Friday, November 26, 2004

Recommended Reading: Books for reading and giving

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #248, November 26, 2004)

From the many excellent books on leather and/or BDSM that have been published over the years, here is a very arbitrary selection—many of them taken directly from your humble columnist’s bookshelf—that only scratches the surface (so to speak) of what’s available.

Almost any of these books would make excellent reading for those curious about, or just starting to explore, leather and/or BDSM.

Even if you’ve been in the scene awhile—whatever your age, gender, orientation, preference or experience level, you’ll find something appropriate and worthwhile among the following.

Urban Aboriginals: A Celebration of Leathersexuality by Geoff Mains (Daedalus)—A trail-blazing mid-80’s look at the development and then-current state of the gay men’s leather community. Also includes still-timely discussions of leather spirituality and explanations of leather’s appeal. Mains, who had a Ph.D. in biochemistry, introduced the notion of endorphins as a component of SM sexuality and was among the first to draw parallels between leather and other tribal cultures throughout history. Brilliant and timeless.

The Leatherman’s Handbook and The Leatherman’s Handbook II by Larry Townsend (L T Publications)—The first Handbook dates from the pre-AIDS 1970s; Handbook II is a mid-80s sequel incorporating safer-sex information (and is the first book that your humble columnist read when he was getting into leather). Both books alternate between fact-sharing and storytelling (Townsend is a master at writing erotic fiction), which for some will heighten the reading experience. The tone of both books is rawer and more macho than the other books discussed here; Handbook II, especially, describes some heavy scenes and practices in unflinching detail.

Leathersex: A Guide for the Curious Outsider and the Serious Player and Leathersex Q&A: Questions about Leathersex and the Leather Lifestyle Answered by Joseph W. Bean (Daedalus)—Bean is one of leather’s best and most prolific writers. Leathersex is a well-organized, straightforward introduction to leather sexuality; in the sequel, Leathersex Q&A, Bean responds to actual letters he has received over the years. His sensitivity, wisdom, and caring shine through both books.

SM101: A Realistic Introduction by Jay Wiseman (Greenery Press)—True to its name, this is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a textbook on SM—thorough, non-judgmental, suitable for all genders and all orientations. Many drawings and diagrams. Bonus: witty aphorisms (example: “That’s the thing I like about rope: One size fits all.”) that will have you thumbing through the entire book because you don’t want to miss any.

Chainmale 3SM: a unique view of leather culture by Don Bastian (Daedalus)—Totally unlike any other book discussed here, Bastian’s autobiographical masterpiece is risky, impressionistic, poetic, hot, intensely personal and eminently readable. An excellent right-brain introduction to leather.

Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People, Politics and Practice, Mark Thompson, Editor (Daedalus)—For beginners or for anyone interested in leather/SM spirituality, this is the ultimate compilation of essays on the topic by 25 brilliant writers.

Painfully Obvious: An Irreverent & Unauthorized Manual for Leather/SM by Robert Davolt (Daedalus)—A curmudgeon’s view of leather, this book is packed with priceless social and sociological commentary on how the leather community and its institutions work (or sometimes don’t). It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me think—what more can one ask?

The Toybag Guide to Dungeon Emergencies and Supplies by Jay Wiseman (Greenery Press)—Wiseman, a former ambulance paramedic, has packed a wealth of emergency medical knowledge and common sense into a very small, very portable book without which no toy bag should be considered complete. Useful when emergencies rise, it’s even better if you’ve read it before you need it.

International Mr. Leather: 25 Years of Champions, compiled, edited and written by Joseph W. Bean (Leather Archives & Museum)—Don’t buy it just because it will look great on your coffee table. Packed with rare photos and fascinating interviews and memoirs, this epic book is not just a history of the International Mr. Leather Contest, it documents the last quarter-century of the leather community in general. Twenty-five years in the making, I doubt we’ll see its like for at least another 25.

Here are some other time-tested leather/BDSM books to consider:

The Lesbian S/m Safety Manual by Pat (now Patrick) Califia (Lace Publications). Out of print, but you still might find a copy if you search.

Ties That Bind: SM/Leather/Fetish Erotic Style: Issues, Commentaries and Advice by Guy Baldwin (Daedalus)

Learning the Ropes by Race Bannon (Daedalus).

