Friday, December 26, 2003

Atons Holiday Fundraiser 2003

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #224, December 26, 2003)

In the spirit of the holiday season, here are some photos of the recent Holiday Fundraiser presented by The Atons of Minneapolis at The Saloon on December 7. It turned out to be a very successful event, netting over $4,000 and 750 pounds of food for the benefit of the Aliveness Project’s Holiday Basket Program.

PC070035.JPG: Glen Edberg, left, and Jim Courtney, right, holding some of the 750 lbs. of food people brought to the fundraiser.

IMG_1611-vi.jpg: Atons President B.D. Chambers, left, and Aliveness Project representative Randy Hornstine, right.

PC070001.JPG: This year’s silent auction of leather goods and other merchandise was the best ever in terms of the amount of money raised. Here, some shoppers (Peter Kelly, Roger Payne and Doug Waalen) inspect the merchandise.

PC070014.JPG: Left to right: Frank Kruk, Ed Skjaret and Matt Wambach looking at the auction merchandise. This year’s auction of leather goods and other merchandise was the best ever in terms of the amount of money raised.

PC070005.JPG: Some of the silent auction merchandise. This year’s auction of leather goods and other merchandise was the best ever in terms of the amount of money raised.

PC070007,8,9.JPG: Barber Vince McGhee gives Frank Mlakar a buzzcut.

PC070044.JPG: Ron Joki gets his boots blacked by David Page.

PC070020.TIF: Photographer Paul Nixdorf, right, was on hand to take pictures of leathermen with a hunky Santa (or with their head poking out of the giant Christmas stocking in the center of the picture). Keith Cheetham is shown posing with Santa.

PC070011,12,13.JPG: North Star Gay Rodeo Association (NSGRA) royalty at the Atons Holiday Fundraiser: Left, Steve Kussatz, Mr. NSGRA 2004; right, Lady Stevens, Miss NSGRA 2004.

PC070017,18.JPG: Left to right: Ed Skjaret, Matt Wambach and Frank Kruk.

PC070022.JPG: Brian Spence and David Anderson.

PC070024,28.JPG: Brian Spence and David Anderson inspect the new Minneapolis Eagle calendar.

PC070029.JPG: Left to right: Randy Hornstine and Sherman Ford.

PC070033.JPG: Left to right: Peter Kelly and Roger Payne.

PC070037,38.JPG: Members of the Minnesota Storm Patrol: left to right, Joe Siedschlag (Sergeant at Arms), Jack Roach (Vice President), Jim Randall (Road Captain).

PC070041,42.JPG: Doug Waalen and Louie Rios.

PC070048.JPG: Ken Hoffmann.

PC070052.JPG: Michael Ballard.

PC070053.JPG: Black Guard member Karl Keturi.

PC070055.JPG: Paul Nicholson.

PC070057.JPG: Left to right: Kevin Sitter, Robert Kerr and Atons President B.D. Chambers.

PC070058,59.JPG: Left to right: Andrew Bertke, Matt Grimes, Kellen Slagle, Kelley Herridge.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Out of the Closet or Under the Radar?

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #222, November 28, 2003)

It was in 1973 that Minnesota’s then-Governor Wendell Anderson smiled out from the cover of Time Magazine, holding a just-caught fish. The cover story of that issue was “The Good Life in Minnesota.” Now, thirty years later, a very different aspect of the Good Life in Minnesota almost made it to the pages of Time—almost, but not quite.

For the last few years radical right-wing elements have stepped up their harassment of leather/BDSM events across the nation and have said some very nasty things to the media about leather/BDSM and its aficionados. Would a sympathetic article in Time Magazine about a midwestern BDSM weekend help to counter that bad press, or would it simply act as bait for more harassment?

That was the question faced by the organizers, as well as the attendees and potential attendees, of a recent nationally-promoted fetish weekend event held in our area. Less than three weeks before the event, the organizers received a letter from the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF). A reporter from Time had contacted NCSF wanting to write a 3- to 4-page article on “mind/body/health” issues related to BDSM. NCSF had given him a list of doctors, psychologists and sociologists to interview, but the reporter also wanted to attend a pansexual SM event, preferably in the south or midwest, in order to talk directly to people involved in the scene.

The reporter was described as “an out gay man who has written positive articles about alternative sexuality and sexual orientation.” He wanted to be able to identify the name of the event and the city and hotel where the event was being held. He would be identified at the event as a reporter and would not quote individuals who did not want to be quoted. An escort from NCSF would accompany him to the event.

Presented with this offer of media coverage for their event, the event’s organizers (wisely, in my opinion) asked attendees, prospective attendees and members of the local leather/BDSM community how they felt about it. Based on community feedback the organizers decided not to allow the reporter to attend, although the feedback was far from a unanimous rejection of appearing in Time.

Some responses were unequivocal: “If a reporter from Time Magazine or any other publication is there, I won’t be.” Some people felt personally threatened by the possibility of losing job, spouse or children if they were outed as a result of the article. Others noted that publicity in Time might bring the same sort of harassment recently suffered by events in the New Orleans and Washington, D.C. areas. This viewpoint could be summed up as “The less the general public knows about us, the better.”

Many respondents expressed distrust of the media. Could a reporter from a national magazine like Time be trusted to write a fair article? Obviously, NCSF trusts this reporter or the organization wouldn’t be helping him with his research. But in spite of that, one commonly-expressed viewpoint was that the only reason Time or any other major media organization would even consider writing a story like this is because they know that sex and sensationalism and titillation sell magazines. According to this viewpoint, anyone expecting a, you should pardon the expression, “fair and balanced” representation in the pages of Time would be disappointed.

