Friday, July 16, 1999

New Book about Black Men in Leather

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #108, July 16, 1999)

What does it mean to be a person of color in the leather community?

PHOTO: Book cover

If you’re reading this column on a printed page, and you live in the midwestern United States, the overwhelming odds are that you are of white European ethnic extraction. If you’re reading it in a city outside the midwest, or you’re reading it on the Web, the odds may be less overwhelming, but “white European” is still a pretty safe guess.

The ideal image of the leather community (at least as it’s held in the minds of those of white European ethnic origin) is that everyone is welcome, regardless of sex, gender, sexual preference, kink preference, or any of the other politically-correct things people aren’t supposed to discriminate against these days. That theoretically includes race.

Look around at any local, regional, national or international leather event in the United States, however, and you might notice that you see a rainbow of faces, but you see a lot more of some colors than of others. Black people, Asian people, Latin-Americans, native Americans—each of these groups constitutes a minority (ethnic group) within a minority (leather/SM community) within a minority (GLBT community). Females or trans-people can add another level of minority to that list. As a white male, I think that I and the community are pretty accepting. But how do members of these various subminorities feel about that statement? If I stood in their boots, would I feel accepted? Not accepted? Patronized? Tokenized?

Cain Berlinger, long-time leather community member, writer and activist, has recently published Black Men In Leather: A Perspective. In this landmark book, Berlinger explores how black men fit into the leather/SM community—or how they don’t. He also addresses the issues that black leatherwomen and Asian leathermen may have with the leather community.

In the words of the author, “I was anxious to see the Leather Community through the eyes of people of color in gay America.” The book is the result of several thousand surveys which Berlinger distributed to people of color both in the leather community and outside it; the book therefore rings not only with author Berlinger’s voice, but with the diverse voices of many other people who responded to his survey.

I stopped counting the number of subjects dealt with in this book that until now have seemed to be off-limits in leather literature. Take interracial partnerships, for example: If a black man looks for a white partner because a white man is more liable to be skilled in SM practices, is that bad, good, or neutral? How about if the black man wants a white partner as a “trophy wife”?

How about “snow queens” (black men who like white men), “dinge queens” (white men who like black men), and “rice queens” (men who like Asian men)—does a preference for a particular ethnic group constitute racism, or is it just another fetish?

Then there’s the extremely sensitive topic of race play. Is it okay within the context of a scene for a white man playing a plantation owner to “punish” a black man taking the part of the slave? What about a black “plantation owner” punishing a white “slave”? What about scenes involving white “cops” and black “criminals,” or vice versa?

Especially up here in the northland, if we’re white we’re not used to thinking about issues like these. We’d rather believe the politically correct and comfortable notion that we live in a colorblind community where we’ve transcended the issue of race. This is a book that’s concerned with neither political correctness nor comfort—it’s more concerned with being a reality check, and as such it pulls no punches. It doesn’t pretend to offer easy solutions (of which there are none), but it does an excellent job of describing and illuminating the many complex issues regarding race and the leather community. I found it thought provoking, fascinating, sometimes disturbing, but ultimately mind-expanding.

Berlinger has self-published this book ($19.95 plus $3 shipping/handling). As is the case with many self-published works, there are a few technical rough edges that a commercial publisher would have smoothed out. Let’s hope those rough edges won’t stand in the way of the message of this book, however. As the world gets smaller, and as people become more interconnected through travel opportunities and the internet, these issues need to be thought about and dealt with. Whatever your ethnic background, reading this book is a good way to start. (For more information on this and other books by Cain Berlinger visit his website:

Waxing Demonstration to be presented

On Saturday, July 31, Chicago’s Daddy Beth and her boy dusty will travel to Minneapolis to present a demonstration of the art and skill involved in hot wax play. It is hoped that this will be the first in a series of educational presentations. Doors will open at 7 PM, with the demonstration beginning at 8 PM. Tickets are $10 each, prepaid admission only, and ticket quantities will be limited. So if you’re interested, act now: e-mail for more information.

Best of luck to Ms. Minnesota Leather 1999 Mario, who represents Minnesota in the International Ms. Leather Contest this weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Sunday, July 25

Black Guard Fundraiser
Location and time to be determined

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