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.


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 <>.

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 <>.

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 (<>) 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.