Friday, November 1, 2002

The Next Generation of Leather

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #194, November 1, 2002)

Leather, like almost every other community these days, has to deal with a generation gap. Our version is called Old Guard vs. New Guard, and it can make the routine battles of parents and teenagers look like high tea. Here is a brief snippet of typical dialogue—or rather, two monologues—from the two camps:

Old Guard: New Guard, you say you’re the future of leather? Boy, are we in trouble! You’re undisciplined, you’re disrespectful, you’re slovenly! You think you know everything, but take it from me—you know nothing! You’re hopeless! Why should I waste my time trying to whip you into shape—so to speak—when you show absolutely no interest in shaping up, getting your act together, and doing it right?

New Guard: Old Guard, you’re an old fogey! You’re still fighting World War II, or at least Vietnam! The world has changed, but you haven’t! People don’t go for all that hierarchy and discipline stuff any more, and most of your vaunted protocols are just so tired! Why would I want to play those games? Just because I’m young doesn’t mean I want to be your apprentice for the next 20 years! What do you have to teach me anyway? Who said your way was the only right way? Who made you leather god?

It didn’t used to be like this. For the first several decades of the leather community’s existence there was no Old Guard vs. New Guard. Those expressing an interest in leather were mentored by those already in the community; in this way the community’s knowledge, traditions and values were passed down from generation to generation. The AIDS epidemic destroyed this system of mentoring, as described by noted leather author and International Mr. Leather 1989 Guy Baldwin in a recent speech:

“. . . the old leather tribal elders . . . became distracted by the need to help care for their own brothers who were suddenly fighting for their lives, and all too often, losing the battles . . . the tribal elders simply no longer had the time or the emotional energy necessary to focus on bringing new ‘children’ into the fold. And just as in any culture, whenever elders can’t make time for their children, those elders become irrelevant as children strike out on their own to explore their interests . . . whatever they happen to be.”

So that’s the problem. What do we do about it? Here’s a starting suggestion: You know all the advice and cliches about parenting and raising children that you’ve heard over the years? Some of us who didn’t have kids thought we could safely ignore them. But—guess what—they apply now, to our community. The elders are parenting the community, and the next generation represents their leather offspring. They don’t call them Daddies for nothing.

So, what do leather parents need to know? First let me say that your humble columnist writing about parenting is like a priest offering marriage counseling. So I am indebted to Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People for this bit of parenting wisdom:

“There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children—one is roots, the other wings.”

Ponder that for a moment. Let it sink in.

We can give the next generation of leather roots by remembering, respecting and honoring our leather traditions and those in leather who have gone before us. The Leather Archives & Museum in Chicago is so important because it’s all about roots. So is the heritage of leather clubs. We also give the next generation of leather roots through education that goes beyond mere technique—by modeling and sharing our community’s heart, soul and values. There’s more to BDSM than just technique, and there’s more to Leather than just BDSM.

Because of the huge hole left in the community’s structure by AIDS, the New Guard felt it was in the position of having to reinvent the wheel. A sense of roots lets the next generation of leather know the who and the how and the why of the community, so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel—they just have to update it.

We give the next generation of leather wings by giving them freedom—by letting them update that wheel. They’re not us. They will do things differently, and their leather community will reflect them, just as today’s leather community is a reflection of us.

We can’t know what the future holds—who could have seen AIDS coming? But we do know one thing the future holds: change. I’ve seen leather change since I started writing this column in 1995, and it will continue to change and evolve. It won’t stay the same. If we try to keep it the same—if we don’t let it change—it will die. We will kill it.

As we pass the leather torch to the next generation, we can’t tie their hands—so to speak—by saying, “Here, we bequeath this to you—but you must always do it like this.” What kind of estate planning is that? Besides, we won’t be around to check up on whether they’re doing it “right.” All we can really do is to foster a next generation who understands leather, respects it, cherishes it, and is smart enough to make good decisions about its evolution.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Atons Leather & Levi Dining Out
Saturday, November 9, Cocktails at 7PM/Dinner at 7:30PM
McCormick & Schmick’s, 800 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis
Presented by the Atons of Minneapolis, open to all. Please call the Atons HotLine for more information or to make reservations.

Atons Beer Bust: Harness Your Tom (Turkey)
Sunday, November 10, 6-10PM, The Tank (Saloon)
Learn the ABC’s of flogging at the Atons’ monthly $5 beer bust. Demonstrations and door prizes. Tank dress code enforced.

MSDB Bizarre Bazaar
Saturday, November 16, 11AM-5PM
2700 Winter St. NE (off Industrial Blvd.), Minneapolis
Minnesota Stocks, Debentures and Bonds (MSDB) presents a fetish holiday shopping experience: fetish/leather, books, massage, piercings, portrait photographer, tarot readings, petting zoo with live animals (not for the kids—wink wink nudge nudge). Live entertainment by Psychic Slutz. $5 in advance, $6 at the door; advance tickets available at Dreamhaven Books, at or MSDB, Minneapolis, MN.

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