Thursday, July 31, 2014

The “Leather Life” column: A 500th-issue look back

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #500, July 31, 2014)

Wow. Five-hundred issues. Who knew?

On June 9, 1995, Lavender Magazine was born, and so was this Leather Life column. (The magazine’s original name was Lavender Lifestyles; this column’s name for the first ten issues was “LavLife: Leather.”)

Here is how the first installment of this column started:

“Greetings! New magazine, new leather columnist. When the editors of this publication asked me if I was interested in writing a leather column for them, I immediately assured them I was. By the time I hung up the phone, I had recovered my senses, and asked myself, ‘What have I gotten myself into now?’ Well, I guess we’ll see.”

Lavender is now up to issue #500. That means this is a great time to take a look back and see “what I got myself into.”

This column, of course, has changed and evolved since that first issue. Some of the changes were driven by changes to the magazine. Other changes to the column were driven by the growth and evolution of the leather/BDSM/fetish community.

At its start, Lavender was printed in black ink on newsprint paper (the magazine’s cover used one more color of ink along with the black). This meant that photographs did not print very well. As Lavender added full-color printing to its inside pages, and then upgraded to much better paper, the quality of photographs in the magazine—including photographs in the Leather Life column—increased dramatically. That fact, along with the increasing capabilities of digital cameras, inspired me to take more pictures and include more photos in the column. (Be sure to see the Leather Pride celebration photos, taken by your humble columnist and others, elsewhere in this issue.)

In Lavender’s early issues the Leather Life column nearly always included a calendar section of upcoming leather events. Increasing digital connectedness (first e-mail lists and websites, then Facebook, Twitter, and other social media) meant that as time went on the column’s event-calendar function lessened, and I could devote more space to other topics.

The frequency of the column’s appearance has changed. After appearing in every issue of the magazine for many years, there was a short period when this column appeared in the magazine on a quarterly basis. Then the frequency of the column’s appearance increased to what it is currently: at least every other issue, and sometimes more often.

The focus of this column started expanding shortly after the column started, and that expansion has continued. The column’s intended audience widened from gay leathermen and leather lesbians to include the pansexual BDSM community and other kinky folks who happened to be bisexual, heterosexual, or trans- or fluid-gendered—of all ages, young to mature. And the column always has been written to be accessible to non-kinky folks as well.

The range of topics covered in this column has expanded from mostly leather to include BDSM and many other alternative sexualities and fetish interests: gear, pony play, puppy play, fire play, blades, tattoos, piercing and other body modifications—to name just a few. (Just when I think I’ve written about every fetish there is, someone comes up with a new one.)

Many kinds of relationships have been discussed in the column, including Master/slave, Dominant/submissive, Daddy/boy, trainer/pup, and even, finally—hurrah and hallelujah—marriage.

Some topics that the column dealt with in the early issues are still part of the column today: Pride, both leather and GLBT (and, increasingly, GLBTA, to include our proud allies); leather/BDSM/fetish clubs and organizations; club runs and parties; and leather contests and titleholders, both local and international. Fortunately, there is one topic appearing less often today than in the early days of the column: obituaries.

How has your humble columnist changed? I am 500 issues older, I am grayer, and I am becoming a bit of a curmudgeon (although not as curmudgeonly as my former leather-journalism colleague Robert Davolt, blessed be his memory).

So, what did I get myself into? A recurring spot in a really great magazine (both print and online); membership in several really great communities; and a really interesting, amazing—and long-running—ride of a lifetime. Cue the Sondheim music: “I’m Still Here.” And the ride isn’t over yet.

(Now for the inevitable, shameless commercial plug: Many of the articles that have been part of this column have been collected in my book, Life, Leather and the Pursuit of Happiness. Published in 2010, the book is available in print and e-book versions.)

Five-hundredth-issue thank-yous to all the people at Lavender over the years who have kept the magazine going and allowed it to reach this milestone, to everyone who has ever been written about in the column, and to everyone who has been a part of the leather/BDSM/fetish and GLBT communities, the communities that have given me so much to write about.

