Friday, December 21, 2007

Leather Celebrates the Holidays: Atons Holiday Fundraiser 2007

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #328, December 21, 2007)

Continuing a long-standing tradition, The Atons of Minneapolis held their annual Holiday Fundraiser Sunday, December 2, at the Bolt Underground in Minneapolis. A food drive collected food for The Aliveness Project’s Holiday Basket Program, which was also the beneficiary of the door proceeds. Silent and live auctions benefited Open Arms of Minnesota.

The Atons gave this year’s fundraiser a carnival atmosphere. Tickets could be used for a haircut, a photo with Leather Santa, getting your boots shined, a session in a latex vacuum bed, or to bid on varied and plentiful silent-auction items.

Enjoy the photos, and—whatever you celebrate, however you celebrate it—Happy Holidays from Leather Life!

PHOTOS: Two Zip files of high-res photos have been uploaded to Lavender’s server.

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Brian Spence inspecting some Silent Auction merchandise.

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B.D. Chambers getting his boots shined by bootblack Pup.

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Keith Cheetham getting his boots shined by bootblack Pup.

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Leather barber Brian Preston gives John Warner a haircut.

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Randy Hornstine of The Aliveness Project doing his best Vanna imitation.

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Some of the food and other items donated for The Aliveness Project’s Holiday Basket Program.

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Dan Porter posing for a photo with Leather Santa (Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2007 Dan Beach).

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Photographer Andrew Bertke (with camera in hand) and photo stylist Angel Rodriguez made sure all the photos with Leather Santa were top-notch.

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Rick Burgess, left, and Mark Christ, right, flank Leather Santa (Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2007 Dan Beach).

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What’s a carnival without a thrill ride? Overheard: “Nothing says ‘holidays’ like a latex vacuum bondage bed.”

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The evening’s auctioneer, B.D. Chambers, getting ready to sell a leather harness.

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The evening’s auctioneer, B.D. Chambers, taking bids on a leather tank top.

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Caterers for the evening, John Christensen (left) and Tim Forte (right), flank Bob Fischer, the evening’s bartender.

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Representing The Aliveness Project at the event: Board chair Bill Schlichting, left, and Development Director Tim Marburger, right.

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David Coral, Mark Gibson and Donavan Cummings of the Knights of Leather.

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John Hustad and Ed Skjaret.

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Atons pledge Rick Burgess showing off his pledge vest.

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Atons pledge Rick Burgess.

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Jon Sipe in seasonally appropriate red leather.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Getting into Leather, 1993

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #323, December 7, 2007)

Tales Around the Holiday Fire

The holidays are a time for gathering around a warm, glowing fire and telling stories—not just holiday stories, but also family stories, stories of times gone by.

So gather around whatever fire you currently are near, be it a roaring fireplace or the glow of fifty-six candles in the dungeon just waiting for a hot-wax scene, and let your humble columnist tell you of some of his experiences in leather before he became your humble columnist—in 1993, when he was as fresh and as green as your Christmas tree.

When I came out as a gay man in 1974 the idea of leathersex intrigued me. In the ensuing years I thumbed through the leather magazines at Shinder’s, but I never went so far as to actually buy any. Over the years, though, the sense of intrigue only got stronger, and by 1993 I was ready at least to explore the idea of being a leatherman.

I bought my first piece of leather, a black biker vest, on a Saturday afternoon in August and wore it that evening to a concert performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide at Orchestra Hall. (Leather and show tunes—some things haven’t changed after all these years.)

The leather community I started hanging out with consisted primarily of gay men. There was a community of lesbian leatherwomen, too, and the community issue of the time was getting the men and women to feel comfortable with each other socially and politically. Occasionally I saw straight-but-not-narrow heterosexual individuals or couples at leather events, and they were certainly welcome. But at that time the local pansexual leather community was still several years in the future.

Much of the community’s life then was centered around The Gay 90’s and its various bar areas. The evening hangout was The Men’s Room Bar, but events such as fundraisers and contests were often held in other parts of the 90’s, such as the Dance Annex or the upstairs Casablanca Show Lounge.

The first Atons Leather/Levi Dinner I ever attended was a banquet held on a Saturday evening in September in the Men’s Room bar. I went with a friend and we showed up early. (I have never been early to a Leather/Levi dinner since.) We were met at the door by our host for the evening, a gentleman in black leather pants, a white formal dress shirt and wide black leather wristbands. He was very gracious and made us feel welcome. How could one resist such charm? One couldn’t.

The first leather contest I remember seeing was the 1993 Minnesota Leather Encounter (MLE) weekend, which included contests for the 1994 Mr. Minnesota Leather and Ms Minnesota Leather titles (which were awarded to Raymond LeBrun and Nikie Boswell). The ticket package for the weekend, which cost all of $30, included a Thursday evening kickoff at The Saloon, Friday evening meet-and-greet at the Gay 90’s Men’s Room Bar, a Saturday Fantasy Afternoon followed by dinner and cocktails in the Gay 90’s Dance Annex, and the contest and show Saturday evening in the Gay 90’s Casablanca Show Lounge.

