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Sorry Manners: Civility and Incivility in the Scene

Reposted with the author's permission.

Background and Preface

Of all the pieces I've written, none has prompted more visceral reaction than the one you are about to read. My piece on civility and incivility in the scene, first published in the Black Rose Petal and Thorn in the spring of 1998, has drawn both the most praise and the most hostility of anything I have written to date. When I wrote it, I was mad as hell, and gravely concerned for my community. Black Rose had just completed its tenth anniversary celebration, the first of the now annual bashes we throw in suburban Washington, a splendid time had been had by most, and we were all feeling flush with pride. But all was not well in old D.C. BR insiders had always boasted how well its core of volunteers worked together, but as I came to be a member of that set, I saw trouble brewing. There most definitely was an inner circle. Help, ideas and people from outside that circle were often more than unwelcome; they were regarded as an affront. The massive tenth anniversary festival became a catalyst. Some who had worked hard felt disrespected and unappreciated. There were intimations of money being stolen by organizers, a long-standing Black Rose conspiracy theory. Rumormongering reached levels verging on paranoia. And there was more open hostility in the talk than I had ever heard before.

In the board election six months later, all hell broke loose. Accusatory gossip reached all time highs. Four incumbents - two who had served on the board for almost a decade - refused to run. It was at this time I became aware of what I started calling "the body count" - the alarming number of once active BR volunteers who were no longer at private parties, at BR socials, or the Tuesday night meetings. It was kind of spooky. As if they had died dishonorable deaths.

Over the next contentious year, three board members would quit, quickly joining the ranks of the disappeared: good, enthusiastic volunteers who had once believed in, and worked hard for the club, passed from the inner circle to oblivion, essentially unmourned. It was in this climate that I wrote the first cut of the civility piece, an article focusing on interpersonal conduct in our community, and on just how bad things had. Without naming names or citing specific incidents I put forth a simple proposition: Us SM types don't treat each other as well as we could or probably ought to. Later, I expanded the article to include some experiences of my friend Lady Medora of the late, great New Orleans Power Exchange, and have recently expanded it again. I have been blown away by the passionate responses I have received from individuals and groups from Sidney to Main to Berlin. Indecent and unkind interpersonal behavior seems to be a problem virtually everywhere SM is practiced. Hopefully, by shining a hard honest light on our sometime bad behavior we can better understand what causes it, and how to reduce the intolerance, vindictiveness, harsh judgment, and hypocrisy we sometimes encounter in the scene. If enough of us strive to make the SM scene a more tolerant, more friendly, and safer place for people to explore their inner fantasies, we will surely be successful.

Overview: The Civility Crisis

One of the stranger attributes of the SM community is the prevalence of downright lowdown behavior. We get it all: gossip, arrogance, slander, ingratitude, interpersonal cruelty, rumor mongering, the propensity to snub, shun or belittle, a refined sensitivity to slight paired with strident disregard for how one's actions and words effect other people. It is frankly shocking, and terribly sad how poorly some of us get along from the viewpoint of interpersonal relationships. It is a true mystery why a community like ours, whose members strive for a mature outlook on power, consent and tolerance, should feud with such violent and monotonous regularity. In our community, we see behavior one would never dream grown adults could stoop to. We have seen SM groups who ought to get along fine bicker endlessly and mindlessly. We have seen "scene leaders" whose mission appears to be the personal demolition of not only bad  people, but good  people whose contributions to the community might challenge their own. We all  know good people who have left the scene because of the cattiness, clique-mentality, and deliberate non-consensual meanness. This propensity, sometimes called "Tops disease", is by no means limited to dominants. The problem is international wide in scope, affecting virtually every group I have visited in my travels.

It isn't hard to imagine a universe where this kind of behavior never occurred at all. Aggression, power, and consent, to say nothing of etiquette, are concepts SM folk deal with all the time. The BDSM community has made huge strides in developing and documenting a wide variety of safe SM practices, protocols, and standards for negotiation and play. But the bickering, bitchiness and backstabbing goes on nearly unabated. The 1998 Black Rose election cycle became a virtual demolition derby of friendships over seemingly trivial issues. TES went through a similar bloodbath several years earlier in the wake of their 25th anniversary celebration. And many small groups have closed, not because of legal persecution, fiscal mismanagement, or lack of membership, but from jealously, power struggles, and malicious gossip. The wounds inflicted by incivility go way beyond the damage performed in most consensual dungeon play. And the emotional scarring that incivility leaves on its victims lasts longer than any bruise.

