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Etiquette for the Scene

This is a copy of Etiquette for the Scene by Rose. It was originally written for and © copyrighted by the Black Rose in Washington, D.C. It is reprinted here with the Author's permission.

a black rose

Before we chose to join the leather tribe, we all were first and foremost human beings. We learned that in order to survive, we all had to be capable of living together and being polite to and tolerant of each other. Rules like "Do unto Others as You Would Have Them Do unto You," and "If You Can't Say Something Nice about a Person, Don't Say Anything at All" may seem cliché and irrelevant in the times in which we live. The truth is, those old lessons from childhood still are meaningful in SM relationships. All those things your momma taught you about good behavior and manners apply just as aptly to the scene as to a fancy dress ball.

We have all been through the ordeal of the dating ritual. Some of us are better at it than others, but basically the techniques are all about the same. If we feel attracted to another, we don't go up to that person and just take what we want or demand, "On your back, baby." We try to be nice, friendly. We start a conversation and get to know each other. We do the mating dance.

The same holds true for the scene. We do not live in the pages of a fantasy. Just because a person's sexual identity may be as Dom/me or sub, does not negate the rest of the person. Most people in the scene prefer to be approached by potential playmates as people first - not as their sexual roles.

Do not make assumptions - you could be wrong. Some tops wear dressy collars as part of a scene outfit. A woman in a collar is not necessarily anxious for you to walk up to her and say, "On you knees, bitch," whether she is top or bottom. Use your vanilla dating senses when attempting to meet someone in the scene. Maybe "What's your sign?" isn't the right approach, but "Will you whip me, Mistress?" isn't either.

How would you approach someone at a bar or a college mixer? Try that. "Hi, my name is Rose," followed by some opening small talk still works for me. Everyone loves to be flattered, use that. "Hi, my name is Rose, and I've been coveting that lovely corset you're wearing. Where did you get it?" Break the ice; don't bang her over the head.

A most important element of scene etiquette is discretion. Most of us have to live in the "real" world, and our scene identities may be something we must keep separate from our professional identities. What we see and hear at leather organization meetings or play parties should stay there. Don't take it on the street.

At Black Rose, we do not use last names; this helps to protect the identity of those who prefer anonymity. Certainly some people exchange real names, but we urge all our attendees to keep that knowledge to themselves. Being in Washington, DC, we get visited by many people in political jobs and in sensitive military positions. Discretion may be more important to us than in other communities, but protecting others from harm we can cause by opening our mouths at the wrong time is simply the right thing to do anywhere.

How would you feel if you were walking down the street to lunch with a client, or your boss, or your mom and someone from the last Black Rose meeting came up to you and said, "Hi, I really loved watching you get caned last week. You were black and blue and crying so beautifully! You are such a SLUT!" As a courtesy to members of the community who you do not know well enough to know if you will be offending or endangering, keep what you see and hear at scene events out of the eyes and ears of the vanilla world. Until you know it is all right with others to discuss the scene with their friends and associates, be discrete.

If I chose to give you my name and number, it is for you only unless I give you permission to give it to others. Respect this. If someone calls and asks you for my number, say "Why don't you give me your's and I'll ask her to call you?"

I witnessed a nasty little exchange one night early in my years at Black Rose. A man approached a female friend as we were talking; and after politely waiting for a chance, he asked my friend for her telephone number. As she was giving it to him, I noticed a man standing behind us writing it down also. When I pointed this out, my friend almost bit this rude dude's head off. And he deserved it. Do not take advantage of others. Because I give my personal information to another and you just happen to overhear it does not give you the right to use it. If you do, nine times out of ten you will be sorry that you did. People do not take kindly to such behavior.

A. Certain rules of behavior apply to scene events, just as certain rules of behavior apply to events in other cultures.

When Black Rose began, the ratio of males to females was almost 15-1. Any female walking in the door was either thrilled with the odds or intimated by all the come-ons she endured. Nowadays our ratio is much closer to 1-1, but the past has taught us some important lessons -lessons applicable to all the sexes and the all the combinations thereof.

