Friday, October 31, 2003

Vanilla Halloween, Leather Halloween

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #220, October 31, 2003)

It’s Halloween. October 31 falls on a Friday this year, and that means the parties will last all weekend. This year more than most years, it’s not just for kids.

I think of Halloween as Amateur Night—the one night of year when anyone can wear anything and no one will ask questions. For some people the “anything” they wear will be a leather or other fetishwear won’t-everyone-be-scandalized “costume”—which they’ve gone to great lengths to put together. Other people will be wearing basically the same thing, but they will have just reached into their closet and pulled it out, like they always do.

If Halloween is about scary and spooky things, be assured that for some people leather and/or BDSM fetishwear is spooky and scary. Or at least they think it is to other people, and that means that at some level it’s spooky and scary to them, too. But just as we whistle when we walk past graveyards, or attend slasher movies as a way of dealing with our fears by making them seem outlandish and therefore less scary, some people do the same thing with leather. (It is only fair to note here that a drag queen could write pretty much the same thing about straight men dressing up in women’s clothing on Halloween.)

So for amateurs, it’s a costume. For those into the scene it isn’t, of course. Or is it? You will find people in a dungeon for whom the exotic and erotic qualities of their fetishwear are turn-ons, and they only wear it in sexual situations. It seems to me that this is how the heterosexual/pansexual BDSM community has traditionally worked: A person adopts a “scene” name and has a wardrobe of fetishwear that’s never worn anywhere other than the dungeon or the bedroom—except maybe on Halloween.

Gay leather, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be so segmented. We tend to use real names rather than scene names, or else we use the same nickname everywhere. Likewise our apparel: we wear our leather anywhere it’s practical, whether for protection when riding a motorcycle or just because it’s cool outside. (If a jacket is called for, we might as well wear a leather one that looks good on us and makes us feel good when we wear it.) If we wear our leathers to a Halloween party, other people may look at us and think it’s our costume. But we know that it’s not really a costume—it’s an expression of who we are.

Now, despite the differences in our approach to the whole “costume” aspect of Halloween, I would like to point out that there are many similarities between the vanilla world and the leather world. We each have many of the same impulses; it’s simply that the impulses are expressed differently.

Vanilla Halloween: A chance to dress, for a change, as what one is not, whether that be a dominatrix, female drag on a man, or even in a Donald Duck costume. Leather Halloween: Reach into the closet, grab the leather or fetishwear, and dress to express, not hide, who we are. It’s not a costume, and it’s not just for Halloween.

Vanilla: Masks. Leather: No mask (unless it’s part of a scene in a dungeon). No hiding. We’ve done enough of that. We’ll let the vanilla folk experience for one night what it was like for us all those years when we had to hide.

Vanilla: Halloween handouts are candy for the kids (and, for fundamentalist Christians, tracts with the candy). After trick-or-treating, kids compare the loot they collected: “I got a Snickers bar!” “I got a Kit Kat!” Leather: Halloween handouts for everyone are flavored condoms and lube: “I got the Piña Colada lube—my favorite!” “I got one of those mint-flavored condoms, and I’m so bored with them! Maybe I can exchange it for one that’s cola-flavored.”

Vanilla: Scary candle-lit haunted houses. Leather: Scary candle-lit dungeons.

Vanilla: Party decorations predominantly in black and orange. Leather: Party decorations predominantly in black and orange—which coincidentally, conveniently, are Harley-Davidson’s colors.

Vanilla: Jack-o-lanterns with candles inside. Leather: Remove the candle from the jack-o-lantern and use it for wax play.

Vanilla: Party games include bobbing for apples. Leather: We have our party games, too. But if our heads are bobbing up and down it probably has nothing to do with apples.

Vanilla: Mind game: In a totally dark room, make someone stick their hands in a “bowl of eyeballs” (when it’s really a bowl of grapes). Leather: Mind game: Tie someone up, then tell them you’re running a knife blade across their back (when it’s really the edge of a credit card).

Vanilla: Home videos of the kids in their costumes. The kids will enjoy seeing what they look like, and it will make for great memories when they get older. Leather: “The Making of Making Porn,” a locally-produced, professional-quality video of Twin Cities leathermen in (and out of) their leathers. Great documentary footage, but you probably wouldn’t want to show it to children.

Vanilla: Halloween greeting: “Trick or treat!” Leather: Let me close with an ancient Celtic leather Halloween blessing: “May all your tricks be treats!”

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