Finally, to my reading audience, in both print and digital forms—thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Impressions of International Mr. Leather Weekend, 2014

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #498, July 3, 2014)

The 36th edition of the International Mr. Leather (IML) contest weekend was held May 22-26, 2014 in Chicago. This was the 21st time your humble columnist has attended. In those 21 years I have seen many changes to the event. Yet the basics—masculine men in masculine attire, who also happen to be great guys with noble hearts—have remained the same. No wonder I keep coming back every year. Following is my impressionistic take on the 2014 IML weekend's events.

Left to right: IML first runner-up Steve Dupont; International Mr. Leather 2014 Ramien Pierre; International Mr. Bootblack 2014 Scout; and IML second runner-up Cody Troy.
Thursday evening: It’s the unofficial kick-off to the International Mr. Leather weekend: a “roast” of Andy Cross and Oil Tan Sam, the outgoing International Mr. Leather 2013 and International Mr. Bootblack 2013 titleholders. The roast is held in the auditorium of the Leather Archives & Museum.

When the IML first and second runners-up are two of the people doing the roasting, fireworks are almost assured, and the evening does not disappoint. The knives are out and the claws are sharpened. Sacred cows are gored, secrets are betrayed and canonical leather beliefs are blasphemed.

No one escapes unscathed—the titleholders being roasted, the people on stage doing the roasting, some people in the audience and even a few people who weren't even in attendance.But it’s all in good fun and all for a good cause (the event benefits the Leather Archives & Museum). Along with the bitchiness, there is an awful lot of love on that stage.

Friday evening: All 46 of this year’s contenders for the International Mr. Leather title are introduced at the official IML opening ceremonies. Then it’s time to party. The entire fourth floor of the hotel has been turned into Leather Central for the evening. While a silent auction benefiting the Leather Archives & Museum goes on in the hall, three ballrooms are filled with revelers at the San Francisco Party and Gear Blast. Approaching one of the ballrooms, I’m hit by blasts of both body heat and thumping sound waves.

Inside I see men in unitards, latex, leather aprons, sports gear, plush-headed cartoon costumes, kilts, harnesses, jocks, fatigues, spandex, cowboy gear, superhero suits, adult “boys” and human “pups” on leashes. The tribe is enjoying itself. I see all ages and all body types, and everyone seems to respect everyone else—it’s all good.

The music is not as loud as it has been in years past, so conversation is possible. I meet some men from Minneapolis and ask them if they have been to the Leather Market yet. They reply, “Only for necessities.”

I work my way down to the hotel lobby to see what’s going on there. The elevators are slow and infrequent and crowded and their own kind of (hot and sweaty) fun.

The lobby is crowded, too. A table holds printed promotional flyers for vendors and events, but the table is half the size it has been in years past—perhaps more promotion is being done online? Next to the table is a cardboard box the size of a 55-gallon drum, and it is half-filled with condoms. (Tomorrow I will see two men refilling the box to the brim.)

Saturday, Leather Market: I run into a gentleman who is attending IML for the first time, and he is blown away by the size of the Leather Market. “I was expecting maybe a dozen vendors set up in the lobby,” he says. Instead he found a Leather Market filling two hotel ballrooms on the fifth and seventh floors of the host hotel (with an express escalator between the two floors). The Market is filled with 120 vendors selling all manner of leather and fetish goods. There is the expected (leather apparel, boots, paddles) and the unexpected (impressive iron dungeon beds and slings made from truck tires). The Leather Market welcomes 6,000 visitors each day it is open.

Saturday afternoon: History is made as IML founder and Executive Producer Chuck Renslow officiates at the first legal same-sex wedding ever held at IML.

Sunday: This year’s IML Contest and Show is held at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Chicago’s Millennium Park. The 46 contestants are introduced, and then, based on preliminary judging, the top 20 finalists are announced. Each of the finalists shows his serious side by making a 90-second speech while dressed in formal leather. Each contestant also shows his playful side by getting a chance to own the stage and seduce the audience while wearing as little leather as possible.

While the judges’ scores are being tallied, the IML audience is entertained by—a string quartet? Yes, but the group, Well Strung, is not just any string quartet. Dressed in leather and displaying impressive physiques, these four classically trained musicians sing four-part boy-band harmonies while accompanying themselves on two violins, cello and viola. The audience absolutely loves them—I even hear many audience members singing along.