You might guess that the worst of this behavior comes from scene novices, but you would be wrong. Beginners, usually eager to fit in and make friends, generally deport themselves well. Oddly, the worst of this behavior comes from people who have been in the scene for years.People with  experience, with  play partners, with  contacts, are often the most judgmental, least generous, quickest to take offense, readiest to slander others. Over and over we have seen friendly newcomers arrive in the scene, become avid pupils of our craft, grow into competent players, then unexpectedly mutate into arrogance, self-importance, and interpersonal ruthlessness. Many of these perpetrators are later driven from the community in bitterness or disgrace. Or drive others away themselves.

The civility crisis hurts our leather brethren, demolishes friendships, breaks the spirit of our volunteers, cripples our organizations, invites retaliation, and weakens our claim that SM is practiced by emotionally healthy, well-adjusted people. The civility crisis may play a role in the scene's disproportionate absence of people of color, who know discrimination and hostility when they see it, may feel unwelcome, and stay away. Why are we doing this? What can we do to stop it?

Leatherfolk Behaving Badly: Some Examples

In analyzing bad behavior it's important to see in each instance both the damage done to the community at large and the ethical breaches they create. By no means exhaustive, here are some varieties of incivility we encounter in the scene, and some thoughts on how to deal with them.

The Empathy Gap

It's subtle, but lies behind much of the uncivil behavior we will be examining. The empathy gap is not so much the presence of hatred or dislike, but an absence of compassion, kindness or concern towards other members of our SM community. In a better world, we would all actively welcome strangers, extend cordiality, start up conversations, feel some brotherhood towards others like ourselves, whether we know them well or not. But more often than not - perhaps it's because the scene has grown so large, perhaps its because of the constant influx of newcomers - we often don't feel any particular warmth or connection towards people we meet in the scene. This "inner nothingness" sets the stage for much of the crude, and thoughtless behavior we find in the scene.

Gossip as news

We all do it, and yes it can be loads of fun catching up on all the latest dirt. And table talk is proper when you are trying to learn about someone your curious about playing with. But in gossip, as with all things, there must be some sense of proportion. By scene standards, it is entirely acceptable to conduct good faith peer review by inquiring about someone's play style, experience, and reputation. But nobody respects a nosy-Rosy, even if we find them morbidly entertaining. Character assassination, the spreading of dubious or inflammatory rumors, do great damage to the scene. It also jeapordizes the confidentiality of individuals, and invites retaliatory counter gossip. Both truth and privacy are cardinal principals in the scene, and reckless chit chat damages both.

Clique Politics

To have a circle of friends is a good thing, but not when the goal is circling the wagons to shut out people "who don't fit in." In the same way that benign sharing of information can be amplified into vicious gossip, clique politics whose purpose is exclusion, or hurting the feelings or reputation of those you don't like, hurts the community also. Ultimately, clique players make so many enemies that they themselves are resented or unwelcome.

Sweet and Sour

A common clique politics tactic: Some people make extravagant show of how close and loving they are to their circle of friends (hugs, smiles, introductions, glowing compliments) in part, to maximize the sting inflicted against perceived outsiders, who are refused even the time of day. A stock move among catty sorority girls during rush week (the Amish call it "shunning"), it's embarrassing to see how many grown men and women in our community use "sweet and sour" to isolate and hurt individuals whose feelings and esteem they regard as unimportant. This truly nasty habit creates "us and them" fissures that fragment the community, hurt feelings and invite eventual retaliation.

Chicken Hawk Syndrome

With a constant influx of SM beginners, some scenesters of dubious merit attempt to acquire play partners under the guise of "mentoring." Chicken hawk syndrome includes a strong come-on, boastful presentation of one's own experience and skill, frequently systematic trashing others, occasional pressure to isolate new people from the presence or influence of others, all in the name of "education", or "training." Sometime the goal is sex or play, sometimes the goal is to recruit newcomers into the "mentor's" clique of preference. While there is nothing wrong with expressing interest in someone (new to the community or not), it is dishonest to couch that interest in terms of education. For new people I advise this: take your time in choosing mentors. Ideally, develop a circle of friends and don't be forced into reliance on a single point of view. Do not yield to pressure to exclusive mentorship unless that's exactly what you want.

