Friday, February 21, 2003

Leather Activities to Fill Your Datebook

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #202, February 21, 2003)

Get out your calendar and start marking! Starting this very weekend and continuing through the next few months, various organizations within the Twin Cities leather community will be presenting all kinds of interesting get-togethers. If you’re a Twin-Cities-based reader you’ll find an amazing array of activities right in your own backyard; if you’re not, you’ll find several activities here that would justify a trip to beautiful Minnesota.

Happening Soon:

Friday, February 21, 7-9 PM: The Black Guard of Minneapolis is having a beer bust and taco feed at Trikkx in St Paul—five dollars for all the beer you can drink, tacos for a buck each. Buy a balloon for a buck, bust it and win prizes including calendars, videos, candy and birdhouses.

Tuesday. Feb. 25, 7 PM: Pride Alive, the Queer Men’s Initiative of the Minnesota AIDS Project presents a discussion on “The Future of Leather.” Pride Alive isn’t really a leather organization, but it has been sponsoring a great three-part discussion series about leather. Part 1 (Jan. 28) was about leather history, and Part 2 (Feb. 11) dealt with risk and responsibility as it applies to leather and the dungeon. Whether or not you attended either of the first two sessions, you’re invited to what is sure to be a lively discussion on where the leather community is going. Minnesota AIDS Project office, 1400 Park Ave. S., Mpls. FFI contact William Grier, Health Educator

Saturday, March 1, 10:30 AM-2 PM: MSDB (Minnesota Stocks, Debentures and Bonds) present “Rules of Engagement.” Picking up where their popular discussion on dungeon etiquette left off, this panel discussion will cover relationships with neighbors, co-workers, family, police, civil courts and others. Topics to be covered include: how to approach your children, loved ones, and significant others about your lifestyle; the dynamics of throwing a public party; civil law (including custody issues); how we relate to the police, the media, our supervisor, postal inspectors, our physicians and our spiritual advisors; and what’s expected of us as members of the local community. Class attendees are encouraged to bring a lunch—dessert and beverages will be provided. For further information and to order tickets visit or e-mail

Saturday, March 22: MSDB presents another in its series of kink-aware CPR/First Aid certification classes. The CPR class runs from 9 AM-1PM; First Aid class is 2-6 PM. Check MDSB’s website (listed above) for more information.


April 4-6: Black Frost 26, the annual run and fundraiser presented by the Black Guard of Minneapolis. This year’s theme is “B-B-B . . . Back to Basic Black,” and the run show will feature members of the Black Guard performing some of their classic numbers—as the run brochure says, “OLD but still entertaining”—as well as some new surprises. Also featured throughout the weekend will be the traditional camaraderie, games and cocktail parties. Fundraiser beneficiaries are The Aliveness Project and Every Penny Counts. Host hotel, and also the site of Saturday evening’s banquet and show, is the Quality Inn in downtown Minneapolis. For more information and to download a run application, visit (The club is looking for groups, organizations and individuals interested in hosting cocktail parties—contact the Black Guard via their website).

April 4-6: Spring Sting/Midwest Fetish Expo. Yes, it’s the same weekend as the Black Guard’s run, and also the same weekend as “Beat Me In St. Louis,” another BDSM/fetish expo. But with the amount of work and planning that producer Wolfhold Productions has lavished on this event, it should be quite successful and attract a good crowd. This pansexual weekend of fun, camaraderie, learning and dungeon play will be held in what is described as “a beautiful, newly built urban destination resort” with every amenity imaginable. (midnight skinny-dipping, anyone?) An assortment of workshops and discussions will be presented on Saturday and Sunday; among the nationally-known presenters will be bullwhip expert Robert Dante and noted author Fetish Diva Midori. A safe and monitored dungeon environment will be available both Friday and Saturday nights. The Fetish Ball on Saturday night is open to the public, and during the Fetish Ball the large vendor area will be open to the public as well. For more information,visit, e-mail or write to Wolfhold Productions, Willernie, MN. (Wolfhold Productions also plans a “Snowbound” event for November.)

June 6-8: Knights of Leather Tournament 15—Little Dungeon on the Prairie. Rope ’em and ride ’em, says the brochure. Escape to a private camp within a park and enjoy seminars, panel discussions and four (maybe five) fully-equipped dungeons, open 24 hours a day. Five fabulous meals (catered by Rainbow Creations) are included, as are continuous snacks and nonalcoholic beverages. For more information, to register and pay electronically or to download a run application visit Substantial discounts for early registration (biggest discount if you register by March 6).

July 17-19: Atons of Minneapolis Campout. The Atons host a run every other year; in years without runs, like this one, the Atons hold a summer campout instead—a no-nonsense weekend in the woods with a bunch of leathermen. For more information visit or call the Atons HotLine.

