Civility and Incivility
in the Scene
[copyrighted by the authors, used with permission]
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 one's 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 non-consensual meanness. This propensity, often called "Tops disease," is by no means limited to dominants. It is nation wide 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 back-stabbing goes on unabated. The last Black Rose election cycle produced a virtual demolition derby 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 last 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 disproportionate absence of people of color, who understand discrimination and hostility when they see it, may feel unwelcome, and stay away. 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?
The Scope of the Problem
What is Incivility?
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 dirt. Plus, gossip serves a valuable purpose when finding about someone you may be interested in playing with. By scene standards, it is not uncivil to conduct good faith peer review by 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 to 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 it "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-on, boastful presentation of one's 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 Re-fair enthusiasts in our midst) and this is both good and bad. Some take the view that the scene is a place their fantasy becomes 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 you're 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. Below is a table highlighting the differences between desirable imperial behavior and the often time reality:
||Judgmental, dogmatic, scornful of other points of view
|Kingly (or Queenly), regal
||Bossy, arrogant, dictatorial, domineering
||Clique-Minded, ready to rally others into personal feuds and vendettas
|Just, Impartial, Fair Minded
||Unjust, Biased, Greedy-Minded
|Brave, committed to principals
||Cowardly, sees threats and conspiracies everywhere
|Independent in thought
||Over-reliance on politics, platitudes and maxims "All doms do this.. A sub that does z cannot be a true sub"
|Modest, friendly to all
||Haughty, self important, Hierarchy obsessed, belittling, even strangers towards perceived "inferiors"
|Large hearted, generous to others
||Greedy, Stingy, Peevish, Self- Involved
|Open minded, appreciative of
||Stubborn, Inflexible, threatened by, or hostile to, change or other's contributions new ideas. Has difficulty sharing the spotlight
|Patient with others shortcomings
||Bitchy, unforgiving, grudge-loving
|Self Aware, Mature
|Social, respectful of peers
||Asocial, Has difficulty getting along with others
|Careful with words and speech
||Gossipy, indiscrete, prone to bad-mouthing others
|Holds self to high standards
||Holds others to higher standards than self
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 one's 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.
This article continues on the next page. You can use this
Sorry Manners ~ Part II - to go there now.