a male submissive's point of view
PROTOCOL, PRO AND CON
I have on two occasions, that I know of, unintentionally broken protocol as I define it below with anger, rage, and what I thought at the time to be insults and abuse heaped on me, and what is worse, upon my Mistress. Since I am submissive only to my Mistress, and very aggressive otherwise, my instinct was to strike back verbally, but I tried to react rationally along the lines of "I meant no disrespect, but also do not feel honor or socially bound to treat you in any special way beyond the normal vanilla bounds of courtesy, decency and respect." If you, the reader, do not feel bound by such a protocol, you know this is a recipe for disaster if you have violated a protocol. There must be a better way than all my attempts at discussion which are much like discussions of religion.
I would like to look at the group, however defined, and its rules from a sociological viewpoint, because, "...S&M; is most realistically viewed as a social behavior." (Weinberg, 1994) This is naturally so, because all activities of D/s, which I use interchangeably with S&M; for this article, are always done with at least one other person, and often in a group setting with two or more participating in a scene (or at a munch, etc.) with or without one or more spectators.
Generally by protocol is meant fairly rigid rules of behavior between individuals in a given group, and/or fairly rigid rules of behavior between classes of individuals in that group, and/or fairly rigid rules of behavior between individuals on one class of the group to another class of individuals in the group. I refer to slave to Mistress, Mistress to slave and also all slaves to all Mistresses or all Mistresses to all slaves. The situation is not so difficult to the knowledgeable visitor who subscribes to the necessity of a protocol, but to a novice or an unsympathetic but experienced visitor, one to whom the protocol is not important, protocol can be a minefield of social danger.
In reading the book referenced below, I think at last I understand the insistence on protocol and my lack of understanding of that protocol, and most of all, the purposes that protocols probably serve and served. Of course, for groups that rely on protocals, I am referring in general to the so called "Old Guard" Lifestylers, who I am led to believe were brought up in the image of the original gay Leathersex phenomenon that started as far as I can tell in the 1970's.
Now here is the (rough) history as I have culled it from much reading. If I err, please write and tell me. The 1970's coincided with the beginnings of the Gay Pride movement where homosexual men were coming out and being more public. Gay bars and other organizations and publications, both social and political were forming and openly so. I'm not sure I buy this next part, but the book below indicates more than once that some of the gay men in seeking either super-masculine images or super-masculine lovers as a reaction to the public image of male homosexuals as unvaryingly effeminate, kind of invented (?? some gay guys, help me here!) or at least came to the ultra-masculine "Leatherman" identity of black leather, heavy boots, caps, heavy chrome key and other chains, snaps, and studs, knives, etc. and invented (or adopted??) S&M; play/fantasy/role playing/lifestyles in this quest. As time went by, a few Leathersex bars and clubs opened to fit the need of places for these men to associate and to meet each other and to hook up for scenes, relationships or maybe just for sex.
We all know how dangerous it can be to play with someone we do not know, and when we do not know his or her style, preferences, limits, judgement, passions, etc. Well, the story goes, the original Leathersex protocol evolved as a solution in addressing this serious problem. The protocol proscribed not only the behaviors I noted above about current interactions, but the education and training necessary for a new man to learn the ropes, both the etiquette and what we today call Safe, Sane, and Consensual.
As an interesting aside, this learning period was presented in the book as a major reason many or most men started out as subs then "matured" in experience to be tops.
Finally, when the pioneers of us less daring heterosexuals started seeking out others to interact and play with, the Leathersex model was adopted. But from our prospective of recent times with much more openness the protocols are not always adopted. The openness is in the media, S&M; magazines, contact magazines and newsprint publications, even major metropolitan newspaper "Lonely Hearts" ad sections, and of course, the Internet with pay and free sites, clubs, groups, and e-zines such as this one, all of which have served to promote our present fluid lifestyle with generally many places and venues to meet in. With such mobility as we have today, featuring many places to go and many people at each place, it is much easier to check out potential partners and to form a personal opinion of him or her from watching him or her in action, and asking around for opinions about the prospect from many trusted friends. So to some of us a rigid protocol for training and protection is not so necessary, and many of us do without it and fail to understand those who do have a protocol either because they are honestly oldtimers or because they "broke in" and trained in those traditions.
If you are like me, in a committed monogamous relationship with your Mistress, a protocol can look specious. But if you are alone, and dependent on occasionally or often playing with strangers, you had better have a reservoir of people with knowledge and opinions about your proposed partner, or a rigid protocol with the severe power to ostracise offenders. And that power of excommunication, possible only with a rigid set of traditions, was another good reason for a rigid, no nonsense protocol.
And besides, on the fun side, a set of extremely detailed and precise rules certainly affords many opportunities for great fantasy, role playing, mystery, discipline, suspense, the thrill of fear, control, helplessness, vulnerability, humiliation, and above all of the symbolism of the exchange of power.
So, I for one am going to try to be more understanding whenever I find such a protocol, and try to "cool it" at least so I don't make waves. After all, "When in Rome..." It is better to understand, than to be understood.
Reference: Studies in Dominance & Submission, ed. Thomas S Weinberg, Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York, 1995