It’s All About Fun

by Race Bannon on February 14, 2015

This speech was delivered on February 14, 2015 as the Saturday dinner keynote address at the Southeast Conference of Clubs (SECC) annual event held in Orlando, FL. A video of this speech was recorded and can be viewed here.

Good evening. I’ve had a really good time this weekend and I hope you have also. Everyone involved in creating and running this event has done a great job and you have my thanks. Thanks especially to Vince Andrews for reaching out to me about speaking here today and to Wayne Turpin who asked me to do it. And thanks to all of you for taking the time to listen to what I have say. I truly appreciate it.

When I was first asked to speak here today, I was told that the Back to Black theme of the weekend was about getting back to basics. It was about emphasizing that SECC, and indeed all that we do as leatherfolk and kinksters, is about mutual respect for each other, the connections we make, individually and collectively, and of course, the hot sex and play.

Let me say that I wish other events would also focus on such things. And I don’t mean getting back to some mythological leather days of yore that so many in our scene have idealized in their heads, but rather having our events and various efforts foster true mutual respect, connections of people and opportunities to make those connections, and yes yes yes, the hot sex and play which I fear we have far too often put on the back burner.

And let us remember that mutual respect means we should applaud anyone who expresses their sexuality and erotic identity in ways that make them happy, as long as it does not cause direct harm to others, even if someone’s personal expression of their erotic self doesn’t match up to how we do it.

Connections with each other don’t happen in a void. We have to work at them. Yes, social media has kept all of us better connected, but nothing replaces some real time, in the flesh conversation and connection. So I’m happy to see SECC create this event for connection. Let’s try to create more of them.

About that sex and play. Oh how we have often shirked our responsibility in keeping sex and play front and center in all that we do. However, I see the tide turning with many in our scene clamoring to return to the days when the sex and play, and the camaraderie it fostered, was one of the pivotal points around which our lives as leather and kink folk revolved. Again, thanks to SECC and other people and groups who create truly sex- and play-positive spaces. We need even more of them.

So kudos to SECC for having the Back to Black theme. You have my personal thanks.

With all that said, and in line with the back to basics theme, I’d like to offer to you what I consider the most basic of advice regarding what it is we do and who we are. It’s going to seem simplistic. It’s probably going to seem self-evident. You might be tempted to discount what I am about to say because internally you might say to yourself, “well sure, everyone knows that.”

But, I’m not sure that everyone does know what I’m about to suggest. Sure, they might give lip service to it. They might even say what I’m about to say themselves. But when it comes to actually living it, giving it some real substance, I think we, myself included sometimes, often ignore it. And I think we ignore it at our own peril.

So what is this gem of advice? It is simply this. Never forget that this is all about having fun.

Again, I’m sure many of you are saying to yourself, “well sure, of course I know this is about having fun.” And perhaps you do. Perhaps you are one of those people in our scene that understands how damn important it is to keep having fun as the prime, guiding directive in your kink life. If so, congratulations. Too often I think your kind are in the minority, and let me tell you why.

When I think back to the very early 70′s when I first entered the gay men’s leather scene, I recall the hyper focus on having fun. The bars. The sex. The play. The sense of belonging. Enjoying the company of men who shared my passions and lust. The friendships, some of them bonded by physical intimacy, some of them bonded by a connection of the brain, and some of them bonded by both.

In many ways it was a simpler time. In spite of the old guard mythology (and it is mostly mythology) that too often gets regurgitated among our ranks, it was not a time of regimented lifestyles full of rules, protocols and secret handshakes. No, it was a time when most gay leathermen simply enjoyed being leathermen. They simply enjoyed the company of others like them. They simply enjoyed the sex, play, socializing and camaraderie that was the sole focus of our scene at the time. In short, they had fun. If it wasn’t fun, they didn’t do it.

In those early days I ran with a mostly gay men’s leather crowd, but then, as today, I always had connections with kinksters who didn’t belong to the gay men’s leather camp. My sense was that back then they also focused intensely on fun. I think the non-gay realms of our scene have also perhaps lost their focus on the fun.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that many of us don’t have fun doing what we do and being who we are in this leather, kink, fetish, gear or whatever we call it scene of ours. Of course we do. But far too often I see the fun literally squeezed out of what we do and who we are by people with agendas, conscious or unconscious, that clash directly with other people’s fun, and sadly I think often their own fun too.

Let me offer some examples, and yes I know these examples are sweeping generalizations, and sweeping generalizations always have exceptions. But I think they hold true overall.

Once upon a time a newcomer to our scene might initially have had a harder time finding the scene that he sought out, but once found, entry was a fairly pleasant and low key affair. They socialized. They had sex and played. Along the way they learned some things about themselves and the best ways for their own sexuality to manifest. No one categorized them. No one pointed them to classes or some protocol-driven path to acceptance. No one judged their seniority or status within the scene. No one pushed them into entering a contest as some path to acceptance. If you were a nice person and wanted to hang with the leather crowd, you generally could. And if you were an asshole, the communal vetting process that took place within our ranks typically ostracized those assholes pretty quickly.

Contrast that scenario with today. While it’s clear that awareness of our scene is more prevalent than ever and viewable from the outside with a few clicks of a mouse, that doesn’t mean entry into the scene is truly easier. I contend it’s often harder. Once a newcomer decides to seek official entry into our scene, they are presented with so many entry point hurdles.

If their interests encompass BDSM, they are pointed to a plethora of classes they are encouraged, if not outright coerced, into attending. Even more seasoned players are often looked upon with suspicion if they do not embrace the kink education complex with open arms. Apart from instilling in newcomers a few of the basic safety and socialization considerations, I don’t think reinforcing attendance at lots of classes does newcomers much good really. Sure, they perhaps pick up a few BDSM or other kink techniques tips, but from a cost/benefit standpoint, do all of those classes really contribute to that newcomer having more fun in the scene. I don’t think so, at least not most of the time.

In fact, I think it gives newcomers the impression that they must have the equivalent of a college degree in kink if they are to be deemed a worthy play partner. I think in some ways we’ve done a terrible disservice to kinksters, especially newcomers, by allowing this impression to proliferate. I have been just as guilty of this as many others, but I now think there are just too damn many such classes.

Instead of our sometimes myopic perspective when it comes to kink education, I think we need to instead foster more organic learning and discussion opportunities rather than the onslaught of classroom-style presentations that don’t ultimately really teach much and can often waste precious time together that could be spent actually connecting with and truly learning from and enjoying each other.

Yes, for those who know me, I fully understand the irony that I have historically been someone who has taught many of those classes. My views have shifted over time. Occasionally we need to recalibrate our direction and, for me, I believe we need to scale back the abundance of such classes and use that precious time, money and effort on other pursuits that might benefit us all more.

