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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 2 of 7:
More Specific Guidelines


More Specific Guidelines

Socializing & Networking

Socializing takes place at muches, general meetings, runs, and parties. Munches are semi-public gatherings of BDSM enthusiasts for the purpose of socializing. They often take place in the private rooms of public restaurants but they can also take place in shopping mall food courts, bars, city parks, the main dining area of restaurants, and private homes.

For more on socials, munches, and bashes, please read the following three articles:

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"A good uniform must work its way with women, sooner or later."
 - Charles Dickens


You don't have to be dressed in a $500 designer latex cat suit to fit in. The models in <<O>> and Taste of Latex are not representative of the scene in general. The players come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and orientations. As Ani DiFranco sings "You don't have to be a supermodel to do the animal thang." BDSM doesn't have to be about conspicuous consumption and outrageous fashion statements. It can be -- if that's your kink -- but it doesn't have to be.

So how should you dress? It depends on the function and your area.

When in doubt, err on the side of caution.

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"If your mother tells you to do a thing, it is wrong to reply that you won't. It is better and more becoming to intimate that you will do as she bids you, and then afterward act quietly in the manner according to the dictates of your best judgment."
 - Mark Twain, "Bad Boys and Girls"


S.A.M. can mean "smart ass masochist" also known as a "brat." As the name implies, S.A.M.s are non-submissive masochistic bottoms who -- under the pretext of submission -- become deliberately disobedient and disrespectful to their dominants in order to provoke punishment. While many doms dislike this sort of manipulation and consider it "topping from below,", S.A.M. behavior can be appropriate -- if all parties enjoy and consent to it. Some doms call any bottoms who choose not to submit to them a S.A.M. when in fact, it is a bottom's prerogative to choose to whom they submit. To be a real S.A.M., a bottom must be inappropriately and intentionally rude, disrespectful, and provocative.

BTW, playful bratty behavior -- while often unacceptable in the BDSM scene -- is quite common and acceptable in the spanking scene where D/s is not an essential component.

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Touching Others

Casual touching seems like a bigger irritant in our scene than in society as a whole. I know a lot of female dominants who get notably irritated when someone touches them, their toys, or their subs without permission. I once saw a novice male dominant reaching over to touch the hand of a dominant woman he didn't know and ask her "Are you a sub or a domme?" He found out very quickly.

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Gender Identification

Drag Queens and Sissies: It is correct form to address and refer to a drag queen or a sissy as female. It is considered bad form to disparage a drag queen no matter how poorly they pass as female. That is especially true in the Gay Leather scene.

Butch: Some butch women prefer to be addressed as men and to be referred to with male pronouns. Some do not. When meeting a butch woman for the first time, the best advice is to ask "how do you prefer to be addressed?" You might forget yourself and use the incorrect pronoun on occasion but that is very common and most butch women are very forgiving if they can tell you are trying.

No matter how confused and flustered you might become over a person's gender, you must never refer to them as "it." Not being sure about a person's gender is one thing but to refute their humanity is inhumane.

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"I never apologize. I'm sorry -- but that's the way I am."
- Homer Simpson


"If a man continually blusters, if he lacks civility, a big stick will not save him from trouble."
- Theodore Roosevelt


Rudeness is inexcusable in both dominants and submissives. Even if a master orders his slave to get refreshments, the slave cannot push aside people in her way or cut in line. And a dominant may not touch someone else's property -- or even an unattached submissive -- without permission. A dominant or submissive who is rude should apologize -- truly apologize.

In "Elements of an Apology" at http://ms.ha.md.us/~tammad/, the late Tammad Rimilia describes a proper apology:

... the elements of an apology are these:

1) A restatement of what it was that you did that was wrong,

2) A statement that you regret doing that wrong thing, and

3) A promise to try not to do similar things wrong in the future.

The first element allows the recipient of the apology to feel confident that the apologist is actually thinking about the same event or act that they are. The second element conveys that the apologist is keenly sorry for what they did, and the third element gives hope that the future will proceed better.

... an apology does not feel sincere unless it incorporates all three elements.

In addition to the elements which Tammad Rimilia lists, etiqutte expert Llewellyn Miller offers the following:

A real apology does not put the blame on the injured party or someone else. A real apology does not emphasize the excuse over the regret. A real apology is not delivered in a manner that trivializes the offense.

Marsha L. Wagner offers an excellent illustration on the difference between a poor apology and a proper apology: The New York Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato mocked Judge Ito on the radio by referring to him as "Little Judge Ito" and adopting an offensive stereotypical Japanese sounding accent. The senator was widely criticized for what seemed like racial slurs and he was encouraged to apologize. In his first attempt, he issued a brief written statement through his office:

If I offended anyone, I'm sorry. I was making fun of the pomposity of the judge and the manner in which he's dragging the trial out.

That only made the situation worse so he apologized again. This time he made the following statement personally:

I'm here on the Senate floor to give a statement as it relates to that episode. It was a sorry episode. As an Italian-American, I have a special responsibility to be sensitive to ethnic stereotypes. I fully recognize the insensitivity of my remarks about Judge Ito. My remarks were totally wrong and inappropriate. I know better. What I did was a poor attempt at humor. I am deeply sorry for the pain that I have caused Judge Ito and others. I offer my sincere apologies.

The second apology was acceptable where the first was not.

In summary, a full apology consists of the following:

  1. Acknowledging the offense
  2. Admitting that the offense was wrong
  3. Explaining why you made the mistake
  4. Recognizing your responsibility
  5. Acknowledging the pain or discomfort you've caused
  6. Showing sincere regret and genuine concern over the injury
  7. Promising to try not to make the same mistake in the future. (Or in the case of major betrayals, never to make the same mistake again.)
  8. Apologizing for the discomfort or pain
  9. Attempting or offering to rectify the situation

  "Elements of an Apology" by Tammad Rimilia at http://ms.ha.md.us/~tammad/,
  "Apologies and Excuses" in The Encyclopedia of Etiquette   by Llewellyn Miller, and
  "Apologies" by Marsha L. Wagner at http://www.ombuds.uci.edu/JOURNALS/1996/apologies.html]

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Accepting Apologies

"How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it."
- Marcus Aurelius


"I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice."
- Abraham Lincoln


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Addressing Inappropriate Behavior

For the good of the community, it is everyone's responsibility to report inappropriate behavior to the correct individuals:

Subs - please stand up for yourselves or at least report inappropriate behavior. You are doing your community a disservice by being silent about abusive and predatory behavior.

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