There Is No Bus

I’m writing this partly to think aloud about something that’s been churning around in my head since last weekend at Shadow Lane, but I’m concerned that if I write it well enough so that I’m not misunderstood it’s going to be mostly caveats. Because what this is about is a wonderful, joyous thing, which nevertheless gets under my skin in a bad way, and I’m not sure why. I really, really don’t want to even indirectly imply that there’s anything wrong with it, but I do want to explore some of the reasons why it jars for me — hopefully the thoughts will have some usefulness, if only for me.

I’m reminded somewhat of this piece I wrote a while ago about the layers of consent in BDSM/CP play, and how they’re different. The aim of that piece was to champion the idea of a bit more explicit negotiation in CP play. The issue that’s in my mind now is similar, but comes from the other direction: the flirty negotiation that’s quite prevalent in CP circles, which — and this is the essence of it — plays with non-consent, or semi-consent, makes me uncomfortable to be around.

To be clear, my discomfort doesn’t come from misunderstanding what’s going on, and thinking that there’s any absence of consent — although I do have a teeny tiny concern that inexperienced attendees in that sort of party environment might not be aware of the tacit layering that’s going on, or think that the encoded flirting is an expected protocol. But, no, the issue isn’t lack of consent; it’s much more to do with how consent is performed, especially in public.

The flirty male-top metaphor that I always tend to reach for is “moustache-twirling”, but the game involves participants of all genders and orientations. A metaphor in common use at Shadow Lane, and among the attendees in other mediums, is “throwing under the bus”, which serves as code for getting someone else into trouble. Or, rather, into “trouble”, trouble itself being an encoded form of showing desire to play. There is, of course, no bus, just as there’s no real trouble — absent a real-life punishment relationship, but that’s not the sort of thing I’m talking about here.

It’s not hard to see the appeal of the dance that this sort of flirting represents. It’s light, and fun, and playing with the idea of non-consent can be really powerful and resonant. Even without the frame of a clearly-defined, consented-to scene, within which non-consent can fly freely, it’s not the case that there isn’t a frame of consent. The frame is just defined differently, with a more implicit protocol — but no less a protocol for being implicit — of back and forth signals. And it’s a very easy way into play for people who want to just dip a gentle toe in.

So why should it bother me? Why would I have found myself at one point over the weekend having to bite my tongue to stop myself snapping at a roomful of people having great, flirty fun, that if they wanted to play with person X, they didn’t have to pretend that, Oh No!, they’d said something inappropriate and would have to be punished. Or whatever. They could, you know, just say that they wanted to play. What a fucking killjoy. (And, yes, I do see that removing the flirting would be removing an important part of the play itself.)

I don’t know why. It’s a visceral reaction, and because of that hard to poke around in. Some possibilities that I’ve considered:

Because I very rarely play publicly, and prefer to both negotiate and play in private, the teasing, flirting party protocol is a bit alien, and because of that creates a space that I don’t feel that I quite fit in — analogous to being in a space where everyone else is speaking a language I don’t understand, or following some protocol that hasn’t been revealed to me.

I don’t particularly enjoy feeling like an audience for other people’s play. If I know play is coming, I can choose whether to be around it or not. But play which occurs spontaneously — as is typically the case with flirty play — can change the mood of a room in a second, taking attention away from whatever was happening, or being discussed, and turning everyone into a perhaps-unwilling audience. When play can begin at any moment, there’s a quite different atmosphere in a room, a heightened tenseness that works (for me) against quiet and relaxed discussion.

In general, I much prefer to be clear with others what I want, and hope that they feel able to be clear with me. I react to encoded requests — even those which are intended to be politer or gentler by way of the encoding — with annoyance, frustration, and a kind of passive-aggressive deliberate refusal to understand. This reaction might well translate to a CP setting, where encoding is perhaps even more part of the protocols of negotiation than in daily life.

Finally (and it’s only finally because I’m stopping here, and not because I probably couldn’t come up with other potential explanations), I wonder if, despite every caveat and qualification I’ve included above, I react viscerally to the use of protocols which seem to imply that it’s possible for person X to “deserve” some sort of consequence for this action, or those words, because they do on some buried level echo social structures in which that cause and effect would in fact have been the norm. This might be especially the case for M/F play, which is dominant at Shadow Lane. Maybe.

Okay. That’s enough digging a hole for myself. In the end, the moral here isn’t anything other than that I should be aware of how I react in certain situations, and avoid them a bit better. Aside from anything else, no-one’s play is improved by having a cranky Paul about the place.


  • Paul,

    You make some very sound points, all of which are valid. I think it is for those who were most involved to say whether it teetered on the edge of pressure (I know one has spoken up on Twitter) or if it was ‘all in good fun’.

