people are a diverse lot, having four essentials that
make us who and what we are. While we differ widely in
geography, ideology, bodies, and beliefs, a little introspection
finds that we all share four traits in varying degrees:
attire, sexuality, community, and spirit.
attire is the narrowest, most basic attribute of who we
are, and by far the easiest to obtain (even non-leather
people can wear a harness and chaps). When these are worn
by a leather person - a person possessing the other 3
traits - attire becomes more than a covering from the
elements; it becomes a symbol of the power that is within
sexuality is a broader trait. Leathersex is about the
mind, about an exchange of power, about using the senses.
We leatherfolk use all five of our senses to their fullest:
the feel of cold restraints, the smell of sweat, the taste
of another's armpit, the sound of a flogger, the look
of the leather harness framing a torso. We focus both
inwardly and outwardly, in pleasing oneself and one's
partner(s). Truly good leathersex requires a level of
maturity not required simply to buy attire; it requires
a person in touch with themselves and with the others
in their playgroup.
community defines us even more broadly than sexuality.
We socialize with other leather people, in groups, clubs,
and at play parties. We focus on larger numbers of people,
interacting with one another. Doing this successfully
requires a great deal of maturity, hard work, and compromise,
and a two-way sharing of power (as opposed to sexuality,
which often involves the taking and giving of power in
a one-way transaction). Socializing and non-sexual friendships
are an important part of how we mature as leather people.
spirit is by far the broadest trait. This transcends attire,
sexuality, and community to allow us to become a part
of a larger whole which we feel within. It is transparent,
and is next to impossible to explain to outsiders or to
those in the community who have not reached this point
in their growth. Our spirit as leather people nearly always
develops later in leather growth, as it takes years to
achieve a deep understanding of leather attire, leathersex,
and most importantly, leather people.
degree to which each trait is present varies from person
to person and moment to moment. In the most general terms,
as we grow in leather we often begin with attire and move
in order to spirit. Each one is a little harder to achieve
and requires more time and work than the one before it.
Each is a phase of growth for the individual. Each is
at this more broadly, these traits help answer the question
"What is happening to leather community today?" Not only
is our community intact, it's maturing. It is growing
along these same lines.
the 1950's and early 60's, the first focus of our community
had to be locating one another through leather attire.
There were few gathering places and there was no Internet,
so there were a limited number of practical ways for people
to identify each other. That's where leather attire came
in: it gave us identity. When people did not wear leather,
other signals (hanky code, hair styles, facial hair, etc.)
were symbols which helped one leather person find another.
To this day, these non-leather signals are still a valuable
part of our community.
the late 1960's through about 1980, finding each other
became much less of a chore, as there were plenty of bars,
organized groups and clubs, and people with little black
books brimming with names. This communal longing for freedom
was represented in the abundance and variety of carefree
sex; this longing for freedom is also why many feel the
70's were the Golden Years - the time when we freely moved
into defining ourselves on our own terms.
freewheeling adolescence as a community abruptly ended
in the 1980's and 90's with the advent of AIDS. It took
a high toll on our leather family, because we had gone
to unprecedented levels in getting to know ourselves and
each other through sexual expression, sexual intimacy.
This incredible physical intimacy made it easy for a disease
to pass among us. Our community was forced to grow up
again - much like a young person drafted to go to war.
The early days in our battle with AIDS were like the boot
camp of our enlistment: rough, trying, and building character
in a hell of a hurry. Our community came together like
never before. We were less individualistic, and more community-minded.
brings us to today. Each of the first three phases of
our growth took roughly 10-20 years to complete, and we're
about due for another one. There are some telltale signs
demonstrating that we are undergoing change. Like all
growth, it's natural, it's change, it's uncomfortable.
Every one of us felt the shock of coming out of our adolescence
and having to pay rent and insurance for the first time.
Each of us has lost a parent, a grandparent, a relative,
lover, a friend. None of these experiences were pleasant,
but with each one, we grew. We matured a little. As individuals
and as a community, have we not matured through our experiences
with leather attire, leather sexuality, and leather community?
most importantly, are we not ready to grow again?
I'm right, the next phase of our growth as a community
will be an awakening of our leather spirit. I say this
not so much in a religious sense; it will be more an awareness
of the connections we all share within our whole community.
We will be connected in a way not directly related to
attire, sexuality, or community groups - although all
of these will continue to exist and grow in importance.
We will feel a part of something larger than ourselves.
It will be too large to be defined within the compartments
of "gay/straight/bi" or "male/female/trans". It will grow
larger than the well-known "Top/bottom/Daddy/boy/Master/slave/Dom/sub/etc."
typing we use to describe ourselves. The reason these
labels - which once seemed so tidy - now fail to fully
describe us is because we've grown. There was a time when
defining a Master was straightforward. Now we have Masters
who have slaves and boys, and the boys sometimes have
a boyfriend or a Top.
must be growing when we see loving families like this
becoming more visible.
don't know whether we're ready to reach for our leather
sprit, but I am certain that the common elements that
make us leathermen and leatherwomen - leather attire,
sexuality, community, and spirit - are present in every
one of us today. I take tremendous pride in knowing that
each of us is growing as an individual; and when individuals
grow, their community cannot be far behind.
* * * * *
resides in Cincinnati, Ohio where he is a founder and
current president of the Tri-State
Wolf Pack, has
been active in the leather community since 1989, and has
helped with behind-the-scenes production work on many
leather events in the Midwest.
2001 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied
in any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay,
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