(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.

At a recent event, I volunteered to be both lit on fire and stapled in the arm with an electric staple gun (not at the same time). I saw a demo on fire play, which was totally fascinating. The presenter asked if anyone had questions, or wanted to do it (and by “do it,” he meant, be the person wielding the fire), and one of the people watching asked, “Can I do it…but as the person on the bottom?” The presenter said sure, and demonstrated on the volunteer, who kept up a running commentary telling us how it felt. (“Like an extremely hot tennis ball rolling over your back,” was the best description.)

Now, I had seen fire play demonstrations before, and it always struck me as nifty, but not for me. So I’m not real sure what crazy impulse seized me when the presenter asked, “Anyone else want to try?” But, sure enough, I asked, “Can I try? …I mean, will you light me on fire?”

I’m certain that’s a question I’ve never asked anyone before. Ever.

So…yeah. Being lit on fire. It was pretty much like the other volunteer said — like an extremely hot tennis ball being rolled over my back. Because the lit baton is passed over so quickly, it lights the alcohol, and then the presenter’s hand follows right behind to make sure nothing is still burning. He did that a couple of times, and even tapped, sort of, my back with the lit baton. Weird. And nifty. Afterwards, my back felt like it had been in front of a bonfire — that sort of warmed, tight-skin feeling — and that feeling lasted for about half an hour.

I’m glad I tried it, but I don’t really see me making a regular (or even irregular) thing out of it. It was nifty, but in more of a sideshow freak way than a kink way. For me.

And then, the staples.

There was also a demo of using a staple gun during play — not a medical stapler, not an office-supply type stapler; an electric goddamn staple gun from Home Depot. The presenters were a couple — top and bottom — who actually made getting stapled in the ass look fun. (Well, maybe not the ass.) They explained in detail all the safety stuff first — how to make sure that the staples and gun are exceedingly clean — clean enough to puncture human skin without running the risk of infection. And then they just started stapling. Well, first they put strips of duct tape (ouch, right???) on the areas where the staples were going to go — arms, legs, ass, stomach (yikes, ow, and no fucking way), and boobs (again I say, NO FUCKING WAY).

And then they started stapling. That staple gun has a lot of force, let me tell you. And yet, not all the staples made it “all the way in” (allegedly) so the top started pressing on them with his thumbs, and then (yikes!) punching some of them.

Really, it’s astonishing the kind of pain that people not only take, but *love.*

After the top was done stapling the bottom, and then removed all the staples, the top asked if we had any questions. He also asked, in a tone of voice that indicated that he didn’t expect anyone to say yes, if anyone wanted to get stapled.

And watching, it was clear how much force the staple gun has (hint: A LOT), but I still wondered what it felt like. You know, like maybe just one staple.

T. raised his hand to ask a question, which made *me* say, “You’re going to get stapled? Cool!” (I knew that wasn’t why he raised his hand; he’s just fun to fuck with.) “No!!!” he said. “I just have a question…which I apparently already forgot.”

“Maybe there was never a question — maybe you just want staples in your ass!” I’m such a loving girlfriend.

After more banter in this vein, I finally said to T., “If you do it, I’ll do it.”

“Aw, shit,” he said. “I can’t turn down a dare.”

“It’s not a dare,” I said. “I’m going to do it whether you do it or not.”

“Great — I can’t let my girlfriend do it and then not do it myself! All right, let’s go.”

So T. got stapled in the thigh (6 staples), and I got stapled in the arm (5 staples). I need to note that the top wielding the staple gun used a completely different, clean staple gun on us than he used on his partner, and even cleaned the staple gun between T. and me, and put in a fresh row of staples for me, not continuing from the row that T. was stapled from.

Yes, the staple gun has a lot of force, but it’s spread out over the staple, so it’s actually not that bad. And it’s kind of a delayed reaction — staples 1 and 2 were really okay, kind of like getting an allergy shot. But staples 3-5 were done in rapid succession, and they hurt. Not horrible, bad, stop-this-now pain (although I *did* say, “You know, I think 5 is plenty for me. I’m done now, thanks!”), but more of a dull, burn-y ache.

Having them pulled out, though (I had purple duct tape on my arm first), REALLY hurt. Jesus. And the rest of the day, even through a shower and ibuprofen, it just ached like the combo of a BIG allergy shot followed up by a good hard punch. And all I could think was, if 5 staples to my fat upper arm hurt like this after the fact, how much must the demo bottom be hurting, after taking staples ALL OVER?

