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my experience with play parties
*whew* What a topic. I haven't had time to read all the posts, but I wanted to share some of my thoughts about play parties.
First, let me say that, for most part, I disagree with a lot of what Wulf is saying, and agree with most of what everyone else is saying. But, there have been a few times that Wulf made sense. Play parties are usually wonderful, but one MUST be careful, especially if one is a female submissive. Here's what I have experienced.
After two years of seeing an advertisement for PEP (People Exchanging Power) in Washington DC, I finally got up the courage to call for information. The person on the phone screened me pretty well, and I liked that because she probably screened everyone that well. After talking with her for a while, she decided I was okay, and invited me to a party the following weekend (this was September '91, for anyone keeping score ;). I wasn't involved with anyone at the time, but I certainly didn't want to go alone. Fortunately I have some really great vanilla friends who know, understand, and accept my kink. Actually, they think it's pretty damn cool. So much so, that they jumped at the chance to attend this party with me when I asked three of them to come along and hold my hand. :)
Once we got to the party, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Here was my fantasy come to life. Since this was my first party, the people hosting told me I should just observe, which I did with wide open eyes. I have found this to be standard policy at every play party I've ever been to. I think it's a very good policy, too. Newcomers can watch and learn about technique and safety, and they don't feel like the have to participate until they are ready to do so. In fact, I've almost never heard of anyone who felt "required" to play. Yes, I said "almost." I'll talk about that in a bit.
I didn't realize it at the time, but this was the last PEP party in DC. The person who was running PEP moved. But someone else picked up the mantle, and renamed the group MPE (Metro Power Exchange). Unfortunately, the new incarnation of the group wasn't run very well and only had two play parties before it disbanded. One of the reasons I say it wasn't run well was because they decided they didn't need to worry so much about rules, like the old PEP group had. Since I was so new to the scene, I didn't think anything of that at the time...
I went to MPE's first party, with a date -- someone I had met at the PEP party. I decided I definitely wanted to play. I wasn't pressured into playing, I really wanted to play. I knew I was ready. Even though I didn't know the people very well, I felt safe because the other women there seemed very comfortable. I was nervous but incredibly excited.
So here I was, at my second play party, doing my first public scene. And an incredible scene it was. A male top and a female top were Domming me and and my date, a male sub. The scene went splendidly for about an hour, and gradually everyone else stopped playing and started watching us. The tops did some really beautiful, intricate bondage on us, and changed our positions often so it seemed kind of like Bondage Twister. ;) Towards the end of the scene, the tops had me and the other sub tied together face-to-face, with me standing and the guy sub on his knees. They told us to kiss each other, and nice wet, open mouth kiss. We did.
Then, out of nowhere, my mouth felt like it exploded. Like someone had set off a bunch of firecrackers in my mouth all at once. I fell backwards, nearly breaking my knees in the process because of the way I was tied to the male sub. Then I blacked out.
When I came to, I found out what happened to me. Some asshole, who hadn't even been part of the scene, and who hadn't been invited to join in by any of us, had stepped up behind me. Before anyone could stop him, he zapped me on the ass with a cattle prod. I hadn't felt it where he touched me with it; I had felt the shock in my mouth, since I was engaged in the wet kiss at the time.
Now, I didn't even know that electrical play existed at that time. If I had, I certainly would have known to state that as one of my limits up front (I had a very bad shock as a toddler playing with an electrical outlet, and always had a severe fear of electricity since then). But even if I had known to tell my tops to avoid electricity, it wouldn't have mattered because the person who did that to me hadn't been part of the scene.
This bad experience probably wouldn't have even occurred if the party hosts had made clear to everyone that you just don't step into a scene and interfere unless you are specifically asked to by the top running the scene. Sure, most people should know that anyway, but this guy either didn't know or didn't care.
Though I was very new to the scene, I knew what had happened was very wrong. After I got over the initial shock (no pun intended) I was pissed off. I decided I'd never return to that group. Fortunately, there was another group in town to check out -- the Black Rose. And I was strong enough, and confident enough in myself to give the Rose a try rather than backing away from the scene altogether. I had waited far too long to finally embrace my sexuality, and I wasn't going to let some jerk take that away from me.
The Black Rose was a much different kind of group. PEP/MPE had been mostly a party group, but the Rose had weekly meetings with topics for discussion and demonstrations, so that people could watch, listen, and learn instead of jumping in blindly. And the wonderful people who run the Rose make a point of emphasizing safety and etiquette. As soon as I went to my first Black Rose meeting, I knew I found a much safer place.
Even though it was safer, and the people there much more knowledgeable, I kept my guard up for a while. I went to some private parties and I played at them, but I was much more careful and aware of my surroundings. I've been to many Black Rose private parties and monthly public socials and never encountered any problems like at had at MPE.
