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The Leather Restoration:
Sacred Cows make the best Hamburger

Wow.  Over the second weekend in April of '02 I attended the 6th Leather Leadership Conference.  Held in Manhattan Beach, California (next to the Los Angeles International Airport) this was a weekend long event for leather leaders, activists, and those of a political bent within the leather/ SM/ fetish community.  This was the third such event I had been to and I found it every bit as worthwhile as the first two.  One of the things that made this so was my attending a workshop/ presentation of Guy Baldwin's.  I've known Guy for about as long as anybody else in the scene, over a decade now, and have always admired his intellect and his insight.  What he had to say on that Sunday afternoon was well put, square on with my own sixteen years experience in the scene, and deeply moving as well.  Although I took copious notes during his presentation I knew those would be inadequate in the face of his original speech.  So, I am very pleased that he has since posted the full text of that speech and that I have a copy of it here to share with you.

This is not light stuff.  In many ways it runs counter to what I myself have worked for over the past ten or so years that I have been active in the San Diego leather community and of what I have tried to accomplish within Club X San Diego.  However, Guy's words ring all too true for me based on my own experience.  Please, read this through, and think it through before trying to respond to it.  There is a lot going on here and it presents a pretty major challenge to our established way of doing things within the leather/ SM/ fetish community.

Read on!



 

Guy Baldwin, M. S.       Speech: LLC-6               04-14-2002

The Leather Restoration:
Sacred Cows make the best Hamburger

It's my impression that interest in the Old Guard is running at an all-time high these days, largely, I suspect, in a sweetly romantic attempt to re-create a tradition-based foundation for contemporary leather life.  I know this because I'm traveling frequently to teach classes at events again, and this topic always, always, always comes up with endless questions about “how it really was” back then.  About twice a month, I get requests for permission to post my previously published essays about the Old Guard on web-sites, too.

What strikes me most about those who question me closely about the Old Guard is how passionately they seem to be searching for something which they believe will somehow satisfy a deeply felt need….a longing for something they sense has been lost to us.  When I question people closely about what this need is……it almost always can be reduced to a few key words:  sexiness, cohesion, intimacy, trust, reliability, integrity, accountability, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of family

Common perceptions out in the leather world today, are all too frequently summarized by remarks like these:
     “The leather scene is dying.”
     “The magic and the mystery is gone.”
    “We’ve lost sight of what’s important, and allowed ourselves to be distracted.”
     “What’s happened to the connectedness?”
     “I think that what I’m looking for hasn’t existed for a long time.”
     “We’ve allowed the very essence of leathersex to evaporate into thin air.”
     “Where is the Passion?”

It does seem very clear to me that many people are simply not feeling something that they think they should be feeling about their leathersex experiences and leather life. If so many people have come to feel that way, then it’s probably time for our leadership to invest some serious energy in coming to terms with these three questions:


These are worthy issues for leather leadership to address because they obviously matter so very much to our constituencies.

My plan for our time together today, is to address what I think are some relevant issues relating to all three of these questions, and to raise some issues about the assumptions they imply which I think have influenced much of our policy making in the last 20 years…all of which should take me about 30 minutes or so, if you’re lucky, and then, we can visit about them together, if you like.

First, is it really true that we’ve lost some things?  From a certain point of view, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s true or not if people believe that it’s true.  As a psychotherapist, I’ve come to understand that perception IS reality, and if people actually FEEL that some important things have been lost to us, then that’s what they believe, and they will act and think accordingly.  For that reason, it seems wise to take people at their word, and proceed from the assumption that it is true.

The second question:  how were these things lost?  The correct answer must be---I can’t know for certain, because it is impossible for anyone to discover with absolute certainty what each and every element of a culture’s evolution has been.  I think it’s important to view with suspicion anyone who claims to have all the answers to that question. I’m certain that I do not.  Yet, I think I do have some pieces of the answer, which I’m about to share with you.

I hope to offer you some things to chew on today, that may be useful as we try to craft ways to breathe some new life and vigor back into our world.
I don’t want to recount my complete recollection of Old Guard realities as I experienced them, but I do want to offer some history that might serve to explain why this fascination with the Old Guard has become so widespread, and then go on from there.

I was 18 when I entered leather life in 1965.  Most of the guys in the network I became a part of back then, were aged 40 to 50---they were the first generation of what we have come to call “the Old Guard” because about half of them had been in the Scene for about 15 years by then, and half of those had served in World War II……they were my first mentors, and I remember them very well.

