Friday, September 26, 2008

We’re (Almost) Everywhere

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #348, September 26, 2008)

It used to be that only a few large cities had any sort of organized leather scene. But in recent years, with the help of the Internet, leather/BDSM/fetish activities have spread to many smaller cities and towns. It is a measure, I think, of how the scene has grown over the years that currently some visible degree of leather/BDSM/fetish activity can be found pretty much coast to coast in the U.S. (with one major regional exception).

I make this conclusion based on several non-scientific and arbitrary data sources: 1) where leather clubs belonging to various regional club councils are located; 2) where the contestants have come from at leather contests I’ve been to lately; and 3) where nominees for this year’s Pantheon of Leather Community Service Awards hailed from. My thinking here is that some degree of organized leather activity has to exist in an area in order to keep a club going, send someone to compete in a contest or nominate someone from the area for a Pantheon award.

Let’s look at leather club activity first. The Atlantic Motorcycle Coordinating Council (AMCC) coordinates activities for 26 participating clubs in the eastern U.S., while the Mid-America Conference of Clubs (MACC) coordinates activities for 28 clubs in states in the middle of the U.S. (No similar council currently exists for the western part of the U.S.)

AMCC currently has member clubs in many of its constituent states. The exceptions are Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey, West Virginia and North and South Carolina. MACC currently has member clubs in all of its constituent states except Indiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi. (Later on, we’ll see if we can find other kinds of leather activity in these states.)

Looking at AMCC and MACC membership gives us information about gay male leather activity, as does my next example: the International Mr. Leather (IML) contest. This year there were IML contestants from 22 states (as well as six foreign countries). All of the eastern and midwestern states sending contestants to IML are already on our leather map because they have member clubs in AMCC or MACC. But in the west, looking at where this year’s IML contestants came from allows us to add California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado to our list of states with a leather presence.

Now let’s look at a contest whose titleholders represent the pansexual leather community: the Mr. and Ms Olympus Leather contest. Out of nine contestants this year, three were from states we can add to our leather map of the U.S.: Utah, West Virginia and Alabama.

And with the addition of the 2008 Pantheon of Leather award nominees, we can account for even more states. This year’s nominees came from 35 states, including some that aren’t yet on our map: Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, New Jersey, New Mexico and Nevada.

After looking at these measurements of leather activity, some states still aren’t on our map. Here’s where I cheat by adding another data source: 4) an online leather club directory maintained by The Leather Journal. (This, I suppose, is the equivalent of Googling crossword puzzle clues, but never mind.)

In the Northeast, we were still missing Vermont, New Hampshire or Rhode Island. The Leather Journal lists several clubs in Rhode Island and one in New Hampshire, but none in Vermont. (There are no Target stores in Vermont, either. I wonder if there’s a connection?) At least Vermont, a small state, is surrounded by states with a higher level of leather/BDSM/fetish activity.

In the South, our map was still missing South Carolina, Mississippi and Arkansas. For South Carolina The Leather Journal lists clubs in Charleston, Columbia and Myrtle Beach, and for Arkansas it lists Leathermen of Arkansas and MAsT: Ozarks Region. But Mississippi has nothing listed. Again, at least Mississippi is surrounded by states with more to offer in the way of leather/BDSM/fetish.

What about our two newest states? Alaska has the Last Frontier Men’s Club in Anchorage, which serves both leather and bears, and who several years ago sent a contestant to IML. The Leather Journal lists nothing for Hawaii, though.

That leaves us with five remaining (and neighboring) states, a large hole in the northwestern part of our map representing leather’s last frontier: Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and North and South Dakota. Checking my leather history book I see that only two of these states have ever sent a contestant to IML (Idaho in 1989 and 1991 and North Dakota in 1997). The Leather Journal listings are meager for Idaho (Boise Black Rose and a bear group) and South Dakota (Leather Spirits, a pansexual group). Nothing at all is listed for North Dakota, Montana or Wyoming. If leathermen were missionaries, these five states would represent fertile ground for saving souls.

That’s our snapshot of what today’s map of leather across the U.S. looks like. Of course, things have changed over the years and will continue to do so. Many fabled leather clubs of yesterday are no longer around, and leather/BSDM/fetish activity in local communities has been known to heat up or cool down for any number of reasons.

