Thursday, August 30, 2012

Atons Celebrate 40 Years

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #450, August 30, 2012)

The Atons of Minneapolis recently celebrated “40 Years of Devotion” in high Egyptian style at their Gopher XX run. In addition to celebrating a milestone anniversary, the Atons hosted a semi-annual meeting of the Mid-America Conference of Clubs (MACC), an organization that coordinates activities among member GLBT leather clubs.

The actual event took place Friday through Sunday, July 20-22, but many members of the Atons had been at the camp setting things up since the previous Tuesday. The amount of detail the club put into planning and presenting this run was staggering.

On Friday afternoon the registration table was set up in a portion of the camp’s main lodge which had been turned into a breathtakingly elaborate simulation of an archeological dig. One entire cabin was turned into an ancient Egyptian burial chamber, the better to host an almost continuous series of cocktail parties. The ceiling of the chamber appeared to be held up by some impressive-looking columns that one Atons member just happened to have in his basement. (Or was it his garage?)

Friday night’s opening ceremonies featured an epic pageant drama (narrated by your humble columnist) about the three kingdoms of ancient Egypt, their panoply of gods, and how the pharaoh Akhenaten sought to replace them all with one god: the Aten, or sun god, from which the Atons take their name.

For the ceremony, members of the Atons wore elaborate headdresses, masks and costumes as they portrayed some of the more notable ancient Egyptian gods. Then, a mummified Aton (Kyle Truss), representing both the pharaoh Akhenaten and the sun god, was carried to the front of the ceremonial area and was cut out of his mummification wrappings. He was seated in a place of honor and surrounded by the other gods, who then removed their costumes and stood before the crowd as the modern-day Atons.

On Saturday morning, breakfast was followed by the MACC meeting, which was followed by games: horseshoes, where the horseshoes were clothes hangers and the post was a full-size Egyptian mummy that was losing its wrappings; a how-fast-can-you-piece-together-these-ancient-Egyptian-ruins jigsaw puzzle; a radio-controlled toy dune buggy drive through an obstacle course of obscene ancient Egyptian ruins, along with both male and female Sphinxes; and a large-size Pachinko game.

Lunch was, appropriately, mid-eastern gyros and pita, along with fine American sweet corn. The afternoon was leisurely, a perfect time for a nap in the hammock or a dip in the swimming pool that the Atons had installed for the weekend.

For Saturday evening’s banquet the main lodge was turned into an Egyptian temple whose walls were decorated with embossed hieroglyphics. (Somebody had to measure the dimensions of the lodge, design the wall panel layout to fit those dimensions, design the inscriptions on the panels, fabricate and decorate the panels, haul them to the site and install them in the lodge. What did I say about how much planning was involved in this run?)

Banquet entertainment after dinner was provided by Nina DiAngelo, from the Gay 90s show lounge, who performed first as Judy Garland and then as Liza Minnelli. Also after dinner, a surprise: In appreciation for his many years as a member and leader of the club, as well as for his leadership of the leather and GLBT communities, the Atons presented Sam Carlisle with a Leadership Award.

After the banquet, the Atons presented more entertainment: In a romp through the music of the decades of the Atons’ existence, six Atons members performed as the Village People in “YMCA,” did an exercise tableau to Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical,” shook their pompoms to “Mickey,” and, inevitably, had a go at the Go-Go’s “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

Sunday morning’s breakfast included the traditional awards and recognition ceremony. The award trophies were all Egyptian-themed, of course, and were some of the best-crafted awards I’ve ever seen presented at a run. Then another surprise: The Atons announced that they were making Angel Rodriguez, a former Atons member who has remained heavily involved with the club’s activities, an honorary full member of the club.

After 40 years, the Atons of Minneapolis are now one of the longest-running gay leather clubs. But more than that, they are now one of the oldest GLBT community organizations of any type. That’s something to celebrate.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Leather and Politics, 2012

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #448, August 2, 2012)

It’s an election year. And Chuck Renslow, founder and executive producer of International Mr. Leather and co-founder of the Leather Archives & Museum, would like to have a word with you.

On Sunday, May 27, at the beginning of this year’s International Mr. Leather Contest and Show, Renslow made a speech in which he first implored audience members to document their personal history for the Leather Archives & Museum: “If it’s not recorded, it cannot be saved.”

Then Renslow’s speech turned to politics: “A few weeks ago during an election year, when it could hurt him the most, President Obama became the first president to champion gay marriage.” This statement was met with over twenty seconds of wild cheering and applause from the audience. Then Renslow continued:

“As you can imagine, the right wing conservatives are energized. And the only way to offset them is to become energized ourselves. More than any other time in your lives, you need to become active and involved in the campaign for the President of the United States.

“We need to re-elect President Obama this year. This year, the choice is between a history-making man who stands up for the gay community and tells the world we must have civil rights, or—or, if he is defeated, we will live under Mitt Romney, a self-[described] Mormon conservative who believes that marriage is for one man and one woman—even though at one time his religion espoused [marriage between] one man and several women.

“Now, in general, I support religious freedom and the freedom of choice. But when your freedom is used to deny me my freedom, you no longer represent me or my people.

“If you are not actively involved in helping to re-elect President Obama, you absolutely need to do it. Nothing less than the future of our civil rights [is] at stake.”