A Modern Application Of Old Guard Philosophy

Author: missyinchains © April 2002

Used With Author's Permission


I want to say at the beginning that I am NOT old guard nor have I ever claimed to be. I am not old leather or new leather either. My total experience in the leather world is in attending a number of functions over the years with friends that are into the leather scene. While I enjoy attending these types of functions, I actually am not keen on leather for myself.

What I have said is that I lean more to old guard beliefs in my BDSM lifestyle philosophy. In saying such, I recognize that old guard isn't just one set of beliefs but many. What old guard truly is can be debated since it has changed drastically over time. It appears what we call old guard today is more rooted in the 60's gay leather sexual scene than it is with the situation of the late 40's through the 50's.

It can also be debated that what we now attribute to old guard actually had its foundations in the leather community. Personally, I think it does, maybe not the nitty gritty, but many of the traditions and mindsets can be traced back to that time. For example, our common phrase of safe, sane and consensual had it's origins in old leather.

So what is old guard? Well I will leave that debate to people more knowledgeable on the subject than me. I have a particular concept of what I think old guard is and be it right or wrong, for lack of a better description I will call it old guard.

Not all old guard beliefs fit into my vision of things nor do I rule out everything in the new guard approach. There are both good and bad things in all these approaches. What I see though is the need in the BDSM lifestyle to get back to some basics and I have chosen to look at old guard beliefs, as I see them, as the root of this discussion.

Guy Baldwin says it so well when he says: "What strikes me most about those who question me closely about the Old Guard is how passionately they seem to be searching for something which they believe will somehow satisfy a deeply felt need....a longing for something they sense has been lost to us. When I question people closely about what this need is ... it almost always can be reduced to a few key words: sexiness, cohesion, intimacy, trust, reliability, integrity, accountability, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of family." (Source: The Leather Restoration: Sacred Cows make the best Hamburger-Speech: Leather Leadership Conf 6 / 04-14-2002)


The old guard practiced exclusivity or restricted membership. Not everyone was welcome and those that were had to learn the rules first to be included. This is not a bad thing as it kept out undesirables and insured that all members were of the same basic mindset. In today's day and age, most groups seem to be inclusive and are open to everyone. This can cause conflicts within the group and I have seen many a group have problems or dissolve just due to politics and egos. Those groups that are a dictatorship seem to run the best.

A lot of groups seem to have a mix of members: full time lifestylers, part time lifestylers, players and occasionally curious on lookers. This is an inclusive group and usually has somewhat loose criteria for being a member. Pretty much anyone can join and remain a member as long as you stick to the safe, sane and concensual philosophy. The values, principles, interests, protocol, etc. tends to be much less defined because of the mix of the group. There is nothing wrong with being an inclusive group, the prime criteria is if it works for you go for it. Personally, at times, I like the variety. It can yield many different perspectives and opinions one can learn from.

On the other side, there are groups that wish to be exclusive and I see nothing wrong with that either. In a way, these types of groups aren't really exclusive, they just have stricter criteria. If one meets the criteria, you are welcome. For me, this type of group also has some attraction. There are times that I just want to be with others that have a similar mindset, values, principles, protocol, etc.

What upsets me is when one type of group will criticize another. If there is an exclusively gorean, leather, couples, female only, male only, heterosexual, gay, bi, Dominant, submissive, 24/7, player, etc. group, why should anyone be upset? They have united based on a common interest, albeit a very narrow one. That is their privilege and choice. They have different standards and for good reason. The same goes for an inclusive group. There is a reason for their wish to include all and that should not be questioned. What is right for one is not necessarily right for another.

Values and Principles

The old guard had high principles and values and if you didn't meet them you weren't welcome. One was expected to have good manners and be courteous. Lying was not tolerated, honour was held in high respect and there was no place for egos. Negative attention brought dishonour to the whole group. Honesty, reliability, integrity, generosity, trustworthiness, responsibility, respect for others, common sense, a sense of humor and a willingness to help others were valued traits and a must to be included in the membership. There were personal cleanliness and financial standards too as well as a dress code. To these values I am going to add one of my own. Open and honest communication is of extreme importance for without that there can be no trust or respect. I am sure that the old guard valued that too, but I just haven't ever seen it written anywhere.

Today, it appears that these principles are still highly valued and espoused. What I find though is that because most groups are so loosely knitted many of the principles go by the wayside or have many interpretations. What constitutes reliability, integrity, generosity, trustworthiness, responsibility, respect and a willingness to help, is not the same as it was in the sixties. Things seem to be redefined with a "me" focus. What is good for me, what is in my best interest, what do I get out of it, if I have time, seem to be the questions asked now and with little consideration of the impact on others. There is very much of a sense of "I don't want to get involved and if I do an 'ostrich' things will go away".

