Friday, October 19, 2001

“A Time for Re-Commitment”

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #167, October 19, 2001)

NCSF Policy Statement discusses “Sexual Minorities in the Post-September 11, 2001 World”

I recently received the following Policy Statement written by Judy Guerin, the Executive Director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, Inc. (, an organization about which I have written many times before. I believe it says some relevant and important things of which we all need to be aware.

“The tragic events of September 11, 2001 have profoundly changed the lives of all Americans. Nowhere is this more true than for sexual minorities, especially the gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, SM-Leather-Fetish and various alternative sexual expression communities. Accordingly, it is essential that our communities undertake a serious reassessment of, and a recommitment to, the work we have all been doing toward greater tolerance, freedom and respect.

“The intense impact on our communities is apparent when one considers the following facts:

“First and foremost, Americans may have to find ways to resist or deal with greater governmental intrusions into our liberties and privacy. Airport searches, national identity cards, increased authority for law enforcement wiretaps and other intrusive measures are likely to be implemented at Federal, State and local levels. While these intrusions will affect all Americans, they are of particular concern to our communities, for whom privacy and freedom of assembly are such central issues.

“Second, there is a very real risk that these intrusions into privacy and increased powers for law enforcement officials could become intertwined with latent hostilities to sexual minorities. Once public and political hostility toward certain groups who are “different, not like us” begins, there is a risk it will spread to other non-conforming groups, of which we are a prime example in the minds of certain right-wing groups. I suspect that many of you have seen the reports of a television show dialogue between Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, in which the September 11 tragedy was depicted as divine retribution for America’s so-called moral decay, with gays and lesbians given as prime examples of that decay for which we are all now being punished. What was so disturbing about this was not that these conservative zealots expressed that view, but that there was so little shock or outcry against the utterance of such vile sentiments.

“Third, on a national level our communities were just beginning the difficult task of building credibility and working relationships with a new Administration whose social policy inclinations are very different from that of the Clinton Administration. That uphill battle will be even more difficult now, both because it will be more difficult to get policymakers to focus on our issues and because, as noted above, one effect of this tragedy may be to bring out some of the more unfortunate conservative attitudes—“toughness,” emphasis on “traditional American values”—in a way hostile to alternative lifestyles. We believe our messages will need to be modified to address this new “hostile climate.”

“Finally, the tangible economic effects of the tragedy will have particularly adverse consequences for our communities in a number of ways:

“• Our communities depend on member participation and on contributions of time and effort by individuals. All of that suffers in economic hard times, and in times of increased nervousness about governmental hostility.

“• We depend on events to a substantial extent as means of generating both funding and participation. With everyone more nervous about travel and less able to afford trips, the big events—such as the Creating Change conference and Black Rose 2001—are likely to suffer and smaller events may even be canceled.

“• Contributions are the lifeblood of our activism. With few exceptions, we don’t have huge grants from corporations or foundations. The economic slowdown threatens deep declines in personal contributions that could greatly reduce our efforts and might even force some organizations to shut down entirely.

“• And it must always be remembered that our communities have an economic aspect that essentially consists of many small businesses: GLBT-oriented bookstores, fetish clothing stores and small mail-order operations, alternative theatre groups, bars and night clubs, etc. These small businesses are uniquely vulnerable to the combined effects of our economic downturn and increased concerns by community members at public scrutiny of their lifestyles.

“For all of these reasons, now is the time for recommitment to our goals and ideals, for resistance to the natural tendency to recede from activism and from public activities and instead to “tend one’s own garden,” as Voltaire put it. We at NCSF, along with other GLBT and freedom of expression groups, must increase our outreach activities and our efforts to maximize and broaden the involvement of individuals, especially at the local level.

“All of you in our communities must also rededicate yourself to our cause. By this I do not just mean that you should contribute effort—and money, of course—to national organizations such as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other effective national organizations and to your local community groups. That is extremely important, but is only a part of what we all must do to keep our movement alive and to prevent the slide back into more intolerance, more discrimination and less freedom.

