"Can I hit you with this?" A long, black evil-looking crop is waved in my face. I squirm.
"What if I start slowly and build up?"
More swear words may have been involved in my response. I don't quite remember because that was not an ideal moment for scene negotiation. The request was perfectly polite, but came from someone who I didn't know very well - I've chatted to him briefly at a club and met once or twice at a munch. The main issue, was the context. I prefer to select my partners after exchanging a few messages either online or at a munch then meeting up with them for a date or two in a vanilla environment, perhaps coffee or dinner, then a discussion about what we might do should we decide to proceed. It's a lengthy process, perhaps, but has yielded good results thus far.
So I tend to feel rather on the back foot when a conversation starts whilst I'm tied down to a spanking bench playing with someone else. I'd already taken some (very pleasant) leather-gloved open palm action from Kobe, someone who I had agreed to play with a priori, including sending a text message a few days before to confirm this. I was a little flushed, starting to get happily spaced out and felt for all the world like I was suddenly in a BDSM Jane Austen comedy of manners as someone else requests to cut in during the dance. Fortunately, Kobe had a better grasp of the English language at the time and was able to sort it out and I think everyone went away happy whilst I got to nuzzle appreciatively against his face before he pushed me back down into the dark, head-shaped cavity of the bench. It was actually a rather nice moment because it reflected well on his ability to control a situation and manage my desires.
The issue was not about whether I would want to play with that person. It was about whether that was a good time to decide. For me, it wasn't. I expect that other people may have behaved differently. It wasn't just that the scene itself was interrupted, more that perhaps there was an assumption of the "house submissive" in the air, possibly because of my role as a maid. Looking back on the evening, I can see how the confusion might have arisen: there were a couple of people who did touch me, play with me and press cake into my face (I'm repeating this for emphasis, also it was hot, thank you Hedwig) but these were all people I knew quite well and had played with before. The situation was resolved pretty quickly, and no harm was done but it did get me thinking about individual expectations of protocol, "scene rules" and how they really are not as fixed and firm as we might like to suppose, especially in a more relaxed and private atmosphere as a party that doesn't have a published set of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours.
There is no such thing as one fixed code of conduct within BDSM. I've posted a few times on my own perceptions of how the etiquette and behaviours of the scene communities might operate - most recently here and here. There are certain things that everyone can generally get together and agree on which are more or less an extension of general social practice with a bit of "being English" thrown in for good measure. But there will always be shades of grey and differences of opinion. Just as everyone has their own viewpoint on what they enjoy within a BDSM context, everyone has their own understanding of how they want to practice. Which can sometimes cause difficulties.
The important thing is that other people's boundaries are respected, as they were in the situation above, where everyone was clear and understanding. Protocol is important, not just because it's nice to be polite (though it is), it's also about protection and safety - for the dominant and the submissive. Which can also extend to emotional protection, good protocol can make a submissive feel safe and looked after, avoid the worst of dom guilt and provide a framework in which to develop a D/s relationship.