The Topping Book and The Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt (Greenery Press)

The New Topping Book and The New Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy (Greenery Press)

Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns by Philip Miller and Molly Devon (Mystic Rose Books)

Different Loving: A Complete Exploration of the World of Sexual Dominance and Submission by William Brame, Gloria Brame and Jon Jacobs (Villard).

The Master’s Manual and The Compleat Slave by Jack Rinella (Daedalus).

Publisher and Shopping Information

Publishers of books listed above:

Daedalus Publishing Company:

Greenery Press:

L T Publications:

Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M): (Support the Leather Archives and Museum! Visit their online gift shop for books and other merchandise suitable for holiday gift-giving.)

Mystic Rose Books:

Villard, an imprint of Random House:

Twin Cities Shopping Information

Many of these titles are either in stock or can be ordered at Dreamhaven Books in Minneapolis ( or Query Booksellers (

You might also find some of these titles, and many more holiday gift items, at MSDB’s Bizarre Bazaar on Saturday, Dec. 11, noon to 7 PM at Trikkx Bar, 490 N. Robert St., St. Paul (free admission).

Friday, November 12, 2004

Time Capsule: The Prescient Susie Shepherd

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #247, November 12, 2004)

Fifteen years ago, in October 1989, the men’s and women’s leather communities in Minnesota gathered together for the first Minnesota Leather Encounter (MLE) weekend. Part of the weekend was the first Mr. Minnesota Leather contest.

One of the judges of that contest was International Ms Leather 1989 Susie Shepherd. The following is an excerpt from the speech she gave that weekend. I present it here to show that fifteen years later, some things have changed but many have not. Shepherd’s message still resonates today.

Never when I won the International Ms Leather contest last year did I think I was going to the Twin Cities and have both my tits pierced and play bingo, all on the same day!” (Jim Ward, master piercer from The Gauntlet, was another judge for the weekend.)

I was real involved in politics for a long time, and because of that I kept myself in the leather closet.

I figured, if I’m busy lining up testimony—people to go over to the state legislature and people to come with me and talk to groups of psychiatrists and convince them that gay people are like everybody else— if I let them know I got all these kinky fantasies, they’re gonna think I’m really weird, and it’s gonna undo all the work I’m doing.

So I didn’t do that, and for a long time I found myself dying in this closet.

What I want to tell you is, if there’s anybody here who doesn’t know—and I think everybody does to some degree—closets kill!

And if there’s anybody here tonight who’s in any kind of a closet—take the fuckin’ knob off, kick the door out, and come out and be who you are!

I almost died in the leather closet even though I was the best little lesbian in the state of Oregon.

It doesn’t matter what kind of a closet it is, it’s gonna kill you. It’s gonna stifle you. It’s gonna suffocate you. It’s gonna be a long, slow, painful death.

We were trying to get a civil rights bill for gay people through the state of Oregon. I was behind a table with another lesbian at the University of Oregon in Eugene having people sign postcards to send to their state legislators.

This one man came up to us, and he had an umbrella in his hand, and he said, “You know what I think they ought to do with all those gay people? I think we ought to take them all, and line them up against a wall . . . .” and then he picks up his umbrella and uses it like a machine gun.

And I said, “Well, that really bothers me because I’m gay, and I don’t like that idea.”

And he said, “Well, I didn’t mean anything personal.”

There’s a Supreme Court out there that wants to tell low-income women what to do with their bodies. If those people want to tell heterosexual procreative women what to do with their bodies, imagine what they want to tell a bunch of kinky gay people!

Now, we’ve got the power to undo a lot of what they can do. Number one, organizing at the local level, we can get involved in judicial campaigns and we can help elect judges who are going to make the kinds of decisions that stand up when they go before the Supreme Court.

We also have the power in this room to hold fundraisers like what’s going on tonigh. so that if cases involving our people get to the court, we can hire good attorneys who can defend our people, so that if it does go to the Supreme Court we can be well represented, and have a much better chance of convincing the law of who’s right.

We are only as powerless as we let ourselves be. And as an SM leather dyke, I’m a botto, but the way that I do that is, I consensually exchange my power with whoever is topping me.

Out there in the political realm, that can be a real non-consensual exchange of power.

But if I get myself involved politically, then I’ve got the power to negotiate. And by doing that, I’m getting consensually involved in the exchange of power that guarantees me, as the American citizen, my right to be here on this earth.