Friday, July 30, 1999

Gerry Schmidt: “The Bar”

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #109, July 30, 1999)

The Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus (TCGMC) recently presented a concert called “Out Takes: Our Stories, Our Lives.” It was a wonderful mix of music by the chorus and spoken word presentations by individual chorus members. Gerry Schmidt sings in the chorus and is also the director of Vox, one of TCGMC’s subgroups. When I heard Schmidt read his story, “The Bar,” my immediate thought was that it needed to be in this column. The audience at the concert certainly enjoyed it, and I hope you will too.

PHOTO: Gerry Schmidt

“The Bar,” by guest columnist Gerry Schmidt

Welcome to Boston. It is early fall, just before the leaves start to turn, and it’s 1986. The air is cool and crisp, and I am full of excitement and anticipation. You see, I came out as a gay man just two months ago, in July, and I’m getting ready to make my first trip to a gay bar. I’m still kind of new to Boston, so I picked THIS bar because I know how to find the street it’s on!

A look in the mirror tells me I’m ready. My Dockers are smartly pressed. My Izod polo is brand new, and the collar is flipped up just enough to be trendy. I’m wearing the requisite L.L. Bean boat shoes with tasteful argyle socks, and if you pass just close enough, you’ll catch a whiff of Calvin Klein’s Obsession.

I climb into my little orange VW bug, windows cracked just enough to give me some air without mussing the hairdo, Whitney Houston singing to me. (Ooo, I really DO wanna dance with somebody!) Twenty minutes later I’m on Tremont Street driving by where I think the bar is supposed to be. All I see is a very dark looking building, with the doors painted black and the windows too (at least I think it has windows). So I circle the block twice and finally decide to park and walk up to the place, hoping the street address is just hard to see.

As I approach the door I finally see the street number (it’s painted black too). I can hear music inside, so this must be the place. My heart is racing. I quickly check my hair and the flip in my collar, grab the door and enter—THE EAGLE!!!!

It’s a little dark, but that’s OK, it heightens the intrigue, so I walk up to the bar to order something to drink. The bartender, a rather scruffy looking guy with his shirt unbuttoned down to there, looks at me, does a double take and then heads my way. Was I just cruised? It must be the ensemble! I order a drink appropriate for the occasion and venue—a White Russian! Again, he gives me a double take (he must really be attracted to me) and after digging out his cocktail recipes book, brings me my drink.

I stand there sipping my cocktail, overwhelmed that I’m actually here, and finally take time to check out the bar. There’s a pool table and a couple of pinball machines and a few barstools over by the wall. That’s about it. So where are all the patrons? I mean hey, it’s already 9:30, for Pete’s sake!

About that time the front door opens and I freak out. In walk these two guys, each of them about 6’5”, and they’re dressed in leather! I mean FULL leather. They’ve got biker boots, chaps, something I’ve since learned is called a harness, a vest, dark sunglasses, biker’s cap, they’re smoking the biggest, nastiest cigars I’ve ever smelled, and laughing as they enter! I’m terrified, so I quickly turn around and start studying my drink intensely. Maybe they didn’t see me, or better still, maybe THEY’RE in the wrong bar and they’ll just turn around and leave. But noooooo! They walk right up to the bar and stand—on either side of me!!! I’m convinced they’re going to do unspeakable things to me, things that happen only in jail, or so I am told, and am quickly bargaining with god for my life. The beers they ordered arrive and they turn to talk to each other as if I didn’t even exist between them. And here’s how the conversation started:

“Oh, you should see those new curtains I made for the piano room! They’re just faaabulous!”

I’ve met a lot of gay men and lesbians since that night 13 years ago, and one of the discoveries I’ve made is that drag comes in many shapes and forms. It’s not just heels and a dress, but it’s leather, or Levis and flannel, or cowboy boots and a 10-gallon hat. It’s the insistence on wearing only designer labels, or even wearing a tuxedo. It is an opportunity to be who we are in our most comfortable environment. And to this day, my friends and I laugh when we think that my appreciation of such things got a great start thanks to a couple of gay men in leather, talking about curtains!

Friday, July 16, 1999

New Book about Black Men in Leather

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #108, July 16, 1999)

What does it mean to be a person of color in the leather community?