When I saw her at the party that night, I showed her my staple marks (“I look like a gang of tiny vampires attacked me!”) and asked her how on earth she could take so many staples and not be sore all over. “I don’t know!” she exclaimed, like she was aware it was sheer luck that she had such a high pain threshold, and then she bounced off for more owie fun. I was impressed.

I’m not sorry I did it, but, much like the fire play, it’s not something I can see me making a regular (or irregular) practice of. That’s a bit much for me to handle.

But it’s a great story.

My astrological sign is Cancer, and while I don’t put any serious credence in astrology, one of the strong characteristics of people born in Cancer is that they’re caretakers. And that’s “caretakers” in whatever way it manifests — I tend to feed people. Come through my front door, cross my path, sit next to me on the bus — I’ll offer you food. More than once. When I have guests in my home, I make every effort to make sure they’re comfortable (as well as well-fed), and sometimes I have to stop myself and just say, “Okay, I get obessive about making sure everyone has what they want, and that makes me ask ‘Do you need anything?’ WAY too often, and it’s been suggested that this drives people nuts. So…if you need anything, please tell me, or help yourself.”

But even after I say that, I still keep my eye on glasses that need refills, empty plates that are in the way, etc. It’s what I do. Caretaking is a tangible way for me to show love to people.

Which is why I think I’d be a splendid service submissive, given the right dominant and the right circumstances. I enjoy taking care of those who I love. It pleases me to make sure they have everything they need before they even have to ask. And when I know that they’re aware of what I’m doing, they never need to thank me. It’s when people take it for granted that I’m disinclined to lift a finger for them.

Sex Geek has a recent post on entitlement, and how that plays into D/s relationships that touches on this. It doesn’t focus on service submission specifically, as much as the larger issue of how a sense of entitlement plays into a power exchange. On the face of it, entitlement sounds like taking something for granted, without any appreciation. At least, that’s how I’ve always thought of entitlement.

But Sex Geek explains it much better than I can — in a power exchange, entitlement is not taking something for granted; it’s expecting something that the other person wants to give, and expecting it with the knowledge that the other person wants to give it, and, more specifically, give it to YOU.

An example that Sex Geek gives is this:

Boi L once told me that if I were to take off my jacket and let go of it without even looking behind me to see if she was there to take it – if I assumed her to be paying attention, without feeling a need to check and make sure – that would be a high compliment, because it’s an indication of my trust in her service.

In that situation, that relationship, Sex Geek isn’t assuming from a place of arrogance that Boi L will take her jacket because that’s what she deserves. No, she’s aware that Boi L wants to serve in that capacity, and therefore Sex Geek can meet Boi L’s need to serve her by taking off her jacket and let it go, expecting Boi L to take it.

I guess I wouldn’t have called such a dynamic “entitlement,” but I see what Sex Geek means when she uses it.

In any case. I am, as always, switchy to the core, but there are times when — and people with whom — I know I could be a splendid service submissive. At the right time, and with the right person, who has that attitude that Sex Geek describes, I actually crave it. There’s something about caretaking that, for me, is deeply satisfying.

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.

So, after my turn on top making T. have to ask for each stroke, I got my just desserts, and found myself on the bottom end of that scenario last week.

It was the first time that I had been the bottom in that particular mindfuck-y scene, and I have to say, I really loved it. Partly because I have a wimpy ass that can’t take a whole lot of intense pain, and partly because I just love a good mindfuck, whether I’m giving or receiving.

Being able to control how often I get hit, by asking “More, please, ma’am,” (which, by the way, is a MOUTHFUL, and feels like it takes about 5 minutes to say!) helps me to take a longer scene, because if any given stroke really hurt, I can wait as long as I need to before the next one. T. and I also worked out a way to ask for a specific implement, or even ask for a certain number of strokes with a given toy (like, “Ma’am, I can take 5 more with the crop, but then I need a different toy,”). Brilliant.

As for the mindfuck-y aspect — it’s almost like I’m mindfucking *myself,* because I got to a point where I was making deals with myself, like “Okay, just one more; I only have to take this one more, and then I can stop,” but then after T. gave me that one more — theoretically one *last* — stroke, I’d decide that no, I could take more, really I could, and I’d ask for another.

I found myself asking for more than I thought I would, and asking more quickly (i.e., not much time between swats) as well.

I assure you, my ass really hurt the next day. In a good way.

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.