Be aware of the concept known as "my space" - that zone around ourselves which we hold sacred. Give a newcomer space to get comfortable with the group, the setting, all the new faces, before pouncing. We have way too much experience with "Vultures." These are men and women who have to be the first one to hit on every newbie who walks in the door. Getting that reputation in a small community will make you persona non grata quickly.

We all have our quirks, and we don't all like each other. Instinctively, we tend to feel good or bad about another person almost immediately. Either our pheromones activate, or we turn off. If you make a good approach and get a favorable response, great. Continue. But if s/he isn't interested?

Take no for an answer. Doing so graciously may turn that "no" into a maybe another time. Even if you love being humiliated, if the Domme you approach spurns you, go away. You will not ingratiate yourself to her by humbly begging at her feet for her attentions. Her additional invective might thrill you; it is not meant to urge you on but, rather, away from her. Get the message before she asks a DM or an officer to make you leave.

Merely because one person rejects your offer does not mean you will never find anyone to play with you. Sometimes the chemistry is simply wrong. Accept that. Go on and try again.

If you are the rejecter, be gracious as well. There is no need to humiliate someone for trying politely. If you mean no, don't be afraid to say it; but if you are busy and might be interested later, let that be known.

B. Everyone wants the "popular" man or woman.

At meetings these folks are usually surrounded by people who want attention. Wait your turn. If s/he is speaking with someone else, use your common sense and don't interrupt. I have, regrettably, been less than patient with several ill-mannered men in this category.

Don't castigate someone for not knowing your sexual orientation. We can't all look at a person and know if s/he is gay, straight, bi. If you must reject someone for being of the wrong sex, do it kindly.

When you approach someone, introduce yourself - not your role. Speak to the person, not her/his role. At meetings, most people are not "in scene," and even if someone is, you have no obligation to react to him/her as if you were in the opposite role. Submissives are neither required nor expected to be submissive to every dominant in the room. Don't expect it if you are a top, and don't feel obligated to do it if you are a bottom.

Men, not every woman in the room wants to be your dominant. Until otherwise requested (and if you consent to do so), you needn't address every woman as Mistress. In this situation, my friend says, "I am not your Mistress. I haven't earned that respect from you, nor have I taken you as my submissive. Don't call me that."

Most SM clubs and private parties are composed of at least two spaces - one for eating and socializing and another for play. Make a note of which is which when you enter the space, and try to respect these boundaries. There are reasons for them (see Section C below).

Each scene also has a boundary. Be aware. Just as individuals need their "space," a scene needs its space. A couple from New York grew so tired of having their space invaded by wankers, they began bringing police tape and barricades to delineate the area in which no one else should enter. It stopped the problem.

Watching is a great way to learn and part of the excitement for many people who play in public, but give players the space they need to do their scene. If the Top has long arms and a long whip, he'll need to stand further away from his bottom. On the other hand, if a Domme is bending closely to the breast of her sub to do a cutting, she should not have to worry about someone bumping into her arm as she draws the blade down the skin.

Pay attention when walking through a space full of scenes, too. Each implement we use requires a certain amount of space for the extension and follow through. Don't walk into the arch of a whip. If you do and get hit, it's your own fault. You just walked through a scene. Even if you don't accidentally get hit, you may get a thwack from the angry Top whose scene you just invaded.

You may be the world's leading authority on some SM game, but unless you are the DM or your opinion has been sought, keep it to yourself while observing a scene. Stopping a scene to give a lesson not only unnerves the top (not to mention embarrassing him/her) but also destroys the headspace of both partners in the scene. If you see something you consider dangerous, go tell the DM. If you can offer constructive criticism to someone who wants it, do so after the scene - in private.