“More fundamentally, I urge all of us to rededicate ourselves to participation in the daily-life activities that are the core of our communities’ growing strength. Attend GLBT, SM-Leather-Fetish and other alternative sexual expression and freedom of expression events, both locally and regionally. Support relief efforts that focus on our communities—the New York City Anti-Violence Project is a good example. Patronize the small businesses—merchants, theaters, galleries—that help our lifestyles thrive. Above all, do not retreat into isolation and inactivity. We have made great strides in recent years. Our momentum, acceptance, economic strength and political effectiveness have grown exponentially. Now is the time for all of us to vow that we will not allow that progress to be reversed, that instead we will redouble our efforts to achieve the further gains that we all know are both essential and possible.”

Friday, October 5, 2001

The Secrets We Keep: Why I Came Out—Twice

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #166, October 5, 2001)

I came out as a gay man at the age of 19, and had my second coming-out as a leatherman at age 37. Although certain aspects of the two experiences were the same, there were some significant differences between them.

First, some history: In homosexual culture at the dawn of the twentieth century, the words “coming out” were not automatically followed by “of the closet.” The notion of the closet did not yet exist, and “coming out” was used to connote initiation and celebration as one embraced one’s homosexual aspects and the homosexual community. Just as debutantes of the era were introduced to high society at “coming-out” balls, so too young men of a certain bent were mentored by their “aunties” before “coming out” at extravagant drag balls.

Somewhere in the middle of the last century, the notion of the closet was born as society told homosexual men and women in no uncertain terms that their sexuality was not okay and would not be tolerated. By the time of Stonewall, coming out of the closet had become more of a political statement, an act seen more as courageous and defiant than as joyous and celebratory.

Today the significant rite of passage and the claiming of one’s place in the GLBT community is more likely to happen at a March On Washington or an HRC dinner than at a drag ball—celebratory, yes, but also very political. I’m not saying this is necessarily bad, I’m just commenting on how things have changed over the course of a century.

By contrast, a modern-day leather coming-out is less political and still retains some sense of celebration and initiation, perhaps partly due to the more tribal and less political structuring of the leather/SM community. People are in a dungeon or playspace to enjoy themselves and each other, and therefore tend to check their politics at the door. Also, because of the nature of the way we play, I see much more mentoring going on in the leather/SM community than I do in the wider GLBT community.

What did my two coming-out experiences have in common? Before each of them I had to deal with the same issues. Before I came out at age 19 I had to deal with feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment, and fears of ridicule, non-acceptance, disapproval and violence. I knew society wasn’t terribly accepting of homosexuals back then, but what would my family think? If I actually did come out, what kind of a life would I have? Why would I want to identify as part of this hated minority?

In spite of my doubts, fears, and trepidations, I came out anyway because I had to. The alternative was to live a life of dishonesty with myself and others about who I was. I would be sentencing myself to a life of just existing, a joyless life of continual fear, shame, and worrying about being found out. A line from Clare Boothe Luce’s play “The Women” describes it perfectly: “the seasonless world; where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.”

Before I came out as a leatherman at age 37 I had to deal with the exact same feelings and fears. I knew that society—including parts of the GLBT community to which I comfortably felt I belonged—weren’t terribly accepting of the leather community. Why would I want to identify with this less-than-popular minority within a minority? I have heard the same worries expressed by others contemplating a leather coming-out: What will people think? What will they say? What kind of a life will I have?

Again, for me the answer was clear: I had ignored this part of myself for too long; I wanted to experience it. And I didn’t want to experience it skulking around in guilty shadows. It’s hard to enjoy something fully (and, from a practical standpoint, it’s hard to be safe) when you’re constantly looking over your shoulder because you’re afraid someone might see you.

There’s a saying that’s popular with the Twelve Step recovery community: “It’s the secrets we keep that get us in trouble.” The converse is also true: living without secrets is living free.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

“HELLION” Joint Leather-Club Charity Fund Raiser
Sunday, Oct. 14, 6-10 PM, The Saloon
Jointly sponsored by The Atons and The Black Guard of Minneapolis, this event features food, door prizes, beer and soda specials and an appearance by porn star Clay Maverick (who will also be appearing at The Saloon on Saturday, Oct. 13). $5 donation at the door.