Another reason cited for not having a reporter at the event was timing—tickets had already been sold on the basis of the event being closed and private. Even those who thought media coverage could be beneficial questioned the wisdom of changing the nature of the event on such short notice.

But why was this such a big deal, anyway? Look at all the reporters year after year at the International Mr. Leather contest in Chicago, and look at the huge crowds that event attracts. Ah, but International Mr. Leather is an event predominantly for gay leathermen, who started coming out of the closet in the late 1960s. By contrast, this event was primarily pansexual, and many members of the pansexual community are still very much in the closet about their sexual preferences.

This comparison between the gay and pansexual leather/BDSM communities was not lost on Dan Brady, manager of local BDSM group TIES. Along with several others, Brady expressed the opinion that media coverage, and the resulting increased visibility of the leather/BDSM community, could be beneficial:

“If we can get a fair hearing in public, we have less to fear from the people who fear us because we’re unknown, or misunderstood. If we have widespread press, the people who would love to join us and learn from us have a better chance of finding us.

“Yeah, we could stay in the closet as a community—and some have some very good reasons to stay in that closet individually—but that would easily give the impression that we were hiding because we were doing something wrong, something to be ashamed of.

“Are we doing something wrong here? Do we need to be ashamed of being kinky?”

Brady continues: “Staying in the closet will not be effective in preventing us from being a persecuted minority. Coming out of the closet has done wonders for the GLBT community—it hasn’t made things perfect yet, but social acceptance has gone a long way in that direction in the past 20 years.

“We’re already getting press—most of it from the people who would prefer that we not exist at all. I, personally, mourn [the loss of] an opportunity to tell our side of the issue in a very public venue.”

Brady summed up his feelings about the rejection of the Time reporter by saying, “I fear we’ve missed an opportunity, not sidestepped a bullet.”

Here’s the irony I find in this situation: In many circles the acronym “GLBT” (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender) has been amended to “GLBTA” (the “A” stands for allies, or allied persons). When I first encountered this acronym I assumed that the “allies” were heterosexuals who were nonetheless sympathetic to our GLBT cause: PFLAG members, metrosexuals, and other honorary gay people. They are members of the heterosexual majority, and therefore have credibility with that majority. But they are willing to use that credibility to vouch for us GLBT types, to say that we too deserve the respect of the heterosexual majority.

But now I’m beginning to think it may be a two-way street. Maybe those allied persons—in this case closeted kinky heterosexuals—also need help from us, the gay leather community as well as the general GLBT community. And it’s our duty as GLBT people, who have already blazed these trails for ourselves, to help and support our allies in their quest for an exit from their own particular closet.

Upcoming events

Atons Holiday Fundraiser benefiting Aliveness Project
Sunday, Dec. 7, 5-10 pm, The Saloon
Silent Auction, door prizes, haircuts, bootblacking. Drink specials, free food. $10 donation (or $5 with 5 lbs. of food or nonperishable items). FFI or to donate an item for the auction:

MSDB Bizarre Bazaar
Saturday, December 13, 11am-5pm, Da Moose (356 Monroe Street NE, Minneapolis)
Don’t miss this year’s Bizarre Bazaar and get ready to stock up on those unique stocking stuffers for that special kinked one in your life. This is a great opportunity to support your local artists/artisans/retailers. $5 at the door; $3 advance tickets available at Dreamhaven Books (Lake St. & Colfax, Mpls.), Smitten Kitten (35th St. & 23rd Ave. S., Mpls.) and at area munches or by contacting MSDB (

Friday, November 14, 2003

Leather Life interviews Mark Cady, The First Mr. Minnesota Leather

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #221, November 14, 2003)

PHOTO: Mark Cady

In October 1989, the first Minnesota Leather Encounter (MLE) weekend was held and Mark Cady (pronounced KAY-dee) became the first man to win the Mr. Minnesota Leather title. Now, fourteen years later, he reminisced as we sat in the living room of the Minneapolis apartment he shares with his husband, Hubert Trimble.

Leather Life: For people who were not around at the time, like me, explain what Minnesota Leather Encounter was.

Mark Cady: It was a collection of the leather groups—the Atons, Black Guard, Knights of Leather (they did a lot of work)—and they decided it was time to have something to recognize the leather community, get a little publicity, and have a contest—pick someone, and then forward them off to Chicago for the international contest.

I’d been into leather ever since I came out in about 1982. I was fascinated by leather, and started buying pieces and wearing them, and having fun and getting a lot of attention and hanging out with the Atons.

Why did you enter the Mr. Minnesota Leather contest? When they announced it did you think, “Aha! I’m going to enter that!” or did people have to persuade you to enter?

It was something that I wanted to do, and that I was excited and scared about.

How many other people competed?

I think there was about a half a dozen guys. You had to go out and show your wares, and look good in your leather, and then you had to do a skit, kind of a leather fantasy thing. I actually have it on tape.

You had prepared for this beforehand? This was not an impromptu thing?

No, no. We definitely prepared and rehearsed. And I remember Red [Helbig, now Russ] and PJ [Knight] helping me out a lot—they were helping everybody, because they were excited about it too.

When you won, what did you think?

I was thrilled. I was shocked and I was thrilled, and it felt real cool to be up in front of that crowd, and get the crowd riled up and excited.

Does this all seem long ago and far away, or does it seem like only yesterday, as you think back to it?

It seems like long ago and far away.

What was your IML experience like?

It was a thrill. You’re very nervous, and there’s a lot of people there, and people are looking at you all the time because you’re wearing a thing that says you’re a contestant. And there are a lot of people talking to you. They had this question-and-answer scene where you go into a room with the judges and they ask you a half-dozen questions, and they say it’s a big part of your score. And you have no idea if you’re answering what they want to hear or not. I just said what I felt. And then they prep you for the contest and there’s a lot of rehearsal, and you get to go out onstage and do your thing a couple of times. It was very exciting. I remember sweating a lot just from being nervous all the time.