PHOTO: Book cover

If you’re reading this column on a printed page, and you live in the midwestern United States, the overwhelming odds are that you are of white European ethnic extraction. If you’re reading it in a city outside the midwest, or you’re reading it on the Web, the odds may be less overwhelming, but “white European” is still a pretty safe guess.

The ideal image of the leather community (at least as it’s held in the minds of those of white European ethnic origin) is that everyone is welcome, regardless of sex, gender, sexual preference, kink preference, or any of the other politically-correct things people aren’t supposed to discriminate against these days. That theoretically includes race.

Look around at any local, regional, national or international leather event in the United States, however, and you might notice that you see a rainbow of faces, but you see a lot more of some colors than of others. Black people, Asian people, Latin-Americans, native Americans—each of these groups constitutes a minority (ethnic group) within a minority (leather/SM community) within a minority (GLBT community). Females or trans-people can add another level of minority to that list. As a white male, I think that I and the community are pretty accepting. But how do members of these various subminorities feel about that statement? If I stood in their boots, would I feel accepted? Not accepted? Patronized? Tokenized?

Cain Berlinger, long-time leather community member, writer and activist, has recently published Black Men In Leather: A Perspective. In this landmark book, Berlinger explores how black men fit into the leather/SM community—or how they don’t. He also addresses the issues that black leatherwomen and Asian leathermen may have with the leather community.

In the words of the author, “I was anxious to see the Leather Community through the eyes of people of color in gay America.” The book is the result of several thousand surveys which Berlinger distributed to people of color both in the leather community and outside it; the book therefore rings not only with author Berlinger’s voice, but with the diverse voices of many other people who responded to his survey.

I stopped counting the number of subjects dealt with in this book that until now have seemed to be off-limits in leather literature. Take interracial partnerships, for example: If a black man looks for a white partner because a white man is more liable to be skilled in SM practices, is that bad, good, or neutral? How about if the black man wants a white partner as a “trophy wife”?

How about “snow queens” (black men who like white men), “dinge queens” (white men who like black men), and “rice queens” (men who like Asian men)—does a preference for a particular ethnic group constitute racism, or is it just another fetish?

Then there’s the extremely sensitive topic of race play. Is it okay within the context of a scene for a white man playing a plantation owner to “punish” a black man taking the part of the slave? What about a black “plantation owner” punishing a white “slave”? What about scenes involving white “cops” and black “criminals,” or vice versa?

Especially up here in the northland, if we’re white we’re not used to thinking about issues like these. We’d rather believe the politically correct and comfortable notion that we live in a colorblind community where we’ve transcended the issue of race. This is a book that’s concerned with neither political correctness nor comfort—it’s more concerned with being a reality check, and as such it pulls no punches. It doesn’t pretend to offer easy solutions (of which there are none), but it does an excellent job of describing and illuminating the many complex issues regarding race and the leather community. I found it thought provoking, fascinating, sometimes disturbing, but ultimately mind-expanding.

Berlinger has self-published this book ($19.95 plus $3 shipping/handling). As is the case with many self-published works, there are a few technical rough edges that a commercial publisher would have smoothed out. Let’s hope those rough edges won’t stand in the way of the message of this book, however. As the world gets smaller, and as people become more interconnected through travel opportunities and the internet, these issues need to be thought about and dealt with. Whatever your ethnic background, reading this book is a good way to start. (For more information on this and other books by Cain Berlinger visit his website:

Waxing Demonstration to be presented

On Saturday, July 31, Chicago’s Daddy Beth and her boy dusty will travel to Minneapolis to present a demonstration of the art and skill involved in hot wax play. It is hoped that this will be the first in a series of educational presentations. Doors will open at 7 PM, with the demonstration beginning at 8 PM. Tickets are $10 each, prepaid admission only, and ticket quantities will be limited. So if you’re interested, act now: e-mail for more information.

Best of luck to Ms. Minnesota Leather 1999 Mario, who represents Minnesota in the International Ms. Leather Contest this weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Sunday, July 25

Black Guard Fundraiser
Location and time to be determined

Friday, July 2, 1999

Great Plains Drummer: Great Entertainment

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #107, July 2, 1999)

PHOTO: Left: New Great Plains Mr. Drummer Gary O’Neill. Right: Great Plains Mr. Drummer runner-up Joe Welch.