SM Psychodrama

High volume yelling matches, absurd conspiracy mongering, the blame game escalated to Olympian proportions, toxic loathing towards seemingly decent community peers... Does any of this sound familiar? Here's a test: If such behavior would get you fired from a professional workplace, please leave it at home.

Stealing Consent (sneaky dom tricks to undermine consent)

Everyone knows that its still rape if you say yes when there is a knife at your throat. But some tops pull the darndest stunts to avoid having to seduce consent. I maintain a list of the real eye-rollers I've run across, and add to it when I run across a new one. Here's what I have so far:

  • Real doms don't grovel ... : in which tops simply ignore questions of consent: grabbing, touching, caressing, doing whatever pleases their whimsy, as though you've consented by virtue of being within their reach.
  • ... their submissives grovel for them!: Every once in a while I am surprised by the submissive of another dominant asking if her dominant can play with someone I'm with. Huh? What? Dominants, please do your own negotiating. If you get turned down, you get turned down, and that's life even if it feels "undomly". This can take other more clever forms as well. A woman I know was cruised by a bisexual friend with this cunning line: "We should get together sometime; just you and me. I have this fantasy of tying your hands, kissing you all over and licking your pussy, and driving you mad while my hubby fucks you from behind. Doesn't that sound exciting!!!"
  • Being submissive means you've consented already: The odious belief in "true Doms" ("true doms never bottom... being a true Dom means never having to say you're sorry, etc.") or "true submissive" ("If you were a true  submissive you would do X for me, let me do Y to you, take it in stride while I waltz off and do Z."). And that by your choice of role, your sado-erotic engagement with me starts when I want it to.
  • Lies: This is one bottoms do also. Simply comforting falsehoods to seduce consent where it might not be possible otherwise. The usual areas are marital status, scene experience, and expertise with specialized techniques.
  • Bait and switch: negotiating one scene and springing another on your partner. One young newcomer to the scene arranged to play with a far more experienced woman who tied her up, and flogged her into a lovely high. But then, who should waddle into view but mister husband, naked as a baby and rolling a condom over his chubby. Luckily the young woman was able to shake herself out of the fog, blurt out her safe word and get out of it, and to their credit, the couple released her. But still ...
  • A safe word isn't really a safe word. Safe word violations are pretty rare, but I once saw a prominent Black Rose member respond to a safeword red with "Oooooh I knoooow you don't really mean that ... Doooo you?" Breaches of ettiquete like these really stand out in the minds of witnesses, and are almost never forgotten.
  • Safe word stigma: Taking advantage of the fact that some bottoms regard safe word as a humiliating defeat.
  • Afganistan-Bananastan: Demanding the submissive use awkward, degrading or hard to remember safe words. "Everybody please come butt fuck me" was once assigned as a safe word to a submissive, hopefully to make the prospect of safewording even more embarrassing and awkward than it usually is. No comment.
  • "Ask me to hit your face." That's what the "famous scene photographer" kept repeating during his shoot, as the bottom slowly crumbled into tears of the unfun variety. He had already hit her out of the blue so hard that she was seeing stars. The scene did not end well. But not as badly as it could have had this bullying tactic worked.
  • If you didn't forbid it, you've consented: The question "Is there anything you don't want me to do?" is a great thing to ask before a scene, but it is not fair gleefully planning rape, when someone answers the aforesaid question with a request not to be hit in the face. Its risky to pull a surprise fisting scene on someone who only asked for a flogging.
  • Assuming the bottom knows what they can handle: Exceptions notwithstanding, bottoms often have no idea what they can handle, especially new ones. Someone who has never felt anal can't know whether they'll like it or not. So bear in mind that even with consent obtained, your partner may not know what they are in for, and may not respond ideally. It's easier to seduce consent from someone's mouth than it is from their body.

