Friday, December 16, 2011

Atons Holiday Fundraiser

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #432, December 16, 2011)

The Atons of Minneapolis held their traditional annual Holiday Fundraiser on Sunday, December 4, at the Bolt Underground in Minneapolis. There was food, drink and general merriment, along with live and silent auctions, two bootblacks, holiday photos with Leather Santa and his Naughty Elf, and a food drive that collected 900 pounds of food for The Aliveness Project.

This year’s event raised approximately $2,000, which was donated to Outfront Minnesota Community Services to provide education about the benefits of marriage equality (in preparation for the November 2012 vote on the proposed Minnesota state constitutional amendment to limit marriage to one man and one woman).

My thanks to Atons member Andrew Bertke for allowing me to share some of his photos of this event. You’ll find many more photos from this year’s Atons Holiday Fundraiser online at the Lavender Magazine website. Enjoy them all, and—whatever you celebrate, however you celebrate it—Happy Holidays from Leather Life!

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Beginning and an Ending

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #428, October 21, 2011)

Two local leather/BDSM events with similar names, held the same September weekend, represented a beginning and an ending.

The beginning: the first Northern Lights (and Kinky Nights) regional BDSM education weekend was held in St. Paul. The weekend included 24 educational seminars, a vendor area, two nights of dungeon/playspace action, and a silent auction benefiting the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF).

The creation of the Northern Lights weekend was inspired by Leather Leadership Conference (LLC) XI, which was held in Minneapolis in 2007 and on which many of the Northern Lights organizers worked. The aim of the Northern Lights organization is “to bring the best of Minnesota to the world and the best of the kink world to Minnesota.”

Apparently the event’s organizers succeeded in their goal; organizers felt the event “went really, really well.” Survey feedback from attendees was good, vendors said they’d be back next year, and presenters were pleased with how the event was run. Northern Lights drew over 230 attendees from the region (Minnesota, North Dakota, and Iowa) and presenters from Chicago, Boston and Denver.

The ending: Minnesota Storm Patrol’s third Northern Xposure run apparently will be the club’s last.  The theme of this year’s run was Totally Twisted Fairy Tales, and the run also incorporated the fall meeting of the Mid-America Conference of Clubs. In addition, the Atons of Minneapolis supported the run by making its banquet the venue for their monthly Leather/Levi Dinner.

At the run’s Sunday morning brunch the announcement was made that, now that the Minnesota Storm Patrol had presented its run, the club would start the process of dissolving itself. Many questions remain, such as whether some Minnesota Storm Patrol members will seek to join other existing clubs or whether a new club will be started.

Until such time as all arrangements for the club’s dissolution are made, the Minnesota Storm Patrol will continue holding their monthly beer busts at The Town House in St. Paul. And watch for details on a possible last Minnesota Storm Patrol bar event, at which the club’s colors will be retired.

Friday, September 23, 2011

At the Great Lakes Leather Alliance weekend, a picture is worth . . .

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #426, September 23, 2011)

Wow, have I taken a lot of photographs over the years! I never realized how many until I was asked to give a leather history presentation and started going through all my photos.

The presentation was part of the recent Great Lakes Leather Alliance (GLLA) weekend in Indianapolis, Ind. A leather weekend in the heart of conservative Indiana? Yes, and in its tenth year, too. GLLA brought together members of the gay, lesbian, and pansexual leather/BDSM/fetish community primarily but not exclusively from the Great Lakes region. It was a jam-packed weekend with four concurrent leather contests and over 40 educational seminars. The seminar I presented was called “I Was There: A Photojournalistic Review of Leather History.”

To put that presentation together, I went through all the photos I’ve taken or collected since getting into leather in 1993. The cliché with photos is that most people have them crammed in a shoebox. My photo library fills three large boxes, the equivalent of 12 shoeboxes each. And those are just the ones taken using a film camera. (Remember film?) The more recent photos were taken digitally and occupy space only on my computer’s hard drive. But still, film and digital, there were lots of photos to go through, and lots of happy memories came back to me as I went through the photos.

