Friday, March 23, 2001

“Part Social Movement, Part Applied Spirituality”

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #152, March 23, 2001)

David Nimmons, the founder of a project called “Manifest Love,” is a man with a message, and he’s proclaiming it everywhere he can. Since 1982 Nimmons has held a wide variety of elected, appointed, and professional leadership positions in gay community organizations. He is addressing his message to gay men (most emphatically including gay leathermen), but maybe the rest of the leather/SM community—leather lesbians, transsexuals, bisexuals and heterosexuals—also needs to hear it. In short, his three-part message is 1) Look at the amazing and revolutionary community we’ve created; 2) But there are still problems to be addressed; so 3) Let’s address these problems and create something even more amazing and revolutionary.

I heard Nimmons speak as the fourth part of a five-part series of evening seminars presented by Pride Alive, the queer men’s initiative of the Minnesota AIDS Project. The first part of his talk described (and documented with footnotes and references) many of the amazing qualities and accomplishments of today’s gay male community. The following bullet-point quotes are from the brochure that was handed out at the seminar:

• “Something big is happening among gay men, but it isn’t always visible. Over two decades, gay men have quietly evolved a set of radical cultural transformations, ones we rarely even recognize. Gay communities have become social laboratories, pioneering a range of profound social innovations.” For instance:

• “We have built the least publicly violent male culture known.” To substantiate this claim, Nimmons referred to studies finding fewer police calls to gay bars vs. non-gay bars and to gay events such as Gay Pride festivals vs. similar non-gay events.

• “We have devised new models of altruism, caregiving, volunteering, and service.” Typically, gay men don’t have the support of a nuclear family to care for them when they’re sick or as they get older—they only have each other. And when society’s shunning of them escalated as AIDS, or even the threat of AIDS, made them untouchable pariahs, they found they had to depend on themselves. But they also found that they could depend on themselves.

• “We have redefined relationships with women and with each other, inventing new forms of intimacy, friendship, and community.” Nimmons noted that “gay men do relationships with women differently,” as seen on TV in “Will and Grace” and in the movies “The Next Best Thing” and “The Object of My Affection,” among others. Nimmons also talked about a new style of men relating to other men called “diffuse intimacy”: “If we’re intimate with those outside our small family group, suddenly we all have a stake in each other’s well-being.” This makes gay men value and practice such things as tutelage, mentoring, and initiation into the community. They protect, take care of, and look out for each other in many different ways.

• “We have innovated radically new rituals of pleasure, affection, and ecstatic communion.” Nimmons asked for audience participation in drawing up a list of examples for this point; suggestions included Radical Faerie gatherings, the International Mr. Leather weekend, Body Electric workshops, sex parties—the list went on and on.

According to Nimmons, “This range of gay social innovations has no parallel in modern culture. It is best understood as an evolving kind of public ethics.” He noted that any other group of people evolving a society exhibiting these traits would be hailed as heroes, but that gay men still make much of society uncomfortable, so their accomplishments get little recognition.

Except—and this is my own conclusion—from certain segments of society who are using the gay male experience as a model for building their own communities, i.e. the wider pansexual SM community. Look at the similarities. SM parties, despite their outward appearance to the uninitiated, are not violent—if police appear on the scene it’s almost never because someone at the party called them. The community’s motto of “safe, sane and consensual” is evidence of an attitude of concern for everyone’s dignity and well-being. SM play certainly constitutes a “new form of intimacy” and “new rituals of pleasure, affection and ecstatic communion.” And even as kink becomes more mainstream, it is still reviled by a large portion of society. Kinky people of all sexual persuasions are finding, as gay men have found, that sometimes they have only themselves to depend on.

Back to Nimmons, and his second point: The gay male community is not perfect. “Too often, our public gay world has lagged behind our best values. It says men must compete” (like on Saturday night at a cruise bar), “that attitude makes sense” (see previous parenthetical comment), “that being loving is uncool” (it’s better to be a bitchy queen), “that we cannot publicly embrace our most loving natures. So we protect ourselves by drawing lines around looks and age, around color, class, kink. We are left hungry for intimacy, confused by sex, betrayed by community, distrusting our fellow gay man.”

Sound familiar? I’ve often heard people speak derisively of both the “gay community” and the “leather community,” saying both are illusions. They really wish they could believe in them, but they can’t.

Nimmons’ third point: There is hope. If the gay male community has created the profound cultural transformations discussed above in only twenty or thirty years’ time, think what can happen in the next ten or twenty or thirty: “We have the potential to be a spreading center of values and ethics change both for ourselves and for the larger culture.” The mission of Manifest Love is to “encourage gay men to understand and embody the best, most powerful and transformative values we bring to culture: non-violence, the brotherhood of deep friendship, sexual celebration, service and nurture, new forms of intimacy with women, and the pursuit of diverse forms of ecstatic union. We believe that different kinds of gay men, working together, can shape a more loving, affectionate, and affirming world, for ourselves and others.”

How will this mission be accomplished? Manifest Love presents community workshops, salons and talks, day-long workshops, weekend intensive retreats, and is in the process of setting up “ongoing local chapters of men working to promote critical understanding of our cultural innovations and find ways to manifest loving values in our communities.”

Nimmons say of Manifest Love, “There is no simple box for what we do. We are part social movement, part applied spirituality.” It strikes me that one could say the same of the leather/SM community. Different paths, same hoped-for destination.

For more information e-mail (By the time you read this, their website might be available at David Nimmons will return to Minnesota for a weekend intensive to be held Friday evening, April 6 through Sunday, April 8; for more information contact Ankha Shamin, one of the local coordinators for the Twin Cities chapter of Manifest Love.

New Mr./Ms. Olympus Leather Chosen at Pantheon of Leather XI
Contest held February 17 in New Orleans
Over 200 Leatherfolk attended Pantheon of Leather XI at Le Petit Theatre in New Orleans, LA the weekend of February 16-18. Twenty-seven leather-community service awards were presented on Friday night, and on Saturday five SM-related workshops were presented. Then on Saturday night, the state of Georgia was smiling big after the Mr. and Ms Olympus Leather 2001 Contest concluded with Michael Allshouse and Sherree Dixon from Atlanta winning. Mr. Louisiana Olympus Leather Butch Arnold and Ms Louisiana Olympus Leather Julyahana also made a good showing for their state.

Black Guard presents Black Frost 24 April 6-8
This year’s theme: Who Murdered Broadway?
The Black Guard of Minneapolis, named by Drummer Magazine as “the best show club in the U.S.,” is getting ready to prove once again that tough guys can still love Broadway showtunes. “Who Murdered Broadway?” is the theme of the club’s upcoming Black Frost 24 run, which takes place April 6-8 at various locations around the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

In addition to complete run packages with or without accommodations, tickets for the banquet and show only are $40 and tickets for the show only are $10. For complete run registration information visit, e-mail, call Colin, or write Run Registration, The Black Guard of Minneapolis, Minneapolis, MN. Hurry—save money by registering before the main registration deadline of Monday, March 26.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Saturday, Mar. 10: Atons Leather/Levi Night at Little Jack’s Steak House (201 Lowry Ave. NE). Drinks at 7:00 PM, dinner at 7:30 PM. Presented by the Atons, open to all; call for reservations.

Sunday, Mar. 11, 3 PM: A Brother’s Touch Bookstore (24th & Hennepin) presents a reading by noted erotic writer M. Christian of San Francisco.