Boundaries are something that’s been on my mind lately.
I found a definition of boundary online that I like a lot: That which indicates or fixes a limit or extent, or marks a bound, as of a territory; a bounding or separating line; a real or imaginary limit.
The kinds of boundaries I’ve been thinking about are the ones that exist in our community, particularly in public forums.
Having hosted a munch for a decade, I’ve met more novices than most. I’ve watched a number of people go from absolutely green and terrified to finding a place within the community.
If there’s one place, though, where a novice is most likely to misstep, it is in not understanding the boundaries that exist.
It’s easy to understand why. People come in to the community, used to the vanilla world where very specific boundaries seem to exist.
You don’t talk about sex, at least not on a personal basis.
You don’t hit people.
You don’t have sex with more than one person at a time.
You don’t walk around naked.
You don’t say what it is you really want, because if you do, everyone will think you’re a freak.
Then you come into our community.
We talk about sex, we have sex, we incorporate S&M, we are more comfortable with nudity, and on and on. What the novice believes, I think, is that they have found a community without boundaries.
Naked is fine, in every sense. Go ahead, plop all your shit right there on the table, right at dinner time. It’s all ok.
Don’t assume that people have physical boundaries, either. I mean, they hug a lot, right?
Surely kissing someone you barely know on the mouth as a hello or goodbye is fine, right?
They’re fine with nudity, so clearly sharing a photo of you, bending over with your ass cheeks spread is cool, despite the fact you know them either only very slightly or not at all. Everyone is fine with that, right?
What newcomers often miss is the subtlety of our boundaries, I think. I might be perfectly comfortable explaining the technical requirements of anal fisting, but I don’t want to see YOUR anus.
When I ask for a photo after we’ve spoken online, I want to see your face. I expect, should we have a relationship, that I will spend a lot of time looking at your face than your genitalia and, in the end, disconnected genitalia is not really that interesting, nor that varied.
I have seen a lot of genitalia; I probably have a good idea what yours looks like. Your face, on the other hand, is another matter.
If my best friend was fixing me up with you and I said, what does he look like, she would not say, “Oh, he’s 4” flaccid and 6” hard, cut, and he shaves his pubic hair.” If she did, I would be taken aback and probably be a lot less interested in having her fix me up in the future.
What I want my friend to say is, “He’s about 5’10”, maybe 175 or so, dark hair, nice blue eyes, he’s got a great smile, he goes to the gym a lot so he’s kind of muscular…” If that’s the description, my response is a lot more likely to be, “He sounds great, I’d like to meet him.”
Some of it, I think, is simply an outgrowth of the culture of the internet.
On one hand, everything is very anonymous, people don’t give their last names or addresses, they don’t say specifically where they work, but on the other hand, nothing is very private. They post pictures of their parts of their body that normally only very close friends would see.
Privacy is a concept that seems to be waning, at least for many people. It’s not so much that they are open books, that implies that the information is there if one is interested enough to read. It’s more that they are flashing billboards, our attention drawn to them before we even realize what we’re seeing.
Some of it, though, is just a misunderstanding of how our community works. We do have boundaries. In some cases they are even more solid, and the prices for violating them can be unexpectedly steep.
I have seen people make a misstep early on in their experience, for which they were never forgiven, really. They touched what they were not supposed to touch, stood too close, said too much, told too much, and they were never really given the opportunity to fit in because of that.
It’s not fair, probably, but communities rarely are, in the end. They’re based on shared standards and expectations. If you don’t appear to share them, you don’t fit in.
So, how do we address that? I think we have to be clearer in saying what our personal boundaries are. I have to make it clear that, when I ask for a photo that I am asking for a photo of their face.
By the same token, when I am sent a faceless photo of a penis, I need to say, this is not acceptable to me. When the person whom I barely know moves to kiss me on the lips, I need to say, I’m really more comfortable with a handshake or even a light hug until I know people better.
We need to be aware that our frankness in discussing what our sexual and S&M tastes might be can give off false signals and do our best to compensate for that. We need to be willing to tell newcomers what they’re doing differently and how that might be seen by others in the community.
As for the newcomers themselves, they need to be better at looking around themselves. How do the people that are already established in the community behave? Do you see the people who are firmly entrenched posting photos of their genitalia?
How do they greet each other, how do they greet people they don’t know well, how do they interact with others? Watch how others act, watch what they do, watch how they behave.
Emulating others is the best way to assimilate oneself into the community.