A Proposed "Pansexual Protocol"by
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. (EG. 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, 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.
You're free to copy, distribute, and re-post this article for non-commercial use, provided you:
- Post it in its entirety including the copyright notice and dedication. Graphic images are optional.
- Credit me properly,
- Include a working hyperlink to my web site at the bottom of the article, and
- Write me via email with the details (including the URL of the posting.) Use the email form at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/email.cfm but please don't post my email address. (I've gone to a lot of trouble to hide it from spammers.)
Further Reading on Etiquette and Protocol in a BDSM and Leather Context
- The Manners and Traditions Section of "Ambrosio's BDSM Site" at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/manners.cfm
- "Play Nice: Some Notes on Scene Etiquette and Leather Protocol" by Ambrosio at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/protocol.cfm
- Part 1: General Principles
- Part 2: More Specific Guidelines
- Part 3: Cruising With Class
- Part 4: Play Parties
- Part 5: Flagging, Symbols, and Rituals
- Part 6: A Few Notes on High Protocol
- Part 7: In Closing
- The Entire Article on a Single Page
- "Etiquette for the Scene" by Rose at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/etiquette.cfm
- "Civility and Incivility in the Scene" by
Chris M[Black Rose of Washington DC] at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/chrism01.cfm
- "To Share or Not to Share?" by Rowan Ste. Julian at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/share.cfm
- "Commandments: Ten Rules for Dominants / Ten Rules for Submissives" (from the SOJ) at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/t10c.cfm
- A Leather Bar Hanky Code at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/hankcode.cfm
- For further reading, there is an etiquette guide for alternative sexuality and lifestyle situtations including but not limited to BDSM: Campbell, Drew, The Bride Wore Black Leather ... and he looked fabulous! Greenery Press: Emeryville, 2000.
Links About "Old Guard" Leather
More on the "Old Guard"
- The Old Guard History, Origins and Traditions By Guy Baldwin, M.S. (from The Ties That Bind)
- Old Guard? If You say so. By Joseph W. Bean
- The Myth of the Old Guard By Jack Rinella from his Leather Views site.
- Old Guard, New Guard By
- Multiple Tops: Master, Mistress and Daddy Makes Three By Master L.J.E. An Old Guard view of 'Net Generation polyamoury.
- Marginalia on the Old Guard, Leather Traditions, and BDSM History By Ambrosio
- Rover's column in the December 1973 issue of California Scene Magazine: Earliest documented use of the phrase "old guard" in a Leather context.
- "Old Guard" Links on the Manners and Traditions page.
Further Reading on Etiquette in General
- Etiquette by Emily Post: This is an online republication of the 1922 edition of Emily Post's 627-page first edition Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home (The 1922 edition is the most highly recommended book for High Procotol.)
- U. S. Flag Protocol (Title 4)
- George Washington's "Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation"
- Cardinal Newman On Being a Gentleman
- Passage from Jane Austen's Northhanger Abbey
Further Etiquette and Protocol Links
- Additional links in the "Manners and Traditions" section at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/manners.cfm
Additional Articles by Ambrosio
- "Some Notes on Safety for Meeting Online and Off" at
- "Meeting Someone Else into BDSM" at
- "An Open Letter to a Novice Domme" at
- "Perverted Vocabulary: a Glossary of Terms Used in BDSM" at
- "Some Notes on Netiquette and 'Net Basics" at
- "Marginalia on the Old Guard, Leather Traditions, and BDSM History" at
- "Play Nice: Some Notes on Scene Etiquette and Leather Protocol" at
- "Polyamory and BDSM" at
- "An Open Letter to Law Enforcement" at
- "Some Criteria for Consensual D/s Contracts" at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/contract00.cfm
- "Kinky Mainstream DVDs" (a critical list) at
- "Dawn Perlmutter's 'Dark Subculture' Witch Hunt" at
- "Anatomy for Flogging: The Back" at
- "A Rant on Mentorship" at
- "A Surprising Discovery" at
- "Is Masochism Addictive?" at