At last, the winners are announced. Second runner-up is Cody Troy, Mr. Midwest Leather 2013; first runner-up is Steve Dupont, Mr. New England Leather 2014; and the new International Mr. Leather 2014 is Ramien Pierre, Mr. DC Eagle 2014.

In the theater lobby after the contest, and on the bus back to the hotel, I see people tapping out the news of the contest results on their jungle drums (also known as mobile phones). Once again, the tribe has a new leader for the year. Let the party continue.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Minnesota Leather Pride invites you to “Fly your flag”

Leather Pride events expand beyond June and beyond Twin Cities

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #497, June 19, 2014)

The theme of the 2014 Minnesota Leather Pride celebration is “Fly your flag.” This year’s theme is incorporated into the design of this year’s collectible Minnesota Leather Pride dog tag (see sidebar). This year’s theme also will be collectively expressed by community members as they carry Minnesota’s giant leather pride flag in the Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade up Hennepin Avenue on Sunday, June 29.

The first Minnesota Leather Pride event, held in the early 1990s, was one single Sunday-afternoon gathering where members of the leather community socialized after marching in the Twin Cities GLBT Pride Parade. From that humble beginning, Minnesota’s annual Leather Pride celebration has grown over the years into one of the biggest leather-pride celebrations in the U.S., with a wide array of events stretching over three weeks in June (see the schedule below).

Now the Minnesota Leather Pride celebration is growing even bigger. This year, the board of the Minnesota Leather Pride organization has had two goals: to expand beyond June by having quarterly events throughout the year, and to expand geographically beyond the Twin Cities.

The first quarterly Minnesota Leather Pride event was an afternoon-long workshop on “BDSM and Creativity” held in January (and covered in this column in Lavender issue #490, March 6, 2014). Upcoming quarterly events include a “Family Feud” of local leather clubs this coming autumn, as well as a Minnesota Leather Sir/Minnesota Leatherboy contest (part of the International Leather Sir/Leatherboy title system) in April 2015.

As part of its geographic expansion, Minnesota Leather Pride was represented at this year’s Capital City Pride, June 6-8 in Des Moines, Iowa. Minnesota Leather Pride shared a booth at Capital City Pride with two leather clubs, the Corn Haulers Leather and Levi Club of Iowa and the Titans of the Midwest. Minnesota Leather Pride also will be visible at Fargo/Moorhead Pride on August 16, and possibly other regional pride festivals as well.

Listed below are details, at the time of this writing, for most of this year’s Minnesota Leather Pride events. Other events may be added to the schedule; for the most current event details visit <> or follow “Minnesota Leather Pride” on Facebook.

Leather Pride Fashion Show: A Grimm Fairy Tale
Friday, June 13, 8 P.M., Camp Bar, St. Paul
Fantasy and sex meet fairy tale characters in the kick-off event of this year’s Leather Pride celebration. Admission is $8 with a 2014 Minnesota Leather Pride dog tag (or $10 without a dog tag).

Kink U Master Class: Dom/sub Discussion
Saturday, June 14, 1-4 P.M., Twin Cities Leather & Latte
An interactive discussion of the dynamics and challenges of Dominant/submissive relationships. Open to those who identify as Dom, sub, switch or none of the above. Presented by Titans of the Midwest.

Bondage Slam
Sunday, June 15, 1:30-4:30 P.M., Patrick’s Cabaret
Come to participate or just to watch. Different categories of bondage on display will include duct tape; fashion; rope; hankie code (bondage using hankies); and “fly your flag” (i.e., anything goes). There will also be a few surprise categories announced at the event. Participants will determine their method and execution of bondage. Three judges will award prizes for best of categories and best overall. Admission is $5 with a 2014 Minnesota Leather Pride dog tag (or $7 without a dog tag). Presented by MSDB.

You Say Kink, I Say Leather, Part 2
Thursday, June 19, 7 P.M., Camp Bar, St. Paul
Continuing a discussion that started last November, this will be an open discussion about the leather and kink communities—where they overlap and where they differ. Presented by PEPRMNT.

