Time Out of Time
21 May 2017 | 3:26 am

by Deborah Hoffman-Wade

Mama’s Family Picture IMsL 2017

I love IMsL. For me it is a form of Hallows experience. Time out time. A full immersion experience of the eruptions and creation of intentional community. Slightly messy, always interesting, and wickedly fun. For the first time in years I was not covering IMsL because my huzbutch was judging along with my huzband, Mark Frazier. So, these are my sweet memories and comments on IMsL 2017 as I just hung out and watched as Schon, Mark, and Mike (my boy) work. This year I was just….

…The Judge’s Wife aka The Old Cranky Broad with The Cute Dog
Being a Judge’s wife was fabulous. For the women snarking in the bathroom at DNA about not knowing “who the fuck is Schon”, “she wasn’t a titleholder”, and “why the hell is she a judge”? I am about to tell you. Schon has been part of the Leather Community for almost twenty years. Just because she does not have a sash around her neck, does not put herself on stage, have an ego the size of the Doubletree or have the need to be noticed, doesn’t mean she is not qualified to be a judge. She has me for all of those!

Schon has been one of those people who work in the deep. She is foundation, the rock bed, the deep root, and the keeper of the home fires. One of those people who show up first to put out the chairs and stays to the end to put them all away. She and many like her don’t get the attention of title holders but she is the fucking one who brings full length mirrors so you can check your fucking stocking seams before you go on stage. She is the one who brings the food for you to snack on, hauls the equipment you play on, keeps an eye on the contest budget, and picks up after you when you leave.

She is the one you can run to when humans are mean/stupid/ridiculous. The kind you lean into, and wail like a two year old knowing she will hold you, and not let go until you are fully grounded. She is the most amazing person I know and I have known her for 35 years and married to her for 28 years. When family want the “give it to me straight up with no frills” they go to Schon. She is hard truth. She is also compassionate acceptance. Gifted with the ability to be sincere, compassionate, and fair. It pisses me off, as a hot head that she is so fair. As almost every judge I have been honored to sit with, I commend the judges for their work, time, and gentle forthrightness. Remember this next time you think some judge is not worthy, we are all worthy.

IMsL and IMsBootblack judges. L-R: Erick Joseph and Mark Frazier

Judging is a huge responsibility, energizing, terrifying, and fun. As a judge I had amazing mentors, each of them teaching me and others how to be the best at listening, questioning, observation, and follow up. These are the basic tools of judging contests. Mark Frazier, Queen Cougar, and Race Bannon taught me that each contestant arrives with a clean slate, is respected for their participation, and are treated well and fairly. They taught me about the ethics of being a judge: respect every contestant, listen with an open mind, ask hard questions with regard, be direct and kind, follow up on hear-say with contestants, do not talk about contestants with other judges or community outside of the specific judging times, and be compassionate along with forthright.

Bootblack and IMsL 2017 Class

Interviews are the main course of judging. They are difficult to prepare for and they are just as hard to judge. I am forever grateful that IMsL is one of the few contests who actually show us all this process. If you have never been to the interview portion of the contest I encourage you to go and get your empathy nodes polished up. As IMsL 2017, Girl Complex said, “The hardest part of the contest was thinking about and preparing for the interview, since you have no idea what they are going to ask you just have to hope that you can answer everything they do.”

Social Butterflies
I am an Aries. I have five houses in Aries. I am a big ole ENFJ. Gregarious, outgoing, with an ego to match. I have never denied my ego, because I always try to be aware how much space I can take. It is a painful lesson to learn how to balance a BIG, in so many ways, self with being a person who can take up so much space. It came down to my teacher, mentor, sister, Deb Trent (RIP) to brave the ego and tell me to shut the fuck up, step the fuck back, and let others breathe. If I don’t I give space to those who are not as talkative, I shut out people who I should hear. Who need to be heard. Who are not as comfortable being social. All of us have the ability to be social, and in fact, a lot of performers are actually introverted lovers of quiet.

Alotta Boutté Performing at Brunch 2017

As Elisa said, “The hardest part of the contest, and of any contest I’ve ever done is the unstructured social events that you have to do, like Seduction and the Uniform Party. I’m an introvert and thrive within one on one interactions and I also like doing things that have more of a structured process. I have to walk into the event with a game plan of how to approach people and also with a friend who can poke me into meeting more people if I get caught up too intensely in a conversation.”

