by Ambrosio. This was first published on Ambrosio's site and has a free to distribute license. Abrosio dedicated this article to Beverly M. in Austin.

High Protocol in Perspective

"i can't get all involved in what is 'protocol' and what is not... good grief, relationships are hard enough... i frankly just prefer to please my partner and follow his lead, regardless of what it is... isn't that what D/s is, after all?" ~ Stacey

While good manners are important in all situations, leather protocol should not be a source of anxiety for novice doms and subs. While slapping someone else's submissive on the ass will get you shown to the door, addressing "Cardinal Hugh Mungus-Coq" as "Your Holiness" instead of "Your Eminence" will go uncriticized and most likely unnoticed. In truth there are not that many people who are following high protocol, and my experience with those who do is that usually they keep the high protocol within a private Master-Slave relationship and they are very graceful and forgiving about the ignorance of others. (There are notable exceptions but they are well known as such and it is simple to avoid them and stay out trouble.)

Perhaps the reason more dominants and masters don't require their subs to follow high protocol as defined by Emily Post is that they would have to learn the high protocol themselves. And if a dom or top decides it's not worth it to him to have more than three dining utensils in one meal, that's fine. Personally I will happily drink my Merlot out of a small jelly jar as long as I am not having guests over for diner.

Formal Vanilla Etiquette As High Protocol

The BDSM scene is a subculture and as a subculture it exists in relation to the larger "Vanilla" culture to which it is a component. For the most part, the etiquette and protocols of the larger world still apply -- sometimes to a greater extent -- unless they are exceptions that define the very ways in which the BDSM scene is different from the whole. For example, where protocol of any flavor dictates that it is not acceptable to grab a stranger by the groin in either "vanilla" office parties or kinky munches, protocol differs on the subject of where one partner should walk in relation to the other. While it is expected for a couple to walk side by side in North American society, the most common convention in the scene is that the submissive follows the dominant two steps behind and to the dominant's left (or right, if the dominant prefers), regardless of their respective gender. So an understanding of the etiquette of the larger culture (North America) is essential for understanding the etiquette and protocol of the subculture (the North American BDSM scene.)

Here are a few points of general "vanilla" etiquette which our leather folk can apply -- or adopt -- to our subculture. Some of them are not as well observed as they once were -- either in our society as a whole or in our subculture in particular. They can safely be considered "High Protocol" and are rarely applied outside of "High Protocol" relationships or special occasions such as formal dinners.

In bowing, it is considered respectful to bend the head. To only lower the eyes is rude.

Traditionally gentlemen walk next to ladies on the outside -- closer to the street (curbside.) This was practiced so that gentlemen could protect ladies from being splashed with mud. (This runs counter to the more generally accepted convention of the submissive walking behind the dominant but it is included here to add perspective.)

A Few Rules for Formal Dining:

  • Once you pick up a piece of cutlery, you should never put it back on the table
  • Sit up straight and keep your elbows off the table
  • Dining partners should have the same number of courses and start and finish at the same time.
  • Cut only enough food for the next mouthful
  • Pass food to the right
  • Never crumble crackers in your soup
  • Never blow on soup to cool it
  • Put butter on your plate first instead of directly on roll
  • When using the fork, the prongs face downward
  • Enter your chair from the left
  • Introduce yourself before you sit down
  • Gentlemen rise for latecomers and ladies
  • When multiple courses are served with multiple tableware start with the outside and work your way in.
  • Courses are served from the left and removed from the right
  • Wine is poured from the right
  • Leave your napkin on the seat or arm of a chair when you leave temporarily.
  • When you have not finished with your plate, place your knife and fork on you plate in a St. Andrew's cross position and with the prongs of the fork down.
  • When you are finished with your plate, place your knife and fork at the 10:20 position with the prongs of the fork down and the knife blade facing inward
  • The host or hostess will put the napkin on the table to signify that dinner is over

There's far more to formal dining and etiquette than these points. More research is required if you plan on hosting or attending a formal dinner party. There are links below for further study.

In summary, unless there is a specific accepted exception, the rules of the larger world apply to the smaller.

Making Introductions

When making introductions, introduce the person of lesser authority, rank, or seniority to the person of greater authority. Alternatively, think of it as saying the name of the "more important" person first.

FOR EXAMPLE: "Sir Robert, this is my boi, Impudence." or "Mistress Sara, I'd like to introduce my slave, Francine."

