Ambrosio's Note to Readers: This is a list of guidelines for polite behavior in the DBSM scene. It's based on observations, personal experiences, and conversations with peers. While some items of higher protocol are covered, the list is mainly to address the most common social situations.
Making assumptions is dangerous enough in the vanilla world. It's more so in the scene. BDSM is something most of us have fantasized about for a long time before we are introduced to its reality. Until then our concept of BDSM is more often based on works of fiction like Pauline Reage's Story of O, Ann Rice's "Beauty" Trilogy, or John Norman's "Gor" series rather than the non-fiction guides like S&M 101 by Jay Wiseman or Learning the Ropes by Race Bannon. It's easy to build up an elaborate fantasy that doesn't really prepare us for the mundane "normal" reality of ordinary people forming real human relationships.
If you are just getting involved it's good to take a low key approach. Start by finding out what's expected of you and what you can expect. Attend socials, meet people, observe, and ask questions. Get to know people on a human level without concerning yourself too much with roles.
Don't assume you have to be dressed in a $500 designer latex catsuit to fit in. The models in <<O>> and Taste of Latex are not representative of the scene where I play. The players I know come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and orientations. As Ani DiFranco sings "You don't have to be a super model to do the animal thang." BDSM doesn't have to be about conspicuous consumption and outrageous fashion statements. It can be -- if that's your kink -- but it doesn't have to be.
So how should you dress? It depends on the function. For SAS/M socials in public restaurants we only ask that you not wear anything objectionable like a transparent blouse or an exposed thong. We would like to be welcomed back by the restaurant's management. Otherwise you're welcome to dress creatively. Cernunus likes to wear a military school jacket and black latex pants. (I've heard that other groups in other states prefer that you dress as vanilla as possible. Some people are afraid to be identified as being a "pervert." If they're seen associating with "leather clad bikers" and scantily clad "exotic dancers" the word might get out. When in doubt, dress like you're going to a PTA meeting.) For parties, dress for your own enjoyment or for the pleasure of your significant other. Just be sure to wear something over your more "inspired" clothing when you're outside our party space.
Don't assume someone you've never meet is there for your pleasure. That "buffet attitude" insults everyone. It dismisses the "Entree's" prerogative, loyalty, and ability to choose. It also says something about the offender's self-confidence. He is relying on an assumed role rather than his own merits and abilities to find a partner.
Submission is a gift. The submissive chooses the Dom/me. (I'm from a school of thought that every thing the Top does should secretly be for the benefit of the submissive. I try to please my partners and reward their expectations. As Princess Krista is fond of saying "Topping is the ultimate act of submission.") [editor's note: for an article that presents another viewpoint on the "submission is a gift" school of thought, you can read "The Gift Theory" online here.]
Don't assume that BDSM is always sexual. BDSM is not synonymous with swinging, swapping, or Polyamoury -- although it's possible for it to co-exist with these lifestyles. A BDSM relationship can consist entirely of kinky role playing and sex or have no sexual involvement at all. Just remember: You don't have to have sex if you're playing with someone.
The greater BDSM scene consists of a lot of contrasting traditions (Old Guard, Gorean, Biblical, etc.,) The rules for any one tradition generally don't apply to the rest. There is no one true path. The closest that most of us agree on is that play should be safe, sane, and consensual.
I feel sorry for those people who didn't know they were into S&M before they got married but I don't have sympathy for someone who lies about having a spouse or forgets to mention it. Don't involve anyone in a non consensual act of adultery.
If you are a novice looking for a someone to play with let them know you are new to the scene. Everyone has to start somewhere. Being a novice does not make you a bad player but lying about your level of experience is dangeous for everyone. Your partners have the right and need to know how experienced you are.
If you are entering the scene to experience physical pain then you are a masochist or at least masochistic. If you wish to serve someone then you are submissive. It's possible to be both or only one but you must recognize what you want out of the experience and present yourself accordingly. The same can be said for dominance and sadism. Tell your potential partners what you want -- whether it's sensation or servitude or both. Subs, please don't "top from below" by agreeing to submit to someone just so that you can force them to punish you (unless you know for a fact you both enjoy that sort of discipline.) Those types of subs are dismissed as S.A.M.s (Smart Assed Masochist) Someone once said "Never put a top in a position where they have to prove something."
The tastes in the scene are wide and varied. It's full of sadists, masochists, dominants, submissives and every combination of the four. There is someone for you whatever your proclivities.
This seems like a bigger irritant in our scene than in society as a whole. I know a lot of Dommes who get notably irritated when someone touches them, their toys, or their subs without permission. I once saw a novice Dom/me make an enemy for life by reaching over to touch a woman's hand and ask "are you a sub or a Domme?" He found out the hard way.
There's a natural tendency to confuse the role of the dominant with "being dominant." You don't have to be over bearing to be a dominant. (Neither do you have to be a welcome mat to be a submissive.) It's possible to be polite and dominant. As Oscar Wilde writes "A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone's feelings unintentionally." A low key approach is better when meeting someone new.
SAS/M is a social group. It's not a dating service. Although we hope people find like minded partners at our socials we don't want to encourage a "meat market" atmosphere. If you're unconcerned in getting to know people you won't have much success finding someone to with whom to play. Can someone feel safe with a Dom/me who isn't interested in who they play with or their needs?
Don't be pushy: Don't coerce. Don't force your attentions on someone who doesn't want them. This sends a seriously bad message: No one wants to play with someone who is too pushy. Submissives can't trust a coercive Dom/me. If the Dom/me won't accept a submissive's "no" in the public setting is it likely the Dom/me will accept the limits of an isolated, bound, defenseless submissve in bondage?