Several notable guests came from out of town for the weekend: International Mr. Leather 1992 Lenny Broberg (who became Officer Broberg of the San Francisco Police Department); Amy Marie Meek, International Ms Leather 1993 (who went on to become Amy Marie Meek-DeJarlais and to produce the International Ms Leather contest for many years); and Kay Hallanger, International Ms Leather 1991.

The weekend ended with Sunday afternoon brunch at the Town House in St. Paul (then called Town House Country). One of my most indelible memories of that weekend is seeing Broberg at the brunch after a Minnesota welcome (?) ceremony: dressed in a hard hat and blaze-orange vest (because Minnesota always has a lot of road construction) with a frozen walleye (or was it a carp?) fastened to his chest with good ol’ Minnesota duct tape. I thought he handled it all rather well.

After experiencing that contest weekend, I was inspired (with prodding and encouragement from friends) to compete in my first leather contest. I was one of six or seven contestants in the Mr. Gay 90’s Leather contest, which was part of the bar’s annual Halloween festivities.

Wearing boots, Levi 501s and my leather vest, I was excited about my (literal) moment in the (literal) spotlight until the contestant before me, who turned out to be a budding porn star and the evening’s winner, got up on the platform in the Men’s Room Bar and doused himself and his leather with silver body paint. How does one follow an act like that? One doesn’t—one is just careful not to slip on the still-wet body paint on the platform.

Ah, memories. Some time I’ll have to tell you about 1994. In the meantime, I hope your holidays, whatever and however you celebrate, are magical.

Friday, November 23, 2007

How Leather Celebrates the Holidays

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #326, November 23, 2007)

Okay, we’ve all had Thanksgiving dinner and the holiday shopping and social season officially has started. Members of the leather/BDSM/fetish community prepare for and celebrate the holidays in many of the same ways as a lot of other folks. We shop; we bake cookies with the family; we raise money for charity and have fun doing it; and we share the holiday spirit by volunteering to help make other people’s holidays merry too.

Shopping: BIZARRE BAZAAR presented by MSDB

Last issue I gave you some suggestions for what to get that special someone on your list. Now let’s talk about where you can do your shopping for those hard-to-find (warning: euphemisms ahead) “specialty gifts,” “adult novelties” and “toys for big kids.”

On Saturday, Dec. 1, MSDB again will help you kick off the holiday shopping season by presenting another Bizarre Bazaar. This year’s new and larger location for the event is Pi Bar and Restaurant (2532 25th Ave. S., Minneapolis). Hours are noon-7 P.M. Due to the generosity of the gracious folks at Pi, there is no charge to enter the shopping area, which means more holiday dollars to spend on goodies from the friendly merchants and the great food that Pi offers. (Your humble columnist is especially fond of their desserts, meaning—what else?—pie.)

There also will be entertainment, a vacuum-bed fundraiser for the new Leather Flag, and a silent auction fundraiser for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF). For more information: <msdb-mn.org>.

Baking with the family: MINNESOTA KINKY COOKIE BAKERS

The silent auction at the Bizarre Bazaar will feature, among other items, several baskets of assorted cookies baked by the Minnesota Kinky Cookie Bakers. Each year, on the weekend before Thanksgiving, the group holds an annual non-kinky event for kinky people and their families.

Together the bakers produce thousands of cookies and holiday goodies to share, and they put together gift baskets to be auctioned off at charitable fundraisers. Children of community members join in to mix, roll, cut out, frost, decorate and count.

If you want to participate in next year’s event, ask for more details at the Bizarre Bazaar.

Having fun and doing good: ATONS HOLIDAY FUNDRAISER

How long have The Atons of Minneapolis been holding their annual Holiday Fundraiser? At least since 1995, the year your humble columnist started writing this column. I checked—that year the theme of the event was “Making the Streets Safe for Santa.”

This year’s Atons Holiday Fundraiser benefits both The Aliveness Project and Open Arms of Minnesota. The fundraiser takes place Sunday, Dec. 2, 5-10 P.M. in the Bolt Underground.

There are some changes this year. The Atons still are having a food drive (admission is a $7 donation at the door if you bring ten pounds of non-perishable food with you, a $10 donation at the door if you don’t). But instead of the silent and live auctions of the past several years, this year’s event will have more of a carnival atmosphere.

For every pound of food you bring you receive a ticket. Get more tickets and you increase your chance to win fabulous prizes. (If you’d like to donate one or many fabulous prizes to the event, please contact the Atons as soon as possible—see <atons.net> for contact details.)

Other event highlights include food and a selection of holiday carnival booths, including photos with Leather Santa (in the person of Dan Beach, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2007) and a Santa spanking booth in case you’ve been naughty this year.

More information, including suggested food and other items to donate: <atons.net>.

Sharing the spirit: THE ALIVENESS PROJECT HOLIDAY BASKET PROGRAM

The food and other items the Atons collect at the door of their Holiday Fundraiser will be donated to The Aliveness Project. Some of it will stock The Aliveness Project’s food shelf, but much of it will be used by their Holiday Basket Program.

Founded in 1985, The Aliveness Project is a local nonprofit agency that offers a variety of services for individuals living with HIV/AIDS in Minnesota. Since 1988, their Holiday Basket Program has provided thousands of gift baskets to men, women and children throughout Minnesota affected by HIV/AIDS.