Scene seniority is also often put forth as some sort of yardstick by which to measure the value and worthiness of scene members. For some bizarre reason old timers like myself are deemed of higher rank, essentially, simply because we’ve been around a long time. Yes, sometimes a bit of mileage helps, in life as well as in our scene, but I just don’t think it holds true that old timers like myself are typically better people, better players, better activists, better organizers, better teachers, more ethical, or otherwise superior kinksters compared to the younger or newer members of our scene. Proliferating this notion of scene seniority can impact the fun for those newer to the scene or for those not highly connected with the scene movers and shakers. And what happens when something stops being fun? Often those people leave the scene looking elsewhere for a place to find joy and fun.

Let’s stop worshiping at the altar of someone for simply being in the scene for a long time and let’s make it more fun by assessing each person individually. And yes this means often the younger or newer kinkster should be evaluated more worthy of being trusted and respected than many older or supposedly more experienced folks.

Once newcomer kinksters deal with the stress about their kink qualifications and resume, they are then faced with the stress of trying to connect with others to partake in whatever kink they now feel qualified to do.

At times the ease with which we can connect with others, seeing in often painstaking detail the range of people’s sexual proclivities in their online profiles, might actually be working against us. Sometimes it sucks the fun right out of it.

Let’s say you see a list of 15-20 sexual interests listed on someone’s profile. You notice one or two that don’t turn you on.

I think the tendency for many of us is to write off that person because we’re not an “exact” match in terms of interests. Same goes for sexual positions, roles, body types, and so on. No two people will be an exact match. That’s just not how our sexualities work. We are all truly unique in the exact combination of physicality, erotic turn ons and chemistry that trip our sexual and compatibility triggers.

Lost sometimes amid the clamoring for the kink connection we all crave is simply finding someone who appears interesting and figuring out what might work erotically at the time through conversation. Absent a detailed sexual resume, we are forced to engage and converse with someone to find out their interests, needs and desires.

Frankly, this approach is a lot more fun for most of us, trying to find common erotic ground this way rather than using someone’s profile for reference accompanied by a few, quick back and forth online messages.

Let’s try to keep the fun in our cruising and connection pursuits and stop reducing ourselves to a checklist of scenes we’re technically skilled at or some arbitrary leather resume of experience, club affiliations, or whatever. Let’s just have fun being kinky people wanting to bond and play with each other. Let’s try to come up with yet more creative events and other ways to encourage kinksters to gather, socialize and organically bond, share and learn, and yes, cruise. Online is here to stay, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use it as a tool and not be beholden to it as our only means of connection.

Now let’s consider the leather contest system that’s so evidently replicated itself beyond what any of the original creators of such contests imagined. And these contests now often dominate the leather scene in terms of time, money and attention.

I do know that much of this weekend centers around a contest. I am in no way anti-contest. I’m a titleholder myself from the distant past, I’ve judged countless contests, and otherwise been close to a wide array of contest producers, volunteers, contestants and titleholders. Virtually all of them fine people. But as I have shifted my view of kink education, so have I shifted my views about contests. It’s always good to re-evaluate and I have done so with contests.

Such contests are often, in my opinion, misrepresented as to what they actually are and what the winners actually are. Far too often I hear that entering a leather contest is a great entry point for a newcomer to the scene. I was astonished when I first heard this uttered, but I hear it so often nowadays that I just privately roll my eyes when I hear it.

So you’re going to throw a newcomer into a contest system that’s judging his or her competence as a leatherperson or kinkster when they barely have their feet wet in the scene. Does that sound like fun for the person? Does that not sound kinda messed up? Does that not seem to be putting the cart before the horse?

The limelight is typically not the place from which to properly learn about and enter our scene.

Now consider the judging criteria used at virtually all leather contests. Contestants are drilled with often obscure historical or deeply probing questions about their perspective on the scene or their identity as a leatherperson. And most contestants don’t give the answers to the edgier questions that speak to their own truth, but rather they give the answers they think the judges want to hear.

This can result in allowing the lowest common denominator to flourish at the expense of unique people with unique perspectives. Those who have their own approaches to kink or think outside of the status quo box are often discounted for not falling in line with the leather groupthink many judges bring to the table. That’s not fun.

Contestants are asked to present a “leather image,”, whatever the hell that is, because after nearly 45 years in the scene I’m still not quite sure what that is, and I’m sure the contestants are just as befuddled by such nebulous criteria. What they consider a fun self-image may be nothing like what the standard set of judges or scene insiders consider a hot and sexy image.

So, think about this for a moment. Why do 15,000 gay men attend the International Mr. Leather weekend every year? Because the entire event is geared toward fun. Yes, it’s had many years to grow and develop, but the guys would not keep attending if it wasn’t fun. Few classes. Few speeches unless you count the contest itself which, frankly, only a small percentage of guys at IML attend. Shopping aplenty. Very little overt fundraising. A countless collection of parties, dances and other social events. And lots and lots of sex, whether through organized play parties or, and I think more importantly, sex happening organically as men meet up and drag each other back to their rooms.

Contrast IML with many other leather and kink events such as the many conferences we have. They’re highly organized. They are often populated primarily with classes that offer little to do during those times periods except to sit staring straight ahead in a classroom and listen to someone. Attendees are sometimes pummeled with an onslaught of requests for their money with rabid fundraising that permeates the entire event. Even the play parties at these events are often highly regimented with a flurry of rules and roadblocks to having the sort of erotic and sexual experience you really want to have because of having appease the venue or the organizing group’s specific view of what’s appropriate public play or not.

I contend that for the vast majority of kinksters, most of that is not fun. Or at least not optimally fun. Most of it is of little interest. I think much of what is organized at those events caters to what I often refer to as the inner sanctum of our scene, already highly connected people or those politically involved with the inner workings of the scene. However, that does not describe the vast majority of kinky folk. They don’t want to sit in on a discussion about organizing leather clubs. They don’t want to see yet one more bondage 101 class. They don’t want to play in environments that run so counter to how they might play privately or in a more free erotic venue. In short, the vast majority of leather and kink people want to have fun with their kink. They want to have sex and play. They want to socialize and cruise. They want to dance and celebrate. They want build connections. Give people more opportunities to do those things and most event attendance would likely climb and reviews of those events would elevate.

You can even look to our BDSM and kink credos that we tout so often. Safe, sane and consensual. Or the newer one that’s become favored by many these days, Risk-Aware Consensual Kink. Note that there’s no mention of fun.

When the BDSM crowd adopted the safe, sane and consensual credo, I was overjoyed. It served its purpose well in its time. When it got updated to Risk-Aware Consensual Kink I liked that too and that tends to be the phrase I use when I need to trot out some concise guidance to a newcomer.

But now that our scene has fully embraced these two sayings, I think it’s time we start mentioning fun all of the time when we utter those phrases so we don’t lose track of why we do this all in the first place. Even back in 1992 when I published my book on BDSM I was encouraging us to add fun to the then pervasive Safe, Sane and Consensual mantra that was hot at the time because sometimes the almost clinical way we go about discussing and experiencing BDSM runs contrary to having fun. At least for most people.

Now I know that the purpose of the credos is essentially to foster a sense of safety and acceptable behaviors, but I think that by not having fun as an integral part, indeed the most important part, of what we repeat over and over might be sending the wrong message.

