Friday, July 31, 2009

A Masseur Tells All

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #370, July 31, 2009)

Do You Work in the Nude? Confessions of a Masseur & Bodyworker by R.D. Cain; published by Third Millennium Publishing, Tempe, AZ (<>)

Massage and bodywork can be, you should pardon the pun, touchy subjects. Considering the hang-ups, expectations and fantasies many people in our society have about touch and nudity, communication between massage therapist and client (or prospective client) can be fraught with mixed messages, subliminal contexts and speaking in code that may or may not be understood by the other party.

Over the years I have read many books on massage, but until now I’ve never encountered one that approaches the topic from the angle taken by author R.D. Cain. In Do You Work in the Nude? Confessions of a Masseur & Bodyworker, Cain discusses his profession in a charming, disarmingly honest and straightforward manner that tries to cut through uneasiness, embarrassment and taboos.

Cain has been a massage and bodywork therapist since 1991. With that many years experience he has built up a supply of entertaining stories and practical advice that will be interesting to anyone who either does massage/bodywork professionally, or who enjoys the services of someone who does.

This is a fun, breezy confection of a book. Cain covers many facets of the subject of massage and bodywork starting, as all good writers do, with a definition of terms. He then describes how he got into the business and how he has developed his practice over the years. He discusses the many different schools of massage and bodywork (according to the author, over 80 at last count).

Cain also shares advice and philosophy on advertising and running a massage business. And, as a way of illustrating massage and bodywork etiquette, he describes his favorite (and least favorite) client types. He ends the book with a few quotes from notable people on the subject of massage. Adding to the fun are witty, and sometimes snarky, illustrations by Revo Yanson and Ethan Young.

If you are a massage therapist or bodyworker, you will enjoy reading a compatriot’s thoughts. If you are considering becoming a massage therapist or bodyworker, this book offers pointers on what to do, as well as some warnings about pitfalls along the way.

If, on the other hand, you are a client looking for a massage or bodywork professional, this book will tell you what (and what not) to do, and what questions to ask (and not ask). Working with a massage professional is like any other professional relationship: you’ll get better results if you act appropriately.

And if you already have a favorite massage professional, buy them a copy. It will make their day.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Pride, 40 Years After Stonewall

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #369, July 17, 2009)

I’m writing this during the afterglow of both the 2009 Minnesota Leather Pride celebration and the 2009 Twin Cities GLBT Pride Festival. This year marked the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising that was the beginning of the modern gay-liberation movement, and it was the 37th Pride Festival in Minneapolis. In 1972, the Twin Cities’ first “Pride Festival” consisted of approximately 50 people walking down the Nicollet Mall with handmade signs and then hanging out in Loring Park with a cooler of sodas.

Thirty-seven years later, the Twin Cities Pride Festival is the third-largest pride celebration in the country. And, interestingly, this year’s festival didn’t seem to be attended only by GLBT folks. Everywhere I went this year I saw more mixed-gender groups, and I especially noticed more male-female couples. They might have been just friends, but their body language—or their wedding rings—said “couple.”

If all these people were heterosexual, what were they doing at a GLBT Pride celebration? They were being supportive and accepting, that’s what. Maybe they were there with gay friends. Maybe they heard the radio ads for the Festival on AM950. Maybe they just know we throw a good party and came to check it out. Whatever—the point is, they were there, enjoying a beautiful day in the park with us. And they didn’t seem either threatened or threatening.

But, if all these non-GLBT people are here, is it still GLBT Pride? Are we losing our turf? Are we being corporatized, assimilated and co-opted? What would the pioneers at the first Gay Pride gathering in Loring Park have thought of this? Did they know in 1972 that this would be the scene 37 years later? Is this what they were fighting for?

Both the protesters at Stonewall in 1969 and the pioneers in Loring Park in 1972 were fighting for the right to be themselves—to no longer have to hide parts of themselves from a hostile world. It’s 2009, and we’re not there yet, but we’ve made major strides. At least some non-GLBT people, who seemed a threat in 1972, have become our friends and allies who celebrate with us and don’t ask us to hide. How many years have we, as a community, been trying to make this happen?

And just in time, too. Another March on Washington, demanding “FULL equality NOW!”, is being planned for National Coming-Out Day on Oct. 11, 2009. The last time the GLBT community marched on Washington was in 2000. Will it be said of the 2009 march that there were more allies present than in 2000?

I hope so. We haven’t reached the full-equality stage yet, but the more allies we have working alongside us, the sooner we’ll get there.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Leather Agenda 2009

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #368, July 3, 2009)

Contestant Speeches at International Mr. Leather

Every year at the International Mr. Leather contest, each of the top 20 semifinalists presents a 90-second speech on a topic of their choosing. The topics of these speeches can be viewed as a statement of the leather community’s current agenda.

This year’s topics included activism, safe sex and HIV, and uniting Old Guard/New Guard and other factions of the leather/BDSM/fetish community. Several contestants spoke about being proud and visible. Donal Heath (Mr. Eagle London 2008/2009) quoted a line from Star Trek character Captain Jean-Luc Picard: “If we are to be damned, let us be damned for who we really are.”

Appropriate for an international contest, Ken Hearst (Mr. Los Angeles Leather 2009) called out to “our brothers and sisters” in Egypt, Iran, Russia, and other places where sexual freedom and diversity are not celebrated: ”Their day of sexual freedom is coming, and they are not alone in this journey.”

Mike Lunter (Mr. Missouri Leather 2009) spoke of his own aging process and encouraged the crowd to “celebrate every age.” Brendon McGovern (Mr. Leather Ottawa 2009), one of this year’s younger contestants who went on to be named first runner-up, thanked those who “have been fighting for years, for decades, for the rights of our community. And I want you to teach me and others how we can be better fighters” for those rights.

But the most talked-about issue this year was the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Brandon Clark (Mr. San Francisco Leather 2009), whose military career was affected by the policy, said that since the policy’s implementation “over 12,000 gays and lesbians have been discharged, making it the only law in the United States that mandates firing based solely on sexual orientation.” Ammar Houssamo (Mr. Chicago Leather 2009), who served in the army in his native Syria, is now partnered with a man who was discharged from the U.S. Army for being gay. Rick Russell (Mr. Bolt Leather 2009), a 20-year military man, ended his speech by saying, “President Barack Obama, we must, today, repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”

Jeffrey Payne (Mr. Texas Leather 2009), who became the new International Mr. Leather, told how important leather-community support had been as he survived Hurricane Katrina four years ago; as he discovered he was HIV-positive one year ago; and, three weeks before the IML contest, as he was told that his ability to hear the spoken word would cease to exist in a few years. “This news has only reaffirmed my understanding of our leather culture—because we do not listen to our journeys with our ears. We listen to our journey with our hearts, and I will always be able to hear you.”