Is complacency the new standard? What ever happened to the consideration of putting yourself in other peoples' shoes before one acts or says something? In today's day and age, everyone wants a voice and to feel important which is understandable, but not at the expense of others. There is a lot of talk but in actual fact, there appears to be only about 10% of the members of a group that will actually volunteer to do anything or help others in their time of need. Preservation of one's reputation and stroking egos seems to be more important than seeking out the truth. Why does it take a drastic situation like 9/11 to get people to think about what is important in life and act on it?

Do you actually go out of your way and put the needs of others first? Do you actively seek out the truth? None of us are perfect, we all have our own faults, but will you admit when you are wrong and work to change things? Do you fight for the rights of others? Are you open and honest with yourself and others? Are your perceptions accurate? Do you respect the values and opinions of others? If you disagree with someone, do you work towards a compromise and a solution that is acceptable to all (i.e. a win/win situation)? If you can't answer yes to any of the questions, maybe it is time for you to rethink what constitutes reliability, integrity, generosity, trustworthiness, responsibility, respect and a willingness to help.

Values and principles have changed since the old guard and not for the better, in my humble opinion. The old guard would fight for the all the good things in the lifestyle even though they may not have coincided with their beliefs. They would not tolerate abuse and other negative things and would openly fight against it. For them, people who are interested in politics are phonies. Egos were not allowed to get out of hand. If we truly want to make this lifestyle the best it can be, then it is time to get back to the basic principles and values. Talk is cheap, it is time for action.

The Pecking Order

In the old guard, seniority was through proven experience. A well-experienced bottom commanded respect from all those with lesser experience, including the Dominants. When experience was equal, the Dominant took the lead. A dress code was developed to indicate the group status and whether one was a top or a bottom. One moved up the social ladder only by obtaining additional experience. Now we are not talking about experience in playing, although that does have its importance, or online experience. Positions held, how many speeches you have made, the number of chat groups you have participated in or owned, the number of publications, etc. didn't count as experience. What did count was life experience and that only comes from starting at the bottom and working your way up. The concept of earning your leathers is very important to me.

In my opinion, today there are just too many that want to start at the top as a Dom. They expect everyone to call them Sir or Ma'am without actually earning the title. I guess I am getting real picky in my old age cause I am having trouble with calling a person Sir or Ma'am without really knowing them, but I will give everyone the benefit of the doubt and use the title. However, with me, respect and trust have to be earned and that doesn't come easy.

You see I very much value all the old guard principles and rules and it takes a while for anyone to prove to me that they have all these qualities. The same goes in reverse, I expect to have to have to prove myself too. It takes a good while to build up trust and respect and a blink of an eye to lose it. Once lost it is extremely difficult to get the trust and respect back.

Experience and top/bottom preference was indicated through the old guard dress code. It worked in a close-knit and exclusive group, but I doubt if there is anyway that can work today with the wide diversity in groups and interests. Having said that, there is much to be gained by listening to your "lifestyle" elders and earning your place in the lifestyle. But how does one determine experience on a consistent and worldwide basis? What may be applicable in one group/area may not be applicable in another. The only thing that can be relied on is demonstrated experience and that is constantly going to have to be proved by each individual over and over again. Someone's word is just not enough, but other's validation can be very useful provided it is based on real life knowledge.

I am quite aware that many in the "new guard" don't see the necessity to hold to all these qualities and I am equally aware that community status is primarily defined by title. While that may work for some it doesn't work for all. If the new guard wishes to successfully maintain a blend, then all traditions should be honoured. However, there is no reason why the new guard could not adopt senority based on experience.

I am sure that many in the new guard will see me as switch. I don't believe this to be true but I will admit I like to top. What they are seeing is a very experienced and confident submissive who believes in seniority by experience. If that doesn't make me appear to be very submissive, well then so be it. Earn my trust and respect and you will notice a huge difference.

There can be a major problem with a submissive giving blind respect and trust to someone who calls themselves a Dominant. A submissive opens themselves up to being led astray and even worse, to potential abuse. I see too many "new guard" submissives who tend to believe and follow everything a Dominant says, without knowing much about the Dominant. If one sticks to the rules that trust and respect must be earned and in the negotiation stage both the Dominant and submissive are equals, a lot of potential future problems can be avoided. A Dominant who isn't willing to earn the trust and respect of a submissive and to communicate openly and honestly, is one you should avoid.

The Dress Code

The old guard/leather dress code often included the wearing of black leather boots and wide black leather belts. Only long pants were allowed to be worn and leather jackets must have epaulets. Studs and decorations were to be kept at a minimum, and there was strict rules on what trim was allowed. Caps could only be worn by Tops and heavy bottoms. The right to wear leather besides boots and belts had to be earned and there was significance to each piece. For example, wearing leather pants indicated the highest commitment, then chaps, and the least commitment was if you wore Levi's. Wearing gloves was reserved for heavy players, glove fetishists or bike riders.

