Friday, March 28, 2008

Sex and Politics

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #335, March 28, 2008)

This issue’s column was inspired by, and is dedicated to, Eliot Spitzer.

What, you may ask, is the former governor of New York doing in a leather column? He’s serving as a good example of a bad example. The leather/BDSM/fetish community can learn much from his recent misadventures. We ignore these lessons at our own peril.

It was dizzying to watch how quickly Spitzer went from being spoken of as a possible presidential contender in a few years to being spoken of as Client 9. Eliot Spitzer now joins Larry Craig, David Vitter, Rudy Giuliani, James McGreevy, Mark Foley, Bill Clinton, Gary Condit, Gary Hart, and many other powerful male politicians (yes, so far they’ve all been male) who have been the subject of sex scandals.

Our society is obsessed with the combination of sex and politics, and also with the combination of sex and religion (as in Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker). When something goes wrong with either combination it can create scandal—and we as a society are so absolutely, totally disgusted by sex scandals that we absolutely, totally can’t get enough of them. Since scandal sells newspapers and grabs television-viewing eyeballs, the media are only too happy to cater to our loathing.

What is there about sex and politics, or sex and religion, that’s such a hook for so many people? Whether politics or religion, the people at the center of sex scandals are always powerful people. Wait a minute—sex and power . . . playing with sex and power . . . does that sound like anyone we might know? Like, maybe, us? The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) conducts a “Sex and Politics” workshop and has even gone so far as to produce a very attractive t-shirt emblazoned with “Sex and Politics” (along with the NCSF logo).

NCSF, the Woodhull Freedom Foundation and other leather/BDSM/fetish community organizations and think tanks spend a lot of time contemplating sex and politics, and how to change things for our community’s betterment. Along these lines one long-term goal that has been identified, and is now starting to be acted upon, is the decriminalization of BDSM activity. But as we craft our strategies to achieve this and other community goals, it might be instructive for us to look especially closely at the somewhat frenzied nature of the current socio-political climate—the ocean in which we, along with the rest of society, are all swimming.

For example, instead of merely garden-variety internet prostitution, what if the governor had been caught being involved with, say, a professional dominatrix? Or even a pro-dom—another male? Would he still be governor? Would the shame have been less? Or would it have been even worse?

All we as a community can do with the above questions is to speculate, of course, because we all know how unlikely it is that any of our elected representatives in Washington or elsewhere would do anything so depraved as to utilize the services of a pro-domme. Certainly none of our elected representatives or officials are involved in BDSM, are they?

All kidding aside, I expect one day we’ll find out how the above hypothetical situation plays out for real, when a congressman or senator is caught in flagrante dungeon. We have already seen what happened when The Washington Post outed one of the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq as being a member of the BDSM community. If there can be that much of a media firestorm for someone who wasn’t an elected official . . . .

On the other hand, what if someone who was a proud member of the leather/BDSM/fetish community were to run for public office and win—and then be popular enough to be re-elected? That has happened for several openly gay politicians, including Representatives Barney Frank, Gerry Studds and Tammy Baldwin. Frank and Studds even both survived their own political scandals. (The man who led the charge in 1990 to expel Frank from Congress was, incredibly enough, Larry Craig.)

Maybe it all comes down to shame and secrecy. Right now in the public mind leather/BDSM/fetish sexuality is in the same category as prostitution and other scandalous things—in much the same way Trent Lott once put gay people in the same category as kleptomaniacs. That was in 1998, and Lott discovered a large segment of the population did not agree with his comparison, because by that time many people had decided that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender was nothing to be ashamed of.

In much the same way, I think the day is coming when leather/BDSM/fetish sexuality will be nothing to be ashamed of. If part of what gets us there is working to decriminalize BDSM, we have our work cut out for us—but we need to do it. Both our community and society at large will be better for it, because so many members of our community have so much to offer the wider society. If politicians professing to be God-fearing Christians have made such a mess of things over the last few decades, it might take a bunch of people formerly known as “pervs” to make things better.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Self-Made Leather

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #334, March 14, 2008)

When I tell people I’m a leather columnist, many often assume I write about those cute little wallets they once constructed at summer camp from a Tandy Leather kit. Well, not quite.

