Friday, March 19, 2004

The Voice of Experience: Painfully Obvious by Robert Davolt

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #230, March 19, 2004)

In leather and in life, Robert Davolt has been there and done that. And he has the scars to show for it. He has been sharing his experience and hard-won wisdom with leather readers since his days as Drummer Magazine’s final editor. Since the demise of Drummer Davolt has been a columnist on <>; his new book, Painfully Obvious (Daedalus Publishing Company, $16.95, <>), is a collection of material that originally appeared there.

Davolt has been called—well, I’m sure he’s been called a lot of things over the years, considering the toes he’s stepped on. Among the things he has been called are “the Mark Twain of the leather community” and “Andy Rooney on poppers.” Davolt’s writing can be acerbic, ironic, sarcastic—but certainly never dull. He pulls no punches and gores many pieces of sacred cowhide. Since has no advertisers to offend, Davolt is free to speak his mind. And he does.

Davolt was born to a conservative family from which he ran away at age 17 when he joined the Navy. By that tender age he already had experience as both businessman and journalist. He continued practicing journalism (and even teaching it) throughout the 1980s.

In 1996 he took over the editorial reins at Drummer and in 1999 had the sad honor of closing the magazine down. (The story of Drummer’s end is his next book.) As Drummer editor he also was responsible for the International Mr. Drummer and International Drummerboy contests and titles.

Davolt starts Painfully Obvious with “The Metaphor of Leather,” a philosophical piece written in the aftermath of the Drummer meltdown. It says what many leather community members have thought at one time or another but few have dared voice. This piece is a good, if extreme, introduction to Davolt’s style and tone throughout the book—he starts it with a bitter, angry cry of pain but manages to end on a (slightly) hopeful and (cautiously) optimistic note. After this introductory piece the book is divided into several sections of related columns.

The first section very practically and pragmatically explores such topics as how to navigate a leather bar; what to wear and where to get it; and, once you get it, how to get it through airport security. The subtitle of this book is “An Irreverent & Unauthorized Manual for Leather/SM,” and if ever there was a user’s manual or member’s guide to leather, this is it.

I was especially impressed with Davolt’s investigative-journalism chops in the airport-security piece—he effectively highlights the many reasons why I now take trains whenever possible.

Also in this section is Davolt’s step-by-step, dollar-by-dollar guide to the International Mr. Leather (IML) contest. If Consumer Reports wrote about IML, it would be this—minus Davolt’s characteristic flair.

Davolt moves from the pragmatic to the thought-provoking in the book’s second section on leather relationships. After examining the many possible names and forms for leather relationships he skillfully yet lovingly deconstructs the notion of the (dysfunctional) leather family (“In Leather We Are Family . . . Then Again, So Were The Borgias.”)

The book’s third section deals with aspects of leather history and community: advice to leather journalists, how to patronize a bootblack without making a fool of yourself, leather clubs and leather businesses. There are also a few reminiscences about his time at Drummer that made me wish he’d hurry up with his next book.

Also in the third section is one of the best things I have ever read on the subject of multiculturalism in the leather community—or in any community, for that matter. Davolt draws upon the work of author Mark Williams and his new book 10 Lenses: Your Guide to Living and Working in a Multicultural World (Capital Books), and then particularizes those “ten lenses” to the leather community. As with so many things in this book and in the leather community, these concepts work equally well if you apply them to the rest of society.

The fourth section of the book deals with leadership. In it Davolt presents advice for leather community leaders, event planners, and people involved in all aspects of leather contests: contestants, contestant sponsors, titleholders, emcees, judges, producers and title owners. Davolt has been in all those roles at one time or another, so he knows whereof he speaks.

At this point I must disclose that I am not a totally unbiased reviewer for this book, since I was asked by the author to write the book’s introduction. In order to be able to write a proper introduction, of course, I had to read a draft of the book. As it turned out I not only read it, I also did a fair amount of copy editing.