Typically, hundreds of volunteers help by adopting baskets, donating gifts, wrapping presents, baking cookies, sewing quilts or holiday stockings, and assembling and delivering both Hanukkah and Christmas baskets.

If you’d like to help by adopting a basket, making a donation or volunteering your time, contact The Aliveness Project at 612-824-LIFE (5433) or find more details at <aliveness.org>.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Leather Life’s Annual Holiday Gift Guide

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #325, November 9, 2007)

Gifts for the Material Leatherman in your life

It’s time for your humble columnist’s annual Holiday Gift Guide. Looking back over my 2007 columns, I see I’ve been giving you great gift suggestions throughout the year. This year’s guide is therefore a review of items mentioned in past columns, with some new items thrown in. For the upcoming season in which we celebrate conspicuous consumption, how about these gift ideas?

MR. LEATHER DVD: Last March I wrote about a new documentary film called “Mr. Leather.” Originally broadcast on cable network Here! TV, the film is now available on unrated DVD (unrated because it has some explicit extras—rescued from the cutting-room floor, no doubt). Filmmaker Jason Garrett tells the story of the 2003 Mr. Los Angeles Leather Contest, and the stories of each of its nine contestants. But the film is also a good examination of contemporary leather culture. As I said in March, this is a film to be cherished within our community and shared with our allies. (See a video clip at <heretv.com>.)

NON-TOXIC TOYS: My late-April column discussed the hazards of toxic sex toys. Then came all the media reports of toxic children’s toys (and toothpaste, cough medicine, pet food, and on and on). Yes, I was in the vanguard yet again.

But did that column in April prompt regulatory reforms? Nope. So if you’re shopping for that special stocking-stuffer, the same basic warnings still need to be heeded: PVC bad. Phthalates bad. Porous plastic bad. Perfumey or plastic-y smell bad. Greasy feel bad. Medical-grade silicone good. High-quality glass, stainless steel, hardened acrylic, and stone all good. If a toy causes irritation, stop using it. Be smart and shop wisely. Some merchants, such as Smitten Kitten in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, are committed to selling only non-toxic toys. (For more information visit <badvibes.org>.)

ANEROS: While we’re on the subject of sex toys . . . Is Aneros a sex toy, a medical device, or a tool for spiritual enlightenment? Some would say all of the above. Aneros is the first and only medically researched and patented prostate massager. Hands-free and self-propelled, the makers of the device promise that men can achieve “strong continuous, non-ejaculatory, full body orgasms previously unattainable through conventional sexual techniques.” Gift-giving advice: although it’s available in several different sizes and designs, only a few are recommended for those new to prostate massage. That might make your gift-purchase decision easier. (For more information, including many ecstatic customer reviews, visit <aneros.com>.)

DESIGNER GIFTS: A recent column on designers catering to the leather community mentioned Inseam Clothing Co. They sell several styles of great-fitting, versatile, uniform-inspired trousers designed and made in the USA. They also offer distinctive T-shirts. (See them all at <inseamclothing.com>.)

Also mentioned in that column was MindFetish Bedding Company, purveyors of masculine bedding and home furnishing items. Erotic-print sheets and pillowcases? Red-hankie sheets and pillowcases? Black cotton sheets with fetish-rubber trim? Leather or latex duvet covers? Egyptian cotton fetish-design bath towels? Erotic-print shower curtain? Black leather bathrobe, boxers or apron? And wait, I’m just beginning. (To see MindFetish’s entire mind-blowing line, visit <mindfetish.com>.)

A NECKTIE—IN LEATHER: This could be a subtle but effective way to push the envelope of the office dress code. You can find clip-ons or strap-ons for those interested in convenience and regular you-have-to-tie-them neckties for the traditionalist. And you can even find them in colors other than black, depending on the message you want to send.

What’s difficult is to find a leather necktie that’s a) wide enough and b) long enough to meet traditional business dress standards. Most are skinnier than what you’ll see in menswear stores, and most are not long enough to reach the beltline as business fashion designers recommend. However, Northbound Leather <northbound.com> has a complete line consisting of three widths (“narrow,” “wide” and “standard,” which is closest to the traditional width). They even have a velcro-closure leather bow tie. A Northbound sales representative mentioned to me that they can make neckties longer than the standard 56” by special order.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Zen of Hankies

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #324, October 26, 2007)

Hankie haiku here
The zen of the hankie code
Read and you will know

Red hankie on left
You want to shove your fist where?
That sounds good to me

Dark red hankie right
I handle two fists at once
Even both of yours

Black right masochist
Breathlessly says thank you sir
May I have one more?

Grey in right pocket
I am a bondage bottom
Tie me up tightly

Charcoal hankie left
Rubber top looks for bottom
Latex is sexy

Mr. Businessman?
I’m flagging grey flannel right
Do you wear a suit?

Black and white checked left
I am into safer sex
I hope you are too

Yellow stripe on chaps
I am into watersports
I don’t mean swimming

Mustard hankie right
Tonight I’ll be a size queen
Got a big package?

