The kids will be ok

My mouth was moving, and my brain was sitting back, listening. That’s always an abrupt realization, that I’m speaking and those words are coming from SOMEWHERE, but I have no idea where.

“The kids will be ok.”

I’m at Master/slave Conference this weekend with slave Angie and I was teaching a class on M/s and Leadership. A fun class, one that I never know how it’s going to go, so each time I teach it, I’m a nervous bundle. This time, the class was wonderful. The vibe was open, people were sharing and I was in a great place. Then came the question… “These young so-called Masters and stepping out when they’re early 20s and thinking they know everything..”

That’s when something in me started speaking .. The kids are going to be OK. They’re going to figure it out.

Look, I was 20something once and I was trying to fuck ALL the things. I knew it all, the world was completely open to me and it was amazing! I was invincible, I was hot, I had all the answers!

Then I was 30something, and that was the point I was busy trying to still be 20something. It wasn’t until I hit late 30s/early 40s that I finally pulled my head out of my ass and started learning and listening. I realized that the things I had seen in my late 20s/early 30s… they left an impression. They made a difference. I had learned something from them, even if I didn’t act like it.

Oh gods, I made all the mistakes of y0uth though. I was arrogant. I did dumb things. I didn’t listen. I broke hearts and got into things I shouldn’t have and on and on… but I was OK.

“Well, what about that damn Internet?!”

Well, what about it? OK, the Internet is a vast pool of information, where facts and fantasy live together. Context is hard. Critical thinking is very much needed. But is that any different in magnitude from what I had to go through as a kinkling? No. I could barely find information, what little there was. That was our hurdle. Lack of information. Lack of safety. Lack of understanding the fire we were playing with. But you know what? Those mistakes made me who I am today.

So yes, the kids of today, they have tons of information but the hurdle of context and figuring out what is good information and what is bullshit. But they’ll be OK. They’ll learn. They’ll grow. They’ll make mistakes and it will make them into wonderful leaders and teachers and really hot, authentic kinky folks.

Just like we did.

My job is to do what those old farts before me did… be there. Share the information, watch the mistakes happen, indulge in one or two knowing smiles/nods, but always accept that they’re going to be OK.

After all… I’m 50sometihng and I’m still having fun and learning, and making mistakes. Just don’t tell my body that I’m not still 20something…

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Mr. Chicago Leather travelogue and recap

This past weekend, slave Angie was honored to be asked to judge at the Mr. Chicago Leather contest. This is a “bar title” contest, run by Touché of Chicago. The man who wins this contest goes on to the International Mr. Leather contest on Memorial Day weekend to compete for the title of of the same name. The contest has become a weekend event and a big deal for our local community. Angie being asked to judge was a huge thrill for her.

heartochicagoThere is a well-known and very … hmm… how to describe the “Heart ‘O’ Chicago” motel? It’s a throwback to the 1950s and 60s for sure. It’s on the border of the Edgewater and Rogers Park neighborhoods. It’s at the connecting point of several major side street arteries into Chicago. It has a reputation for being a trashy place and you might think that when you walk by, but the both times slave Angie and I have stayed there, it’s been decent. It’s not five star, but it’ll do. We decided to stay there, as it’s very convenient to Touche. Many leather folks have spent the weekend at “the Heart” so it’s a bit of a tradition. And, compared to other prices, it’s not that bad of a deal.

Miguel Torres, MCL 2014 and Nick Zuko MCL 2013 (Photo by Great Lakes Den greatlakesden.net)
Miguel Torres, MCL 2014 and Nick Zuko MCL 2013 (Photo by Great Lakes Den greatlakesden.net)

Slave Angie was nervous about judging for this contest. It’s a very different sort of title than what we are involved in. Where the M/s title is about education and community, the bar contests are, by and large, about sex. About the hottest man or woman. About the contestant who impresses the judges most on the criteria that the bar title is about. In Chicago, the MCL title has become a very active and well-represented title, by the efforts of the past few titleholders. Nick Zuko and Miguel Torres have been the past two MCLs that slave Angie and I have known and worked with. They are passionate about the Chicago men’s leather community and about outreach, inclusiveness and education. We’ve loved getting to know them and help them out whenever we could. They’ve done the same in spades for us. It has really felt like a family in Chicago with these two wonderful men. And hello… hot as well too.

So the festivities started on Friday night at Touché with a packed bar and introductions of the judges and contestants. There were a lot of folks from around the country (and world) at the bar. John Pendal, holder of the 2003 International Mr. Leather title was the MC and kept the crowd quiet and entertained (which is hard to do in a packed bar!) Anytime you have these sorts of meet and greets, it feels like a big family reunion. People who haven’t seen each other in awhile get to reconnect. And… of course… the cruising and checking out and date making. The contestants for the contest are supposed to use the time to meet the judges and make a good first impression – always important! The judges are also watching the contestants and although they may not be officially judging, it’s a great time to see how the contestants interact with the crowd. The evening ended with a roast of the outgoing MCL, Miguel, done by Thib Guicherd-Callin (Mr. SCCL 2012… and say that name 3 times fast!)