Back in the mid-1960’s, when a guy finally got up enough courage to begin hanging out with the leather crowd, and began to meet the leather guys there, it was common for him to come under scrutiny by them.  The leather core-group would begin to notice him, and what followed was a period of time during which that core group tried to find out if the guy had “the right stuff” to be allowed into even the outer edges of that group.
 

And what was the right stuff?
 

  1. His interest had to be genuine and personal----not voyeuristic.
  2. He had to have a life that worked that is to say, he had the basic five things going for him---a job, a car, a place to live, a telephone, and enough disposable income to entertain himself.
  3. He had to have desirable values----honesty, reliability, integrity, generosity and trustworthiness, responsibility, he had financial stability and self-sufficiency, and a desire to pitch in with hands-on helping out, and respect for the other guys.
  4. He had certain native traits---common sense, a sense of humor, grooming standards in line with the group’s, his manner wasn’t feminine, he had an interest in sex, a sense of appropriateness and good manners, and also the ability to give and receive good camaraderie.
  5. And lastly, he had to have and a balanced psychology, not be a substance abuser, and he couldn’t have a criminal record of any consequence.


When enough of the guys in the core-group determined that a candidate person had the “right stuff”, he began to receive invitations to social events outside the bar atmosphere---back yard bar-b-ques, weekend football on TV, outings to movies, amusement parks, dinner parties, holiday gatherings, and such. Homes thus became open to newcomers who craved access to the rich knowledge and experience base, which only the core-group possessed.
And the two main reasons for all this scrutiny were first:  we wanted to make sure that we were putting the potentially dangerous knowledge of how to do high-end BDSM into well-balanced minds and hands, and second, we didn’t particularly want to hang out with losers or have to clean up their messes.

Put simply, there was a process by which a person wanting to enter the leather world was first, pre-qualified to join in.  This process was designed to keep out those guys who were dangerous, flaky, bitchy, mean-spirited, gossipy, users, drunks, thieves, liars, self-centered egoists, dependent personalities, criminals, exploiters, poseurs, predators, and those with other hidden agendas…….. in short, “losers”.  With rare exception, this system worked well.

All this happened at a time when the gay male motorcycle clubs were the axis around which the leathersex world revolved.  It’s important to point out that maybe only about 35% of the guys in those clubs actually did what we would call BDSM by the way……. the rest were into various versions of what we called “rough sex” back then.

On weekend nights, members of the bike clubs made it their habit to hang out at a favored watering hole which eventually created what we now know as “the leather bar”…… yes, in almost all cases, it was the bike clubs that created the first wave of leather bars, and not the reverse. It was in such places that one could begin to learn by observing the dance of leather ritual courtship.

Officially, the bike clubs were democracies, but operationally, they were oligarchies run by the elders who exerted strong influence over who did, and did not become members.  I wasn’t invited to become an associate member myself until after I’d turned 21 This meant that I could attend meetings and participate in discussion, but NOT vote.

Once the leather bars became established in most major cities (say by about 1970) the focus of leather life began to shift from the clubs into the bars themselves.  Bike clubs still began and ended their events at leather bars even up into the 1980’s, but membership in bike clubs was already falling off seriously by then, as more and more guys realized they could enter leather life via the bar route rather than the bike club route; the process of de-centralization of leather life had already begun.

Certainly by about 1975 or so, in the major cities, it was possible to be around leather guys at the bars without needing to have anything whatsoever to do with the motorcycle clubs.  The effect of this was to open up a new set of windows into the leather world, to some extent.

But--- and this is important ----despite this fact, the process of actually ENTERING into the network of the serious players remained essentially the same for the newcomer--- the old bike club model for bringing new guys into the inner circle continued to dominate the process. Newcomers still had to “pass inspection” with the core-group in that particular city over a period of time before one got the chance to work with the best and most experienced players there.
For many who wanted “in” this remained an annoying and frustrating fact of leather life.

This frustration set the stage for the formation of the BDSM organization. Only two existed in 1974, but they quickly became widespread. People who had been held at arm’s length by the old bike club model, flooded into the democratic organizations, and made sure that they were open to absolutely anyone over the age of 21---all the other standards for admission were dropped by organizations.

“INCLUSION” became the politically correct watchword for these new organizations… and suddenly, the tent flaps into the leather world went up everywhere. The old system by which newcomers were carefully screened and then socialized into the mores and folkways of leather life was swept away.

A virus accelerated this destruction more than we could possibly have imagined.  By 1985 HIV was full upon us, and with that disaster, the old leather tribe elders---both in the surviving bike clubs and in the bars--- became distracted by the need to help care for their own brothers who were suddenly fighting for their lives, and all too often, losing the battles.