But I don’t mean to disparage the practice of leathercraft. Where, after all, would the leather/BDSM/fetish community be without it—without people who know how to turn a hide into all the things that rock our world?

Charles Tandy, the entrepreneur behind Tandy Leather (and later Radio Shack), knew the value of leathercraft. His father’s business was a supplier to the shoe repair industry, and young Tandy suggested during World War II that leathercraft might offer new possibilities for growth of the business. Tandy noted that “leather was used in large quantities in army and navy hospital units and recreation centers. Leathercraft gave the men something useful to do; and their handiwork, in addition to being therapeutic, had genuine value.”

If it worked as recreation for soldiers in hospitals and kids at summer camp, you might find it fun, too. Disclaimer: Your humble columnist is not a leathercraft expert—far from it. But I have many friends who enjoy our community’s special flavor of leathercraft, along with the related hobby of toycraft.

Let’s look at toycraft first. At the last several Knights Tournaments, the Knights of Leather’s annual run, very popular classes in toycraft have been taught by local leatherman Bobbie Smith. In the classes he has shown many happy campers how to make their own leather/BDSM toys, such as floggers, restraints, blindfolds, gags and so on. The classes on Saturday have been followed by show-and-tell sessions on Sunday morning at which campers have displayed their creations, often with accompanying demonstrations.

Another member of the local BDSM community, Redline, has written and self-published a limited-edition book of BDSM and kink construction projects. Smith and Redline’s basic message: If you can’t find (or can’t afford) what you need, why not make it yourself to your own specifications? That way, you get exactly what you want—and it’s one-of-a-kind besides.

Assuming you have an idea for a fun new toy and you’d like to exercise your leather/BDSM/fetish creative bent, where can you find the raw materials? They’re all around you—the kitchen, the basement, and the garage can be good sources of “pervertibles,” ordinary items that, with a little ingenuity, can be turned into something much more fun.

If you can’t find what you need around the house, try your local hardware store, lumberyard or farm-and-fleet store (especially good for equestrian items). Or, for stuff you truly won’t find anywhere else and that often defies description, there’s always Ax Max Surplus, a local favorite of creative Twin Cities shoppers for many years. Wander the aisles of any of these stores and let your imagination run wild.

Now let’s talk about crafting leather items to wear. Unless you suddenly inherit a sewing machine capable of working with leather, you’re probably not going to choose a vest for your first project. But there are plenty of things to make that don’t require sewing: for example, armbands, wristbands, gauntlets, harnesses and even restraints.

To create these items you’ll need raw materials: leather and hardware (eyelets, rivets, studs, snaps, welded rings, lengths of chain). You’ll also need a few simple tools for cutting leather, punching holes, and attaching the hardware. A great local resource for leathercraft supplies is Gray’s Leather in south Minneapolis (<>).

Before you start an actual project, you might want to practice using your leathercraft tools on scrap leather. Then, when you feel comfortable, plan what you want to create and go for it.

Choose something relatively simple, like an armband, as your first project. Start with a strip of leather (probably belting). Measure the circumference of your arm to know how long to make the strip, allowing for overlap of the ends if necessary, and cut the strip to the proper length.

Now either punch holes in the leather and lace it around your arm with rawhide lacing, or install one or more snaps. Then, if you like, attach decorative studs, lengths of chain, or a pattern of welded rings or eyelets.

The crafting itself can be a fun and satisfying activity, and when you craft your own leather accoutrements the monetary savings can be significant. But even better, you enjoy the satisfaction that comes with wearing and using your own unique, custom-designed and custom-built creations.

MSDB premieres two new educational series

Two new series of educational seminars are kicking off in the next few weeks. On Saturday, March 29, MSDB presents the inaugural event in its new series of intensive workshops: “Killer B’s Invade Minnesota!” Presenters Padre Pugno and Mademoiselle B will focus on “bondage for sadism and humiliation” and “advanced decorative rope bondage.” For more information visit the events pages at <>.

Then, on Wednesday, April 2, MSDB begins The LAB, a series of educational events being held the first Wednesday evening of every month. April’s topic is Wrestling, presented by Ellie and Forrest. Future planned topics include fisting, yoga and CBT. For more information, e-mail <>.