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The judges: Ramien Pierre (IML 2014), slave Angie (Intl slave 2014), Joe Spaceman (MMR 2014), Sir Volt, Miguel Torres (MCL 2014) (Photo by Great Lakes Den greatlakesden.net)

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Contestants: Michael, Luiz, Shadi, Clint, Stitch. (Photo by Great Lakes Den greatlakesden.net)

Mr. Chicago Leather has become a weekend event, instead of just contest nights. During the day on Saturday, the Titans of the Midwest – a new group that huge on education from Des Moines Iowa – hosted 3 “KinkU” classes. At the same time, a small vendor mart was held in the front room of Touche. During this time, the contestants were grilled by the judges in private interviews, held at the new Gerber Hart Library & Archives – a library for LGBT history. The classes were very well attended, with subjects of Wax Play, Rope Bondage and one other that I’m forgetting.

Saturday night’s contest was another homecoming of sorts. Chuck Renslow, “The Godfather of Chicago Leather” (OK, an exaggeration, but one of the men who paved the way for US Leather and created Internationl Mr. Leather contest.) was there. It’s always a treat to see him out and about – he still has an energy about him. Lots of hot, sexy leatherwomen and leathermen filled the seats at the Leather Archives & Museum and there was an electric buzz in the air, as well as a warm feeling of family.

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I had the pleasure of being asked to help with the judges, making sure they had everything they needed. Not a problem, I love being able to help and fill needs where they may be. I was able to be there at the interviews and be involved with the running of the contest. There is a hard working group of folks behind every event. The people who work their asses off and don’t see the spotlight, but they are what makes the thing go. There are former MCLs who are very passionate about making this contest and event as a celebration of the leather bar, the leather experience and the sex that results and the bonds that form from shared experience, whether as a contestant, judge, volunteer or attendee. I was really honored to be a part of that, and I am hoping to be able to help again next year.

There were tons of laughs, a gross story that was delivered in the most dead-pan fashion that had the audience ON THE FLOOR both gasping in horror and laughing. There were the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence giving their blessing to the crowd, in the way that only the Sisters can do it. There was John Pendal – he’s from London and delivers his jokes in that dry British way that leaves you laughing and wondering “wait.. did I just get nailed?” There was free candy for the volunteers, there was Ramien Pierre with a wonderful talk about reinvigorating the leather bar, and there was the contest, and eventual winner – Luis Tipantasig.

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Stitch, Luis and Michael. 1st runner up, MCL, 2nd runner up.

Angie and I had a blast getting to spend some time with our friends and the folks who’ve been with us during 2014 as we traveled the country. That’s the thing that Angie spoke to me about as we drove our tired butts home on Sunday… that when people travel to the many events, they start forming a bond between the other people they see at the events. People we might have never had the chance to meet, but have discovered wonderful friendships and bonds through working, presenting or competing. If I listed them all, we’d be here till next week, but at an event like this, it’s a chance to see them again, make that connection again, maybe flirt a little, cruise a little, maybe … if we’re all not exhausted and secretly heading back to our room to have pizza-TV-sweatpants night … maybe have a little sexy time.

It was a great weekend. I can’t wait till next year.

[M/s 365] Boy Scouts and Leather

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With a title like that, I’m sure you’re raising eyebrows and wondering what the hell I’m talking about. Well, reading a few blogs and KinkyNet posts on “what is Leather” and hearing about “truth, justice, honor” and all those wonderful Boy Scout values that we would like to see in our fellow man… but do they really have anything to do with Leather?

To answer that, I’d like to point you to four articles/speeches/writings that share the thoughts of folks who were there in the 60s/70s/80s during the “Ye Olde Guarde” period that gets mythologized so much, and see what they say about the Boy Scout values…

http://www.leatherati.com/2014/09/old-gods-die-hard/

http://bannon.com/2014/10/26/the-truth-about-old-guard/

https://www.facebook.com/notes/laura-antoniou/on-leather-traditions-and-houses-and-other-things-people-try-to-sell-you-on/10152234787114195

http://www.sfldg.org/blogfile/listen-up-perverts-a-triumvirate-manifesto-master-skip-chasey (This one, I was present at when he gave the speech and it was electric.)

It’s been my experience (both for myself and in observation of others) that most people, they will take bits and pieces of what they’ve been through and make it of importance to themselves. That’s WONDERFUL. However, that’s a personalization or regionalization of something – not the be-all, end-all, one-true-way. Nor is leather particularly about the Boy Scout values – gay leather was (and is) about fucking and hot dirty, nasty, rough sex.

What happened, and this is partially my opinion and partially from elements from the articles above and being around those folks, is that LGBT women/men had to form collectives, form families, form close bonds and ties with others of like mind. Call it clubs, gangs, what-have-you, but that in those elements, a code of conduct naturally had to form. We see it in any society. Those rules, those codes of conduct, they get passed along and in translation over the years they get idealized, both by a sense of nostalgia and a sense of something we all do – “it was better back in the Good Old Days.”

What we see today as honor and respect was true in some part, but it also reflected that leather men/women stuck together and for each other. It wasn’t as much Boy Scout American Apple Pie as much as it was “I’ve got your back, you’ve got mine.”

