‘Mentoring’ & ‘Protecting’

Are stupid. As well as liable to go wrong in fun and exciting ways. Unfortunately, they both look like good ideas on the surface.

In theory, a mentor is someone whose judgement you trust, who helps you learn to be a better submissive/dominant/switch/fill in the blank and gives you advice. If that was actually how it worked out in real life, I’d be all for it. Sadly, ‘mentoring’ generally ends up being an excuse to pounce on the fresh meat while pretending you’re only interested in teaching them. ‘Protecting’ is generally more limited, but can also be abused in much the same way, as well as being insulting to capable adults who happen to identify as submissive.

A real mentor is NOT necessarily dominant. Dominant identified people are absolutely not the font of all knowledge in the scene. A fellow submissive is probably the best person to teach a new submissive about the kinds of crap a bad or misguided dominant might pull. It’s technically possible for a dominant to mentor a submissive, but a purely altruistic exchange of information is probably not what a person has in mind if they pounce on a new submissive and offer to ‘mentor’ them.

Competition for the new blood in the scene can be stiff, and one way unscrupulous dominants try to give themselves an advantage is by offering to ‘mentor’ someone. This lets them appear altruistic while they use the mentoring relationship to get the submissive attached to them and to control their access to information. By controlling access to information, they can convince the submissive that the way they want her/him to submit is the one correct way. If that sounds kind of pathetic, that’s because it is in fact pathetic. If you can’t get someone to choose to submit to you on your own merits, without resorting to misleading them about what kind of relationship you’re after, what business do you have calling yourself dominant?

A real mentor does NOT, under any circumstances, play with their mentee. We already have a handy word in the scene for someone you play with: ‘play partner’. A mentor is supposed to be something entirely different. They’re also supposed to be able to offer unbiased advice, the way a trusted friend would. How can a mentee possibly get unbiased advice about something that went wrong in the scene they had the other day when they had that scene with their mentor?

Playing with someone you’re supposedly mentoring is a clear and obvious conflict of interest. Even if nothing goes horribly wrong, an ethical person would not put themselves in a situation so likely to go haywire. It’s simply too easy for a mentor to give in to the temptation to tell their mentee not to play with someone who they’re worried might steal them away, or avoid giving them information that might cause them to ask inconvenient questions about their mentor’s proficiency with their toys/protocol choices/how the scene actually works/what’s really going on. It’s also too easy for the mentee to avoid disagreeing with their mentor for fear of losing their play partner or being punished in scene.

Even in the more regulated environment of a job, a mentor is still generally someone other than the mentee’s boss. Again, that’s because of conflicts of interest. What’s best for a person’s career may be very different from what’s most convenient for their boss, making it very difficult for the mentee to get unbiased advice if their mentor and their boss are the same person.

A real mentor does NOT engage in power exchange with their mentee. Just like non-power-exchange play with the mentee, this is a conflict of interest. Once you set up a power exchange relationship with someone, you’re no longer an advisor, you’re a mistress/master/owner/etc. If you want to be someone’s mistress that’s great, but calling yourself a mentor while you act like a mistress is dishonest. Lying is a kind of a dick move, and also completely counterproductive. Misleading someone about your intentions certainly won’t make them stick around, and if they’re dumb enough to be fooled for any length of time, do you really want them around?

A real mentor points the mentee towards a wide range of resources, even ones which the mentor doesn’t necessarily agree with, and encourages them to talk with other people and gather a range of opinions. You don’t necessarily have to have an extensive library of bdsm related books to be a mentor, but you really do have to be able to give your mentee information in some form, whether that’s a list of links to read through or a list of people who are especially skilled in certain areas to talk to. If you can’t provide someone with information and help them learn to find things on their own, you have no business calling yourself a mentor. If you really need a fancy title to make yourself feel important, there are plenty of other ones to choose from.

A protector is generally even less useful than a ‘mentor’. Supposedly a protector looks out for a poor, vulnerable submissive, who is clearly too sweet and innocent (read, stupid and helpless) to a) figure out on her/his own who is safe to play with, and b) tell a top/dom/whatever who she/he doesn’t want to play with to back off.

There are very, very few situations in which I think a ‘protector’ figure has any use at all (aside from making said protector feel important).

  1. A bottom-type person who is completely new to the scene and going to their very first play party might feel more comfortable with a trusted friend who is there specifically to look after them and make sure no-one tries to talk them into doing anything they’re not completely comfortable with.
  2. A bottom-type person who knows their judgement of people is not always the best might choose to compensate for that by running potential play partners past a trusted friend before doing anything with them. This could also protect them from at least some predators by making it more trouble than it would be worth to either get the go ahead from their protector or persuade the person to go behind their protector’s back.
  3. A bottom-type person who is in fact perfectly comfortable telling people she/he doesn’t want to play with that no, she/he’s actually not at all turned on by their grandiose titles and domlier-than-thou posturing could easily get sick of tops arguing with her/his reasons for not wanting to play with them and ask a trusted friend to pose as her/his ‘protector’ for the sake of cutting those arguments short.

