boundaries


(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?

I tend to assume that, if *I* know about something, then surely everyone knows about it. After all, I’m appallingly naive for a 30-mumble-something woman. So when a friend had a bad experience playing with a new partner, I assumed that, at the very least, her safecall provided a built-in endpoint to the scene.

But she didn’t use a safecall. And I wonder: how many people do?

Her experience is not mine to share in any kind of detail; it was an unfortunately common story, though. She met a top at a local munch, they exchanged e-mail addresses, talked via e-mail for a week or two, went out to dinner once or twice, and then they decided to play. Alone, at her house.

You know, all of that is, more or less, what you’re “supposed” to do when you meet a new potential partner (in the kink world AND the vanilla world, really). I, personally, would be uncomfortable playing with a new partner for the first time in a setting where we were alone, but not everyone feels the way that I do. I’m excessively cautious about some stuff.

Anyway, my friend. The scene went wrong, I found out the next day (which was the first that I had even heard that she had decided to play with this new top). The top didn’t respect my friend’s limits, my friend got freaked out, and eventually they stopped, but the end result was that my friend was really, REALLY upset afterwards, which is quite understandable. She was upset for days, and, in truth, is still kind of spun by it, but is doing fine, basically, now that some time has passed.

When I was pretty new to the local BDSM community, I encountered people who expressed disdain for safecalls, because they found them “insulting.” OF COURSE nothing would go wrong, they insisted. Did I think they were some kind of psycho? How rude of me! These people were generally (but not always) tops/dominants, and I realized right away that they were not people I wanted to play with. If you can’t respect my need for safety, especially when we barely know each other (and, hey, what if *I’m* the psycho, huh? you ever think about that?), then I have no desire to play with you.

And I encountered people who cheerfully admitted that they didn’t use safecalls because they tended to lose track of time when playing, and if you lose track of time and don’t check in with your safecall person, they call the police, and, well THAT’S embarassing. (To which I say: stop viewing your flakiness as a charming quality and get a watch with a goddamn ALARM on it. Set the alarm, call your friend to check in, and then keep playing.)

But when I hear stories like my friend’s experience—and the ones that are even worse, that end with someone being gravely harmed or killed—then I tend to think that maybe the perceived “inconvenience” of setting up a safecall isn’t really an inconvenience at all. It might just save your ass.

If I scene with someone who isn’t T., it’s only ever at a play party, never in private. That’s simply because, the way I’m wired, whenever I play with someone other than T. it’s a casual, less-intimate interaction to me. Enjoyable, but casual. And I think that playing in “public” (at a party) helps it to be more casual — for me, at least.

I’ve done electric play with one dom at parties, and I’ve done some impact play with another dom at parties, and it was really just about the sensation itself — the objective of the scene was just about giving and receiving pain/impact.

T. and I play differently than that with each other, because we (obviously) have a different relationship than I have with other play partners.

I guess the best way that I can explain it is that there can be, for me, different goals when I scene with someone. And I can have a scene that’s only about the pain/impact/sensation/etc. with a casual partner. We both have to know that from the start, but that’s the point of negotiation.

Or, to put it even more simply, sometimes I just need a good flogging. And that’s all it is.

T. tends to like harder impact play than I’m used to doing as a top, and so he’ll bottom to other people once in a while, and it’s just about getting his butt seriously kicked by someone who’s really good at it. He and I had to decide “ground rules” about what type of play we were comfortable with the other one doing with other people, but fortunately we have the same point of view, so it was easy to agree on what type of play was okay with other people and what type of play was not okay.

And it definitely helps if I know who he’s bottoming to (or vice versa). That makes things much more comfortable in my mind.

I know that there are countless ways for people to decide who they’ll play with, and under what circumstances, and what limits they have, etc. My way is no more “right” or “wrong” than anyone else’s — but it IS right for me.

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.