Friday, February 7, 2003

Piercings By Cupid

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #201, February 7, 2003)

Valentine’s Day and leather go very well together. In fact, the combination is a better fit than you may have realized. Think of all the symbolism that Valentine’s Day involves.

First there’s Cupid, a master piercer if ever there was one. Cupid, the Roman god of love, was the son of Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Venus was the Roman version of the Greek goddess Aphrodite—that’s where the word “aphrodisiac” comes from. In the same fashion, Cupid was the Roman version of the Greek god Eros, from whose name comes the word “erotic”—and for whom the Atons of Minneapolis have named their annual springtime “Eros” parties.

Next: The symbol of love that’s on every Valentine card—a heart—is also a prominent part of the leather pride flag. There are very few other flags in the world that incorporate a heart. How few, you ask? I recently visited a website called Flags of the World (<>), which is paradise to anyone into vexillology. A search of 32,000 images of flags reveals a mere 23 that have the keyword “heart” associated with them. On further investigation, the heart-shaped thing on several of the flags is really a leaf or a lily pad. Many of the other flags that include a heart in the design use it as a representation of being “at the heart of” something, the center or crossroads of a geographical region. (Example: The Canadian city of Chilliwack has a flag with four green hearts representing that Chilliwack is “the green heart of British Columbia.”) Disqualify the historical flags that are no longer used, and the leather pride flag emerges as the most widely-flown modern-day flag incorporating a heart. Of all those 32,000 flags, the leather pride flag’s use of a big, bold, unabashed red heart pretty much stands alone. (Oh, in case you didn’t already know, vexillology is the study of flags.)

Now, what about the man who gave the day its name? According to various legends, Saint Valentine was a physician/healer and also a (reputedly chaste) Christian priest who was executed on February 14, 269 A.D. Emperor Claudius II was the leader of the Roman Empire at the time and was having trouble getting Roman men to join his army. He reasoned that they didn’t want to leave their wives and families; therefore, he canceled all marriages and engagements. Valentine, however, continued to marry couples in secret, for which he was jailed and ultimately martyred.

More legend: Valentine was put in prison while he awaited execution. His jailer had a blind daughter whose sight was restored by Valentine. They became friends, and when Valentine was executed he left a note to the jailer’s daughter thanking her for her friendship and support. He signed it, “From your Valentine.” (The legend doesn’t say how old the jailer’s daughter was, so we can only hope that the first Valentine message ever sent was not from a priest to an underage child.)

That note signed “From your Valentine” might have remained obscure were it not for what happened 200 years later. The custom of the Roman empire at the time was to start the Feast of Lupercalia honoring Juno, the goddess of “feverish” (febris) love, on February 15. A lottery was held where men drew women’s names, and the women became the men’s feasting and sexual companions for the next year. (Doesn’t sound terribly consensual for the women, does it?) The early Christian church didn’t approve of such pagan eroticism and hijacked the festival by making February 14 the Feast Day of Saint Valentine—in effect substituting romance for eroticism. No longer would a man get a woman because he drew her name, but he would be allowed to send her a “valentine” note asking if she was interested in him.

So, what does it all mean? Given Saint Valentine’s track record of opposing those who oppose love, I’d be willing to bet that if he were alive today he’d thumb his nose at the Church and perform same-sex marriages. He would also probably understand that love comes in many flavors and that not all of the flavors are to everyone’s liking. But love in any flavor is still love and deserves to be honored as such. So, regardless of whether your preferred flavor is vanilla or something more exotic, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Chicago Leatherfest happens Valentine’s Day Weekend

This Valentine’s Day weekend (Feb. 14-16), leatherfolk from across the nation and around the world will meet in Chicago for a variety of events. Foremost among them will be thirteenth annual Pantheon of Leather Community Service Awards on Saturday, Feb. 15. (This year the Atons of Minneapolis are nominated in the category of “Small Event of the Year” for last year’s thirtieth-anniversary run.) Also on Saturday is the Mr. Cell Block/Male Hide Leatherman 2003 Contest, and on Sunday is the Mr. and Ms Olympus Leather 2003 Contest.

Also taking place Valentine’s Day weekend is My Vicious Valentine, another notorious Chicago event back for its sixth edition. The Christian-conservative group Concerned Women of America managed to get last year’s Vicious Valentine 5 evicted from one host hotel but was unsuccessful in getting them evicted from a second hotel, and the event was consequently a great success. The theme of this year’s Vicious Valentine VI (note the Roman numerals) is “Caesar’s Revenge,” and the event will even include—you guessed it—a Lupercalia party.

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