For the presentation I used about 350 photos that best told the story of the last eighteen years of the leather community as I saw and photographed them. The presentation included photos of club events, contests and titleholders, evenings at leather bars and bar events, and Leather Pride celebrations and parades through the years.

Some of these photos have been exhibited at the Leather Pride booth at the Twin Cities Pride festival or at other Minnesota Leather Pride events. Some of them will be included in a book I’m planning to publish. But right now, you can visit the Lavender website and see a selection of photos from the presentation.

So, what’s a picture worth? A thousand words, and a ton of memories.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Leather Legacies

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #422, July 28, 2011)

Two leather/GLBT activists leave us

It has been sobering and sorrowful to learn recently of the passing of two significant GLBT and leather activists—George Wong of Los Angeles on June 6, 2011, and Roger “R.J.” Chaffin of Chicago on June 17, 2011.

Both made significant contributions, on both local and national levels, to the GLBT and leather communities. You might not know their names but, if you’re reading this column, their accomplishments have touched your life.

Wong was Public Relations Officer for Avatar Club Los Angeles since he joined the club in 1995. He presented educational seminars, judged or worked behind the scenes at many local and national leather contests, and produced events including the Mr. Los Angeles Leather Contest in 2007 and 2008. He also was one of the producers for Leather Leadership Conference VI in Los Angeles in 2002 and, on a personal note, his advice, mentorship and encouragement was a huge help in putting together Leather Leadership Conference XI in Minneapolis in 2007.

Chaffin was one of Chicago’s most prominent gay businessmen and activists for over 30 years. He started and ran several retail businesses including R.J.’s Video, Gay Mart and Ragin’ Rae Jean’s. He held several positions with Chicago’s Gay Life newspaper. He produced many leather and non-leather fundraising events for AIDS-related and other charities. For 18 years he directed the International Mr. Leather Weekend’s Leather Marketplace, building it into the world’s largest vendor fair of its kind. Among many notable awards and honors, he was inducted into Chicago’s Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1997.

Both men have created huge and inspiring legacies. They leave very big boots to fill. And they leave many, including your humble columnist, who miss them tremendously.

George Wong (Credit: JayPG Photography)

Roger “R.J.” Chaffin

Thursday, June 30, 2011

“International” Mr. Leather, Indeed

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #420, June 30, 2011)

This year’s International Mr. Leather contest showed once again how truly “international” the contest has become. Eric Guttierez, Mr. Leather Europe 2010, was chosen as the new International Mr. Leather on Sunday, May 29.

In his speech during the contest Guttierez described himself as “a typical European mix.” His parents are from Spain, he grew up “near the Belgian frontier,” and he now lives in the French Alps near the Swiss border.

First runner-up was Douglas Pamplin, Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather 2011. Second runner-up was Anthony Rollar, Mr. San Diego Leather 2010. The new International Mr. Bootblack is Jim Deuder from New York.

PHOTO: Left to right: Jim Deuder, Anthony Rollar, Eric Guttierez, Douglas Pamplin.

PHOTO: Left to right: Anthony Rollar, Eric Guttierez, Douglas Pamplin, Jim Deuder.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Pride and Humility

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #418, June 2, 2011)

The theme of the recent Leather Leadership Conference in Los Angeles was “Lost Angels,” and a running theme throughout the conference was the concept of the Seven Deadly Sins. A welcoming video at the opening ceremonies helpfully listed the Sins: wrath, sloth, greed, gluttony, envy, lust, and pride.

Say what? “Pride”? You mean we, the Twin Cities GLBT and leather/BDSM/fetish communities, are spending the entire month of June celebrating one of the seven deadly sins?

Yes, according to the thinking in certain theological circles, we are celebrating not just one of the seven deadly sins—we are celebrating the worst and most serious one of them, the one that gives rise to the other six.