Most SM clubs and private parties have rules regarding what is and what is not allowed. These can be as simple as "No penetration" to a list which is quite extensive. Make yourself aware of the rules before you start to play. If you're not sure, ask the DM or host.

Smoke only in designated areas.

Many places/individuals designate certain play which cannot be done for legal reasons. Often these can involve full nudity, penetration, needle play and fire play. Many people prefer that any type of sexual intercourse be conducted in private rooms rather in the main dungeon space. Follow these guidelines if you want to be asked to the next party.

Be responsible. Illegal drugs may cause the owner of an establishment to be shut down or a homeowner to be arrested. Don't bring them. Don't knowingly violate any laws which may impact others in the same space. If alcohol is not allowed, play without it. If you can't play without a drink, you have a serious problem and should not be playing anyhow.

C. The main reason that parties are usually divided into socializing space and play space is noise. Conversations are meant to be held in the socializing room - not in a loud voice 2 feet from intense SM play.

Laughter can be devastating to a nervous sub. S/he may feel humiliated because you are laughing at her/him even if you are responding to joke someone just told. Or a sub may be deep into headspace and sailing though a difficult pain scene, but your obnoxious loud laughter and territory.

We all make occasional mistakes in this category - even the most seasoned players. If you must talk and greet others in the dungeon, do so quietly. If asked to "take it upstairs," apologize and do so quickly.

Another problem can be the loud bottom - one who makes an inordinate amount of noise while playing. This can be very disconcerting to other players, not to mention draw the attention of nosy neighbors. There is one sub in our group who screams like a maniac when she is playing. I've gotten to the point where I just won't start a scene if I come into the dungeon and she's playing. If you know you can't be reasonably quiet in a scene, let your partner know that. If you're the Top, bring a gag and use it if it becomes necessary.

D. Reaching, Touching and Interfering - the Big Three.

At one of my first public parties, I was involved in a scene with 3 other bottoms and 4 tops. Everything was fine, until I opened my eyes and saw someone I didn't know with his hand on my nipple. I freaked. Needless to say, the scene was stopped and the offender asked to leave; but it taught me a lesson I cherish now that I almost exclusively dom. I must patrol my scene because there will often be people who feel they have a right to reach in and touch someone.

A scene most often consists of two players, though occasionally may involve multiple people on both sides of the equation. Those people are playing together because they chose to play with each other. You can watch, but do not dare reach in and touch or join unless you have been asked by the Top in charge. I trust it is not necessary to say this applies to one-on-one scenes as well. BDSM, as we play it, is CONSENSUAL. If you and I have not agreed to a scene, then don't try to get into one I am having with someone else. You will suffer the consequences which could be as simple as being asked to leave or as severe as being smashed in the face with a fist.

Not only our bodies deserve the respect to be touched only with consent, but also our belongings and clothes. If you touch my leathers while I'm wearing them, you are touching me as well. In legal terms, touching my jacket is as much a battery as slapping me in the face.

It may be socially acceptable to see a new golf club your best friend just purchased and grab it for a couple swings, but you wouldn't do that to a stranger's equipment. The implements of SM are very personal. Never feel free to pick up someone else's toy to try it without permission. Most people will be gracious if asked. Give them the chance.

I cannot say this enough. Unless it is the pre-accepted theme of an event, not every sub there must be respectful and submissive to every dominant in the place. Just because s/he may be kneeling on the floor naked and collared, you have no right to touch without permission.

Naturally, the same holds true for subs. Not every dominant in the room wants or must play with you - or even be polite to you if you do not deserve it.

There are certain accepted conventions in every community. In ours, one doesn't approach an "owned" or even a "temporarily collared" sub and seek to play with him/her. The proper procedure is to approach the top first. Knowing who IS collared to whom and who won't or can't play with others without permission may be a bit of a problem because not all Doms dress in fantasy costumes. Not all subs are collared. Be very careful how you approach someone if you are not sure. If you make a mistake, and a sub directs you to his/her Dom, then explain your ignorance of the situation to the Dom first, then make your request. Despite our growth in the last few years, we are a very small community. If you aren't sure about someone and don't want to make a mistake, are the best bets in which to make inquiries, since they usually invited the attendees. When I'm approached in this situation, and it is appropriate, I offer to make an introduction.

