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.