BDSM, and indeed all kink and sex, is supposed to be fun. If it weren’t, why would anyone do it. So let’s always try to mention fun anytime we utter the Safe, Sane and Consensual or Risk-Aware Consensual Kink sayings. Let’s try to get our fellow kinksters to start saying to themselves “do I have enough information, have I intelligently assessed the risks, is this consensual, and just as importantly if not more so, is this fun?” By doing so, we’ll ensure everyone has not only experiences congruent with their safety requirements and acceptable level of risk, but also enjoyable and fulfilling ones as well.

So I’ve given you some examples of why I think that sometimes we diminish our emphasis on having fun with this wonderful scene of ours. I could have given others. My point is not to denigrate any person, group, event or institution, but simply to encourage us to focus on the fun more than we sometimes do.

When you are about to do anything within the leather and kink realms, either personally or as part of a group, ask yourself “Am I keeping this fun? Could I make it more fun?” Sure there are things we sometimes have to do that aren’t so fun, but I don’t want to be part of any scene that can’t keep having fun as a guiding directive. I don’t think most of us would want to be part of such a scene either.

Let me leave with with a quote from one of my favorite actresses, Katherine Hepburn. She once said “If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.” Sometimes the rules are, indeed, meant to be broken. Sometimes the rules do indeed get in the way fo the fun.

Love each other. Be kind to each other. Connect and bond with each other. Have sex and play with each other. Be the kind of kinky person you want to be. And never forget to have fun along the way.

Thank you for your time. I love you all and wish you a happy, healthy, kinky, and fun life. Which is exactly what you deserve. Good evening.

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Depression Among Kinksters

by Race Bannon on January 25, 2015

A version of this post was originally published in the Bay Area Reporter. The resources mentioned are mostly from the local San Francisco Bay Area, but the main content of the post and some of the resources will prove useful to anyone. You will find the original online version here.

One of the most beautiful things about the San Francisco Bay Area leather and kink scene is how connected and supportive everyone is with each other. I don’t want to paint a picture of a perfect kink Utopia. All communities have their challenges and areas for improvement, but the Bay Area really is special as far as I’m concerned in how we honor, acknowledge, befriend and assist others in our scene. It’s a great place to be a kinkster.

Of course, I am sure many others would say that their local scene is equally connected and supportive. In many cases they are likely correct. The Bay Area is my home and it’s the local scene here with which I am most familiar.

Nowhere was the “it takes a village” mindset displayed more than at the recent event hosted by the San Francisco Leathermen’s Discussion Group (LDG) about depression within the leather and kink communities. As I sat in that room listening to therapist professionals and fellow local kinksters explain the details of depression, how it can manifest in people’s lives and how it can be treated and managed, I realized I was sitting amidst a special group of people. “These folks get it” I thought. They understand that along with all the hot sex and play, bar gatherings, conferences, contests and other things us kinksters do, if we don’t actually care for each other both individually and collectively, can we really consider ourselves a compassionate and caring community, or a community at all really.

There is a collection of maladies that inhabit our scene, as in all walks of life, that are either directly linked to depression or, as I like to say, are kissing cousins of it. Outright depression, ongoing clinical or temporary. Loneliness. Suicidal thoughts. Feelings of differentness or isolation. Being the newcomer and trying to fit in. All of these things, and more, are present within our scene just like they are in other sectors of life.

Consider also that kinky people can have shame about their non-standard sexual leanings that long outlasts any shame they may have felt as LGBT. That can be a contributing factor to feeling depressed too.

But you know what? I think in many ways we are better equipped to help our fellow kinksters. We have built in mechanisms to connect us and communicate with each other that perhaps other groups do not. That gives me hope and makes me proud to be part of the leather and kink world.

As I sat and listened to the presenters on the panel, and listened to audience questions and the resulting answers and cross discussion taking place, certain themes emerged for me about depression and the impacts that ripple through kinksters’ lives and the scene overall. Here are my layman’s observations.

Experiencing depression is by no means rare. Many of us experience, either fleetingly or ongoing, some form of depression during our lives.

Depression, in all its various ways of expressing itself, looks and feels different for different people. We can’t always know that people we know are depressed. However, when we do, there are things we can do to help.

There can be a tendency for many depressed people to isolate themselves. That sometimes makes it harder to realize a friend is depressed. But if you notice someone hasn’t been around for a while, or you haven’t heard from someone who normally communicates with you, check in. Call them. Text them. Facebook them. However you do it, reach out. Just say hi. That single act of checking in can do so much for the depressed person. If it’s at all possible, try to make reaching out result in an in person, face-to-face meeting. Nothing trumps being physically present with someone.

One of the important things you can do to help someone who is depressed is something pretty simple. Show up. Be there. Connect. Be a presence. You don’t have to offer any advice. In fact, at times that can be counter productive. Just be a friend. Just be an acquaintance who cares. Talk. Hang out. See if someone wants to grab some coffee, go for a walk, or just “be” together. The point is to foster a human connection because that’s often what the depressed person needs the most.

If alcohol or substance abuse appears to be a possible issue in someone’s life, see if you can navigate them to finding some assistance. It seems that for many people depression and substance abuse go hand in hand, although you can’t always be sure which one ushered in the other. To a friend, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is to see if you can move them toward some help and support. Luckily, there is a strong presence of sober folks and meetings within our local kink scene and our scene is very open and welcoming of the sober among us.

Here’s a good place for me to give a shout out to one of the local presences we have for sober folks, the contest produced by SF Bay Area Sober in Leather-SF. That contest was recently held and let me offer my congratulations to the winners. I hope the contest and its titleholders do some good in fostering awareness and help for those who might need to address substance abuse issues in their lives. The winners for 2015 are Mr. SF Sober Leather Stephen, Ms. SF Sober Leather Leather Jackie, and SF Sober Kinkster Robert Moore.

As a result of the LDG event on depression, local kinkster David Hegarty launched his new initiative to take the kind of active steps to combat depression that were discussed during the program.

Get Out and Love is a project aimed at challenging people to get out and connect with people face to face, to share real connection with other humans, and in doing so help relieve the ever increasing effect of depression and isolation in our community. Isolation is a frequent symptom and cause of depression. This project offers a way to reach out and touch someone in your life.

Here are some other resources that can be useful to local kinksters who might be dealing with depression or have friends suffering from it.

Bay Area Open Minds offers psychotherapy services to people who serve these Bay Area populations and issues: BDSM/kink, polyamory, trans concerns, gender identity, same-sex relationships, sex work, and more.

Kink Aware Professionals is a referral service managed by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. It’s a great resource for kink-aware psychotherapists, doctors and attorneys.

The San Francisco Bay Area Leather Alliance has partnered with Stop AIDS Project to sponsor their Suicide Prevention Project.

San Francisco has its own Suicide Prevention organization and they are very welcoming of the diversity of sexualities in our city.

I know this isn’t an upbeat topic, but I think along with all of the great fun and hot things we do together, us leatherfolk and kinksters have to also try to take care of our own.

