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