By George Whiting
“The term ‘Leather’ embraces a whole lot of fetishes, fantasies and lifestyles; leather, rubber, boots, uniforms, BDSM etc. As we talk about leather, we remember that it is an inclusive term and that, in its diversity, there is a common thread. Simply explained, that common factor lies in the realization of personal fantasy; putting it into action through a special relationship with another (or others).
Whether the partner is a Mistress, Master, slave boy/girl, Top or bottom, that relationship calls for an appropriate manner of behaviour both in and out of the dungeon.
Leather is a lifestyle, a unique culture. The way we live will influence the way we play, and vice versa. For the committed leather person, his/her considered outlook is governed by the complete acceptance of this choice. Our attitude towards people, events and life in general is necessarily formed by fundamental convictions and beliefs, as well as experience.
In turn, attitude determines the way we behave towards individuals, and within the group. When we speak of someone ‘having attitude’, we generally infer that he exhibits rigid, inflexible and (probably) artificial personality traits calculated to impress others. More often than not, the effect is to repel rather than attract. Such persons are often covering their own insecurity or inadequacies.
Many of us have private reservations concerning our abilities in certain areas. That is natural and we lose credibility by attempting to deceive with phoney macho attitudes. My advice is to BE YOURSELF. It is possible to accept one’s shortcomings while having pride in one’s special talents.
In the conduct of BDSM relationships, honesty is paramount; honesty with ones self, as well as with partners and associates. Without honesty there will be no trust. And trust is essential, especially when an encounter is leading to the play space or dungeon. Safe, sane interaction between Top and bottom can only happen when complete consensuality exists. Without trust there can be no consent. The difference between a scene in which restraint, control, even pain become an erotic experience and one which is just painful or stressful, is the fine line between consensuality and plain brutality.
Now, to translate these abstractions into real life experience. First, before we indulge in any leather SM activity, contact is made and a relationship developed. Everyone has some picture in mind as to the qualities and attributes of a partner who will turn him on. You might meet this person socially, in which case you may be introduced. He could be personified in an ad (which may be inaccurate and misleading), or you might encounter the object of your fantasy in a cruising situation. Very often some recognisable signals are displayed which can assist in deciding whether to make an approach. Depending upon who is Top and who is bottom, the approach will differ accordingly.
In my experience it is often that the bottom will approach the Top with (of course) great respect, deference and politeness. The opening could go something like “May i be of service to you, Sir?”.
Sometimes there are non-verbal approaches when body language and mutual positioning invite a more direct physical recognition. A Top may ‘come onto’ a bottom in this way after receiving this unspoken invitation.
The next stage is negotiation. Before either partner decides to move on towards the playroom or dungeon, each will need to assess just what is expected, what are the limits to be observed and whether mutual trust is established, as well as mutual interests.
Sometimes it is the preference of one or both that a future appointment be set up, the Top setting the conditions. Whether or not further meetings are arranged or a long term relationship develops will, naturally, depend upon how well the protagonists meet each other’s needs. This is the juncture at which complete openness, honesty and trust are required.
‘Good’ behaviour does not simply apply to a one-on-one situation. In the playroom, dungeon or during a scene, ‘bad’ behaviour not only deserves to be punished, but also could be dangerous. The Top must be able to apply common sense and experience to ensure that nothing is done to harm the bottom, either physically or mentally.
Sometimes a ‘safeword’ is agreed upon which the bottom may use to stop or slow down a scene. The bottom has responsibility to signal in some way when something is going wrong. Mind and behaviour altering substances have NO place in ANY S/M scene. Even alcohol and soft drugs are a problem if not used judiciously. Both Top and bottom need to be in full possession of their faculties so as to be in complete control of the situation.
At play parties or in group scenes there are certain obligations to be observed. Anything which will detract from someone’s scene, such as interference, idle chatter and drunken or inconsiderate behaviour, is unwelcome. Most persons who come to play in a communal setting are prepared for spectators and may even be turned on by this exposure. By all means watch, but keep a respectful distance. If you become ‘caught up’ in a scene it is okay to request permission to join in. However, this should be at a suitable point when, for instance, there is some pause in the action. It all boils down to consideration, good manners and common sense.
Should you witness some apparently unsafe or non consensual practices, do not interfere but take your concern to someone in authority who can determine whether intervention is warranted. Usually, the organizers of play parties set out rules and limits which are to be observed by all participants, and have a “DungeonMaster” who oversees the actions of all who play.
In conclusion, the term ‘etiquette’ is often applied to the kind of matters which I have been discussing. I have preferred to use the ‘behaviour’ which not only includes etiquette but also puts things into a wider context. It is our whole approach to Leather which will either place it in the category of a mere adjunct to our lives, or recognize it as an integral and enriching human experience.
While some individuals may not see it as a ‘religious’ encounter, I do feel that there is a spiritual aspect which truly defines meaningful S/M experiences. Through fantasy, the use of ritual and our special human relationships, we evoke the mystery of that which we call LEATHER.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
George Whiting founded VASM (Vancouver Activists for SM) in 1982 and it became one of the leading BDSM activist associations in the world. He has been awarded a Pantheon of Leather Award twice and is respected as an influential figure in leather history.
This article first appeared in S/M Perspectives (Vol 1, Issue 2), independently published in Vancouver by Rainfall Press.