So what tomorrow’s leather map will look like is anyone’s guess. Who knows? If enough of us retire to Hawaii, Honolulu might one day be a leather hot spot. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Twelve Years Later: Marriage Equality (and other forms of bondage)

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #347, September 12, 2008)

Sometimes it’s good to take a look back to see how far we’ve come on an issue—in this case, marriage equality—and also how far we still have to go. In that spirit, I’m going to revisit a column I wrote almost twelve years ago that appeared in issue #38 of Lavender (Nov. 8, 1996).

Since that column appeared, marriage equality for same-gender couples has made significant progress. Same-gender marriage has become legal in six countries, with fifteen more allowing same-gender partnerships or unions. In the U.S., Massachusetts and California allow marriage for same-gender couples and New York recognizes same-gender marriages performed elsewhere. Six more states allow same-gender partnerships or unions. Closer to home, marriage-equality legislation was introduced in both houses of the Minnesota legislature last May, sponsored by five senators (the maximum number allowed) and fourteen representatives, all of whom deserve a big “Thank you!” for their courage and support. (Visit <> for more information.)

I started the 1996 column by saying marriage for same-gender couples seemed to have become a hot-button topic of discussion and activism in the leather community. One outgoing titleholder that year renewed his vows with his partner as part of his stepping-down speech. Another, a competitor in the International Mr. Drummer contest in San Francisco, went on to win the contest after marrying his partner onstage. But for the leather community, I said, same-gender marriage was really just the tip of the iceberg:

Relationships in the gay community in general and the leather/SM community in particular come in a rainbow of flavors the general straight public doesn’t usually consider. The leather community, in addition to woman/woman or man/man (and even, on occasion, woman/man) spousal relationships, offers such esoteric relationship choices as daddy/boy (neither of which is necessarily male, by the way) and master/slave. Adding to the richness of choices (or confusion, depending on your viewpoint) is the fact that one person may engage in multiple concurrent relationships; one person could theoretically be someone’s boy, someone else’s daddy, someone else’s master or slave, and someone else’s spouse all at the same time.

Certain elements of straight society find relationships like these threatening and subversive. They are so frightened by the form of these relationships they never get around to investigating the content; if they did they’d see the same kind of “traditional family values” they spend so much time talking about. . . .

If we let someone else’s disapproval dampen our enjoyment of our culture and our relationships we have only ourselves to blame. No one can oppress another without the other’s consent. To the extent we are secretive about the nature of our relationships we reinforce to ourselves, and to the general public, the idea that those relationships aren’t acceptable.

The Stonewall rebellion was about gays and lesbians questioning their oppression by straight society. It spawned a viewpoint that said, “We’re tired of not having the same rights as straights. When is it going to be our turn?”

The answer to that question is simple. It’s our turn whenever we take it.

But if we don’t take it, no one will ever give it to us.

More and more gay people, both leather and non-leather, aren’t waiting for society to legalize gay marriage, to “give us our turn.” They’re taking their turn right now. The leather/SM and non-leather GLBT communities have taken society’s rulebook (in which marriage is defined as a lifelong monogamous union of a submissive wife and a dominant husband for the purpose of producing offspring) and thrown it away. We no longer constrained by those rules—we are free to invent new kinds of relationships that meet our needs and the needs of those we love. If two people of whatever sex and/or gender decide that a traditional monogamous marriage framework (with or without children) is what they want, fine. If another framework better meets their needs, that’s fine too.

Legalized gay marriage will offer certain benefits (and will also entail certain responsibilities). But legislation won’t change peoples’ hearts and minds—hearts and minds will have to change in order for the legislation to be enacted. And hearts and minds will be changed, one heart and one mind at a time, by enough of us being open and proud of our culture and our relationships—woman/woman, man/man, daddy/boy, master/slave, whatever.

Leather pride—or any other pride, for that matter—is when we can be open, honest, genuine about ourselves and our relationships, and not feel a need to apologize. And it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy—over time society will get used to the idea that our relationships can be healthy, positive and satisfying. Finally, in a stunning example of anticlimax, gay marriage will be legalized.

But we don’t really have to wait for that to happen. Remember, it’s our turn whenever we take it. It’s our turn right now.
It was true in 1996. It’s still true today.