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.