Gold hankie on left
We are a loving couple
Looking for one more

Gold lamé flagged right
I like my men with muscles
Love your great physique

Apricot flagged right
Chubby means there’s more to love
I like them beefy

Tan in left or right
Cigar is just a cigar?
Let’s play and find out

Rust in left pocket
Cowboy seeking horse to ride
Yippee ki yi yay

Coral hanky left
Little piggies at market
Suck my toes, baby

Light pink right pocket
My tits are wired to my groin
Play with my nipples

Dark pink left pocket
I like to wield a dildo
Let me work on you

Fuchsia on left
Have you been a naughty boy?
Someone needs spanking

Lavender flagged right
You’re looking at a drag queen
Worship the diva

Red and white striped left
I like razors and lather
Need a shave, mister?

Purple left pocket
Looking for a piercing scene
Where’s my pin cushion?

Olive drab on left
Military drill sergeant
Follow orders, boy

Hunter green on right
Stud muffin boy on a quest
Are you my daddy?

Hustler here for hire
Kelly green in left pocket
I’m yours for a price

Robin’s egg blue left
Let us sing the glories of
The number 69

Medium blue left
Policeman wanting action
Obey the officer

White in right pocket
Brought to you by J and O
Simply the basics

Leopard hankie left
Let me show you my tattoos
I’m a work of art

Teddy bear flagged left
Want someone to cuddle with
Lots of big bear hugs

Tie-dyed hankie left
I’m a hippie and a top
Peace and love, brother

Cocktail napkin left
Wanna bed a bartender?
My shift ends at 2

Chamois left pocket
My motorcycle’s outside
Wanna come see it?

Doily right pocket
I’m a tea room toe tapper
Check out my wide stance

Stereo plug left
Sound system will fuck your ears
While I do the rest

Orange hankie left
I’m open to anything
What you got in mind?

For a rainbow tribe
A rainbow hankie spectrum
Now you understand

Friday, October 12, 2007

Leather Leadership Conference Podcasts: The Sound of Leather Leadership

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #323, October 12, 2007)

What does a Leather Leadership Conference sound like? Now you can find out.

Last April over 250 members of the leather/BDSM/fetish community met in Minneapolis for Leather Leadership Conference (LLC) XI. The weekend revolved around the development of community leadership skills and was devoted to discussion, dialogue, learning and networking. Major portions of it were audio-recorded for podcasting purposes.

That means you now have a chance to listen in on many of the conversations that took place that weekend.

A podcast, for those who wonder, is simply a sound recording distributed over the internet. You can listen to the recording on your computer using a web browser. Or you can download the recording and listen to it later on either your computer or your Apple iPod (hence the name “podcast”) or other MP3 player.

To hear the LLC XI podcasts visit <www.leatherleadership.org>, where you’ll find links to the audio files. You can listen to or download any podcast you choose. Or you can subscribe to automatically receive each new LLC podcast as it’s released. (And it’s free—at this time there is no charge for any of the LLC podcasts.)

During its eleven-year history, every Leather Leadership Conference has resulted in an unprecedented sharing of knowledge, experience and information about issues of value to the leather/BDSM/fetish community. In keeping with LLC’s goal of making this body of knowledge more easily accessible to everyone, a substantial amount of material from presentations given at past conferences is posted at the organization’s website (<www.leatherleadership.org/library.htm>).

The organizers of LLC XI in Minneapolis (led by your humble columnist) wanted to extend and expand this tradition by using the relatively new medium of podcasting. It was our goal to create podcasts of as much of LLC XI as possible.

Who will listen to them? Perhaps you attended LLC XI last April and want to refresh either your memory or your inspiration.

Perhaps there were two really interesting sessions scheduled in the same time slot, but you could only attend one. You might now be able to hear the session you missed. (Please note that not all sessions were recorded, however, so whether or not you can hear the session you missed comes down to the luck of the draw.)

Perhaps you couldn’t attend the conference last April. Here’s your chance to hear what you missed—thereby, at least to a certain extent, not missing it.

Are you thinking of attending next year’s Leather Leadership Conference? The LLC XI podcasts will give you an idea of what you can expect next year in San Francisco (April 11-13, 2008).

Or are you just curious about what happens at a Leather Leadership Conference? Give a listen. These podcasts are for anyone who wants to explore current issues in the leather/BDSM/fetish community, or who wants to develop their own leadership skills.

Here are the podcast episodes that are expected to be available by the publication date of this column:

• Opening Keynote with Barbara Nitke: “The Art of Sharing Power” (the first part of the overall LLC XI weekend theme). Nitke talks about her experiences in the community—what she has seen happen when power was shared, and what she has seen happen when it wasn’t. She also talks about her involvement in the community as artist, photographer and activist. (She is introduced by Patrick Scully, who offers a few good observations of his own.)

• Closing Keynote with John Pendal: “. . . a work in progress” (the second part of the overall LLC XI weekend theme). Pendal, who is International Mr. Leather 2003, starts by using his sly and dry British sense of humor to deliver a motivational speech of the type usually heard at tent revivals or Amway meetings—all the while describing each motivational trick even as he uses it. Then he drops the charade and offers some sobering and thought-provoking observations on the current state of leather leaders and organizations, along with a few challenges to perhaps do things differently and better.

