Friday, November 28, 2003

Out of the Closet or Under the Radar?

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #222, November 28, 2003)

It was in 1973 that Minnesota’s then-Governor Wendell Anderson smiled out from the cover of Time Magazine, holding a just-caught fish. The cover story of that issue was “The Good Life in Minnesota.” Now, thirty years later, a very different aspect of the Good Life in Minnesota almost made it to the pages of Time—almost, but not quite.

For the last few years radical right-wing elements have stepped up their harassment of leather/BDSM events across the nation and have said some very nasty things to the media about leather/BDSM and its aficionados. Would a sympathetic article in Time Magazine about a midwestern BDSM weekend help to counter that bad press, or would it simply act as bait for more harassment?

That was the question faced by the organizers, as well as the attendees and potential attendees, of a recent nationally-promoted fetish weekend event held in our area. Less than three weeks before the event, the organizers received a letter from the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF). A reporter from Time had contacted NCSF wanting to write a 3- to 4-page article on “mind/body/health” issues related to BDSM. NCSF had given him a list of doctors, psychologists and sociologists to interview, but the reporter also wanted to attend a pansexual SM event, preferably in the south or midwest, in order to talk directly to people involved in the scene.

The reporter was described as “an out gay man who has written positive articles about alternative sexuality and sexual orientation.” He wanted to be able to identify the name of the event and the city and hotel where the event was being held. He would be identified at the event as a reporter and would not quote individuals who did not want to be quoted. An escort from NCSF would accompany him to the event.

Presented with this offer of media coverage for their event, the event’s organizers (wisely, in my opinion) asked attendees, prospective attendees and members of the local leather/BDSM community how they felt about it. Based on community feedback the organizers decided not to allow the reporter to attend, although the feedback was far from a unanimous rejection of appearing in Time.

Some responses were unequivocal: “If a reporter from Time Magazine or any other publication is there, I won’t be.” Some people felt personally threatened by the possibility of losing job, spouse or children if they were outed as a result of the article. Others noted that publicity in Time might bring the same sort of harassment recently suffered by events in the New Orleans and Washington, D.C. areas. This viewpoint could be summed up as “The less the general public knows about us, the better.”

Many respondents expressed distrust of the media. Could a reporter from a national magazine like Time be trusted to write a fair article? Obviously, NCSF trusts this reporter or the organization wouldn’t be helping him with his research. But in spite of that, one commonly-expressed viewpoint was that the only reason Time or any other major media organization would even consider writing a story like this is because they know that sex and sensationalism and titillation sell magazines. According to this viewpoint, anyone expecting a, you should pardon the expression, “fair and balanced” representation in the pages of Time would be disappointed.

Another reason cited for not having a reporter at the event was timing—tickets had already been sold on the basis of the event being closed and private. Even those who thought media coverage could be beneficial questioned the wisdom of changing the nature of the event on such short notice.

But why was this such a big deal, anyway? Look at all the reporters year after year at the International Mr. Leather contest in Chicago, and look at the huge crowds that event attracts. Ah, but International Mr. Leather is an event predominantly for gay leathermen, who started coming out of the closet in the late 1960s. By contrast, this event was primarily pansexual, and many members of the pansexual community are still very much in the closet about their sexual preferences.

This comparison between the gay and pansexual leather/BDSM communities was not lost on Dan Brady, manager of local BDSM group TIES. Along with several others, Brady expressed the opinion that media coverage, and the resulting increased visibility of the leather/BDSM community, could be beneficial:

“If we can get a fair hearing in public, we have less to fear from the people who fear us because we’re unknown, or misunderstood. If we have widespread press, the people who would love to join us and learn from us have a better chance of finding us.

“Yeah, we could stay in the closet as a community—and some have some very good reasons to stay in that closet individually—but that would easily give the impression that we were hiding because we were doing something wrong, something to be ashamed of.

“Are we doing something wrong here? Do we need to be ashamed of being kinky?”

Brady continues: “Staying in the closet will not be effective in preventing us from being a persecuted minority. Coming out of the closet has done wonders for the GLBT community—it hasn’t made things perfect yet, but social acceptance has gone a long way in that direction in the past 20 years.

“We’re already getting press—most of it from the people who would prefer that we not exist at all. I, personally, mourn [the loss of] an opportunity to tell our side of the issue in a very public venue.”

Brady summed up his feelings about the rejection of the Time reporter by saying, “I fear we’ve missed an opportunity, not sidestepped a bullet.”

Here’s the irony I find in this situation: In many circles the acronym “GLBT” (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender) has been amended to “GLBTA” (the “A” stands for allies, or allied persons). When I first encountered this acronym I assumed that the “allies” were heterosexuals who were nonetheless sympathetic to our GLBT cause: PFLAG members, metrosexuals, and other honorary gay people. They are members of the heterosexual majority, and therefore have credibility with that majority. But they are willing to use that credibility to vouch for us GLBT types, to say that we too deserve the respect of the heterosexual majority.

But now I’m beginning to think it may be a two-way street. Maybe those allied persons—in this case closeted kinky heterosexuals—also need help from us, the gay leather community as well as the general GLBT community. And it’s our duty as GLBT people, who have already blazed these trails for ourselves, to help and support our allies in their quest for an exit from their own particular closet.

