by Viola de Grey
|Who Taught You Your Manners Boy?
Toward a More Civil Discourse Among Pansexual
In the pansexual Leather, fetish, and SMBD communities, we talk almost
endlessly about civility and respect.
Yet, when you listen to us talk about and to one another, both of these
are often in alarmingly short supply.
The issue is not specific to these communities. It is a growing
trend in the wider world, which has garnered significant critical and
intellectual attention. Essentially, basic courtesies are being eroded,
dispensed with, and devalued. As SM practitioners, we have historically
prided ourselves on valuing courtesy, and maintained that we are able
to play with fire because
we could do so responsibly. If this is so, we should surely be able
to treat one another in a respectful, decent, and adult manner.
The purpose of this article is not to complain about the status quo and
offer no practical strategy. Rather, this article sets out to demonstrate
that there are several resources available, both internal and external
to Leather, that could help our communities be a more honorable, hospitable,
and earnestly diverse place.
I have read a lot of good material on basic scene etiquette, and I feel
that some of the best philosophy of mutual respect lies there. With
a little imagination and extrapolation, you may notice that a lot of event
etiquette doubles as discursive and discussion etiquette:
If you see a scene that scares or bothers you, but is within house rules,
remove yourself. Do not interrupt it. Do not talk trash about
the participants. Do not question their right to be at the party,
or invalidate their scene to feel better about your own play.
This can easily be translated to a discussion application:
If someone identifies himself or herself in a way that puzzles you, or
enjoys something you do not, or believes something you do not, choose
to listen and learn, beg to differ politely, question him or her respectfully
or ignore the issue. Do not vilify or patronize something simply
because you choose not to understand it.
This is merely one example. I am beginning with the assumption that
we are, indeed, trying to build an inclusive and sustainable community
where people can be themselves and not feel scrutinized. If I want
scrutiny, I can easily get it outside the community.
I don't think that a situation in which different people spend time together
in respect and civility is a utopian fantasy, or a scenario in which anybody
is forced to pretend to like anyone else. Dissent is desirable,
personalities are inevitable and welcome, but active disrespect is not
Many coalition groups of every kind, struggle with a notion of inclusively.
To welcome a marginalized person, or a person of an underrepresented category,
to a coalition but then allow the atmosphere to be inhospitable, confrontational
and disrespectful, is to pay the shallowest kind of lip service to a notion
I am not insisting that anyone hand-hold or fuss over an underrepresented
person either. There's nothing as frustrating for me as to be the
resident "expert" on Daddy/boy when I am in a very uncharacteristic
cross-orientation and gender relationship and have only been in the scene
two years. To make someone an "expert" puts them on the spot
and causes them to edit and question their behavior and opinion,
as well as wonder if all they do is seen as "typical"
of what they are.
A good, useful approach to asking questions of, learning from, and spending
time with people you perceive as different from you, is to utilize what
the philosopher Maria Lugones calls "playful traveling".
Essentially, this is simply to suspend disbelief and imagine yourself
AS that person for a moment.
How would your statements, questions, and conduct make you feel in the
other person's place?
It's obviously not an airtight system, after all we can never REALLY know
how someone else feels, and we will always bring our own self to our interpretation
of what it is to be them. However it's a way to enforce the golden rule
a little bit better, which is a fairly useful tool in dealing with other
people. It widens our sense of perspective, and awakens a more empathic
and generous response.
Once again, I am not insisting that everyone
accept everything or adopt every view as his or her own. Nor am
I suggesting that an unpopular or blunt viewpoint is inherently wrong.
I maintain a few "incorrect" and blunt views myself. The
right to offend and the right to be offended, however, must be given equal
weight. Widespread objection to an unpopular view is not censorship.
I see this scenario repeatedly: one person makes a generalization that
offends others. When the other parties express their displeasure,
they are accused by the first party, and often others as well, of being
overly sensitive or of "shutting down debate."
The idea that my taking umbrage at a remark I find offensive is the same
as censoring that remark is simply ludicrous to me.
While this "right to argue" may seem divisive, it is not.
It is far less divisive than opinion being so sacrosanct that all who
are affected by it must grit their teeth and gloss it over. This
is the flip side of a whitewashed "if you can't say something nice
don't say it" repression.
What we must do is find a grown up and respectful way to say the not-nice
thing. What we must find is a sense of respectful disclosure among
one another, not unlike the disclosure between submissive and Dominant.
Disclosure with timing, tact, and generosity.