Monday, May 26, 2008

Civility and Incivility in the Scene:

By Chris M [Black Rose of Washington DC] and Lady Medora [New Orleans
Power Exchange] (The authors hope that everyone and anyone will send
this through any boards you belong to including the authors names).

One of the most grave and inexplicable problems facing our community
in general is the continued presence of downright rudeness. It
takes many forms: gossip, arrogance, slander, ingratitude,
interpersonal cruelty y, Rumor-mongering, the propensity to snub, shun
or belittle, a refined Sensitivity to slight paired with strident
disregard for how ones actions And words effect others. It is
astonishing, and terribly sad, how poorly we Get along from the
viewpoint of interpersonal relationships. Why a community like ours,
whose members strive for a mature outlook on power, consent and
tolerance should feud with such violence and monotonous regularity is
a true mystery.

In our community, we see behavior one would never dream grown adults
could stoop to. We have seen SM groups who ought to get along fine,
bicker endlessly and mindlessly. We have seen "leaders" whose mission
appears to be the personal demolition of others whose contributions
to the community might challenge their own. We know good people who
have left the scene because of the cattiness, clique-mentality, and
deliberate un consenting meanness. This propensity, often
called "Tops", is by no means limited to dominants. It is nationwide
in scope affecting virtually every group we have visited in our

It isn't hard to imagine a universe where this kind of behavior never
occurred at all. Aggression, power and consent, to say nothing of
etiquette, are concepts SM folk deal with all the time. The BDSM
community has made great strides in developing and documenting a wide
variety of safe SM practices, protocols and standards for negotiation
and play. Yet, strangely, the bickering, bitchiness and backstabbing
goes on unabated. The last two Black Rose election cycles, have
produced virtual demolition derbies of friendships over seemingly
trivial issues. TES went through a similar bloodbath several years
ago, in the wake of their 25th anniversary celebration. And many
small groups have closed, not because of legal persecution, fiscal
mismanagement or lack of membership, but due to jealously, power
struggles, and malicious gossip. The wounds inflicted by incivility
exceed any damage perfumed in consensual dungeon play and the
emotional scarring that uncivil behavior leaves on its victims lasts
longer than any bruise.

You might guess that the worst of this behavior comes from scene
novices but you would be wrong. Beginners, usually eager to fit in
and make friends, typically deport themselves well. The worst of this
behavior comes from people who have been in the scene for years.
People with experience, with play partners, with contacts, are often
the most judgmental, least generous, most easily-offended, readiest
to slander others. It is strange, but over and over we have seen
seemingly friendly newcomers arrive in the scene, become avid pupils
of our craft, grow into competent players, then unexpectedly mutate
into arrogance, self-importance and interpersonal ruthlessness. Many
leave the community in bitterness, anger or disgrace. The civility
question may play a role in the scene's curious lack of people of
color, who understand discrimination and hostility when they see it,
and feel unwelcome. It hurts our leather brethren, demolishes
friendships, breaks the spirit of our volunteers, cripples social
groups, invites retaliation, and weakens our claim that SM is
practiced by emotionally healthy, well-adjusted people. Why are we
doing this? What can we do to stop it?

We will go straight to examples. By no means exhaustive, here are
some categories of incivility we encounter in the scene.

The Empathy Gap: This is subtle, but actually lies behind much
uncivil behavior. Not so much the presence of hatred or dislike, but
an absence of empathy and kindness towards other members of our SM
community. In a better world, we would all actively welcome
strangers, extend cordiality, start up conversations, feel a little
compassion towards others like ourselves. But, more often than not,
people feel nothing in particular towards people they meet in the
scene. This "inner nothingness" sets the stage for much of the
uncivil behavior we find in the scene.

Gossip: We all do it, and yes it can be loads of fun catching up on
all the latest. Plus, gossip serves a valuable purpose when inquiring
about someone you may be interested in playing with. by scene
standards, it is not uncivil to conduct good faith peer review while
inquiring about someone's play style, experience, and reputation. But
gossip conducted with the intent to harm, or passing along dubious or
inflammatory rumors is behavior that hurts the scene. In gossip, as
with other things, there must be some sense of proportion. Gossip can
also violate the confidentiality of individuals, possibly subjecting
them to dangerous and unnecessary risk. Both truth and privacy are
cardinal principals in the scene, and reckless gossip damages both.