This is a very private part of people's lives. If word gets out it could cost someone their lively hood, their standing in the community, and even custody of their children. Don't talk about someone else's activities in BDSM to anyone outside our community that doesn't have a right and need to know. SAS/M takes privacy very seriously. We have revoked membership over the matter.
Remember...homophobia, racism, and BDSM don't mix.
This is everyone's responsibility. Subs - please stand up for yourselves or at least report inappropriate behavior. Dom/mes - report inappropriate behavior to the munch (or event) facilitators.
It's best to forgo play until are parties have negotiated as completely as possible. Although it's the submissive's responsibility to safeword when he/she reach his/her limits, it's also the top's responsibility to watch the submissive's reactions. Many submissives are -- for lack of a better term -- submissive. They find it difficult to object even when it's their prerogative. The good top has to keep this in mind. He needs to pay attention to how a submissive is reacting. He also shouldn't spring surprises on a new submissive. Everything the submissive hasn't specifically objected to is not by default permitable. If the Dom/me and submissive have hurriedly negotiated a flogging scene, the Dom/me hasn't brought up the subject of amputation, and the submissive hasn't thought to list it as a limit, that doesn't give the top cart blanche to bring out his surgical equipment.
Use safe words such as "yellow," "red," or "safeword." When the submissive reaches his/her limits, he/she should be able to call out the safe word. At that point, it's the Top's obligation to stop the scene.
Most of the parties I've attended have similar rules. I've included some Sample Party Rules (from my site's "Community Service" section).
In some ways a Play Party can be a lot like a Ball Room Dance as one passage from Jane Austin's Northhanger Abbey demonstrates.
Flagging refers to non-verbal signals that serve as very specific cues in the scene. Most of them originated from the "old guard" Gay leather scene of the 40's and 50's.
Keys: Keys on the left represent dominance. Keys on the right represent submissiveness. (For more on this see the Glossaries section of the menu on the left).
Hanky code: Even today the hanky code is used in Gay leather bars to signal interest or specialization in particular sexual practices. My site includes a very extensive Hanky Code. (And of course there is the Complete Unabridged Hanky Code).
Collars: Wearing a collar is a sign of submission to an individual Dom/me. Sometimes it can be temporary, as when the Dom/me puts it on a submissive before a scene and then takes it off when the play is over. Usually it's a sign of the Dom/me's permanent ownership as when the submissive accepts it as a gift and wears it even when they are not playing. On the other hand I've read where a submissive looking for a Dom/me will wear a collar with the lock hanging open as a sign that she's available.
Hypothetically it's considered very bad form for a top to speak to a collared sub without the owner's permission. Although I haven't seen this tradition adhered to very much in Central Texas, I strongly urge serious consideration before speaking to a collared sub. You might very easily offend someone who follows the old guard protocols.
This essay is only meant to be a starting point. There's much more for all of us to learn. Do your part.
Don't learn passively -- don't expect someone to teach you. That attitude shows you consider your time to be more valuable than the mentor who teaches you. Once upon a time, so we are told, all novices were mentored into the mysterious and confusing ways of BDSM. Good for them. Today, so I've found, things are different. Sex is not as dirty a subject as it once was but at the same time promiscuous sex is more dangerous. People are sexually more adventurous but they can't afford to exchange bodily fluids with as many partners as they would in a world without AIDS and other STDs. Many are exploring BDSM to satisfy their need for novel love play. Consequently, the influx of novices in the scene is huge. The more established players don't have the resources to "mentor" all the novices individually.
(I don't want to discourage anyone from asking questions. I am only suggesting that novices make more of an effort to learn than show up at their first BDSM event, turn to someone, and say "I'm here -- teach me everything about BDSM but make it snappy. I've got to get home in time to watch 'Melrose Place.'" What does that say about that the novice's self discipline and respect for others?)
So how is a novice to learn? Fortunately, the truth is out there, available through various resources:
Web sites like Ambrosio's BDSM Site (plug plug http://www.io.com/~ambrosio/ ). For eager new submissives I recommend Jay Wiseman's "Ten Tips for the Novice, Single, Heterosexual, Submissive Woman" and Ms. Margo's "Three Essays on Finding a Domme". Although Mr. Wiseman's essay is targeted to women and Ms. Margo's articles are targeted to men, both articles are beneficial to submissives of either sex (as well a Dom/mes.)
Books. While Web sites are an easily available source of information, books are better. They go into more depth and you can carry them around and loan them to friends who don't have computers. View the "Books for Beginners" section on Ambrosio's BDSM Site.
S&M 101 seminars. The larger cities are likely to have a group or business that sponsors "S&M 101" lectures.
Educational groups like the National Leather Association. It seems to me that these groups are not as well represented as the social groups. That's a shame because they provide a very important resource to the community: year round education in techniques and safety. They usually have a business meeting and educational program once a month. In addition some of them, such as NLA: Austin, provide an entire weekend of classes once a year.
Social Groups like GWNN or SAS/M. The educational groups are a better resource for practical knowledge but you can learn something of value from attending social groups. Just remember to take what you hear with a grain of salt. Opinions are like belly buttons, (almost) everyone has one.
Ultimately, however, we are responsible for our own education. So in summary -- play nice. BDSM is about playing games and in the best games everyone has fun.
Copyright 1999 by Ambrosio. This material may not be
copied in any manner. For permission to reproduce this
essay, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit his site at www.io.com/~ambrosio/