What is protocol? If we look at the various definitions of protocol it quickly becomes clear that most definitions have to do with either rules or code of conducts. Even the lesser used definitions seems to indicate that protocol is something of prolonged significance. For example: “the first leaf glued to the rolls of papyrus and the notarial documents, on which the date was written“. So in short a protocol can be defined as a rule or code of formally correct behaviour describing how a certain activity should be performed, acted on or responded to.
Within the world of D/s, there is general etiquette, rituals and protocols. Before diving deeper in the my chosen subject, I want to write out the various difference between the main three. For a large part rituals and protocols are at least on some parts, as we will see intertwined, or at least share parts with each other. So how are ritual, protocol and etiquette defined?
A ritual is a set of actions mainly performed for their symbolic meaning. Rituals are common in D/s relationships, and are used to affirm as well as strengthen the dominant and submissives status. However even actions within a vanilla relationship can be be seen as a ritual. Such as the kiss and hug when coming home from work accompanied with cookies and a cup of tea. Examples of rituals within a D/s relationship could be the kissing of a dominants feet when first meeting or a curtsy when entering or leaving the presence of a dominant.
Etiquette addresses social situations and aims to prevent unintentional offence or embarrassment by providing generally accepted patterns of behaviour within specified environments. The various issues that are addressed by etiquette include introductions, physical contact (such as handshaking), topics of conversation, precedence, terms of address, and the use of titles. There are many big and dusty books written that cover every single angle of etiquette including how to set tables, how to eat and every single rule that mankind can conceive for interaction in society.
Protocol is usually symbolic of submission and is therefore a type of ritual. However this ritual could take place on several levels; be that either speech, an action, types of behaviour, or perhaps more on a higher scale in the form of etiquette. However where etiquette is rather generic protocol tends to be rather specific.
Many different and often contradictory protocols exist in D/s circles, and it is better to speak of “my protocol” or “our protocol” (since D/s is in my view is always within a relationship) or refer to a protocol by a name (eg Roissy protocol) than refer to “protocol”. Different protocols are conveniently defined and compared by writing a protocol schema – a systematic description of the Classes, Dress and symbols, Speech rules, and Deportment involved.
Within in protocol there are three “main gradients” so to speak, these are generally defined as ‘low protocol’, ‘medium protocol’ and ‘high protocol’. In low protocol the interaction between submissive and dominant is very relaxed and is adaptable for situations where others who are not aware of the lifestyle are not present or perhaps in a more public setting. While in medium protocol, the submissive is still allowed to speak her mind (as long as this is done in a polite and respectful manner), but must be or has to be more mindful of her behaviour.
In high protocol, the submissive is completely focused on the dominants wishes, will not speak until spoken to, will keep her eyes lowered and stay at her position, which often will be in close attendance to their dominant. High protocol can also be associated with altered speech patterns (however admittedly this is not always the case), such as referring to themselves in the third person. Some people may see a submissive being ordered to behave according to high protocol or placed in such a situation as to be a punishment. However that does not necessarily need to be the case. For one, some submissives may find such a time very liberating as their only focus is purely on their dominant. They mind find such a good way to refocus or perhaps remain focused and freeing as a way to temporarily lessen stressful situations.
So while the above sounds great, it is by all means, just the theory, an explanation of what the various terms means. Too often within the wider BDSM scene, such theory is taken for gospel and far too often, especially in online environments such as IRC and Second Life one can see various dominants taking high protocol as the all time gold standard for submissives to live by. This is of course not how things work, or should work. As with everything, protocols should be made to work for the relationship, enhance it, make it blossom, affirm the ties between the dominant and submissive, not stifle the relationship in a series of exercise motions with all the flexibility of wooden dolls participating in a ballet.
Before moving on towards the more practical applications of protocols within a D/s relationship, I would like to take time to discuss something what has prompted me to write this blog…
Protocol in public settings
Apart from personal protocols between a dominant and a submissive there are also protocols within larger communities. Often on how to relate towards other dominants or fellow submissives. This often can differ quite from community to community. Some will require a medium protocol to be observed at times where some communities define themselves by having a low protocol and leave the intricate of how people deal with each other to one another.
Especially places within Second Life seem to variate deeply between those two with a couple of high protocol places thrown in, although they are more rare then one would expect. Within the places that are generally medium protocol one can expect at least a mix of the following: submissives are not allowed on any furniture, submissives should address other dominants with Sir/Miss/Ma’am or variations thereof (Master/Mistress tend to be soley reserved for the person owning you).
