Friday, April 29, 2005

Leather Leadership Conference 9 Ties It All Together

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #259, April 29, 2005)

Six members of the Twin Cities leather/BDSM community (including your humble columnist) recently attended the ninth annual Leather Leadership Conference in Phoenix April 8-10. The theme of this year’s conference, “Tying It All Together,” was an obvious reference to bondage that also had meaning on many deeper levels.

Why does the leather/BDSM community have a Leather Leadership Conference? If a leather aficionado wants to learn about leadership, why not just read John Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Stephen Covey’s Principle-Centered Leadership, or On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis? Why not go to the nearest major metropolitan convention center and sign up for the next leadership-development seminar (featuring the people who write all those leadership-development books)?

Certainly, if one reads those books and attends those seminars, one will learn something about leadership (although doing that alone won’t make one a leader). But various societal groups find it helpful to hold their own leadership seminars customized to their own issues, politics and areas of concern.

Since 1973, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has held its annual leadership conference, “Creating Change.” (It was after attending “Creating Change” that John Weis was inspired to create the Leather Leadership Conference.) Other leadership conferences are presented each year to address the leadership concerns of women, youth, students, and many other subsets of the general population.

The planners of this year’s Leather Leadership Conference used elements of Phoenix’s southwestern Native American culture to great effect. One of the major themes running through this year’s conference was the concept of tribalism—leadership from a tribal point of view. The conference’s logo incorporated the imagery of the Native American dreamcatcher. The seminars were organized along six tracks: Vision, the Path of the Eagle; Values, the Path of the Turtle; Management Tools, the Path of the Hand; Case Studies, the Path of the Maze; and Organizational Viability, the Path of the Sun.

There was also a “Poster” track, a room filled with informational displays from various organizations, that represented the Path of the Kokopelli. In southwestern Native American lore the kokopelli is known as the seed bringer and represents fertility; these displays represent the seeds of ideas bring brought to the community, where they can be shared, nourished, and allowed to grow.

The opening ceremonies on Friday evening started with spectacular Native American traditional dancing, singing and drumming. Then Master Skip Chasey, originally from Phoenix and now living in southern California, presented the opening keynote address: “Vision, Passion and Direction: The Right Stuff for Authentic Leadership.” Here’s an excerpt:

“. . . as Carl Jung said, ‘The true leader is always led’ . . . . Authentic leaders know that on their own they are not, and cannot ever be, the compass for the journey; instead they must become, metaphorically speaking, a kind of satellite navigational system through which the Universe (use whatever conceptual term works for you) transmits appropriate directions. I believe that, as leaders of our community, we are being universally directed to concern ourselves more with facilitating the spiritual freedom of those we lead and less with demanding our place at society’s table, at least at this time. Once we are free of the false belief that our well-being is dependent upon social acceptance, then our demands for equal rights for leatherfolk will be a compassionate act of service for both our community and for the oppressors of our community, because when one is free one knows that oppression causes the oppressor to suffer most of all.”

(You will soon, I hope, be able to read the entire speech at <www.leatherleadership.org/library.htm>.)

This year’s seminar schedule was ambitious. A total of thirty ninety-minute seminars were presented on Saturday and Sunday, of which one could choose to attend up to six (four on Saturday, two on Sunday). Among the choices:

• “Campaigns Against Kink in the Twentieth Century,” a historical overview;

• “Creating Sex Positive Culture: A Sexual Renaissance,” a seminar about Seattle’s Sex-Positive Community Center (aka The Wet Spot);

• “Liberation—Assimilation—Evolution,” examining future directions for the leather/BDSM community. This seminar was presented by slave david stein, who originally coined the community’s “Safe, Sane, Consensual” mantra in 1984 and is now asking “Where are we leatherfolk going? And what will we do when we get there?”

• “Ethics vs. Morals in a Values-Focused Political Environment,” a fascinating audience-participation discussion that generated updated talking points for sexual-freedom activists. Example: in the previous sentence, downplay “sexual,” accentuate “freedom.” Better yet, rather than talking about “BDSM’ers,” talk about “people with adventurous private lives.”