Quite a list, isn’t it? And there’s more—space doesn’t permit listing all the recurring events put on by the various clubs and organizations. Watch for information about them in a future column.

Friday, February 7, 2003

Sexual Fulfillment: What Two Retired Lutheran Bishops Have to Say on the Matter, and Why You Should Care

(Book review published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #201, February 7, 2003)

Sexual Fulfillment (for Single and Married, Straight and Gay, Young and Old)
By Herbert W. Chilstrom and Lowell O. Erdahl
Softcover, 182 pages, $13.99
Published by Augsburg Press (

Good news! According to two retired Lutheran bishops, it’s not a sin to be gay and it’s not a sin for gay people to have sex. Well, it’s not necessarily a sin for them to have sex, anyway.

Two retired Lutheran bishops have had the courage to write a book that frankly discusses aspects of sex and sexual relationships (including same-sex relationships) rarely addressed by organized religion. For this alone, they should be applauded.

It might be easy and tempting for many readers of Lavender to dismiss this book, and indeed the entire controversy about the church’s views of sexuality, as old news and irrelevant. But change doesn’t come from ignoring a problem. Rather than ignoring the controversy, members of the GLBT community and other sexual minorities would be much smarter to seize the opportunity created by this book and get involved in the discussion, so that their voices and viewpoints can be and are heard. The publication of this book represents major progress in the struggle for understanding and acceptance of GLBT people in church and in society, and it might never have been written were it not for the involvement of the early members of Lutherans Concerned and what Chilstrom and Erdahl refer to as other “Christ-confessing gay and lesbian persons.”

The two authors have for many years wielded much influence within the Lutheran Church. When the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was formed in 1987, Herbert Chilstrom was elected its first presiding bishop and served in that capacity until 1995. Lowell Erdahl was bishop of the St. Paul area synod of the ELCA from 1988 to 1996. Both authors had long careers as Lutheran pastors before becoming bishops, and the style of the book’s writing—including the question-and-answer sessions at the end of every chapter—is more reminiscent of a joint pastoral counseling session than of two bishops pontificating.

Much of what the authors write seems at first very traditional and conservative—exactly what one would expect from two retired Lutheran bishops. The surprise comes when one looks past how they sound and looks at what they’re actually saying. Some of their assertions and conclusions, while perhaps quaintly old-fashioned for many Lavender readers, could be considered revolutionary in other circles—to religious fundamentalists, scandalous if not blasphemous. Since its publication the book has sparked much controversy among Lutherans of every stripe.

The authors’ central conviction is a belief that sex is a gift from God, intended for our good, our joy and our well-being. (Martin Luther would approve.) The authors spend the first two chapters of the book discussing “life-giving” sex that is fulfilling, healthy, joyful and a blessing, and “life-degrading” sex that is harmful, predatory, shallow or superficial, and that leads to unfulfilling or painful relationships. (The authors prefer the terms “life-giving” and “life-degrading” to more emotionally loaded words such as “right,” “wrong,” and “sinful.”)

In Chapter 3 they discuss sexual fulfillment in the context of traditional heterosexual marriage. Then it’s off to the minefields, discussing in subsequent chapters sexual fulfillment among single people (pre-marriage, never married, divorced, widowed, celibate); couples who are living together but not married; people in same-sex relationships; and, perhaps most shocking of all, the elderly (Viagra, anyone?). For someone in the church to even acknowledge that people in these categories might be entitled to some sort of sexual fulfillment constitutes a revolutionary act.

For gay people, the good news is that the authors declare their beliefs that being gay is a discovery, not a choice, and that sexual orientation, like sex itself, is a gift from God, and it would be wrong to reject it or try to change it. This is a viewpoint that has been arrived at by the authors literally over decades, and they describe their process of moving from having little understanding of sexual orientation to “loving the sinner but hating the sin” to their present-day stance:

“We affirm life-giving sexual fulfillment for gays and lesbians and welcome the creation of responsible, committed same-sex relationships that are the moral and emotional equivalent of marriage. We encourage those in such relationships to live together with the same kind of mutual love, mutual respect, mutual openness and mutual faithfulness that we have envisioned for heterosexual marriage.”

Throughout the book the authors hold to a very high standard for what constitutes “life-giving” sexual expression—a standard that many readers may feel to be either unattainable or undesirable—and many readers will disagree with the authors’ classification of certain other types of sexual expression as “life-degrading.” (Examples: They don’t appear to look favorably on either SM or polyamory.)

But while Chilstrom and Erdahl might make some severe pronouncements in the book, their manner of making them is unfailingly compassionate rather than judgmental. They thoroughly explain their views and how they have come to feel the way they do, and they acknowledge that not everyone will see everything their way.