Two Seminars: “Customs, Conventions and Protocols” and “The Art of Flogging”
Saturday, June 21, 1-4 P.M., Bondesque (707 W. Lake St.)
“Customs, Conventions and Protocols” will discuss ways of integrating these three concepts into alternative-lifestyle relationships. “The Art of Flogging” will cover everything from making your own flogger to using a flogger to create erotic pleasure with maximum effect. Admission is $7 with a 2014 Minnesota Leather Pride dog tag (or $10 without a dog tag). Presented by Leather Journey.

Leather Pride Motorcycle Ride
Sunday, June 22, 10 A.M., meet at 1610 Harmon Place
Presented by Knights of Leather.

Reading and Exhibition: The 8th Annual Leather Pride Anthology
Monday, June 23, 7-9 P.M., The Saloon
An evening of locally created kinky poetry, art, short fiction and photography. Authors will read from their works; art and photography will be displayed; and printed copies of the Anthology will be available for purchase. Presented by the BDSM Creative Collective.

Leather Pride Swap Meet
Tuesday, June 24, 7-9 P.M. (vendor setup begins 6:30 P.M.), Camp Bar, St. Paul
Vendors can swap as well as sell their items. No charge to attend, mingle, swap or negotiate a sale; $5 per vendor table or space. Presented by MAsT (Masters And slaves Together), Twin Cities chapter.

Cigar Smoker
Thursday, June 26, 8-11 P.M., Eagle/BOLT Bar (patio)
Bring your favorite cigar; enjoy a summer evening on the patio with smoke and conversation. Presented by the Atons of Minneapolis.

Friday, June 27
Get your Pride Weekend off to a flogging good start at Floggapalooza. At this writing, event time and location are still being determined; check <> or Facebook for details.

Minnesota Leather Pride booth at the Twin Cities Pride Festival
Saturday, June 28, 9 A.M.-5 P.M., Loring Park
When you visit the Pride Festival, be sure your visit includes a stop at the Minnesota Leather Pride booth.

Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade: Leather Flag March
Sunday, June 29, meet before 11 A.M. at 3rd St. & Hennepin Ave.
“Fly your flag” as you march with members of the Minnesota leather/BDSM/fetish community and help carry Minnesota’s giant leather pride flag. Parade steps off at 11 A.M.

Minnesota Leather Pride booth at the Twin Cities Pride Festival
Sunday, June 29, 9 A.M.-5 P.M., Loring Park
After the parade, visit the Minnesota Leather Pride booth as you spend the afternoon in Loring Park at the Pride Festival.

2014 Minnesota Leather Pride Dog Tag

“Fly your flag” by wearing your 2014 Minnesota Leather Pride dog tag, the latest in a long and distinguished line. This year’s dog tag also gets you discounts at certain Minnesota Leather Pride events (see the event schedule). Get yours for $7 while supplies last at participating businesses (see <> or Facebook for details) and at Minnesota Leather Pride events. Dog tags will also be available for $10 at the Minnesota Leather Pride booth in Loring Park during the Pride Festival.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Leather and Social Capital, 2014

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #496, June 5, 2014)

Your humble columnist, you may recall, is currently a student at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minn. For a course titled “Ethics in the Age of the Internet” I wrote a paper concerning the Internet’s recent effects on democracy and community. (Heavy stuff, right?)

As I was writing that paper, of course, I was also applying the concepts I was discussing in it to the leather/BDSM/fetish community. Although I was pessimistic about the Internet’s effects on democracy as a whole, I was pleasantly surprised when I thought about the effects that the last decade’s technological innovations seem to be having on our community.

Return with me to 2005, when I published a column (Lavender #272, Oct. 28) titled “Leather and Social Capital.” According to Dr. Robert Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard who was featured in that column, social capital is defined as “features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.”

In the “Leather and Social Capital” column, I discussed a description by Dr. Putnam of the way social connectedness had plummeted in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Among the factors Putnam blamed for the decline were television, suburbanization, and a decline in entertaining. Putnam also noted the decline of long-established social organizations, institutions and frameworks such as the American Legion and VFW. Putnam wondered what kinds of social organizations would evolve to fill the social needs that used to be filled by these organizations (or, alternatively, how organizations would re-invent themselves to stay relevant).

