I was recently asked if I could help introduce a friend of a friend into the BDSM scene. In the conversation that followed, I tried to come up with as many useful nuggets of advice as possible based on my experiences. In doing so, I struck on one idea that stood out from the others. It’s a piece of advice that I think is useful outside of the context of BDSM as well – any time someone is about to immerse themselves in a new social context, particularly a social context that revolves around sexuality.
The advice is this: if someone, anyone, does something to you or with you that you aren’t comfortable with, and you hear that little voice in your head saying “Well, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that, but maybe that’s just how people do things here”, DO NOT EVER LISTEN TO IT.
If someone engages with you in a way that makes you uncomfortable (they creep you out, they touch you without your consent, they try to pressure you into doing something, they act entitled to your time or attention, etc.), YOUR DISCOMFORT IS VALID AND SHOULD BE RESPECTED. It isn’t that “People just do things differently here”, it isn’t that you’re supposed to be okay with X, Y, or Z because you’re a sub or a dom or a top or a bottom or a sadist or a masochist or switch or any other damn thing. If someone engages with you in a way that isn’t okay with you, you always, always, always should have the right to disengage, to express your discomfort, and to have your discomfort respected. In any circumstance where this is not the case, someone other than you is doing something wrong. Any community that doesn’t automatically assume that you have a right to have your discomfort respected is a community that you should avoid.
I met someone in the scene once who told me that he thought the best determiner of whether or not a particular dominant would be a good person to be around or not was this: if the dominant in question introduced themselves by saying, “Hi, my name is Mike!”, or similar, probably a good person. If they introduced themselves with, “Hi, I am Master Such-and-Such”, or similar, probably not. This is a huge oversimplification, and not necessarily a rule I agree with (though I do find myself generally more wary of those who introduce themselves by a title versus those who introduce themselves by a name), but it illustrates a fundamentally important point about the scene: all kinksters should be human beings first and kinksters second*.
Decent human beings don’t deny people the right to disengage from activities or circumstances that make them uncomfortable, they don’t knowingly violate consent, they don’t make you feel like your discomfort is inappropriate, and they don’t try to make you go along with things because “This is just how it’s done”. When something happens with someone that makes you uncomfortable, that should be respected whether you are friends, coworkers, lovers, play partners, acquaintances, 24/7 power exchangers, fuck buddies, or penpals. No social context of any sort makes it less valid. Full stop.
*Replace the word “kinksters” in this sentence with any other noun indicating membership in any particular type of community, and this point holds. It holds for kinksters, poly people, geeks, and atheists, to name just a few groups that I, personally, subscribe to.