Had you done a lot of preparation before going to IML in Chicago?

No, not really. There was no guidance whatsoever. Remember, the groups were new to this, too—this was the first time they had put on a contest. I was hoping that I’d win the Minnesota title and then I’d be able to travel around the state, and speak on behalf of leather and go to the bars and be part of events. But it didn’t work out that way. There was no PR person, and I didn’t know how to set things up. The only place I ended up going was Duluth, because Bob [Jansen] called from Duluth and said, “Listen, you’re the winner, come on up, we’ll give you a hotel room, and we’ll throw a party for you.” And that was a cool event, but that was about the only event I had that whole year. And a year after IML and the contest and everything, Hubert moved in with me, and I became a private guy out in the suburbs, and did not go out much. Hibernated.

And now you’re becoming more visible in the leather community again.

Yes. I’m coming back out of the closet. I want to get a feel for the community again. I kinda miss it, and now that we have a place like the Eagle, it’s nice to go there and see other leather people—although I don’t see enough people wearing leather, which kinda bothers me. Because I go there on a Friday night and I get decked out, because I want to look good. I love wearing my leather, I know I look good in it, I wanna look good in it, and it’s tough being one of three guys in the bar that have bothered to look very good in their leathers that night and everybody else is wearing t-shirts and jeans. So I wish the community would get together and put their leather on more often. Or rubber, or whatever.

How have your views on leather changed over the years? Or haven’t they?

Well, they have changed. In the beginning when I got into leather I thought leather was hard-ass guys, S&M, pain, kinky sex, and all that other stuff that people associate with leather people—they think we’re all a bunch of hard-ass mean guys. Now I think a leatherman—and some people are going to be upset by me saying this—is someone who wears leather. Period. And has any kind of relationship or sex that they want. It’s the leather that’s the attraction, and what you do in the bedroom is whatever you feel like doing. It does not have to be S&M, it doesn’t have to be kinky, it can be whatever you want it to be.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Vanilla Halloween, Leather Halloween

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #220, October 31, 2003)

It’s Halloween. October 31 falls on a Friday this year, and that means the parties will last all weekend. This year more than most years, it’s not just for kids.

I think of Halloween as Amateur Night—the one night of year when anyone can wear anything and no one will ask questions. For some people the “anything” they wear will be a leather or other fetishwear won’t-everyone-be-scandalized “costume”—which they’ve gone to great lengths to put together. Other people will be wearing basically the same thing, but they will have just reached into their closet and pulled it out, like they always do.

If Halloween is about scary and spooky things, be assured that for some people leather and/or BDSM fetishwear is spooky and scary. Or at least they think it is to other people, and that means that at some level it’s spooky and scary to them, too. But just as we whistle when we walk past graveyards, or attend slasher movies as a way of dealing with our fears by making them seem outlandish and therefore less scary, some people do the same thing with leather. (It is only fair to note here that a drag queen could write pretty much the same thing about straight men dressing up in women’s clothing on Halloween.)

So for amateurs, it’s a costume. For those into the scene it isn’t, of course. Or is it? You will find people in a dungeon for whom the exotic and erotic qualities of their fetishwear are turn-ons, and they only wear it in sexual situations. It seems to me that this is how the heterosexual/pansexual BDSM community has traditionally worked: A person adopts a “scene” name and has a wardrobe of fetishwear that’s never worn anywhere other than the dungeon or the bedroom—except maybe on Halloween.

Gay leather, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be so segmented. We tend to use real names rather than scene names, or else we use the same nickname everywhere. Likewise our apparel: we wear our leather anywhere it’s practical, whether for protection when riding a motorcycle or just because it’s cool outside. (If a jacket is called for, we might as well wear a leather one that looks good on us and makes us feel good when we wear it.) If we wear our leathers to a Halloween party, other people may look at us and think it’s our costume. But we know that it’s not really a costume—it’s an expression of who we are.

Now, despite the differences in our approach to the whole “costume” aspect of Halloween, I would like to point out that there are many similarities between the vanilla world and the leather world. We each have many of the same impulses; it’s simply that the impulses are expressed differently.

Vanilla Halloween: A chance to dress, for a change, as what one is not, whether that be a dominatrix, female drag on a man, or even in a Donald Duck costume. Leather Halloween: Reach into the closet, grab the leather or fetishwear, and dress to express, not hide, who we are. It’s not a costume, and it’s not just for Halloween.

Vanilla: Masks. Leather: No mask (unless it’s part of a scene in a dungeon). No hiding. We’ve done enough of that. We’ll let the vanilla folk experience for one night what it was like for us all those years when we had to hide.

Vanilla: Halloween handouts are candy for the kids (and, for fundamentalist Christians, tracts with the candy). After trick-or-treating, kids compare the loot they collected: “I got a Snickers bar!” “I got a Kit Kat!” Leather: Halloween handouts for everyone are flavored condoms and lube: “I got the PiƱa Colada lube—my favorite!” “I got one of those mint-flavored condoms, and I’m so bored with them! Maybe I can exchange it for one that’s cola-flavored.”

Vanilla: Scary candle-lit haunted houses. Leather: Scary candle-lit dungeons.

Vanilla: Party decorations predominantly in black and orange. Leather: Party decorations predominantly in black and orange—which coincidentally, conveniently, are Harley-Davidson’s colors.

Vanilla: Jack-o-lanterns with candles inside. Leather: Remove the candle from the jack-o-lantern and use it for wax play.

