So, Heather tweeted:

 
And I thought… It’s been way too long since I actually wrote something for Syrens, so let’s use this as a bit of a jumping off point and see where we go.
 
So. What tells me that a possible scene-partner knows and is able to communicate their boundaries, even when things get intense…
I think the first part of this is actually to ask “How likely are things to get intense?” because the vast majority of what might be called pick-up play (hooking up with someone and negotiating a scene while at a party, rather than beforehand) that I do isn’t exactly “play”. It’s more like the scene version of running a “sensation station” at a kinky exploration event. Meaning that I’m “topping” in the sense that I’m “doing the doing” but not in the sense that I’m “running the fuck”.
In these situations, “intense” in the opposite of what I’m going for and I’m working/interacting with someone who hasn’t done The Thing (usually The Thing is play-piercing, but sometimes it’s other stuff) before so I’m working from the understanding that (a) they want to try The Thing, but (b) they don’t actually know if they like it, or how their body/mind/body-mind are going to react to it. It means we go super slowly, keep everything light, and front-load a lot of information in both directions. I ask questions about what experiences they have with related sensations (kink-wise –> stingy sensations) and with related experiences (e.g.: medical –> booster shots and blood tests and so-on; body-art –> tattoos, piercings) and about how they tend to respond to those situations/experiences (like whether they get light-headed, how/if they tend to scar, etc). And I offer information (and/or answer questions) about why I’m suggesting starting with thus-and-such gauge of needle or thus-and-such location on their body, stuff like that. There are a LOT of check-ins, way more than I would do in a play-scene, a lot of “Now I’m going to do X, are you ready?”, as opposed to a “fun scene” where the kind of a heads-up I give is more like “Mwahaha, what shall I inflict up on you next… Ooooo! How about THIS one?” when changing toys.
 
Which, I guess, is a good place to start talking about the “fun scenes” that I do get up to.
 
I’ve been pretty lucky in that, when I do pick-up play that is A Scene Where I Have Fun Too rather than, like, Providing An Experience Through My Emotional and Physical Labour (<– Note: I do volunteer to do these things and I do get stuff out of them, this is just marking the difference for me between one type of scene and another), it's been with people who are generally more experienced kinksters than me.
You know that Grand Olde (Mythologized) Leather Tradition where you learn how to top from other tops?
I learned how to top by listening to my bottoms.
 
Related Tangent: I realized a few years back – after I'd had a couple of pretty unsatisfying impact-play scenes (don't get me wrong: spanking and caning are tonnes of fun, but these ones in particular didn't work out) with people I'd only just met, that I needed to change up how I went about negotiating – or even just suggesting – scenes.
There were things I was still yet to figure out (I will get to that in a minute, as those things are really RECENT discoveries), but I realized that I needed to (a) play with people I actually find attractive[1] and (b) play with people who are into the same things I'm into, rather than… service-topping whoever happened to come along.
So I tend to ask people what they like to get up to, and what specifically they'd like to do with me (provided the “with me” part has already been established as something they’d like), and then pick stuff from what they suggest.
It’s… There’s stuff in here that points to “Tops get to want things, too” and my own difficulties recognizing and owning – acknowledging and naming-out-loud – my own desires. Xan West has some stuff on sadistic desire and sadists’ consent that pertain to this, and Betty Martin’s wheel of consent has, more recently, been a major eye-opener for me with regards to how I tend to hide what I want to take[2] (link goes to a half-hour video) as a top, a sadist, a dominant, or even just as a fairly vanilla[3] lover, under the guise of what I’m willing to give.
I can go on at length (and have) about how I feel like my own wanting – wanting-to-do and wanting-to-take – are monstrous and unforgivable. I get that this isn’t really true, but it’s a hard one to navigate[4] and it means that I’m being dishonest when I hide my “I want” (to pull your hair, dig my nails into your thighs, fuck your mouth with my fingers, slap your face, go down on you, carve words into you, sink my teeth into you, leave my marks on you) behind my “I’m game to do what you’ve already said you want”.
It’s cowardly[6].
 
