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These are guidelines for polite behavior in the BDSM scene. It's based on observations, personal experiences, conversations with peers, mailing list & newsgroup postings,
workshops, web pages, magazine articles, books, and personal mistakes. While some items of higher protocol are covered, these notes are mainly to address the most common social situations.

Play Nice: Some Notes on Scene
Etiquette and Leather Protocol

Version 2.09

Version 1.00 first posted May 31, 1999
Version 2.00 first posted May 31, 2005
(formerly entitled "Basic Protocol and Etiquette"
and "Some Notes on Basic Protocol and Etiquette")

This article is dedicated to Beverly M. in Austin

Part 6 of 7:
A Few Notes on High Protocol


A Few Notes on High Protocol

High Protocol in Perspective

"i can't get all involved in what is 'protocol' and what is not... good grief, relationships are hard enough... i frankly just prefer to please my partner and follow his lead, regardless of what it is... isn't that what D/s is, after all?"
~ Stacey


While good manners are important in all situations, leather protocol should not be a source of anxiety for novice doms and subs. While slapping someone else's submissive on the ass will get you shown to the door, addressing "Cardinal Hugh Mungus-Coq" as "Your Holiness" instead of "Your Eminence" will go uncriticized and most likely unnoticed. In truth there are not that many people who are following high protocol, and my experience with those who do is that usually they keep the high protocol within a private Master-Slave relationship and they are very graceful and forgiving about the ignorance of others. (There are notable exceptions but they are well known as such and it is simple to avoid them and stay out trouble.)

Perhaps the reason more dominants and masters don't require their subs to follow high protocol as defined by Emily Post is that they would have to learn the high protocol themselves. And if a dom or top decides it's not worth it to him to have more than three dining utensils in one meal, that's fine. Personally I will happily drink my Merlot out of a small jelly jar as long as I am not having guests over for diner.

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Formal Vanilla Etiquette As High Protocol

The BDSM scene is a subculture and as a subculture it exists in relation to the larger "Vanilla" culture to which it is a component. For the most part, the etiquette and protocols of the larger world still apply -- sometimes to a greater extent -- unless they are exceptions that define the very ways in which the BDSM scene is different from the whole. For example, where protocol of any flavor dictates that it is not acceptable to grab a stranger by the groin in either "vanilla" office parties or kinky munches, protocol differs on the subject of where one partner should walk in relation to the other. While it is expected for a couple to walk side by side in North American society, the most common convention in the scene is that the submissive follows the dominant two steps behind and to the dominant's left (or right, if the dominant prefers), regardless of their respective gender. So an understanding of the etiquette of the larger culture (North America) is essential for understanding the etiquette and protocol of the subculture (the North American BDSM scene.)

Here are a few points of general "vanilla" etiquette which our leather folk can apply -- or adopt -- to our subculture. Some of them are not as well observed as they once were -- either in our society as a whole or in our subculture in particular. They can safely be considered "High Protocol" and are rarely applied outside of "High Protocol" relationships or special occasions such as formal dinners.

In bowing, it is considered respectful to bend the head. To only lower the eyes is rude.

Traditionally gentlemen walk next to ladies on the outside -- closer to the street (curbside.) This was practiced so that gentlemen could protect ladies from being splashed with mud. (This runs counter to the more generally accepted convention of the submissive walking behind the dominant but it is included here to add perspective.)

A Few Rules for Formal Dining:

There's far more to formal dining and etiquette than these points. More research is required if you plan on hosting or attending a formal dinner party. There are links below for further study.

In summary, unless there is a specific accepted exception, the rules of the larger world apply to the smaller.

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Making Introductions

When making introductions, introduce the person of lesser authority, rank, or seniority to the person of greater authority. Alternatively, think of it as saying the name of the "more important" person first.

FOR EXAMPLE: "Sir Robert, this is my boi, Impudence." or "Mistress Sara, I'd like to introduce my slave, Francine."