I am a social butterfly. I love to schmooze. Although as I age my energy level has dropped considerably, I still love being around people. I don’t go away exhausted emotionally or physically, I get filled up. All the faces, all the hugs, all the mini conversations, all the players, all the femmes in fabulous dresses, it all serves to refresh my Leather self, my extrovert self, and my need to physically see friends who live so far away.

Gas Mask Synchronized Swimming at the Amy Meek Pool Party.

Rutherford B. Hayes and Reconstructionism
I laughed so hard. I also did a lot of teaching about how President Hayes was outstanding (at his time) by taking a stand against the horrors of Reconstructionism and the South’s work to slow down the progress of emancipation. Basic American History. Sigh. Google it for more information.

Oh what we learn at IMsL! Not always the latest flogging technique. We share. We laugh. We make mistakes. We forgive. We move on. We learn. It is a cycle of self education, which our community constantly does. Race Bannon in his book The Art of Self Education says, “I call this trend the emergence of self-service education. Students will increasingly pull education to them rather than waiting for educational institutions to push learning content out. Students will identify what they want to learn and technology will empower them with the tools to deliver the appropriate learning directly to them without the need for intermediaries.” We have been self educating for years. We are good at it.

I go to IMsL to learn. To grow personally, as a dominant, and as a human being. I take what I learn both in formal classes and by association. We don’t stop growing once any conference is over. We take what we absorb through brain power or feelings or touch and we carry that with us when we go home. Girl Complex’s wants to learn “more about the people who are underrepresented and find out why they feel that way. I want to hear their stories.”

Emcee Bubblinsugare

I don’t stop learning once I leave a conference. I asked Elisa what she wants to learn this year and she said, “I’m excited to travel overseas and learn more about the leather and bootblack community outside of North America. I’m also interested in finding out the best ways to help support and nurture communities with a new and developing bootblack culture.” Girl Complex said, “In my title year I want to learn more about the people who are underrepresented and find out why they feel that way. I want to hear their stories. I would also I love to learn how and where I grow in my leather life.”

I want to learn how to say, “No, thank you.” without guilt. I want to be a better Ma’am to Mike, and a better wife to Schon. I want to finish my damn book. I want to learn to grow older with dignity and not turn into a beige old lady. I want to set personal, spiritual, and public service goals and meet them. I want to sop up the juices of sex, play, history, joy, and learning IMsL provides me.

Inside The Leather Jacket. Alena Gobosh being interviewed by Sarah Humble.

Joy and Bliss
I am talking about joy. Where do you get your joy on? IMsL is one of those places for me. The joy of so many bright, funny, amazing people who just fill the halls with laughter. Laughter is a constant. I walk slow. One of the joys of walking slow is listening to snippets of people’s reunions, jubilation, watching hugs, conversations, and laughter. Always laughter. The joy of return, the joy of finally, the joy of sparkly new, the joy of play becomes reality. I asked Elisa what was her moment of joy during the contest and she said, “I think the moment of finishing tech boot was pretty joyful. It’s hard to overestimate the hours of prep that I put into doing tech work under time pressure leading up to the contest. It was tremendously stressful and to complete the task successfully was wonderful.”

Girl Complex and Elisa, IMsL Titleholders for 2017

We all prep for IMsL in so many ways. From clothing spreadsheets, to dates, to play times, we map our way through what makes us happy. Happiness and joy at an event is making sure you get your needs met. Girl Complex said she found joy by “bonding with my classmates. I did not think that was possible in such a short time and space. If it was after winning, it was the people who came up to me, hugged me, and we almost cried. They were so happy to see themselves reflected on the stage and I was part of that for them.”

I think sometimes the bliss of IMsL or any event that expands our senses and permeates throughout our international community and fuels more joy.

Spencer Bergstedt and Mark Frazier

Men of IMsL
I love the amazing energy of women and all the gender variants of people that attend IMsL. This is where I get my yearly (at minimum) Hooker hugs. Hooker has been working and supporting IMsL for almost 15 years. Every time I see him or other men it makes me feel warm and lovely. I hope that the Men of IMsL grows. I was happy to see International, National, and Local men’s titleholders at IMsL. I would be even happier to see more of our local community show up. Kudos for our guys who show up, help, and participate in IMsL. As a former producer of men’s leather contests (Mr. SF Leather and Northern California Leather Sir/boy and Community Bootblack), the Leather men I know are among the most self aware, feminist, progressive, deeply caring, and respectful men in the world. The Men of IMsL have consistently show up for women and queers of IMsL.