At that time Putnam believed the Internet might be one key to reestablishing connections among people. He predicted that the Internet would either evolve into a “super telephone,” which would help to keep us connected, or a “super television,” which would further isolate us. Putnam noted that “You don’t make friends over the telephone,” but rather that telephones are used to keep us connected to people we already know.

That was in 2005. In 2007 the iPhone was introduced, and compared to what had gone before it was certainly a “super telephone.” The iPhone combined a telephone, a camera, a touchscreen computer and an Internet connection in one pocket-sized device. Other smartphones followed, and they have revolutionized the multiple ways in which people communicate—not only voice and text messages, but also video chats, photographs and homemade movies delivered to one or multiple persons as soon as the images are captured. (And, contrary to what Putnam said above, you certainly can use any number of apps on your phone, including Grindr, to meet new people and make new friends as well.)

Smartphones can increase our sense of connection to people far away, but what about real-life, local connectedness? Facebook, which was opened to the public shortly after the “social capital” column was published in 2005, also could be considered part of that “super telephone” phenomenon (although smartphones also function as a “super televison”). In a breathtakingly short time, Facebook has become a popular piece of Internet infrastructure used for maintaining our connections to our social networks, both local and long-distance.

In the case of the Twin Cities leather community, Facebook has become one of the primary methods of publicizing real-life events where people actually show up in person and, like, you know, talk to each other face-to-face. Rather than replacing face-to-face social interaction and diluting community connections, Facebook is being used to facilitate face-to-face interaction and to strengthen community connections. I consider that a positive development.

There is also Fetlife, which debuted in 2008 and which has been called the “kinky Facebook.” But I think it’s interesting to note that a large group of local gay leathermen use Facebook rather than (or in addition to) a more specialized social-media platform like Fetlife. Even with the limitations imposed by Facebook’s terms of service, Facebook can be made kinky enough to be useful.

In 2005 I described a frequent topic of leather-community conversation: “What’s happening to our community? Why are traditional leather clubs graying, with few younger members in sight? Why is it harder to find contestants for leather contests? Why does it seem as if people don’t go out as often as they used to?” I am happy to report that the situation does not seem as dire in 2014, a time when younger people are actively building “social capital” by using new technologies to perpetuate, evolve and strengthen the leather/BDSM/fetish community.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Bound for IML

Jason Little and Greg Menzel to represent Minnesota at 2014 International Mr. Leather Contest

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #494, May 8, 2014)

Jason Little and Greg Menzel will be representing Minnesota (as Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2014 and Mr. Twin Cities Leather 2014, respectively) in this year’s International Mr. Leather (IML) Contest, Memorial Day weekend in Chicago. I recently had a chance to ask them a few questions.

What attracted you to leather?

Jason Little: A few experiences in college that I didn’t know at the time were necessarily kinky, but looking at them, they were pretty darn kinky. So I really was already into kink before I made the association between kink and leather. And then when I went to the Eagle, that sense of community and mutual respect and trust really hooked me.

Greg Menzel and Jason Little.
Greg Menzel: I’ve always liked leather, just the look, the smell, the feel of it. Even as a kid, going into Wilson’s Leather and smelling the store was one of my favorite things. As for the community, the whole sense of brotherhood is really important—same thing that attracted me to the ideal of the Greek system when I was at college.

How are you preparing for IML?

JL: Practice, practice, practice! Practicing interview questions for the onstage interview and the offstage interview. Getting all the things I need to look right onstage. Going to the gym. Trying to connect with as many people as possible who have had some of the experiences that I'm going to go through, to ask them what advice they have for me.

GM: I’ve been trying to read as much as possible and getting all my gear ready. And I’m absolutely terrified of talking on stage so I’ve been talking to some people about that.

What do you want to accomplish with your title this year?

JL: Part of the reason I ran for Mr. Minneapolis Eagle was because I’ve had great experiences helping new people get into the community—people who might not fit the typical leatherman image but who have something to contribute to the community. I wanted to use this title to reach out and make them feel welcome, and give them a chance to contribute to the community. I also feel really strongly about reducing the stigma around HIV, and this title gives me a platform to further that message.

