Friday, February 13, 2009

Guest columnist Rick Burgess: Life as a Pledge

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #358, February 13, 2009)

PHOTO: Rick Burgess in his Atons pledge vest, December, 2007

Your humble columnist is pleased to introduce Rick Burgess as this issue’s guest columnist. I first met Burgess when he entered the Mr. Minneapolis Eagle contest in 2007 and captured the first runner-up spot. Later that year when I heard he was a pledge, or provisional member, of the Atons, I asked if he was interested in writing a guest column about his experiences and adventures on the way to becoming accepted as a full member of the club. He said he would, and here’s what he wrote.

Burgess is now not only a full member of the Atons, he will spend 2009 as the club’s secretary. He is also involved with Minnesota Leather Pride.

Life as a Pledge

by Rick Burgess, Atons of Minneapolis

In October 2007, I submitted my application for membership to the Atons of Minneapolis. The Atons are one of the oldest active gay men’s Leather/Levi social fraternities in the country. Having never been in a fraternity, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I was accepted as a pledge at the Atons’ November business meeting. The pledge period lasts a minimum of three months, but it is not over until the club brothers say it’s over.

Pledge Master Del was instrumental in making sure I was a good pledge. The pledge period is meant to give the existing full members an opportunity to get to know the new pledge. The most difficult part for this pledge was making sure to refer to all of the brothers, which I had known before pledging, as “Sir.”

My first major event as a pledge was the annual Holiday Fundraiser in December at the Bolt Underground. I was the official “gopher” for the evening, and as a special bonus, the Trustees of the club set up a special raffle involving the pledge—the Trustees were selling tickets for the paddling of the pledge at the end of the night. Unknown to the pledge, the number of tickets sold determined the number of swats. Once it was all said and done, there I was front and center to receive my 42 swats.

Later in December, since it was the holidays, the same Trustees had another special treat. This time it was tiny jingle bells on clothespins. [Your humble columnist was not present for this but is pretty sure the clothespins were not clipped to the pledge’s clothes, but instead were attached to the pledge himself.] But that was just the beginning. Once the clothes pins were on, it was time for pledge to sing “Jingle Bells” and make the bells jingle in rhythm to the song.

As the months rolled on, I spent time getting to know each of the members. This included coffee, dinners and afternoons of hanging out talking to learn more about each of my soon-to-be club brothers. At the same time, this was an opportunity for the brothers to get to know me and make their determination of whether they wanted to have me as a new club brother.

February brought the annual officers installation banquet held at Pi Bar. Of course, as with the other events, there was a special task for the pledge. During the banquet, it was my job to get to know members of the leather community who were present and then serve them, making sure they were well cared for and had all they needed or wanted. The catch to this was that I was to do it in nothing but a thong and boots.

During my time as a pledge, the Atons agreed to sponsor me to go to the Mr. Midwest Leather competition in St. Louis, Mo., where I was the second runner-up. The group also decided to assist in my fundraising for the Minnesota Red Ribbon Ride, adding $240 to the amount raised for the ride.

In April 2008, I was finally accepted as a full member of the Atons of Minneapolis. Since that time, I have become a more active member in the leather community, participating in Minnesota Leather Pride and the unveiling of the new giant leather pride flag at the Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade in 2008.

In 2009, I will be serving as the Secretary for the Atons of Minneapolis. For information on becoming a member of the Atons, contact me at

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