Other seminar titles included “Tribes to Nations,” “Relating to Mainstream,” “Working with New People,” “Fundraising in a Tapped-Out World,” and two seminars on conflict resolution: “Healing Divided Communities, a Tribal Approach to Conflict Resolution” and “Conflict Resolution within the BDSM Community.”

Available for viewing all weekend, the displays in the poster room concerned topics such as the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, the Leather Archives and Museum, monasticism as a model for Master/slave households, erotic digital content and copyright, and understanding the difference between SM and abuse.

Sunday afternoon’s closing keynote was presented by slave marsha, a litigation attorney who presented “A Closing Argument for the Leather Leadership Conference IX.” Speaking straight from the heart (in a lawlyerly way, of course), she argued eloquently not only for the conference but for the community and our values, ethics and way of life as well.

At the conclusion of the conference the formal announcement was made of next year’s host city: New York City, the place that hosted the first Leather Leadership Conference, will also host the tenth edition.

After New York, will LLC’s next stop be Minneapolis/St. Paul? A committee representing the entire spectrum of the leather/BDSM community from the Twin Cities and surrounding areas has submitted a bid to host the eleventh edition of the Leather Leadership Conference in 2007. Will we be awarded the bid? Stay tuned.

Friday, April 15, 2005

I Sing the Body Electric School

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #258, April 15, 2005)

Celebrating the Body Erotic, Minneapolis, May 7-8

Have you ever experienced a gourmet hug? Would you like to? Do you even know what it is?

How about a full-body orgasm? Have you ever experienced one? Would you like to?

If you’re reading this column it’s probably safe to say you are a sexual revolutionary. GLBT folks, and those into BDSM or other alternative sexual practices, have already explored aspects of sex and sexuality that most people in our culture have not explored, either out of fear or ignorance.

Allow me to introduce you to an amazing resource for sexual revolutionaries: The Body Electric School. Located in Oakland, Calif., for over twenty years the school has offered courses in bodywork and erotic education. These courses are presented around the world and throughout the year—and one of them, “Celebrating the Body Erotic” for men, is coming to Minneapolis May 7 and 8.

A school for bodywork and erotic education? Yes, and it’s about time. The taboo attached to sex in western culture has led to many myths and much misinformation, as was graphically—and comically (or was it tragically?)—depicted in Kinsey, the recent movie about pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey.

During a recent screening of the film, the audience in the theater howled when the young female 1940s college student shyly told Kinsey she had heard that engaging in cunnilingus now would later cause problems with pregnancy. But underlying the humor of her statement was a tragic realization: people at the time, and throughout much of history, really didn’t know any better. All they had to go on were old wives’ tales and things other people whispered in the locker room or the powder room—things that everybody “knew,” but were totally wrong and misguided.

Somehow sex in our society has been surrounded with such shame and secrecy it was not considered a proper topic for education, or even discussion except in a hushed voice. It was assumed that no education was needed—somehow, on their wedding night, two people who had never before experienced sex would miraculously know what they were supposed to do, and how to do it. They might not enjoy it very much—or at all—but that wasn’t the point. The point was to make babies and perpetuate the human race. (Oh, incidentally, that’s also one of the excuses given for why two men or two women can’t legally marry: they can’t make babies, therefore there is no validity to the relationship.)

The Body Electric School’s philosophy is that something as fundamental to humans as sex and sexuality is worth talking about, worth teaching, and worth not only learning about but also becoming an expert at. When approached with honesty and reality instead of shame and secrecy, sex becomes several things: a most pleasurable activity in its own right; a phenomenal method of human communication and connectedness; a tool for personal healing and personality integration; and a doorway to the experience of the divine, both in ourselves and in others.

I have participated in many Body Electric School activities over the years, and the benefits I have received have been immense. My Body Electric experiences have changed the way I think about and experience sex, certainly. But the changes go further—I have learned that a new way of experiencing sexuality involves a new way of experiencing spirituality as well.

There are connections between sex and spirit that have been so long denied in our culture that knowledge and awareness of those connections have been lost—almost. Some of the knowledge in Body Electric School courses comes from Tantric, Taoist, Hindu and even Native American traditions.