• Saturday breakfast speech with Laura Antoniou: “Ho’s, Pros and Schmoes.” Noted author Antoniou discusses her view that the leather/BDSM/fetish community is maturing, and it is perhaps no longer becoming to conduct ourselves as rebellious adolescents. We’re growing out of that phase and into—what? Antoniou makes a good case for the community’s need for professionalism in our organizational leadership if the community is to grow and effectively meet the needs of its members. (While the printed transcript of this speech available on Antoniou’s website makes fascinating reading, hearing her voice actually delivering the speech takes her words to a whole new dimension.)

• The LLC Promotional Podcast. Prepared prior to the conference as a promotional vehicle, this podcast features interviews with Pendal and Antoniou. Host of the podcast is Graydancer, who also hosts the Ropecast, a podcast dealing with ropes and bondage.

In the coming weeks, plans call for some of the individual LLC XI sessions to be released as podcasts. Listen to or download any or all LLC podcasts at <www.leatherleadership.org>. You’ll also find information about next year’s Leather Leadership Conference in San Francisco, in case the podcasts inspire you to attend—and I hope they do.

Friday, September 28, 2007

An Open Letter to Senator Larry Craig

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #322, September 28, 2007)

Dear Senator Craig:

You’ve been having a bit of a rough patch lately, haven’t you? My condolences. I, for one, believe you when you say you’re not gay, and I applaud your decision to fight to clear your name.

It’s all so ironic, though, isn’t it? You, a stalwart spokesman for traditional family and moral values and against sexual lewdness and perversion, get very publicly trapped in a men’s room sting operation at the Minneapolis airport. If President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky caused eight-year-olds to ask questions about oral sex, you now have introduced them to the subject of tearoom trade. And all because of a perfect storm of misunderstanding.

That men’s room was known, in certain circles, to be cruisy. But, since you’re not gay, you wouldn’t know that. So you walked, blithely unaware, into this den of iniquity. You just needed to relieve yourself—and not in the sexual sense.

You saw a stall, but the door was closed. You really wanted to use that one, though, and it might have been vacant. It couldn’t hurt to see if it happened to be empty.

You peered through the crack between the door and the partition. You peered for several minutes. Maybe you were waiting for the other guy to finish.

Finally you gave up, went into the adjacent stall, and sat down. You put your suitcase in front of you in the stall, because where else were you going to put it? Sadly, you didn’t know how incriminating a place that was to put a suitcase.

You had just heard a rather catchy melody over the airport’s background-music system, one of those melodies you just can’t get out of your head. You unconsciously started to tap your toe to it.

As you have stated, you are a big guy and have a rather wide stance. And, like airplane seats, those stalls seem to get narrower and narrower. You inadvertently touched the foot of the gentleman in the next stall. You probably didn’t even notice.

Then, all of a sudden, your reverie was interrupted when you spied a renegade piece of paper on the floor. You didn’t put it there, and technically it may not even have been in your stall. But you knew the world would be a better, neater place if you picked it up.

So you put your hand down to pick it up. You put your hand down several times—you haven’t explained whether there were several pieces of paper or whether you repeatedly missed picking it up. Perhaps you couldn’t reach it because it was too far into the other stall.

Your heart must have sunk when the policeman showed you his badge. What was happening? What do you mean, I’m under arrest? Soliciting? For what? Officer, this is all a horrible misunderstanding. I’m not gay. I don’t do that sort of thing.

An brief aside, Senator: I’m gay, and I don’t do “that sort of thing.” I’m attracted to black leather, not white porcelain.

But “that sort of thing” works for many men because it’s the only outlet available to them as they anxiously live their double lives—straight, but occasionally needing a little covert man-to-man action. But since you “don’t do that sort of thing,” you wouldn’t know what that kind of desperation feels like.

Perhaps, however, you are beginning to understand the agony these men go through when they’re finally found out.

Maybe, Senator, some good can yet come of this. As I said, I hope you clear your name. But I also hope that, whether in the Senate or out of it, through this experience you will have gained some sympathy and  compassion for men trying to tamp down secret desires, and occasionally failing.

Perhaps in the future you will be less quick to criticize gay men now that you’ve been misidentified as one of them. Now that you’ve tasted anti-gay harassment, maybe you’ll be moved to help put a stop to it. For years men have been having sexual encounters in men’s rooms. For years police have been trying to stop it. Lives have been ruined in the process.

If you, Senator, really want to make a difference, introduce legislation to make sex clubs legal. That way, men who crave anonymous sex with other men will have a controlled, safe place in which to play, and the nation’s public restrooms can be returned to their original purpose. That would be a win for everyone.

Now, Senator, one last thing. If this were anyone else, I would urge them to get tested for AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Sadly, men who engage in covert sex tend to be less informed about the health risks involved, and hence often don’t take proper safety precautions. One of the things that might lead to their cover being blown is when they pick something up—anything from crabs to AIDS—and pass it on to their wives. I’m sure this doesn’t apply to you, though, so never mind.

In closing, good luck in the battles ahead, Senator.

Sincerely,

Your humble columnist

Friday, September 14, 2007

Designer Clothes, Designer Sheets, Designer Dungeons

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #321, September 14, 2007)

ILLUSTRATIONS: will be forwarded to Lavender. I currently have pictures of the “modern” designer dungeon referred to in the column, and several photos of Inseam Clothing items. I’m still working on getting illustrations from MindFetish.