    Mostly though, (as I have said elsewhere) it is very nice that we are able to gather together privately in a suite, but it does impose on the host (in this case, you) and makes it more difficult for the host to walk away from situations which s/he might feel uncomfortable (or just too tired to join). So I’m wondering if your awareness and/or sensitivity to the ‘bus’ was aggravated by the fact that we/people were consistently in your space in a way that made it hard to withdraw?

    To be honest, I enjoyed watching the interaction between the major bus passengers, but then again, I wasn’t thrown under it … and I wasn’t trying to throw anyone else under it, even if I did so unintentionally once or twice. I don’t know that I would have reacted well to being thrown into the thick of it, to be honest, but that’s a subject for my own blog, isn’t it?


    • @Serenity,

      I think it is for those who were most involved to say whether it teetered on the edge of pressure…

      FWIW, I hadn’t actually considered that anyone was feeling any unwelcome pressure to play, so it’s really useful to hear whether that was true or not. Part of what I wanted to capture was the alienness to me of someone wanting to play, but expressing that want in the form of a faux non-consent. The whole idea of the “bus” metaphor is that someone isn’t quite consenting, but has been put in a position where they have to go along with play. Even as a metaphor, that makes me uncomfortable.

      So I’m wondering if your awareness and/or sensitivity to the ‘bus’ was aggravated by the fact that we/people were consistently in your space in a way that made it hard to withdraw?

      No question it heightened the sensitivity, yes. But I really should be clear about the fact that I was very happy hosting so much, and the moments of feeling a bit alienated and overwhelmed were brief and few.

  • I think Serenity makes a good point, but as someone who spoke up on twitter, I have to say that a lot of it felt like more pressure than I’d like. Had I not been comfortable with the group there, I’d have had more of a problem with it.

    I remember having a conversation with Fireman Chris about having such preferences about who, when, where, and how I play. If everyone knows everyone very well and has played before, it seems like less of an issue, but so many people (especially tops) were new to me, so it felt pressure filled. I avoid the bus throwing and such on twitter and Fetlife for this very reason. I don’t want someone I’ve never met to approach me and say “Such and such a comment on so and so site means you’re getting spanked!”…!

    I also have a (irrational, but aren’t all?) fear that people are genuinely upset with me when they’re not. I have a hard time distinguishing teasing from genuine annoyance and I would prefer to sit quietly and interact than jump in on the bratty play in a group. It makes me quite anxious to have to worry that someone is going to want to spank me at others encouragement only to have me say no. It’s so awkward, it sends me into a panic. I pushed some of that anxiety down, but still felt like I was being a spoil sport not joining in or saying no to things.

    So, like Serenity, I do think maybe as a host in the suite you probably were more sensitive to it all, but it was definitely noticeable by me as well, and I also don’t like it much. I’d like to have sassy witty banter and fun without worrying about having to turn someone down. I always say, if I want someone to spank me, I’m going to ask them to just whack me. I don’t need a pretense or build up. It’s fun to plan a scene ahead, but otherwise, just spank me!

  • Paul,

    Thanks for sharing this, there is definitely a lot to think about in here, and I really do enjoy hearing about others’ perspectives, especially when they’re sometimes so different from my own.

    I agree with Serenity that you, Mija, and Indy all gave up some measure of privacy and quietude over the weekend. I appreciate that you did so, while understanding it may very well have imposed some difficulties on all of you. I hope in the grand scheme of things, the company was more positive than negative, but also that you would have felt comfortable asking any one of us (or all of us) to leave or take our play into another room.

    As for the buses, I found your comments on consent, consensual non-consent, and negotiation really interesting. It’s pretty safe to say that I spent much of the weekend quipping about buses – being tossed under them and failing miserably in my attempts to toss others (namely one other) under as well. Looking back at all the times I was spanked, however, while it may have appeared to be largely driven by teasing and “bus throwing” the truth is at least most of the time there was some prior discussion or negotiation which just wasn’t visible to everyone.

    Based purely on my own personal experience, I don’t think I’d even have categorized what I was doing as consensual non-consent or punishment though I can certainly see how others might. Having come out of a relationship which was very much grounded in those two styles (and which I genuinely enjoyed for the most part), to me this felt entirely opposite. Any teasing that occurred on my part was incidental and for it’s own enjoyment, not necessarily aimed at getting myself (or others) spanked. It turns out I just can’t hold back all the thoughts that pop into my head. Though if they ended in a spanking, that was fine too.

    It’s very interesting to take all of this, flip it around, and view it from another perspective. Thanks for sharing and opening up the discussion.

    • @Em,

      I hope in the grand scheme of things, the company was more positive than negative, but also that you would have felt comfortable asking any one of us (or all of us) to leave or take our play into another room.