Why do tops do this instead of just being up front? Are they afraid they would be turned down? Do the more domly 24/7 types get all skittish at the thought of being turned down or having to work with the constraints of others when their fantasy is total control all the time? Whatever the reason, the art form is eroded when the very things that make SM different from date rape are tossed out the window. Don't let yourself be manipulated by tactics like these.
Failure to separate role from reality

We are an imaginative bunch (witness the number of science fiction fans and Renn-fair enthusiasts in our midst) and this is both good and bad. Some take the view that the scene is a place where fantasy becomes reality, raising the specter of unrealistic expectations, which can infringe on safety, consent, even sanity. Men, particularly, scene newcomers with long histories with cyber, porn, or with the commercial world of professional dominants, may experience awkward transitions to the more laissez faire environment of the scene where seduction, barter, and compromise are the rule. Furthermore, someone who prides herself on being an unreasonable, demanding bitch in scene must draw a reasonable line between what is appropriate in scene, and into daily life, even if they consider themselves "lifestyle."

Tall poppy syndrome

It is not always bad people who find themselves hunted down by the in-crowd. Sometimes it is the very people who volunteer, help out, are popular, bright and personable who are singled out for special hatred and grievance. The Australians call it tall poppy syndrome: If you grow too much taller than the others, you get your head chopped off. Many groups have defacto though unstated traditions of deriding and ostracizing enthusiastic newcomers as troublemakers and incompetent rebels. A lot of good people are chased away by in-crowd types who regarded club leadership and innovation as their sole domain.

Accountability Phobes (The Rules Don't Apply to Me)

In which characters proudly contest that they are too real, too experienced, too&whatever to be held accountable to the rules that others live by. Like all diverse groups, they often have good reason to not want to be held to an objective standard. One famous category of this is&.

The Dom = Dickhead syndrome

While some dominants are true artists cultivating a gourmet's appreciation of pleasure, pain and power, others are mere peevish control queens, itchy for a chance to criticize, get belligerent, and boss others around. Still others, new to the community (but not to Gor novels) make the classic error of equating their sexual dominance with an overbearing, overreaching manner dominated by virtue of their presence at an SM event. Regardless of how dominant you are within your consenting relationships (and more power to ya!), you can no more "assume" consent in your interactions with others, than you can in an SM scene. Dominants who assume its okay to boss others around, and rudely demand subservient behavior, are making the classic newbie error of assuming it's okay to touch or grab others' bodies without asking.

The Realness Police (Your kink ain't My Kink)

In which your conception of SM is judged inferior to mine. Scoffing at scenes for being too mild, too heavy or too whatever. Pet peeves include switching, use of humor in scene, lack of interest in 24/7. Even if they are consistent in their beliefs they are mistaken in thinking their standards should command anything other than the polite respect from you that we owe everyone.

Safety Nazis

Safety nazis are the flip side of the realness police. While the realness police spend time criticizing their brothers and sisters in kink for not being sufficiently authentic, the safety Nazis fret that people are be taking their SM a bit too seriously. While safety is certainly a pivotal SM value, unsolicited advice can come across as cutting, judgmental and condescending, and sometimes that is precisely what is intended. SM safety is certainly a concern. But so is discretion, tolerance of other viewpoints and playstyles and acceptance of our many differences and peculiarities.


The state of confusing one's own expertise with the ability to pick nits and find faults in other people's play, demeanor, protocol and motives. While sharing scene knowledge is generally a good thing, it can be, and often is, overdone. Go easy on the free advice.

The Imperial-Imperious confusion

Some scenefolk, in an effort to appear imperial  (kingly, of high standard, worthy of respect) conduct themselves in a manner that is imperious (overbearing, bossy, judgmental). A surprising number of scene-folk are born to this confusion. Some attain it after a few years in the community, as they assume community leadership positions, or when they decide they should be recognized as authorities, if not superiors. While some clearly feel that imperious behavior demonstrates expertise, importance, and intelligence, in truth it almost never fails to alienate potential friends and play partners, making the offender look bad. Below is a table highlighting the differences between desirable imperial behavior and the often time reality:

Imperial Imperious
Wise, experienced Judgmental, dogmatic, scornful of other points of view
Kingly (or Queenly), regal, carries self well Bossy, arrogant, dictatorial, domineering
Community-minded, cooperative with others Clique-minded, eager to rally others into personal feuds and vendettas
Just, impartial, fair-minded Unjust, biased, greedy-minded
Brave, committed to principals Cowardly, sees threats and conspiracies everywhere
Independent in thought Over-reliant on politics, platitudes and maxims "All doms do this," "A sub that doesn't cannot be a true sub"
Modest, friendly to all Haughty, self-important, hierarchy-obsessed, belittling towards perceived "inferiors"
Respectful of the privacy of others Nosy, spends time rooting into other people's business
Large-hearted, generous to others Holds others in suspicion or contempt
Open-minded, appreciative of other points of view Stubborn, inflexible, threatened by or hostile to change or others' points of view, has difficulty sharing the spotlight
Patient with others' shortcomings Bitchy, unforgiving, grudge-loving
Self-aware, mature Self-infatuated, childish
Social, respectful of peers Asocial, has difficulty getting along with others
Careful with words and speech Gossipy, indiscrete, prone to bad-mouthing others
Holds self to high standards Holds others to higher standards than self

While pecking order tactics like those on the right are fine for beings with the spiritual depth of sparrows and chickens, in humans they are shallow, unkind and run counter to the spirit of "safe, sane, and consensual." Who can argue that the properties on the right are more admirable and effective than those on the left? Even so, unwise bystanders occasionally reward boorish behavior with attention and respect, reinforcing it and making our collective problem worse. When new people see community leaders and players of high prominence acting this way, some will try to emulate it, believing it to be proper, accepted or connoting high status.

Scaring the horses

This is one that deals with conduct between members of the community and the culture outside. Some people enjoy the nonconsensual involvement of strangers, in exhibitionism scenes in restaurants, public parks, etc. This kind of play can be hot as blazes, but can be ethically questionable, and in some cases illegal. While I have enjoyed the transgressive rush of public play myself, I have come to question whether it's right to force others to see what we do. On the other hand, there are forces in our society that would gladly forbid grown men holding hands in public. I have no fixed advice to offer here. This is a charged issue and one you must grapple with on your own.

Why We Do It and Why We Tolerate It

So what makes people act this way? There are in fact many factors that contribute to the behavior described above. As wonderful as the kink community can be, we are all exposed to subtle and seldom discussed irritants that contribute to stress, uncertainty, and the sheer cussedness I have described above. Life as a taxpaying worker, parent or citizen can be difficult enough. Compound it with the responsibility of maintaining a top secret personal life, and the job of developing and maintaining a whole new set of sexual and social ethics that neither mom, dad, or any of your vanilla friends have ever dealt with. And like water over stone, it can wear on you as the years tick by. These "stress factors" set the stage for the anxiety, impatience, loneliness, meanness, depression, and the empathy deficit mentioned earlier. I have compiled a list of these factors which surely contribute to the bad behavior we occasionally see:

  • The scene is a small world, and quarters are close, closer than we might like at times. Because BDSM is an interest that selects at random, we often find ourselves spending a lot of time with people we might not otherwise choose as friends.
  • The scene is intensely intimate. We express our inner fantasies and fears, sometimes share partners, see each other nude, watch each other come... Is it any wonder people are sensitive about how we are treated by others?
  • Because our practices are scandalously diverse, we often find ourselves in the presence of activities that make us uncomfortable. The scene is a strange place and it takes a while to adjust. And some things you may never get used to.
  • The pressures of closeting: The pressure of maintaining a secret life, of hiding your leather life from friends, colleagues and family adds a constant overlay of tension to daily life. Scene folk have to manage the presence of fetish contraband (toys, play equipment, clothes, literature and erotica) whose discovery might be catastrophic. The risk, real or perceived, can encompass loss of employment, friends, family, even custody of one's kids.
  • Jealousy, loneliness, and competition for partners are facts of life, in the scene. People without play partners may become unhappy or angry. People seen as getting more than their share can trigger insecurity and resentment. Even people with partners may see threats around every corner.
  • The scene, like any fringe group, attracts its share of eccentrics and outcasts, some fascinating and agreeable, others less so.
  • Newcomer naïveté: New people unacquainted to the scene's protocols occasionally touch, grab or conduct themselves inappropriately out of pure innocence. Although individuals typically learn to deport themselves over time, the constant influx of newcomers means newcomer naiveté is a constant, grating issue.
  • The realities of the party circuit: It is a hard fact of scene life that most parties are private and their invite lists finite. For every guest invited there are 20 left outside. The guest list is dictated by what the hosts can afford, their circle of friendships, the size of their home and many other factors. But it still stings to hear about a party without getting an invite. And it happens all the time.
  • Email (the medium of choice for many SM participants): Without a friendly face or modulations of human speech, text encounters can be easily misstated/misunderstood. Couple that with the sometimes blunt writing style of email users everywhere, the added gravity of the written word, and the ease of escalating a private remark into public rebuke with a misplaced keystroke, and you've got the makings of an online food fight.
  • Guy Baldwin, keynote speaker at Leather Leadership III, and a prominent leatherman psychiatrist, found that an unusually high percentage of his SM-practicing patients had suffered abuse as children. Others - because of their SM interests - have grown up feeling alienated, alone and have led difficult lives. The upshot is that there is a lot of anger and insecurity out there that can manifest as uncivil behavior.
  • Some of the erotic roles we regularly encounter in the scene (the pitiless slavemaster, the haughty dominatrix, the abjectly helpless slave, the unhousebroken adult-baby) are not necessarily archetypes of reason, tolerance, and maturity. Within the magic circle of a scene this is fine. Bravo for you, if you can find partners to share your predilections with and send them away happy. But these roles are less appropriate in pre-scene negotiation, netwoking, and working with volunteers in SM social and support groups. It is a crucial necessity for the mature scene person to be able to switch off the attitude (yes 24/7 types, this goes for you too) and adhere to acceptable adult behavior in dealing with others in the SM community.

One of the more sobering aspects of this list is that there really are no easy solutions to any of these problems. The scene is  small, people are  sensitive, invite lists are  short, and we really do  have some truly eccentric people who will continue to behave eccentrically.

But, there is room for hope. We do a good job of establishing and enforcing play standards to make SM safe and hot. We are improving all the time as educators of play practices. But, interpersonal conduct, outside of the SM encounter itself, has not yet been made a priority, and it's probably time it should be. We must recognize incivility (defined in part by the examples in this report) as a threat to the health of our community, and commit ourselves as individuals, to improving our behavior.

Thoughts on Fixing It: A Proposed Approach

The first thing we need to do is agree that improving our interpersonal behavior is worth doing. Once we've made that decision, we need to start elevating the importance of interpersonal conduct as an attribute of mature and responsible members of our community. Through mentoring and our education programs we need to send the message that incivility defined by the examples in this article is inappropriate behavior for citizens of our kink community. While "scene etiquette" (a narrow subset of civility), is a staple in the SM educational cannon, it deals mainly with protocols of deportment and standards of interaction, and doesn't address the deeper issues of cultivating compassion, tolerance and a more attuned awareness of our SM brethren. Those are tougher ethics-driven issues, often without simple answers.

Nonetheless, improved civility should be presented as causal to the following desirable conditions:

  • Making the scene a welcoming place for newcomers
  • Stability of friendships
  • Respect of peers
  • Trust of potential play partners (civility generally means stability)
  • Strengthening ones personal network of contacts
  • Supporting the position that sane, responsible, well-adjusted people practice SM.
  • Establishing fairness and justice (which are eternal) as having greater importance than popularity, and bureaucratic clout (which are fleeting and can vanish at any moment)
  • Reducing the wasteful and exhausting melodrama that Strengthens the community and makes it healthier

Secondly (to avoid reinventing the wheel) we need only look to our most famous safety maxim. I propose that we all, as scenefolk and organizations extend "safe, sane, and consensual" into the arena of interpersonal conduct. If we turn the laser beam of SSC onto our social interaction we would surely notice the following:

Uncivil behavior is non-consensual

Good manners and general kindness should become the coin of the realm. To do less is to engage someone in a quasi-scene without consent. Gossips and scolds should consider their behavior in terms of the consent of those they are discussing. Subjecting someone to a tongue-lashing or a gossip campaign is really no better than drawing out a flogger and hammering away at them without warning. If being a bastard or a bitch is your thing, and you have people to do that with, hooray for you. But dont be that way to people who havent agreed to it.