“Designer” apparel and household goods once were limited-edition luxury items purchased only by a few. Then retailers like Target, Gap and Design Within Reach saw that good design could be good business—and suddenly all manner of designer apparel and household items are available to the masses.

Following this trend, some leather designers are building businesses offering high-design products and services to the leather/BDSM/fetish community.

Why is design important? After years of making do with makeshift dungeon space in a dark corner of the basement, many community members want something better—and find they’re in a position to afford it. This is a metaphor for the leather part of our lives: we no longer want to hide it, we want to celebrate it in style. Whether it’s play spaces, apparel or domestic items, we no longer are willing to settle for the second-class and the thrown-together.

And there are designers out there who are only too happy to create something wonderful for us. I recently talked to some of them, designing in the fields of apparel, home accessories and interior spaces.

Designer clothes

John Robb and Jeff Diaz have been life partners for seven years and business partners for six. Robb is a master pattern maker and fabric cutter, and Diaz formerly owned a garment screen-printing and embroidery business. Since they both love clothes—especially masculine, well-fitting pants—they decided to form a clothing company. They named it Inseam Clothing Co. because, as Diaz says, “What else would you call a company that makes pants?”

But these are not your average pair of khakis. One of the company’s mottos is “Clothing for a more uniform world,” and the company’s uniform-inspired cotton twill trousers are, in Diaz’ words, “well constructed, have really great fit, and are easy to wear year-round.” They are designed to be multifunctional—they can go from workday to dinner to a bar or a club, and they’re also practical for travel.

Robb makes the patterns and hand-cuts each piece of fabric. (He cuts with contours and curves, unlike many clothing manufacturers who cut pieces with only straight lines.) The company employs two seamstresses to help with the sewing, but Robb hand-finishes each pair of pants himself. The end result is a pair of pants with, according to Diaz, “style and a bit of an edge, without being over the top.”

Inseam also offers a line of T-shirts based on an exclusive pattern by Robb. The shirts offer excellent fit, graphics appropriate to a leather aesthetic, and good coordination with Inseam’s pants. T-shirts and trousers are both designed in line with the company’s other promotional motto, “Sexy at any age.” (And what’s not to like about that?) Inseam Clothing items are available at retailers in Provincetown, New York, San Francisco, Wilton Manors (Fla.) and at <www.inseamclothing.com>.

Designer sheets

Bed, bath and butch? Aiming to “incorporate a fetish lifestyle into the home,” MindFetish Bedding Co. offers an ever-expanding line of linens, apparel and other domestic items with a uniquely masculine attitude.

MindFetish founder Quincy Russell graduated with a BFA in fashion from Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. He became a menswear designer with Rampage, Kenneth Cole, Bob Marley Music, Rocwear and Van’s. Then his career took an unexpected turn.

“One day I was at home and I realized my rooms didn’t reflect me at all. So I decided to find stuff that did. I went to department stores—nothing. I went to leather stores—nothing.”

One of the things Russell wanted but couldn’t find was a leather duvet cover. Because of his contacts in the menswear business, he knew a factory that could make one. “So I designed it and sent them the plans. Then it occurred to me that if I want this and can’t find it, how many other people want one?”

Thanks to MindFetish, not only can shoppers now choose from several styles of leather (or latex) duvet covers, they can also find fetish-inspired sheets, throw pillows, shower curtains, bathrobes and more. See the entire mind-boggling MindFetish line at <www.mindfetish.com>.

Designer dungeons

Twin Cities native Linda Ophoenix has studied both art and interior design. Her ambition now is to combine her two loves—art/design and BDSM—by designing dungeons, playspaces, bedrooms, and commercial spaces for leather/BDSM/fetish community members.

On her website (<www.ophoenixdesign.com>) are concepts for a classic dungeon, a modern dungeon, a Master’s bedroom, a combination kinky candle shop and community meeting space, and several themed rooms. She’s currently working on a femme-domme dungeon in pink and black.

Is the community ready to embrace the concept of a professionally-designed dungeon? Ophoenix said she doesn’t know, but “I’ve always heard you should do what you love, so I thought, why not go for it?” Based on the enthusiastic reception her designs received when she exhibited some of them at the recent Leather Leadership Conference in Minneapolis, we may be ready for an end to do-it-yourself dungeons as we entrust the design of our community’s spaces and surroundings to a pro.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Return to Rosemont Manor: Look, Ma! I’m a Zoning Violation!

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #320, August 31, 2007)

For those narrow-minded types wondering how to deal with GLBT folk, leather folk, kinky folk and other undesirables who are ruining neighborhoods across this great nation, a judge in Hancock County, West Virginia, has a solution: zone them into oblivion.

When we last discussed (in Lavender issue 308) the continuing saga of Rosemont Manor, a bed-and-breakfast in Weirton, W. Va., things were not looking good. The city of Weirton had refused to renew owner Rose Susko’s business license and had revoked the property’s zoning variance allowing commercial use of the mansion. This effectively put Susko out of business. It also threw out on the street the various alternative-lifestyle groups that had made the mansion a popular venue for a variety of events.

The city took this action after a local TV station, WTOV9 (the NBC affiliate in Steubenville, Ohio and Wheeling, W. Va.), heard about a leather event being held at the mansion and broadcast a series of inflammatory “investigative” reports. (“One day it’s a place for weddings, the next day it can transform into a place for alternative living—including a place for nudists!”)