After a few months, I felt very secure with these people, and had formed several close friendships. I let my guard down finally, and that's when I got into trouble playing privately with that person I mentioned on the "is ssbb supportive?" thread. For those who missed what I said about this a couple of weeks ago, here's the relevant excerpt:
One of my first posts to a.s.b. was about a scene that had gone way wrong. I had only been involved in the scene for a few months, and had negotiated a play-date with a well-regarded member of the Black Rose, who I thought I knew very well and could trust. He knew that sex was a limit for me, because I save that for people I'm romantically involved with on a monogamous level. He was married, and bottom to his wife, wanted to try topping, and neither of us had any intention of "dating." Just to make sure he understood that limit clearly, I said to him when he picked me up for the evening, "You remember that I don't intend to have sex with you." He smiled and said, "Of course, but, I might try to change your mind." I thought he was joking, but I should have noticed the red flag that waved in front of my eyes. Later that night he did try to fuck me, and ignored my safeword over and over again. I believe I came about *this* close to being raped. When he realized that he might not get away with it, he backed off physically, but kept me tied up and didn't allow me to leave until the morning. The rest of the night he told me things like, "everybody knows you're a slut because you take your clothes off at play parties," and things like that, not in the context of a "scene," but to try to hurt me emotionally because he was pissed off that I wouldn't fuck him."
I didn't even get that kind of support from the Black Rose people that I confided in about it, even though several of them told me he had done this kind of thing before, and said they'd wished they'd warned me about him, but didn't want to "hurt his reputation." I still see him at parties sometimes, even parties whose hosts know what he did to me. When I see him, I leave.
As for the assertion that people are "pressured" to play, as I said above, that almost never happens. It's usually quite the opposite. But there was one time that I felt pressured to play at a party. I had been involved in the scene for a couple of years, and was regularly attending Deja Vu, a now-defunct party group in DC. Deja Vu almost always had a really good male to female ratio, sometimes even more women than men.
But one time I went and there were only three of us women, and about 30 men. One of the other women was one of the hosts, and she and the the other woman were both Dominant. I was the only female submissive there. I had recently ended a year and a half long relationship, and hadn't really intended to play, just socialize. But the hosts asked me, begged me, to play. I did so out of my friendship to them, not out of any real desire to play. It didn't hurt that the hosts offered me $100 to help them entertain... The only good thing that came out of that experience was that I learned I *could* play when I didn't have the burning desire to, and that was my first step in becoming a professional submissive. But that's a whole other story. ;)
So, as you can see, bad things do happen at play parties, and bad things happen when it's just one-on-one. Despite my bad experiences, I didn't let it stop me from participating in the scene, going to parties, and going on dates (though I have never, and will never, play alone again with someone I'm not romantically involved with). And thank goodness I didn't let it stop me, because I've had some extremely fun, rewarding, and life-enriching times. But here's my advice:
1) Don't play at your first play party, or at the first party you attend of a group that you are just getting involved with.
2) Observe the way the party is run, and decide if you are really comfortable with it. For instance, before serious playing gets underway, do the hosts explain their dungeon's rules to everyone? If there are no rules, does it seem like people are behaving in a way that meets your standards? If there are rules, do they sound reasonable to you?
Here's some rules that I think are good:
a) Don't intrude on anyone's scene unless you're specifically asked to join in.
b) Men should not ask women for their phone numbers, but should wait for women to offer. (If this isn't a rule, then at the very least, it should be made clear that if a woman doesn't want to give her phone number to a man, he should not pester her or intimidate her about it.)
c) Do not touch anyone without hir permission.
d) If you ask someone if they're interested in doing a scene with you, and sie declines, do not ask again.
d) Don't come to the front door wearing your fetish gear and cracking your whips. Bring your stuff in nondescript bags and change once you're inside. Especially if the party is at someone's private home.
e) If you run into someone you meet at the party out in the real world (tm) don't strike up a conversation with hir, especially not about the party or the scene, unless you are absolutely certain it's okay to do so. (That might be hir boss or vanilla significant other or parents sie's with.)
f) If someone breaks one of these rules, let a host or a dungeon monitor know about it. The offender should either get one warning or be told to leave immediately. If you're told to leave, don't expect to ever be able to come back.
g) Anyone, especially a woman, who attends the party alone should be given an escort to hir car by one of the hosts, or someone the hosts trust completely.
I've seen the above rules put into practice, and they make me feel much more comfortable and secure than when there are no rules. Deja Vu actually had these rules and others up on the wall. The hosts also gathered everyone together at the start of the party to go over the rules aloud.
Some of the regulars got tired of hearing them every other week, but there were always new people coming in who needed to know the rules.
Finally, 3) Always, always be aware of yourself and your surroundings. If you must drink to take the edge off your nervousness (and it is allowed at that particular party) don't let yourself get so impaired that your judgment is off. If someone is bothering you, don't be afraid to tell the hosts about it. If the hosts make you feel like you're being silly by complaining, LEAVE. If you feel uncomfortable for any reason, LEAVE.
My most important piece of advice:
*** Be on the lookout for red flags, and HEED THEM. ***
Sorry if this post was rambling or hard to follow. I had a bunch of jumbled thoughts on the topic that I wanted to throw out to the newsgroup, but I had to write it a couple of paragraphs at a time over a couple of days instead of all at one sitting. I want an extra 10 hours a day for Christmas. ;)
the impudent guttersnipe
*** I haven't been receiving some incoming email, so if you want to reply please send mail to heidi (at) charm (dot) net ***
FYI, that sort of behavior is unacceptable at most of the parties I've gone to in Texas, the Ohio River Valley, and Phoenix.
I wholeheartedly agree with Heidi's points here.
One point that I'd like to make is that too often inexcusable behavior has gone unaddressed because no one has reported it to the Dungeon Monitors or party hosts. If you observe inappropriate behavior at a party, please report it to the people in charge and report it immediately. Reporting it after the part is over is too late.