Friday, February 22, 2002

Your Guide to Local Leather Runs

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #176, February 22, 2002)

Circuit boys have circuit parties. Sguaredancers have fly-ins. Cowpokes have rodeos. Leather clubs have runs.

One of the hardest things about being a leather columnist is always having to explain what a “run” is. It’s a term from the leather vocabulary that doesn’t seem to have caught on with the rest of society other than those commercials about making “a run for the border”—a phrase that actually captures the idea pretty well.

The appelation “run” traces its lineage back to the motorcycle clubs from which leather clubs evolved. Members of the club would hop on their bikes and make a “run” to visit a neighboring city or another club. Nowadays you’ll still find motorcycle owners among many clubs’ membership, but bike ownership is no longer a necessity for many clubs. The idea of most runs held by leather clubs today is to host folks from many different clubs and cities at a weekend get-together, enjoy each other’s company, have a good time, and do the things that we leather types do.

Three Twin Cities leather clubs—the Black Guard, the Knights of Leather and the Atons—host runs either every year or every other year. Two of them are celebrating significant anniversaries this year, and one of them is hosting a meeting of a “club of clubs” in conjunction with their run.

My experience has been that these three runs are very different from one another, each reflecting the personality of the club presenting it. That means you could attend all three of these runs, have three great but very different experiences, and not feel like you’d repeated yourself.

Black Frost XXV: Then…Now…& Forever, April 5-7

ILLUSTRATION: Black Guard logo

According to Black Guard president Rik Stokes, the club’s Black Frost run is a three-day get-together featuring “male bonding and leather brotherhood.” This year marks the Black Guard’s 25th anniversary, and it will be interesting to see what surprises they have up their sleeves. Over the years the outrageous shows presented at Black Frost have earned the Guard a reputation for being one of the top “show clubs” in the country. The tradition of these shows, in which club members present elaborately staged entertainment featuring female drag, goes back to the shows put on by World War II-era soldiers (an example is the “Honey Bun” number in South Pacific by Rodgers & Hammerstein).

Another distinction: The Black Guard is unique among local clubs in always having “in-town” runs as opposed to camping runs; the name “Black Frost” refers to the fact that the run is usually held in February, when one wouldn’t really want to go camping in Minnesota. (This year’s run is being held later than usual.)

Host hotel is the Day’s Inn Midway in St. Paul (indoor pool—bring your bathing suit), and a full weekend of activities is planned. Various games will be played throughout the weekend and an awards ceremony will be held at the conclusion of the run on Sunday—a tradition which hearkens back to the games of riding skill played at motorcycle runs. There will be cocktails at poolside, and ABBA’s “The Way Old Friends Do” will be sung at least once. For more information and a downloadable registration form visit

Knights Tournament 14, June 7-9

ILLUSTRATION: Knights of Leather logo

For many years the Knights of Leather was a club for leatherwomen, but the Knights now define themselves as a pansexual leather/BDSM club. This run, the fourteenth presented by the club, welcomes the entire spectrum of the kink community: all genders, all sexual preferences, all ages. The weekend is about fellowship, learning and play. This year’s theme is “Kamp Leather,” and in keeping with that theme attendees will have the chance to earn merit badges in activities such as knot-tying, fire-building and knife safety. Workshops dealing with leather crafts and toy-making will be presented in the crafts cabin.

The run site, a private camp within a park, includes cabins with military bunks. Cabins do not have electricity, but modern toilet and shower facilities are available. Attendees will enjoy five home-cooked meals, including a Saturday-night banquet, as well as beverages and snacks. Also provided will be two well-stocked dungeons.

For more information and a downloadable registration form visit (Save $15 by registering before May 5.)

Atons XXXtreme, July 19-21

ILLUSTRATION: Atons XXX run artwork

The longest-running Twin Cities leather club, the Atons are celebrating their thirtieth anniversary with a triple-X run held at a secluded Northwoods camp in the New Ulm area. Plans call for an on-site hot tub, Extreme games, and many more surprises. For more information visit the Atons’ website at (note their new web address).

The Atons of Minneapolis is a member of the Mid-American Conference of Clubs (MACC), an organization whose purpose is coordinating the activities and policies of member leather/levi and motorcycle clubs through the region. Concurrent with this run, the Atons will be hosting the spring MACC meeting.

Friday, February 8, 2002

Video Review: Oliver Button is a Star

(Written for Lavender Magazine, Issue #175, February 8, 2002; never published)

Featuring Tomie dePaola, Ann Bancroft, Bill T. Jones, Kevyn Aucoin and the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus

Get our your hankies (of whatever color)—this documentary manages to be both heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time.

“Oliver Button is a Star” started life as a piece commissioned by the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus for their “Rainbow Connection” concert of 2000 and scenes from that concert are an integral part of the documentary. It is a happy twist of fate that that performance morphed into this documentary. Producers John Scagliotti and Dan Hunt, who also did the “Before Stonewall” documentary, heard about this TCGMC project and thought it might make a good documentary.

There’s a lot to like about it. The four celebrities (DiPaola, Bancroft, Jones and Aucoin) all come across very well. Of the four, Bancroft seems like she got the best deal growing up, but even her experience is bittersweet—what she was, wasn’t okay. DiPaola’s, Jones’ and Aucoin’s stories are just plain heartbreaking, even if you haven’t had the experience yourself but moreso if you have. The home movies of the celebrities are a nice touch.

The Men’s Chorus concert performance of the story with Dipaola as narrator and with a wide-eyed, rubber-faced Chris Mellin as Oliver in an integral part of the documentary. It’s another heartbreaker that ultimately triumphs.

