I was at Unholy Harvest over the weekend. As usual, the largest leather-dyke event on the continent was awesome. I sang at the opening cabaret (“Fly Me To the Moon”) in a beaded Barbarella dress (harness? I’m not sure how much fabric you need for it to qualify as a dress) that I’d spent the past week sewing. I ran a foot-fetish workshop that was as much an ideas-sharing discussion as a chalk-and-talk “lecture”, took in two discussions on leather identity and one on navigating the pitfalls and boundaries of being a kinky health-care and/or mental-health-care service provider (who may run into both colleagues AND clients at parties or other community events). I missed out on a D/s and Mental Health discussion; a workshop on sex with trans women[1]; and watching my lovely wife teach a big chunk of her community how to repair minor issues with their gear (think popped grommets and un-stuck soles) and give a dozen eager people speedy stitchers of their own. I stretched my sadistic, poly wings a little and played with a couple of people whom I’ve been interested in for ages but was only able to ask (have the gumption to ask) to play with me this year. (It went well. It sounds like they’d both be game for playing again, so YAY! :-D) I saw Jacqueline and Andrea break down in tears when they were gifted leather by Everybody at the closing ceremonies.
It was a good weekend. A weekend where we – not just me, but *so many of us* – disclosed our vulnerabilities (past traumas, current pain, deep-seated insecurities and fears about what it is or isn’t okay for us to be) and walked out again feeling heard and less alone.
That’s a big deal.
Let me be clear on this – none of this, that I know of, was Ordeal Ritual (although those came up during the Health Care SPs Circle, and someone came and talked to me about That Stuff a little later on. I suggested a book – not an ordeal-focused book, but The Twelve Wild Swans: A Journey to the Realm of Magic, Healing, and Action by Starhawk and Hillary Valentine – as something that might be useful for crafting some rituals she’s been working on).
But it’s still a Going Through with the arms of your community around you, and that matters.
Which, in a sloppy, abrupt way, does segue into what I want to blog about today.
One of the workshops I went to was about Leather Phamilies – it was facilitated by a couple of people who are creating an anthology about such things, and who were looking for further perspectives on the subject.
Some of the things that came up in the discussion (when we were trying to come up with a working definition of “Leather” before we went on to “Leather Phamily/Family”; but also much later in the car, on the way home, when the same question came up) were as follows:
Leather as a culture – with regional variations, a common value system[2], rites of passage (collarings and uncollarings, the gifting of leather, the earning of club colours), and even “traditional dress”.
Leather as a community that hangs out and/or interacts beyond the party circuit or the bedroom[3]; a community that is primarily queer or queer-focused
Leather as a grass-roots social safety net (Mama’s Family is one example, but there are also examples of social housing for trauma survivors, and less formal situations like: I moved cities and suddenly lost my job, and this community of people who I didn’t even really know yet stepped up and filled my fridge, helped me find new work, renegotiated my rent, held me while I cried, did concrete things that literally kept me going)
Leather as a (working) classed identity[4]
Leather as a community that is very centered on knowledge-transfer
And, perhaps weirdly, that’s the one I want to talk about right now.
Because I never thought of it like that. I just assumed that everyone was a huge nerd when it came to kink. But, on the way home in the car, one of the gals – who used to run a club that primarily catered to the pansexual bdsm scene – said that the leather dykes are all about workshops and education in a way that the pansexual bdsm crown… isn’t.
And, having since heard a quotation from that Robert J Rubel book (see [3]) siting the dual origins of the broadest iteration of North American kinkdom, I can’t help thinking that this makes a lot of sense.
We have in our queer, leather community a history and, I think, a mythology about knowledge transfer.
Weird? Maybe.
But think about it.
Pre-internet, you actually did have to know someone who knew someone to find out when the events were or where they were happening, or even to be allowed in the door. There was no fetlife. There were no youtube tutorials to teach you (oh, for example) how to do a brand safely. There was word of mouth and, if you were lucky, a newsletter on paper that you might be able to sign up for if you found out it existed. By that token, we have a real history of teaching each other in a hands-on, in-person fashion.
But we also have a mythology – and I mean this in the anthropology/religious-studies sense of the word where “mythology” means “our deepest truths; the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, where we came from, and how to live and fit in the world” – about kinky, erotic apprenticeship. Think Mr. Benson or The Marketplace series for example, but also think about the stories and protocols of the Old Guard, of learning to top by bottoming and doing your first topping scene under the supervision of your master.
Hands-on thinky-types who learn by doing as much as by checking out the theory?
I hadn’t thought of it that way – or at least I hadn’t thought that we were unique in that way. Maybe that’s a better way of putting it.
Anyway. Those are some thoughts (or some more thoughts) on leather as a culture.
Ms Syren.
[1] I regret missing this. Apparently it was EPIC. It took seven years for such a workshop to be offered (and, yes, it was taught be a couple of trans chicks), but it was really, really popular when it was. I think this bodes well. 😀
[2] If I were to take a guess? Honesty, loyalty, pleasure (!!!), honour, kindness (and/or compassion?), respect, joy, endurance (meaning both “I can take it” and “I can make/fix something so that it doesn’t fall apart”), really good food (maybe that’s just the dykes?), trust, flexibility/willingness to stretch and grow (physically but also in terms of skills, experiences, and understanding), knowledge + expertise & thinky-thinking (possibly also just the dykes?), connection(!), DIY and/or self-sufficiency, and got-your-back-itude (support for community / helping when called and stepping up without being asked).
[3] Robert J Rubel (author of Master/slave Relations, fyi) offered a distinction between what he called “leather” and “not leather” (but which I’ve also heard described as “leather community” and “bdsm community”) that was based on history and origin – “leather”, by his definition, grew out of gay veterans communities and motorcycle clubs in post-WW2 United States (1945-ish to 1960-ish); while “bdsm / not-leather” grew out of the swing community (of the 1960s but also much earlier than that).
[4] Which, itself, does tie into the queerness and the motorcycle clubs in our history. Both of those populations have historically been working class and/or poor, have done primarily service-industry jobs, have been sexworkers (men and women), have been able to afford the cost of a motorcycle but not a car, have been working through multiple levels of trauma and/or marginalization and needed capital-C Community to help with that, have joined the army for financial reasons, have been Kicked Out and making a buck in the bars shining boots and hoping to hook up with someone at the end of the night for a place to sleep, have appreciated donated, second-hand, durable clothing like, say, leather jackets or boots or chaps.