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Supporting Younger Kinksters

by Race Bannon on December 12, 2014

A version of this post was originally published in the Bay Area Reporter. You will find the original online version here.

In a local Facebook group comprised mostly of Bay Area kinky gay men, a discussion took place as the result of someone posting about the formation of a group for under 40 guys. This immediately sparked a long and passionate debate about whether the event was ageist and exclusionary or was it simply an attempt by younger kinky guys to find their own space. It made me wonder if this dynamic might not be playing out throughout the gay men’s leather and kink scene everywhere. Based on my chats with guys from around the country, I think it is.

At the core of many of the discussion thread’s comments, as well as other similar discussions I’ve seen take place, are a few points I’d like to address here about younger kinksters and how they align and interact with the older among us (myself included). I know some of these same issues arise throughout all sectors of the orientation and gender spectrum of our scene, but I’m going to focus specifically on gay men because I’ve seen this happening up close mostly in that realm lately. However, I do think much of this applies to everyone.

Younger kinksters wanting their own groups, events and play parties is exclusionary and ageist.

I think one of the downsides of the hyperinclusion that influences much of our scene (and yes, there are certainly upsides too) is that anytime someone requests their own space it somehow gets labeled as exclusionary, elitist, separatist, or some other such negative. Most of the time it’s none of those things.

Sometimes certain groups of people need their own space. As but just one example, there’s are good reasons that ONYX formed as a place for leathermen of color to gather, commune and bond. They didn’t always see themselves or their issues reflected in other venues. They have commonalities others might not share. ONYX is a very successful attempt to give some guys who feel they need their own space a place where they can feel safe and understood. As it is with people of color, women, trans folks, and others, who also sometimes need their own space, why should it be any different for younger kinksters.

You’re too young to be a Dom, Master, Sir, Boss or some variation of a power dynamic top.

In a word, bullshit. This particular refrain bugs me personally because my first incarnations as a leatherman were entirely from the Dom perspective starting at the age of 19. To discount young guys identifying or playing from a Dom-leaning mindset is simply insulting. I have seen younger guys who are brilliant Doms and I have seen long-time leathermen with decades of supposed experience who are, frankly, terrible Doms. I have seen relatively little correlation between length of time in the scene or age and whether someone is a good power dynamic top or not.

Younger kinksters must pattern their kinky lives and identities based on the leather past.

The collision that sometimes takes place between older leathermen who have been around the scene for a while and younger newcomers is now legendary. I often joke that some of us older guys come off like a grumpy old man screaming at some kids to “get off my lawn.”

The default assumption for many older guys seems to be that just because their erotic identities, ways of playing and social constructs looked and operated a certain way means that younger guys should abide by those same things. No, they should not. History and the past are something to be learned from, but rarely something to be copied verbatim. Time moves on. Everything changes, and that includes our scene. Therefore, it’s quite natural that younger kinksters would configure their identities, relationships, play styles and social interactions somewhat differently than their older counterparts.

To my fellow older kinksters who are annoyed by this, I have but one bit of advice – get over it. Time moves on. Let the younger kinky guys create their own networks and communities much as we did decades ago.

Your kink looks different than my kink. So you must be doing it wrong.

This is related to the previous issue, but is somewhat different. As the scene has changed, the popularity of certain kinks and sexual proclivities have emerged, particularly among younger players. When I first came out into the scene there weren’t many pups, rubbermen (at least not in the U.S.), sports gear guys, and so on. But guess what? They are part of our scene now and that genie is not going back in the bottle. Every generation wants to imprint their own special flavor on what they do. Why should their sexuality be any different? I think the diversity of sexual expression is a plus, not a minus.
Clubs, organizations and groups should be led by the older and more experienced.

While there is some wisdom in leveraging people who have some mileage in terms of running such things, it can be just as much of a drawback. I’ve seen older kinksters display entrenched and rigid thinking, often simply replicating old ways of doing things rather than coming up with something new and innovative.

Sometimes groups need some fresh air when it comes to who is running those groups and younger people can bring in that new perspective. Younger people often take more chances, think in different ways, and reference a more contemporary culture to inform their decisions. Adding younger people to the running of things will likely add to their effectiveness and better serve the entire range of their
constituency.

I could offer many other negatives I’ve heard thrown at younger kinksters, but ultimately I’ve yet to see any arguments that hold up to scrutiny that bolsters claims that younger guys are any less capable, kinky or authentic than their older brethren.

I am one older leatherman who is incredibly happy to see younger kinksters morphing and changing the scene into something that certainly looks a bit different than it used to, but I believe has more breadth and depth in terms of the variations of kink and identities it embraces. And I think that’s a good thing.

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The Truth About Old Guard

by Race Bannon on October 26, 2014

A version of this post was originally published in the Bay Area Reporter. You will find the original online version here.

As I walked through the most recent Folsom Street Fair and participated in a few of the Leather Pride Week events, it struck me how much the scene has changed in recent years. I rather like how diverse and multifaceted our scene has become. But, of course, like clockwork, I inevitably overheard some comments from a few leather traditionalists bemoaning how the modern leather and kink scene is dishonoring the Old Guard.

Sacred cows can be dangerous things. Those things in life you are not encouraged to question are likely the very things you should question. So it is with the topic of this column, the leather Old Guard mythology.

For those people reading this that are not aware of what I’m referring to, many believe there were small cadres of gay leathermen who followed a universal, codified and rigid protocol of indoctrination, schooling, dress and interaction that bestowed on them a blessed membership in the leather community of the time. Was there some semblance of this in the past? Yes. Was its nature and functioning like the Old Guard mythology often promulgated upon today’s unknowing kink newcomer? No. And that is why I, and others, take issue with the constant referencing of the Old Guard as some sort of ideal behavioral and identity yardstick.

It’s time we stop, once and for all, the ridiculous notion that we should be patterning our identities, relationships and social interactions based on the Old Guard myth. It does no one any good. It stunts meaningful explorations of our sexuality. It promotes conformity versus individuality, and erotic rebels and mavericks are supposed to shun conformity, not embrace it.

In a recent speech titled Old Gods Die Hard (which you can find here), one of the leather scene’s greatest thinkers, Guy Baldwin, a man who many consider to have been smack dab in the middle of the Old Guard era and membership, skewered the Old Guard notions that run rampant in the leather scene today. Baldwin does indeed believe that some gay men of the leather past adhered to their own crafted rituals, protocols and other subcultural rites. He’s even referred to them as Old Guard. I agree with him on that.

But I believe Baldwin and I also agree that what applied to a small group of gay men in the past were by no means the universal and monolithic things that have been romanticized far beyond their actual reality. In short, the Old Guard referenced so often today is, mostly, mythology and to claim it was otherwise is to do a great disservice to not only those men who comprised the Old Guard of the past, but especially to the contemporary leather and kinkfolk of today who often embrace such notions as the template to be used for their own erotic lives.

Reading Baldwin’s speech is well worth your time and I think it should be required reading for any person who claims leather or kink community membership.