I am grateful to the Body Electric School for its part in gathering this knowledge, passing it on, and keeping it alive. I have experienced using the physical to touch the divine. I have seen how breath, imagery, touch and movement can result in bliss, ecstasy and healing far beyond what most people can imagine.

Leather and BDSM aficionados are likely to be especially good candidates for Body Electric School courses because leather culture has always placed a high value on education. Given the intense nature of some of our activities, knowledge and expertise add greatly to the participants’ enjoyment and pleasure while also increasing the participants’ safety. But doesn’t even so-called vanilla sex deserve the same respect and conscious, knowledgeable practice?

This type of coursework is not for everyone. Occasionally someone finds the first day of an introductory class so intense that they don’t return for the second day. They simply weren’t ready. Maybe someday they will be. The Body Electric School and its faculty would be the first to say there’s no shame in trying and failing—the true tragedy would be never to try.

But for every person who finds they’re not ready for the experience, there are many who find this kind of coursework exactly what they’ve been looking for. My own Body Electric experiences, and my observations of my fellow students both during classes and in the months, days and years after, have convinced me that if this knowledge were widespread there would be much less war, drug abuse and domestic violence. Does that sound outlandish? I challenge you to participate in a Body Electric School class and then say you still disagree with me.

The Body Electric School honors all sexual energies with course offerings for men, women or mixed groups of men and women. Completion of a basic-level course opens the way to many advanced-level and specialized courses, as well as retreats in exotic locations.

The women-only and men-only basic-level classes both are called “Celebrating the Body Erotic” (for men or for women), while the introductory class for men and women together is the “Two Spirits Retreat.” Among the advanced-level courses is one that is likely to be of particular interest to readers of this column: “Power, Surrender and Intimacy: Exploring Conscious S/M,” either for men or for men and women. (The men’s version of this course was just presented in Minneapolis in March.)

The Body Electric School maintains a comprehensive website, <www.bodyelectric.org>, with course descriptions and schedules as well as some enlightening video clips of students discussing their class experiences. For information about the Minneapolis session of “Celebrating the Body Erotic” for men May 7 and 8, contact the local Body Electric School coordinator, Timothy Cope.

So, what the heck is a gourmet hug? It’s the Body Electric equivalent of a secret handshake: a hug with a longer duration and a completely different energy than the usual quick hug.

And a full-body orgasm? Imagine if you were to take the power and pleasure of many orgasms and pyramid them one on top of another—and then spread the energy throughout your entire body, rather than just your pelvic region. How would that feel?

Well, I think it feels pretty good.

Friday, April 1, 2005

The Leather Life Interview: Larry Patnoe, Mr. Minnesota Leather 1992

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #257, April 1, 2005)

PHOTO: Larry Patnoe

As Mr. Minnesota Leather 1992, Larry Patnoe represented Minnesota in the 1992 International Mr. Leather Contest. I first got to know him long before that—in the 1970s we both worked at Control Data Corporation. Patnoe was there to offer encouragement and support when your humble columnist, who then was a college student, came out as a gay man. (At the time Patnoe was married—he would come out of his own closet several years later.) It was a pleasure to sit down with him recently and reminisce about life back then and what’s happened to us since.

Leather Life: When you were watching me come out all those years ago, did you have any inkling that you were gay, or did that come later?

Patnoe: A short time later.

And when that inkling came, what did you do?

Well, I got a divorce and set about becoming who I felt I really was. My marriage was very good, though, and we’re still real close friends. Me and my kids and my ex-wife, we have great times together.

You are a long-term AIDS survivor. When did you find out that you had AIDS?

That would have been in ’85.

Tell me a little bit about life since ’85, your struggles with AIDS.

That was really a difficult time for a lot of us because at that point people didn’t know what caused AIDS—they didn’t know how it was passed. There were just rumors. I remember one that I heard was that poppers caused it. There was a lot of fear.

