Second Place Essay in the "What Makes a Leatherman
is Steve Elliott for this essay "What is a Leatherman
or woman? Boots!
makes a Leatherman or Leatherwoman? Boots!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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 Amazon.com. It's not a question of finding equipment
or information any more. The challenge is discerning what's
worth reading and integrating.
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.
* * * * *
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.
2001 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied
in any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay,
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