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"Part of the problem is that "leather community" has become too large a term. It's like saying "feminist" or "conservative" or "liberal" or "gay community."

What Makes a Leatherman or a Leatherwoman?
by Jack Rinella

The Second Place Essay in the "What Makes a Leatherman or Leatherwoman"
is Steve Elliott for this essay "What is a Leatherman or woman? Boots!

What makes a Leatherman or Leatherwoman? Boots!
Brian Lieske

At least that's what my Daddy told me a decade ago when I met him in (what was then) the best leather bar in San Francisco. I owned exactly one piece of leather: a brand-new, three-snap wallet/wrist band. First thing we added was a pair of used engineer boots that I still wear.

I continue to agree with that assessment, not just because He's my Daddy; or because I've spent many happy hours on the floor licking and rubbing my face across the polished leather of His boot with the sole or heel of the other resting or pressing on my back; or because from a purely practical view he's entirely correct, after all a guy in a white T-shirt, jeans and boots can still look like a leatherman, but someone in a motorcycle jacket, cap, and chaps with white sneakers always looks like a dork; but because boots turn me on.

Does that mean someone without boots isn't a leatherperson? Hell, no. It's my own bias. And, it's not the boots themselves that do it for me; it's the guy in the boots. That's in contrast to some good friends who would be as happy with a Westco catalog as the latest Drummer magazine. I think it's that dichotomy of agreeing but meaning different things that's at the heart of the leather community identity crisis I hear so much discussion about.

Perhaps there was a halcyon time when there was a single, universal leather ideal, but I doubt it. If I believed that, I'd also have to believe the rhetoric from certain quarters about a time when homosexuals didn't exist.

Part of the problem is that "leather community" has become too large a term. It's like saying "feminist" or "conservative" or "liberal" or "gay community." Still think there's a monolithic gay community? Put the Gay Democratic Caucus and the Log Cabin Republicans in a room with Green Queers for Nader and tell me another one.

I see this struggle for identity in action on two e-mail lists I subscribe to (both are bottoms-only). One list is made up primarily of slaves. Many electrons have been spilt about the nature of "real" slavery: the born slave, the slave heart, etc. I can't begin to say how much I admire the articulate men there who write so eloquently about their journey (stumbles and all) into utter submission to their Master.

I admire it because I know I could never do it. I'm a boy, not a slave. The thing I admire most about this community (and why I feel a part of the group) is that no one places a value judgment on a level of submission (their own or someone else's). Being a slave is no more or less enlightened or ennobling than being a boy or a scene-to-scene submissive or a dog or a pony. It's not the leather or rubber or fur that defines us on that list, it's submission.

Boy and slave; are we leathermen? All of us? Hell, yes. That list is a small and self-selecting group. It represents only a sliver of the community at large. Living in San Francisco, there are segments of the "Leather Community" I see a regularly when I go out, but don't connect with personally, such as fetishes like latex and rubber. Rubbermen always add ambiance to a bar when I see them, but are they leatherman with no leather?

Or uniform enthusiasts? Goodness knows, I've loved a man in uniform since that first Marine, but are they a part of the Leather Community if the only leather they wear is in their belts?

Of course, I'm being homo-male-centric. The milieu of lesbian leather is outside my experience, but I learned my first year as a sub that when you need to recharge your leather batteries, nothing works as well as the company of a leather dyke. The one who mentored me when I first joined an NLA chapter hardly ever wore leather, preferring a black shirt and blue jeans, yet she is one of the leatheriest leatherwomen I've ever met.

Leather isn't what she wears; it's who she is. I've also ignored the heterosexual side completely. One of my best high school friends and his wife spring to mind; he subs, she switches. They have both shared and divergent play interests, so they are also polyfidelious with two other couples. She's bi; he's the straightest straight boy I've ever met. He looks dang good in chaps and engineer boots though. Are they leatherpeople?

My other e-mail list (also bottoms only) has lots of recurring practical questions that pop up with each new member: How do I meet a top? How do I make sure he's not a psycho? What should I do to protect myself? Am I the only one into ?

And, under it all, the Big One: Is it okay that I have these desires? To which we say, hell, yes! All five hundred of us. With one message posted they have a large group of friends who share their feelings and support them as they explore their kinky side. From New York to Boise to the countryside of Tasmania, they know at once that they are not alone.

Something else this list has made me realize, a whole lot of the new leather community are kids. I came out in my early twenties; they're out at fifteen. I realized I like being dominated at twenty-five; they're seventeen. And when they say they're bisexual, they mean they like having sex with men and women, not that they're hedging. The action of submission is more important than the gender of their partner. So, are they leathermen and leatherwomen? They'll find out as they explore.

And like all annoying kids today, they're not going to accept someone else's opinion unquestioningly as if it's been handed down from the Mount.

Nor should they. Leather isn't a secret society any longer. The ability to communicate all over the world, privately, with groups of like-minded individuals has irrevocably changed everything. There are personal pages and WebRings and even printed instruction manuals on everything from flogging to dungeon construction only a mouse click away at It's not a question of finding equipment or information any more. The challenge is discerning what's worth reading and integrating.

For me, I'll stick with the group in boots. Got to have that foundation tying me to the ground and lighting that special little fire of sexual excitement inside me. The challenge for the new Leather Community is understanding that it's the fire inside that unites us -- that makes us leather people -- not just the leather.

* * * * *

Steve Elliott ( Brian came out into leather about 12 years ago and was one of the founding members of the NLA chapter in Austin in 1990. He moved to San Francisco in 1991 and has been a happily collared boy ever since.

Copyright 2001 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied in any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay, contact

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