Friday, July 18, 2008

Twin Cities Leather/BDSM/Fetish History

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #343, July 18, 2008)

Community Discussion to be held July 29

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

One way a community is, in fact, a community is that it has a common history. And one way a community knows that it is a community is that it knows its own history. Shared experiences create both the community itself and the community’s history, and the act of sharing stories of those experiences further strengthens the community.

But history, as the quote above reminds us, also is valuable for what we can learn from it. If we tried something and it didn’t go well, we want to remember not to do it again. On the other hand, if we tried something and it worked, we might actually want to repeat it and maybe even try to make it better the next time.

So it’s good to pay attention to history. With that in mind, a panel discussion (with audience participation) on the history of leather/BDSM/fetish in the Twin Cities will be held on Tuesday, July 29, 6:30-10 P.M. (doors open at 6 P.M.) at Patrick’s Cabaret (3010 Minnehaha Ave. S.). According to the panel’s organizers, the event is “open to everyone interested in our history in a positive way.”

Tom Stice, a board member of the Leather Archives & Museum, visited the Twin Cities recently. During his visit he noted that leather history is not just what happened in San Francisco or New York—these are not the only places significant things have happened. Leather/BDSM/fetish history is made up of notable things that have happened everywhere, including the Twin Cities. One example is this community’s tradition of giant Leather Pride and Rainbow flags.

The discussion’s organizers, in their pre-event publicity, mention other significant local community accomplishments: “The leather and BDSM communities in the Twin Cities are known for their tolerance, vitality, and diversity. We successfully hosted last year’s Leather Leadership Conference. Our Pride Week, including Leather Pride, is one of the largest and most spectacular in the nation. We have dozens of clubs, play parties galore, a flourishing informal network of dungeons in which to hold them, and more classes, presentations, meetings and munches than any one person can possibly attend.”

We have a local leather/BDSM/fetish community history worth preserving, worth remembering, worth celebrating and worth learning from. And worth capturing while we can—while our community elders still are here to tell their tales. As Stice said during his visit, “History that is not preserved is history that never happened.”

The upcoming panel discussion, however, has been planned to be much more than just a look back at our history. Quoting the panel’s organizers again, they first ask: “What lies behind our ability to accomplish so much that is so positive? What conflicts and what basic agreements have contributed to this? How can we strengthen and extend the best of our traditions and practices?”

The object of the discussion will be both to celebrate our successes and, more importantly, to learn from the rough times the community has been through. As the discussion’s organizers put it: “We know that our history can be controversial and we do not plan to suppress discussion. We expect that specific events and organizations will be mentioned. We are aware that we—ourselves included—have not always been correct or on our best behavior, that there have been painful incidents in our communities that have altered them forever and finally that conflicting interpretations of our history and of the present state of our communities are not only possible but necessary.”

Disagreements and conflicts happen in any group of people. And how the group handles those disagreements and conflicts determines whether that community becomes stronger or falls apart. A vibrant community is one whose members have the courage and the willingness to confront these kinds of issues and work through them, instead of either dealing with these kinds of issues obliquely or ignoring them.

Disclaimer: Your humble columnist will be one of the evening’s panelists. But the panelists will not be the only people talking. The organizers have made it clear that they invite, and hope for, full participation in the discussion from everyone attending. They state: “Ask and you shall be answered. Speak and you shall be heard. . . . We require only that our discussion be, to the best of our abilities, informed and aimed at educating and strengthening our communities as we grow and progress.”

A donation of $5 at the door is requested to help defray expenses, but no one will be refused admission based on inability to pay.

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