It gets worse. Over the centuries people have formulated pairings of the seven deadly sins and the demons who represent those sins. In at least two of these pairings, pride is associated with Lucifer, the foremost of those “lost angels.”

But let’s define our terms here. In the Seven Deadly Sins, pride (and its synonym hubris) is a translation of the Latin word superbia and means excessive love of self—thinking that one is better and/or more important than everyone else. Dante defined it as “love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one’s neighbour.” Lucifer supposedly fell from heaven and became a lost angel because of his desire to compete with God.

That’s not what we’re celebrating. That’s not what GLBT Pride and Leather Pride are all about. June, and its various Pride celebrations, are not about saying we’re better than anyone else. For members of both the GLBT and leather/BDSM/fetish communities, Pride celebrations are about saying, and believing, that we’re as good as anyone else.

We are able to say and believe this despite all the hurtful messages we’ve heard, and all the hateful things done to us, over the years. Whether it’s whom we love or how we love them, many people have felt, and continue to feel, so threatened by people like us that they do their best to paint us as sick, twisted, immoral, perverted, and evil. They tell themselves and the rest of the world very loudly that they are not like us.

When confronted with people saying things like this, I remember that often they are speaking first and most loudly to themselves, and to the part of themselves they feel a need to disown. For their sake, I hope one day they will be able to accept and integrate that part of themselves. They will be happier, and they no longer will need to bully us to make themselves feel better or more righteous.

Fortunately, there are many people who don’t feel a need to attack us. Paradoxically, because they know they are not like us, they don’t perceive us as a threat and they therefore can accept us and support us as we are. They are allies, and we are blessed to have them. (One example: During a recent hearing on Minnesota’s proposed constitutional ban on marriage equality, Minnesota Rep. Steve Simon asked: “How many more gay people does God have to create before we ask ourselves whether or not God actually wanted them around?”)

Back to theology: The Seven Deadly Sins, of course, have a counterpart in the Seven Virtues, each one of which directly opposes one of the Sins. The virtue opposite pride is humility, which through the centuries has been described as “knowing ourselves as we truly are,” with the corollary of not getting uppity and thinking we can challenge the king or God (see Lucifer, above). This is “true humility” as opposed to “false humility,” which is insincerely pretending to be lesser, lower or something other than what we truly are in order to receive approval and praise. False humility is pretty much universally condemned.

To me, that definition of false humility sounds like staying in the closet in order to receive society’s approval. But leave aside the part about not getting uppity, and true humility—knowing ourselves as we truly are, and living our life authentically—that, to me, is what a Pride celebration is all about.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Journeying Toward Pride

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #416, May 4, 2011)

June will soon be here, and with it comes both Twin Cities Pride and Minnesota Leather Pride. My usual Pride warm-up is the International Mr. Leather (IML) contest held each year in Chicago on Memorial Day weekend.

This year, however, I started thinking about Pride earlier than usual. During the Creating Change conference in Minneapolis in February I attended an all-day workshop, “Mapping Your Desire,” in which each participant made a map of their personal sexual/erotic/romantic “desire journey.” We noted significant mileposts along our journey as a way of figuring out where next we wanted our desire journey to take us. (My conclusion: I like where I’ve been, where I am and where I’m going. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to say that.)

Then at the recent Leather Leadership Conference in Los Angeles one of the keynote speakers spoke of the importance of pride as an antidote to shame at being different—and all that comes with that shame, including hiding, self-loathing, bullying behavior, drug and alcohol abuse, abusive relationships, unsafe sex, and suicide.

The following weekend leatherwomen (and everyone who loves them) proudly celebrated the 25th anniversary of the International Ms Leather (IMsL) contest in San Francisco. Sara Vibes was named International Ms Leather 2011; Vibes hopes to use the IMsL title to “rip the veil off the shame surrounding sex and sexuality.”

Now, in a few weeks it will be time for IML 2010, Tyler McCormick, to turn the title over to his successor. Both the IML and IMsL weekends are loud, proud parties with no excuses and no apologies. For members of the leather/BDSM/fetish community, they are celebrations of who we are and how we love.

