Respect and Protocol in the Lifestyle

Just as a qualifier I am using the male pronouns for Dominants and female pronouns for submissive – but of course it could be changed. This is just the easiest for me to write in, as I am a female submissive whose Master is male.

Most of us have been to BDSM events, parties, munches and other miscellany gatherings where someone may complain about the behavior of a certain individual, or someone that exceeds an acceptable level of behavior and becomes unruly. It happens in the vanilla world so why wouldn’t it happen in the BDSM community. In BDSM settings as well as vanilla there is a relative level of acceptable behavior. We often refer to this acceptable form of behavior as protocol. To simply define it, protocol is: etiquette, code of behavior, practice. In D/s terms, it can take on different meanings, but for the sake of this article it’s dealing with the social interaction between couples, singles, Dominants and submissives and all those in the BDSM community.

There is a preconceived notion that once you’re in the lifestyle somehow a magical transformation occurs where every submissive is open and available to anyone and everyone in the room. Granted, there are parties and gatherings where this type of behavior is accepted, encouraged, and expected. However, in most munches, play parties and BDSM events, this approach is not embraced by everyone. Making the assumption that every submissive will want to serve a Dominant is not being responsible, hence the need to have protocols.

A Dominant male attends some sort of BDSM function where there are new people that he does not recognize. As he meets and greets people that he does know, what protocols are out there when he meets a female submissive for the first time? How does he know if she is collared or not? Maybe there is a collar on her how does he approach her? Collars are used to be symbolic and significant throughout the lifestyle. So how does a Dominant identify if a submissive has been collared or not? Do we as a community know when a female who wears a little choker around her neck is collared or not? Instead of making an assumption, why not resort to the art of communication and ask her? Some collars are under layers of clothing – others are stark and noticeable. Other collars are not even collars at all as they become some sort of fashion statement – or one step further, they could be vanilla and just like dressing up Gothic. Or maybe there is not a visible collar instead they use a piercing or tattoo. Easy to assume, harder to pull one’s foot from one’s mouth – ask first before you go too far.

If someone is collared, what then becomes the protocol for communication? As per typical in the vanilla way of things – you typically don’t (or shouldn’t) hit on your neighbor’s wife. The same holds true for the lifestyle D/s relationship as we hope that there is a respect and honor among each. Unfortunately just as those that like to encroach in relationships on the vanilla side of the fence, also do the same thing on the D/s side of the fence as well.

While there’s no generally accepted wrong approach to talking with a collared submissive, there are definite parameters to work within. Most notably is that even if a submissive is collared to someone – does not automatically make them collared to every Dominant that walks in the room. It’s up to the submissive’s Dominant to establish an acceptable response to someone else who may try to intervene in that relationship. If a Dominant outside of the relationship cannot respect them, then the submissive should be given the power to respectfully excuse herself/himself from the situation. Everyone should respect what the protocol that her Dominant has laid out instead of pushing the situation. Another unknown element is what type of protocol the submissive may be in at that party. Maybe the Dominant has placed her in high protocol and she would be unable to speak, eyes downcast, and may even come across being rude because she was told not to respond or react. On another track: maybe the Dominant has an existing rule in place for their submissive and how to act and respond in public.

Respect in the lifestyle varies, but it’s very responsible to assume nothing and be mindful and polite towards the submissive and the Dominant they are attached to. The following actually happened while I attended a private D/s setting without my Master. I had on my (very visible) collar and I was then given an order by a Dominant at the gathering. He used a very authoritative tone. He did not ask me – he commanded me. This Dominant was not someone who I am familiar with – he was someone I had just met. He and I even had a conversation prior to his instructions about how I was owned and that my Master had allowed me to attend the gathering. Was his command appropriate? Given that my Master did give me certain rules and guidelines, he did not authorize me to take orders from every Dominant that walked in the room. I was stunned, upset and paused for a moment. Because it was related to my close friends, I did what was asked even though I was not extremely happy about how I was put in that situation. I felt upset and did not feel as though he respected my relationship with my Master or also me as a submissive.

