anyway, I said goodbye to him, standing 4-5 feet away, and he immediately threw his arms wide, stepped forward, and hugged me, while saying, “This is a huggy group; we all hug here!”

I wanted to step on his toes.

I’m aware that I tend to have a larger personal bubble than many people do (is 50 feet too much? what?), but I’m still tired of people getting annoyed when I sidestep physical contact that *I* didn’t initiate. If someone comes up behind me and starts massaging my shoulders, I am going to flinch. I guarantee it. And 9 times out of 10, I’m going to step away, and politely decline. (This massage-your-shoulders thing seems to be almost exclusively the domain of male doms. Sorry to generalize, but I’ve never had a femdom or a male or female sub come up and try to rub my shoulders.)

When I do that — when I choose to maintain my boundaries — the person inevitably looks wounded. And I just want to say, “Give me a break! *I* wasn’t the one who violated *your* personal bubble!”

One of the rules of BDSM etiquette (such as it is) states that You Do Not Touch Other People’s Stuff Without Permission. And “stuff” includes toys, rope — and *people,* as in, don’t touch someone else’s sub/slave. But that rule seems to be broken frequently when it comes to single female subs, perhaps because they don’t “belong” to anyone (which is bullshit, but I think that might need to be a whole other entry). And because I’m a female switch, I seem to fall into that category, too (though I’m not single, which brings up another passel of questions).

Bah.

I wasn’t sure if it was okay for a submissive to ask a dominant if he (or she) wants to play at a party, but I asked some of the other people what sort of etiquette was the norm for this group (different groups, as always, operate very differently), and they said sure, absolutely I can ask a dominant if he wants to play. I asked T. if he had already made plans to play with anyone, and he said no, and asked, “Do you want to…,” at which point I jumped in and asked “You want to tie me up?” He agreed enthusiastically.

I think I was tied up for about 2 hours, if I had to guess. He tied me, standing, to a pole, hands behind my back, and then more intricately around my waist, etc. While he was tying my hands, he said “You know that whenever you want to stop, you just have to say the magic word.” To which I replied, being a smartass, “Rutabaga?” And he said “Well, I was thinking ‘red,’ but okay, ‘rutabaga’ is good.” (I wasn’t actually thinking safeword; I was really just being a smartass.)

Then he got this evil look, and asked “How about an interrogation scene?” I said sure, bring it on. So the interrogation centered around the vegetable missing from the garden, and I was the suspect, and he just wanted to know what vegetable it was that I took. I insisted that there was no vegetable, so I had no information for him. (There’s a reason, after all, kinky activity is referred to as “play” — it’s FUN, frankly.) I got to be totally snarky in my resistance, which was entirely too much fun. T. got “rutabaga” out of me letter by letter. (T: “What’s the third letter?” Me: “Well, there IS no vegetable, so logic would dictate that there can be no third letter.” T: “Oh, there’s a third letter, and I’ll get it out of you eventually.” Me: “Ha! Do your worst!” T: “Oh, I will….”) The letter-by-letter method worked pretty well, since I could get him to stop anything I wasn’t comfortable with by giving up a letter, without stopping the whole scene with the whole word.

I think I mentioned that the first time he tied me up, it was distracting and weird to be tied up in public, didn’t I? This time was much less weird and much less distracting, partly b/c almost everyone else was playing. And also the interrogation scene helped me focus pretty much on what we were doing, instead of worrying about what else was going on around me.

When we were all packing up to head home, he asked me if I had his e-mail, so that if tomorrow or later this week, there was anything that I wanted to talk to him about regarding our scene, I could. Very solicitious. We swapped e-mail addresses and phone numbers, and he called me this afternoon, to see how I was feeling, physically and mentally. (I’m good.) I asked how he was doing, we chatted, he said he really enjoyed our scene, I said I did too. He said he had been wanting to do an interrogation scene for a long time and just hadn’t found anyone interested, and I said I loved the chance to be a bottom but still be actively involved, rather than passive. (One of the guys who’s married to a woman in the submissive group told me — teasing — that I was a smartass and needed to be whipped into shape. Heh.)