Friday, August 27, 1999

Transgender Leather

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #111, August 27, 1999)

Okay, so you’re a proud member of the leather/BDSM community. If you’re reading this column, the probability is highest that you’re a gay white male (as is your humble columnist). But you, like your humble columnist, understand that something as wonderful as leathersex must be open to everyone regardless of age, race, sex, orientation, and so on. So you try to be open-minded and accepting, even of women at the Minneapolis Eagle or heterosexuals in a dungeon. (See previous columns on leatherwomen and het queers.)

You’re even trying to be open-minded about transgendered people in the leather/BDSM community. Here you may fall into one of two categories: either “I don’t know any, but of course they would certainly be welcome” or “My goodness, they’re everywhere—where are they all coming from?” Billy Lane was in last year’s International Mr. Leather competition, and he did very well, thank you. One of the judges at this year’s International Ms. Leather contest was Kate Bornstein, author of many books on gender issues including “My Gender Workbook.” You’ve seen transgendered people onstage assisting or competing in local leather contests, too, and sometimes winning them.

That’s fine, you say, it can be their community too. (How very generous of you.) I know people who espouse this line of reasoning, and follow it in the next breath with this disclaimer: “But of course I would never play with one.”

My first response to this is, why not? My second response is, how do you know you haven’t? Considering that much SM play is non-genital in nature, how can you be absolutely, positively sure that the person who flogged you last night (or the person whom you flogged) was not a trans person? Have you checked the chromosomes of everyone you’ve ever played with to be sure they matched the person’s outward appearance?

Suppose you found out the next day (or next month, or next year) that the person you played with last night was a trannie. Would you feel differently about the experience? About the person? Why or why not?

If you feel comfortable with trans people, congratulations—you can skip the next part of this column. If you don’t feel comfortable having trans people around, however, let me say this as gently as I can: Get Over It. Here are two different (and somewhat opposing) viewpoints to consider that may help you adjust your attitude:

Viewpoint #1: Think of a transgender orientation as a special asset instead of a liability. Consider that trans people are an interesting and diverse group. I seem to be getting to know more and more of them, so I say this from personal experience: They’ve seen a lot and been through a lot, and they have the stories to prove it. Their experiences at questioning something about themselves that most of us take for granted tends to give them a special insight into themselves (and others, and society in general) that can be refreshing to be around.

Viewpoint #2: The words “transgender” and “transsexual” are labels. People aren’t labels; if I look at a person and all I see is a label, I’m not really seeing that person. Instead of thinking of a transgender orientation as a special asset (as described above), don’t think about it at all. Focus on a trans person as simply a person, and try relating to them as you would with any other human being. You might be pleasantly surprised. Maybe you’ll make a new friend. You might even play together. Who knows what chemistry you’ll find once you get that pesky label out of the way?

One final note: Earlier I mentioned a book by Kate Bornstein titled “My Gender Workbook.” It is recommended reading if you are at all curious about gender issues—perhaps your own, or perhaps in order to better understand a newfound transgender friend. Before seeing this book I thought gender was basically either male or female, and transgender people either went from female to male or male to female. (And they always used hormones and surgery to make the transition). I now realize that it’s not that simple. Here’s just one example of a “nontraditional” transgender person: Joe knows he is male, in spite of the fact that he was born with a female’s body. Joe is so sure he is male, in fact, that he sees no need to bother with hormones and surgery. So just have respect for his gender choice—call him Joe, and call him “him,” and he’s satisfied.

Gender comes in many different flavors, and it will be a lovely day when people can taste them all and choose their favorite with no apologies, shame or stigma.

Mr. Minnesota Leather Contest cancelled

Late-breaking news: The Mr. Minnesota Leather Contest, which was scheduled for Labor Day weekend, will not be happening. According to Minnesota Leather Productions spokesman Colin Spriestersbach, “Minnesota Leather Productions will not be holding the event this year due to [a] lack of interest in the Leather community.”

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