Alameda County Leather Corp (ACLC) Yes, I am bragging.
Girl Complex, IMsL 2017 is my Great, Great, Great, Great, Great Granddaughter. I was also the Head Judge for her ACLC title (Ms. Alameda County Leather 2016). Bubbie could not be prouder. Alameda County Leather Corps is my home club out of the East Bay, California. Although I am not as active as I used to be, it is still my club. ACLC has been a leader in the Bay Community for many years. Open to all genders, all races, all kinks, and all fetish configurations, it is a conglomerate of people. ACLC is a service club in which titleholders are expected to raise funds for charity and serve the local community. ACLC’s Women’s contest is one of the longest running contests with consecutive titleholders. Next year’s Ms. ACL with be our 26th! Never an empty title, never a year without a contest. We are consistent. We show up, we work, we face the difficult, we learn together, we argue, we create fun, and we continue. We, as in the collective body of ACLC, are so thrilled and gratified. You rocked it Granddaughter. We are always here for you. We got your back, your front, and I will personally protect your dimples.

Girl Complex IMsL 2017 and Elisa, IMsBootblack 2017

The Power of a Self Acceptance
There are tons of reasons we all have issues with our bodies. As a fat fabulous femme, knowing I was a dyke at 16 (OMG 48 years ago) and coming out in Minneapolis in 1977 at the very first Pride Parade, was not easy. I was femme and fat. I have always been a big woman. I learned to sew to make myself stylish clothes. I have worked hard to overcome the Terror Of The Dressing Room at retail stores. While college gave me freedom of intellect, the women’s spirituality/dyke community helped me worship my body as the Sleeping Goddess of Malta and live sexual being, the Leather Community brought my kinky self to life. I have my moments of self doubt, but I revel in my self. Healthy self acceptance, body elation, and the honoring of all types of bodies and abilities are a gift of the IMsL community.

When discussing with my peers some issues around employment, I shared the real world of living fat. I said to them, “When looking for a new job as a fat women, I have one fear. It is not that I am an old women in her 60’s, it is not that I am a woman. It is not that I am a Leather Dyke (yes, they google you). It is that I am a fat woman. I am fat, therefore (and I have been told all this) I am undisciplined, unable to keep up, have no will power, need to only wear black/navy blue to look thinner, and I am unhealthy. I am none of those things. I am articulate, smart, direct, compassionate, determined, disciplined, color popping powerful fucking Leather Dyke.

Elisa, IMsBootblack 2017, said “I want my an international title year as a fat woman to encourage more women who are scared to be visible because of their body image into visible roles in their community, titles or otherwise. And how does she plan to meet that goal: “I’m going to wear a bikini a whole lot.”

Here’s to all of us no matter body types, racial make-ups, religious/spiritual beliefs, ego thresholds, social types, play types, gender types, who wear your bikini or lace or boots or heels proudly! This and much more is what IMsL is all about: loving and celebrating our Leather, learning about our history or a new way to play, and celebrating the amazing power of our community.

Deb aka Merrryweather

Deborah Hoffman-Wade, M.Th.,MSW, ICSW, is at heart a Femme Leather Dyke. Fierce and fabulous, Deborah is Ms. Alameda County Leather 2009. She is past producer of several bay area contests (Mr. San Francisco Leather, Northern California LeatherSir, boy and Bootblack). She was the 2013 San Francisco Leather Alliance Leather Woman of the Year and the 2014 Leather Marshall to the San Francisco Pride Parade. Deborah was a columnist for Lavender Press (MPLS/ST. Paul) and Of A Like Mind (Madison, WI) and writes op/ed for Leatherati.com. She is Co-Author of Partners in Change: Building Collaborations. More important than all the above stuff, she is wife to Schon Wade for going on 29 years and Ma’am to her boy Mike Gelfand. She is also Oscar’s Momma.

Time Out of Time was originally published in Leatherati Online on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

First Annual Mr. Providence Eagle Contest
12 May 2017 | 3:49 am

This Friday, May 12th, 2017, kicks off the first annual Mr. Providence Eagle Contest Weekend in Providence, Rhode Island. All leathermen of New England are encouraged to come out and apply! With a full weekend of events, Mr. PVD Eagle is sure to be a good time and is not to be missed — especially the contest that starts at 7 PM, Saturday May 13th, at the Providence Eagle. Kevin Henderson caught up with Sir Rick Valetino, producer of the Mr. Providence Eagle Contest and Northeast LeatherSIR 2011, a few weeks back to ask him some questions about the contest.