Clique Politics: To have a circle of friends is a good thing, but not
when the goal is circling the wagons to shut out people who "don't
fit in" In the same way that benign sharing of information can be
amplified into vicious, destructive gossip, maintaining cliques whose
purpose it is to weaken and ostracize others, hurts the community as
well as the individuals excluded. Ultimately, clique players make so
many enemies that they themselves are resented or unwelcome.

Sweet and Sour: A clique politics tactic: Some people make
extravagant show of how close and loving they are to their circle of
friends, hugs, smiles, introductions glowing compliments, in part too
maximize the sting inflicted against perceived outsiders, who are
refused even the time of day. A stock move among catty sorority girls
during rush week, (the Amish call this shunning) it's embarrassing to
see how many grown men and women use "sweet and sour" to isolate and
hurt individuals whose feelings and esteem they regard as
unimportant. This truly nasty habit creates "us and them" fissures,
that fragment the community, hurt feelings and invite retaliation.

Chicken Hawk Syndrome: With a constant influx of SM beginners, some
attempt to acquire play partners under the guise of "mentoring".
Chicken hawk syndrome includes strong come-ons, boastful presentation
of ones own experience and skill, sometimes in trashing other people,
sometimes attempting to isolate new people from the presence or
influence of others, all in the name of "education", or at least
active attempts to recruit them into their clique of preference.
While there is nothing wrong with expressing interest in someone (new
to the community or not) it is dishonest to couch your interest in
terms of education. For new people we advice you to take your time in
choosing exclusive mentors if you feel the need to do that at all,
and ideally to form relationships with a circle of friends and not to
rely on just one point of view.

SM Psychodrama: High volume yelling matches, absurd conspiracy
mongering, unbridled venom towards community peers...Does any of this
sound familiar? Here's a test: If such behavior would get you fired
from a professional workplace, please leave it at home. Failure to
separate role from reality: We are an imaginative bunch (witness the
number of science fiction fans, and Ren-fair enthusiasts in our
midst) and this is both good and bad. Some take the view that the
scene is a place their fantasy become reality, raising the specter of
unrealistic expectations which can infringe on safety, consent even
sanity. Someone who prides herself on being an unreasonable,
demanding bitch in scene should always watch to draw a line between
what is appropriate in scene and into daily life, even if they
consider themselves "lifestyle".

The Dom=Dickhead syndrome: While some dominants are true artists
cultivating a gourmet's appreciation of pleasure, pain and power,
others are mere peevish control queens, itchy for a chance to
criticize, get belligerent, boss others around. Still others, new to
the community (but not to Gor novels) make the classic error of
equating their sexual dominance with an overbearing, overreaching
manner dominated by virtue of their presence at a SM event.
Regardless of how dominant you are within your consenting
relationships (and more power to ya!), you can no more "assume"
consent in your interactions with others, than you can in an SM
scene. Dominants who assume its okay to boss others around, and
demand subservient treatment, demanded rudely, are making the classic
newbie error of assuming its okay to touch or grab others bodies
without out asking.

The Realness Police: In which everyone assumes that your SM should
closely resemble theirs. Scoffing at scenes for being too mild, too
heavy or too whatever. One particularly odious habit is the loudly
proclaimed belief in those great SM unicorns the "true dom" (" true
doms never bottom...being a true dom means never having to say your
sorry, etc.") or "true submissive" ("If you were a TRUE submissive
you would do X for me, let me do Y to you, take it in stride while I
waltz off and do Z.")

The Imperial-Imperious confusion: Some scene folk, in an effort to
appear imperial (kingly, of high standard, worthy of respect) conduct
themselves in a manner that is imperious (overbearing, bossy,
judgmental). A surprising number of scene-folk begin this confusion
after a few years in the community, as they assume leadership
positions, or when they decide that it is time they were recognized
as authorities, if not superiors. While many feel that imperious
behavior demonstrates expertise, importance and intelligence, in
truth it almost never fails to alienate potential friends and play
partners and make the offender look bad. While pecking order tactics
like these are fine for beings with the intelligence and spiritual
depth of sparrows and chickens, in humans they are shallow, unkind
and run counter to the spirit of "safe sane and consensual."
Furthermore, people will not
continue to support and tolerate people who treat them badly. Even
so, unwise bystanders, occasionally reward this kind of boorishness
with attention and respect, making our collective problem worse. New
people this behavior in community leaders and players of high
prominence and emulate it, believing it to be proper, accepted or
connoting high status.

