So. Andrea Zanin has a post about earned leathers that went up back in 2007. Having just spent a weekend having a lot of discussions about leather identity (and also attending a writing workshop, which might have something to do with this, too), I’m inclined to talk a little bit about leather – as in leather clothing – within the context of Leather (as in leather culture).
One thing that came up in those discussions was that, as a culture, Leather has symbol sets, rites of passage & other rituals, and in some cases even straight-up religiosity built into it. This is a thing that cultures do, so it’s no surprise.
We have collaring (and un-collaring) ceremonies. People earn club patches or caps. And we give leather.
We take this stuff – these marvelously durable, frequently (though not always) practical, articles of clothing – and we give them to each other in ceremony, imbued with meaning that goes way beyond “these will keep your feet dry in the rain”.
You can read it a bit like this, maybe:
“You have worked hard. Here is some hard-working gear that can stand up to the wear you’ll put it through”.
“You have created something that lasts. Here is clothing to recognize what you’ve made. It will last, too.”
But… Look, kids, I’m a writer. I tell stories. Sometimes I even tell good ones.
Stories about who we are and where we came from and how we live (or should live, or can live) in the world, these are mythology (“In the beginning, there was the Old Guard…” and “Once upon a time, a plauge ravaged our village”), they are the cosmology and axiology that reiterate and reinforce our values and our understanding of how we (as individuals, and as a community) fit into the world. When we give leather, when we recieve leather, when we inherit leather, even when we buy leather (zomg) for ourselves, we are telling stories about who we are, where we come from, and how we fit in the world.
I can give you the leather coat he wore for forty years before the cancer or the depression won that war, and the story that goes with it might be “As long as you are wearing the skin that touched his his skin, he will never really be gone”.
I can put a collar on you so that you feel my hand on the back of your neck, the expectation and the protection both, even when you’re not sitting at my feet.
I can give you my old army boots and tell a story that goes “I am with you every step of the way”.
I can grant you the privilege of wearing a Magdaleine’s Army club patch, and the story I tell you is “You belong; You are one of us”.
I can wear my leather – my impractical pencil skirt that I found at value village, my “genuine leather” very high heels that I bought from a certain online mega-retailer, the jacket I picked up at last year’s MLO garage sale – and access the iconography of “this is what a leather dyke looks like”. It can be a beacon of acceptance for someone who is worried that her choking fantasies mean she’s a Bad Feminist. Alternatively, it can announce at the dyke bar, sure as a black hanky, that I would be up for doing something rough in the ladies’ room. Either way, I’m making myself known to My People.
When my wife gave me a hat – bought at a store on Church Street that sold mass-produced leather gear for the kinky crowd – it became something special. Whenever people tell me they like my hat, I tell them who gave it to me. Because on its own, it’s just a hat – maybe even a slightly pretentious one – but from her hands, it’s a physical manifestation of our relationship: a counterpart to the collar I put on her years ago.
I can gift you with leather, the simplest of vests or the most elaborate, hand-sewn, made-to-measure garment, even just (“just”) a bracelet, and what I’m saying is this:
“This is my pride and gratitude made manifest. This is my arms around you when you are far away.”