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A Proposed "Pansexual Protocol"

First Posted: 4 March 2008
Revised: 17 July 2013

Dedicated to Karen J., KY Leatherwoman

In the areas of leather protocol and BDSM etiquette, one topic that seems to get less attention than most is pansexual protocol. (Here "pansexual protocol" is the term I'm using for LGBT - Straight interactions in BSDM and Leather settings.) Most discussions of BDSM etiquette and Leather protocol concern themselves with collars, master's hats, and hanky codes. What seems to be lacking is advice about how to interact with someone with a contrasting sexual orientation. For example: How would I --- being a straight man --- turn down a leatherman's attempt to "cruise" me? How would I treat a femme leatherwoman differently from a butch leatherwoman?

The items that follow are my attempt to create a "pansexual protocol" (largely from the perspective of a straight man.)

  • Show everyone the same respect you expect for yourself. That respect includes respect for their sexual orientation and gender identification. (E.G., Do not debate someone over the morality or health of their sexual attraction to the same or opposite sex. Don't tell a transgendered person that he or she is "just confused.") A little respect can take you far.
  • Respect gay leather culture and history as a major --- if not the main --- source of pansexual BDSM culture, imagery, history, and traditions. Acknowledge the contributions and take opportunities to learn about them.
  • Tolerance and acceptance are desirable but not at the expense of free association. Even at pansexual conferences, Leatherfolk have the right to spend alone time with their own gender. (E.G., Single sex cruise parties and separate play spaces should not be a source of contention.)
  • Short of appearing overly familiar, het men should treat femme leatherwomen as ladies and butch leatherwomen as gentlemen.
  • Do not be overly attentive to the submissive half of a couple. For example, straight dominant men should not be overly attentive to the submissive / slave half of a lesbian D/s or M/S couple. Likewise, a straight dominant woman should not be overly attentive of a submissive man in a Gay Male Leather pairing. That sort of attention conveys lechery and disrespect. When approaching a D/s or Master-slave couple, it's proper to address the dominant half of the couple and not address the submissive half --- until one of them indicates that it's okay to do so. That conveys respect for their relationship.
  • Make an attempt to address everyone with the pronouns they prefer. Some butch leatherwomen want to be addressed as "sir" and be referred to as "him" while other butch leatherwoman would like to be addressed as "ma'am" and referred to as "she." There is no rule that applied universally. When meeting a butch woman for the first time, the best course is to ask "how do you prefer to be addressed?"
  • Male TVs and sissy maids usually prefer to be addressed as women. It is considered bad form to disparage a drag queen no matter how poorly they pass as female.
  • No matter how confused and flustered you might become over a person's gender, you must never refer to them as "it."
  • Lesbians --- by definition --- do not want to have sex with men. Gay men --- also by definition --- do not want to have sex with women. It is not open to debate. The offer from an unfamiliar man and his wife to have a threesome with a lesbian is generally unwelcome. It doesn't make it any less unwelcome --- but it does make it less respectful --- if the man sends his submissive wife to make the offer.
  • In a traditionally gay venue like a leather bar, straight people don't need to over compensate. They don't need to pretend to be gay to fit in but they don't need to call attention to their heterosexuality. They should remember that they are in a gay sanctuary. Gay men and women go there to relax and be themselves. They don't need to be reminded of what could seem to be a heterosexual hegemony.
  • When someone genuinely identifies your orientation incorrectly and tries to cruise you --- but you're not so inclined --- decline gracefully and politely. Just accept it as a sincere compliment and decline graciously. More often then not the cruiser will accept the "no" as a "no." Not doing so is rude no matter what the gender and orientation.

Admittedly, these guidelines are subjective. Some of them represent my opinions and my impressions of communities with which I'm not an expert. Many of them I have learned directly from the leather men and leather women who have patiently explained them to me. I hope that any errors I've made here will be forgiven and addressed constructively.

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Further Reading on Etiquette in General

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Further Etiquette and Protocol Links

  • You can find additional articles and links in the Manners section of EvilMonk.org

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