In a few short years, the old process by which people had to be pre-qualified to enter the core-group was shattered, as the tribal elders simply no longer had the time or the emotional energy necessary to focus on bringing new “children” into the fold. And just as in any culture, whenever elders can’t make time for their children, those elders become irrelevant as children strike out on their own to explore their interests….whatever they happen to be.

As more and more members of the “bridge” generations died or fled from the organizations who no longer discriminated in membership selection, there were simply fewer and fewer resources available to newcomers for learning the complex and elegant dance by which leathersex mating rituals really do unfold.  The leather organizations taught basic BDSM technique and safety, but were close to useless for guiding the socialization process by which newcomers might learn the subtle refinements of leathersex beyond mere technique.

And one other reason for that, is that many of the new leather organizations and their events were pan-sexual, and few gay leathermen in that era felt comfortable enough in the presence of women and homophobic straight men to actually launch the rituals of leathersex in mixed spaces….. most of us still do not.  Although I, myself, have supported the existence of pansexual dungeon spaces, it’s very rare that I will launch scenes in them, simply because I’m not comfortable doing that in mixed spaces either.

Sadly, those who were most accomplished at the subtleties of leathersex were often the first to die, because they had the most practice at doing it, and thus were most likely to have become infected with HIV.  Conversely, to make matters even worse, most of those who survived were often the ones who never, or only rarely ever did BDSM.  Too often, they knew only the rudiments of the Scene, and could often only describe the parts of it they’d maybe witnessed in public.

Many of these inexperienced survivors suddenly found themselves in demand for the first times in their lives, and struggled to supply information from experience they rarely had.  Basking in a popularity that some of them had long desired, they claimed knowledge they did not possess, and allowed themselves to invent freely rather than disappoint. And by the way….. It is my suspicion that the recent obsessive preoccupations with what we now call “protocol” is a direct outgrowth of just such inventions….. Old Guard customs were no where nearly as numerous or elaborated as today’s protocols have become in some parts of the nation….. especially so in the South.

Anyway.

Almost instantly, BDSM technique took on an importance that it never had during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.  After all, technique is the most easily taught part of BDSM, just as it is also the most easily learned.  But magnificent BDSM demands much more than good technique as any fine player knows.  Playing all the notes of a musical composition correctly, does not music make.

All during the 1980’s leathersex education became dominated by the focus on technique…and for that reason, the leathersex Scene became bottom-centered while Tops struggled to learn how not to get a bad reputation by making technical errors in Scenes.  Many extraordinary Tops complained privately that they felt castrated by what was going on, and quietly slipped underground to do it their own way.

With their departure, leather organizations slowly lost even more resources about how leathersex really worked.  “Power Exchange” propaganda leveled the playing field in ways that denied or downplayed the importance of authority differences in crafting magical and ecstatic BDSM experiences.  Feeling less and less welcome, people who were most at home in the Master/slave world, also slipped quietly underground.  Many of the few surviving old guard guys just scratched their heads in amazement at what the leather world was becoming…… and simply withdrew.

Meanwhile, the leather organizations allowed themselves to bask happily in the illusion that they were doing a great job as their curricula swelled with technique offerings. The Era of The Tyranny of Technique had become firmly established….. and unfortunately, it is very much in place today.

One of the sadder results of this development has been the steady emergence and proliferation of what Gayle Rubin has called “Paint-by-Number” BDSM----“Attach shackle A to wrist B….then do this and say that,”  and “presto” you have a formula BDSM scene that is about as inspiring and satisfying as the Mona Lisa in 6 colors is.

One sees it routinely in public dungeon spaces.

And while all that was going on, something else was happening to us in a completely different direction.

The politics of INCLUSION that became popular in the ‘80’s in leather organizations seemed to demand that we be consistent about that, and so leatherfolks began to fight for a place at the larger gay & lesbian table, chiefly at local pride events, and national marches, too. Since mainstream gay & lesbian politicians were already spouting off about INCLUSION, they felt logically trapped into accommodating us despite their personal disgust with our brand of sexuality.

The first big national success at doing that was at the March on Washington in 1987.  I, myself, carried a sign in that march that proclaimed, “DIVERSITY IS AMERICAN”.  NewsPapers picked up a photo of that sign and ran with it.  I too, had become an apologist for BDSM sexuality. At the time, it seemed like a good idea, but today, I’m not so sure it was.

Much the same thing happened at the March in 1993---- leather folks demanded and were reluctantly given a place in the organizing committees.