Forms of Address

Title Formal Written Salutation In Conversation
Military officers (US) Dear [ Rank] [ Rank]

While referring to the officers of the United States military, in  Service Etiquette, Oretha D. Swartz writes:
Always remember that a senior sends his or her  compliments to a junior; the junior sends his or her  respects.   In written correspondence the senior may "call" attention to a problem or other matter, but the junior may only "invite" it. (p.7)

Royalty and Presidents (excluding Britain and the U.S.)
Title Formal Written Salutation In Conversation
King Your Majesty Your Majesty
Prince (reigning nonroyal) Your Serene Highness Your Highness
Prince (royal) Your Royal Highness Your Highness
President (not U.S.) Your Excellency Mr./Madam President


British Royalty
Title Formal Written Salutation In Conversation
Queen Madam Your Majesty or Ma'am (longer conversation)
Prince or Princess Sir or Madam Your Royal Highness
Duke or Duchess of [ Place] Sir or Madam Your Royal Highness


British Titled Personages - non-Royal
Title Formal Written Salutation In Conversation
Duke or Duchess of [ Place] My Lord Duke Duke or Duchess
Marquess (Marquis) Dear Lord [ Place] Lord [ Place]
Marchioness Dear Lady [ Place] Lady [ Place]
Earl Dear Lord [ Place] Lord [ Place]
Countess Dear Lady [ Place] Lady [ Place]
Viscount Dear Lord [ Place] Lord [ Place]
Viscountess Dear Lady [ Place] Lady [ Place]
Baron Dear Lord [ Place] Lord
Baroness Dear Lady [ Place] Lady or Baroness
Baronet Dear Sir [ First name] Sir [ First name]
Knight Dear Sir [ First name] Sir [ First name]
Dame Dear Dame [ First name] Dame [ First name]


Title Formal Written Salutation In Conversation
Archbishop, Eastern Orthodox, Cyprus & Athens Your Beatitude Your Beatitude
Archbishop, Eastern Orthodox, U.S. Your Eminence Your Eminence
Archbishop, Roman Catholic Your Excellency Your Excellency
Archdeacon, Episcopal Dear Archdeacon Archdeacon
Bishop, Episcopal Right Reverend Sir or Bishop Bishop
Bishop, Roman Catholic Your Excellency or Dear Bishop Your Excellency
Cardinal Your Eminence Your Eminence
Clergyman/woman, Protestant Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. Mr./Ms./Dr.
Dean of a Cathedral, Episcopal Dear Dean Dean
Monsignor Dear Monsignor Monsignor
Patriarch, Greek Orthodox, Constantinople Your Holiness Your Holiness
Patriarch, Greek Orthodox, Alexandria, Antioch, & Jerusalem Your Beatitude Your Beatitude
Patriarch, Russian Orthodox Your Holiness Your Holiness
Pope Your Holiness or Most Holy Father Your Holiness or Most Holy Father
Priest, Roman Catholic Reverend Sir Father or Father
Rabbi Dear Rabbi Rabbi

NOTE: Traditionally, signing your correspondence "Respectfully" and "Respectfully yours" is reserved for writing to the clergy.

[Primary Source: "Forms of Address" in  The Encyclopedia of Etiquette by Llewellyn Miller]

Patriotic Displays (U.S.)

"Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. ... it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else." - Theodore Roosevelt

"Patriotism means being loyal to your country all the time and to its government when it deserves it." - Mark Twain

This section may at first seem out of place but there are occasions -- such as a formal dinner or leather awards ceremony in the U.S. -- when the U.S. Flag will be displayed.

The following points are adapted from the United States Code, Title 4.

  • During rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. Men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should render the military salute at the first note of the anthem and retain this position until the last note. When the flag is not displayed, those present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed there.
  • The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag ... should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute. (Uniform is understood to mean a uniform of one of the Armed Services of the United Sates.)
  • The flag, when carried in a procession with another flag or flags, should be either on the marching right; that is, the flag's own right, or, if there is a line of other flags, in front of the center of that line.
  • No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America, (except during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea.)
  • The flag of the United States of America, when it is displayed with another flag against a wall from crossed staffs, should be on the right, the flag's own right, and its staff should be in front of the staff of the other flag.
  • The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of States or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs.
  • When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost and to the flag's own right, that is, to the observer's left. When displayed in a window, the flag should be displayed in the same way, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street.
  • When used on a speaker's platform, the flag, if displayed flat, should be displayed above and behind the speaker. When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the flag of the United States of America should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman's or speaker's right as he faces the audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the clergyman or speaker or to the right of the audience.
  • No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.
  • The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
  • The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise. The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
  • The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker's desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.
  • The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
  • The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.
  • The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.
  • The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
  • The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.
  • No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
  • The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.
  • During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the flag is passing in a parade or in review, all persons present except those in uniform should face the flag and stand at attention with the right hand over the heart. Those present in uniform should render the military salute. When not in uniform, men should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Aliens should stand at attention. The salute to the flag in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes.
[NOTE: For the complete code see the U. S. Flag Protocol (Title 4) at]

[For the Union Jack (U.K.) view "Basic Flag Protocol and Etiquette" at]

Links for General ("Vanilla") Etiquette