Kevin: Why does New England need another title? What are you hoping this contest will do for the leather community in New England?
Sir Rick: Well, in 2011, I was the Northeast LeatherSIR along with my partner who was Northeast Leatherboy. We took The Eagle as our home bar. We didn’t really have a place to actually meet. At first, the former owner of the Eagle gave us a luke-warm reception. But we kept at it and started doing monthly bar nights. The first time we went into the bar, we were like, “Can we do demos? Can we do, you know, do whatever,” whatever we could think of to get people out at night and get people in the club with some sort of leather presence. Let me tell you, that first bar night was a little scary on my end. There were maybe twenty people there on a Saturday night, and I’m thinking to myself, “How is this place staying open?”
And there was like eight of us from the Northeast Leather Family, which was part of my home title, and we were the only ones in leather! And I was like, “Oh my god, this is a leather bar?” And I come from the Washington DC-Baltimore area where leather was huge. You know, the community was very active and out-there. So, we stuck with it, and kept promoting and recruiting, and it got to the point where you could barely even move in there on one of our bar nights.
Then, the bar lost their lease. Mikey, who was the bar manager, saw an opportunity. He took it over, moved the bar to the different location, and it has been success ever since. We supported Mikey and helped precipitate a renaissance. It was just not really happening before, and Boston is not really a city that embraces diversity. Providence is much more permissive. Flogging is not a problem here. Flogging is a problem is Massachusetts because it is technically considered assault, even if it is consensual. But not in Rhode Island. Not in Providence. So it was a really great place for us to be, and it has turned into a really nice community there. The interactions between the different clubs, the bears, the rubberists, all of them, is really wonderful. This contest is to make sure that this all continues, that there continues to be place where we can all go and have fun and get into our kinks. People don’t always know there is an Eagle in Providence, and we have a great bar owner who is committed to make sure we have a place to be.
Kevin: So the hope is that the title will bring people into the bar?
Sir Rick Valentino
Sir Rick: Well, that’s just one aspect, but also the title will be where we get leadership in our community. It is a way for people to become active in the community. People might not necessarily compete, but I have a lot of people who aren’t competing that are helping with the contest and this gives people an opportunity to do something, to build something. Maybe in the future, one of them would want to represent the bar and the city. It is not just a bar title, it is a regional/state title. It is open to anyone in New England as long as they can actually participate at The Eagle.
Kevin: Who are you looking for to compete in this competition? Who is your ideal competitor?
Sir Rick: We aren’t looking for Mr. Body-Beautiful, per say. I am actually modeling this contest after Mr. Connecticut Leather. The producer of Mr. Connecticut Leather is a friend of mine, and I think it is very refreshing when you go to a contest and, during the meet-and-greet, and you think, ‘oh that person is going to win,’ and then they don’t! You know, everyone is going, ‘oh the hottie, of course the hottie is going to win.’ And then you find out you have a transgender bear that win! Hey, that means it is a for-real contest! I have set my contest up to make sure that just because someone is beautiful doesn’t mean they are going to win. I want someone who is community-based and has a history with the community. Or, I’m looking for contestants who want to get their feet wet. Maybe they are new to the community, or somewhat new, but they have things to learn. Outgoing people, engaged people are what I’m looking for.
Kevin: Can you tell us a little bit about the contest itself? Who is judging? Who will be there?
Mama Sandy Reinhardt
Sir Rick: We have seven judges. It will be Olympic scoring. Mama Sandy Reinhardt is the head judge. Mama Sandy is our leather matriarch and helped the leather guys die with dignity during the early days of the AIDS crisis when no one would touch them. She raised a lot of money for buddy programs and home health care. She really didn’t have to do anything as a straight woman, but she did and people rallied around her. It all snowballed into a big deal with an entire leather family. Her family raises a lot of money per year for charity. My second judge is Preston So who is Mr. International Rubber 2017/Mr. New England Rubber 2016. I met him at MAL this year. He’s a really nice guy and a very down-to-earth. The third judge is Steven Carlisle, American Leather Boy 2016. I believe he is coming in from Los Angeles. I met him a MAL and he was super to talk to, and I am looking forward to getting to know him better. The fourth judge is John-John Punki, Mr Eagle NYC 2017 and was the first Mr. RockBear NYC. The fifth judge Daddy David Gerard from Connecticut. He won Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather 2015. He is one of those people that Connecticut tends to award their titles to. He was up against younger, prettier contestants and yet he won. I think that’s saying a lot for that title. He is one of my closest friends, and I’ve really gotten to know him well over the last few years. He does a lot for the community. The sixth judge is KJ Nichols, Mr. Connecticut Leather 2013. Again, like Daddy David, KJ is a bear that was up against a hot IML-ready looking guy who just wasn’t ready yet to be a titleholder. KJ is a sweetheart and very active in fighting for transgender rights and visibility. The seventh judge is Preston Tucker, Mr. San Jose Leather 1993 and International Mr. Leather 1994 and will be the Den Daddy at IML this year. He is from New Jersey. He and I hit it off the first time we met. We both have wicked senses of humor and we play of each other. I just love him to death.
The judging panel was really Connecticut heavy at first, but now we really do have an national panel and it is just incredibly diverse.
The contest is from the ground-up. It has been a lot of work, but The Eagle is a special place for me. I mean, it closed! And it closed at a time when the DC Eagle was closing, and the San Francisco Eagle was closing, and I was just like, ‘you know what, all the these leather bars are closing and I’ll be god damned if I let Providence Eagle close after doing as much work as we did to get people in there.’ I’m just lucky The Eagle’s bar owner, Mikey, is as committed as I am.
Kevin: For someone who is interested in attending the contest but isn’t looking to compete, what would you say the contest offers to him or her?
Sir Rick: It offers people a glimpse of what we do in the leather community if they aren’t connected to the leather community at all. It shows the camaraderie that we all have because it is such a fun place to be. There’s a lot of cruising going on, there’s some playing that goes on, but it is not overtly out in the open. You will have the opportunity to see and meet different people and to get involved in something you may not have otherwise.
Susan Weinstein, out of New York, will be there as an American Sign Language interpreter. She is very close friend of mine. I surround myself with people I can count on. It is really critical that the first one goes off without a hitch so that people come back for the second one.
Everyone I’ve ask to be part of this is so behind this that they either said yes right away or, two of them said, you know, ‘let me check with partner or partners,’ and within fifteen minutes they were both on board. I think people genuinely like me. I’ve been characterized as intimidating at times when I’m on a judging panel, but I’m pretty playful. I’m Mama’s Playful SIR, after all. But, I guess I have this persona or general look that makes contestants a little scared. I don’t know why.
Kevin: But they have nothing to worry about for this contest?
Sir Rick: (Laughing) No, no, no. I personally really wanted to be the first one [Mr. PVD Eagle] so that I could set the tone for anyone whoever came after. But, being the producer of the title allows me to do the same thing without being the titleholder. During my title year in 2011, the producer of my title was not helpful. He got lucky that his titleholders all took their titles and ran with them without any help from him, but I am not going to do that to my titleholder. My titleholder will have the full support of myself and Mikey. We are committed to making him as successful as he can be. Our contest is two weeks before IML, so my titleholder will not go to IML until he steps down. That means he has a whole year to show everyone what he has to give, and we are committed to helping him be his best.
My boy, who was my title boy during our title years, borrowed something from Bears, Bikers & Mayhem in Pennsylvania. They do something interesting. Their titleholder only gets half the prize money at the win and gets the second half during their step down. I was like, that’s a great idea! Because so often a title is taken away from someone because they aren’t doing what they are supposed to. I, as the producer, won’t be the reason why the titleholder doesn’t succeed.
Kevin: Do you have any advice for the competitors?
Sir Rick: Be presentable! I don’t want to see pants halfway down your ass for formal leather. Polish your boots. Look your best.