The nightmare of trying to be included finally grew to intolerable proportions in the most recent march:  The March on Washington 2000 organizers were bludgeoned with the club of Holy Inclusivity until they agreed to allow a “leather” speaker, but by the time the March on Washington organizers finally became willing to deal with us and our issues around that at the last minute, no credible and experienced, nationally recognized leather spokes person was willing to become their token “inclusivity person” any longer.

I refused to speak at that march, Joseph Bean refused, Viola Johnson refused, and even that year’s IML, Bruce Chopnick refused.  And we all refused because we’d had it up to here with the fight against being marginalized or turned into political pawns by the vanilla, kink-o-phobic power fags and dykes inside the Washington Beltway.

So this time, none of us lifted a finger to mobilize a big leather presence at the March, as we had in the past.  Sometimes, one gains more from leaving the table, than by fighting to sit there……something professional negotiators have always known. Inclusion has been way over-rated.

(But to return to my thread):  The energy of nearly all of our organizations thus became harnessed to two main goals:  1) to teach our own people how to do BDSM sexuality “properly” which meant technically correct, and 2) to defend and seek tolerance for our sexual practices to the non-kinky world….. we did this by adopting the mantra of “Safe, Sane, and Consensual” ……and we did our best to sell it to them…… and to ourselves.  And we have done that for the last 15 years.

And we’ve done it despite the fact that, privately, some of us know that lots of hot BDSM is anything but completely safe & entirely sane. So, in order to have our sexual practices match up nicely with our public propaganda, we essentially steered our BDSM education along the most conservative and ultra safe guidelines…..and in doing so, we pulled much of the bite and sizzle out of doing BDSM and sanitized it beyond belief!!!

It’s no wonder that so many people are complaining that leathersex feels “flat” to them these days, and are wondering, “is that all there is?”  Clearly, bunches of people are ready for much more than Dungeon Masters permit in the over-supervised, intermediate-level dungeons we see at events nowadays.

In a few short years, the basis for the growth of the leather world had shifted from the un-spoken policy of quiet attraction and careful screening that was at the very center of the Old Guard world, to the policy of Proclamation…. Promotion and oh-so tolerant Inclusion that characterizes the New Guard.  Listen to the speeches given at any leather contest and this is the party line that you will hear today.

It is undeniably true that one outcome of all of this has been that, in the general public, awareness of kink has exploded since that policy shift.  One needs only to spend a week watching cable channels on TV to notice that kinky themes are ever present in situation comedies, “reality” TV, talk shows, and even in feature films and TV movies.
Just last week on a network TV commercial, I saw a young boy wrapping his little brother up in a toilet paper mummification….. I’m sure we can expect great things from that kid someday…… And I suppose that I can make a good argument for the benefits of all that, but my god….. at what cost to the way we try to summon the pleasures and the gods of our special sexuality?

The fact is that the Old Guard never gave a damn what outsiders thought about what we did.  They didn’t care what other gays & lesbians thought of us, and they certainly didn’t care what mainstream society thought either.  It was never necessary to defend ourselves against outsiders because we never did anything that would bring us to their attention……. and that policy left us free to focus on what was really important to us---the wonderful mysteries of Leathersex.

We knew damned well that vanilla gays & lesbians were never gonna bless us for doing breath control scenes, and that the mainstream het world would condemn us for stuff vastly less risky than that!! Years later, I’ve now come back to not caring what outsiders think of me or us, and I now know better than to provide them with excuses to launch attacks at us.

Leaders of other minority groups learned long ago about the dangers of pleading for acceptance from the majority, and we should too. Like 12-step programs, I prefer a policy of attraction rather than promotion that’s the best way to take care of our own in my view.

It will be a cold day in hell when I beg anyone for a place at the table again.

We are part of the miraculous pageant of humanity, and we need to be very, very careful about explaining or defending ourselves to anyone for any reason…..ever again.

Last August, I was invited to deliver a keynote, and teach classes at an event called DOMINION over in Florida….this is a very cool gathering of het players who are primarily male dominant and female submissive oriented.  When it was over, I was invited to sit in on the post-event discussions, which surprised me, but I accepted anyway.

After about an hour of listening to how the organizers (all dominant het men) felt the weekend went, they asked me how I thought they could do outreach to gay and lesbian people---there were only maybe five of us at the event.  I heard myself saying that I felt it was a mistake for them to do any outreach whatsoever to gay men or lesbians---that they should keep it an entirely het event---and I made my case for that.  They were stunned and very surprised, but saw clearly that I had a point.

So…….. maybe one way to re-infuse some of the mystique into the Leather world is to stop yammering about it everywhere, and stop trying to explain ourselves to people who’ve already made their minds up about us anyway.  It seems likely to me that we’ve probably already created as much favor as we’re going to out there in the world.  The Old Guard that I knew would support that view.

