Friday, August 31, 2007

Return to Rosemont Manor: Look, Ma! I’m a Zoning Violation!

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #320, August 31, 2007)

For those narrow-minded types wondering how to deal with GLBT folk, leather folk, kinky folk and other undesirables who are ruining neighborhoods across this great nation, a judge in Hancock County, West Virginia, has a solution: zone them into oblivion.

When we last discussed (in Lavender issue 308) the continuing saga of Rosemont Manor, a bed-and-breakfast in Weirton, W. Va., things were not looking good. The city of Weirton had refused to renew owner Rose Susko’s business license and had revoked the property’s zoning variance allowing commercial use of the mansion. This effectively put Susko out of business. It also threw out on the street the various alternative-lifestyle groups that had made the mansion a popular venue for a variety of events.

The city took this action after a local TV station, WTOV9 (the NBC affiliate in Steubenville, Ohio and Wheeling, W. Va.), heard about a leather event being held at the mansion and broadcast a series of inflammatory “investigative” reports. (“One day it’s a place for weddings, the next day it can transform into a place for alternative living—including a place for nudists!”)

Susko appealed to the circuit court of Hancock County, W. Va. over the loss of her zoning variance and business license. On July 16, 2007, Judge Arthur M. Recht issued an Order in which the court stated it needed more information before it could make a final determination in the matter. Until then, the Court decided the most equitable thing for all concerned was to return to the status quo “as of the time petitioner [Susko] received her zoning permit.”

Unfortunately, the Court went along with the City of Weirton’s opinion that Susko was approved to operate a “Bed and Breakfast and Wedding/Reception Center.” In the opinion of the city, and the interim opinion of the court, those are the only functions for which the mansion may be used. The alternative-lifestyle events that had been held at the mansion somehow fell outside those parameters and were consequently forbidden. Neither the city nor the judge explained why receptions, i.e. parties after a wedding, are permitted but other kinds of parties are not.

The Court ordered the city to restore Susko’s zoning variance and to re-issue her business license. But the Court handed Susko a lengthy and discriminatory list of events, activities and people she was forbidden to host. The list puts many, if not most, of Lavender’s readers in the “prohibited” category.

Susko had promoted the mansion to the alternative-lifestyle community using a separate website called “” (now inactive). The Court compiled its list of prohibitions simply by forbidding anything mentioned on that site. Thus, “Petitioner [Susko] shall not carry on, allow, invite, or advertise for others to carry on [at the property] activities known as ‘BDSM, Fetish, Master/Slave, Lesbian/Gay Trans-gender, Fem-Dom, Leather, Swingers, Nudists, CFNM [clothed female-nude male], Barbeques, Munches, Parties, Meet-and-Greets, Play Space, Lectures, Seminars, Demonstrations, School, CFNM Parties’ or any other activity referred to in any version of any of the internet websites advertising any aspect of ‘Our House on the Hill.’ ”

Nosiree, none of that “alternative-living” carrying-on stuff here! Put out that grill—you’re not zoned for barbequeing. Tell that guest to take off that leather jacket—it’s against the rules. No gays, lesbians or transgender customers allowed—you could lose your license. All guests must remain fully clothed at all times—and that goes double for the men. Women may not act in a dominant fashion. And when anyone is eating they may chew but may not munch.

The Court also directed that websites promoting any of the above-mentioned activities at the mansion “shall be withdrawn and removed from the internet forthwith and shall not appear on the internet again unless authorized by this Court.” Never mind the freedom of speech, prior restraint and censorship issues—just take the site down.

Susko wonders why she is being singled out while every other lodging facility in the area is able to operate without such restrictions on clientele and activities. She also wonders how, if someone were to ask to rent a room for the night, she would be able to determine who they were and what they were going to do once they were in the room, so as not to violate this court order and her zoning.

After a summer of not being able to conduct business, Susko is once again open for bed-and-breakfast guests. The story isn’t over yet, and she soldiers on. She has visited area munches and lifestyle groups to tell her story and drum up support, saying “We can’t let them do this to us.”

You can show your support, if you’re in the Pittsburgh/eastern Ohio/northern West Virginia area, by stopping and spending some time at Rosemont Manor (<>). I’ll bet the view from the hill is lovely this time of year.

Friday, August 17, 2007

MinKY: The Young and the Kinky

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #319, August 17, 2007)

In last issue’s column I suggested a partial answer to questions asked by many members of the leather/BDSM/fetish community: “Where are the young people in the leather community? Where’s the new blood? Where’s the next generation?” In that column I made the point that “new blood” is not necessarily limited to “young blood.”

In this column I’ll suggest another answer to those questions: MinKY, which stands for Minnesota Kinky Youth. (“Youth” in this instance means people between the ages of 18 and 35.)

Founded in 2003, MinKY builds community among younger kinky folk by maintaining an e-mail list/Yahoo group (currently with about 300 members) and by hosting monthly munches and parties. MinKY also hosts demos and social events such as game nights. The largest share of attendees at MinKY events are drawn from a core group of 50-60 people, of whom approximately one-third are “Friends of MinKY,” about which more in a moment.

MinKY is a prime example of what is known in leather circles as a TNG (“The Next Generation”) group. Those who like to play devil’s advocate might ask: Why is a group for young kinky folks necessary? Isn’t that age discrimination? Why would the young folks want to isolate themselves from more mature and experienced community members?

Why is a group like MinKY necessary? For starters, minors aren’t allowed in bars or at many typical kink events. And even for those over legal age, sometimes it’s more comfortable to hang with people who share a common generational culture—issues ranging from being at the same stage in life (and perhaps at the same general income level) to preferring the same style of music.