Now personally, I don't think that a dress code is necessary. However, dress code was a way of showing experience levels without words. Although I do not see a dress code as being required, something to indicate experience level would be nice. How this could be done is a mystery to me, since different groups have different criteria, experience levels and interests.

Protocol and Rituals

Social contact was usually fairly formal. Usually it was up to the Top to initiate contact, such as a handshake or conversation. Those recognized as more experienced or senior took the lead in conversations and they were not to be interrupted. As mentioned above, whether one was a Top or a bottom, seniority ruled. Only if there were persons of equal experience did the nod go to the Top in all matters. Preference (Top versus bottom) was indicated by keys left or right. Tops were not to engage a collared slave in conversation but other bottoms were allowed to.

When walking together, bottoms walk half-a-step behind and to the left of Tops with whom they are involved or playing. Submissives were not to make direct eye contact (eyes towards Top's boots) but Tops were expected to make direct eye contact.

Those are some of the rules and protocol in old guard. It isn't the specific rules that I wish to address but the concept behind it. Personally I like formal protocol, but I have come to realize that what works for one Dominant and submissive does not work for another. There is nothing wrong with that and I do like the flexibility that individual choices give. I know that there are many different protocols out there but the basics or reasons for the protocol are the same.

For example, some may serve the Dominant with a glass on the palm of their hand with the arm extended, while others would serve on their knees, arms straight out, clutching the glass in both hands and head bowed. On finishing serving, some have an automatic dismissal; others are required to wait until being dismissed.

Having said that, different protocols can cause problems but not serious ones. If you do not know a particular Dominant and submissive's protocol, it is best to ask for an explanation so that you do not over step your bounds. If you are a Dominant, I would suggest you ask the Dominant, a submissive should ask the submissive. Usually nobody minds you asking, but if you assume that they follow a "standard" protocol you could be making a big mistake.

Okay so how in today's day and age can you tell the Dominant from the submissive? Well for some it is obvious and others it isn't, especially if you haven't seen the Dominant/submissive interact, one of the party isn't present, or you have a Dominant or submissive that doesn't have a partner. The old guard used keys, but there doesn't appear to be anything comparable in the non-leather community.

Is it important, in some situations that you be able to tell whether a person is Dominant or submissive? In most cases it likely isn't since high protocol is so rarely used now. Common courtesy and politeness are usually enough. However, when in doubt, ask someone that you know and in that way you can figure out what protocol to use and who to approach.

Another problem is how does one tell someone's experience level? Well if you are fairly new to a group, consider yourself to be on the bottom of the pecking order till you can prove yourself. If a member of the group knows you, then they can vouch for you, but that only gives you a head start, you still have to prove yourself. This isn't as hard as you may think.

Recently I was asked to be a DM (Dungeon Mistress) at a group event where I am not really known that well. I had my trainee with me. Just watching me interact with him and our playing, seemed to be sufficient enough for most to prove that I know what I am doing and am well experienced.

So bottom line, the proof of experience in some ways comes from how you act, what you say and a demonstration of your abilities. That does not prove though that you hold to the values and principles mentioned above. Only over an extended period of time can you demonstrate those qualities and characteristics.

The Internet and BDSM

BDSM on the internet has it's own unique rules and protocols. An example of this is the use of caps to indicate a Dominant and lower case for a submissive. I can see the use of this convention in a person's nickname but for anything else I don't see the necessity. Some will say it is a sign of respect, but I disagree. As I have mentioned before, trust and respect are not a given, even on the internet, they must be earned.

Many of the points I have mentioned above can and should be applied to BDSM on the internet. But since anyone can be anything they want to be on the internet, it makes the application of the principles and guidelines much more difficult to apply.

Just remember, that experience comes from practice and only a limited amount of experience can be obtained through internet relations. Having said that, internet experience can provide a sound basis for moving into a real life experience.

Looking someone straight in the eye is totally different than reacting to words on a computer screen. Real life brings into play body language and voice. On the internet, it is easy to pretend to be someone or something you are not. In real life, that is much more difficult. Remember words are cheap; actions say everything.


As I see it the current BDSM world entails the leather communities (includes old guard), the goreans, the new guard, the players and the internetters. Well I would like to introduce a new group, which really doesn't fit into any of the existing categories, and I am going to label us the BTTB'ers or those of us that believe it is time to get back to the basics.

So what does back to the basics mean? It means to adopt a set of values and principles that are consistent through all aspects of BDSM. Whether your leather, new guard, gorean, etc., the values and principles should be the same. In my opinion, it is time to get rid of the politics, the egos, and the pretenders.

How one practices their BDSM lifestyle is relatively unimportant. What one does and says is very important. Those old guard values and principles -- good manners, being courteous, not lying, honour, honesty, reliability, integrity, generosity, trustworthiness, responsibility, respect for others, common sense, a sense of humor, a willingness to help others, open and honest communication, trust or respect -- is what this lifestyle should be all about.



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