Expert-itus: (a variant of the previous point) the state of confusing
ones own expertise with the ability to pick nits, and find faults in
other people's play, demeanor, protocol, motives. While sharing scene
knowledge is generally a good thing, it can be, and often is,
overdone. Go easy on the free advice.

In fairness, we don't want to suggest that leather folk are inherently
rude people. The scene, as wonderful as it can be, contains many
subtle and seldom discussed "stress factors" that contribute to
uncivil behavior. Like water over a stone, these stress factors wear
on the nerves year after year, thus setting the stage for impatience,
irritation, depression and the empathy deficit we have already

The scene is a small world, and quarters are close, closer than we
might like sometimes. Because BDSM is an interest that selects at
random, we often find ourselves spending a lot of time with people we
might not otherwise choose as friends.

The scene is an intensely intimate place, we express our inner
fantasies and fears, sometimes share partners, see each other nude,
watch each other cum...Is it any wonder people are sensitive about
how we are treated by others?

Because these practices are incredibly diverse, we find themselves in
the occasional presence of activities that make us uncomfortable. The
scene is a strange place and it takes a while to adjust. (And some
things you may never get used to.)

The pressures of closeting: The pressure of maintaining a secret
life, of hiding your leather life from friends, colleagues, and
family adds a constant overlay of tension to daily life. Scene folk
have to manage the presence of fetish contraband including toys,
clothes, literature and erotica whose discovery might be
catastrophic. The risk, real or perceived, can encompass loss of
employment, of friends, of family, even custody of ones' kids.

Jealousy, loneliness and competition for partners are facts of life.
People without play partners may become unhappy or angry. People seen
as getting more than their share can trigger insecurity and
resentment. Even people with partners may see threats around every

The scene, like any fringe group, attracts its share of eccentrics
and outcasts, some fascinating and agreeable, others less so.
Newcomer naïveté??: New people unacquainted to the scene's protocols
occasionally touch, grab or conduct themselves in an inappropriate
manner. Although individuals typically learn to deport themselves
over time, the constant influx of newcomers means newcomer naïveté? is
a constant, grating issue.

The realities of the party circuit: It is a hard fact of scene life
is that most parties are private and their invite lists finite. For
every guest invited there are twenty left outside. The guest list is
dictated by what the hosts can afford, their circle of friendships,
the size of their home and many other factors. But it still stings to
hear about a party without getting an invite. And it happens all the

EMAIL (the medium of choice for many SM participants) : Without a
friendly face or modulations of human speech, text encounters can be
easily misstated/misunders tood. Couple that with the sometimes blunt
writing style of emailers everywhere, the added gravity of the
written word and the ease of escalating a private remark into public
rebuke with a misplaced keystroke, and you've got the makings for an
online food fight.

One of the more sobering aspects of the list above, is that there
really are no easy solutions to any of these problems. The scene is
small, people are sensitive, invite lists are short, and we really do
have some truly eccentric people who will continue to behave
eccentrically. But there is room for hope. We do a good job of
establishing, and enforcing, play standards to make SM safe and hot.
We are improving all the time as educators of play practices. But,
interpersonal conduct outside of the SM encounter itself, has not
been made a priority and its probably time it should be. We must
recognize civility (defined in part by the examples in this report)
as a threat to the health of our community, and commit ourselves as
individuals, to improving our own behavior first. We must extend
civility, decency, care and concern beyond our personal circle to
members of the community at large. This doesn't mean we have to be
everyone's bosom bud, but that concern for others is a priority
instead of the non-issue it is for many at present. We are not
talking about sainthood or communism here. The goal is not to stand
around a campfire in a ring, holding hands singing Kumbaya. But if we
all improve our behavior, and extend our compassion by ten percent,
we will be living in a completely transformed universe. Secondly,
through mentoring and our education programs, we must elevate
civility as a requirement for our leaders and citizens. While scene
etiquette (a subset of civility), is an SM staple, it deals mainly
with deportment, protocols and standards of interaction, and doesn't
address the deeper issues of cultivating compassion, tolerance and
awareness, towards our SM brethren. These are tougher ethics-driven
issues often without simple answers. And, though vocal, it is a
minority of scene-folk who do the worst of this callous behavior.
Most want a scene that is friendly and supportive. Many are willing
to work to make it so (hopefully you too if you've read this far).
And though the gossips, scolds and assholes among us often succeed in
hurting their intended targets (and incidentally, our community),
their greatest causalities
are ultimately their own reputations. Remember that we are all
brothers and sisters in a community no matter how diverse. If we
behave like we care about and support one other, we will all find
ourselves, by definition, in an environment that is more caring and
supportive. Improved civility should presented as causal to the
following desirable conditions: stability of friendships; respect of
peers; trust of potential play partners (civility means stability);
strengthens ones personal network of contacts; supports the position
that SM is practiced by sane, well adjusted people; elevates fairness
and justice (which are eternal) as the coin of the realm as opposed
to popularity and bureaucratic clout (which are fleeting and can
vanish at any moment); strengthens the community and makes it
healthier; raises the comfort quotient for newcomers.

