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Civility and Incivility in the Scene:

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, 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 disease”, is by no means limited to dominants. It is nationwide in scope affecting virtually every group we have visited in our travels.

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 exclu