You can learn more about the full event line-up and local accommodations and/or download a contestant application by visiting mrpvdeagle.com.

First Annual Mr. Providence Eagle Contest was originally published in Leatherati Online on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

8 May 2017 | 11:06 pm

by Patrick Mulcahey

Doom is a pet theme of keynote and contest speeches. Leather is on life support. Clubs are fading away, leather spaces too. The big-tent kink scene to which our deserters fled has splintered into a thousand niche groups. People we’d never have let in the door forty years ago are taking over! Then, in defiance of all logic, we are urged to put the “unity” back in community.

But what if these supposed symptoms of our decline are actually evidence of our impulse to wholeness? That’s the question I’d like to entertain today — by way of, first, a quick detour through my personal history.

I had a disastrous coming-out, as gay men at that time generally did, and as soon as I was of legal age, I stuck out my thumb and hitchhiked to Provincetown. It was a couple of states away and I didn’t know anyone there, but I knew there were gay people.

I didn’t know anything about being gay, except for the two marquee sex acts starring the penis and that I wanted in on them. The people at home I’d always thought were my people had turned out not to be, so gay people had to be my people. I just had to find them.

The driver who picked me up and took me most of the way was a gentle professor of something, literature maybe, about the same age I am now. No advances were made, but he invited me to dinner. He was looking for the same people I was looking for, as it happened; but there was not an LGBT people then, more like a Fire Island crowd with good haircuts and a lesbian feminist crowd with all the same haircut. I told the professor yes, just to be nice, then stood him up. I was pretty sure neither of those marquee activities was going to happen, so what was the point?

