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
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.
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
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
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.
any case, ask questions, take calculated risks, and plunge
ahead. It's that mind set that makes leather possible.
1996 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied in
any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay, contact
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