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"I discovered that I wasnít the only suburbanite who was gay and into leather. I also learned that leathermen are indeed very welcoming and willing to teach and guide."

Raunch: Read It At Your Own Risk
by Jack Rinella

Spring is here and International Mr. Leather weekend is just around the corner. I hope you are giving thought to your participation in the weekend.

Some of you are dying to begin your exploration into leather but just need a little nudge, and so I offer you this column by my friend Ken. He wrote this last fall after having time to reflect on his experiences of the last year or two.

"Here it is, another one of those newbie columns. I suppose for those who are veterans of the leather community, this may seem boring and perhaps even unnecessary. Then again, any community of people will only continue if it recreates itself with each new generation. So perhaps together we can learn how to do that through the sharing of common experiences.

For those of you still on the fringe, I hope my experiences provide encouragement as you journey toward discovering the leatherman (or woman) inside you.

As I look back over the past year and a half year at the changes in my life I must admit that I am somewhat amazed. Back then, I would never have imagined that I would find myself living in a gay community, socializing with gay friends, feeling free enough to desire a gay relationship, or finding acceptance within the leather community.

But, first things first....

It was about a year and a half ago that I first emailed Jack Rinella in response to his column about the 1997 IML contest. He had written about how wonderful the weekend had been and how warm and accepting the leather community was.

I had ventured to the Congress Hotel that weekend and had visited the leather market with wide eyes as I saw for the first time what had only been part of vivid fantasies. You see, at age 33 I was a gay closeted male, living in the suburbs believing that there was no way I could ever live the life I dreamed about. However, things began to change when a good friend of mine, who happens to be straight, confronted me about being gay.

For those of you who are living a secretive, closeted life as I did, let me tell you, itís probably not as much of a secret as you think. His acceptance of my sexuality began a series of changes in my life that, while sometimes scary, have been great. He took me to my first ever gay bar and gave me the confidence to begin exploring the part of the gay community that intrigued me the most....the leather community.

But, back to that first email to Jack. I wrote telling him that my visit to the Congress Hotel during IML left me wanting to know more about the community and the people who were part of it, but I didnít know how. Jack responded to my email within a couple of days and suggested that the best way to learn about the leather community was to visit one of the leather bars. He also said that the bartenders could be great resources of information.

I thought that was the most absurd advice I could have received. I, who was afraid to think about going to a leather bar, was going to go into one alone, mosey on up to the bar and ask for a lesson in leatherhood......NOT!

Feeling bold via email, I wrote back and told Jack just that. He then invited me to phone him. I felt less bold by phone and it took me two months to make that call, but I did and he was very kind and understanding.

He told me that the only way to change my life and start to have some of the experiences I wanted was to set some goals that had to include meeting people who could teach me what I wanted to learn.

And, thatís pretty much what I did, albeit slowly.

At first I began visiting some of the non-leather gay bars in Chicago. Something about all that leather and chains, while erotic, was also kind of scary and kept me away from the leather scene. Then, Jack announced the formation of a Chicago chapter of Masters and slaves Together (MAsT). I remembered what he told me about finding opportunities to interact with people in the leather community and I called and said Iíd be at the first meeting.

That became a real turning point in my gradual exit from the closet and entry into not only the gay community, but the leather community as well. I discovered that I wasnít the only suburbanite who was gay and into leather. I also learned that leathermen are indeed very welcoming and willing to teach and guide.

At the second meeting, I made my first visit to the Eagle and by January I had purchased my first ever leather vest. Even better than that, I had my first opportunity to play with a real leatherman and experience what had only been fantasy before.

And you know what, thereís no comparing the two.....the real thing IS better.

As, IML 98 approached, I didnít have to wander alone to the Congress Hotel. I went there with friends (leather friends), attended many of the events, cheered on the contestants, and....well maybe you donít need all the details.

In short, I had fun. IML is a great place to explore the leather community. Last summer I moved to Boystown, have roommates who are also into the leather scene, and have even vacationed on a gay cruise.

Thatís quite a change from the days of believing that something must be wrong with me for being gay and into things like spanking and flogging.

One of the fears I had to overcome was that I would not be accepted by the leather community. Lack of acceptance had been my experience as a gay man trying to live a straight life. What I discovered was that when I got honest with myself and accepted who I was and what I wanted to experience, then it was easy to gain acceptance from those who shared those same interests.

Iíve learned a few important lessons along the way. First of all, as with any community, you must learn the rules of the society.

Taking time to learn from those with more experience is essential to gaining acceptance and understanding. It also helps to alleviate some of the fears that accompany venturing into uncertain territory. Many of the things that people new to the leather lifestyle fear are based on superstitious learning taught to us by a society more interested in propagating hatred rather than acceptance.

Next, leatherfolks come in all shapes and sizes. Most are good people, some are not. Understanding the principles of safe, sane and consensual is essential to having positive and healthy experiences.

Finally, you donít know until you try it. Are you a top, a bottom, dominant, submissive? Try things out, you might be surprised what you discover about yourself.

Thereís really nothing new here. Itís all been said in one form another in Jackís previous columns. I hope, however, that for those of you who have the same uncertainties that I had, you take away the old adage.....if he can do it, then maybe I can too.

Come and learn about the leather community. I think youíll be pleasantly surprised with what you find. Iíd be happy to hear from you. Email me at KennyB999@aol.com. Have fun, play safe and Iíll see you at IML 99."

There you have it, more testimony that life can be fulfilling when you decide to put your fears on hold for a while. I havenít asked, but it doesnít sound like Ken regrets it.

You can find out more details about IML at their web site (http://www.ImrL.com). Or go ask the bartenders.

Have a great week. You can leave me e-mail at mrjackr@leathermail.com.

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