Friday, November 30, 2001

The Fascination of Fireplay

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #170, November 30, 2001)

“How about a little fire, Scarecrow?” Anyone who has seen The Wizard of Oz remembers that scene—it’s almost like the Wicked Witch is coming at you with that fiery broom. Fire induces panic and fear, yet it can be fascinating at the same time. Fire seems to take on a life of its own as the flames jump and dance capriciously. And then there’s the romance of sitting in front of a roaring fire, safely contained in a fireplace.

Panic, fear, fascination and romance—no wonder fireplay is attractive to folks into BDSM. Local pansexual BDSM group MSDB recently presented “Baby, Light My Fire,” a fireplay workshop attended by an audience of about 35. In addtion to learning about the passion and spectacle of fireplay, audience members also heard useful information about fire safety, first aid for burns, and the scientific aspects of fire. The workshop was conducted by a top wearing jeans and a t-shirt with nine fire-breathing dragons on it, and a bottom who spent most of the workshop naked—a sensible way to avoid setting clothes on fire.

The workshop started with some safety precautions—here are just a few of the caveats discussed at the seminar:

• Fireplay SHOULD NOT be done on the face, around hairy areas (head, armpits, genital area, hairy chests or backs), on cut or infected skin, or around moles.

• Avoid fireplay on inappropriate surfaces, such as carpets or mattresses. Beware of clothing and long hair.

• Mood-altering substances and fireplay DO NOT mix. In the words of the demonstrating top, “You need a clear head and undiminished reaction time.”

• In a fire situation, do your best to remain calm. Panic only makes the situation worse.

• Have a wool blanket handy to snuff out fires. Wool does not support combustion at normal levels of oxygen and temperature. Wet towels are an alternative, but they can be messy.

Disclaimer: The descriptions of fireplay that follow are for illustrative purposes only; they are not complete instructions on how to do fireplay safely. Fireplay is edgeplay, and injury or death is possible. Do not play with fire unless you have had proper training and supervision from a fireplay expert.

Now that the disclaimers have been presented, here’s what the audience saw during the demonstration portion of the workshop:

After a warm-up session in which the top caressed his bottom’s skin with a burning, fragrant stick of incense (to her obvious delight), we moved on to flash cotton, which is simply cotton that has been treated to make it highly flammable. The top placed multiple bits of flash cotton of varied sizes all over the bottom’s back. Then, at irregular intervals, he used a small butane torch to ignite the pieces one by one, each time causing a bright, quick burst of flame. The cotton was so light that the bottom couldn’t feel it lying on her skin; she never knew where, when, or how big the next flash would be.

What did it feel like for the bottom? She explained that when the flash cotton was ignited the heat was brief, intense, and localized. Often the sudden intense heat was immediately followed by a chill. She also said that the element of surprise made the sudden combustion of the cotton feel almost like an impact.

To demonstrate alcohol play at the seminar, the bottom leaned against a stepladder so that she was bent slightly forward. With his hand, the top applied isopropyl alcohol (other kinds of alcohol don’t work for this) to the bottom’s back. Then he literally set his hand on fire (drawing gasps from the audience), and used his human-torch hand to ignite the alcohol stripe on the bottom’s back. There were more gasps as we watched blue streaks of flame run from the bottom’s waist to her shoulders. For the bottom, the sensation was the cool feeling of the alcohol on her skin, followed by the intense heat from the fire, followed again by a comparatively cool sensation when the flame burned out.

As with other forms of edgeplay, fireplay is not for everyone. Even though fireplay done correctly does not cause burns or other injury, a person who cannot overcome their fear of being burned is not a good candidate for fireplay because they won’t enjoy it. For those who think they might enjoy it, however, let me stress again that the best first step is finding a mentor who will show you how to properly and safely play with fire.

First Aid for Burns

Here’s some information from MSDB’s fireplay seminar about first aid for burns. This is good to know even if you never intend to do fireplay.

• First, remove the person from the burning situation, either by putting out the fire or getting the person away from the fire.

• Second, cool the burn with cool water until it feels better. Don’t use ice or ice water, which can contribute to shock.

