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"It's my opinion that the best place to find safety is within the context of a Leather club."

Why We Need Clubs
by Jack Rinella

The recent news coverage about a top from Chicago who allegedly abused a bottom in San Francisco is ample proof that the club system ought to be more highly regarded. I'm going to leave the determination of guilt in the above-reported incident to the courts, but innocent or not, this story will unfortunately become one more erroneous example that SM is dangerous, one more thing for our detractors to use against us. But not commenting on the supposed antagonist's guilt or innocence, still leaves ample opportunity to show how the club scene makes SM safer.

It's my opinion that the best place to find safety is within the context of a Leather club.

Some forty or fifty years ago, guys into "rough sex" hung around bikers' bars in order to find their sex partners. They were an inventive group and they had to be, since society frowned on both their sexual orientation and their practices.

Eventually these men became friends, knew they could trust each other, and formed rather close associations. These "circles of friends" evolved into a world-wide network that provided communication for the development and spread of what was to become today's Leather sub-culture.

These early, loose-knit circles offered several very important "services:" introduction to the lifestyle; training in its mores; certification, in a very loose sense, of its members; introduction of members to others; mutual support; places and opportunities to conduct SM sex; and, of course, camaraderie, fellowship, and friendship. In effect, they did what today's clubs do.

I don't want to romanticize these groups but it is obvious that in the 50's and 60's they provided a safe way for men to enter and enjoy the newly forming Leather lifestyle.

Today's popularization of Leather has made it very easy, some may say too easy, for interested folks to find their way into our "community." I use those quotation marks for a reason, since there are several levels or degrees of community in Leather, not all of which are any more than the most superficial of associations, just as the same applies to any other congregation of humans.

First, of course, is the arena of Leather bars, contests, chat rooms, and the like. I don't mean that these are necessarily superficial. It's that they can only serve as an entry-way to community, a place to form community.

It's my experience, unfortunately, that the cohesiveness and friendliness of the Leather bar scene has diminished over time as the bars have, with good reason, catered to less of a dedicated Leather crowd and more of a Leather-wannabe crowd. I think this is more a sign of the times than a criticism. Bar owners are still the single most important group for welcoming newcomers to our lifestyle. Bars remain the pre-eminent gateway to our community.

Within this rather loose community hide two very important groups: those officially banded together as a club and those who, with less organization, have formed circles of friends. These two sub-groups share members, no doubt, and provide much of the safety-net needed for satisfactory SM.

I cannot stress too strongly that participating in the community of Leather is essential to being a "real" Leatherman. Ours is not, and cannot be, a loner's past-time. You can be a sadist without community, or a masochist, or a fetishist, but you can't be a Leather person.

And this is why I see clubs as being so important. As community they are uniquely able to create members for and in the Leather community.

As for safety, clubs have what we need most -- the ability to instruct, initiate, and develop informed Leatherfolk. The clubs provide an entry way for strangers to learn the practical meaning of safe, sane, and consensual, and to demonstrate that they understand and practice it. Once accepted by the group, the group can then pass informed judgment -- a reference -- as to the person's trustworthiness and expertise.

In fact, by training the individual and observing his or her participation in the group, the club is in the unique position to say this guy or gal is "OK." Even more than just OK, they can affirm that the player has the requisite experience for the activity under consideration.

Whatever happened in San Francisco could have been avoided in several different ways.

First of all, each player could have asked for and checked the other's references. Anyone wanting to know the trustworthiness of another player can find out, if they are appropriately connected in the Leather scene. Here, then, is the first safety net. If you aren't connected, it behooves you to become so. If your prospective partner is unconnected, it should be a sure sign to question why and probably avoid the encounter altogether.

Don't know whom to ask? Then my point is doubly correct. Find out who to ask. Ask around as to who can give references and use them.

Who can you give as a reference? That simple question might have eliminated the need for the S.F. bottom's trip to the hospital. I know for a fact that any guy from San Francisco could have found many people in the Chicago Leather community who would have warned him not to play with the "well-known Chicago Leatherman," unless he wanted an intense and possibly dangerous encounter.

On the other hand, there are literally thousands of Chicago Leatherman who have reputations as sterling as can be and they're not afraid to give you names and phone numbers of people who will vouch for their safety and integrity.

Another way that safety could have been introduced would have been by playing in a public space, such as a club house, sex club, or bath house. Ironically it is the City of San Francisco that closed its bath houses, not the City of Chicago. What went on in a private motel room would not have happened in a public space. It's as simple as that.

Thirdly, clubs provide proper training, not only in technique but in courtesy, custom, and integrity. Informal groups can do the same, but probably not as well. By its example, society erroneously demonstrates that sex is intuitive, that knowing what to do and how do it should somehow come naturally. Unfortunately, such is not the case.

Everything has its risk. Proper education reduces risk. Learning by word, example, and correction will make anyone a better Leather person. Without learning you're just not going to make the grade.

Clubs provide supervision. As easy as it is for us to ridicule the idea of a Dungeon Master, one who oversees the play at an SM scene, he or she still provides an important and essential role. Sure there's a time for private intimacy. Sex isn't always going to take place at a play party. But for those who are playing with strangers, there's no better safeguard than having an informed eye watching the proceedings.

Enough said. For information on Chicago Leather Clubs look in the organizations section of this magazine, where you will find there are seven listed: American Uniform Association, Chicago Hellfire Club, Golden Showers Association, Leather United, Masters And slaves Together, Men of Rubber, Mid American Fists In Action, and Windy City Bondage Club.

For a complete listing of Leather Clubs, get a free copy of the Leather Journal, 7985 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90046 or check out their web site at "http://members.aol.com/tljandcuir/clubs.html".

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

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