Friday, August 29, 2008

Welcome, Leather Republicans!

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #346, August 29, 2008)

One of the traditions of this column is to welcome large groups of out-of-towners who come to the Twin Cities for leather-related events. Well, a large group of out-of-towners soon will be descending on the Twin Cities metropolitan area. While they’re not coming to town for a leather-related event, some of them will probably be visiting The Minneapolis Eagle while they’re here. So I’m going to extend them this column’s traditional welcome.

The Republican Party convention will be held in St. Paul Sept. 1-4, and area bars and restaurants are gearing up for the onslaught of hungry and thirsty convention delegates. I have heard from several sources that convention advance teams checked out The Minneapolis Eagle and were impressed, so predictions are that The Minneapolis Eagle will be one of the Twin Towns’ after-hours hot spots during the convention (and perhaps the weekends before and after the convention, as well). Conventions delegates and other visitors to our fair cities will be joining the locals at the Eagle in creating a different kind of Grand Old Party.

There are several things you might be thinking right about now. Republican delegates at The Minneapolis Eagle? Would good, God-fearing Republicans stoop to be seen there? The answer to that is, “We Are Everywhere,” including in the ranks of the Republican Party (depending on whom you read and what you believe, perhaps even the very highest ranks of the Republican Party).

But will the Republican delegates feel comfortable once they get to The Eagle? Sure—it’s a pretty welcoming place. You might think that political differences among bar patrons could become the, umm, elephant in the room that nobody talks about. But The Minneapolis Eagle, like most bars, is non-partisan. And leather, when you think about, is non-partisan, too, or perhaps pan-partisan—open to all kinds of different political beliefs.

Leather is inherently conservative. This is not surprising when you consider that founders of the original gay leather community were former military men, and the military generally is not regarded as a bastion of liberalism. Even today, leather community ideals and values that were bequeathed to us by those former military men (trust, honor, integrity, keeping your word, respect for self and others) are conservative in the best and truest sense of that word.

Leather is also inherently libertarian. The founders of the early leather community had a live-and-let-live attitude. They made a decision to live their lives in their own way and on their own terms, and for many of them it wasn’t important if other people approved of their choices or not. In the same way, they realized that they had to offer that same consideration to everyone else, and they did. If something about the way they lived resonated with you, you could ask to join them. If not, no problem.

And yet, leather became progressive in spite of itself. As time went on, it became more difficult for many people in leather not to care about what other people thought of them. Some members of the leather community moved from a live-and-let-live attitude to political and social activism when they were among those taking a lead in the Stonewall Riots in 1969 and the early gay-liberation movement of the 1970s.

The leather community was among those hit hardest by the AIDS crisis, and leather, of necessity, became more progressive. Leather community members were among those in the forefront of dealing with the epidemic, both by taking care of infected and dying comrades and by teaching changes in behavior and attitude to help stop the spread of the virus.

Today, some aspects of leather often seem to be trending again to the conservative. We watch as leather and BDSM imagery becomes more mainstream and is appropriated by rock stars and advertising agencies, many of whom care only for shock value and have no idea of the culture, community, history and values behind the images.

And even as those images move into the mainstream, the culture that spawned them is changing as younger people bring new ideas and expand the concept of leather to include other fetishes and fetish gear. Some are worried that between mass acceptance and generational transition, the values that the leather community once prized, and around which that community revolved, will be lost. Some community members have lately been calling for a “return to basics” or a “leather renaissance” to ensure that leather values and traditions will be maintained as the community evolves. Sounds conservative to me—again, in the best sense of the word.

So, to Republican convention delegates from across the nation, as well as all the media personnel who are here to cover the event: welcome to Minnesota, to the Twin Cities, and to our little corner of the Leather Nation. Conservative, progressive or libertarian, there’s room in the leather tent for people of all political persuasions.

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