But anyway.
I learned to top by listening to my bottoms, by topping people who were old hat at this and were looking for a new play-partner, rather than a new physical experience[7]. Maybe some of those have involved them Providing An Experience Through Their Emotional and Physical Labour for me, although I kind of hope not. Maybe that’s had an effect on what I look and listen for when it comes to sorting out whether or not someone else is Good Enough At Boundaries to be someone I can play with safely. Some of those things are:
 
* If I’m with someone who I haven’t met before, are they going slowly? Are they looking for a conversation before they look for a scene. E.G.: The woman who is now my wife originally approached me with an invitation to get together to talk about maybe doing a scene, which suggested a solid sense of self-preservation. This can also look like chatting me up between workshops if we’ve met at an event.
 
* Do they talk pretty directly and specifically about what they like and want? I, myself, am hella bad at this – see above. But if we’re BOTH hella bad at this, it is (a) just not going to function at all, but also (b) going to annoy the heck out of me because I can’t Do The Doing if I don’t know where The Doing is invited to go.
 
* Do they talk about “Where can I touch you and what do you call it?” (to use an S. Bear Bergman phrase). Do they talk about what they’re not okay with? Do they talk about what “yellow” looks/acts like in terms of body language if spoken language isn’t an option (because things are intense, because they’re gagged, because they’re non-verbal, because we’re in a loud-ass dungeon and my hearing is kind of fucked). Do they know what “yellow” looks/acts like, when it’s them?
 
*Something it occurs to me I should maybe be on the look-out for, when it comes to people I’ve know for a while, but which I don’t think I’ve been doing (at least not in any kind of intentional way): Have I seen/heard them cross their own boundaries before? Like… “I am so tired but said I’d do xyz social thing, so I have to“. Have I seen/heard them do this frequently or consistently, or is it something that seems pretty rare?
 
Anyway, so hey.
A thing I’m finding as I’ve been writing this is that I look for people who are better at recognizing and articulating their boundaries than I personally am.
I’m not sure what to make of that. I mean, on the one hand, I’m basically administering tests that I couldn’t, myself, pass. On the other, if I’m that bad at acknowledging that I want specific things, let alone asking for them, and have a tendency to… keep going with things, or allow things, or put up with things, or whatever that aren’t actually things I’m enjoying, it’s probably better that I stick to topping (rather than bottoming), and that I stick to topping people who are GOOD at recognizing and naming what they want and need, as well as what they don’t.
Anyway.
Not sure what to do with all that, but there you have it.
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] I have a lot of Feeeeelings about this, just because it feels SO shallow to say out loud, but there it is. My sadism and my dominance aren’t separate from my sexuality and my desirousness.
 
[2] “Take” meaning, in this context, what I want to do (consensually) because it gives ME pleasure, as opposed to what I’m willing to do (joyfully, excitedly) because someone else has already told me it will give THEM pleasure. (This from watching Betty Martin’s videos on the subject).
 
[3] For a given value of “vanilla” that includes spanking, biting, hair-pulling, and digging my nails in… >.>
 
[4] It makes me wonder if the folks who are bottoming for me are looking for flags around “does this person know their own boundaries and can they articulate them when things are getting intense?[5]”, or it they’re only (understandably – you need to put your own oxygen mask on first) looking for flags around “Will this person recognize and respect MY boundaries?”
 
[5] Which, P.S.: It took me a loooooooooong time to understand that I was allowed to have boundaries as a top. That my purpose as a top wasn’t just to Provide A Community Service, sure, but also that in a given scene with a given partner, that I was allowed to set the pace so that I got the warm-up I need in order to enjoy the scene and not end up exhausted. I’m still getting the hang of how that functions in a D/s situation, as the habits and feelings around that have been built over a much longer period of time.
 
[6] It’s also a convenient Domme Cheat Code, though, because it makes the other person be all sorts of vulnerable with you. But… still cowardly.
 
[7] Not that I necessarily understood it that way in real time. When I told my wife I was writing this, and that her wanting to meet me and have a conversation before deciding whether or not to do a scene with each other had been a Green Flag for me, she said “Well, yeah. You’re a human being”. Which… In the eight years we’ve been together? It never once occurred to me that she asked me out on our first “proto-date” (or… something…) because she wanted to get to know me. I thought that happened later. O.O