      It absolutely was more positive. I really do like hosting at SL, and feel happy that people find our space a comfortable one to hang out in. Despite the length and (maybe?) tone of what I wrote here, it’s really just a footnote.

      The question of what I could/should do differently is one I’ve been asking myself. Partly I was a little caught by surprise this year. In some previous years we’ve opened up our room explicitly as party space for an afternoon, with the expectation that play would happen, but we’ve not done that for a while. More recently our room has tended — by circumstance, not design — to be a place where people gather for a break from the busier play-spaces. Last year, although we did have people around a lot, they were fewer, and happened to be people who play more privately, so the tone was a lot quieter.

      I hate the idea of introducing rules among friends, and would prefer to take responsibility for my own feelings by moving away from something that makes me uncomfortable in some way. But when a space serves as both gathering place and retreat, it can definitely be tricky when tiredness or overwhelm kicks in.

  • I don’t have much to add to this except that I feel the same way, and have since I first started socialising on the scene. Bratting might be fun to do in roleplay or on video, and it might, occasionally, be a flavour that creeps into my long-term negotiated relationships, but it’s the opposite dynamic to the one that I’d enjoy with new or casual play partners. And being given that toppy-punishey-flirty talk when you haven’t even elicited it by talking bratty can be a horrible feeling. I remember showing up to a play party once, a little later than I’d have liked because my train was delayed, hot and stressed and achey from the journey, just wanting a cup of tea and a quiet sit down with people I knew well, and a male top I barely knew saw me and caroled, “That’s one cane stroke for every minute late!” Ugh. No.

    I’ve developed ways of deflecting it with people I don’t want to play with. It’s easier with people I *do* want to play with. At Texas All State I said to Bob the DJ I’d like to play with him sometime, and he said, great, how about now. He took me over his knee and asked if I’d been very naughty. “No,” I grinned, “I’m a grown woman who knows exactly what she wants.” It wasn’t subtle or witty, but he switched modes effortlessly and the scene was lovely; I didn’t feel that the little negotiation had caused any awkwardness at all.

    It’s true, though, that the bratty social codes in play at these gatherings excludes those who don’t like feeling bratty, or the play of being spanked for having done something naughty. Like you, I prefer a default mood of willing consent and mutual self-indulgence unless some non-consent play has been clearly negotiated. I hate to say it, but it’s one of the reasons (not the only one) I’m lean towards interacting mostly as a top in public at the moment; it just saves on the hassle of constantly having to struggle with mismatched expectations about how one behaves as a bottom.

  • This is something which I’ve struggled with a lot in the party setting. Because I have a real Domestic Discipline relationship, unless I’m doing something which is really clearly role-play, I really don’t enjoy punishment scenarios because I associate that tone and atmosphere with a lot of very serious and not-for-fun things. When my friends, at parties, try to set me up to be caught “being a bad girl” I find it kind of upsetting: that’s not the mood that I want from a spanking scene at a party. I also just don’t enjoy bratting in general, unless I have a particular relationship with a Top where I feel that it’s acceptable for me to be giving him or her a hard time. But when someone I don’t know says “Oh, you forgot your phone? You had ought to be spanked for that” I don’t feel titillated: I feel annoyed.
    I found it even worse when I was at TASSP with my boyfriend/Dominant/HOH and people were trying to throw me under the bus with him. I found that upsetting because people were accusing me of things I hadn’t actually done, or making things sound worse than they were, thinking that they were just encouraging me to get spanked, but they were setting me up to get into REAL TROUBLE (fortunately, he always listens to me, and when I explained the situation, I did not get in real trouble. But that’s still not nice.)
    I’m sorry if this post is a bit disjointed. Brain isn’t 100% today.
    <3 Alex

    • It’s starting to sound like there might be a need for a “bus” “no bus” symbol on name badges at parties, alongside your “bottom/top/switch” label. Or, you know, for people to actually check with you how you like to play before joining in, but that would involve communicating, so heaven forbid.

      • Pandora,

        I don’t disagree with you, but I think it’s worth clarifying the two somewhat different things being discussed here — probably with lots of grey between them. One is the sort of teasing flirting by which people often negotiate consent in the first place. As you and Alex describe, this can lead to misunderstandings and discomfort.

        The other is the sort of teasing flirting by which play is initiated, once consent is understood. That doesn’t seem to be nearly as fraught — with the caveat that when done in public it can give the impression to the impressionable that the flirting is all that’s necessary to get consent. “Bus throwing” with the prior consent of all concerned might feel alien and viscerally odd to me, but objectively I don’t think there’s necessarily a problem there.