GM: My goal was getting myself more involved, and then seeing if there are ways to bring communities together more. You’ve got a lot of young people, and then you’ve got some of the Old Guard, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of conversation between the two groups. Some people are a little afraid to walk into an Old Guard kind of group. I know I was intimidated sometimes. But as I put myself out there more, it was easier to find people who were willing to talk and help, and I want to see if there's something I can do to be a part of that.

What are your thoughts now as you look forward to the upcoming IML contest weekend?

JL: My first time at IML I made so many lifelong-level friendships that I remember it was really hard for me to leave. I know that this year’s going to be a very different experience because of how busy I’m going to be. But at the same time I’m so excited to see those friends I’ve made before, and to make even more friends and more connections.

GM: It looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. I feel like there’s a lot of stress to it, and I’m going to be shuttled around from one location to another and one event to another. I’m really excited for the last party, the Black & Blue Ball—from what Jason was saying, it sounds like a lot of fun. It seems like it’s going to be a whirlwind before that.

Both Little and Menzel have send-off events planned. Little’s will be May 10, starting at 9 P.M. at the Minneapolis Eagle, held in conjunction with the Eagle’s monthly Gear Night. Menzel’s will be held in early May at The Saloon, where he is one of the bartenders; for date and time information, see Menzel’s titleholder page on Facebook (“Greg Menzel Mr. Twin Cities Leather 2014”), the Twin Cities Leather page on Facebook (“Twin Cities Leather & Latte”), or the Twin Cities Leather website (<>). Come out and wish them both good luck in Chicago as they represent the local leather community at IML. (For more details about the IML contest weekend, visit <>.)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Leather Lens: Mr. Twin Cities Leather 2014

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #492, April 10, 2014)

This year’s Mr. Twin Cities Leather Contest weekend, held Friday, Feb. 14 through Sunday, Feb. 16, was packed with something for everyone. The weekend started Friday with a Meet-and-Greet-the-Contestants evening and a Red & Black Ball in honor of Valentine’s Day. On Saturday afternoon, Kink U presented several classes, and Sunday’s Victory Brunch was followed by more Kink U classes, an afternoon beer bust and a rubber/kink shower contest in the evening. All of the weekend’s public events were hosted by The Saloon.

But Saturday evening’s contest was the high point of the weekend, and it was full of surprises. One of the evening’s entertainers did a wicked Michele Bachmann drag impersonation. The outgoing Mr. Twin Cities Leather 2013 titleholder, Kyle Truss, did a step-aside striptease in which he literally stripped off the accoutrements of his title year. And The Atons of Minneapolis did an official presentation of their club colors to Twin Cities Leather & Latte.

The evening’s three contestants (Tim Holden, Boy Cody and Greg Menzel) each gave entertaining performances during the Talent portion of the contest. Holden wore what looked like a medieval robe as he performed a takedown on Tim Hotchkin; Boy Cody performed some of his favorite moments from classic movies; and Menzel, a bartender at The Saloon, demonstrated his drink-mixing talents. When the judges’ scores were totaled, Menzel was awarded the Mr. Twin Cities Leather 2014 title and sash.

Contest emcee was Karri Plowman, assisted by Luke Wallrich, both of Twin Cities Leather & Latte. Judges were Tynan Fox, an educator, speaker and blogger; Tim Balfanz, general manager of The Saloon; Sir Jack Duke, International Leather Sir 2012 from Dallas; Rod McCoy, aka “Onyx Rod,” Leatherman of Color 2011 from Washington, D.C.; Andrew Bertke, President of the Atons of Minneapolis; and Daniel Hennagir, Mr. Twin Cities Leather 2011. Tallymaster duties were handled by Michael Kramer. Entertainment was provided by Lucy Furr and Nocturna Lee Mission.

As Mr. Twin Cities Leather 2014, Menzel will represent Twin Cities Leather & Latte and Minnesota’s leather community in the 36th annual International Mr. Leather competition (<>), May 23-26, 2014 (Memorial Day weekend) in Chicago.

Greg Menzel, Mr. Twin Cities Leather 2014, moments after being awarded the title.