So that today, when I see folks throw those terms around, I mentally check myself – we (those alive now who are inspired by leather and called to fuck/live in consonant fashion) are the “settlers” and we’re going to take what went before and interpret it, but let’s not mistake our interpretations of what we want out of a “leather lifestyle” as a reality of what it used to be like. Rather we should know that those gay men and women were fucking hard and forming support networks that were ravaged in the 80s, and today, we have a far different viewpoint because we have come after, and we stand on the shoulders of giants. Giants who were fucking rough and hard. God love ’em all.

[M/s 365] Leather came later

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When Master and I met in September 2003 we had spent our initial years together learning our Master / slave relationship first.

I had started off in the kink community, playing with others, but I had never seen anything about “leather” until I met Master. I had been invited to join him at dinner which would feature an “exchange of colors” between the Chicago Leather Club (CLC) and the Knights of Leather from Minneapolis. When I saw this happen, when I saw the brotherhood and how much these people felt it there, I felt something.

It sat in me for awhile, because as Master and I started our relationship, we were focused on ourselves, making our home, merging our families, figuring out what this all meant. Master had taken a break from the community and so I let it set. After awhile, I started to ask Master about it, I had kept watching CLC on the website, and I wanted to know more. We talked about “leather” and he said “it was hard to explain, you have to find what it means to you.” He said that our interpretations, how leather speaks to us may not end up being the same. He said he wasn’t going to make me get involved if “it didn’t speak to me.”

So eventually, when Master decided to pledge to CLC, I didn’t know if I should join with Master, but then i thought only way I’ll know to see what it is. So I went with him and found that what I wanted to do was contribute to the community in a worthwhile way. I did that as part of my pledge project and I was welcomed and supported. So that gave me the courage to get more involved and I did – by getting involved in our local playspace, the LRA Chicago, and by becoming a bootblack.

In the beginning I met two wonderful people through CLC – Daddy T and Nat – they both have made a huge impact on me in my learning about leather and my place – they have always had a way of mentoring me without making me feel bad like I was doing it wrong, that it was ok to make mistakes, and learn how to do things better.

As part of the LRA board and working my butt off there, I learned how to stand on my two feet and stand up for myself within the leather community, that I did have a voice.

With bootblacking, I learned to have a love of leather (both community and the fabric) and the preservation of the items and the history. I had started into my bootblacking by doing Master’s leathers and learning about how to do it from other bootblacks got me interested in doing it as a bootblack. I liked it because it was service, it was hotness, it was art. Watching bootblacks at the LRA Chicago, like Riley, Rachel, Leslie Anderson and Pony (IMsBB 2009). I came to love bootblacking because of the connections with the person in the chair. I love the experience, the look on their face. I learned about the common ground between leather people.

And that was how I got started in leather.

[M/s 365] The Leather Family and the femme

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The weekend for me was full of many blessings. I’m reminded again how Lucky i am to have wonderful friends in 0ur Leather family. As a femme bootblack whose location of choice to black since losing my chair at LRA when they closed is at our Leather Bar. I haven’t had a lot of hardships too often except for the shoulder shoves which isn’t all that uncommon for me when not standing next to Master, usually always by people we do not know. Being used to it at 5′ 3″ i can still hold my footing.  ‘The last bar night before this last friday i didn’t happen to be so lucky. Shoved over kit in hand i went backwards into someone and then was shoved back with a barstool. I was a bit shocked and didn’t say anything and kept walking out the door. This past friday night driving in i found myself increasingly anxious. I was nervous to go back into the back of the bar again. That evening i found myself never alone and surrounded by one person after another sent back to make sure i was ok,  That is the feeling i carry along with me any time i think i might not measure up.

[M/s 365] 4 Things for Leather and M/s

place-on-the-mapI’m at the end of filling out a questionnaire for Raven Kaldera for a book he is writing on the various “types” of Master/slave relationships. I’m filling it out from a leather perspective. As well, I’m working on the class we’ll be presenting at this year’s Northwest Leather Conference, on “Living Leather and M/s”. Doing both at the same time has been interesting, as it’s forced me/us to look at how we define things, so that we can explain them to others. Not always an easy task!

One of the questions that I’ve answered in both is “What would you tell someone new who is interested in M/s and leather?” So as not to steal all the thunder from Raven’s book and our class, I’ll share the basic jist of the “Four Things” — feel free to ask questions if you want to discuss further. Once Raven’s book comes out, if it hasn’t been covered already, I’ll come back to this and explore the four.

So…

1. Get involved in leather community. Volunteer. Support. Show interest, not replacement.

2. When doing 1),  remember to sit down, shut the fuck up and listen. Earn your way.

3. Walk to the beat of your different drummer. Learn your local/regional/club traditions. Honor them, don’t be beholden to them. Use what works. Throw out the rest. Invent your own.

4. Don’t rewrite history. Don’t accept rewritten history. Go out and learn leather history. Then, make your own by living Life.

These are all things that I was taught, and I hope to pass on.

[M/s 365] How I became a leather ‘settler’

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.

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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.