Many singles attend SM parties, many of whom are newcomers desperate to be asked to play. Being in that situation can be difficult and too often leads to social blunders. Be aware, however, that experience does not equate with social graces. One will encounter more experienced players who also exhibit ill manners.

It takes a lot of nerve to make the first encounter, especially for newbies. Avoid the pitfalls previously discussed, and skip the bad approaches.

When you have steeled yourself for that first attempt, don't just walk up during a scene. Wait. And remember, a scene does not end just because the whip is put down and the top begins to release the bottom from bondage. Give them time to unwind together, to cuddle or regain composure. Then make your move.

Most humans love to have their egos stroked, so use that to your advantage. Instead of begging, "Beat me, Mistress," go for the compliment. Try something like, "I love your sensual play style," or "You were fantastic - the way you had her begging." A compliment may get a conversation started.

Another good ploy is admiring toys. As you will recall, if you want to keep your hand, don't just reach out and grab an implement that doesn't belong to you. After the scene, compliment the owner and ask to examine it. As the conversation develops add, "I've never felt anything like this before," or "I'd love to feel it." More often than not, a friendly top will give you that opportunity. When people admire my toys this way, I often make the offer to let them feel it myself - I've made a lot of new friends and play partners that way.

In addition to being polite to individuals at a party, there are some general guidelines that are simply good behavior.

Don't Bogart that sling! There are never enough play stations for everyone to play at the same time. Be considerate. Don't hog one piece all night. If it is really crowded at a BR event, we ask you to limit your scene to 30 minutes. Even if the rules don't set a time limit, do so yourself. You'll gain favor with those waiting in line for the space you've been using.

Leave the space as you found it. A lot of scenes are messy. If you will be doing wax or blood, be sure to put down a drop cloth or cover the equipment with towels or blankets so wax or blood doesn't go everywhere.

Remember also, BDSM is a physical activity. People sweat, and sweat is a bodily fluid. So is cum and women's natural lube. Wipe off the equipment after you've finished your scene. Often there will be alcohol or some other fluid and paper towels available for this purpose. If not, ask the host or DM. It will be appreciated.

Pick up your toys and get them out of the way.

Be a good guest. When you are invited to a private party, there are certain things you can do to insure you will be asked to attend future events.

Offers of help are always welcome; but if you offer, then be prepared to help. Show up when asked, and actually do what is asked. Too often there are people who should be preparing for the party who are standing around chatting instead. This is not helpful to your host.

Don't show up early unless the host asks you to do so. We all have busy schedules and too much to do - especially on party day. I am lucky to be ready by 9:30 for a 9:00 o'clock party at my house. Usually I have a few subs lined up to be ready on time, but it is often a problem when guests start arriving too early. Too early is even a minute before the starting hour. Be fair to your hosts. Let them get a shower and change also. Not everyone has a sub or partner to meet and entertain the guests while s/he dresses.

Almost no one offers to help after a party - when it is often most needed. At a friend's house, those who make the offer almost always get a nice reward - the after party play for helpful guests.

And don't think only bottoms or subs should help. Tops and Doms make just as much mess and need to be just as polite to their hosts. If you have a sub or slave to offer in your stead, great. But it is even better if you both pitch in.

Finally, people who throw private parties go to a lot of trouble and expense. Be sure to let them know you appreciate the privilege of attending. A few words of thanks before leaving will be remembered. If the host is in a scene when you are ready to leave, find the DM or a family member to pass along your thanks. Better still, the fine art of letter writing should be revived. Thank you notes are the best way to keep your name (and return address - hint, hint) in the mind of the host.

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Further Reading on Etiquette in General

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Further Etiquette and Protocol Links