• Third, bandage the burn loosely with sterile dressings.

• “Critical burns” are burns which must receive attention as soon as possible from medical personnel. These include second- and third-degree burns (marked by blistering or charring), burns to the face, hands or feet, burns over more than 10% of the body, or burns sustained by infants, children or elderly people. Do not apply ointments, salves, or anything other than cool water and sterile dressings to a critical burn, and do not try to remove burned or charred skin from the wound.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Atons Holiday Fundraiser and Silent Auction
December 9, 2001, 6-10 P.M., The Saloon
What would the holidays be without friends and traditions? The Atons present their traditional holiday fundraiser, food drive and silent auction, which this year benefits the Aliveness Project. Come bid on the fascinating and useful items that have been donated to the Silent Auction. (Call or e-mail if you have something to donate.) Admission is $5 plus 3 lbs. of food (or $10 without food donation).

Friday, November 16, 2001

Five Local GLBT Music Groups Combine For “In Remembrance” Concert

(Article published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #169, November 16, 2001)

Over 250 performers from five Twin Cities queer music groups recently collaborated in an unprecedented combined concert. Titled “In Remembrance,” it was billed as “a response from the GLBT Performing Arts Community to the events of September 11, 2001.” The concert was presented in St. Paul on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 11, two months to the day after the attacks in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. No admission was charged, but donations were accepted to benefit GLBT victims of the Sept. 11 attacks as well as the women and children of Afghanistan.

The weather that afternoon was perfect—it was hard to believe it was mid-November. The warm sun streamed through the stained-glass windows of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, which donated the use of its building for the concert so that all funds collected could be donated to the concert’s beneficiaries. The concert was performed in the church’s acoustically-excellent sanctuary, while the rest of the building functioned as rehearsal space for the five performing arts groups. While pride was very much in evidence, the dominant theme of the afternoon was compassion, reaching out to help people who were suffering.

After opening remarks by special guest speakers Rabbi Stacy Offner of Shir Tikvah Congregation and Reverend Anita Hill of St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church, the Minnesota Freedom Band performed “The Star Spangled Banner” in honor of those who died in the attacks. Conductor Beth Smith poignantly noted that people of many nationalities were victims on Sept. 11 but that there was “not enough time to play all 80 national anthems.” The band then played “Imagine” by John Lennon, inviting the audience to sing along.

The Calliope Women’s Chorus was the second group to perform. Guest-conducted by Jane Ramseyer Miller, they sang “Love Will Guide Us” (“On the road from greed to giving/Love will guide us/Through the dark night”) and a charming wordless rendition, pure sound and pure harmony, of the Largo from Dvorak’s New World Symphony.

One Voice Mixed Chorus, conducted by Camilla J. Horne, sang a musical setting of the Latin words dona nobis pacem (“Grant us peace”) entitled “Song for World Peace.” This was followed by “In Remembrance” from Eleanor Daley’s Requiem, a musical setting of the anonymously-authored poem “Do not stand at my grave and weep.”

The Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus, conducted by Dr. Stan Hill, opened their segment of the program very appropriately with their signature song, “Walk Hand In Hand With Me” (“Walk hand in hand with me/That is our destiny”), and followed that with a powerful rendition of “America the Beautiful.”

The final group to perform was the Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra (according to Dr. Stan Hill, “the only GLBT orchestra in the world”). Honorary Guest Conductor Mary Bussman led the group in a performance of Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” that was narrated by the orchestra’s conductor-emeritus, James Touchi-Peters.

Then, completely filling the front of the church and lining both sides of the sanctuary as well, all five groups combined in stirring renditions of “Freedom is Coming,” a traditional South African freedom song conducted by Jane Ramseyer Miller, and “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” conducted by Jackie Dubbe.

All proceeds from the concert (over $3,500) were divided equally among three beneficiaries:

• The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Disaster Relief Fund, established by the Stonewall Community Foundation ( to help GLBT New Yorkers directly impacted by the World Trade Center disaster.

• Help the Afghan Children, Inc. (HTACI,, a U.S.-based, grassroots, non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to helping Afghan children.

• Revoluntionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA,, an independent political/social organization of Afghan women fighting for human rights and social justice in Afghanistan.

This event marked the first time that all five of these Twin Cities GLBT performing arts groups have given a joint concert. (The Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra has never been part of the annual Festival of Pride concert performed at the Lake Harriet Bandshell.) A sixth local group, the Rainbow Family Children’s Chorus, supported the idea of the concert but does not have autumn rehearsals and therefore could not participate.

A concert involving five performing arts groups made up of a total of 250 performers presents a formidable logistics challenge. That it happened at all is noteworthy, but that it started on time and went very smoothly, with seamless transitions from one performing group to another, is almost unheard of. One big factor in the success of the concert was the Queer Music Consortium, which provides a structure of monthly meetings for communication and cooperation between representatives from the various local GLBT music-performance groups. According to Dr. Hill, “This type of cooperation is unique to the Twin Cities, and it says a lot about the cohesion of this community.”

Audience reaction to the concert was overwhelmingly enthusiastic—one audience member said, as he left the church, “They should do this more than once a year—and it shouldn’t take a tragedy to pull it all together!”


(Item for “Whatever!” column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #169, November 16, 2001)

Does anybody besides us think it’s a waste to trash the soon-to-be-former Guthrie Theater? Does anybody else think the Guthrie will be losing a large and irreplaceable chunk of its history? Does anybody besides us see a certain hypocrisy on the part of the Walker Art Center? They’ll champion modern art and architecture unless it inconveniently happens to be part of their own building—then they want to tear it down.

Seriously, with all the theater and music in this town how can the present Guthrie building have “no future purpose”? Aren’t there plenty of other performance groups around that would give various assorted body parts to be able to have that space for their performances?

But then, don’t mind us—first of all, we’re queer, so what would you expect, and secondly, we still haven’t forgiven the city of Minneapolis for allowing the demolition of the Metropolitan Building in the early 1960’s. Some people never learn.

If you think it’s a crime to tear down the Guthrie, visit (founded by local musician Paul Metsa) and get involved.

One’s Kinky, The Other One Isn’t

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #169, November 16, 2001)

Can This Relationship Be Saved?

Dear Mr. Leather Columnist, Sir: I’ve just fallen head-over-heels for a real dreamboat. He’s charming, intelligent, and kind, and I think he’s equally smitten with me. But as far as I can determine he’s completely, relentlessly vanilla. I, on the other hand, have a closetful of leather and a bulging toy bag. Oh, and they sing “Hello, Dolly” when I walk into the Eagle.

Should I tell him about my interest in leather? If so, how? Or should I even be pursuing a relationship with him? Is it possible to make a relationship work when one member of a couple is into leather and the other isn’t? Do leather and vanilla mix?

Should you tell this seemingly vanilla person that you’re kinky? Suppose you do, and the other person is horrified; it’s probably better that you discover this incompatibility before investing a great deal of time and energy in a relationship that might be derailed when your interests come to light. On the other hand, the other person might say something like “Oh, thank goodness, so am I! I was wondering how I was going to tell you.” (In that case, you can take the discussion to the next stage: “Are you a top, bottom, or switch?”)

A third possible response, of course, is an even-handed “I’m not into that, but it’s not a problem if you are.” Before you let your hopes be dashed because the other person doesn’t share your leather interests, consider that they may have an interest that you don’t share—opera, for example. If the rest of the ingredients for a relationship are there, what’s to say it can’t work? Maybe they wouldn’t be averse to at least seeing what goes on in a dungeon, and you might actually enjoy “Carmen.”

On the other hand, not being honest with the other person—about kinkiness or anything else—pretty much dooms any relationship that evolves. As I said in another column recently, it’s the secrets we keep that get us in trouble. You’ll be living in fear that your secret will someday come out, and sooner or later it probably will. Whether or not the relationship survives the disclosure, the situation probably won’t be pretty.