Okay so what if I wasn’t owned? Was it okay for him to just “tell” me what to do without any other setup, discussion, or negotiation? No, I don’t think a Dominant should order or tell a submissive to do something without their consent. Unattached submissives present are not just there for any Dominant use and abuse. Just because someone is submissive does not mean they submit to every Dominant that walks in the room. And the submissive should know she has her personal power to excuse herself from the situation.

The Dominant that told me to go do something could have said – “Will you please go put that down and come back here to help out?” Instead in a more dominating demeanor he said, “…go put that down and then come back here and help.” I’ve long since considered the ramifications if I would have told him, or asked him to rephrase the question more acceptably. How would he have felt if I had told him that? Would he felt it was disrespectful to him as Dominant? The response would’ve likely been negative because it would have been seen as defying his “authority” or “place” in the lifestyle. Would it have been disrespectful to him as a Dominant? Considering the lack of respect he had for saying what he did, the way he did – should he expect any respect to be given back to him? Since he did not do anything to merit receiving respect, it’s not unreasonable for him to expect less respect in return.

Does that reflect poorly? It may. But submissives can and should bestow integrity just as much as Dominants should. My Master was proud of the way I handled the situation even though he was not really pleased that the other Dominant intervened as he did. It makes one wonder if the Dominant would have been so demanding had Master been there with me.

The main thing about protocol is that respect goes both ways. Even though Master does/can and will order me around, there are times He will still ask me to something and thank me for it. Just because a person says they are a Dominant does not give them the license to be disrespectful, less polite and demanding. Ultimately every person who attends any BDSM function should be treated with courtesy with their rights being respected and honored. No one should make a demand of another unless both parties have consented.

While most of this article specifically identifies areas in which Dominants should be more respectful, the same can be said for submissives as well. It’s important to remember that every submissive is under no obligation to serve or obey anyone they do not choose to serve. If this is a private play party where specific rules are to be observed, then it’s the responsibility of the submissive to be fully versed in what could potentially happen while attending that particular function. Dominants should watch after submissives that may have unexpectedly entered “in the wrong place, at the wrong time” and take measures to see that things still remain on a consensual basis.

Just as Dominants need to follow protocol when approaching submissives, subs need to follow their own level of protocol. That’s not to say that a submissive can’t be themselves, but care and prudence need to be exercised when in a public or a private setting. Some Dominants may like being called “Master or Mistress/Sir or Ma`am” where others would find that offensive and presumptuous. Submissives also need to be aware it is extremely inappropriate for a submissive to surround, fondle, or present themselves to a Dominant without permission from the Dominant.

There are a lot of different thoughts pertaining to an acceptable approach to meeting up with someone within the lifestyle. Some protocols are explicit when they state that it is “not permissible for a collared submissive to be approached, spoken to or touched by another person without the EXPLICIT permission of their Dominant. Any unapproved contact of ANY sort is considered to be highly offensive.” Some strict rules such as this carry a tough penalty including that if any one that did such a thing would be asked to leave the event or gathering.

Now I do find that a little extreme. But I do understand it. If I was in high protocol and someone came up to me to speak to me or give me a hug…I would be disobeying my Master by breaking protocol. Therefore, cover your bases. Be polite and respectful, go up to the Dominant first, ask permission and let nature take its course after that.

Some general rules for everyone to follow:
* Be Real…
* Be Honest…
* Be Upfront…
* Be Polite…
* Have Respect…

Rules especially for Dominants to follow when they meet a submissive:
* Treat her as you would want a friend to be treated…
* Treat her as you would treat someone you were meeting in a mall for the first time…
* Ask her to do something, don’t tell or command her to do something…
Rules especially for submissives to follow when they meet a Dominant:
* Know your place – meaning be able to differentiate between a consensual and non-consensual situation
* Respectfully decline. There’s no need to be aggressive, but if the situation becomes smothering, approach the leader of the gathering for assistance.

Each person might be a little nervous on what to do, but generally if you are not sure what to be doing or saying – a good common rule to follow is to just be courteous. Good manners are always appropriate vanilla or BDSM.

© within Reality: danae 2003 – all rights reserved