2 min

Just say no

Only you can give consent

Credit: Xtra West files

She was young and new to the leather scene; so new that I could actually see the wet behind her ears. Or maybe it was a trick of the light. I’d known her since she was a vanilla lesbian. I hadn’t mentored her into leather, though-she’d found it all by herself, and here she was at her first play party.

I was immensely flattered when she sidled up to me and hissed, “Elaine, can I be your bottom?”

“Gosh, I didn’t know. That’s so sweet! We should negot…”

“No, no! I meant, can I pretend to be your bottom? So that woman over there will leave me alone? She keeps saying I’m a cute brat, and that I deserve to be spanked, and she’s the dom to do it. I don’t want her to spank me, but she’s a top!”

I whipped out my soapbox in a trice.

For most of us, power imbalance is the thing that makes BDSM erotic. But when it comes to interacting with players who are new to us, or with whom we don’t have an agreement, we all start at exactly the same place-as equal human beings.

Sure, we might enjoy flirting and interacting in public spaces under our assumed roles: stern top, daddy-knows-best, bratty girl or perhaps sweet service boy. But how we trade our power amongst ourselves is settled on an individual basis, with negotiation, before play starts. Negotiation doesn’t have to be a swap of lists and a long, careful discussion; it can consist of an exchange of glances, a meaningful gesture, a whispered word and a questioning eyebrow. Queers have a long history of such non-verbal dickering.

Because it can be very subtle, this whisper of power dynamic negotiation is often overlooked. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking all tops would be delighted to receive your boot worship, or expecting all bottoms to act like universal service submissives.

For tops with itchy trigger floggers, it’s good to recall that one can’t simply grab a passing brat and spank her, no matter how tempting the prospect, or how loud the public applause from your peers would be. Physical BDSM perpetrated upon an unwilling bottom is assault. Even with brats.

But if an understanding exists, even unspoken, then it’s possible that a playful spanking might ensue from flirtatious brattiness. The top of your dreams may invite you to the floor at her feet with a smile and a gesture. The sweetest leatherboy in the bar may offer to polish your boots, sir.

We all know that magic word that stops unwelcome advances. The word that makes our yesses meaningful. Say it with me: “No.”

* Elaine Miller likes brats.