Some younger kinky folks may not mind always being the youngest, or one of the youngest, people at a munch or other event. But others might find it uncomfortable to talk about BDSM or sexual issues with people the same age as their parents. The discomfort sometimes goes the other way, too, with older community members feeling uncomfortable talking about kink with people who are young enough to be their children.

For someone who’s young and just discovering their kinky side, being one of the younger people at a kinky social function can be worse than uncomfortable—it can be intimidating and unsettling. For a moment, imagine yourself in their position experiencing either or both of two opposing attitudes: a) you are young, therefore you will be repeatedly hit on by “chicken hawks” (older people who prefer younger play partners), or b) you are young, therefore no one will take you seriously. Some people will be overly eager to play with you, while others won’t want to play with you because they think you’re young and inexperienced.

Experiences like that can be enough to make a young person forsake the organized community. In the words of Jae Januze, Ms World Leather 2006 and a crusader for outreach to younger kinky folks, “You get somebody who’s younger who shows up to a meeting, freaks out because most of the people there are older, and they don’t show up again. Instead they go hang out at the goth nightclub, or go to some fetish event where they’re not learning anything, it’s just about the look. And they’re still doing dangerous practices at home.”

For younger folks, it can be a relief to have a group like MinKY. It can be less intimidating for those new to kink to ask questions of someone closer to their age, and it can be easier for more experienced folks to mentor someone closer to their own age as well. Another advantage to groups like MinKY is that younger people who wouldn’t feel comfortable going to mainstream events by themselves might feel more comfortable attending such events as part of their TNG group.

MinKY goes to great lengths not to be isolationist. Many MinKY members are involved in other area leather/BDSM/fetish organizations. They’re visible at many mainstream munches and parties. Actually, they often have helped to plan, organize and staff these events. Another way MinKY integrates itself into the local community is by allowing people over 35 (or members who have “aged out” of regular MinKY membership) to apply for “Friends of MinKY” status, equivalent to some other area club’s associate memberships.

In the relatively short time MinKY has been in existence its members have demonstrated again and again the contributions younger kinky folks can make. They are happy to share their energy, enthusiasm and intelligence with the larger community. They have demonstrated that they are eager to learn and willing to be involved, lend a hand and help out. With MinKY on the local scene, the future of Minnesota’s leather/BDSM/fetish community looks bright indeed.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Leather’s Next Generation

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #318, August 3, 2007)

“Where are the young people in the leather community? Where’s the new blood? Where’s the next generation?” Over the last few years I’ve participated in many discussions centering around these questions, and I’ve written at least a few columns that touched on them. I thought they were good and worthwhile questions to ponder, and ponder them I did. But did I have an answer? Nope.

Now I think I might, at least partially. But the answer I think I’ve discovered isn’t what I would have expected.

The series of questions above are presented as three aspects of the same question, But they really aren’t as related as they seem. If we as a community assume they are, we will not be doing ourselves any favors.

Since the beginning of the year I have been quite pleased to see several new faces at leather events. I have talked to many of these individuals, asking who they are and what brought them to that particular event. After hearing several similar stories I have come to realize a few things about the future of our community.

I’m happy to report I don’t think leather is in danger of dying out anytime soon, any more than the GLBT community will be disappearing. In both instances, every day more community members discover and claim their membership. The process has been going on for some time now in both communities, and I believe it will continue.

But while the age at which people identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender seems to be getting younger, it appears to me this is not what’s happening with leather. If anything, judging solely from the new faces I’ve seen in leather recently, many people are finding leather later in life. That’s not what I personally would have expected, but that seems to be what I’m encountering.

Now that I’ve noticed this, I guess it stands to reason. Major life changes offer people opportunities for reassessing their personal history—where they’ve been, what they’ve done, where it’s gotten them—and perhaps making some course corrections. The kids are grown; a job disappears; a relationship ends; suddenly there’s a freedom and an opportunity to explore parts of oneself that formerly, for one reason or another, couldn’t be explored. The start of my leather journey was triggered by just such a major life change, and I’ve talked to many others who can say the same thing.

But these kinds of life changes don’t—can’t—happen to people in their twenties. People in their twenties can’t be empty-nesters. They can’t end a decades-long relationship because they haven’t lived long enough to have one.

Many, many years ago, your humble columnist came out as a gay man at age 19. I didn’t get into leather until I was 37. Getting into leather took me almost twice as long as coming to terms with my gayness.

People discover leather when they’re ready to discover it. Some people do it early, others do it later. Fortunately, there’s no rush—leather is one of the few communities where “sexy” is not necessarily linked to “young.”

But even though our community prides itself on not being age-discriminatory, when we expect and assume our community’s “new blood” and “next generation” will be young people—isn’t that being a bit ageist? While we’re busy wondering where the younger folks are, and worrying about reaching them and bringing them into the fold, we might be overlooking many, many people who may not be young but are certainly interested and enthusiastic.

Perhaps it’s time we realized that “new blood” can be any age, and started to think a bit differently about the future of the community and how we reach out to leather’s next generation.

For many years, one of the guiding principles of twelve-step recovery programs has been “attraction, not promotion.” Noted leather author and speaker Guy Baldwin has suggested that this same principle be applied to leather, and I second the motion. Rather than trying to figure out how to get a younger crowd interested in leather, wouldn’t our community be better served by simply 1) being who we are, and 2) being visible? If we do those two things, we will attract people—of all ages—who like what they see in us and want to join us.

At that point it doesn’t really matter what mileage is on someone’s odometer. Once they realize they’re interested in leather—when they’re 20 years old, 40, 60, whatever—what they need and want is someone willing to welcome them, show them the ropes and explain how leather works. If they are provided with that, they will be part of the future of leather.