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"Naked bodies in heat. Pain and pleasure. Brute force and sweat. Leather and chains. The struggle of bondage, the reddened ass in a whipping scene, the service of a slave to his Mistress. Each of these brings us into contact with deep and often hidden desires."

The Thin Layer of Civilization
by Jack Rinella

Twentieth century Americans consider themselves cultured, civilized, and far removed from the passions and animal urges of primitive mankind. But scratch the skin of any one of us and you'll find the primal beast. Scratch it the wrong way and you have the riots of L.A. Let it rip at its worst and you have the ovens of Nazi Germany.

The fact remains that it will be scratched. For all our centuries of culture, we are still clad in a civilization that is merely a thin veneer.

I believe that the heart of mankind is beautiful. Goodness and kindness flows in our veins. Yet realism, my years of reading the daily newspaper, of walking past the panhandlers, of hearing crying children, all reveal a human condition not as pleasant as we might hope.

New Age gurus speak of Mankind's dark side; Catholics call it original sin. Name it what you will, deny it if you like, but lurking beneath the veneer is danger. We live in world that represses that danger, allowing it to simmer and rage in quiet desperation.

We are not allowed to feel. It is wrong to be angry. There is no space for the revelations of base instinct in the sanitized world of 1992. But they remain there nevertheless and they will be confronted.

Therein lies the advantage of Leather.

Leather, in each of its various scenes, lets us get in touch with the primal issues of life and death, fear and bravery, violence and peace. It hearkens to a primitive, basic, corporal existence -- almost (but not quite) the law of the jungle. The attraction, unspoken perhaps, that Leather holds is both its contradiction to societal norms and the primal impulses it satisfies.

Naked bodies in heat. Pain and pleasure. Brute force and sweat. Leather and chains. The struggle of bondage, the reddened ass in a whipping scene, the service of a slave to his Mistress. Each of these brings us into contact with deep and often hidden desires.

They are passions too polite for a law abiding democracy. But they are real. To deny them is to deny our inner selves, to say we have no dark side. To express them wantonly is to court disaster.

Society has pushed these primal urges to hunt, conquer, dominate, to flee, surrender, serve, far from its respectable pretenses. Yet they lie not far below the board room table or the cafeteria lunch counter. And denied expression, they rear their ugly heads in spousal beating, child abuse, addictions, power plays and other forms of "acceptable" violence.

Leather offers their release without the destruction they might otherwise cause.
As one of my readers said on Audiotext last week, "I like Leather because it is permissive. People into Leather live and let others live as well. They may not like my fetish, but they respect me enough to let me practice it without criticism."

In fact it offers more than a permissive space. It supports and gives a framework in which to explore one's feelings, one's fantasies. The three guidelines of safe, sane, and consensual, maintain safety yet create a broad platform from which to experience the dark side of life. In Leather, fantasies can happen, new realities can be explored.

The Animal rages and faces its prey. The Warrior fights and is fought. The Victor overcomes -- or meets defeat in the process. Fears are faced and vanquished.

Experiencing one's limits, anguish, alternate ego, and suppressed desires is a learning and cleansing process. We face our fear, our selves, our lusts and our power. Our deeply hidden drives find expression. And so we resolve the doubts and the passion, giving vent to them and bringing them into a manageable, understandable light.

The dungeon is no place for therapy, the whipping post no place to work out one's anger, but there are deep feelings that do find safe, protected, controlled expression. We release our fears, our passions, when we don our leathers.

Many a bottom has smiled on Monday morning as he or she sat at their desk, the pain on their asses still lingering. They know what most of their co-workers may never learn: we can live our fantasies and face our fears. The real self can emerge from behind the mask of culture. As fully functioning members of American society, we can find the equilibrium between beauty and the beast.

Our primal selves can be as much a part of reality as the facade of day-to-day living. I may put aside my harness to go to school or I may shed my dog collar before I get on the train on Monday morning, but the inner me can prosper as I find my limits, my self, and the true depth of my power.

Copyright 1999 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied in any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay, contact

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