May/June 2001
Who Taught You Your Manners Boy?
by Viola de Grey

Toward a More Civil Discourse Among Pansexual Leather Participants.

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 acceptable.

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 of inclusively.

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.