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Larry Townsend Keynote

As part  of the Mr. San Diego Leather 2008 contest, Larry Townsend was asked to give the keynote address at the "Titleholder's Dinner" on the Thursday prior to the contest itself

Normally, I'd avoid this sort of thing like the plague.  I really do not enjoy what the modern leather title contests have become and would otherwise be nowhere near the event.  But, this year it was different as this year Graylin managed to get Larry Townsend to speak.  For those who don't know, Mr. Townsend is the guy who wrote "The Leatherman's Handbook" back in the 1970's.

That book is one of the seminal works of the whole leather / SM/ fetish culture.  It's been through numerous reprintings and remains just about as current today as it did some thirty years ago.  With that in mind, I made very sure to get myself a ticket to the dinner and then I dug out my old and worn copy of the Handbook that I purchased back when I first got into the scene in DC during the mid-80's.

The Leatherman's Handbook, 3rd Printing, by Larry Townsend, Le Salon Publishers 1977

Larry smiled upon seeing this.   The cover art had its own tale, of course.  It was a piece done by a friend of his who loaned it to Larry for use on the cover with the assurance that the art would be quickly returned.  Larry dutifully sent it off to Le Salon and they promptly lost it.  Lost it but not before making sure it was used on the cover of their printings.  All uncredited, or course.  Had Larry made a copy of the artwork and sent that to Le Salon, he told me, then he would've been able to give the artwork back to its artist who most likely would've been happy to have sold it to Larry at that point.  Larry speculated that the piece is now in "some mafioso's house" as that, apparently was who was behind Le Salon.  Lots of history here and that's the main thing I showed up for.

Eventually, it was Larry's time at the podium.  To pave his way, a local leatherman of repute, Roadkill, made the introduction.  Roadkill got into such detail that Larry joked he had nothing left to say since Roadkill had stolen all his thunder.  We all laughed at that.  However, it had more than a small grain of truth to it.

Mr. Townsend took the podium and actually wound up not having much to say.  Despite the audience being rather few in number - no more than thirty or so, but then this event was billed with the prompting that "TICKETS ARE LIMITED" so perhaps they shot themselves in the foot on that, Larry
was passionate in telling us to be wary of drugs.  Larry thought drug use in the leather community was a major problem and we should all tell our friends to not do drugs.  A noble sentiment and accurate on its points.

Larry didn't have much to say from prepared notes or anything and quickly changed over to fielding questions from the audience.  Here to things were rather... thin..  I was struck by this.  Larry kept making his mark in the community after he wrote the Handbook by running a leathersex advice column in Drummer magazine.  When that ran out he took his column over to Honcho and it's been there for almost two decades now.  Prior to the dinner starting, as Larry was autographing copies of the Handbook, he remarked that it's becoming increasingly difficult to keep his responses new in that column since so many of the questions are the same over the years.  I would've thought that he would've have more to say as a result.  He didn't.

I'm sure his answers in his column are relevant and effective as many of the issues that arise today are ones which will always arise and be relevant.  But it was pretty clear that Larry had staked out a certain patch of territory in the leather world and was very comfortable remaining within it.

One of the questions which made this clear was when he was asked about how the Internet has affected the leather community.  Larry simply replied that the Internet wasn't his thing and that he never has done a chatroom.  That was it.  When asked if he thought the leather community was going "underground" to keep itself alive, Larry replied as to how there were to many folk today who simply liked the look of leather and bought the accoutrements because they were pretty.

Larry spoke of his writings from back in the 60's and 70's and said that he wrote his SM tales from the M's perspective since "80% of his readers were M's at heart."  I don't think more than half the audience knew what he was referring to at that point and they probably only picked up on it in context as he went on.  I remembered that quirk of terminology however, from back when I first read his Handbook in the mid-80's.

In Larry's description of the leather world there are two types of individuals: Sadists and Masochists - S's and M's.  That's a clear and accurate enough description, as far as it goes.  This usage, I've since learned, was correct and current back in the 1960's and has fallen so far out of usage that,
aside from in the Handbook and from Larry himself, I've never heard such terms used otherwise.  Thus it's now a personal quirk of Larry's and it also helped to further set him apart from the rest of the leather community of today.