PHOTO: Men Out Loud performing at the Great Plains Regional Drummer contest. Left to right: Steve Steinberg, Joseph Pearce, Rob McElroy and Santo Ragno.

PHOTO: Gary Aldrich singing “One Common Heartbeat,” a leather anthem.

The Great Plains Regional Drummer Contest was held Friday and Saturday, April 18 and 19 at Club Metro in St. Paul. In an extremely close contest, Mr. Minnesota Drummer Gary O’Neill took the sash, with Mr. Kansas City Drummer Joe Welch taking runner-up honors. If you are one of the many who weren’t there, here’s what you missed.

Friday night’s Meet & Greet was combined with the erotic-wear portion of the contest. O’Neill looked great in traditional black leather while Welch struck a more military note with a camouflage-patterned leather jock strap. In addition to those entertainments, the (unfortunately rather small) crowd heard a stirring performance of “One Common Heartbeat,” the leather anthem commissioned for the 1998 International Mr. Leather contest. It was powerfully sung by Gary Aldrich, one of the anthem’s creators (and also one of the judges for this weekend’s contest). There was also an impromptu performance by Men Out Loud, a Los-Angeles-based group of four gay male close-harmony singers and dancers. They gave a preview of their Saturday-night performance as they wowed the crowd with their rendition of “Good Love.”

Saturday night’s contest and show started with an encore performance by Aldrich of “One Common Heartbeat,” which was followed by the contestants’ fantasy performances. O’Neill donned a welder’s helmet and overalls for his fantasy and had an entire welding shop set up on stage. While impressive-looking sparks flew out from the metal he was welding, a slide projector showed pictures of men in a cage—the cage O’Neill was in the process of building. Of course, welding can be a hot and sweaty business, so it was only natural that as the fantasy progressed O’Neill shucked more and more of his clothes.

Welch’s fantasy started with various children’s books set up at the edge of the stage; if you looked closely, you could see that all the books had double-entendre titles. The opening music was the theme from “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood,” and the show’s host (Welch) made an entrance in a conservative white shirt and necktie. He quickly transformed into a black-leather top who had his way with a boy (Dean Galloway) who wandered onto the set and was looking through the various books.

Both contestants made short but heartfelt speeches, and were then presented one last time for the leather image/pop question category. Then it was time to tally the judges’ scores and announce the winner. Judges for the weekend, in addition to Gary Aldrich, were current Ms. Olympus Leather Cori Ander, current International Drummerboy Ryan Goldner, and your humble columnist.

While the judges’ scores were tallied, Men Out Loud took the stage for a full hour of close-harmony song and high-energy dance. The group is composed of bass Steve Steinberg, baritone Rob McElroy, second tenor Joseph Pearce and first tenor Santo Ragno. To say these guys are talented is an understatement. Here are four great voices that blend into one spectacular sound, no matter who’s taking the lead and who’s harmonizing. Some of the songs (“Sweet enuf 2 eat,” “Only Want to Give You Love”) had a heavy-bass instrumental backing which I’m sure makes them more commercially appealing. But I liked their a capella numbers best (“Good Love,” “Express Yourself”)—who needs a backup band when these four voices can magically become an entire orchestra?

It doesn’t hurt that all four are drop-dead gorgeous (I hear that one of them has appeared under another name in various skin mags), and it doesn’t hurt that they all know how to move to the music and have a great choreographer (Steinberg, who is also the group’s manager). As far as I’m concerned, they can come back to Minnesota and perform any time they want (there is a possibility that they will perform at next year’s Twin Cities Festival of Pride). Until then, if you want to find out more about them, hear samples of their music, order their CDs (they’re on the Mercury Records label) or just send them fan mail, you can visit their website (

And while we’re on the subject of CDs—a CD of “One Common Heartbeat” is now available through the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago. For more details call them, write them in Chicago, or visit their website at (And while you’re at their website, check out the art gallery.)

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Saturday, July 10

Atons Leather/Levi Night
Cocktails at 7 PM, dinner at 7:30 PM, Fabulous Fern’s Bar & Grill, 400 Selby Avenue, St. Paul
Presented by the Atons, open to all. For information and reservations call the Atons Hotline.