See, America was obsessed with the filthy things it thought homos were doing day and night, which we obligingly took to be our job description. What was being gay all about, if not sex? We had no models for how to treat each other, except for the way men treated women, and sometimes we treated each other very badly.

Still, the 1970s were the greatest time in history to that point to come out as gay or lesbian. (Well, if you were white.) Stonewall was hardly a blip on the radar of anyone else, but for all of us closeted queers, it was the shot heard round the world. The message of Stonewall wasn’t that we were free. It was all too apparent we weren’t. The message was that we were not alone. Nowadays, whatever your proclivity, you can find out at many megabits per second that you’re not the only one. We had grown up in isolation. Suddenly the genie was out of the bottle, and we spent the Seventies finding each other.

And finding our queer ancestors, newly exhumed from the centuries-long conspiracy to erase us. We loved claiming cultural icons, sometimes on shaky evidence: Alexander the Great, Michelangelo, Queen Christina of Sweden, Langston Hughes, the mythical Pope Joan. It made us seem so legitimate, even if that was not how we felt, ourselves.

We began to hold marches and protests. Speaking of Sweden, always a step ahead when it comes to sex, legend has it that Swedes called in “gay” to work, because wasn’t homosexuality an illness? We elected Harvey Milk and founded a handful of strong new organizations: the Sisters, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Radical Faeries, PFLAG. But the most widespread evidence of gay liberation took the form of much liberated personal behavior.

In Provincetown, I got a goodly number of those marquee sex acts under my belt, fell in love with a man for the first time, had my first taste of leathersex, and explained to many busloads of skeptical tourists what scrod is. Now, where could I settle down that was even gayer?

A new kind of activism was afoot in San Francisco when I arrived in the 80s: more targeted, more effective, less playful, more urgent. Not just our civil rights but our lives were in danger, prompting a high level of coordination among our organizations big and small, all the way through the mid-90s. Visible leaders emerged, a new breed of mini-celebrity, famous for being gay: Ginny Apuzzo, Larry Kramer, Vic Basile, Del Martin, Troy Perry, Urvashi Vaid.

The Lesbian Avengers and “On Our Backs” made their first appearance. The Democratic Party added “homosexual rights” to its platform, before awarding us the booby prize of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Domestic partnerships and civil unions gave “separate but equal” a try. We mastered the one-two punch of denying we’re different (“Love makes a family!”) and insisting on it (“We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!”).

The LGBT movement in the twenty-first century is something we haven’t seen before. It’s not leadership-driven. There are too many of us in the public eye to have an anointed spokesperson. Our old umbrella organizations seem muted or in decline, while the newer passionately focused ones bite off a single issue and retreat to their separate corners. We still have Ginny Apuzzo and Larry Kramer and other leaders of yesteryear, but now they’re like favorite aunts and uncles: we love them but don’t really want their advice anymore. When we targeted institutions long considered the exclusive privilege of heterosexuals — marriage, parenting, and the military — success came on the shoulders of ordinary untelegenic people filing lawsuits and testifying in state legislatures.

It may be that for the first time, a majority of LGBT Americans — I’m talking sheer numbers now, without reference to class, race or any other factor — feel assimilated into the mainstream. Even our celebrities: Anderson Cooper, Ellen DeGeneres, Laverne Cox, RuPaul, they’re everyone else’s celebrities too. We sometimes hear older gay folk complain that millennials take equality for granted, but isn’t that what equality is for?

I’ve observed the gay rights movement from inside. But from an aerial view, so to speak, it seems many other movements — women’s lib, the civil rights and environmental movements, even national liberation movements like South Africa’s — follow roughly the same trajectory.

First: finding each other and finding strength in each other. The Women’s Rights Convention of 1848. The United Negro Improvement Association of 1914, tremendously successful in its time. The South African Native National Congress of 1912, which became the ANC. The Sierra Club, founded in 1892.

Second: turning a searchlight on history to recover the names and deeds of the movement’s forerunners. I never heard of Lucretia Mott, Ida B. Wells, Mangosuthu Butelezi, or even John Muir in high school, did you?

Third: the development and maturation of activist organizations, and the elevation of leaders embraced or at least acknowledged by grass-roots followers.

Fourth: the success of those organizations and leaders in achieving broad common goals. Differences from the dominant culture may be strategically downplayed or played up, or both.