The contestants in the Mr. Twin Cities Leather 2014 contest. Left to right: Tim Holden, Greg Menzel (Mr. Twin Cities Leather 2014) and Boy Cody.
Boy Cody (kneeling) performing great moments from his favorite movies during the Talent portion of the contest.
Greg Menzel demonstrates his bartending skills during the Talent portion of the contest.
Greg Menzel demonstrates his bartending skills during the Talent portion of the contest.
The moment of truth: Kyle Truss puts the Mr. Twin Cities Leather sash on Greg Menzel while Boy Cody reacts.
Greg Menzel, Mr. Twin Cities Leather 2014 (second from left), with the three owners of Twin Cities Leather & Latte: from left, Luke Wallrich, Tynan Fox and Karri Plowman.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Leather, BDSM and Creativity

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #490, March 13, 2014)

We all know the stereotype: Gay men are creative. Hairdressers, designers and florists—what more do you need to know?

Well, if it could be argued that this particular stereotype reflects reality, I would argue the stereotype is too limiting. I see all kinds of creative people around me. Gay men, yes, but also lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people—we are a creative community that is constantly inventing new ways of living, loving and relating to the world and the society around us. And we take delight in creatively documenting our inventions, using many and varied literary and artistic media.

Then there are the members of the leather/BDSM/fetish community, who also find extremely creative ways to express themselves and their sexuality, and who delight in creating novel ways to structure relationships.

Are we, the members of the GLBT and leather/BDSM/fetish communities, really that much more creative than people who are not members of these communities? I can think of several reasons why we might be. Because we have, in some respects, turned our back on many of the conventions of society's rulebook, we might have the freedom to think differently. Maybe our perceptions are less filtered by orthodoxy and are therefore more open to alternative ways of looking at things. Maybe we're more innately creative because we need that creativity to survive in a world that can be hostile.

But creativity, like musculature, needs to be exercised if it's going to develop. It was in this spirit that on Sunday, January 19, I attended an afternoon-long workshop on “BDSM and Creativity.” The workshop was a joint presentation of the BDSM Creative Collective and Minnesota Leather Pride. More than a dozen people attended, among them writers, illustrators, a painter and a photographer. All modes of creative expression were welcome.

The workshop was facilitated by Lady Carol, who also produces the annual BDSM Creative Collective Anthology that has been a part of the annual Minnesota Leather Pride celebration for the last several years. (Lady Carol presented a similar workshop the following weekend in Madison, Wisconsin.)

Lady Carol started the workshop by asking some questions: Why do we create? Why do we write, paint, sculpt, do photography, or whatever—and why especially about the BDSM part of our lives? Here are some benefits of exercising our creativity given by workshop participants:

• Documenting our experiences by writing, drawing or painting lets us relive and re-experience them. It makes them real.

• Telling our stories by writing things down, or otherwise documenting them, puts us in touch with ourselves and helps us discover and accept who we really are.

• Being creative is a way to explore new territories, feelings, situations and voices. It can also be a kind of alchemy, a way to transmute darkness into enlightenment.

Having discussed why we valued creativity, Lady Carol then had us do an exercise: We had 20 minutes to write or draw or envision “someone in the BDSM lifestyle who is in a different role than you are.”

The group dispersed to various corners of the building and started creating. I fired up the writing app on my iPad, raised my fingers above the virtual keyboard—and ran headlong into writer's block. I couldn't get started because I couldn't think of anything to write. I grabbed the first “different role” that sprang to mind—write about someone who is female—and started writing about a female domme who lived on an estate and liked to throw parties. Once I got started, the ideas and images flew from my brain through my fingertips onto the iPad screen.

The group reassembled and everyone shared their creations. Then Lady Carol gave us two more assignments: Write a short poem (in ten minutes) and write about making preparations for an impromptu BDSM scene (again, ten minutes).

The point of these exercises was not necessarily to create finished products in ten or twenty minutes. Maybe we started creating something during an exercise that could be fleshed out later, or maybe we didn't. But at least we stretched and flexed and strengthened and toned our creativity.

So now it’s your turn. Go do something creative. Envision, dream, explore—and then capture it by writing it down or drawing it or painting it. (Lady Carol said that much of what she writes in her head never makes it to paper.)

It might not turn out to be a masterpiece. But, then again, it might. You never know until you try.