Vanilla: Party games include bobbing for apples. Leather: We have our party games, too. But if our heads are bobbing up and down it probably has nothing to do with apples.

Vanilla: Mind game: In a totally dark room, make someone stick their hands in a “bowl of eyeballs” (when it’s really a bowl of grapes). Leather: Mind game: Tie someone up, then tell them you’re running a knife blade across their back (when it’s really the edge of a credit card).

Vanilla: Home videos of the kids in their costumes. The kids will enjoy seeing what they look like, and it will make for great memories when they get older. Leather: “The Making of Making Porn,” a locally-produced, professional-quality video of Twin Cities leathermen in (and out of) their leathers. Great documentary footage, but you probably wouldn’t want to show it to children.

Vanilla: Halloween greeting: “Trick or treat!” Leather: Let me close with an ancient Celtic leather Halloween blessing: “May all your tricks be treats!”

Friday, October 17, 2003

Local Author Writes A Training Manual for Submissives

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #219, October 17, 2003)

The Twin Cities leather/BDSM community is full of creative, inventive, talented and resourceful people. If they decide they need something and they can’t find it anywhere else, they’re likely to just create it themselves. Having created it, they are then likely to share it with the rest of the community.

When Rich Hunt, also known as “Sergeant Major,” was asked by a woman to train her to be a submissive, he consented to act as her teacher. Then he realized that in order to teach her, he would need a curriculum. So he sat down and wrote a Manual for the Formal Training of a Submissive©. Now that he’s written it he is sharing it with the rest of the community by self-publishing.

On the cover page Hunt states that the manual was “written as a distillation of my thoughts and experiences.” He also says that the manual “is not intended to be all-encompassing or comprehensive, rather it is intended to provide the initial training for a newcomer to the lifestyle.” While it was written based on his experience as a heterosexual dominant and is oriented toward the female submissive, it can be adapted to other orientations and situations.

What exactly is a submissive, and why is training necessary? The manual defines a submissive as “a person who surrenders physical and mental control to another within an intimate lifestyle relationship but generally is in control of their life otherwise.” (This is different than a bottom, defined as “a person who is submissive during a scene, but not within other aspects of a relationship.”) Training is necessary because there’s a lot a submissive needs to know in order to be a good one.

The manual opens with a discussion of Dominant/submissive, or D/s, relationships. It should be noted that in a “Dominant/submissive” relationship both Dominant and submissive take pride in their own freely-chosen roles while respecting and taking pride in their partner. This is quite different from a relationship where one party is “domineering” (exercising arbitrary or overbearing control; tyrannizing) and the other is “subservient” (either cringing at their subordinate position or fawning and being obsequious).

Addressed to the Dominant acting as trainer, the manual includes a section discussing “Needs of a submissive” and also both a “submissive’s creed” and a “Dominant’s Pledge.”

A comprehensive glossary discusses the differences between D/s, B&D (bondage and domination) and SM (formerly sadomasochism, now increasingly referred to as “sexual majick”). It also describes the differences between the sometimes-confused terms “Dominant” (also known as “Dom” or “Domme”), “Top, “Master” or “Mistress” and “Sadist” on the one hand, and “submissive,” “bottom,” “slave” and “masochist” on the other.

Hunt wrote the section entitled “Formal Training?” to discuss the purpose and benefits of training and to address a common fear: that formal training will result in “negating spirit, subordinating individuality, creating some form of automaton who becomes less a person than an object.” Hunt counters that proper training accomplishes the exact opposite, “adding another dimension to [the submissive’s] complexity as an individual” and allowing them to “[set] themselves apart from the run-of-the-mill and those who have neither the personal inner strength nor commitment to take on the full meaning of who and what they can be.”

The “Training Syllabus” as presented in the manual includes learning about “the philosophy, psychology and emotional dimensions of Domination and submission” through reading, discussions and observation (a list of suggested readings is included at the end of the manual). Also taught are the execution and appropriate use of certain physical positions such as greeting and departure, honoring, offering, attending, attention/listing, and others. The submissive learns proper conduct in formal and informal situations, with special emphasis on demeanor, responsibilities and mechanics of domestic service. Other topics covered are negotiations and contracts, the use and care of dungeon/scene accessories, observation and analysis of scenes, and leather care and bootblacking.

If this all sounds like a kinky version of a finishing school—well, that’s exactly what it is. Apart from imparting theoretical and practical knowledge, training aims to increase the poise, bearing, self-confidence and pride of the submissive.

How long does this kind of training take? That depends on the student—Hunt’s preferred style of training is performance-based rather than time-based. Instead of setting a certain length of time for each phase of training, Hunt covers multiple training areas concurrently. The manual lists measures of performance for each area of instruction; when the submissive completes these performance measures to the satisfaction of the trainer, the training is considered complete and the submissive is released from the training contract. (Wouldn’t it be a benefit to society if our public schools could adopt the same type of approach? Wouldn’t it be nice if all the students were as motivated and dedicated as a submissive choosing to go through this type of training?)

The manual, priced at $12, is available directly from the author by contacting <>. At that price, and given the admittedly limited audience for the manual, Hunt probably won’t make major financial gains from this project. But that’s not why he wrote it—“I wrote it to pay forward, because I can’t pay back,” he says. “I feel obligated to pay forward and thereby honor all those who took the time to train me.”

Friday, October 3, 2003

Charles Lamar Jr., 1944-2003

(Article column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #218, October 3, 2003)

PHOTO: Charles Lamar, Jr.

Charles Morgan Lamar, Jr., of Minneapolis, passed away Aug. 29, 2003 at the age of 58 years. A memorial gathering was held on Sept. 9.