At that time I was struck by how many of the pieces in the book merited my personal “Gee, I wish I’d written that” award. Now that I’ve read the final, printed version of the book I am struck again by his intelligence, intellect, insight and wisdom.

And this leads me to my one disappointment in the book: I regret to report that the production of the book is not quite up to snuff—in matters of design, layout, typography and proofreading, it falls short. I am somewhat surprised at this considering Davolt’s background in journalism and magazine publishing. And I find it especially distressing since I corrected many gremlins when I read the draft, but now that the book is in print I find some of those gremlins have crept back in and new ones have been introduced.

Davolt and his writing deserve better. The content of the book is so good and so worthwhile—I just wish the form served it better. Still, Painfully Obvious is a great contribution to leather literature. I will end this review the same way I ended the book’s introduction: You’ll find a lot of leather wisdom (and just plain wisdom, too) in these pages.

Be glad Davolt is willing to share.

Friday, March 5, 2004

The Envelope, Please

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #229, March 5, 2004)

At the 2004 Pantheon of Leather Awards, recently held at the Leather Archives & Museum in Chicago, the award winners were:

Man of the Year: Jack McGeorge, Woodbridge, Va. A longtime pansexual BDSM community leader, McGeorge is the UN weapons inspector in Iraq who survived a media firestorm when he was outed as kinky by the Washington Post (“Leather Life” column, Lavender Issue 198).

Woman of the Year: Mary Elizabeth Boyd, Arlington, Va. Hailed in Washington, D.C. and around the world as “The First Lady of Leather,” Boyd for many years has graced the leather community with her intelligence and taste. She will be one of the judges at this year’s International Mr. Leather contest.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Alan Selby, San Francisco. Selby, the “S” in Mr. S Leathers, has made a second career of doing volunteer work. In 1983 Selby was among the first volunteers in the AIDS ward at San Francisco General Hospital. At age 74 he still volunteers at San Francisco’s Stop Aids Project.

Community Choice (Men) and International Award: John Pendal, London. This year’s International Mr. Leather is also this year’s only multiple award recipient. Check out his website (<>) for thought-provoking writing, great photos and a chance to win his 100th-anniversary Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Community Choice (Women): sheryl dee, San Diego. Former Ms San Diego Leather and current American Leatherwoman, dee is creator of the Leather Girl Network (<>).

Forbear Award: Joseph Bean, Kahului, Hawaii. Bean is a noted leather writer, artist, editor, lecturer, and the first Executive Director of The Leather Archives and Museum.

President’s Awards: Mark Leno, San Francisco; Chris Reynolds, Las Vegas; Steve Sampson, Tucson, Ariz. Formerly a San Francisco Supervisor and now a California Assemblyman, Leno is the first out leatherman to hold a position as a state legislator anywhere in the United States. Reynolds is a long-time member of the Nevada leather community, past president of LUC (Leather Uniform Club) of Las Vegas and on the board of NLA: Las Vegas. Sampson founded Butchmann’s Academy as a gay male SM training academy in 1994; Arizona Power Exchange is continuing the Butchmann’s tradition with a series of leather heart and spirit weekend intensives (<>).

Non-Profit Organization of the Year: Brother Help Thyself, Washington, D.C. Brother Help Thyself was formed in 1978 by the Capital Area Board of Leather/Levi Motorcycle Clubs. In the past 21 years the organization has raised over $1.24 million and distributed it to 97 groups in the Washington and Baltimore areas.

Large Club of the Year: Mama’s Family and Northern California Regional Award: Sandy “Mama” Reinhardt, Dublin, Calif. Ten years ago Sandy “Mama” Reinhardt began her adopted leather family, which now includes over 500 leatherfolk from the San Francisco area and beyond. Led by Reinhardt, the group has raised over $1 million for charity in just the last two years.

