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"After laughing with these women, loving some of them, and crying with more of them I started seeing them more as a tribe to which I belonged rather than people I came to observe."

What Makes a Leatherman or Leatherwoman?
by Jack Rinella

The First Place Essay in the "What Makes a Leatherman or Leatherwoman"
is Patricia Kalin for this essay "What is a Leather Man/Woman?

What Is a Leather Man/Woman?
Patricia Kalin

I'm still relatively new to Leather, but I've been kinky all my life. In the last three years I think I've started to make the crossover to Leather and to understand its implications. One of the first things I learned is that a person has to be real careful making statements that include "always" and "never,” so I'm going to try to avoid using them here. Leather folk are a diverse lot, and they'd quickly prove any absolute rule to be wrong. That is one of the reasons I've come to love the communities that we are.

The first part of my becoming a Leather Woman was simply showing up. I know that sounds simple, but nothing else could have happened without it. I had to have the drive to seek out other people who were in some way identified with Leather, and not just to play with them. I wanted to be with people who could understand me, teach me, and tell me what they knew about others who had come before. I was searching for myself and people like me, not just for an orgasm.

My first exposure to the scene was through the internet, not too uncommon in this day and age. I went through the baffling experience of online chat rooms and found they didn't hold even a smidgen of what I wanted. That was fantasy, I wanted the reality. I found tons of people who would type about any given subject, but I didn't find people who were concerned with the actuality of this path.

A stroke of luck led me to the Seattle Women's Welcoming Committee web site where I finally had my eyes opened a little. I learned that there was a group of women who met and talked about the reality of doing SM, and I was terribly excited. I still saw things as an outsider though. "I" wanted to check out "those people".

I decided that signing up for their mailing list would be a safe way to look into the secret world of electronically-equipped Leather Folk. I was armed with tons of media stereotypes and preconceptions. I still remember my first question on that mailing list, "What is all this talk about slave, submissives, and bottoms? What is the difference?" A very nice soft butch leather dyke answered my question with humor and kindness, and for that I'll always adore her. I was suddenly taken under the wing of over a hundred Leather Women who were willing to help me learn, and I adored them. In short order they became people I cared about instead of people I just fantasized about, and I think that was my next step in becoming Leather.

After laughing with these women, loving some of them, and crying with more of them I started seeing them more as a tribe to which I belonged rather than people I came to observe.

Sometime during this I showed up at a place called The Beyond the Edge Café, and it was at precisely the wrong time. Allena (the owner) was setting up for fetish night dinner and the place wasn't opened for business. I was this nervous little woman that walked in decked out in street clothes and wearing an expression on my face that I'm sure was a priceless. I was horrified that I was IN "one of these places".

Allena, like a Leather Goddess who swooped out of the clouds, greeted me with all the graciousness and kindness I could have ever hoped for. She let me know that I was welcome. She taught me that once you learn, you teach. She didn't do it through spouting a lot of pretty words on the subject, she taught through her example and constant hard work. Before long, I found myself playing at the cafe and connecting with players who were taking me places I really wanted to go.

When the owner of our news list had to give up moderating it, I volunteered to create a new list, entitled WHACK (Women Having A Consensual Kink). Thus started my adventure as list mommy to over a hundred Leather Women who had helped me when I was new. I was happy to do it; I owed them a lot and I would have missed them.

Getting involved and taking the well-being of the group on as a part of my personal responsibility was a new level for me. To be honest, I don't always like this part, and sometimes I'd like to forget it and walk away. It is easier to fight your own battles and forget the tribe, but as much as I swear and gripe about it I don't think I could do it. I'm in it now for the long haul, and understand unquestionably that our fates are entwined.

The willingness and drive to research what you are doing is one of the other steps that I think is really important. I couldn't calculate how many hours I've spent reading materials, speaking with people in the lifestyle, and learning about our history. I think a major step from kinky to Leather is not just cruising around for SM porn, but for SM history. It is a strange day when you wake up and realize that you have enough knowledge that passing it on is the thing to do. I've started to do that through my email list, various web sites, and classes. I also have started reviewing books for The Society for Human Sexuality in order to give a Leather perspective on books there. I can't get out to major cities often to participate in public scenes, but I contribute what I can.

I think everyone's journey to finding themselves in Leather will be different. What draws us together and makes us Leather is our commitment and feeling of personal responsibility for other people in our tribe. It is a compulsion to share knowledge that one has learned. It is an interest in the community that goes beyond the sex and the fantasy to the flesh and blood lives of the people in this lifestyle. It is an interest in learning about our tribe and honoring our history. It is a personal drive to add to the community instead of take from it.

That is how I found my way to the beginning of my Leather journey, and that is what I think of when I hear the term Leather Man or Leather Woman.

* * * * *

Patricia Kalin AKA Vamp Ire has been involved in the Leather scene for about three years as a rather polymorphous pervert. In that time she has given some seminars and written a few articles. She currently reviews books for Society for Human Sexuality at and manages a news list called WHACK (Women Having A Consensual Kink).

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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