Lamar was born in Minneapolis in 1944 and was a long-time member of the Twin Cities gay and leather communities. In 1972 he was one of the founding members of the Atons of Minneapolis, one of the nation’s oldest active gay men’s leather/levi social clubs. At the time of his death he was a member emeritus. Over the years he has served as a leather mentor to many, including this writer.

For thirty years Lamar was a dedicated employee of North Central/Republic/Northwest Airlines.

Lamar was preceded in death by his father, Charles Morgan Lamar, Sr. and his mother, Alice Lamar. He is survived by cousins, his club brothers and many loving and caring friends.

A memorial gathering was held on September 9.

Whip It Good

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #218, October 3, 2003)

PHOTO: Robert Dante, master of the bullwhip

Whipmaster Robert Dante holds people spellbound as they watch him handle a whip. He makes it look easy. It seems as if all he does is casually wave his arm and the whip responds like a magic serpent—cutting a playing card in half, extinguishing a candle or plucking a single leaf off a tree. He can snap the whip at a person with an earsplitting crack, only to have the whip wind lazily around a leg or wrist. He can even use two whips at the same time, one in each hand. Dante, who currently lives in the Los Angeles area, was brought to the Twin Cities recently by MSDB for a seminar on whips and the art of the singletail.

Whips have been a part of every culture since time began. They are useful for herding animals—not by actually whipping the animals, but by virtue of the tendency of animals to run away from the loud cracking noise. Whips have been used for hunting, too; according to Dante, “In Indonesia they still hunt tigers with a whip in one hand and a spear in the other. If they lose the spear, the hunt continues. If they lose the whip, the hunt is over and everyone goes home.”

Apart from their practical applications, whips are sensually satisfying. The crack of a whip, in Dante’s words, “is wasabe—it wakes you up, it commands attention.” In addition, there are all the other swooping and whooshing sounds a whip makes, along with the hypnotic sight of the whip flailing and writhing.

And then there’s the feel of the whip, which is not always what you might expect. Dante explains that “A whip is the only SM toy, besides a TENS unit, capable of producing a range of sensations that goes from 0 to 9.9.” The sensations produced by a whip can range from the breeze felt as the tip goes past, to a buzz as the tip gets closer, to burn, and all the way to bite.

Sometimes a whip almost seems like a living thing, but it’s really an extension of you, your arm, your hand. It’s your energy being channeled down the length of the whip, finally exploding at the tip with a satisfying crack. To quote Dante, “This is magic, the whip is the key, and the crack is the gate.” Dante describes the spiritual dimension of his art: “Whipping sets up a cycle of energy. I draw energy from the universe and send it out through the whip toward my sub, who receives it, feels it, processes it, and sends it back out to the universe. This is the magical alchemy that turns the lead of ordinary time into the gold of what could be.”

On the other hand, a whip is really just applied physics, and an understanding of some basic scientific principles is necessary to use one effectively. For instance, a shorter whip is more accurate because you’re standing closer to your target. A longer whip gives you more reach and more energy amplification but less accuracy.

More physics: As the whip moves through the air the tip gains momentum until it reaches supersonic speed. When a whip cracks, the tip is breaking the sound barrier. That means it is going at least Mach 1—761 miles per hour—1400 feet per second. And it may go faster, up to 900 miles per hour. That’s a lot of violent energy being released in a shockwave, and the whip is therefore capable of doing great damage to whatever it comes in contact with at that moment.

But once the whip has cracked, the energy has been expended. The whip can then gently brush a person’s back or wrap around an outstretched arm without doing any damage at all. Obviously it takes skill and precision to be able to time the crack of the whip, and to acquire this level of skill takes practice. Dante practices every day and has been doing so for a long time. Practice, in his case, has made perfect.

People new to whips almost always find that the whip snaps back and bites them—perhaps in the leg or the arm, maybe nicking an ear, possibly across the face or in the eye. That’s why one of the rules of whip practice is to wear eye protection, a hat with a brim to protect the face and ears (a motorcycle helmet is even better), and long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.

A whip is a three-dimensional instrument, so the next rule of whip practice is to keep a “bubble” or clear zone in all directions around and above you (Dante suggests twice the length of your whip plus six feet). It’s almost impossible to find a decent whip-practice space in the average home. Practice in a basement with a low ceiling and you will quickly develop bad habits that will be hard to break later on—not to mention the lightbulbs you’ll break in the process.

But outdoor practice spaces, such as public parks, present other problems. It’s a good idea to have one person patrol the space and prevent intrusions while another person practices with the whip. And keep the ground as clear as possible. A pebble brushed by a speeding whip can turn into a bullet—all the more reason for eye protection, hats and long sleeves.

Dante suggests that you experiment and extend your whipping skills during practice sessions on inanimate objects. As with other forms of SM, when you play with a whip, play below your level of capability.

You can find more about Dante and whips at <>. Closer to home, a group of Twin City whip enthusiasts called Whipsters meets for monthly practice sessions. All skill levels, including beginners, are welcome. For information e-mail

Friday, September 19, 2003

The Feng Shui of Leather

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #217, September 19, 2003)

SUGGESTED GRAPHIC: Yin/Yang symbol with some kind of leather studs. Or maybe a leather motorcycle hat with a yin/yang emblem in place of the usual eagle or Harley emblem.

Sometimes it can be interesting to look with different eyes at something with which we’re familiar. It can be startling to see what’s different, and even more startling to see what’s the same. For instance, what happens when we apply the ancient Chinese metaphysical wisdom of feng shui to leather? No, I’m not going to suggest hanging crystals from your nipple rings and putting a wind chime on your Harley. Suspend your disbelief and let’s explore.

