Dungeon Party Etiquette
You’ve read all the right books, bought all the right toys and practiced with them faithfully. Now you’ve received your first invitation to a dungeon party. What to wear? What to do? What to think? How to act?
These are important etiquette questions not easily or exhaustively answered in any of the kinky “how-to” books on the market. Good manners are priceless, but not something often discussed until they have been breached. Fortunately, good manners are also consistent with common sense. If you possess the latter, you can develop the former with little difficulty.
Virtual/Online play-dates aside, there are four basic opportunities for pervy folk to gather for BDSM play:
- At leather events
- At private parties
- At public venues
Each of these occasions uses basically the same etiquette, although there is clearly variation between a party held in someone’s house and a fetish night at a Big City nightclub. For instance, bringing snacks to a nightclub is discouraged, but party hosts and guests alike will usually be delighted if you bring juice, fruit, veggies, sweets or breads to a private residence party. Drinking alcohol at most private or leather events is nearly always forbidden, but the guy behind the bar at the Big City nightclub’s rubber ball is hoping you’ll toss back a few brews or cocktails and drop a tip in his jar. Fortunately, for those who want to monetarily reward the hosting venue but avoid the potentially judgment dulling effects of alcohol, there are beverage alternatives available, as well.
Whether you’re attending a private or public gathering, certain basic questions need to be answered:
- What to Wear? A closet full of blue suits and not a single scrap of leather to be found? Don’t worry about it. Regardless of what Hollywood films or sensational fetish comic books may claim, there’s more to BDSM than leather chaps, a leather vest and a motorcycle cap. Private parties and public leather events tend to encourage fetish wear but certainly don’t require it. Nightclubs and large events such as the LA Fetish Ball may have a dress code or charge more for those who attend in their street clothes. If you don’t own any leather goods, consider military garments or other uniforms you might possess. That includes scouting or private school styles as well as those for police and fire fighters. Perhaps you’ve got a thing for meter maids? Nurses? Doctors? Veterinarians? Nannies? Nuns? Ministers? Cross-dressers (male or female) will find themselves at home at either public or private venues. The same can be said for women wearing slinky lingerie or revealing garments. However, exercise caution when entering or leaving anyplace while dressed provocatively. It’s wise to bring and use some sort of cover-up, whether it be a coat, a cloak, a looser garment or some other bit of clothing that will allow you to walk the streets without arousing unnecessary comment, interest or incidence. When attending public events, keep in mind any anti-nudity laws that might be in effect, particularly as regards the display of genitals and nipples. Private gatherings tend to be better places for full nudity or extremely erotic garment choices. If none of these ideas appeal to you, remember that basic black is a classic statement of style, even within the BDSM fashionscape. If you have a leather event (Folsom Street Fair, Living in Leather, KinkFest, etc.) or club t-shirt (National Leather Association, Black Rose, Society of Janus, Eulenspiegal Society, etc.), by all means wear it. Wear what makes you feel most comfortable (as you define the term) and most attractive. If you’re going to play and not just socialize, keep mobility in mind.
- What to Do? The first time you attend a party it’s probably best to listen, watch and learn. If you’ve been playing privately for years, you may feel comfortable enough to play at your first public party, but some hosts have specific rules against the practice. Thus, the first thing to do is to become familiar with the party rules that, hopefully, are posted someplace obvious. Read the rules and make sure you understand them. If anything is confusing, find the host or a knowledgeable Scene member and ask them for the information you need. Although it can be embarrassing to ask questions, if they’re asked politely and with sincerity, it’s a great way to meet people, begin developing a good reputation and actually learn a few things. If you don’t like the rules, don’t bicker with the host or dungeon monitors about them. If you feel you have a genuine contribution to them, discuss the matter privately at a later time. If you’ve come as the guest of a regular party attendee, stay near that person and remember that your behavior will reflect upon them. Conduct yourself in a manner which you believe will present them, as well as yourself, in a good light. Some hosts hold attendees responsible for the behavior of their guests. It’s best to avoid behavior that might cause your guide to regret bringing you. Whether you attend by yourself or with others, introduce yourself to the host and thank them for holding the party and allowing you to attend. Keep your conversation brief, as the host has many responsibilities. Take a tour of the facilities, making special note of what areas are for socializing/conversation and what areas are for play, as well as where the bathrooms, safer sex and First Aid supplies are located. Afterwards, thank the host for their hospitality either in person, via telephone or email. This, coupled with appropriate party behavior, is the key to being invited back.
- What to Think? The fact that you’re thinking at all is a good sign. Focus that skill on courteous thoughts regarding the rights and privacy of others and of you. Be respectful in word and deed, remembering that your kinks may not be another’s kinks, nor their kinks yours. If you find yourself witnessing a scene that is too intense for you, absent yourself from the situation. If you’re concerned about someone’s safety, speak with the party host, dungeon monitors or event management.
- How to Act? Although customs vary somewhat between the two coasts, the majority of etiquette rules are the same no matter where you travel. When in doubt, politely inquire and proceed conservatively. Ask permission before touching personal belongings or persons, keep conversations low to avoid disturbing scenes in progress, and move non-scene/non-kink conversations away from the play area. Return borrowed equipment in good condition and thank its owner for the loan. Never assume that every Top or bottom at the party is available to serve or be served by you and, furthermore, never assume that a collar donates a submissive. The distinction between collared slaves and those wearing collars as part of a fashion statement has become blurred due to social trends, including the Internet’s infusion of newbies to the Scene. Some owned submissives do not wear collars and some temporarily/scene owned submissives do. If you want to play with an owned submissive, locate their Dominant and make your request of them. You will occasionally meet Dominants or Tops who wear collars, which makes things all the more confusing. Playing at a private party or one-on-one is different from playing at a public venue. Make sure to carefully negotiate before scenes when playing with newbies or those you’ve never played with before. If possible, write things down or at least involve a mutual acquaintance during negotiation to ensure that communication is clear. When playing, try to keep sound volume at a respectful level. Yes, it’s helpful and hot to make noise, but not if the sound is so loud that others can’t focus on their own scenes. If the bottom simply cannot control their decibel levels, think “ball gag” or something of the sort. Share space and dungeon furniture thoughtfully. If you think your scene may take a while, talk to the host about what location might be best. Wet scenes involving blood, urine or the like may have rooms especially reserved for them. They also underscore an important after-scene consideration: clean up. Make sure and leave your space in good condition, toys put away and furniture cleaned of body fluids, including sweat. When watching other scenes, give plenty of room for the Top to move, try not to gape if something is new to you, and do not interrupt the scene or become involved with it unless you have been invited to do so or there is an emergency requiring your assistance. And please, don’t be pathetic and puppy-dog after Dominants or submissives whom you yearn for but who do not share your interest. In order to get to know people, ask polite questions and dispense appropriate compliments, but learn to take “no” at face value when it comes to playing or interacting with others. Learning to be gracious, aware and conscientious will reward you as the community gets to know you better and you are invited to and attend more events.