Friday, January 31, 1997

Where Leather and Sobriety Intersect

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #44, January 31, 1997)

Leather/SM prides itself on its diversity and its inclusiveness. We, as a community, try to welcome everyone with an interest in our many and varied forms of alternative sexuality. We include women and men; young, old, and everything in between; gay, bisexual, queer, pansexual, and even straight (but not narrow); all colors and ethnic backgrounds; people living with AIDS and those with other physical challenges. Unfortunately, there’s one group of people in our community that sometimes doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

Here in Minnesota, the land of treatment centers and twelve-step groups, many members of our leather community are in recovery from alcoholism or other substance abuse. Some grew up here; others came to Minnesota to go through alcohol or drug abuse treatment and have decided to stay. Other community members may not be in recovery but still choose not to use alcohol or drugs. (Your humble columnist is a member of this group, so I am writing from experience.)

Many leatherfolk who go through treatment ask the same question: “Now that I’m in recovery, do I have to give up leather?” It’s not a frivolous question. How do they fit into a community which sometimes seems to revolve around the use of mind-altering substances? Throughout history, leatherfolk have met and cruised at bars, many of whose names are now part of our folklore. Today, almost every leather event, party, fundraiser or contest is held at a bar — and advertises free tap beer or drink specials as an inducement to attend. Illicit drug usage is sometimes a feature of heavy-duty SM and fisting scenes. The unspoken but implicit message often seems to be that drinking and drugs are integral parts of the scene, necessary elements of machismo; if you don’t partake, maybe you’re not a REAL leatherman or leatherwoman.

Some of us manage to deal with situations like these. We attend the events and enjoy the fellowship, but we drink soft drinks instead of beer. (When soft drinks are included in the price of admission, we bless the event planner’s inclusiveness; when the beer is flowing freely but soft drinks aren’t, we feel we’ve been dissed.)

Some of us find that for the sake of our sanity we have to avoid bars, so we look for other, safer meeting places like Cafe Zev or Cafe Wyrd. These are not strictly leather venues but can be enjoyable. Some of us are lucky enough to become part of a clean-and-sober family of leather brothers and sisters. But many of us still feel isolated from the rest of the leather community — and, therefore, from a significant part of our sexuality.

Once in a while we see signs of awareness and acceptance. San Francisco’s Sober Defenders is a clean-and-sober leather club. There is a sober leather/SM twelve-step meeting in Greenwich Village in New York City. Chicago’s International Mr. Leather Contest has a highly visible recovery component including meetings, a recovery hospitality suite and badges for staff members in recovery. And everywhere, the community’s mantra of “Safe, Safe and Consensual” serves as a reminder that playing under the influence of too much alcohol or drugs is neither safe nor sane.

Those are encouraging trends, but more can be done both locally and nationally. The Twin Cities does not currently have a clean-and-sober leather club even though there has been occasional discussion about starting one. Perhaps a full-scale club isn’t practical, or even necessary; what would be helpful is some way for chemical-free leatherfolk to recognize each other. I have seen many lists of hankie colors and what they stand for, and it amazes and saddens me to report that nowhere, even on the most comprehensive lists, is there a color that stands for “clean and sober” or for “drug-free play.”

Actually, it doesn’t matter if the symbol for clean-and-sober leather is a hankie color, a club pin, a dog tag, or something else. It would just be helpful if there was something that allowed us to recognize each other, and that was recognized and honored by the rest of the leather community as well. For those already in the leather community and for those interested in joining it, such a symbol would affirm the answer to the question posed earlier: “Yes, it is possible to be in leather and in recovery at the same time.”

Questions or comments about this column are invited. Please send your response to: Lavender Magazine (Attention: Leather Life), Minneapolis MN.

(Editor: Please put the following in a shaded box.)

Upcoming Leather Events

Mr. Minnesota Leather ’97 Valentine’s Day Fundraiser
Friday, February 14

Black Frost ’97
Friday-Sunday, February 14-16
The Black Guard’s 20th-anniversary run starts on Valentine’s Day. To request a registration form, write to: Black Frost ’97, Minneapolis MN.

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