(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #217, September 19, 2003)
SUGGESTED GRAPHIC: Yin/Yang symbol with some kind of leather studs. Or maybe a leather motorcycle hat with a yin/yang emblem in place of the usual eagle or Harley emblem.
Sometimes it can be interesting to look with different eyes at something with which we’re familiar. It can be startling to see what’s different, and even more startling to see what’s the same. For instance, what happens when we apply the ancient Chinese metaphysical wisdom of feng shui to leather? No, I’m not going to suggest hanging crystals from your nipple rings and putting a wind chime on your Harley. Suspend your disbelief and let’s explore.
Classic feng shui has been practiced for millenia. It deals with understanding chi, the “life-force energy” that results from the interaction of yin and yang, the two universal forces which are seen as equal but opposite components of one unified whole. The metaphysical principles underlying feng shui are also the underpinnings of other disciplines including macrobiotics (which has been called “feng shui for food”) and the I Ching or “Book of Changes”, the world’s oldest oracle (the “changes” referred to are the constantly-changing interaction of yin and yang). Acupuncture and acupressure are attempts to understand and control the flow of chi in the body, while feng shui attempts to understand and control the flow of chi in the environment.
The yin/yang symbol depicts a relationship that is always changing, shifting back and forth between the two energies. Note that in the symbol yin is represented by black and yang is represented by white. But also note that the largest part of each half of the symbol, where the black or white color is at its fullest, has in it a spot of the opposite color. This symbolizes the fact that the moment each force is at its fullest is also the start of that force’s decay (and the corresponding upswing of the opposite force). Comfortable chi is achieved when yin and yang are balanced and the swings between them are not too extreme.
Besides black, other yin attributes include low, soft, dark, wet, resting and female. Other yang attributes in addition to white include high, hard, bright, dry, active and male. You get the idea.
Now let’s introduce another level of feng shui: the five elements of Chinese metaphysics. The constantly-changing interaction of yin and yang gives rise to five phases, or elements, of chi, composed of different proportions of yin and yang: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. Again, comfortable chi is achieved when the five elements are in balance; discomfort arises when one or more of the elements are either too strong or too weak.
So how does this all relate to leather? Start by taking almost any article of leather apparel: vest, chaps, boots, whatever. First consider the material of which the article is made: leather. Animals (including humans) belong to the fire element, as does leather, being an animal product. Fire is the most yang, or male, of the five elements. So the classic leatherman, seen through the lens of feng shui, is a male clothed in an extremely male garment.
But now consider the color of that garment. Typically it’s black, the most yin (or female) of all colors. This at first might seem like a contradiction, but remember that feng shui is all about balance—we balance the strong yang of the leather with the equally strong yin of the color black. (This might say something about gay leathermen’s reputation for being comfortable with both our masculine and feminine sides.)
Imagine, on the other hand, if our leather was white. Remember Elvis Presley—he famously wore a white leather outfit onstage in Las Vegas. If our leathers were white, the typical leather bar would look like a convention of Elvis impersonators. The extreme yang of white added to the extreme yang of leather would be overwhelming.
Now let us consider another classic piece of a leatherman’s apparel: dark-blue Levis. Plants and plant products, including the cotton from which Levis are made, fall under the Wood element. Wood is also yang, and therefore masculine, although not as strongly masculine as Fire. The counterbalancing color is dark blue, which is not as strongly yin as black. Again, we have balance.
Consider the hankie code, where left means top and right means bottom. Whoever formulated that code in the early days of leather may or may not have been aware that in feng shui left is yang (male, traditionally top) and right is yin (female, traditionally bottom).
Feng shui also has interesting things to tell us about dungeon design. Dungeons are generally intimate spaces (yin); feng shui tells us that high ceilings would be counterproductive, as would white walls (both are too yang). But the yin of the dark and intimate dungeon must be balanced by at least some yang in the form of the fire element (proper illumination)—otherwise the dungeon’s occupants might trip and get hurt (and not in a good way).
Also, since dungeons are places where people need to feel safe in order to be able to relax and let their inhibitions down, exposed beams or rafters are not good—feng shui maintains that exposed ceiling beams or other heavy objects hanging overhead cause people to feel uneasy. So if your dungeon is in the basement with exposed floor joists overhead, feng shui says you might improve the dungeon’s chi by putting in some kind of ceiling—or at least painting the exposed joists and floorboards black so they’re less noticeable.
Certainly leatherfolk should be able to appreciate the wisdom of feng shui and its concepts of balancing ever-shifting energies—because that is, after all, a major part of what good sex or a good BDSM scene is all about.
Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)
Saturday, September 20,
Black Guard Fundraiser. Benefit for Clinic 42’s Top Shelf program. Bring donations of bath, bed, kitchen and cleaning supplies (must be new). 6-10 PM. The 19 Bar.