Every year these celebrations spotlight contestants from around the world who come to Chicago (IML) or San Francisco (IMsL) to stand on stage as proud leathermen and leatherwomen. Each contestant has been on a path of overcoming shame at being different and replacing it with pride in who they are. The chance to stand onstage and proudly say, “This is who I am,” is a significant milepost on their desire journey. At IML and IMsL we celebrate their journeys toward pride, and each of our own journeys as well.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Leather, Creating Change and the coming post-GLBT era

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #412, March 10, 2011)

I have seen the future—the dawning of the post-GLBT era. But, I’m delighted to say, it does not need to be a post-kink era.

I saw the beginnings of this future at the 23rd annual Creating Change conference presented recently in Minneapolis by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF). Yes, change is definitely being created, and it will affect those of us in the leather/BDSM/fetish community. But we have an opportunity to help create that change, and thereby influence it.

This year’s Creating Change conference attracted over 2,500 people, from across the U.S. and around the world, for five days of education, skill-building, planning, networking, socializing and dreaming. Over 300 workshops, caucuses and plenaries were presented, all with the aim of developing effective and visionary leadership for the GLBT-rights movement.

At this conference, as in conferences past, the NGLTF set a big, beautiful banquet table, and everyone was welcome at that table as long as they were respectful of everyone else at the table. There most definitely was a place at that table for leather, BDSM and fetish.

One of the weekend’s highlights (see photo) was the presentation of the sixth annual Leather Leadership Award to Chuck Renslow—founder of the International Mr. Leather contest, cofounder of the Leather Archives & Museum, and a genuine leather pioneer for the last six decades. The award ceremony included a color guard featuring representatives of Minnesota’s leather/BDSM/fetish clubs and organizations, as well as former and future competitors in the International Mr. Leather contest. The award was presented by Matt Foreman, former executive director of NGLTF, and Tyler McCormick, International Mr. Leather 2010.

There also was a strong leather/BDSM/fetish presence elsewhere at the conference among presenters, exhibitors and attendees, even (and perhaps especially) among younger people. Many workshops and caucuses that dealt with sexual liberation, leather and kink were filled to overflowing. I found this remarkable, and hopeful.

I saw many people in the crowd, especially many of the young, who struck me as post-GLBT. For them, the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “bi” and “trans” are almost losing their meaning, because they limit people and put them in pigeonholes. The crowd here didn’t want to be categorized. Fluidity and ambiguity was the order of the day in race, in gender, in orientation. Many did not define themselves as either/or, as formerly this but now that. They saw themselves more as finding a spot on a continuum that suits them for now, and tomorrow they might choose a different spot on the continuum. Similarly, they don’t expect others to conform to rigid definitions of race, gender or affectional preference.

However, regardless of gender, race or affectional preference, I also saw a great interest in, and a hunger for knowledge about, kink and the leather/BDSM/fetish community. Considering this, I feel safe in predicting that our community, our tribe, will continue. But the nature of it will change. There still will be a place for men who prefer men and women who prefer women—and even for those who prefer the opposite gender. But we need to make space around the table for people who embrace fluidity in various aspects of their lives.

Fluidity is something that has not been a huge factor in our community’s history and culture. But now we as a community need to be open to people who see themselves and the world in a different way than we see it, but who respect what we have and want to be part of it. If we can be open, we will be rewarded with a growing community and more influence in society. If we can’t, we will be closing ourselves off from the future, and from some very good and sincere people. We will be segregating ourselves and limiting our opportunities for social influence. Why would we want to do that?

Change is being created. We, as a community, can fool ourselves into thinking we can resist what in reality cannot be resisted, and become marginalized and irrelevant as a result. Or we can embrace change and participate in its creation. The choice is ours.

PHOTO (will be uploaded): Renslow_award_CC11_credit_Inga_Sarda-Sorensen.tif

PHOTO CREDIT: Inga Sarda-Sorensen