Classic feng shui has been practiced for millenia. It deals with understanding chi, the “life-force energy” that results from the interaction of yin and yang, the two universal forces which are seen as equal but opposite components of one unified whole. The metaphysical principles underlying feng shui are also the underpinnings of other disciplines including macrobiotics (which has been called “feng shui for food”) and the I Ching or “Book of Changes”, the world’s oldest oracle (the “changes” referred to are the constantly-changing interaction of yin and yang). Acupuncture and acupressure are attempts to understand and control the flow of chi in the body, while feng shui attempts to understand and control the flow of chi in the environment.

The yin/yang symbol depicts a relationship that is always changing, shifting back and forth between the two energies. Note that in the symbol yin is represented by black and yang is represented by white. But also note that the largest part of each half of the symbol, where the black or white color is at its fullest, has in it a spot of the opposite color. This symbolizes the fact that the moment each force is at its fullest is also the start of that force’s decay (and the corresponding upswing of the opposite force). Comfortable chi is achieved when yin and yang are balanced and the swings between them are not too extreme.

Besides black, other yin attributes include low, soft, dark, wet, resting and female. Other yang attributes in addition to white include high, hard, bright, dry, active and male. You get the idea.

Now let’s introduce another level of feng shui: the five elements of Chinese metaphysics. The constantly-changing interaction of yin and yang gives rise to five phases, or elements, of chi, composed of different proportions of yin and yang: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. Again, comfortable chi is achieved when the five elements are in balance; discomfort arises when one or more of the elements are either too strong or too weak.

So how does this all relate to leather? Start by taking almost any article of leather apparel: vest, chaps, boots, whatever. First consider the material of which the article is made: leather. Animals (including humans) belong to the fire element, as does leather, being an animal product. Fire is the most yang, or male, of the five elements. So the classic leatherman, seen through the lens of feng shui, is a male clothed in an extremely male garment.

But now consider the color of that garment. Typically it’s black, the most yin (or female) of all colors. This at first might seem like a contradiction, but remember that feng shui is all about balance—we balance the strong yang of the leather with the equally strong yin of the color black. (This might say something about gay leathermen’s reputation for being comfortable with both our masculine and feminine sides.)

Imagine, on the other hand, if our leather was white. Remember Elvis Presley—he famously wore a white leather outfit onstage in Las Vegas. If our leathers were white, the typical leather bar would look like a convention of Elvis impersonators. The extreme yang of white added to the extreme yang of leather would be overwhelming.

Now let us consider another classic piece of a leatherman’s apparel: dark-blue Levis. Plants and plant products, including the cotton from which Levis are made, fall under the Wood element. Wood is also yang, and therefore masculine, although not as strongly masculine as Fire. The counterbalancing color is dark blue, which is not as strongly yin as black. Again, we have balance.

Consider the hankie code, where left means top and right means bottom. Whoever formulated that code in the early days of leather may or may not have been aware that in feng shui left is yang (male, traditionally top) and right is yin (female, traditionally bottom).

Feng shui also has interesting things to tell us about dungeon design. Dungeons are generally intimate spaces (yin); feng shui tells us that high ceilings would be counterproductive, as would white walls (both are too yang). But the yin of the dark and intimate dungeon must be balanced by at least some yang in the form of the fire element (proper illumination)—otherwise the dungeon’s occupants might trip and get hurt (and not in a good way).

Also, since dungeons are places where people need to feel safe in order to be able to relax and let their inhibitions down, exposed beams or rafters are not good—feng shui maintains that exposed ceiling beams or other heavy objects hanging overhead cause people to feel uneasy. So if your dungeon is in the basement with exposed floor joists overhead, feng shui says you might improve the dungeon’s chi by putting in some kind of ceiling—or at least painting the exposed joists and floorboards black so they’re less noticeable.

Certainly leatherfolk should be able to appreciate the wisdom of feng shui and its concepts of balancing ever-shifting energies—because that is, after all, a major part of what good sex or a good BDSM scene is all about.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Saturday, September 20,

Black Guard Fundraiser. Benefit for Clinic 42’s Top Shelf program. Bring donations of bath, bed, kitchen and cleaning supplies (must be new). 6-10 PM. The 19 Bar.

Friday, September 5, 2003

An Evening at The Minneapolis Eagle

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #216, September 5, 2003)

Lavender Magazine’s OutStanding Bar to Meet Men

Since The Minneapolis Eagle opened five years ago, I’ve heard many men say something like this: “Well, I’ve tiptoed up to the Eagle and stuck my nose in, but I could never actually go in there!” Evidently, quite a few Lavender Magazine readers have actually “gone in there,” and they liked it so much they chose The Minneapolis Eagle as “OutStanding Bar to Meet Men.”

If you’re in a major city and want to find the place where leathermen, bears, and other masculine gay men congregate, you go to The (insert city here) Eagle. The various Eagles are not members of a chain; each is independently owned and run and each has its own unique flavor. Here’s a description of the flavor of The Minneapolis Eagle on one recent Friday night.

9:45 PM: Things are just getting going. The music is lively but not overwhelming. Sean the bartender greets me with a friendly nod (he’s the man for May in the 2003 “Men of the Eagle” calendar). Leather Cellar manager Bruce Gohr is setting up the leather vending area by the front door. Two guys sitting on one barstool are sucking face, oblivious to the rest of the world around them. And two other guys leave—they must have hooked up early.

The lighting, both from the art-deco fixtures behind the bar and the utility lamps hanging overhead, is almost all red. Two TVs are showing a tape of the 1996 International Mr. Leather contest, while a third shows a continuing series of what appear to be photos harvested from the internet.