The biggest problem of low protocol places is that sometimes people may forget that respect is a two way street. So what if protocol breaks down? How do you react when a person goes out of their way of being antagonizing in ways that would normally (normally in this case is defined as a real life BDSM club or community)
I think in such cases, there are two ways of dealing with the situation. In the first place because one person breaks protocol or established etiquette, does not mean the submissive needs to do. However there is a huge difference in remaining respectful and polite and letting someone who’s behaviour is not what one would expect let them over rule you. But in the end it is the submissives behaviour that reflects on their owner and themselves.
In the second place, I think the offender should be made aware what is wrong with their behaviour and that somethings are not within the expected protocols of the place and one can hope they eventually understand and eventually adapt their behaviour. It should be brought to their attention that while they may think their behaviour is doing no harm that there always should be an underline courtesy and manners, if nothing else from human being to human being and perhaps (or in my view) even more so from one BDSM participant to another.
From Theory to practice…
However, public protocol and etiquette aside, the practical part of this blog is aimed at personal protocols. Developing protocols is something that happens almost within every relationship. However this may not always be so clear the participants or they have given different names to their behaviour. Protocols within a relationship depend much on the relationship itself. For example, say your relationship has a `strict’ bedroom only d/s life. You could make protocols that denote the beginning of the scene, entering the bedroom naked, perhaps kneeling at the entrance of the doorway.
Other examples of rituals included within protocols could the use of titles and addressing a dominant and the submissive. Titles such as Sir, Master, Mistress, Goddess, Ma’am, Madam my Lady are quite common to be used for dominants, as are pet-names such as slave, pet, boy, girl for submissives. The use of titles and honorifics may help to clearly define the transition from say low protocol to an period of medium or high protocol.
An example on the other side of the spectrum, is say having a high protocol dinner. In my research for this blog, I came across the Philadelphia High Protocol – Mistress Zeneca Events. A largely attended dinner that comes with an explicit and well documented, eighteen page manual on what is expected during your attendance. Everything from behaviour on how to sit, how to move to dress code is explained. But even on a smaller scale with a few select friends a full formal or high protocol dinner could be an interesting and wonderful experience for all involved. While my first reaction was one of “that sounds like entirely to much work and hassle to begin with”, once my mind thought about it, I could detect an undercurrent of wanting to attend such event. If nothing else just to once experience it.
Within the real world, high protocol can be a welcome change of pace for both the submissive and the dominant. Who would not dream of serving or being served a Japanese tea ceremony. For those who are interested in such a ceremony, there are various wonderful resources to be found on this on the web, but for me, the most beautiful description can be found in the James Clavell’s Shogun.
What if you want to incorporate protocols within your own relationship? You need to start talking and discussing what you want to achieve and why? What works for you, what do you want to achieve out of it. What does protocol mean for you? Define what your expectations are in terms of protocol, when do you expect say, low protocol or medium protocol. How do you switch to high protocol. Also as ritual are incorporated within the protocols what do these rituals mean to you.
If you find that protocols do no longer work, examine what has changed. What made you want them in the first place, what did you expect to get out of it? How has your situation or perceptions shifted. What can be adjusted. Sure protocols should be followed, but only as long as they serve to continue to strengthen and build the relationship.
What works for one couple does not work for another. They key as always is communication, communication, communication. And remember, just because you see one couple stuck in high protocol, does not mean they are always like that. I have seen couples interact in what I would classify as low key protocol. But you always get only a snapshot, without being aware of the past that shaped them. By the same token; most people would probably classify me and Mistress interacting in the range of medium to high protocol. But I am always allowed to speak my mind and offer my opinion. I just tend to be so focused on her when we are together that my mind almost shift automatically into higher protocol. However we do speak freely with each other and laugh a lot.
So what do we have in the form of protocols?
There are probably a few that are so ingrained in our relationship that I may do them without longer being aware of them. But those that comes to mind; I curtsy and kiss her feet when she arrives. The way I kneel before her. If we are out and about together, I always am at her left side, either kneeling or standing (depending on what she tells me to, if she does not tell, I am to kneel), walking just slightly behind her but close to her.
For us these works, it gives depth to our relationship, it works within our dynamic, both of how I relate to her and how doing those actions make me feel. As I pointed out earlier, affirming the relationship between us.
And that, in the end is what it is all about…