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