The Atons leather/levi club of Minneapolis are having their monthly fetish night, this month’s theme being rubber and latex. Bruce Chambers, president of the Atons, is sitting at a table with a pair of waders on which he is brushing layer after layer of liquid latex. He was supposed to be having the liquid latex brushed on him, but he had an unfortunate depilatory accident which left his skin unfit for the exercise.

10:45 PM: Next door to The Minneapolis Eagle is another bar, The Bolt. Ed Hopkins is the proprietor of both bars and they’re connected by a roll-up door that’s open most of the time. But the roll-up door is closed now, and the bootshine area is set up in front of it. Fridays and Saturdays after 9 PM, when The Eagle’s dress code is enforced, the only way to get from The Eagle to The Bolt is either from the street or through the outdoor patio in back that is shared by both bars. (For details of the dress code visit The Minneapolis Eagle’s website at <>.)

I go back to the patio to check out what’s happening there, but it’s a sultry evening and the crowd on the patio is small. I return to The Eagle, and suddenly I’m struck by the fact that there is very little traditional cruising going on here. The crowd is not lining the walls, quietly staring at every man who passes by. Everyone is engaged in conversation in groups of two, three or more, scattered gloriously helter-skelter around the bar. I also notice that the music is kept low enough that conversation is possible.

11 PM: It’s hard to move. It’s crowded—there are men everywhere. An intense game of pool is going on; several people are leaning against the back wall, watching and commenting. One of them is Mark Cady, Mr. Minnesota Leather 1990 (the very first), who is watching his husband Hubert Trimble (“Yes,” says Cady, “we’re both husbands”) shooting pool. The line of quarters on the edge of the pool table indicates that it will be busy all night. Another gentleman leans against the back wall, watches the pool game, and smokes a cigar—“a Butera, with a B,” he says when I ask him what kind of cigar it is.

I notice the club colors of the Atons and Black Guard decorating the back wall, along with posters from other leather bars, some of them long-gone. It’s comforting to see our history on display. On a shelf toward the ceiling are many trophies and plaques for various Minneapolis Eagle softball teams.

11:30 PM: I make my way to the front of the bar to see what’s going on there. There are now two guys manning the leather shop area, helping a customer try on a leather vest. The on-site ATM is busy—a bearish guy in a sleeveless flannel shirt, cutoff jeans, a Van Dyke and a hardhat gets money while another guy stands in line watching him.

Midnight: It’s even harder to move in the bar now than it was earlier. A buff gentleman with a shaved head and no shirt bumps into me. In the butchest of voices and without a trace of campiness, he very politely apologizes by saying, “Excuse me, dear.” Chivalry is not dead.

I notice many non-white faces. It’s about time. I also notice that everyone is interacting with everyone else rather than maintaining skin-color cliques. It’s about time for that, too.

1:30 PM: One gentleman has stripped down to bare-ass chaps. The patio is jammed. The sound system is playing “Believe” by Cher (she’s in town tonight).

This evening I’ve seen camo fatigues and I’ve seen a very impressive chain harness. Some guys have been wearing leather, some have been bearish, some have straddled both categories and some haven’t fit into either. But regardless of what they’re wearing, for the most part each man here has at least one thing in common—as one man puts it, “There’s a little more maturity here than you find at some other places.”

The Eagle stays active until 2:30 AM, but I don’t. On the way to the door I see a gentleman wearing a t-shirt that says, in large type, “This place isn’t for everyone.” In smaller type it says “(Thank God.)” He tells me the shirt is from a bar called The Temple in Detroit, but I think the sentiment fits The Minneapolis Eagle as well. It isn’t for everyone, but if you’re looking for an OutStanding Bar to Meet Men, The Minneapolis Eagle might be for you.

Minneapolis Eagle Plans 5th-Anniversary Celebration

Has it really been five years since The Minneapolis Eagle opened? It has, and during those five years the bar has featured many recurring weekly, monthly and annual events. Currently, the bar hosts a Bear night the second Thursday of each month, an Atons of Minneapolis club/fetish night the third Friday of each month, and a Minnesota Storm Patrol beer bust the second Saturday of each month. Annual events include leather-pride festival events in June, the Mr. Minneapolis Eagle contest, a uniform contest as part of the bar’s Halloween festivities, the “Men of the Eagle” Calendar contests, and a variety of sports fundraisers throughout the softball season.

And mark your calendar now: The Minneapolis Eagle’s 5th-Anniversary Celebration will be happening the weekend of September 26-28. More details to come.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Saturday, September 13

10 AM-2PM: Dante’s Inferno. Interested in learning bullwhip technique? Come to a demonstration/workshop with whipmaster Robert Dante, presented by MSDB and Whipsters. To purchase tickets or for event info: e-mail For more info on Dante: <>.

Saturday, September 20,

Black Guard Fundraiser. Benefit for Clinic 42’s Top Shelf program. Bring donations of bath, bed, kitchen and cleaning supplies (must be new). 6-10 PM. The 19 Bar.

Friday, August 22, 2003

A Conversation With IML2003 John Pendal

(Full-length Leather Life column published on Lavender Magazine website, Issue #215, August 22, 2003; a shorter version appeared in print)

PHOTO: John Pendal, International Mr. Leather 2003

John Pendal, this year’s International Mr. Leather contestant from The Hoist Bar in London, England, started his contestant speech by saying, “Before I realised I was gay I spent seven years in a fundamentalist religion. Do you think I should send them a video of this contest?” Pendal, who went on to win the IML 2003 title, has a continually-updated website (<>) where you can read that IML speech as well as other things he’s written—including the story of how he got involved with Christian fundamentalism and what got him out of it, and a guide to London’s leather scene. He recently traveled all the way from London to Omaha, Neb. for the International Ms. Leather 2003 contest, which is where I caught up with him.