So why is embracing the Old Guard misinformed mythology bad? Why is it damaging? Baldwin points out in his speech that as the younger generations of kinksters came along they began to run afoul of some old timers who were determined to coerce and badger these youngsters and other scene newcomers by insisting that the Old Guard ways were the “correct” and traditional way things were done and how people were supposed to be and act. A few old timers, as well as some of those folks today who believe them, have often exerted strong pressure on newcomers and the scene generally to conform to the misguided notions that the leather scene’s history brought about a rigid and systematic way in which you enter, identify, behave and play if you’re to be considered a “true” leatherperson. What bullshit.

Another great thinker, Laura Antoniou, author of some of the leather and kink scene’s most beloved novels, and someone who often makes her points humorously, also takes issue with how the Old Guard has been romanticized beyond recognition. She also refers to the mythology of “houses,” a kissing cousin of the Old Guard mythology where people were supposedly mysteriously trained into the leather and kink ways. She puts it this way.

“There are no ‘old leather traditions.’ There are behaviors that individuals and small, isolated groups developed as customs (Bob has a new bike! Let’s all pee on it!) and there are behaviors individuals established as relationship habits (Call me Lady!) but there are no unified, recognized leather ‘traditions.’ A ‘house’ is not part of anything that anyone would recognize as an ‘old leather tradition,’ whether it’s a custom or a habit. If your new friend wants to join in a group with individual rules that mostly come out of ‘what makes them feel good,’ that’s awesome. She should ask them what all these rules are and see if they make HER feel good, and then do whatever she feels is comfortable and sexy and positive and right for her in order to join their little club, knowing full well that should it get creepy, stupid, onerous or no longer sexy, she can wave bye-bye and wander off to find more people with their own rules. Which will be entirely different from the ones she just learned and experienced. My advice would be to be very wary of anything that sounds like ‘this is the right way!’ (as opposed to ‘this is MY way, because I love it when things happen this way! Whee!’) and understand that everything is subject to negotiation. Also, if she needs to pass tests, perform feats of strength and daring, gets special clothing to wear and toys to play with and secret handshakes, those are super fun things for grownups to do, and having the mindset to throw yourself fully into the moment can be quite a rush.”

“And ultimately, anyone who says you MUST do anything to be ‘real’ or ‘true’ is basically saying, ‘…in MY Super Secret No Cooties Clubhouse!’ So, anytime you hear words like that, just think ‘super secret clubhouse’ and you will know instantly whether you want to continue chatting, let alone consider play, sex or a relationship.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it likely many times again, the guidelines for being a good leather or kinky person are essentially the same as being a good person. Be nice. Respect others. Watch out for each other. Be curious. Learn what you need to know to best enjoy yourself. Share what you know generously. That’s about it. The rest is all just a lot of noise that is more about how individuals choose to express their erotic selves than it is about how things should be done by others.

Let me close with a quotation from an unlikely book, considering the topic, but one that applies so well here. William Deresiewicz, in his book, Excellent Sheep, says this.

“The past gave rise to the present, but it is also different from the present. It shows us that things do not have to be the way that they are now. It provides us with a vantage point from which to see that our conventional wisdom is just conventional, not wisdom – that what we think is natural is merely cultural; temporal, not eternal; particular, not universal. It offers us an exit from the present. It tells us that things change: not only don’t they have to be the way they are, they will not be the way they are. The past, in other words, allows us to create the future. If you want to be a leader, if you want to find a new direction, then that is where you need to start.”

Go forth and be kinky, your way. Don’t let anyone tell you how you are supposed to be you.

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Our Scene Is Just Fine

by Race Bannon on October 4, 2014

This post is a portion of what was originally published in the Bay Area Reporter for which I write a regular leather and kink column. I wrote it right after attending the Up Your Alley street fair in San Francisco, an annual street fair targeted primarily at a kinky gay male audience. You will find the original online version here.

So, another busy Up Your Alley week has come and gone. What a good time. Congratulations to Folsom Street Events and all of the volunteers for creating yet another great street fair and dance. For all of the people, venues, clubs and organizations who organized events surrounding the weekend, a big hug and thanks as well. We indeed do have an abundance of kinky things to do here in the Bay Area.

As I was attending the various events last week, as well as strolling down the street during Up Your Alley itself, I was struck by something. Our scene is alive and well. Not just alive and well, but thriving and growing. This observation flies in the face of many of the gloom and doom comments I often hear about the leather and kink scene, particularly the gay men’s scene. I think we need a reality check.

(Please note my comments are primarily about the gay men’s scene since Up Your Alley tends to have a preponderance of gay men in attendance.)

Since I travel often in kink circles, both locally and nationally, I tend to hear a lot of the common comments, the good and the bad, about the leather scene. Unfortunately, I hear far too many negative comments that tend to fall into a few main categories. There is the “leather just isn’t what it used to be” category. Then there’s the “I wish these younger guys would respect the traditions” category. Finally, there’s the “those guys aren’t really part of our scene” category. Well, here’s what I think.

So, the leather scene isn’t what it used to be. Yes, true, but nothing remains exactly the same over time. You can say the same thing about the overall gay men’s community itself. It isn’t what it used to be either, and most of us think that’s a good thing because it’s now generally better. When I gazed upon the Up Your Alley revelers, as well the guys who attended the many other events that week, what I saw was a lot of guys having a great time being their unique, kinky selves. Our scene is now more welcoming of individuality and variation than it was years ago, and frankly I think that’s a healthy development. So no, the scene isn’t what it used to be. Good. It’s now even better.

As for younger guys not respecting traditions, I always wonder what traditions they’re referencing. Typically they’re the past norms that have been cherry picked by the person doing the complaining. How we dress, act, socialize, play and identify has never actually been a static thing. Perhaps it seemed that way for that relatively briefly snippet of history that Drummer magazine and other leather institutions at the time documented, but people have been kinky a lot longer than those institutions were around.

Younger guys are no longer feeling constrained by a narrow set of choices in terms of how they dress, act, socialize, play or identify when expressing their kinky selves. Rather than create exact copies of previous manifestations of what it means to be kinky, they are creating and adapting themselves to be authentic and happy as they pursue their erotic and sexual adventures. And it’s not just younger guys doing this. I’ve noticed a lot of older guys like myself doing the same thing. No longer burdened by having to tow the party line regarding what it means to be a leatherman, they are now exploring in ways more readily allowed by the wider diversity that populates the modern scene today.

When I hear comments about how some guys aren’t really part of our scene because they don’t fit some artificial construct of what it means to be a leatherman, I tend to laugh. I remember a time when the hardcore BDSM guys were shunned by many in the biker and leather bar crowd. I remember when fisters were a marginalized subset of the leather scene. I remember when many American leathermen would look upon a rubberman in a bar with scorn as if he was somehow violating a sacred code of dress to which every “real” kinky gay man should have adhered.

Now that we have rubbermen, pups, BDSMers, power dynamic players, fisters, sports gear aficionados and a range of erotic fetishists and explorers all under the umbrella of leather or kink, I still hear from some rigid guys exclaiming that those guys really don’t belong in our scene.