Large Event of the Year: American Brotherhood Weekend (ABW) 2003, Washington, D.C. The ABW weekend (<>) celebrates the bonds of leather family and revolves around four contests that make up that family: American Leatherman, Leatherwomen, Leatherboy and Leathergirl.

Small Club of the Year: L.A. boys of Leather, Los Angeles. This club is for submissives of any gender who identify as “boys” (>). Its members are seen working and assisting at events and contests in southern California and around the country.

Small Event of the Year: Twelve Days of Christmas (Hooker and boys Productions), Baltimore. Now in its fifth year, this fundraiser combines the talents of the drag, leather, GLBT and rodeo communities to raise money for charities and remind people of the true spirit of the holidays.

Business of the Year: Cell Block, Chicago. The Cell Block has been an integral part of Chicago’s leather/fetish scene for years. The bar hosts the International Mr. Rubber contest every year in November.

Business Person of the Year: Tori Bowen (Club Quest), Chicago. Bowen co-produces My Vicious Valentine, an large pansexual BDSM weekend in Chicago. Bowen stood her ground when the event was attacked by right-wing conservative religious forces and, in response to the attacks, created a watchdog website: <>.

Couple of the Year: George Hester and Danny Alford, New Orleans. Members of the Lords of Leather, New Orleans’ only leather-oriented Mardi Gras krewe, Hester and Alford are both active on the international leather scene.

Canadian Award: Douglas Connors, Ottawa. As Mr. Leather Ottawa-Outaouais 2003, Connors created a Leather Luau event with demonstrations and workshops and launched Northern Sash, Canada’s first electronic magazine for and about sexual minorities.

Florida Regional Award: Karen McGee, Jacksonville, Fla. McGee is Ms World Leather 2002 <> and the immediate past president of CODE 12 JAX, a leather/levi club in Jacksonville. She is a passionate advocate for homeless people living with HIV.

Mid-Atlantic Regional Award: Timmy Snyder, Baltimore. Tim has served as an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter at leather events for the last eight years. He is a member of Hooker and boys Productions (see “Small Event of the Year,” above).

Midwest Regional Award: Thom Dombkowski, Chicago. Dombkowski was co-founder of Chicago House, the midwest’s first residence program for people living with AIDS. After many years as Chief Judge for the International Mr. Leather contest, he continues to mentor the next generation of leathermen.

Northeast Regional Award: Bob Forbes, Syracuse, N.Y. Involved in leather for over 20 years, Bob is a multiple titleholder, contest promoter, fundraiser, mentor and club member (Journeymen of Syracuse). He founded a grassroots AIDS organization in Syracuse in the late 1980s.

New England Regional Award: Rich “RTB” Trevino, Boston. Trevino is American Leatherman 2002 and a long-time member of The Brotherhood, a Boston-based leather charity organization.

Northwest Regional Award: Bill “The Hun” Schmeling, Portland, Ore. For three decades erotic artist Schmeling has been crafting hot, sensual, masculine images for the leather community. See his art and meet the artist at major leather events or visit his website: <>.

Rocky Mountain Regional Award: Rich Dockter, Denver. Dockter has built Thunder in the Mountains ( into one of the BDSM community’s most noted annual leather educational events, drawing sellout crowds from around the world.

South Central Regional Award: Mark Frazier, Dallas. Owner of the Dallas Eagle, Frazier founded South Plains Leatherfest and helps produce the annual Ms World Leather event. He recently directed a documentary film dealing with the difference between SM and abuse.

Southeast Regional Award: Ami “gypsie” Offenbacher, Durham, N.C. Offenbacher maintains and posts the Triangle Munch Group (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill) Calendar of Regional Events (<>) to nearly 100 groups and lists twice a month.

Southern California Regional Award: Stephen Blackwell, Los Angeles. Blackwell founded the L.A. boys of Leather (see above) in 2002. As Mr. L.A. Leather 2003, he was second runner-up at International Mr. Leather 2003.