Five: decentralization and assimilation. Venerable institutions are supplanted by vigorous ad hoc groups. We don’t hear as much anymore about the Task Force, the National Organization for Women, the Audubon Society, even the NAACP. Instead it’s Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March, Planned Parenthood, PETA, the Transgender Law Center making the headlines.

You see where I’m going with this. Are we a “social movement”? Are we maybe even some kind of liberation movement?

That sounds a little hifalutin for our grungy goings-on. Maybe we’re more a hobbyist group, like bird-watchers or a bowling league? Or maybe we’re a social network serving a single interest, like the PTA. On the other hand, that’s not how we talk about us. We call it “the lifestyle.” And given the proliferation we see of special affinity groups and events (furries, wrestlers, MDHL, International Persons of this and that), our interests don’t seem so single anymore.

I’m not a sociologist. But Marc Edelman is, and he says social movements “look messy, with activist groups and coalitions forming, dividing, and reassembling, and with significant sectors of their target constituencies remaining on the sidelines.” Now that sounds like us, doesn’t it?

But if we really are an unsung liberation movement, what are we moving toward? What are we liberating?

We already had a Sexual Revolution. Ah, but did it live up to its name? Yes, women were freed by The Pill to delay marriage and motherhood — women who slept with men. Clearly, the Sexual Revolution was about heterosexuals having more heterosex, and did nothing to enlarge the sexual repertory, unless you count wife-swapping.

Expanding the menu of erotic acts and intimate relations: that’s what we’ve done.

First, we found each other, in leather bars and private clubs and “dungeons.” We found strength in each other, building associations like the Satyrs and TES and Janus and Samois.

We sifted through history to uncover our roots — sometimes fancifully, as in the case of the infamous Council of Elders, but also through the work of genuine scholars like Gayle Rubin, Michael Bronski, Rob Bienvenu, the academics of CARAS and the Leather Archives.

We undertook activist work: the Woodhull Foundation, NCSF, the DSM Project, kink-awareness trainings for law enforcement and healthcare professionals. We rallied around leaders who emerged organically: Chuck Renslow, Tony DeBlase, Guy Baldwin, Vi Johnson, Judy Tallwing.

Our institutions and leaders coordinated for the good of us all in the 80s and 90s, when we lost so many and saved so many. P.R.-wise we countered the big scary black leather image by holding drives for canned goods and Toys for Tots, proving we could be as nice as anybody.

Today we see the adoption of leather and kink tropes by the mainstream. Everybody knows “Hedwig” and “Kinky Boots” and what a safeword is. Meanwhile there’s been an increasing fragmentation and specialization of our clubs, contests and other events — sometimes redundantly, sometimes very successfully, as in the case of ONYX and bootblacks and pups. Our leadership, to the extent we still recognize any, has become diffuse and local. And we’re as likely to gather in comfy chain hotels as in leather bars, possibly more so.

The question has to be asked: might the fracturing of our interests and activism — what’s been called the “balkanization of kink” — be not a bad thing but a good one? If the organized scene we’ve looked to for decades is spinning off into apps and niche groups and giant You-Name-It-Cons, is it the end of something, or the beginning of something new?

Something like assimilation?

The thought is anathema to many of us, I know. What does the mainstream have to offer us?

Well, numbers. Resources. Room. HBO. Perspective, maybe?

The mainstreaming process, in both directions — kinksters coming out, outsiders dipping a toe in — has been going on among gay men for some time, maybe because we had a head start. You don’t think those twenty thousand guys who’ve been known to show up for IML weekend are all leathermen? They’re mostly adventurous types who like the look, the men, the toys, the parties, and an occasional walk on the wild side, before going back to the Oscar Wilde side.

How would it change us if we no longer walled off our sexuality from our friends and neighbors, and our day-to-day lives from each other? We all rely on the closet — yes: think of all the people in your life who don’t know you’re here and never will — but the closet is a treacherous friend. It asks us to judge the book by its cover. We are more than our sexual attractiveness, more than our ability to take or dish out a beating. As my slave once said memorably, fuming over some preventable leather relationship drama, “First, be a human being.”

Not a Top, not a bottom. Not a Master or a slave. Not a whip connoisseur. Not a fister. Not a masochist. Not a protocol hardass. First, be a human being.

I want to be that to you today, which is why I’m going to break a taboo and tell you I just spent a year without sex. Mostly. More or less. My libido used to be very reliable, even a bit too insistent. Suddenly it went to sleep. I don’t need medical advice. I have a great doctor. I’m not sick. I’m not even worried. It will come back. It may be different, it may be the same.

