Friday, May 27, 2005

A Decade of Decadence: Ten Years of “Leather Life”

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #261, May 27, 2005)

From Lavender Lifestyles, Issue #1, June 9, 1995:

“Greetings! New magazine, new leather columnist. When the editors of this publication asked me if I was interested in writing a leather column for them, I immediately assured them I was. By the time I hung up, I had recovered my senses, and asked myself, ‘What have I gotten myself into now?’ Well, I guess we’ll see.”

That, folks, is how it all started—ten years ago. Where has the time gone?

When I started writing this column (at the invitation of my leather mentor, J.D. Laufman), I had no idea how long the column would last, or how long the magazine would last. Back then the life expectancy of any new local publication aimed at a GLBT audience was not very long. Come to think of it, it still isn’t very long—which is why this anniversary is such a milestone.

I decided I would write this column as long as I could come up with something to say every two weeks. When I no longer had anything to say, I would stop writing.

Obviously, I haven’t run out of things to say yet. I have always had the opposite problem: how to cram everything I have to say into the space allotted for me to say it.

It’s been quite a trip. I’ve publicized leather events beforehand, been there to take pictures, and then written about them afterward. I’ve covered leather contests and even helped judge a few. I’ve interviewed a wide array of fascinating people—titleholders, porn stars, leather luminaries and ordinary people who have lived extraordinary lives.

Ten years ago I was asked to make this column “interpretive” rather than “descriptive.” That has meant that besides writing about what’s happening, I have also had the privilege of sharing my perspectives and opinions. I have tried not to abuse that privilege. I have tried to use my writing as an opportunity to strengthen and encourage the community.

I have inspired a few letters to the editor—some complimentary, some not. I’ve occasionally had requests for permission to reprint a column. I was even syndicated to the Gayly Oklahoman for awhile.

I am blessed to have been a part of this magazine since its inception. I think the community is blessed not only that Lavender is still publishing, but that it keeps getting better and stronger. I give great credit to Lavender’s publisher, Stephen Rocheford, and his dedicated staff—I’m glad they understand that publishing this magazine, and producing the website as well, is a business and must be run as such.

Because they understand that fact, Lavender is still here. Over the years, too many leather writers have watched as the magazines or newspapers for which they wrote were pushed into extinction. I feel very lucky to be one of the few leather writers left who still appears in actual print.

I thank all the editors I’ve had over the years for their guidance, for giving me chances to write other articles besides my column, and for not editing me too much. I especially remember two Lavender editors who are no longer with us: Heather Henderson and Tim Lee. I miss them both.

Thanks to Lavender Founding Editor George Holdgrafer for coming up with “Leather Life” as the name of the column—I think it has turned out to be more appropriate than anyone could have known.

A very special thank-you to my partner of over five years, Bill Schlichting, for love, support and encouragement. Bill is also a writer as well as a great copy editor, and my column is immeasurably better and more focused thanks to his suggestions.

I am grateful that Lavender has such a great website that allows these columns to be read anywhere and everywhere, much further than the distribution boundaries of the printed issues. And I am grateful to Joe Gallagher and, who link to my column on the Lavender website.

Since I began writing this column, my audience has grown from primarily gay leathermen and leather lesbians to include members of the burgeoning pansexual movement—heterosexuals, bisexuals, transsexuals, gays and lesbians, and those who don’t identify as any particular sexuality or gender but who identify as kinky. Because of the coming together both locally and nationally of previously separate factions, the community is much stronger than it was when I started writing this column.

I have met so many great people along the way. My horizons have been immeasurably widened. It’s impossible to put a price on things like that.

Thank you to everyone who has been reading my column over the last ten years. And thank you to the leather/BDSM community for being such fascinating and beautiful people. Thank you for giving me so much good stuff to write about. If you all will just keep being who you are and doing what you do, your humble columnist will keep on writing about it and sharing it with the world.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Mr. Midwest Leather Contest held in Dubuque

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #260, May 13, 2005)

The first annual Mr. Midwest Leather Contest was held in Dubuque, Iowa, on Saturday, April 9, at One Flite Up (44 Main Street). A Meet & Greet gathering, followed by a Leather & Lace drag show, had been held the preceding Friday evening.

Over 300 people attended the Friday and Saturday night events. Kevin Menning, owner of One Flite Up, was the event host for the weekend and is looking forward to the contest becoming an important annual event for the midwestern leather community.

The new Mr. Midwest Leather is Wes Kassulke of St. Louis. First runner-up was Todd McComb of Des Moines, and second runner-up was Walt Oberbroeckling of Dubuque.

Kassulke will compete in this year’s International Mr. Leather Contest, Memorial Day weekend in Chicago.

PHOTO: The newly chosen Mr. Midwest Leather 2005 is Wes Kassulke of St. Louis.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mister Marcus Hernandez

PHOTO: Mr. Midwest Leather Contest winners: Left to right, second runner-up Walt Oberbroeckling of Dubuque; Mr. Midwest Leather 2005 Wes Kassulke of St. Louis; and first runner-up Todd McComb of Des Moines.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mister Marcus Hernandez

PHOTO: Newly chosen Mr. Midwest Leather 2005 Wes Kassulke of St. Louis, left, is congratulated by International Mr. Leather 2003 John Pendal, right, who was the Master of Ceremonies for the contest.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mister Marcus Hernandez

Andrea Dworkin, 1946-2005: Agreement and Disagreement

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #260, May 13, 2005)

Militant feminist Andrea Dworkin died recently. With her anti-male, anti-SM and anti-pornography reputation, readers of this column might think I’d have problems with many of her ideas.