Susko appealed to the circuit court of Hancock County, W. Va. over the loss of her zoning variance and business license. On July 16, 2007, Judge Arthur M. Recht issued an Order in which the court stated it needed more information before it could make a final determination in the matter. Until then, the Court decided the most equitable thing for all concerned was to return to the status quo “as of the time petitioner [Susko] received her zoning permit.”

Unfortunately, the Court went along with the City of Weirton’s opinion that Susko was approved to operate a “Bed and Breakfast and Wedding/Reception Center.” In the opinion of the city, and the interim opinion of the court, those are the only functions for which the mansion may be used. The alternative-lifestyle events that had been held at the mansion somehow fell outside those parameters and were consequently forbidden. Neither the city nor the judge explained why receptions, i.e. parties after a wedding, are permitted but other kinds of parties are not.

The Court ordered the city to restore Susko’s zoning variance and to re-issue her business license. But the Court handed Susko a lengthy and discriminatory list of events, activities and people she was forbidden to host. The list puts many, if not most, of Lavender’s readers in the “prohibited” category.

Susko had promoted the mansion to the alternative-lifestyle community using a separate website called “OurHouseOnTheHill.com” (now inactive). The Court compiled its list of prohibitions simply by forbidding anything mentioned on that site. Thus, “Petitioner [Susko] shall not carry on, allow, invite, or advertise for others to carry on [at the property] activities known as ‘BDSM, Fetish, Master/Slave, Lesbian/Gay Trans-gender, Fem-Dom, Leather, Swingers, Nudists, CFNM [clothed female-nude male], Barbeques, Munches, Parties, Meet-and-Greets, Play Space, Lectures, Seminars, Demonstrations, School, CFNM Parties’ or any other activity referred to in any version of any of the internet websites advertising any aspect of ‘Our House on the Hill.’ ”

Nosiree, none of that “alternative-living” carrying-on stuff here! Put out that grill—you’re not zoned for barbequeing. Tell that guest to take off that leather jacket—it’s against the rules. No gays, lesbians or transgender customers allowed—you could lose your license. All guests must remain fully clothed at all times—and that goes double for the men. Women may not act in a dominant fashion. And when anyone is eating they may chew but may not munch.

The Court also directed that websites promoting any of the above-mentioned activities at the mansion “shall be withdrawn and removed from the internet forthwith and shall not appear on the internet again unless authorized by this Court.” Never mind the freedom of speech, prior restraint and censorship issues—just take the site down.

Susko wonders why she is being singled out while every other lodging facility in the area is able to operate without such restrictions on clientele and activities. She also wonders how, if someone were to ask to rent a room for the night, she would be able to determine who they were and what they were going to do once they were in the room, so as not to violate this court order and her zoning.

After a summer of not being able to conduct business, Susko is once again open for bed-and-breakfast guests. The story isn’t over yet, and she soldiers on. She has visited area munches and lifestyle groups to tell her story and drum up support, saying “We can’t let them do this to us.”

You can show your support, if you’re in the Pittsburgh/eastern Ohio/northern West Virginia area, by stopping and spending some time at Rosemont Manor (<www.rosemontmanor.com>). I’ll bet the view from the hill is lovely this time of year.

Friday, August 17, 2007

MinKY: The Young and the Kinky

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #319, August 17, 2007)

In last issue’s column I suggested a partial answer to questions asked by many members of the leather/BDSM/fetish community: “Where are the young people in the leather community? Where’s the new blood? Where’s the next generation?” In that column I made the point that “new blood” is not necessarily limited to “young blood.”

In this column I’ll suggest another answer to those questions: MinKY, which stands for Minnesota Kinky Youth. (“Youth” in this instance means people between the ages of 18 and 35.)

Founded in 2003, MinKY builds community among younger kinky folk by maintaining an e-mail list/Yahoo group (currently with about 300 members) and by hosting monthly munches and parties. MinKY also hosts demos and social events such as game nights. The largest share of attendees at MinKY events are drawn from a core group of 50-60 people, of whom approximately one-third are “Friends of MinKY,” about which more in a moment.

MinKY is a prime example of what is known in leather circles as a TNG (“The Next Generation”) group. Those who like to play devil’s advocate might ask: Why is a group for young kinky folks necessary? Isn’t that age discrimination? Why would the young folks want to isolate themselves from more mature and experienced community members?

Why is a group like MinKY necessary? For starters, minors aren’t allowed in bars or at many typical kink events. And even for those over legal age, sometimes it’s more comfortable to hang with people who share a common generational culture—issues ranging from being at the same stage in life (and perhaps at the same general income level) to preferring the same style of music.

Some younger kinky folks may not mind always being the youngest, or one of the youngest, people at a munch or other event. But others might find it uncomfortable to talk about BDSM or sexual issues with people the same age as their parents. The discomfort sometimes goes the other way, too, with older community members feeling uncomfortable talking about kink with people who are young enough to be their children.

