There is an undeniable power of reputation on the scene. We judge people not just on their appearance, skills and huge collection of toys, but also their reputation. What do people say, what stories have they heard, have they performed at an event, given a demo?
Some of us will seek out a play partner entirely based upon their reputation. If you are chatting to friends who like a particular type of play they might well share an experience they have had with someone, who you then might wish to track down in order to replicate the experience. Some might even go so far as to offer to introduce you if you ask. In some cases the exact opposite might happen, and you will be warned off of someone who is on the scene.
There is of course a risk to this judging by reputation. The phrase “No smoke without fire” comes to mind, a phrase I have never trusted. There is too great a risk to hearing one side of a bad break-up, one scene that went wrong, one misunderstanding. However, lots of independent, consistent accounts is a very different story.
We contribute to someone’s standing in a myriad of ways. Friending them online, attending their workshops, liking their pictures. It can be a difficult line to walk, that of not judging without cause while also not abdicating responsibility.
Rather than setting ourselves hard and fast rules we might be better served by a shared philosophy of care.
Eyes up, guardian!
Each subset of the scene may well have their particular version of this phrase, but allow me to share this one from the rope community:
“I don’t trust an “experienced“ rigger who only ties with new models.”
It is a simple statement, but it is worth exploring. It may well be a phrase whose underlying philosophy could be adopted by the wider community.
First let us see who it excludes from the statement.
It encourages no prejudice against those many riggers who are just starting out, regardless of age. Just because some of us are older it does not mean we are experienced and conversely being younger is not synonymous with being inexperienced. I have met some wonderful people in later life enthusiastically exploring rope bondage for the first time, as well as those in their early 20’s who have developed excellent rope skills through dedicated study and practice.
It does however highlight the concept of the “experienced” rigger, someone who has been tying for an extended period of time. Certainly long enough to be expected to have a solid grasp of the ropes.
We then have the suggestion that they tie with new models. This is not a terrible thing, someone has to tie the newbies after all. The concern entirely stems from the idea of it being ONLY new models that they tie with.
Taken all together this is the warning, if someone who should know what they are doing is only ever tying with people who are new to the scene then why is that the case? If an individual can only ever find partners from among the inexperienced then is there a reason?
To catch a predator.
It is commonly understood that there are predators on the scene, with various predilections. We are also aware that it is when people first enter the scene that they are often at their most vulnerable.
I believe that we all have a responsibility to protect our scene and those entering it. There are a number of ways we can do this.
One of the most effective methods of educating new people I find is to lead by example. If someone wants to play with you first tell them to get references, tell them to ask people about you. Teach them that if you want to know what someone is like then ask multiple people who have been on the local scene for a while about them.
Tell them to attend public events, not to play with people straight away, and to be aware of anyone that reacts negatively to being asked for references. Then make them do that with you as well.
Try to impress upon them that having lots of friends online and likes on pictures is not the same as vouches. There are people here in the UK who have thousands of followers, most of them from the USA, while multiple local venues have banned that person from attending their events. What would you take away from that?
We cannot warn someone about every danger that might be out there, but we can try to encourage them to be informed. There is information available, we just have to encourage people to learn how to find it.
Friends don’t let friends play without a net!
People should build good habits and no one should be offended by people practicing those habits. Just because you have never done anything bad, and no one has said you have, it doesn’t mean people shouldn’t take precautions around you. Ask people if they have set up a safe call with a friend, and if not then make them! Refuse to play until you know they have learnt how to protect themselves.
Take responsibility for them as well as yourself. Remember, you never want to be the reason they don’t trust people on the scene. If anything you want to be the reason that something bad never happens to them.
Danger Will Robinson, Danger!
While some of us might be well positioned to teach people how to be aware, and may even be in a place to actively provide information, not all of us are. However, we can do our best to be informed ourselves and act appropriately.
To invite someone to a party multiple times, to rent them your venue, to hire them as a photographer, to invite them to teach a class, all of these are ways that we very publicly vouch for a person. However we can also vouch for someone in quieter ways, one of the most obvious way is by being their friend on social media, liking their pictures, engaging with them in an affirming manner, even without saying a word.
If there is one thing I am encouraging here then it is weariness. Take your time, don’t rush into a scene, don’t play with someone straight away. This is meant for tops as well as bottoms. We all have a responsibility here, to learn good habits, to teach good habits and to practice good habits.
As a carpenter might say “Measure twice, act once.” we might say “Think twice, act once.”