Is being IML what you expected? Or didn’t you really know what to expect?

No, I knew what to expect, in that for the last years I’ve had a very political job where I work, so I knew there would be politics involved. I’ve been in a theater company for eight years, traveling, so I know what it’s like living out of a suitcase. And I’ve been writing since age eight. So, writing and delivering speeches, traveling to events, being political—I was expecting a lot of that. I haven’t had any surprises yet.

How is it working trans-ocean? You know, being one of these European IMLs that we get every once in awhile, of whom some people say, “Well, we’ll never see him again until it’s time to give up the sash next year”?

Well, to anybody that says that about me, I would say: “If you won IML and you’re an American, how often would we see you in Europe?” I’m coming out to America every month for the next year. Would I see you in Europe every month for the next year?

That’s the proper rejoinder.

I’m going to Rome, Brussels, Amsterdam, Reykjavik—in Iceland, for anyone who doesn’t know—Canada, I’m trying to get to Ireland, and yes, I will be going to America at least once a month for the next year.

I try to go to as many countries as I can, and there’s only two caveats on that. One is that the travel fund won’t burn out completely, because I inherited a healthy fund from my predecessor. I’d like there to be something left for the next IML. And the second thing is I have to be careful on jet lag.

You said at the IML press conference that you wanted to turn some attention to the European leather community—

I’d like to cross-fertilize. I think there are things that Europe can learn from America. I think there’s a great deal that America can learn from Europe. My plan is to try to take things back and forth.

But there are things that Europeans don’t have to worry about that Americans do, and vice versa.

There are, but then some things are very much the same. The syphilis outbreak is huge in America, it’s huge in London, it’s huge in Amsterdam. And I think we need education everywhere. People are coming on the scene all the time and they’re joining in great numbers, and that’s fabulous. But boy, do we need to teach them quickly! Stuff about safewords, about HIV transmission routes—not just about HIV but gonorrhea, herpes, syphilis, chlamydia.

And people need to know the history of our community—otherwise you just put on a pair of leather chaps that you bought, go to a bar, buy a drink and think that’s the leather community? No, that’s not—that’s wearing a costume and buying a drink in a bar. The leather community is something very different, and we need to educate people on that. It’s not they don’t want to know—they just don’t have the opportunities. When you go to a bar and buy a pint, is there anything to tell you, in most places, “This is where we’ve come from”?

One thing I’m really curious about—and I know you’ve written about it on your website—is your time as a fundamentalist.

I wrote an essay about that a few years ago, and it was a very cathartic experience. I didn’t think I needed to do it until my partner said, “I think this could be closure for you.” I wrote it in an evening, but it then took awhile to strip out a lot of it—because I was writing it from pure emotion, and what I wanted to do was attack fundamentalism, not attack faith.

When I got into the fundamentalist group the ability to write was a gift they realized I had. That’s one of the reasons I was promoted within the group so quickly—I could write what was essentially propaganda for them in the form of comic sketches. After I got kicked out because I was gay, I created a more gay-friendly touring theatre company that did stuff all over England and Wales. Also, I was selling scripts to local radio and to theatre companies in Canada and Paris, and I wrote stuff for Metropolitan Community Church.

Professionally, what are you doing now?

Up until recently I was working at (Britain’s) Channel 4, the TV station that made the original series of “Queer As Folk.” It’s a very gay-friendly TV station. They’ve now given me a sabbatical—unpaid leave for a year—but I stay as an employee on the books, and I keep some of my benefits, and I have a job to go back to if I want it. But my life needed a kick up the ass and hopefully at the end of this year I’ll have a different direction to go in.

I think a lot of creativity comes from dissatisfaction in your life, or being angry at something, or having something to say. And the more content I’ve gotten over the last ten years, the less creative I’ve gotten. My outlet now is writing things like the story on my website of my journey into and out of fundamentalism, or keeping a guide to London’s leather scene on the web updated every week, and writing speeches for IML.

As for the comic sketches and the script-writing, that’s really on the back burner, probably until I have a lot more life experience. I could create characters, I could create plots, I could do the scene breakout very well—I had honed all those techniques. But when you write something there should always be something underneath that is your voice—that’s coming out as a subtext. And I didn’t really have the life experience to be saying anything of value. Everything I was saying was on the surface—be a fundamentalist, be gay, be this, be that. It was too obvious, and what I needed to do was go away and live a little. So, that’s what I’m currently doing. But you can bet after my year as IML I’ll have a lot of material.

Many people have been asking Pendal what his plans are for the Harley Davidson 100th-anniversary XLH Sportster 883 motorcycle that was part of his IML prize package. The answer is at <> (click on “Being IML”). There you’ll find details about two of Pendal’s favorite causes, The Leather Archives & Museum (<>) and The Spanner Trust (<>). Make a $20 donation to both of these organizations ($10 each) and Pendal will thank you by entering your name in a drawing, to be held at next year’s IML, to award that motorcycle to a lucky winner.

Leather By Boots Minnesota Merges With Leather Cellar

Leather Cellar and Leather By Boots Minnesota have merged (Leather By Boots Minnesota is now a division of Cellar Leather LLC). They’ve also moved, so they’re not in a cellar anymore. Inviting you to come check out their new store at the corner of 37th and Cedar in south Minneapolis are owners Jennifer Langland and Lars and Mark McCrary, general manager Bruce Gohr, and clerks Ron Daher and Philip Lowe Jr.

In addition to a wide variety of leather/fetish-related merchandise, custom work is available. Hours at the new store are Wed.-Sat. noon-8PM, Sunday noon-6PM. You’ll also find them out and about at a bar or event near you in the Twin Cities and throughout Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. For more information shop their website at <>.