Friday, September 17, 2004

Dress Codes

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #243, September 17, 2004)

I just used Google to search on the web for “Leather Dress Code” and found that out of 218 results, the #1 hit was The Minneapolis Eagle’s website. Nice going, guys! (IML 2003 John Pendal’s “Guide to London’s Leather, Bear & SM Scene” was #6.)

Leather dress codes are a perennial topic of discussion among both those who are into leather and those who are not. Some people resent being kept out of a popular gathering place because they aren’t wearing the proper attire. It is their belief that this is America, and dress codes are an infringement upon their God-given right to go to any bar they damn well please. Others point to the regimented sameness of the attire and dismiss those inside as “clones.”

Then there are those of us who are grateful for our leather community’s spaces, such as The Minneapolis Eagle. We appreciate the effort that goes into creating the leatherspace and into formulating, maintaining and enforcing the dress code.

As dress codes at leather bars go, The Minneapolis Eagle’s is pretty typical. You can find it at <>, but I’ll save you the trouble. Headlined “because we said so,” here it is as presented on their website:

• Leather Jackets, Pants, Vests, Straps, Chaps, Dresses, Skirts, Shorts and Accessories
• Rubber, Vinyl, Latex and Plastic
• Law Enforcement and Fire Protection
• Military Uniform
• Construction Gear
• Western Wear
• You can also gain entry with a solid black, grey or white t-shirt, denim jeans (black or blue) and black leather boots.

• Dress Shirts, Sweaters or Polo Shirts
• Dress Pants or Khakis
• Dress Shoes or Loafers
• Sandals or Tennis Shoes
• Suits & Ties or Tuxedos
• Disco Wear”

The Minneapolis Eagle’s dress code is enforced Fridays and Saturdays after 9 p.m. and is encouraged but optional Sunday through Thursday nights. (Even if you are not wearing appropriate attire, if you are already in the bar when the dress code takes effect you will be allowed to remain—you will not be asked to leave. But see below.)

I’ve been thinking about the topic of dress codes quite a bit lately because the company for which I work (no, not Lavender—my other job, the one with a major national discount retailer) recently dropped their “Business Casual” code and ratcheted things up a notch to simply “Business.” That means that Monday through Thursday I have to wear either a sport coat or a tie, neither of which I have heretofore normally worn at work. For many years I was able to state proudly that my regular, day-to-day style of dress was such that at any given moment I could have met the dress code at any leather bar. One of the concessions I made when I started working at the major national discount retailer was to start wearing Dockers and polo shirts.

Under the new dress policy, should I someday show up at work without either a sport coat or a tie I can be “sent home to change.” To me that’s the same thing as being denied admission to the Eagle because I’m wearing dress slacks. I might not like it, but them’s the rules.

As one might expect, the change in the dress code has sparked a certain amount of grumbling among my coworkers. I even contributed to the grumbling—before heading off to the-department-store-that-was-recently-sold-by-the-major-national-discount-retailer-for-which-I-work and buying up a storm. If government statistics show that the nation’s economy improved in August, I’m the reason.

And why did I spend so much money to comply with the new dress code? Because I want to continue working there. That, and because I was able to take advantage of some really good discounts.

Why do I have a closet full of leather and related apparel? Because sometimes I like to hang out at the Eagle. That, and because I like wearing leather. I also like being around other people who are wearing leather. And I don’t like feeling like a tourist. (In leather parlance, a “tourist” is someone in a leather bar who sticks out because he or she is not wearing leather or other appropriate attire. If you are not appropriately attired and you stay at the Eagle when the dress code takes effect at 9 p.m. on Friday or Saturday, you risk being branded a tourist.)

Actually, now that I’ve been sensitized to the issue, I see that dress codes, both spoken and unspoken, are more pervasive than I ever realized. Just today, as I was walking from the parking ramp to my office at the major national discount retailer’s corporate headquarters, I passed a construction site. There, in big, bold letters, was the following proclamation, a “dress code” of sorts: “100% Hard Hat Area/100% Protective Eyewear/100% Fall Protection.” I was wondering what constituted Fall Protection, and what made Fall Protection different from Summer Protection or Winter Protection, until I realized that they probably meant “protection against falling”—like cables and harnesses, for instance. (Hmmm . . . construction workers . . . cables . . . harnesses . . . .)

But I digress. In a heavy construction area there are good reasons—like health, safety and protection— to mandate what workers wear. Mandating dress elsewhere, whether in a corporate setting or a leather bar, is done for other reasons—primarily to create an atmosphere that represents and reflects what is most appropriate for what takes place in that atmosphere.

After years of too often being inappropriate (and suffering the consequences), I have learned the value of appropriateness.

So if the management and customers of The Minneapolis Eagle support the idea of a leather dress code, I will wear appropriate dress to the Eagle. And I will be rewarded by being surrounded by leather, uniforms, and other butch attire.

And if the major national discount retailer decides that it wants to project a Fashion Forward image, I will appropriately spiff up my act. My reward will be that everyone else will spiff up their act, too, and I will be working in an upscale atmosphere with people who are nicely dressed.

On the other hand, thank goodness they’re keeping “Casual Fridays” so I can wear my 501s to work at least one day a week.

Friday, September 3, 2004

Give Bush the Boot! A Leather Life look at this year’s elections

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #242, September 3, 2004)

We interrupt this leather column to bring you an important emergency announcement. It’s time to Give Bush the Boot! I hope this phrase becomes a rallying cry throughout the leather community as Election Day draws near.