Well, all I have to say is, get over it. They are part of our scene and I think our scene is richer for it. I also have no doubt that a few years from now some other kinky subset of players will emerge that will garner the same negative comments because they dare to express their sexuality and erotic identity in ways that are true to who they really are in terms of kink. I will likely be among the first to embrace them.

Change is a universal principle. It is one of those principles that permeates everything in our lives. We change professional interests. Social interests. Circles of friends. Topics we like to study. Hobbies. All sorts of things. Over time as we grow as human beings, we evolve, we change. And if we change in all those ways, why should we not also change as kinksters. And if we change as kinksters, should not the scene we manifest around us change also? If we’re not changing, we’re stagnating.

Barring any acts that are lacking in respect for others or the safety of others, if anyone ever says for you to do or be something that does not sync with your own way of being a leatherman or kinkster, especially if they preface it by saying “well, that’s tradition” or “that’s just how it’s done,” don’t accept it at face value. Challenge that notion. Be your own person. Embrace the growth and change in yourself and the scene that you and countless others like you manifest around you. The scene is just as much yours as anyone else’s, no matter what someone might say.

I encourage you to embrace, not resist, change.

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Kink Is About Connection

by Race Bannon on September 20, 2014

This post was originally published in the Bay Area Reporter for which I write a regular leather and kink column. You will find the original online version here.

The topic of this post is something I feel extremely strongly about, and I feel it’s something that we don’t talk enough about in BDSM and kink education. I feel it should be front and center every single time we teach about kink because, without some semblance of love present, the kink is just about going through the motions.

Recently I was scanning the Leather Archives & Museum Tumblr site and I stumbled upon one of their posts that listed Joseph Bean’s Rules of SM (meaning BDSM, to use a more common acronym). This list was originally published many years ago. Joseph Bean is a writer, author and former editor of the now defunct but iconic Drummer Magazine. Drummer is generally considered to have been one of the most influential publications in the entire history of gay men’s leather and kink. Joseph is also a friend who I have long admired.

So, as I was reading Bean’s 10 rules of SM, each one a gem of wisdom, one in particular stood out for me because it reflects what I have often said about what it takes for the best BDSM experiences. His Rule Number 5 is “If you’re not in love, don’t do the scene.” For those unfamiliar with the specifics of BDSM, a scene is what BDSMers call the actual session in which they engage in a BDSM erotic encounter.

Bean then elaborates “If desire and consent do not lead to a kind of love, the scene is probably not going to work. Love can take many forms, but the very ground from which it springs is the demand one places on oneself to please and do what is good for the other person.”

For me, among all the advice that’s doled out about how to do BDSM, this is by far the most important. Yet in classes, articles, books and presentations, it’s the aspect of BDSM that’s discussed the least. Yes, BDSM can be done by the numbers. It can look good. It might even elicit some fun in the absence of love, but I contend it is never as good as when some aspect of love is present.

As Bean mentioned, love can take many forms and be called different things. I’ve often said that the English language needs more words to describe the many variations and permutations of what we clumsily lump together under the single banner of the word love. We have the word like and we have the word love, but that’s not enough. Some kinksters use the word connection instead of love when describing the type of bond that’s necessary for the best BDSM (or any kink really). Whatever word one uses, I agree with Bean that it’s a form of love that sparks our kind of sexuality into a higher realm of experience.

So why do I mention this? Because for many people, especially for outsiders or newcomers to the BDSM and kink styles of erotic play, their first encounters with such play is often outside of a private and intimate context. They might watch some porn that while hot and awesome in its own way, may be a less loving portrayal. Often our most extreme mental fantasies go beyond what we might want to do in real time. They might see a public demonstration of bondage or some form of BDSM or kink play that’s meant to be more entertaining than instructive. They might see various models of such play that do not appear to be what they really are.

I recall one time when I was strolling down the street during Folsom Street Fair and I overheard a group of people as they watched a flogging demonstration underway at one of the fair’s booths. Flogging is the striking of someone with a many-tailed whip, typically made of leather. To the uninitiated, it can look violent and severe. One of the clueless onlookers said something like “I guess you just tie someone up and beat on them and that’s S&M.”

Once at a local San Francisco bar when they were hosting a leather night at which BDSM entertainment was part of the offerings, the one taking place being a rather hard spanking, a number of people in the crowd started screaming “hit him harder, harder!”

I was horrified by these misconceptions and bad impressions being left upon such onlookers. That was the impression being given to these folks? But think about it for a moment. Barring any additional information, why would they not think that? Often someone’s fantasy may appear as something quite different to an outsider. For example, what if you stumbled onto a movie set without noticing any of the lights, cameras or crew? If you then saw two actors fighting angrily with fists flying you would assume you had stumbled onto a real fight. You would have no way of knowing that the fight was not real and was carefully negotiated beforehand. That’s the reaction those who are misinformed about BDSM might have when they hear about or see a BDSM or intense kink situation. They immediately assume the supposed reality in front of them, not the actual fantasy and intimate connection it represents.

It’s important for kinksters to keep this in mind when they decide to display their kink publicly. Every effort should be made to mitigate these wrong impressions when possible. And if such mitigation isn’t possible, then perhaps the kink should remain a private affair and not be offered up as entertainment at all.

I am going to cop to the fact that many kinksters disagree with what I just wrote. Many in the leather, BDSM and kink worlds see nothing whatsoever wrong with BDSM, or any kink, even of the more intense kind, taking place in front of non-kinky or ill-informed folks. I don’t get how they can think that, but many do and I’m sure even among my friends there are those who would argue I’m wrong about this. But I stand by my position.

If you’re reading this and you’re not currently part of the kink world, or you’re a curious newcomer, please keep what I’ve written in mind. What you’re seeing might not be a true representation of what you might end up doing in private. As F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “There are all types of love in this world but never the same love twice.” Go forth and love, in whatever kinky way you decide to do so.

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What Is “Real”?

by Race Bannon on August 2, 2014

This post was originally part of a longer article that appeared in the Bay Area Reporter for which I write a regular leather and kink column. You will find the original online version here.

There is a malady that seems to impact some of the leather and kink scene. It creeps in and taints social interactions, play and relationships. It holds people back from having the kind of sex they want. It gives newcomers to the scene yet one more hurdle to jump over in order to enter our world. And while I contend it’s less of an issue here in the Bay Area where we talk more openly and often about kink, it’s still something we deal with too.

What I’m talking about is when people declare who is “real” and who is not. What do I mean by this? Some examples might help.

You see a kinky online hookup site profile stating “only real Dominants need apply.” You hear of a Daddy who declares that a guy isn’t a real boy because he doesn’t conform to the Daddy’s rigid definitions of a boy. You are told that someone can’t possibly be a Master because you heard they like to submit sometimes too. A submissive tells you that a Dominant isn’t real because he didn’t carry out a scene per the submissive’s narrow view of what that interaction should look and feel like. A BDSM educator teaches that earning one’s leathers through some protocol-driven series of steps is the only way one can consider themselves a real BDSM player. A young guy wearing his first piece of gear to an event is declared not a real leatherman by some arrogant bystanders because he’s not worn it properly. The list goes on, and it’s all total crap.