I was really sick the first seven, ten years. I remember people shoving trays of food into the hospital room because they were afraid to come in—stuff like that. And then when I wasn’t in the hospital I remember going to the hospital to take care of people who were on life-support systems. Nobody was cleaning them up or anything, so you went and you helped them out because somebody had to do it.

It was a whole different world then. I had a lover, Jim, and we got asked to move from where we were living because it wasn’t “suitable,” you know. Fortunately we managed to get out of there and have money enough to put down on a home of our own, where we lived together until he died. My relationship with Jim lasted thirteen years, and that was just marvelous—it was just like heaven. And then I went probably about fourteen years before I really hooked up with anybody again, and then I met Dave Olds, and that lasted until he died.

The last time your name was in Lavender was when you were mentioned in Dave’s obituary.

Dave and I met, oh, probably about seven years ago. We became very close companions. He died just a little over a year ago. He had a heart attack, and that was very difficult because that was the second partner I had lost. We were very, very supportive of each other. And he was into leather, too, and it was just a lot of fun.

Let’s talk about leather. How did you get into it?

I met a lot of people who were involved in it, and I really liked them, and it just became part of my scene. There was a lot of comradeship back then—the men, the women, we hung out together. It was a social set based on who we were as people, and how we behaved, and whose parties we went to.

You won the Mr. Minnesota Leather contest in 1991. What made you decide to enter?

It was just for the fun of it. They were having this contest, and I thought, well, hell, why not enter it and show my support for my friends? So I entered, and wound up winning, which really surprised me.

Can you describe the fantasy you performed?

Well, the one that I did when I won in 1991 was probably not nearly as spectacular as the one that I did when I turned it over to Jon Tudor, my successor, in 1992. I was really very proud of my Native American heritage, and in my mind there was some overlap between that and leather, so I used a Native American theme in my fantasy in ’91—I did a grass dance. Then in ’92, when it was time to do a farewell fantasy, I took a scalpel and cut slits in my chest and put stakes through them, sort of like the Sun Dance.

And what reaction did you get from the audience?

Well, afterward I heard that I got quite a reaction from the audience, but at the time I didn’t know, because you can’t see what’s going on when you’re onstage. But I could tell they were a bit interested in what I was doing.

Tell me about your experience at IML in 1992.

Well, I had a good time. We were kept very busy with rehearsals, and interviews, and picture-taking sessions. But I also had a marvelous opportunity to meet a lot of other people and carry on like trash, and I really did. I think when the rankings came out I came in fourth, which didn’t make me feel badly, it made me feel pretty good.

IML was my first time, I think, when I had ever seen that many people in leather at one spot. It was a real high, it really was. And they just loved everything you did—every time you were onstage there’d be this massive applause. That was a high, too—made me consider going into show biz! It was fun.

Have you ever been to IML since?

No, because at the time I had HIV, and shortly after that I started having some difficulties, so I never managed to make it back. I have thought it would be really fun to go again, and see how it’s changed.

How are things now? Do protease inhibitors make a difference for you?

Right now I’m doing okay as far as the AIDS stuff goes. I have some of the general sort of things that long-term survivors have—I’m really tired, I’m really weak, stuff like that. But about three years ago I started having strokes. I don’t know if you noticed or not, but my left side doesn’t work well. I’m dealing with that. I’ve had heart surgery, and all sorts of lovely little physical things that have gone on. I dehydrate easily—the slightest cold and I’m in the hospital because I’m dehydrated.

It’s a lot to deal with.

It really is. Right now I’m not very strong, so I really have to depend a lot on my friends for getting out and going around and doing things. Walking is hard—I could do it if I had the strength, but I can go about a block, block and a half, something like that, and that just about takes it all out of me. So I’m kinda stuck around here. I’ve become a homebody, whether I like it or not.

Let me tell you something that happened at Tournament last year. Around the campfire on opening night, someone brought some sage to do a smudging, and they tearfully remembered this was something that “Larry” used to do. I thought you were probably that “Larry” and that they assumed you were no longer with us. And they were very sad.

Well, it’s probably been about five or six years since I’ve been out and about, so I’m not surprised by stuff like that. Because so many people with HIV have crapped off.

But no, I’m still bouncin’ around.