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 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 advise 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 gorean 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 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 scenefolk, 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 see 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 leatherfolk 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 discussed.

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 corner.

The scene, like any fringe group, attracts its share of eccentrics and outcasts, some fascinating and agreeable, others less so. Newcomer na?vet?: 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 naivete 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 time. 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 tool. 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 victory.)


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 Safety. 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

Article 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).

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