Friday, June 29, 2012

What does “Leather” mean to me?

The great philosopher Wittgenstein pointed out that language doesn’t work like calculus.  Words don’t have exact meanings.  Language is fundamentally poetic and metaphorical… rarely is it rigorous and literal.  (Literarily “leather” is just the hide off a dead animal, right?)  Recently, my Owner and I have been talking about “leather” and “the community”… and I think there was some underlying confusion in the conversation b/c we were using the words (like a lot of people do) in different ways.  I don’t want to imply that either one of us is right or wrong… but I just want to explore what it means to me to be “leather.”

The best statement on this I have yet seen is Boymeat’sspeech at South Plains on “The Future of Leather”… so I will borrow heavily from it.  In his speech, Boymeat started by pointing out: “In September, guest columnists from all walks of life posted pieces on trying to answer the age old question – “what is leather?” And no matter how many essays you read, you never really had the answer.”  Presumably b/c there is no “the” answer.

Okay… well let’s just, for the sake of argument, start w/ the traditional leathersex image: gay guys in old-style motorcycle gear cruising for rough sex via the hanky code in biker bars.    

Let me quote a section of Boymeat’s speech:

“So does leather still live and breathe?

"Let’s look at the evidence against – the leather bar, dying in some places and dead in others. Recon and FetLife… rising in its place… The art of the cruise replaced by the art of the instant message or the tweet. The space where all are welcome vs. the secret place that you had to be in the know to find.

"That’s what everyone says these days.

"Now let me tell you what I see.

"I see evolution.

"I see leather as a world of sexual outlaws, doing what outlaws do. I see a history of people looking around at the world they are in, deciding what parts of it they liked and what parts they didn’t, and building their own lives with their own rules and their own protocols all with the intent of one thing – to get off. Whether getting off physically, or emotionally, or spiritually, or some combination of all of the above….”

My own interest in “leather” is largely as an armature mythologist.  Myths (and rituals) create the paradigms through which we view the world… both personal myths and collective, cultural myths.  “Leather” is partly about joining a tribe and having a mythology – complete w/ “Great Old Ones” in form of the legendary (more fable than fact) Old Guard – and rituals, costumes, rites of passage (i.e. earned leather… or earned ink), transformative experiences (hook pulls or cuttings or floggings or whatever)… all of which adds up to give one a different paradigm through which to view the world.

I use “leather” as a term basically synonymous w/ “urban aboriginal” or “modern primitive.”  Or Boymeat’s term: “sexual outlaws.”  It has to do w/ sex.  It has to do w/ tribalism (a loose, somewhat anarchist, community… or, really, network of mini-communities – i.e. tribes).  And it has to do w/ following your own heart (or libido) in the face of what “good society” tells you that you should be doing… whether your thing be S/m, D/s, bondage, gear-fetishes, swingers, group sex, sexual role-play (littles, puppies…), gender queer, polyamoury… All that taboo stuff!

So, what about the (protocol heavy) M/s dynamic?  From reading Geoff Mains’ 1984 book Urban Aboriginals (and he was there, first hand, in the gay leather scene in the 70s and early 80s), the M/s relationship was actually rare!  Most of the men he profiles only enter D/s relationships during a scene (while playing/having sex), but not as an ongoing structure.  (Of course, some were into M/s 24/7.)  Most of the men he profiles are switches.  (Some were not.)  And resistance play seems to have been pretty common in that community… men would wrestle and fight to see who would be “on top.”  This is a very different picture of “leather” than you would get if you just think of some of today’s high protocol (stick-up-their-butt?) Masters.  The scene Mains described was a lot rougher, less structured, more anarchist… and primal!  The play too, I get the impression, was a lot more hands-on… less flogging and more punching and bighting.

For Mains, the underlying theme of leathersex is an open embracing of our animal (primal) side.  It’s about being a human-animal… dominance orders… sex & aggression… pissing to mark your territory.  Embracing, not denying, our instinct-system and our animal biology is, in large part, at the core of the leather mythology… at least, for me.

Okay, then… so what is the “community?”  I agree w/ Boymeat.  It includes Fet and Recon.  Munch groups.  Kinky karaoke night at The Roux.  Bars like the Eagle and the Woodshed.  Education groups like CAPEX, party groups like Dominion, cons like Frolicon or SELF, dungeons like LF and the Warehouse, and swingers’ clubs like the Estate.  Yes, there are big differences among these different segments of the “kinky” population… but that’s why I think the analogy of “tribes” is so helpful.  And even back in the 60s and 70s, there was no uniformity among different “leathersex” tribes.  It’s always been mixed-up… diverse!  We are outlaws and rule-breakers, after all.

One final quote from Boymeat:
“Leather is not the fabric of your clothing…Leather is not your protocols. Leather is not Master and slave, or hard core SM…  Leather is not the rules you keep... Leather is not your gender, or your sexual preferences, top, bottom, Dominant, submissive...

"Leather is all of those things and then some. Leather has no gatekeeper; it has no board of directors, no leadership committee, and no dictionary definition. Leather is in the hands of the individual, the sexual outlaw, meeting up with other sexual outlaws and doing what feels right to them at that time.”

1 comment:

  1. Nicely argued!

    I must agree on most of your points too: for me, 'leather' is a gateway to my primal and sexual self: the animal freed from societal rules and restrictions so that it can pursue its instinct and explore its Self. Leather links to me to the other seekers and experimenters - bonds us as 'tribe' - but still leaves us free to be ourselves. Leather acts as conduit between myself and the Man whom I would serve: it's image fuels my desire and frames our interaction, just as it also channels the energy Taft flows betwen us.