One way to put scenes back out onto the edge of people’s comfort zones where BDSM really crackles and sizzles is to have a far more sophisticated conversation about what safety and sanity REALLY means, and to restrict those conversations to people who are competent enough to have them with…..the Old Guard I knew would support that.

One way to strengthen our communities might be to stop begging mainstream gays & lesbians to accept our sexuality as being within the normal range of human sexual expression, and simply be out and proud of who we are and what we do, and tell our critics to just flake off…… the Old Guard I knew would go for that too.

The Old Guard I knew would choke if they knew what goes on on the damned INTERNET.  After they stopped laughing, that is.  The fact is that the Internet simply can not supply the face-to-face settings wherein newcomers can watch, learn, and practice our courtship and mating rituals…. and NO amount of text or photos can substitute for that.

ONLY in Leatherspaces is that possible…. period.  If we’re serious about community building, then we have to support people connecting with other people in real time situations that do NOT include the phones or chat rooms where people’s hidden agendas, personality disorders, and bullshit run riot.

Let us be clear about one thing:  the Old Guard was very EXclusive.  This meant that leather culture back then was NOT broad-based and was NOT inclusive.

Because if we are going to support Inclusivity, then we have to be prepared to deal with thieves like the treasurer who embezzled many thousands of dollars from the NLA treasury a decade ago---a theft that left that organization’s leadership very dispirited, and from which that organization never fully recovered in my view.

If we are going to support Inclusivity, then we have to be willing (as we have been) to overlook abusers who support leather fundraisers, and yet have sent boy after boy to the hospital in San Francisco- the capitol of political correctitude.  The Old Guard would have run that person out of town years ago, just as New Yorkers did with a psychopath there, not long ago.

If we are going to support Inclusivity, then we have to be prepared to deal with the crap that tax evaders, predators, thieves, users, substance abusers, gossips and liars (especially those who do so in print) and the other energy vampires who bring such crap into our organizations and institutions.  And be willing to watch as they slowly drain the energy out of the dedicated and motivated people that we Are so often blessed with.

Or, we can toss them out on their asses, and begin to demand that people in our world behave like healthy grown-ups as the cost of admission.  But understand this:  doing so means being willing to take the heat for being EXclusionary, judgmental and elitist. Diversity yes--- Inclusivity at any price---- Absolutely NOT.

I propose that this decade become our decade of Restoration.  That we dedicate ourselves to the tasks of taking care of our own in some new and better ways….that we devote ourselves to achieving a deeper and much more nuanced understanding of this sexuality that we cherish so profoundly…… that we support the development of more functional networks of kinky grown-ups who possess the maturity and level-headedness necessary to bring renewed vigor into what we do and who we are…… that we endorse family values and vigorously oppose the actions of the those in our midst who subtract from who we are, rather than add….. and that we recognize that love, intimacy, honesty, intensity, accountability, family, and self-challenge are much more important than achieving pin-point accuracy with every single whip-stroke.

It may well be that to recover those valuable things that so many feel have been lost, our world might have to undergo a period of contraction as the pendulum swings the other direction.  But, we can think of that as a time of self-review…….of renewal……of Restoration.

Restoration of our values……. of our honesty about who and what we are……… Restoration of appropriate boundaries to protect what is sacred to us…….. and the Restoration of the leather world as a functional family of grown-ups who really are different and feel damned good about that.

Those of us who are privileged to influence the currents of this river that we swim in, whether elected, chosen by judges, or self-appointed, bear a special responsibility to really think very carefully about the long term consequences of all that we do in that role. To do that, we need to know, out loud and concretely, exactly what assumptions our politics flow from.  And we need to subject those assumptions to very careful scrutiny that’s free from our own, personal agendas.

It’s crucial that we keep our eye on the prize, and choose what prizes we go after with great care.

I’m confident that we can do better for our people…… and we must….. because they so richly deserve the very best that’s in us.

And I can promise you that generations of unborn leatherfolks will bless you for your efforts….

……and thank you for your trouble.
 

© 2002 - Guy Baldwin, M.S.

# # #

Please note: Any spelling or grammatical errors are most likely my own that occurred as I worked up this page with Guy's original text.
 
 

If you would like to learn more about me – just ask!   Drop me a line and we’ll see what happens.  I can be reached
here at: madoc@thepaplestates.com.

You can also try using Yahoo Messenger as I’ll have that one sometimes while I am at work or at home.

My Yahoo handle is:

madoc62

Until later then,

Madoc

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This page was last updated on: 27 February 2003