Note that none of these reasons have anything to do with submissive people being fundamentally unable to look after themselves just because they’re submissive. The idea that submissive people need a dominant to look after them is stupid and insulting. Assuming that a submissive person is submissive to everyone and therefore can’t say no when they need to makes as much sense as assuming that because I’m a straight woman I’m attracted to all men and can’t say no to the ones who aren’t compatible with me.

So, all together a mentor and protector would ideally:

  • Give you a sounding board for ideas
  • Point you toward information you might not have found on your own
  • Give you advice to help you develop in your chosen role/figure out which role works for you
  • Look out for your best interests
  • Help keep you safe

Does that list remind anyone of a certain relationship that doesn’t have a pompous title? Oh yes, I think it might possibly be, what’s the word…. ‘friendship‘. A good friend who has some experience in the scene would do any of the things a mentor or protector is supposed to do, without lying about their intentions. So what’s the point of ‘mentoring’ and ‘protecting’ again? Making ‘mentors’ and ‘protectors’ feel important.

15 thoughts on “‘Mentoring’ & ‘Protecting’

  1. Right from the first paragraph or two I was thinking “Friends do all this!”, so I’m really glad you’ve picked that up too. 🙂

    I’ll admit that in the past I had a “protector” (female dominant) and a “mentor” as well (male submissive), and it was pretty valuable to me. I was fresh meat at the time and people were pouncing on me a bit too frequently (and abusively).

    It took me a few months to realize that friends in the scene could accomplish all (and more) that the official titles could, and I moved on.

    I guess it’s tough to rely on friends in the scene if you’re really new and have none? That’s the only time I see the titles as useful.

  2. *laugh* I wrote a much less balanced and less thoughtful post on protection a while ago: Submissives need protection.

    I find the bizarre and abiding NEED to make BDSM stuff seem so ‘speshul’ irritating in the extreme, like some people want to make it like an exclusive club and keep out the dirty vanillas. God forbid we should just make friends, hang out, and, you know, look out for each other like *normal* people…

    Ferns

  3. Right from the first paragraph or two I was thinking “Friends do all this!”

    I find the bizarre and abiding NEED to make BDSM stuff seem so ‘speshul’ irritating in the extreme

    So much yes. I just don’t understand the need for silly titles for things we already have perfectly good words for.

    @Ferns – There were a few really interesting points that got touched on in the comments of your post that I had trouble working into mine. I really liked the mention of ‘protection’ being a way to ‘call dibs’ on a submissive to keep some other dom from snapping them up, but without making any real commitment to them in case you decide you don’t want them after all. That drives me nuts, I see it as straightforwardly being dishonest about your intentions.

    Another hit for me was “1. No matter interesting he seems, what is wrong with him that he needs a protector?” Personally, I’m turned on by smart, capable people who can look after themselves. While I do respect people who at least know that their judgement is questionable and try to compensate for it with a protector-type relationship with a friend, that’s still going to turn me off.

    And finally, the idea that it’s somehow okay for submissive people to abdicate responsibility for their lives just because they’re involved in bdsm is maddening. People who aren’t involved in the scene all stop (well, I hope they all stop) letting their parents tell them who they can and cannot date when they move out on their own, so why on earth is finding another parent okay in the scene?

    I’ll just stop there before I write another post in my own comments 🙂

  4. The thing that I keep seeing come up, when people talk about mentors in the scene in particular, is this implication that one can only have a single mentor.

    Personally, I love having mentors. I love having people who I can run ideas by, and who can give me feedback. I love having ones who I think are biased, and ones who are less biased (everyone has biases). But I never limit myself to just one mentor. I get lots of mentors, lots of people who can give me feedback on different things, or who I can go to if the advice from one mentor feels wrong. Because having a mentor doesn’t mean I abdicate my brain.

    Also, I don’t understand the opposition to a mentor also being a play partner, at least occasionally. This probably goes back to the “not having just one mentor” thing, but there are lots of things I learn better or understand better through interacting, rather than through just talking. A mentor being someone I trust, they’re also someone I’m more likely to feel comfortable trying something new with. And hopefully talking about it with them, and if not with that one, then with a different mentor.

    I don’t know what most work mentorships are like, or if there is this “official” concept, but my boss mentors me. So do some of my coworkers who’ve been there longer. But more often than not, at work, it’s my boss. She’s an awesome person, who cares that I’m doing good work, sure, but also cares that I’m successful in life, and in what I do. And sometimes (like for the next several months) those things line up, and maybe later down the line they don’t. But that doesn’t mean she’s not going to give me the best advise she can.