  • Quick point of clarification: is there a distinction between bratting and the throwing under the bus idea? To my mind, there is but from the above comments, others may not separate the two. Thanks, Bronte

    • I’m not any sort of Keeper of Terminology, but I think the conventional reading would be that “bratting” is an attempt to get oneself into “trouble”, whereas “throwing under the bus” is an attempt to get someone else into “trouble”. Forgive the scare quotes.

  • This is really a fascinating discussion. Rather than clogging up the comments with a long discussion of the issues, I’d like to think about them a bit longer and then reply with a post on my own (sadly neglected) blog. For now, I’ll just leave a couple thoughts:

    1) The distinction Em raised and you made more clearly between spank-flirting to negotiate play and spank-flirting as a style of play among friends is an important one. I would never have dreamed, for instance, of throwing Serenity under the bus in this sort of situation, as I know that’s not her preferred style. And I certainly wasn’t upset by the multiple attempts to toss me into the fray.

    For me, this post raises the more interesting question of how to ensure that bystanders are not made to feel uncomfortable by such play. To be honest, while I consider consent crucial for all sides, and have thought quite a bit about the dangers of the gray area, I haven’t really thought much about how bystanders are affected in these scenes.


    I hate the idea of introducing rules among friends, and would prefer to take responsibility for my own feelings by moving away from something that makes me uncomfortable in some way. But when a space serves as both gathering place and retreat, it can definitely be tricky when tiredness or overwhelm kicks in.

    I’m not sure I agree that structure is a bad thing in this regard. After all, as we’ve seen on several internet fora of late, when, harassment policies aren’t in place, the majority culture has a tendency to stomp all over the minority culture. Here, as in those situations, my view is that the majority (or just more extroverted?) culture needs to listen to the minority (or just more introverted?) culture and be willing to give up some degree of freedom (you know, like going somewhere else to play like that– hardly a sacrifice!) so that everyone feels welcome.

    3) Finally, I can’t resist teasing you about the mustache-twirling tweet with which you introduced this post on Twitter. Of course, I loved it!

    • @Indy,

      Finally, I can’t resist teasing you about the mustache-twirling tweet with which you introduced this post on Twitter.

      At the risk of seeming a bit dull, there really wasn’t any moustache-twirling there. There was scepticism that people would read the way I was intending.

  • “They could, you know, just say that they wanted to play. What a fucking killjoy.” Lol. I sort of get where you’re coming from here, but I’m definitely one of those who rarely directly asks. I like the “game” if you will, it works for my head to have the other person coming to get me, whether the reasons or imagined or real. That scenario has always worked for me.

    On the flip side, I always feel like the odd man out in the spanko world because I’m very uncomfortable with public play. I’m sure that is part of why I played so little at Shadow Lane because the quickie in front of people party spankings are more prevalent. I’m just not comfortable with it. I don’t like people watching me or adding little comments killing my headspace.

    I’m not much of a voyeur either. When spankings start up in the middle of the room, I occupy myself with a conversation or go do something else. I certainly don’t want to be pulled into it. I’m weird that way. This was a very interesting read.

  • As you already know, Paul, I am with you in that I also feel much safer with explicit negotiation than with the flirting approach. Especially because I am not comfortable playing with people whom I don’t know very well and sometimes I am not in the mood for playing with anyone else other than Ludwig at all. As I wrote in one of my posts which was inspired by your post about flirting and consent, my main problem is that I love light-hearted banter between friends and that I feel like I have to be careful about that at kinky parties because it could be misinterpreted as a play request.

    I am lucky in that I don’t really mind watching others play, though, as long as I have the opportunity to retreat if it gets too much for me. My usual approach is to tell people beforehand that I usually don’t play with others. So they know that I am not comfortable with being spontaneously integrated into a scene unless I have given a clear signal that I am in the right mood for joining in. That way all the action which was happening around me didn’t scare me at last year’s SL party. I knew that, for example, Indy wouldn’t try to “throw me under the bus” because she knew I probably wouldn’t be comfortable with it. I guess I was very lucky with our little group, though, because having you guys around made me feel very safe. And no one ever tried to push me into any play I wasn’t comfortable with. I assume that it might be more difficult for fellow kinksters who don’t have their mate with them and who don’t scare some people away by wearing a “switch” label, though.

    I assume that not having had a place to retreat from the action must have been exhausting for you. It definitely would be exhausting for me and it is quite likely that I would feel uncomfortable after some time. I assume that this is a matter of personality and personal preferences (and I can relate to many of the things you mentioned, like the part about clear communication and the uncomfortable feeling that goes along with the word “deserving”). I was very happy last year with the mixture of play time / visiting suite parties, our more quiet chats and some recovery time at the pool or in Ludwig’s and my room. Maybe you will find an arrangement next year that allows you to have more private time for recovery as well?!

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