Anytime I hear such nonsense I typically feel that insecurities are to blame. People like to believe that they are the real thing, so they judge others, usually unconsciously, in the hope that this will somehow make their shaky confidence in themselves more solid. Of course it does not. The more we put down others the more we reinforce that which is inside of us that fosters the lack of confidence in the first place. It’s a no win scenario, yet it plays out far too often.

As with so much in life, what is real or not in leather and kink is very much in the eye of the beholder. What might resonate with you as real might not resonate with someone else. Our personal backgrounds, identities, mental erotic landscapes and other things that make us and our life situations unique are far too complex and individual to allow us to declare that one way of being is real and another is not real.

The next time you read or hear someone say that they are a real player, a real Dominant, a real leatherman, or a real whatever, pause for a moment and let it sink in. What is this person really transmitting? What does it say about them that they must elevate themselves at the expense of others? If you are a newcomer to leather and kink and you read or hear such things, take the wise advice a friend of mine used to say all the time. “The red flags are not waiving you in.” Proceed with caution because most seasoned and reasonable kinksters can see through such self-important pronouncements as evidence of insecurity or someone posing as something they really are not.

As the leather and kink scene continues to change and reconfigure, as all things in life do over time, we are all likely to hear about more people who try to label themselves as real while condescendingly stating that others are not. We must resist this tendency if we find ourselves doing it. We must call others out when we read or hear them doing it. If two or more people are being, playing and relating in kinky ways that works for them, and they are all doing so consensually, no one has a right to say that who they are or what they are doing isn’t real. Not me. Not you. No one. You may not find it personally attractive. That is your right. But no one has a right to deem someone else’s erotic identity, play or relationship as less than another. To do so is to harm our scene terribly, and we just can’t stand for that.

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Help Fund Research On Leather/BDSM/Kink

by Race Bannon on June 20, 2014

Richard Sprott, Ph.D., a well known and highly respected member of the academic community, is currently crowdfunding an important research project.

In addition to funding this particular research project, if this funding process goes well, we could easily see this approach used as a model for supporting new research on leather/BDSM/kink in the future.

This crowdfunding campaign is active from June 23 to August 2, 2014.

If you are financially able to assist in funding this research, your contributions are welcome and appreciated. If you can further promote this crowdfunding effort, that would be great also. Feel free to link to this post from anywhere and replicate any of the wording in this post as needed.

This research project involves in-depth interviews about the life histories and identities of kink-identified people.

It seeks to answer such questions as: How do people make sense of kinky fantasies, desires, behaviors and practices? How do they integrate their sexuality into a larger sense of self when that sexuality is stigmatized?

Understanding how people conceptualize and construct their sexual identities will aid efforts to understand the connections between identity formation and behavior, to address stigma and prejudice against alternative sexualities, and to lower health disparities.

Thank for any contributions or promotion you can provide for this project.

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Change Is The Norm

by Race Bannon on May 25, 2014

This post originally appeared in the Bay Area Reporter for which I write a regular leather and kink column. You will find the original online version here.

As I communicate with fellow leatherfolk, whether they be local or from elsewhere, I consistently hear comments about how the leather scene has changed. Generally such comments are complaints bemoaning the loss of a past version of the leather scene while decrying how people dress, identify, behave and play today.

“Leather isn’t what it used to be.” “So much of our scene seems to be about contests now.” “We’re losing our bars.” “Those younger kinksters don’t respect the old ways.” “The scene has moved online.” “It seems that you need a degree in kink to be qualified to play these days.” “What happened to our mentors?” “Our community has been diluted with too many people who aren’t really kinky.” “Everything’s so expensive now.” And on and on. I could list dozens of such common complaints. And for all of them I have but one bit of advice.

Accept the ways things are or do something to change it so that they’re more to your liking.

One of the tenets of many life philosophies that I have always gravitated to is the concept of attachment. The belief is that attachment leads to much of life’s suffering. Attachment to an idea, including ideas about the past, are as poisonous as attachment to things. Everything, everyone, every tradition, every society, every subculture is ephemeral. So it is with leather and kink. The sooner an individual accepts that, the happier they’ll be. If you resist accepting change, unhappiness is a foregone conclusion.

I don’t see the morphing and adaptations of what we often refer to as leather to be much different than the organic way any community or subculture evolves. Change is the only constant. It’s why I find it amusing when anyone bemoans “the way it was.” I have too at times I must admit. But there is no way anything can remain fixed in time. That’s just not how things work. Everything changes. As Winston Churchill once said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

I think a big disconnect occurs because many do think leather is fixed in time. That’s why there’s a continuing churn over traditions, history, protocols and other such things because people want to believe that some golden era of leather in the past was the ideal and that what we have now is not. I disagree. The landscape of today’s leather and kink world is vast, diverse and rich with more experiences, events, social life and play opportunities than ever before. True, it looks and functions differently than it used to. So what? Most of life from the past looks and functions differently today. Many would call it progress. Yet many leatherfolk hold on to the past for dear life as if somehow accepting such realities will lessen them as a leather person or kinkster of whatever stripe.

Today there are certainly intersections among the various kink and leather sexualities, but those intersections might be large or small. The scene is less monolithic than it used to be. I see that as a good thing. And while it’s true that the scene sometimes sends out mixed messages about inclusion when it appears to some to be exclusionary, the same can be said of any group or subculture. I believe our scene is fairly good at embracing all good, decent people who want to be part of what we have to offer.

For every possible negative someone suggests about our scene I can offer an abundant collection of positives or a way to make it more positive for your own individual experience.

If you seek them out, there are social circles, clubs, groups, events and venues that will cater to your individual desires. San Francisco and the surrounding East Bay and South Bay are particularly blessed to have an assortment of such options. Locally and nationally you can find a plethora of offshoot groups interested in BDSM, rubber, sports gear, pup play, cigars, uniforms, fisting, power dynamic (Dominant/submissive) relationships, and much more. These are smaller subcultures within the larger leather and kink umbrella subculture and there’s room for anyone who wants a place at that table.

The natural human tendency is for us to want to feel that we belong to something special. If a subculture morphs over time into a bunch of more diverse groupings that might have only a modest amount of overlap, in time each of those groupings will want to exert their specialness (unconsciously usually) and form their own separate social circles, language, identifiers and so on. So while the term leather meant one thing a few decades ago, it now means something quite different to many. I can’t get too worked up over how it’s changed because I don’t want to be one of those old cranky people ranting about younger people or scene newcomers who don’t “get” leather culture. They get it just fine. It just doesn’t look the same as the leather culture I came out in during the early ’70s. And that’s quite OK.

Now, since I try to get kinky people offline and face to face as much as possible, let me mention a few upcoming events you might want to attend.