Sometimes, though, it’s not a matter of keeping secrets at the start—it’s a matter of self-discovery along the way. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily make things any easier:

Dear Mr. Leather Columnist, Sir: I really love my partner. We’ve been a happy lesbian couple for many years and have been through a lot together. But I am becoming more and more aware that we’ve grown apart, sexually speaking. After years of denying my interest in BDSM, lately I’ve been feeling like it’s something I need to at least explore. When I confided in my partner, however, she told me that in her opinion BDSM was all about the degradation of women (obviously I don’t share her opinion) and she gave me an ultimatum: BDSM or her. I don’t want to lose her, but I’m afraid if I let her control me I’ll grow to resent her for keeping me from exploring this aspect of myself. And I don’t want to sneak around behind her back. What do I do now?

First of all, you are to be commended for your honesty (and perhaps courage) in telling your partner about your discovery of this aspect of yourself. You are also to be commended for your integrity in not wanting to sneak around behind her back, and for your insight about the possibility of developing resentments if you let her control you.

It seems to me that your partner, on the other hand, is being rather inflexible about the situation and inconsiderate of you and your feelings.

There are many parallels between this situation and a married couple in which one partner can no longer ignore their homosexual tendencies. The couple may stay together or may break apart, but if they stay together “arrangements” are usually made as the relationship is restructured in some fashion. Couples in which one partner is interested in kink and the other isn’t must face and negotiate the same types of issues: If the relationship is to be opened up, how open should it be? What constitutes fidelity or infidelity, monogamy or non-monogamy? (To illustrate just one possible example, is the relationship to be sexually open but emotionally monogamous?) What’s considered sexual play and what’s considered non-sexual? How much or how little does the non-kinky partner want to hear about the kinky partner’s adventures and discoveries?

There’s nothing wrong with being kinky. There’s nothing wrong with not being kinky, either—it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay. As long as everyone involved can accept both those tenets and respect the other person’s point of view, even if they don’t share it, there’s no problem. Problems happen when someone expects everyone else to be kinky (just like them) or not kinky (just like them).

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

MSDB Fireplay Workshop
November 17, 2001, 2-5 P.M., Mpls.
Local BDSM group MSDB presents a workshop on the sizzling, intense art and craft of setting fire to a willing partner’s skin. Safety, materials, and more will be discussed. Cost: $7.50 for MSDB members, $15 for non-members. (Tickets must be purchased in advance.) Details at or write MSDB, Minneapolis, MN.

Friday, November 2, 2001


(Item for “Whatever!” column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #168, November 2, 2001)

Another Barbie “Nutcracker”? The holidays just wouldn’t be complete without Ballet of the Dolls’ annual presentation of their delightfully twisted Barbie-and-Ken version of “Nutcracker?!” Now Mattel, aided by Disney, presents “Barbie in The Nutcracker,” her first full-length, motion-capture, computer-animated direct-to-video feature, available in VHS and DVD. Is it just coincidence that people from both Mattel and Disney have been seen in the audience at the Dolls’ annual presentations? And is Mattel now working on their own version of the Ballet of the Dolls’ “Naughty Nutcracker”? The answer to both questions is: Probably not.

Atons and Black Guard Join Forces for “Hellion”

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #168, November 2, 2001)

On Sunday, October 14 at the Saloon Bar, Minneapolis leather clubs the Black Guard and the Atons teamed up to present “Hellion,” their first joint event in recent memory. A fundraiser for New York AIDS charities, it featured a special guest appearance by porn star Clay Maverick. Saloon manager Walter even commissioned a fabulously decorated cake (from Wuollet’s, no less) to celebrate the occasion.


Black Guard president Rick Stokes and Atons present Sam Carlisle display the cake. Don’t drop it, guys.

A close-up of the cake—the icing artist at Wuollet’s did a great job.

Bootblacks for the evening were Matt Vold (left) and David Page (right).

Visiting porn star Clay Maverick, center, is flanked by Black Guard representative Bruce Gohr, left, and Atons representative Tom Burger, right.

Seen at “Hellion,” left to right: Mark Holmberg, Scott Ullom and Robert Kerr.

Seen at “Hellion,” left to right: Richard and Handy Randy.