Friday, December 19, 2008

Leather Holiday Traditions

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #354, December 19, 2008)

It was a festive holiday weekend as members of the leather/BDSM/fetish community gathered—twice—at Rumours/Innuendo in St. Paul.

MSDB’s annual Bizarre Bazaar on Saturday, Dec. 6 filled two rooms and a balcony with local leather and fetish vendors, eye-popping entertainment, and a silent auction benefiting the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom.

The very next day the Atons of Minneapolis took over the same space with their annual Holiday Fundraiser benefiting The Aliveness Project and Open Arms of Minnesota. As in years past, the event featured a food drive and a huge silent auction. But this year the Atons and their guests took the “photos with leather Santa” thing to new and amazing heights—those were not photos, they were tableaux.

Here’s wishing everyone a safe, sane and merry holiday season.

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The daring Tina, one of the entertainers at the Bizarre Bazaar. Why “daring”? She danced while balancing a four-foot sword—on edge—on top of her head.


Happy shoppers at the Bizarre Bazaar. From left: John, Brie and Paul.


Merchandise at the Bizarre Bazaar, Gray’s Leather booth.


PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Bertke

Members of the Atons of Minneapolis in a holiday mood.


PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Bertke

A Christmas tableaux: Kevin Winge (Executive Director, Open Arms of Minnesota) and Jonesey (Leather Santa).


Nothing says “Holidays” like an elf (B.D. Chambers) in a pillory.

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Revelers at the Atons Holiday Fundraiser: Ken and John; Rick and Mark; David, Robert and David; John and Tom.


Portrait of an auction winner: David and his new chain-mail vest.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Leather in Lean Times

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #353, December 5, 2008)

The economic downturn hits home in ways big and small. This column, you might have noticed, didn’t appear in the previous issue of Lavender. Fewer advertising pages meant fewer pages for editorial content.

Another publication for which I’ve been writing (Skin 2, a fetish magazine in the UK), because of a decline in advertising revenue, recently decided it could no longer maintain its quarterly publishing schedule and now plans to issue one hard-bound book-style publication a year.

Publishing is not the only market sector hurting right now. The major investment banks on Wall Street are but a memory, and the stock market has lost everything it gained since about 1998. If you’re lucky enough to have retirement savings you’re probably watching with alarm as those savings shrink.

Detroit automakers say they’re headed for bankruptcy unless Congress intervenes—and China’s automakers say they need a government bailout, too. Meanwhile Mercedes-Benzes, and even fuel-efficient Toyotas, are piling up at the docks in the Port of Long Beach, Calif., as people’s ability or desire to buy them evaporates.

The housing market is worse than sluggish. Perhaps you’re a homeowner who would like to sell your home but can’t because prospective buyers can’t get a mortgage—or because the sale price would be less than what you owe on your mortgage. Or maybe you have an adjustable-rate mortgage and are watching helplessly as the payments balloon to the point of pain.

Unemployment is up and personal incomes are down. I know way too many people who are looking for a job right now. Retailers are bracing for dismal holiday sales in spite of major discounts and price cuts. Some small business owners find they can’t obtain loans needed to keep their business going.

Closer to home, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve arrived recently at a restaurant only to find it has vanished. And now, hitting especially close to home for folks like us, the much-loved Pi Bar was scheduled to close Nov. 15, becoming a casualty of the mortgage/lending/credit crisis. (At this writing unorthodox but heroic efforts are underway to save Pi through community investment.)

Pi’s problems reveal the truth of our current situation: This crisis isn’t just economic. The crisis is social and cultural as well. Before things settle down, the GLBT and leather/BDSM/fetish communities stand to lose some cherished institutions.

Leather already has been through one major crisis in its fifty-something-year history. AIDS hit the leather community especially hard, killing much of a generation and disrupting the formal and informal mentoring and educational processes on which the survival and perpetuation of leather culture depends.

In the face of that crisis the community pulled together and dealt with it. Community members raised funds for care and research while much of the rest of society ignored the problem. Those who were healthy took care of those who were sick. And we supported each other as we mourned the many comrades we lost.

The community survived, but much damage needed to be repaired. In some ways, we’re still repairing that damage over two decades later.

Now our community—this time along with the rest of the country and the world—is facing a different kind of crisis. What do we do? How do we minimize the social and cultural damage that an economic downturn can cause?

We somehow do more with less. We acknowledge the reality of the changed circumstances for ourselves and for our community and society at large. Then we do what’s necessary to deal with those changed circumstances as intelligently and sensitively as possible. Some things will have to be scaled back. Some things just won’t happen, at least for a while. We’ll just have to do the best we can.

We decide what’s most important, and we support it. Conversely, we defer other things, or let them go altogether. We’ll all have to make hard choices, although some choices will effectively be made for us—if it’s a choice between spending limited funds on travel to a leather event or buying groceries, there’s not much to argue about. Perhaps we won’t be able to do everything we’ve been doing, or do it to the same extent. Eventually, when things settle down and straighten out, we can revisit the things we let go or scaled back and, if we think it’s appropriate, either resurrect or expand them again.

We try not to become either mercenary or hardened. The Leather Pride flag has a heart on it for a reason. Even in the face of current circumstances, we mustn’t allow that heart to become hardened. If we stop caring about others because we’re in trouble ourselves, we as a community will sacrifice our heritage and lose our soul. Even as we worry about our own circumstances, I hope we’ll continue to help those who are worse off than we are.

Nothing in our community—not bars, businesses, contests, other events, clubs, community institutions like NCSF, LA&M, Woodhull or other community non-profits—will be immune. It’s a storm we’ll all have to weather, together. I believe we will. And I hope when the storm is over we come out stronger, with our priorities in sharper focus and our conviction renewed.