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"It is the leather community's tolerance that makes the boldness possible and a major reason that we attract such bold non-conformists. Even the most conservative and reserved among us has some inner non-conformity that is accepting and allowed, indeed expected, in our gatherings."

The Leather Mind set
by Jack Rinella

My mother used to tell me that "It's all in your head," and she's not far wrong. Experienced leather folk all know that the largest sex organ anyone has is within one's skull.

The leather mind set is a rather elusive category, but having it may be the single most important trait among SM players. It's an attribute that is of utmost necessity for living the lifestyle. When I attempt its definition, I'm forced to use generalities which run smack into the face of individuality and uniqueness, both important qualities that leather folk share.

Attitudes, too, differ widely by how we perceive them. I hear some people praise leather bars as being full of friendly guys, void of pretense. I hear others tell me that their experiences in those same bars is that the patrons are all have stuck up and aloof, that SM stands for Stand and Model. You figure.

In reality, perceptions of a situation vary widely so forgive me if I seem to generalize. Variety, after all, is the one of the hallmarks of the leather community. We're not some monolithic group of similar traits. Quite the opposite. We are diverse, multi-faceted, and wide-ranging in our tastes, inclinations, and proclivities. Those factors make definitions difficult.

There remain some attributes, nonetheless, that are more usually found among leather folk. We're adventuresome, sexually active, bold, tolerant, self-aware, and open-minded. That's not to say that we're all that way. Neither are we always that way.

The fact is that many of us are actually peripheral to the scene, dabbling in it as much out of curiosity as commitment. Along those lines we are generally open to new people and to new experiences, though we are also well represented by those who are sure of their milieu and who don't budge far from their acknowledged territory.

Our diversity is great enough to make me think that there is no mind set until I reflect on the leather folk I know and admit that I often recognize the traits that I just listed. The mind set definition is muddled too by the fact that we can be roughly divided into three areas: tops, bottoms, and switchables, each of which takes a different slant on mind set

Mind set implies attitudes, for instance, and a top's attitude is going to be strikingly different from a bottom's. That difference is one of complements. When I say that leather folk have a certain mind set, then I've got to be inclusive of both complementary attitudes, such as a dominance and submissiveness.

Other qualities by their nature include both tops and bottoms. A willingness to be adventuresome, for instance, may incline either a bottom or a top to explore some fetish, but from complementary aspects.

Adventuresome means willing to take risks, to explore unknown territory, to do something for the thrill, the curiosity, or the experience itself. I know that when I first ventured into the Mineshaft, for instance, I felt it was an adventure. I had to put aside my fears, or at least allow my curiosity to be stronger than my fears, so that I could discover this new "territory."

Now this trait, like so many others, is highly dependent on one's place in the leather community. Neophytes feel more adventuresome simply because they see so much un-charted territory. When you get as jaded as I, an adventuresome feeling may be far less present. On the other hand, those watching may be astonished by what they perceive as my adventuresome activities. Those same events for me may be old hat.

Defining a leather mind set is risky business. I want to include sexually active as a quality, since I see sexual activity through-out the leather community. Are we more or less sexually active than any others? I have no idea. In any case it is obvious that sex is central, though it maintains that status while encompassing a wide spectrum on the sexual continuum. In fact it is more the idea of sex, the foreplay and aura of sex, that is most often part of the leather mind set Truth is that we spend a great deal of time and thought getting to sex rather than having sex.

I sense that there is a certain boldness in leather attitudes, but I can't write that leather is always bold. Boldness is more honored in theory than practice. There is much more fantasy than action.

I think, for instance, about certain outrageous scenes but never enact them.
Conversely, there is a great deal about leather that screams boldly. Attire, hair styles, and our fetishes have the word bold written all over them. There's nothing subtle about whips and chains, boot licking or fisting, latex or piercing.

It is the leather community's tolerance that makes the boldness possible and a major reason that we attract such bold non-conformists. Even the most conservative and reserved among us has some inner non-conformity that is accepting and allowed, indeed expected, in our gatherings.

Another quality of our thinking that is very much dependent upon experience is self-awareness. It takes one who knows oneself to fit most comfortably into the leather community. That knowledge is simply the result of learning, most often accomplished as our adventurous attitudes give us experience. As we learn more about the various things leather folk do, we learn what we like and what we don't, thereby refining our own self-image.

Those experiences, both positive and negative, help us to fit ourselves into the community of leather. They teach us who we are and allow us to be that self. Boldness fits right into this self-awareness, allowing us to express who and what we are. The tolerance found among leather folk permits that self to manifest itself.
Much of the leather mind set can be called open-mindedness. We got here by being open to new ideas, new activities, and a new lifestyle (new for us anyway) and by being willing to explore the ramifications of those experiences.

That's not to say that all leather folk are tolerant, adventuresome, or self-aware. We are much too diverse a group to pigeon-hole into any one category.

If you feel inclined toward leather, though, these attitudes will help you get involved. It's not as if you have to have this (or any mind set) to be begin, though I would venture to say that without some of these qualities you're not about to get involved in leather in the first place.

I could also add attributes like risk-taking, radical thinking, heightened curiosity, hedonism, and insatiability. Our detractors might add promiscuity, recklessness, selfishness or self-degradation. How you perceive the leather community depends on your mind set How you become a member depends on your willingness to experiment, to question, to explore.

In any case, ask questions, take calculated risks, and plunge ahead. It's that mind set that makes leather possible.

Copyright 1996 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied in any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay, contact

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