Larry wasn't out of it.  He wasn't drunk or overtired or anything like that.  He just had his little patch in the leatherworld and wasn't going beyond that.  It's not like he was to old to "get it" or to keep up with the modern world and the way the leather community has changed.  He has simply chosen not to.  That was a fascinating thing to see.

I contrast this sharply with what I've seen from other leather community leaders who are of more or less the same generation as Larry.  Guy Baldwin, for instance, has been at pains to remain very current and very connected with the contemporary leatherworld.  Guy staked out his patch within that world and remained  hellbent on going as far beyond it as he could.  Mr. D from Orange County is much the same.  Perhaps it was due to the small scale of the audience or perhaps it's that Roadkill really did steal Larry's thunder or perhaps it's just that Larry isn't much for public speaking.  Then there's the myths and expectations that can get built up when comparing an author to the author's work when you've read the work first and it's touched such a deep chord in your life.  In such cases it's really difficult for the author then to live up to the expectations you've built up reading his works. 

I also think that Larry would've done much better had he spoken more about his personal experiences in the leatherworld of the 1960's and 1970's.  Those are truly "days of a bygone era" and are filled with history that is remaining untold.  To many from that era have died off, and not enough of the survivors are around who are good story tellers.  Larry is clearly a good story teller and had he told some of those stories - like the one he related about the Handbook's cover art - the evening would've been much better served.

To truly cap the evening off however, in came Nicole Murray.  Nicole arrived just before Larry got up to give his keynote address.  Nicole is San Diego's drag queen of longest standing and has a well deserved and hard earned reputation as a malevolent vindictive petty and cunning bitch.  Think of every negative stereotype you can imagine about drag queens and Nicole is it.  But, Nicole also has a reputation for knowing where all the bodies are buried, which closets have the skeletons in them, and will regularly trash the reputations of those who dare cross him.  Thus, that reputation keeps things coming his way.  And thus, he continues to have influence upon the community.  Once Nicole arrived at the dinner, the usual suspects there in the audience made sure to come over to him and fawn properly upon him.  This, in complete disrespect to the keynote speaker, Mr. Townsend.  This fawning got to be so frequent and loud that several folk had to shush Nicole as the homage procession was drowning out what Larry had to say.

Once Larry had wrapped up his keynote, the co-producer of the Mr. San Diego contest made sure to ask Nicole up to speak as well.  This, as "an unexpected but welcomed guest."  As Nicole was reaching the podium I heard him say that "Well, I am a top.." and then remark that he to has a regular column. 

While Larry might be comfortable limiting himself to the small patch of ground in the leather community he staked out lo these many years ago, he has at least staked it out well.  Larry is the author of some twenty books, and hundred of monthly columns over the decades.  Columns which have received international distribution and which have touched the lives of tens of thousands of individuals who have used the advice contained in them to better their lives in the SM world.  Larry's Handbook is still a seminal work today and is part of the basic "required reading" for anyone newly arrived in the leatherworld.

Nicole is a San Diego parasite who writes a gossip column for a local gay paper

Larry was the keynote speaker, Nicole but an uninvited and unexpected guest.  That he would be asked to speak and that he would make such pathetic and catty remarks as he did was exceedingly crass.  And such things are a major reason why I want so little to do with the whole leather pageant world.  To me, it's gone beyond just being incestuous and has now become inbred as well.  The folks running the contests are, more often than not, more concerned with their own egos and enhancing their own personal standing than doing anything of worth for the rest of the community.  The fawning and groveling before Nicole while their keynote speaker - a genuine Old Guard leatherman - was giving his address showed to me where the priorities are for to many of the crew who are running these pageants. 

They were willing to insult and diminish the very leatherman they had specifically invited to help enhance their leather event in order to keep stroking the ego of a local gossip columnist so as to give them a better write-up in the next week's paper.  This was a pretty repulsive display of some seriously skewed priorities.  But then, that's what I see far too much of in today's leather title pageants. 

At least however, I achieved my primary goals for the evening; meeting Mr. Townsend and getting his autograph on my copy of his book.

Larry's Signature on my copy of the Handbook

And that, for me, was enough.


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This page was last updated on: 20 March 2008  

Unless otherwise noted, all photographs and images on this page are copyright protected property of Madoc Pope.  If you would like to use any of my images you must contact me first before you do so.



In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed your "stay" at this site.  Check back again to see what new images I have added.  Until then, stay well, play hard, play safe, and have fun!