For someone who’s young and just discovering their kinky side, being one of the younger people at a kinky social function can be worse than uncomfortable—it can be intimidating and unsettling. For a moment, imagine yourself in their position experiencing either or both of two opposing attitudes: a) you are young, therefore you will be repeatedly hit on by “chicken hawks” (older people who prefer younger play partners), or b) you are young, therefore no one will take you seriously. Some people will be overly eager to play with you, while others won’t want to play with you because they think you’re young and inexperienced.

Experiences like that can be enough to make a young person forsake the organized community. In the words of Jae Januze, Ms World Leather 2006 and a crusader for outreach to younger kinky folks, “You get somebody who’s younger who shows up to a meeting, freaks out because most of the people there are older, and they don’t show up again. Instead they go hang out at the goth nightclub, or go to some fetish event where they’re not learning anything, it’s just about the look. And they’re still doing dangerous practices at home.”

For younger folks, it can be a relief to have a group like MinKY. It can be less intimidating for those new to kink to ask questions of someone closer to their age, and it can be easier for more experienced folks to mentor someone closer to their own age as well. Another advantage to groups like MinKY is that younger people who wouldn’t feel comfortable going to mainstream events by themselves might feel more comfortable attending such events as part of their TNG group.

MinKY goes to great lengths not to be isolationist. Many MinKY members are involved in other area leather/BDSM/fetish organizations. They’re visible at many mainstream munches and parties. Actually, they often have helped to plan, organize and staff these events. Another way MinKY integrates itself into the local community is by allowing people over 35 (or members who have “aged out” of regular MinKY membership) to apply for “Friends of MinKY” status, equivalent to some other area club’s associate memberships.

In the relatively short time MinKY has been in existence its members have demonstrated again and again the contributions younger kinky folks can make. They are happy to share their energy, enthusiasm and intelligence with the larger community. They have demonstrated that they are eager to learn and willing to be involved, lend a hand and help out. With MinKY on the local scene, the future of Minnesota’s leather/BDSM/fetish community looks bright indeed.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Leather’s Next Generation

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #318, August 3, 2007)

“Where are the young people in the leather community? Where’s the new blood? Where’s the next generation?” Over the last few years I’ve participated in many discussions centering around these questions, and I’ve written at least a few columns that touched on them. I thought they were good and worthwhile questions to ponder, and ponder them I did. But did I have an answer? Nope.

Now I think I might, at least partially. But the answer I think I’ve discovered isn’t what I would have expected.

The series of questions above are presented as three aspects of the same question, But they really aren’t as related as they seem. If we as a community assume they are, we will not be doing ourselves any favors.

Since the beginning of the year I have been quite pleased to see several new faces at leather events. I have talked to many of these individuals, asking who they are and what brought them to that particular event. After hearing several similar stories I have come to realize a few things about the future of our community.

I’m happy to report I don’t think leather is in danger of dying out anytime soon, any more than the GLBT community will be disappearing. In both instances, every day more community members discover and claim their membership. The process has been going on for some time now in both communities, and I believe it will continue.

But while the age at which people identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender seems to be getting younger, it appears to me this is not what’s happening with leather. If anything, judging solely from the new faces I’ve seen in leather recently, many people are finding leather later in life. That’s not what I personally would have expected, but that seems to be what I’m encountering.

Now that I’ve noticed this, I guess it stands to reason. Major life changes offer people opportunities for reassessing their personal history—where they’ve been, what they’ve done, where it’s gotten them—and perhaps making some course corrections. The kids are grown; a job disappears; a relationship ends; suddenly there’s a freedom and an opportunity to explore parts of oneself that formerly, for one reason or another, couldn’t be explored. The start of my leather journey was triggered by just such a major life change, and I’ve talked to many others who can say the same thing.

But these kinds of life changes don’t—can’t—happen to people in their twenties. People in their twenties can’t be empty-nesters. They can’t end a decades-long relationship because they haven’t lived long enough to have one.

Many, many years ago, your humble columnist came out as a gay man at age 19. I didn’t get into leather until I was 37. Getting into leather took me almost twice as long as coming to terms with my gayness.

People discover leather when they’re ready to discover it. Some people do it early, others do it later. Fortunately, there’s no rush—leather is one of the few communities where “sexy” is not necessarily linked to “young.”

But even though our community prides itself on not being age-discriminatory, when we expect and assume our community’s “new blood” and “next generation” will be young people—isn’t that being a bit ageist? While we’re busy wondering where the younger folks are, and worrying about reaching them and bringing them into the fold, we might be overlooking many, many people who may not be young but are certainly interested and enthusiastic.

Perhaps it’s time we realized that “new blood” can be any age, and started to think a bit differently about the future of the community and how we reach out to leather’s next generation.

For many years, one of the guiding principles of twelve-step recovery programs has been “attraction, not promotion.” Noted leather author and speaker Guy Baldwin has suggested that this same principle be applied to leather, and I second the motion. Rather than trying to figure out how to get a younger crowd interested in leather, wouldn’t our community be better served by simply 1) being who we are, and 2) being visible? If we do those two things, we will attract people—of all ages—who like what they see in us and want to join us.

At that point it doesn’t really matter what mileage is on someone’s odometer. Once they realize they’re interested in leather—when they’re 20 years old, 40, 60, whatever—what they need and want is someone willing to welcome them, show them the ropes and explain how leather works. If they are provided with that, they will be part of the future of leather.