In 2000 I wrote some humorous columns looking at the last presidential-election campaign season from a leatherman’s point of view. Now it’s four years later and time to elect another President of the United States. This time I’m not laughing. I’m infuriated. So this column features me as a leather Paul Revere. My proclamation: The country has been hijacked, and in November we have a chance to get it back. To arms! To arms! Or, more accurately for the current situation: To the polls! To the polls!

I am not a terribly political person, although I am a consistent voter at election time. But prior to this year I had never attended a precinct caucus. Prior to this year I had never made a contribution to a presidential election campaign. This year I have done both. If there ever was a time to become politically active, this is the year. And the most important way to be politically active, and one of the easiest as well, is to vote.

Chuck Renslow, founder and Executive Producer of the International Mr. Leather contest, got a 30-second ovation when he proclaimed from the stage of this year’s contest: “We must defeat George Bush!” Here are some excerpts from that speech:

“When it comes to helping one another in times of crisis, our community has set the standards. We developed them by necessity, as we fought AIDS that devastated our community—without any government help. We learned to unify. We built our own institutions, with our own money. We learned to fight for our lives. And we learned compassion.

“Four years ago, George Bush told us that he was a compassionate conservative. The horrors of 9/11 notwithstanding, as we approach another election we’ve seen a fistful of conservativism, but compassion barely drips from his lips. Through the politics of fear, the politics of hate, using blame and division, this administration has one purpose: to impose George Bush and his views of democracy on the rest of the world.

“We are under attack, my friends. At stake is our very lives. As gay men and lesbians, our lives are meaningless to [this administration]—even moreso as leathermen and leatherwomen. The man proposed constitutional amendments to divide gays and lesbians from the rest of the nation.

“George Bush doesn’t know us. He has no idea how we banded together to fight AIDS for the common good. He has no idea how much energy we put into electing officials who aren’t afraid to say “gay” instead of “homosexual.” And apparently, he has no idea that he wasn’t elected with a mandate. He wasn’t even elected!

“Tonight I stand here to tell you that once again you must fight, and once again you must fight for your very lives. For the future of what it means to be gay in the United States of America, and as a result in the entire world, you have a duty to defeat George Bush. Much more, you have a duty to go back to your communities and convince more people how vital and important it is to defeat George Bush. In this election, the leather community must spread the word to the entire gay community, to the lesbian community, to the transgender community, to the bisexuals, and to every corner of the straight community. It’s time to unify, and it’s time, for the common good, to defeat George Bush!”

Well said, Mr. Renslow, and thank you for saying it. But it goes further—the presidency, while important, is only one part of the picture this election year.

Right now in this country the political landscape appears to be split almost right down the middle. Republicans have a president in power who actually lost the popular vote, a slight margin of control in the House of Representatives and a very slight margin of control in the Senate. (In Minnesota, Republicans control the governor’s office and the state House of Representatives). To echo Mr. Renslow, the Republicans have been acting and governing as if they had a lot more public support than they actually do.

This year, in addition to the presidency, every single seat in the United States House of Representatives is up for election, as are 34 seats in the United States Senate. Without a change to a significant Democratic majority in both the House and Senate it will be much more difficult for a newly-elected President Kerry to clean up the mess that’s been made of the country and the world in the last four years. So voting is especially important this year in this area, too.

And then there’s the matter of appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts. We can all be grateful that Bush has not had a chance to make any Supreme Court appointments so far, because the other federal court judges he has appointed have been almost uniformly far to the right, politically speaking, which makes them disasters for groups like women, minorities—and us.

In the next four years, however, Supreme Court justice appointments will very likely be necessary. Whoever is president therefore will make decisions that will continue to affect our lives for years after he has left office. We cannot afford to let George Bush make those appointments. On the other hand, the more I hear of Kerry the more I like him, and at this point I would definitely trust him to make those appointments.

Then, closer to home, there’s the matter of elections for state legislature seats and, in some states, executive offices. They too are extremely important, considering the current economic and political climate.

It’s time for a change, and what’s really needed is a big change. When the two sides of the political equation are seemingly so evenly matched, every vote becomes that much more important because each vote has the potential to break the deadlock, shift the balance and make the two sides not so evenly matched. If we don’t like the direction in which the country has been going, we must speak loudly and clearly with our votes to offer a real mandate for doing things differently.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the country’s future, the world’s future, and your and my future all depend on the outcome of this election. It’s also not an exaggeration to say that Lavender readers, and other people like us, potentially represent a significant voting bloc. Between the supposed 10% of the population that’s GLBT, and the seemingly-increasing percentage of the population getting in touch with their inner kinkster, we represent a lot of potential power—but only if we actually use it!

So—please—vote to Give Bush the Boot! Get registered to vote if you aren’t already. (Now would not be too soon to register.) If you’re going to be traveling on election day, make arrangements for an absentee ballot. None of this is difficult, and it’s worth the effort. For information on voting, registration and absentee ballots in Minnesota visit <>.

A postscript: if you are a member of the GLBT or kink communities who for some inexplicable reason supports Bush and his cronies (it’s amazing, but there are a few)—please examine your motives and priorities here. An an example, perhaps you feel you have benefited from the current administration’s economic policies—but is that worth giving up civil liberties? If you admire Bush because you think he’s “tough on terrorists”—in some right-wing corners, members of the GLBT and kink communities are seen as equally terrifying and threatening. What happens if you and people like you are the next target in the “war on terror”? When you consider the chilling possibilities you might find yourself reconsidering who you support.