Torture TV (referring to the audience, of course)

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #175, February 8, 2002)

The latest proof that America’s television networks are both desperate and clueless comes in the form of two new shows, Fox’s “The Chamber” and ABC’s “The Chair.” Some point to these shows as evidence of the continuing mainstreaming of BDSM. I say they appropriate BDSM imagery and misrepresent it, and I can only hope that by the time you read this both these shows will have been yanked from their respective networks’ schedules.

I must confess that I watch very little television these days. Somewhere in the mid-1990s so much of television became so stupid that I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. So I was somewhat hesitant when Lavender editor Tim Lee invited me to watch “The Chamber,” but when he listed the various traditional BDSM-community practices that were being put on display in Prime Time (fireplay, electrical play, and psychological torture, to name but a few), I thought I would at least have to see if he was telling the truth.

The two shows are similar in many ways—so similar that “The Chair” is suing “The Chamber” for stealing their idea. (“The Chamber” has filed a countersuit.) They are extreme versions of one of the oldest television programming concepts, the quiz show. But both shows up the ante by strapping the contestants into a chair and putting them in extremely stressful situations while the emcee asks the questions. Contestants are penalized if they get too excited (as measured by a stress-monitoring device to which they’ve been attached).

On “The Chair” a stressful situation is having a live alligator, lowered from the ceiling in a harness, dangling inches from your face. But that’s wimpy compared to “The Chamber,” where the chair containing the contestant is drawn into a see-through torture chamber which subjects the contestant to increasing degrees of extreme heat or extreme cold, flamethrowers or high-pressure water jets, earthquake simulations, muscle spasms induced by electric shocks and reduced oxygen levels—all while being asked, for example, where former president Bill Clinton is building his Presidential Library. (The shivering contestant’s guess: “Washington, DC?” Wrong—the correct answer is Little Rock, Ark. But how clearly would you be thinking if there was frost forming in your hair?)

Is this the next wave of BDSM? Will leather contests start incorporating torture events as part of the proceedings? Instead of fantasy presentations, will we have flog-a-thons while we ask the contestants leather trivia questions? THWACK! “Who was International Mr. Leather in 1988?!” THUD! “Coral hankie, right pocket! What does it mean?!” On second thought, maybe this should be incorporated into the interviews with the judges.

No, I don’t think this is the next wave of BDSM. I think these shows exist because it’s no longer acceptable to entertain ourselves by throwing Christians to the lions or by having gladiators fight to the death, and this is as close as we can come. It’s interesting to note that the rest of the world has been seeing stuff like this on their televisions for years (the idea for “The Chair” originated in New Zealand). The American networks used to have broadcasting “standards and practices” that prevented them from lowering themselves to this level, but evidently those days are long gone.

I can’t sound my familiar protest that “This isn’t BDSM because it’s not safe/sane/consensual.” These shows go to great lengths to be safe (when was the last time you saw a heart monitor in a dungeon?), although one female contestant allegedly burned herself getting out of the chamber on “The Chamber.” There are doctors supervising the proceedings, and supposedly in the name of safety they stop the action if the person becomes too stressed—although that’s equivalent to failing, wimping out, losing the game. It could be argued that the action on these shows is consensual, although the lure of Winning Fabulous Prizes might cloud some people’s judgment. I wouldn’t call it sane, but very little on network TV these days is sane.

I can and do protest, however, that this is sending a bogus message to viewers. BDSM is not about seeing how much you can endure to impress other people, and it’s certainly not about seeing how much you can endure in order to Win Fabulous Prizes. And just as I don’t want non-leather types gawking at the perverts in a leather bar, I don’t really want people getting their vicarious thrills watching other people get tortured. Blood lust is not what the scene is supposed to be about.

As I watched “The Chamber” it dawned on me that the contestants aren’t the only people being tortured here. I felt tortured just watching it. I did, however, find myself being drawn into the spirit of things: in the name of art and intellect and research and impressing my readers, how much of this torture can I stand?

I must confess that I wimped out—I couldn’t make it through the whole show. In this instance, the safeword was the “off” button on the TV remote.

Valentine’s Gala Rodeo Fundraiser at The Saloon

It’s been awhile since there’s been a gay rodeo in Minnesota, but the North Star Gay Rodeo Association (NSGRA) plans to present one in 2003. They’ll be holding a Valentine’s Gala Fundraiser on Sunday, Feb. 17, 6-9:30PM at The Saloon. There will be food, drink specials, country/western music, door prizes, a raffle, a membership table, and plenty of good-looking cowboys and cowgirls. $5 at the door.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Atons Leather/Levi Dinner
Saturday evening, Feb. 9; Rock Bottom Brewery, 800 LaSalle Plaza (corner of 9th and Hennepin), call for directions
Presented by the Atons, open to all. Cocktails at 7 PM, dinner at 7:30 PM. Call the Atons HotLine for reservations or more information.

Vagabondage/Erotogenic v.3
Wednesday, Feb. 13, First Avenue VIP Room
The House of Vagabondage transforms the VIP room of First Avenue into a dungeon for their third installment of the “Erotogenic” club night combining art, music and erotica, bondage and discipline, fantasy and role playing, gay, trans and hetero. Musical artists are Dolores Dewberry, Starfive, DJ Noise, DJ So Supreme, Monkeybox & CXR. Proper attire is strongly encouraged: leather, rubber, vinyl, cyber, uniforms, gothic, club wear or basic black. Tickets are available at all First Avenue ticket outlets, or at the First Avenue website,

Valentine’s Gala Rodeo Fundraiser
Sunday evening, Feb. 17, 6-9:30 PM, The Saloon
Come help the North Star Gay Rodeo Association raise funds to present a rodeo in 2003. Food, drink specials, country/western music, door prizes, a raffle, a membership table, and plenty of good-looking cowboys and cowgirls. $5 at the door.