    I think the best person to be a mentor (or the best people to be mentors) are certainly friends. But that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones. And that doesn’t mean that mentors MUST be friends. There’s plenty of reasons to have non-friends mentor you; experience being a really big one. So while I understand the “don’t use mentor or protector as a means of jumping on and isolating new people to the scene, and don’t let someone else do that to you if you are new to the scene”, I really strongly disagree with this approach to it.

  5. I guess when I first immersed myself in the scene I was very self-conscious about what other people thought about me; I didn’t want to alienate myself right off the bat, and I didn’t know how I should react or behave towards dominants.

    I started “accepting” abuse as part of my role, and as a part of “what submissives do.”

    I wish someone just told me up front that I can be myself. As cheesy as it seems. Sometimes the desire to fit in overrides our best interests, and in those cases, it’s good to have someone watching out for you.

    Preferably friends, if you have them.

  6. There’s another submissive guy in the local scene who often bounced his thoughts off of me since he was new and reading a lot of the “right way” propaganda online. I ended up doing the things in your bullet points, and stressing the need to find his individual flavor through introspection and exploration. At one point he told me he considered me a mentor. I cringed at the word, but I understood and appreciated that he valued my experiences and opinions so much. We’re now good friends. And you’re right, these are the kinds of things friends do for each other, without all the titles.

    To me, a mentor is someone who gives consent to having long conversations about what we do and all the intricacies that can pop up. Some friends would get annoyed if someone kept pestering them with questions and concerns, day after day. A mentor says, “It’s cool, ask away. What’s on your mind?”

    I also agree with what Trust said above about having more than one mentor. Pulling your information from multiple sources means you’re less likely to mistake one person’s way of doing things for some sort of universal truth.

    Now you got my head moving. I may have to write a post on something along these lines now.

  7. @Trust

    The thing that I keep seeing come up, when people talk about mentors in the scene in particular, is this implication that one can only have a single mentor.

    That’s a really interesting point. Having multiple mentors fixes the majority of the problems I have with predatory ‘mentors’, but somehow I didn’t think to say directly ‘real mentors are fine with, and in fact encourage their mentees to have other mentors too’.

    Also, I don’t understand the opposition to a mentor also being a play partner, at least occasionally. This probably goes back to the “not having just one mentor” thing, but there are lots of things I learn better or understand better through interacting, rather than through just talking.

    I agree that there are lots of things that just can’t be understood by talking about them. For example, what it feels like to be hit with a paddle where it’s generally considered safe, vs what it feels like to be hit too high, or too near your tailbone. I don’t consider a simple demonstration like that actual play, though. I was once single-tailed (very briefly and gently) to understand what it felt like, but I wouldn’t say I played with the person who was kind enough to give me that experience.

    I’d say that sort of demonstration is perfectly fine, and in fact very important when mentoring a top/dom/what-have-you (to be a responsible top, you have to have some idea what your toys feel like), in a mentoring relationship. The idea of regular play in a mentoring relationship just rubs me the wrong way, however. Once you’re regularly playing with someone, they’re a play partner, not a mentor. Obviously you can learn things from your play-partner, but once you add that layer to the relationship, you can’t get the same kind of (ideally) unbiased advice you can from someone who you aren’t worried about continuing to play with you.

    If you have more than one mentor, or access to other play partners, or are reasonably experienced in the scene, that’s not such a big deal. However, if you’re completely new to the scene and desperate to experience this stuff that you’ve been thinking about for so long, the prospect of losing access to the one person you’re playing with because you questioned them would be terrifying. That’s the main thing I’m ranting about here, people taking advantage of complete noobs and calling it mentoring.

  8. @weezie

    I guess when I first immersed myself in the scene I was very self-conscious about what other people thought about me; I didn’t want to alienate myself right off the bat, and I didn’t know how I should react or behave towards dominants.

    I started “accepting” abuse as part of my role, and as a part of “what submissives do.”

    In that part, I think mentors are a band-aid solution to a greater problem with the scene. If we did a better job of looking after newcomers, they wouldn’t get the idea that it’s okay for them to be abused/abuse others. If we kicked people out of events for being abusive jerks, there would be far fewer jerks around to mess with the noobs, and we’d create a culture of non-jerk-toleration that would make it far easier for everyone to smack a jerk down when they do jerky things. As it is, hardly anyone speaks up when someone’s treating them badly because of the way the local scene has tacitly condoned shitty behavior by refusing to do anything about people who have literally spent *years* scaring new people away from the scene.

  9. @roo-roo

    To me, a mentor is someone who gives consent to having long conversations about what we do and all the intricacies that can pop up. Some friends would get annoyed if someone kept pestering them with questions and concerns, day after day. A mentor says, “It’s cool, ask away. What’s on your mind?”