Strive as individuals and organizations to extend "safe, sane, and
consensual" into the arena of interpersonal conduct. So lets turn the
laser beam of SSC onto our civility concerns and see what it tells
us: Uncivil behavior is nonconsensual: Unless assured, otherwise good
manners and general kindness should be the coin of the realm. To do
less is to engage someone without their consent. Doms should restrict
their dominance to those who have consented to it. Submissives who
pester others with unsolicited subservience are likewise in
violation. And nonconsensual dominance in the name of "mentoring"
doesn't wash either. Gossips and scolds should likewise consider
their behavior in terms of consent. Subjecting someone to a tongue
lashing or a gossip campaign is really no better than drawing out a
flogger and hammering away at them without warning. Uncivil behavior
is not safe: Cruel, thoughtless behavior can damage hurt people,
deeply, for as long time, and that cannot be called safe. In the same
way that humiliation can be more damaging than physical pain, the
emotional harm inflicted from
incivility may far exceed what you intend. Unsolicited advice can
come across as cutting, and judgmental. Incivility also sets a
diminished community standard for others to follow, making incivility
more acceptable and social environment suffers often scaring mature
decent people away, and can in time bring a group to its knees. Small
acts of rudeness, or disregard, even if only perceived as such can
balloon up into clique wars.

And if the well being of your intended victim means nothing to you,
consider this: If you make trouble for people, chances are it will
come back to haunt you later on. People have a way of reciprocating
behavior. Be nice and people will be nice back. Be a jackass and
that's how others will see AND speak of you. This is a small world
and if you screw someone, you are handing them a motive to get you
back later. Even if you are queen of the in-clique at present, no one
controls the future and, over time, the leather gods have a way of
evening things out. The community is close, memory is long, and
paybacks are a bitch. For this reason alone, uncivil behavior is
unsafe to you.

Uncivil behavior is not even all that sane: For years many of us felt
we were solitary freaks before finding this community. To reinforce
feelings of rejection in our brothers and sisters by deliberately
withholding human decency, or subjecting them to deliberate hardship,
is just not defensible. People who find themselves helpless to resist
clashing with or inflicting imperious behavior on their scene
fellows, would do well to begin some serious soul searching and
perhaps seeking out the help they need. A lot of uncivil behavior is
retaliatory. Someone does something that hurts or offends you
prompting an aggressive response. Unfortunately this may be exactly
how it looks to the person you just dissed. If you find that your
actions and behavior are building up to a feud, it is a great idea to
apologize for your
part in the situation and disengage from the conflict. Furthermore,
the long term gains from uncivil behavior are so meager, and the
costs so high that it really does not pay for people who hope to stay
in the community for some time. (Even if they win a short term

Taking care of your community. Take care of its members. Agree to
disagree. you don't have to dis just because you dislike. Civility
demonstrates stability. Piss off a bigot; be nice to a leather
person. Imperious does not mean imperial. SSC is always in effect,
whether or not a scene is in progress. Resist the urge to reward
slanderous gossip with your attention and involvement -it's not
consensual, and not safe, even it's sanity is questionable. Tithe:
give ten percent more in kindness appreciation gratitude,
forgiveness. Never assume. Never assume Consent. SM does not stand
for Super Man - nobody is perfect and everyone makes Mistakes. Be
willing to concede the point if you have been uncivil. Being willing
to fess up, and apologize, makes you stronger, not weaker. Always try
to be the voice of sanity and reason. Incivility is uncivil, whatever
the excuse. Try to maintain perspective. Maintain a healthy sense of
humor. True wealth is the ability to give kindness. Never forget your
pleasure. Acceptance is voluntary, tolerance is mandatory.


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