The finals for the Bare Chest Calendar will be on April 27, 2014. The calendar has been linked to the leather scene since its inception. Many of the men involved with the calendar, both as calendar men and behind the scenes, are part of the leather scene.

Another big event coming up is International Ms. Leather weekend, April 24-27, 2014. This is the preeminent leather contest and weekend for women. Join women from all over the country as they carry on this tradition in their new host city of San Jose.

The nominees for San Francisco Pride Leather Marshals have been announced. Male nominees are Brent Gannetta, Patrick Mulcahey, Scott Peterson and Graylin Thornton. Female nominees are Beth Bicoastal, Deborah Wade, Tracy Wolf and Lou (Alchemy). Voting takes place May 3, 2014 at the SF Eagle. Congratulations and good luck to all of the nominees.

For more details about the events I’ve mentioned and many others, check out the calendar entries that appear with this column.

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John Embry Leather Hall of Fame Induction Speech

by Race Bannon on April 30, 2014

I delivered this speech on April 27, 2014 to accompany the induction of John Embry, founder of Drummer magazine, into the Leather Hall of Fame at Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend (CLAW) held in Cleveland, Ohio.

Good afternoon. Today we are inducting John Embry into the Leather Hall of Fame. And while Mr. Embry did many good things in his lifetime, if we get honest, the reason he is being inducted today is for his founding of the iconic magazine Drummer. Considering the impact that magazine had on me and countless others, and I contend our entire leather and kink culture, that’s reason enough.

How many people in this room have read a Drummer magazine? Raise your hands. How many people feel that Drummer magazine has directly influenced your leather and kink life? How many people feel that our scene would be significantly different today had Drummer not existed?

Drummer was pivotal in creating a bonded network of men who did not always have a sense of belonging elsewhere in the gay men’s community. The magazine served as a communal forum for often isolated individuals and allowed for existing leather and kink institutions to be more easily identified and accessed. But perhaps most importantly, it generated of common culture and shared language that helped integrate local networks into a more national and international conversation. It gave these men images, stories, information, commentary, products and ideas to jerk off to, to relate to, to identify with, and that served to empower and grow a fledgling network of leathermen.

You can read a much more detailed accounting of John Embry’s life and the lifecycle of Drummer magazine in the program for today’s induction, and I encourage you to do so. But in the interest of brevity, I will focus on a few important insights into John Embry and Drummer magazine.

John Embry was born in Winslow, Arizona in 1926. I and others we unable to uncover much about his childhood. One thing we do know is that he was the art director of his high school newspaper. After high school, at the age of 18, he moved to Los Angeles to attend art school. He joined the armed services in 1949 and following his military service began a career in marketing and advertising. Drummer magazine was in many ways a natural extension of that marketing and advertising career.

You can read in his bio in the program some of the presumed initial origins of Drummer magazine, but it’s best to get it directly from Embry’s mouth. In issue 188 of Drummer magazine John Embry penned an article about Drummer’s origins. In that article he said:

“Unlike popular conceptions, Drummer was not born like something in an Andy Hardy movie, with lots of enthusiasm and offers of Judy Garland’s garage for a theater. It wasn’t even like Shel Silverstein’s wonderful concept of Playboy’s beginning with all the fellas standing around the steps of a Chicago brownstone deciding who was going to be the editor, the art director and who would recruit the centerfolds.”

“Drummer was conceived in Los Angeles on a Saturday morning in 1975 when my lover Don was out on one of his interminable disappearances. It was a solitary, if not immaculate, conception in the form of an ad in the Leather Fraternity newsletter I was putting together. The publication was already running eight to twelve pages. Why not embellish it and make it some sort of small magazine? What the hell, I had always been a frustrated publisher. So I pasted together a half-page pitch for something christened Drummer with little, if any, idea what it would or should look like.”

Perhaps the original intent of Drummer was not well thought out, but the happy accident was its critical role in the creation of an international leather, BDSM and kink community.

As the result of that perhaps less than immaculate conception, the first Drummer came off the press on June 23, 1975.

The name of the magazine, Drummer, is a reference to a quote from the book Walden by Henry David Thoreau, which happens to be my favorite book of all time. The quote is “If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.”

Embry did indeed hear a different drummer, and he also did indeed step to the music that he heard. He was a unique and, perhaps unconsciously at times, a visionary man.

When Embry was asked what made him want to be a publisher, he said “Inborn, I guess. I can remember as a schoolboy putting out a four-pager in grammar school by the simple method of drawing (in pencil, they didn’t trust us with pen and ink yet) and typing each copy by hand. It was simple and direct and my friend Conrad and I would spend hours in the evening on the finished product, such as it was. That’s all he and I did those evenings, unfortunately. But you’re pretty young when you’re in elementary school. Then Conrad got his little hands on a discarded hectograph, known as a Ditto gelatin roll that did an amazing thing: it made copies. I knew how Gutenberg must have felt!”

So even in grammar school, and we know in high school, Embry’s path toward becoming a publisher was already underway.

Embry saw Drummer magazine in many ways as a publication of liberation. He had a history of wanting to liberate the gay men’s community and did a great deal in that regard, which again you can read about in detail in the bio in the program, and he saw Drummer magazine as no different. It was a vehicle of liberation for gay men who had sexualities and identities that did not sync with the mainstream of gay male life.

Of course, not everyone held the magazine in high regard, at least initially. When a prominent San Francisco BDSM and kink organization reviewed Drummer in its newsletter, they said “Drummer is a Bummer, too slick, too commercial.” Luckily, thousands upon thousands of leathermen felt differently and they embraced Drummer as their publication of record. Their source of erotic inspiration. The template from which they built entire erotic and social lives.

This theme of liberation was well illustrated when Embry was asked what sort of satisfaction the publishing of Drummer brought him. He said “A tremendous amount, sometimes in very personal ways. We constantly get mail from guys who say how Drummer has helped them come to terms with their sexuality and their lives. I particularly like to hear from someone who found that he shares a specific sexual identity or fetish that other men enjoy – and that through Drummer they have learned to explore the possibilities of their sexual, physical and emotional selves. In a way that is what they are saying when they write to us that Drummer is ‘a turn on.’”

Embry also echoed the theme of liberation when asked why publishing Drummer was so deeply satisfying and important to him. He said “The most gratifying correspondence came from readers across the U.S. who had long considered themselves the only queer in town with their particular fetish. When they discovered themselves in Drummer they knew they were far from alone, wherever they lived.”

That encapsulates the power and importance of Drummer magazine in our lives, and why John Embry so richly deserves his place in the Leather Hall of Fame.

We might not all be here today were it not for John Embry and his Drummer magazine. We most certainly would not have so readily adopted its imagery and messaging as the foundation upon which many of us constructed our erotic dress, identities, sexualities and social norms.

We all owe a huge thanks to John Embry and every single person involved in the creation and publication of Drummer magazine. So it is a true honor to be able to say today that John Embry has now been inducted into the Leather Hall of Fame.

Mr. Embry, the universe decided to take you from us in September of 2010, but you, and your important work, have not been forgotten. All of us owe you a huge collective thanks.

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