BDSM 101: Common Misconceptions Of Those Who Visit Tumblr's BDSM Community
A pretty good list of how to navigate this subculture, but it’s also important to note that not everyone in the BDSM community are Dom(me)s or subs, so these rules may not apply to most of the people you meet within the culture. Never assume that anyone you meet is anything. There is no definitive visual clue for Dom(me)s, subs, bottoms, tops, switches, etc. If you want to know how a person identifies, ask.
But, yes, erring on the side of respect in any case is always a good idea and, no matter how you identify in kinkland, consent is king. If you want to know something, ask in a way that comes from a place of respect and humility.
Want to know if the person you see across the room would like to play? Go introduce yourself to them. As one person meeting another person. You are not in-scene yet. Nothing has been negotiated. You do not know this person. They do not know you. No one wants to play with someone they don’t know. So get to know them. Let them get to know you. As one person meeting another person.
Then, if the connection is going well, sure, ask what they’re into and what they’re looking for in terms of play and play partners. Don’t assume they came to a party to play. Don’t assume that they have to, want to, or will play with you. Don’t assume that what you’re interested in is what they’re interested in. It’s called “negotiation” for a reason.
And accept the answer you’re given. Whatever it is. Because the best way to turn an initial “no” into permanent “never” is to be pushy or pouty about it. As a bottom, I have eventually played with people whom I’ve turned down before for one reason or another–maybe I wasn’t in the mood to play that day or wanted to get to know them better–but I have NEVER played with someone who took my “no” badly. Who acted as if they were entitled to a “yes.” And, while I don’t think of myself as particularly gossipy, you’ll find that subs and bottoms talk to each other. If you get a reputation for pushing past people’s consent, even in low-stakes cases like that, there’s a good chance we’ll all know. And we won’t want to play with you.
Treat people like people, not potential playthings, and your partners–even and especially your potential partners–like partners.