Upcoming events

Atons Holiday Fundraiser benefiting Aliveness Project
Sunday, Dec. 7, 5-10 pm, The Saloon
Silent Auction, door prizes, haircuts, bootblacking. Drink specials, free food. $10 donation (or $5 with 5 lbs. of food or nonperishable items). FFI or to donate an item for the auction:

MSDB Bizarre Bazaar
Saturday, December 13, 11am-5pm, Da Moose (356 Monroe Street NE, Minneapolis)
Don’t miss this year’s Bizarre Bazaar and get ready to stock up on those unique stocking stuffers for that special kinked one in your life. This is a great opportunity to support your local artists/artisans/retailers. $5 at the door; $3 advance tickets available at Dreamhaven Books (Lake St. & Colfax, Mpls.), Smitten Kitten (35th St. & 23rd Ave. S., Mpls.) and at area munches or by contacting MSDB (

Friday, November 14, 2003

Leather Life interviews Mark Cady, The First Mr. Minnesota Leather

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #221, November 14, 2003)

PHOTO: Mark Cady

In October 1989, the first Minnesota Leather Encounter (MLE) weekend was held and Mark Cady (pronounced KAY-dee) became the first man to win the Mr. Minnesota Leather title. Now, fourteen years later, he reminisced as we sat in the living room of the Minneapolis apartment he shares with his husband, Hubert Trimble.

Leather Life: For people who were not around at the time, like me, explain what Minnesota Leather Encounter was.

Mark Cady: It was a collection of the leather groups—the Atons, Black Guard, Knights of Leather (they did a lot of work)—and they decided it was time to have something to recognize the leather community, get a little publicity, and have a contest—pick someone, and then forward them off to Chicago for the international contest.

I’d been into leather ever since I came out in about 1982. I was fascinated by leather, and started buying pieces and wearing them, and having fun and getting a lot of attention and hanging out with the Atons.

Why did you enter the Mr. Minnesota Leather contest? When they announced it did you think, “Aha! I’m going to enter that!” or did people have to persuade you to enter?

It was something that I wanted to do, and that I was excited and scared about.

How many other people competed?

I think there was about a half a dozen guys. You had to go out and show your wares, and look good in your leather, and then you had to do a skit, kind of a leather fantasy thing. I actually have it on tape.

You had prepared for this beforehand? This was not an impromptu thing?

No, no. We definitely prepared and rehearsed. And I remember Red [Helbig, now Russ] and PJ [Knight] helping me out a lot—they were helping everybody, because they were excited about it too.

When you won, what did you think?

I was thrilled. I was shocked and I was thrilled, and it felt real cool to be up in front of that crowd, and get the crowd riled up and excited.

Does this all seem long ago and far away, or does it seem like only yesterday, as you think back to it?

It seems like long ago and far away.

What was your IML experience like?

It was a thrill. You’re very nervous, and there’s a lot of people there, and people are looking at you all the time because you’re wearing a thing that says you’re a contestant. And there are a lot of people talking to you. They had this question-and-answer scene where you go into a room with the judges and they ask you a half-dozen questions, and they say it’s a big part of your score. And you have no idea if you’re answering what they want to hear or not. I just said what I felt. And then they prep you for the contest and there’s a lot of rehearsal, and you get to go out onstage and do your thing a couple of times. It was very exciting. I remember sweating a lot just from being nervous all the time.

Had you done a lot of preparation before going to IML in Chicago?

No, not really. There was no guidance whatsoever. Remember, the groups were new to this, too—this was the first time they had put on a contest. I was hoping that I’d win the Minnesota title and then I’d be able to travel around the state, and speak on behalf of leather and go to the bars and be part of events. But it didn’t work out that way. There was no PR person, and I didn’t know how to set things up. The only place I ended up going was Duluth, because Bob [Jansen] called from Duluth and said, “Listen, you’re the winner, come on up, we’ll give you a hotel room, and we’ll throw a party for you.” And that was a cool event, but that was about the only event I had that whole year. And a year after IML and the contest and everything, Hubert moved in with me, and I became a private guy out in the suburbs, and did not go out much. Hibernated.

And now you’re becoming more visible in the leather community again.

Yes. I’m coming back out of the closet. I want to get a feel for the community again. I kinda miss it, and now that we have a place like the Eagle, it’s nice to go there and see other leather people—although I don’t see enough people wearing leather, which kinda bothers me. Because I go there on a Friday night and I get decked out, because I want to look good. I love wearing my leather, I know I look good in it, I wanna look good in it, and it’s tough being one of three guys in the bar that have bothered to look very good in their leathers that night and everybody else is wearing t-shirts and jeans. So I wish the community would get together and put their leather on more often. Or rubber, or whatever.

How have your views on leather changed over the years? Or haven’t they?

Well, they have changed. In the beginning when I got into leather I thought leather was hard-ass guys, S&M, pain, kinky sex, and all that other stuff that people associate with leather people—they think we’re all a bunch of hard-ass mean guys. Now I think a leatherman—and some people are going to be upset by me saying this—is someone who wears leather. Period. And has any kind of relationship or sex that they want. It’s the leather that’s the attraction, and what you do in the bedroom is whatever you feel like doing. It does not have to be S&M, it doesn’t have to be kinky, it can be whatever you want it to be.