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Forms of Address

Title Formal Written Salutation In Conversation
Military officers (US) Dear [Rank] [Last name] [Rank] [Last name]

While referring to the officers of the United States military, in Service Etiquette, Oretha D. Swartz writes:

Always remember that a senior sends his or her compliments to a junior; the junior sends his or her respects.   In written correspondence the senior may "call" attention to a problem or other matter, but the junior may only "invite" it. (p.7)

Royalty and Presidents (excluding Britain and the U.S.)
Title Formal Written Salutation In Conversation
King Your Majesty Your Majesty
Prince (reigning nonroyal) Your Serene Highness Your Highness
Prince (royal) Your Royal Highness Your Highness
President (not U.S.) Your Excellency Mr./Madam President
British Royalty
Title Formal Written Salutation In Conversation
Queen Madam Your Majesty or
Ma'am (longer conversation)
Prince or Princess Sir or Madam Your Royal Highness
Duke or Duchess of [Place] Sir or Madam Your Royal Highness
British Titled Personages - non-Royal
Title Formal Written Salutation In Conversation
Duke or Duchess of [Place] My Lord Duke Duke or Duchess
Marquess (Marquis) Dear Lord [Place] Lord [Place]
Marchioness Dear Lady [Place] Lady [Place]
Earl Dear Lord [Place] Lord [Place]
Countess Dear Lady [Place] Lady [Place]
Viscount Dear Lord [Place] Lord [Place]
Viscountess Dear Lady [Place] Lady [Place]
Baron Dear Lord [Place] Lord [Last name]
Baroness Dear Lady [Place] Lady [Last name] or
Baroness [Last name]
Baronet Dear Sir [First name] Sir [First name]
Knight Dear Sir [First name] Sir [First name]
Dame Dear Dame [First name] Dame [First name]
Title Formal Written Salutation In Conversation
Eastern Orthodox,
Cyprus & Athens
Your Beatitude Your Beatitude
Eastern Orthodox,
Your Eminence Your Eminence
Roman Catholic
Your Excellency Your Excellency
Dear Archdeacon
[Last name]
Archdeacon [Last name]
Right Reverend Sir or
Bishop [Last name]
Bishop [Last name]
Roman Catholic
Your Excellency or
Dear Bishop [Last name]
Your Excellency
Cardinal Your Eminence Your Eminence
Dear Mr./Ms./Dr.
[Last name]
[Last name]
Dean of a Cathedral,
Dear Dean [Last name] Dean [Last name]
Monsignor Dear Monsignor Monsignor [Last name]
Greek Orthodox,
Your Holiness Your Holiness
Greek Orthodox,
Alexandria, Antioch,
& Jerusalem
Your Beatitude Your Beatitude
Russian Orthodox
Your Holiness Your Holiness
Pope Your Holiness or
Most Holy Father
Your Holiness or
Most Holy Father
Roman Catholic
Reverend Sir Father or
Father [Last name]
Rabbi Dear Rabbi [Last name] Rabbi [Last name]

NOTE: Traditionally, signing your correspondence "Respectfully" and "Respectfully yours" is reserved for writing to the clergy.

[Primary Source: "Forms of Address" in The Encyclopedia of Etiquette by Llewellyn Miller]

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Patriotic Displays (U.S.)

"Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. ... it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else."
- Theodore Roosevelt


"Patriotism means being loyal to your country all the time and to its government when it deserves it."
- Mark Twain


This section may at first seem out of place but there are occasions -- such as a formal dinner or leather awards ceremony in the U.S. -- when the U.S. Flag will be displayed.

The following points are adapted from the United States Code, Title 4. [Public Law 829; Chapter 806, 77th Congress, 2nd session]

[NOTE: For the complete code see the U. S. Flag Protocol (Title 4) at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/usflag.cfm]

[For the Union Jack (U.K.) view "Basic Flag Protocol and Etiquette" at http://www.newtonnewtonflags.com/protocol-etiquette.htm]

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