Previously, I had spoken about the definition of leather that my slave and I use when we’re asked “What do you think leather is.” Over the past few weeks, since South Plains Leatherfest and Master Skip Chasey’s keynote speech, I’ve had several discussions about leather, what it is and what it means.
When I’m asked that question “what is leather”, I answer in the only way I can – “It is about how I fuck. It is about the circle of friends and chosen family that I would do anything for. It is about earning/having my place in a greater whole.”
In order to explain that definition, I can share how I came to my definition of leather and what slave angie and I have experienced together in our journey to where we call ourselves a leather man and leather woman.
I go back to when I was a little “kinkling” and the things that made me hard and interested me. Out of the straight people that I knew, there were these few who acted differently, who had different associations and who played differently. After awhile, I learned they identified as “leather.” These straight people had friends in the gay community and lesbian communities here in Chicago. A couple of them were associated with a back-patch leather club called “Leather United Chicago.” The men and women in these circles wore hot leather and those who identified as Tops/Dominants/Masters acted in ways that I found attractive and something to emulate. Their knowledge, skills were equally matched by the bonds I saw between these people. It was something that spoke to me.
In 2001, a couple of these folks attempted to restart Leather United Chicago, but instead they formed Chicago Leather Club. I wanted to be a part of this, I wanted to be a part of what I saw as a greater whole with these folks. I had formed friendships, but it was at that point that I went through some serious life issues and had to pull back. It wasn’t until 2008 that I was in a place where I could pledge to be a full member.
In those early times, I was also part of the Leather Rose (which became LRA-Chicago) which was a social BDSM dungeon. It always had the reputation for being seedy, edgy and “leather.” The folks that identified as leather that I mentioned earlier played at the Leather Rose/LRA, so that also became a home for me. This was my place to play, my place where I learned my skills and where I saw the differences between those who identified and lived as they called “leather” and the kink/BDSM people. I also had the opportunity to go to Cellblock and Touché, Chicago leather bars, especially during IML. I saw these straight people interact with and be accepted by gay and lesbian people, although they were not many. I saw how they played in those spaces – with passion, with intent, sometimes with a spirituality that I couldn’t really grasp.
Over the last decade, I’ve formed my own bonds and connections to the gay leather and lesbian leather communities, by being an active member in the Chicago leather/kink community and by being an active ally. I watched, listened, learned and emulated the things that I admired and felt a kinship to. Hard, rough, outward sexuality. Dedication to my sexual and lifestyle choices. Loyalty and brother/sisterhood to my fellow club members and the club members of other leather clubs. That same feeling to those I connected with at the Leather Rose/LRA-Chicago. A belief that I was a part of a community and that I had a place, a duty and a purpose.
I also played in those spaces and places. Through my M/s relationship, through the S/m connection, through the trust and bond I have with my slave, and through being open to experiences, I’ve discovered that spiritual side.
I am not Master Skip Chasey’s leather. To use a phrase from his speech, I am most definitely a “settler” in areas where he was a “pioneer.” As a “settler”, I call myself “leather” because those people that I have formed these bonds with call themselves leather. They are across a wide swath of communities. I identify with them. I feel in ways that they identify with. I’ve learned from people I admire, from people that turned me on, from people that I felt/feel a bond with. My definition of leather is very consonant with their definition. At one time, I called that thing of being a straight leatherman “het leather”, but today, I do not. To me, leather is leather, and it’s a personal/group thing based on the group you identify with.
I’d also like to add that I agree with Master Skip’s comment of “Stop rewriting my (gay leather) history.” I honor and respect the gay/lesbian leather history. It is not my history. I am not of the “ye olde guarde” tradition – but I honor the radical sexuality they had. I honor the history formed by their experiences. At the same time I have been learning the gay leather history, I have tried as much as I could to learn the Chicago straight kink/BDSM/leather history and its lessons, because that is my history, that is where I came from.
Master Skip eloquently and sadly observed that his leather may be dying out. That makes me sad, but it is also a recognition of the inevitable truth, change happens. Things evolve. Things die so that others spring up. The same will be true for the people and leather that I am a part of. We may be settlers of the lands that Master Skip and those pioneers founded, but we’re going to be the “old timers” soon enough as the younger generations find new expressions, new boundaries and new edges for radical sexualities.
The above is my history and my lessons. As I’ve traveled this road, so too has slave angie, and while her path parallels a lot of mine, she has had some unique experiences of her own that have defined and shaped her. She’ll be sharing those later in her own post.
As a side-note, I highly recommend Robert Bienvenu’s dissertation on “The Development of Sadomasochism as a Cultural Style in the Twentieth-Century United States.” It is a seminal piece of work that rigorously lays out some of the cultural influences on kink, fetish and leather in America. Where it excels in is differentiating and denoting the straight and LGBT influences where they were similar and where they are very different. If you are curious about how some of what you see today got started, you will not be disappointed in this work.
Edited to add:
I also have struggled with this post and with the very definition of leather and my place in it. Not too long ago, I though pursuing “het leather” history was what I needed to do, and even though that earned me a harsh rebuke, that rebuke also gave me pause and got me to thinking… to where I came back to see leather as leather. I’m straight. I’m leather. The history of straight, or heterosexual, kinky people make include leather, but as I said, it is not gay leather. Some may want to call that “het leather”, but I’m not comfortable with that distinction. Leather is leather – some are pioneers, some are old settlers and some are new settlers.
I am constantly evolving and thinking/rethinking my place. My definition of leather, as it stands above, is the definition I hold to. My family, I hold to. My own ethics and standards, I hold to. How we, as a kink subculture, as a niche of the niche, choose to define ourselves, how we choose to evolve, how it evolves whether we personally choose that or not… I can’t say. My story is my own and how I pursue that journey is a personal reflection of that. It may not be Master Skip’s way, it might not be the MDHL way, it might not be YOUR way or someone else’s way… but it is mine.