Not necessarily. I always thought her worldview was extreme, hyperbolic, overblown—and angry, very angry. I still think so. But if one can look beyond all that, one finds that she had a keen intellect and interesting powers of analysis. A lot of what she said makes a certain amount of sense.

Dworkin was an extreme personality who attracted extreme responses—responses often based on misunderstandings, misinterpretations or misconceptions. To comment fairly one must actually read her words, rather than relying on what others said about her and her writings.

Among Dworkin’s areas of activism were domestic abuse, rape and pornography. She considered them hate crimes against women. To her they represented three interrelated manifestations of the same societal disease—the abuse, enslavement, subordination and dehumanization of women by men in a patriarchal society.

My response: That same patriarchal society also victimizes gay men in some of the same ways as women.

Take domestic abuse, something with which Dworkin and I both have firsthand experience. Anyone, of any gender and any preference, can find themselves in an abusive relationship. Too often they will find it difficult to extricate themselves, and they will find the law-enforcement and legal systems adding to their problems instead of helping to solve them.

Rape is an extreme form of sexual abuse. In Dworkin’s view it is used by men to control women, to keep them in their place. She wrote in her memoir, Heartbreak, that she was “struck by how prisons were the only places in which men were threatened with rape in a way analogous to the female experience.” I beg to differ—gay men also get raped (and not just in prisons), both by other gay men and by (supposedly) straight men. It’s physically and psychologically devastating for a man, too.

I start disagreeing with Dworkin, or at least questioning her, on the topic of pornography. She wrote Pornography: Men Possessing Women, and that book title is a good distillation of her analysis: pornography is not much different than domestic violence or rape, except that it keeps on going. Men can use, abuse, torture, maim, rape and dehumanize a woman to the point of killing her—and then they can continue the abuse through pictures of the victim, even after the victim herself has long been thrown away.

Here, my view is quite different. Certainly there are male porn stars who are abused by boyfriends or managers—or, even worse, who bottomed in bareback porn and paid for it with their lives. That’s both tragic and an outrage.

On the other hand, gay male porn doesn’t have a built-in caste system involving two genders, one always on top and the other always on bottom. For gay men, therefore, erotic images need not be exclusively about dominance, dehumanization and control—we are men looking at pictures of other men. There is an element of seeing ourselves in the pictures and celebrating ourselves, our brothers and our sexuality. That’s quite different from the dynamic that outraged Dworkin.

As for Dworkin’s reputation for being rabidly anti-SM—maybe I just haven’t found the proper book of hers yet, but every time I’ve seen the words “sadistic” or “masochistic” in her writing, she’s not talking about dungeon play. She’s talking about real-life, non-consensual, abusive human interactions.

There is no shortage, however, of other feminists who condemn SM and say that it is impossible for a woman to engage in SM without completely degrading herself and replicating yet again the male-dominant/female-subordinate paradigm of the current patriarchal society.

A man can voluntarily play at giving up his power, so the logic goes, because he knows that when the play is over he will be able to claim his power once again. A woman, however, knows on some level that she is only playing at having power—when the scene is over she will be like Cinderella after the ball, her power gone, the carriage turned back into a pumpkin and the ball gown turned back to rags.

That theory does not necessarily correlate with my experiences in the leather/BDSM community—a community built on respect, trust, honor and especially equal valuation for everyone: women, men; all races and ethnicities; het, gay, lesbian, bi, trans; dom or sub. We know the difference between safe/sane/consensual SM play and abuse, and we do not tolerate abuse.

And leather/BDSM, along with the rest of the queer community, has to a large degree thrown away many of society’s patriarchal conventions because we found that they didn’t serve our interests.

Look at the principles to which Dworkin devoted her life. Then look at the present state of leather/BDSM and the rest of the queer community. You’ll see more agreement than disagreement.

MN Leather Pride announces four-part Spirituality Roundtable

Based on the success of the Leather Spirituality Roundtable held during last year’s Minnesota Leather Pride celebration, the Roundtable this year is being expanded to four sessions taking place during May, June and July.

On Tuesday, May 17, the first Roundtable topic will be “Roles and Relationships” in the leather community. The second Roundtable discussing “Rituals, Protocols and Conventions” will take place Tuesday, June 21, and will be followed the next evening by a special guest Roundtable presentation: “Mr. Burke: Master/slave Relationships” on Wednesday, June 22. The fourth Roundtable, on Tuesday, July 19, will be about “Sparking the Future.”

All Spirituality Roundtables will be held at the Bolt Underground, 513 Washington Ave. S. in Minneapolis, from 7 to 9:30 P.M. Roundtables on Tuesdays are free; admission to the special Wednesday Roundtable is $5 (or free with this year’s Minnesota Leather Pride dog tag).

These events are in addition to more than a full week of other Minnesota Leather Pride activities happening in June and coinciding with the Twin Cities GLBT Pride Celebration.