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