Uncivil behavior is not safe

Cruel, thoughtless behavior can hurt people, deeply and for a long time. Just as humiliation can be more traumatic than physical pain, the emotional harm inflicted from incivility may far exceed even what was intended. Acceptance of incivility sets a poor community standard, where interpersonal nastiness becomes normative. Mature, decent people will simply not remain in our midst. Furthermore small acts of rudeness or disregard can balloon up into clique wars. And if the safety of your intended victim means nothing to you, consider this: people have a way of paying you back, for better AND for worse. Be nice and people will reciprocate. Be a jackass and that's how others will see and speak of you. This is a small world: don't hand someone a motive to get you back later. The leather gods have a way of evening things out. The community is close, memory is long, and paybacks are a bitch.

Uncivil behavior is not even all that sane

For years, many of us felt like freaks before finding this community. To reinforce feelings of rejection in our brothers and sisters by deliberately withholding human decency, or subjecting them to deliberate hardship, is just not defensible. Those who find themselves constantly at war with or inflicting imperious behavior on their scene fellows, would do well to begin some serious soul searching and perhaps seeking out the help of a professional. Three years on the couch did a lot of good for me.

Thirdly, we need to recognize that changing our own behavior is the principal goal. Assholes (and we have a fair share of them) are not looking to change. The gossips, scolds, hypocrites, and Macavells are not going to read this piece, at least not with an eye towards cleaning up their own behavior. We will have to change our own behavior first. We must learn to extend kindness, decency, care and concern beyond our personal circle to members of the community at large. We can't force others to change, so we must strive to make the changes in ourselves. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard and ideally establish higher standards. Make incivility part of how we grade our brothers in leather and ourselves. Even when we feel we have been wronged, we must strive to behave honorably. Mathatman Ghandi said, "We must become the change we wish to see in the world."

But for those who are unconvinced, who feel their behavior should not be constricted by what other adults would describe as common decency, consider this: Even at the most crass, selfish level possible, one reason to refrain from meanness, gossip, and other expressions of incivility is that they frankly don't work as long-term tactics. Even those who hate with all the passion in their hearts have no durable long-term means of persecuting others. Incivility is only effective in the way a nightstick is: it definitely helps to win fights, especially against an unarmed foe. But soon, you run into problems. People don't like getting clubbed. They don't even like others getting clubbed, and once you become known as someone who does it, it starts costing you. While the dictators of history silenced their enemies through murder, torture, or war, not even the most domly of dominants or the haughtiest of scene bureaucrats hold any lasting means of oppression. Oh, people can cut you from party lists, speak unkindly of you, warn potential partners against playing with you and attempt to exclude you from their activities and social circles. But, they can't stop you from speaking out against their unfairness (especially in the age of the internet), from meeting others, starting social circles of your own and throwing your own parties to which they  are not invited. Black Rose has endured a few genuine tyrant wanna-bes, but none so powerful that they were able to escape their own inevitable decline and diminished reputations. People who steal from the club coffers, ignore safe words, spread malicious lies, violate trust, or attempt to steal the partners of others - invariably wind up with the reputations they deserve. Long story short, if enough people clean up their own behavior, then, in time, the power players, scene cops, abusers, and gossips, will find their bad behavior increasingly visible and increasingly frowned on. Perhaps, then there may be change.

And lastly, something needs to be said for the power and wisdom of accepting the scene as it is. It's not perfect, nothing in life is. But many situations can be dealt with by calmly deciding to let them rob you of your joy. It isn't necessarily easy, to forgive, forget and move on, not for me anyway. When I feel wronged my reflex inclination is to strike back, to retaliate, to really point out and dwell on the fact that I've been aggrieved. It's always worked out better when I've succeeded in looking past the occasional annoyance, and injustice and made a note to not treat others in ways I haven't liked being treated myself.

So even with the occasionally ugly interpersonal behavior we find in the scene it still has great people and the potential to make a dramatic contribution in your life. It is still an environment where dreams can ands do come true.

© 1998-2002 Chris M. All rights reserved.

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