But I was worried. What did it mean? Who am I now? Am I not a leatherman anymore?

I’m not the only person in this room who’s has a year like mine, and if it hasn’t happened to you, it will. Yet it’s more awkward for us to talk about no sex than it was for our parents to admit there was such a thing.

Are we making room for the whole leatherperson? I don’t mean by de-sexing our scene. But are we fragmenting because people who’ve learned the fundamentals, and don’t care about edgy performance play they’ll never do at home, just get bored and look elsewhere? Would they stick around for workshops on, say, the history of pulp-magazine kink, how to be a mentor, the life and times of Irving Klaw, sadomasochism in Baroque painting? (The Leather Leadership Conference, by the way, is doing a good job of this. Topics straight from their schedule include: working with deafness and hearing loss, managing and marketing a kink business, how to be an ally, how to hold an auction, writing about kink, estate planning for the polyamorous.)

Are we fragmenting because we are too apt to present ourselves to each other as fragments? I’d like to see a conference adapt the format of the old OCLA Sampler. Alongside the usual workshops, silent auctions and so on, you’d get a list of respected leatherfolk and their areas of interest. You could sign up to spend an hour alone with each of three of them, in the coffee shop, on the patio, in their room or yours. I made some landmark friendships that way.

“First, be a human being.” We were drawn to leather and kink to become more whole, not less.

At this point in the history of our movement, if that’s what it is, instead of mourning What Was, might it be time to think about What’s Next, and What We’re Well Rid Of?

The exaggeration, the glorification of gender roles was foundational to leather culture. Men had to be men, and so did women who said no to corsets and high heels. Two gender straitjackets to choose from. Is that what we want our legacy to be, now that little boys can play with dolls and little girls play with dump trucks and straight men kiss each other in public?

You may say, “What if that big-chested, hypergendered sexuality is what turns my crank?” You like what you like, and that is what I like. But the suffocating social framework that shaped me, and shaped my desires, I would not want to bequeath to a new generation.

Might it be time to take advantage of the openness popular culture is showing us? We can return the favor by passing on what we know about consent, communication, safety and pleasure. And we have ourselves, our whole lives to share. I applaud the impulse to infuse a popular genre like romance with kink, but all Fifty Shades brought to the party was a helping of giddy unconventional sex. The relationship it presents is just a retread of Mr Rochester and poor plain Jane Eyre.

We have better stories to tell. Have you seen the “The Piano Teacher”? It’s a harrowing study of a kinky, damaged woman who finally dares to ask for what she needs but doesn’t know what getting it should look like. How many novice submissives have had to muddle their way through that alone? The film won the Grand Prize at Cannes fifteen years ago. Sometimes I wonder if we’re slower to accept ourselves and our kinks than the thinking public is.

When I look at where we are now, I don’t think leather is disappearing. I think what we called “leather” is already gone, and we are convened in the laboratory of its not yet named replacement, wearing the same clothes, using the same words, but not meaning the same things anymore. It’s like we’ve been so focused on whether the roof was caving in that we didn’t notice the whole house got a makeover. We thought it was just termites.

A month ago I bought a cemetery plot. Well? We Masters and Dominants are always exhorting each other to make arrangements for those in our service, should something happen to us. I figured it was time to put this last piece in place.

I didn’t know how to go about it. It’s not something you’re ever going to get much practice at. The two of us want to be cremated — not at the same time; little p was not receptive to that idea — and not scattered but buried, in a pair of my boots, me in the left one, him in the right. But of course there are no leather graveyards, only graveyards of leather titles.

Our little country cemetery cannot very often have two men walk in, one with a chain locked around his neck, two men moreover with the same name, who want to be buried together. Even so, the caretakers showed not a flicker of anything but kindness. They took us out to a hill overlooking the river and helped me choose a beautiful spot. A plot with a view, as they called it. Their eyebrows went up just a bit at the mention of my boots, which they acknowledged would be non-standard. But they promised to look the other way and let us have what we want.

I had some anxiety about leaving San Francisco, not the city but the community. There I could have my kinky attorney make arrangements with a kinky funeral director to get something like the same result, probably not in my boots or in the ground or in my budget. But my experiences since I left seem to be telling me I don’t need to be insulated in that way anymore. The world, not all of it but some of it, seems ready to shrug off my same-sex, same-name, Master-slave marriage. People don’t find us intolerably odd or worrisome. They find us, first, human.

Patrick Mulcahey
May 7, 2017
Northwest Leather Celebration

FIRST, BE A HUMAN BEING was originally published in Leatherati Online on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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