Whether you agree or disagree with them, however, reading this book will make you think about these issues and where you stand on them. The book seems to have been written not to provide simple answers to complex questions, but rather to admit to the complexity of those questions and get a discussion going. At that level Chilstrom and Erdahl succeed admirably. In effect, they have invited the GLBT community into the dialogue. Now it’s up to us to accept the invitation and join the discussion.

Piercings By Cupid

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #201, February 7, 2003)

Valentine’s Day and leather go very well together. In fact, the combination is a better fit than you may have realized. Think of all the symbolism that Valentine’s Day involves.

First there’s Cupid, a master piercer if ever there was one. Cupid, the Roman god of love, was the son of Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Venus was the Roman version of the Greek goddess Aphrodite—that’s where the word “aphrodisiac” comes from. In the same fashion, Cupid was the Roman version of the Greek god Eros, from whose name comes the word “erotic”—and for whom the Atons of Minneapolis have named their annual springtime “Eros” parties.

Next: The symbol of love that’s on every Valentine card—a heart—is also a prominent part of the leather pride flag. There are very few other flags in the world that incorporate a heart. How few, you ask? I recently visited a website called Flags of the World (<>), which is paradise to anyone into vexillology. A search of 32,000 images of flags reveals a mere 23 that have the keyword “heart” associated with them. On further investigation, the heart-shaped thing on several of the flags is really a leaf or a lily pad. Many of the other flags that include a heart in the design use it as a representation of being “at the heart of” something, the center or crossroads of a geographical region. (Example: The Canadian city of Chilliwack has a flag with four green hearts representing that Chilliwack is “the green heart of British Columbia.”) Disqualify the historical flags that are no longer used, and the leather pride flag emerges as the most widely-flown modern-day flag incorporating a heart. Of all those 32,000 flags, the leather pride flag’s use of a big, bold, unabashed red heart pretty much stands alone. (Oh, in case you didn’t already know, vexillology is the study of flags.)

Now, what about the man who gave the day its name? According to various legends, Saint Valentine was a physician/healer and also a (reputedly chaste) Christian priest who was executed on February 14, 269 A.D. Emperor Claudius II was the leader of the Roman Empire at the time and was having trouble getting Roman men to join his army. He reasoned that they didn’t want to leave their wives and families; therefore, he canceled all marriages and engagements. Valentine, however, continued to marry couples in secret, for which he was jailed and ultimately martyred.

More legend: Valentine was put in prison while he awaited execution. His jailer had a blind daughter whose sight was restored by Valentine. They became friends, and when Valentine was executed he left a note to the jailer’s daughter thanking her for her friendship and support. He signed it, “From your Valentine.” (The legend doesn’t say how old the jailer’s daughter was, so we can only hope that the first Valentine message ever sent was not from a priest to an underage child.)

That note signed “From your Valentine” might have remained obscure were it not for what happened 200 years later. The custom of the Roman empire at the time was to start the Feast of Lupercalia honoring Juno, the goddess of “feverish” (febris) love, on February 15. A lottery was held where men drew women’s names, and the women became the men’s feasting and sexual companions for the next year. (Doesn’t sound terribly consensual for the women, does it?) The early Christian church didn’t approve of such pagan eroticism and hijacked the festival by making February 14 the Feast Day of Saint Valentine—in effect substituting romance for eroticism. No longer would a man get a woman because he drew her name, but he would be allowed to send her a “valentine” note asking if she was interested in him.

So, what does it all mean? Given Saint Valentine’s track record of opposing those who oppose love, I’d be willing to bet that if he were alive today he’d thumb his nose at the Church and perform same-sex marriages. He would also probably understand that love comes in many flavors and that not all of the flavors are to everyone’s liking. But love in any flavor is still love and deserves to be honored as such. So, regardless of whether your preferred flavor is vanilla or something more exotic, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Chicago Leatherfest happens Valentine’s Day Weekend

This Valentine’s Day weekend (Feb. 14-16), leatherfolk from across the nation and around the world will meet in Chicago for a variety of events. Foremost among them will be thirteenth annual Pantheon of Leather Community Service Awards on Saturday, Feb. 15. (This year the Atons of Minneapolis are nominated in the category of “Small Event of the Year” for last year’s thirtieth-anniversary run.) Also on Saturday is the Mr. Cell Block/Male Hide Leatherman 2003 Contest, and on Sunday is the Mr. and Ms Olympus Leather 2003 Contest.

Also taking place Valentine’s Day weekend is My Vicious Valentine, another notorious Chicago event back for its sixth edition. The Christian-conservative group Concerned Women of America managed to get last year’s Vicious Valentine 5 evicted from one host hotel but was unsuccessful in getting them evicted from a second hotel, and the event was consequently a great success. The theme of this year’s Vicious Valentine VI (note the Roman numerals) is “Caesar’s Revenge,” and the event will even include—you guessed it—a Lupercalia party.