    Okay, now I think I get the difference between friends and mentors. Personally, I would get annoyed if all or even most of my friends wanted to have long conversations with me about kink. I don’t have the time to do that with everyone, and honestly I’m pretty antisocial. There just aren’t that many people I want to spend hours talking with.

    I hope you do write a post on this general topic, I’d enjoy reading it 🙂

  10. @stabbity
    “If you have more than one mentor, or access to other play partners, or are reasonably experienced in the scene, that’s not such a big deal. However, if you’re completely new to the scene and desperate to experience this stuff that you’ve been thinking about for so long, the prospect of losing access to the one person you’re playing with because you questioned them would be terrifying. That’s the main thing I’m ranting about here, people taking advantage of complete noobs and calling it mentoring.”

    Sure! That’s well and truly a valid thing to rant against, and I’ve seen it happen. It’s not something I encountered, in large part because I sought out many mentors. I didn’t let myself get boxed into that “desperate with one person and not getting a balanced view” situation. And sure, it meant I waited a lot longer to play, but I’d already waited however many years, what was a few more weeks?

    My issue with your rant, and with other rants I’ve seen like it, is that it paints a “one true way” of mentoring, that assumes mentors are out to isolate noobs if they don’t do it that way. You’re not the first person I’ve had this conversation with. I had it in the mentoring forum on FetLife, in fact. I think the biggest issue I have with the approach of “here’s what mentors do/don’t do” is that it strikes me too much of “here’s what a true submissive/dominant doesn’t or doesn’t do”. People mentor in different ways, people GET mentored in different ways, and I still find myself having trouble understanding why a play partner who is also a mentor is necessarily a problem.

    “Here’s what an abusive situation in the guise of mentorship looks like” would be an ok argument, to me. But I think a solution to the “one true way of mentorship” problem is rather than to say “here’s what mentors do/don’t do” is to say “Find many mentors. Talk to many people. You’re better off with a community of people to learn from than from just one person anyway”.

  11. Without giving a blow-by-blow of my most recent set of relationships, I just want to say that this post has helped me TREMENDOUSLY in recent months. It’s given me thought tools and frameworks to create a model of mentorship and what it should and shouldn’t contain, as well as the ways I can ethically give and receive it. Thank you. 🙂

    One question I’d like to ask–what’s your perspective on appropriate and ethical ways that a relationship can transition (should both people want it to happen) from platonic student-teacher to non-platonic play or sex partners?

    • Awesome, I’m glad I could help 🙂

      That’s a really good question and I’m not sure how well I can answer it, but I’ll give it a shot. First, a caveat: I’m approaching this from the perspective of a dom and could be completely off base about what it would be like for a sub in a relationship that transitioned from platonic to non-platonic.

      As a dom, what I would be worried about is that my former student/mentee had “fallen in love” – I know you didn’t necessarily specify a romantic relationship, I’m using that as an expression – with the dynamic versus actually having an attachment to me as a person. I’ve done that myself, I’ve gotten to excited about having that dynamic with someone that I didn’t stop and think about whether we were actually compatible. So personally, I would want at least a little bit of a break between the teacher/student relationship and the play/sex partner relationship. Just to give the student a little bit of space to play with other people (if they weren’t doing that anyway) and/or think about whether I’m really the right person for them and for me to think about whether they’re the right person for me.

      I’d also be worried that both of us would find the transition jarring. I would expect a mentor to be focused on what’s good for the mentee whether or not that’s what the mentor likes in their personal relationships, and I know I would stumble when it came to remembering that I was allowed (assuming this fits into your agreement) to give orders along the lines of “I’ve registered your objection and I still want you to do it now and stop complaining.” I could see it being really frustrating for the s-type to suddenly go from as much explanation as they need (personally, I think a mentor’s job is to keep explaining as long as the mentee is asking in good faith) to “Just do it and do it right.”

      My best guess, I’m by no means amazing at this myself, is that you could mitigate that with a lot of communication. I would want to talk about exactly what I expect to change, exactly what the former student expects to change, and what we’ll do when we have misunderstandings. I think in a situation like that it would be especially important to have some scheduled outside-of-dynamic discussion time or journal/letter writing to create a safe space for everyone to talk about how things are going. Using myself as an example again, I sometimes have a much easier time expressing myself in writing where I can edit over and over than verbally, so I would want to make sure everyone had an option that makes things easier for them.

      If I could, I’d also set try to set my former student up with another mentor or at least some experienced friends, just to make sure they always have someone fairly neutral to ask for advice.

      I hope something in that extended bit of rambling helps. I’m happy to make a short post about your question and ask other readers for advice if that’s something you’re interested in. It’s a really interesting question and it’s not at all unlikely that someone out there has better advice than I do.

      Good luck!

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