Tag Archives: leather

History of Leather Communities

towards a bibliography 

Compiled by slave david stein for the panel on “History of Our Community” at the Leather Leadership Conference II, New York City, 4/19/98; revised 5/3/98. Copyright is hereby waived, and the contents may be freely reposted or reprinted, as long as this heading remains intact so that corrections or suggested additions may be sent to the compiler, who retains responsibility for any errors and for the opinions expressed herein.

While no single work published as yet can claim to be definitive or comprehensive, the works listed here provide some signposts. Not all are still in print, but copies should be available one way or another. An asterisk (*) indicates those works that the compiler feels give the best overviews and starting points for further research.


BALDWIN, GUY: Ties That Bind (Daedalus, 1993): Mostly columns from Drummer magazine, 1987-1993, by the well-known kink therapist and 1989 International Mr. Leather, including a few explicitly historical essays.

* BEAN, JOSEPH: Leathersex (Daedalus, 1994) and Leathersex Q&A (Daedalus, 1996). Not historical works, but the first has a historical appendix, and the second has one section devoted to historical questions — both brief but very valuable. www.jwbean.com has a wealth of information about this author, artist, editor, and educator, now executive director of the Leather Archives & Museum.

BRAME, GLORIA, et al.: Different Loving — The World of Sexual Dominance and Submission (Random House, 1993; Villard paperback, 1996). Largely based on interviews with contemporaries, but Chapter 2 gives a historical overview of the Victorian roots of modern hetero BDSM.

* CALIFIA, PAT, AND ROBIN SWEENEY, editors: The Second Coming — A Leatherdyke Reader (Alyson, 1996). Billed as a sequel to Coming to Power (see SAMOIS below), which Califia contributed to (and helped edit the revised editions), this has historical essays about several women’s s/m support groups, including Briar Rose, Lesbian Sex Mafia, the Outcasts, and more, as well as other pieces of historical interest.

HARRIS, DANIEL: The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture (Hyperion, 1997). The chapter on “The Death of Kink: Five Stages in the Metamorphosis of the Modern Dungeon” argues that in “mainstreaming” s/m, we have lost what made it valuable. Irritating but thought-provoking.

HOOVEN, VALENTINE F., III: Tom of Finland — His Life and Times (St. Martin’s, 1994). This biography of our most famous gay kink artist includes much about the history of erotic art.

MACK, JOHN E.: A Prince of Our Disorder — The Life of T. E. Lawrence (Harvard, paperback 1998). Lawrence of Arabia would have fit right in with the 1950s gay leather scene in the U.S., but in Britain in the 1930s he was a square peg looking for a round hole. This biography not only discusses Lawrence’s own homosexual masochism but also gives background information on such previously unmentionable British institutions as the Hellfire Club.

MAINS, GEOFF: Urban Aboriginals — A Celebration of Leathersexuality (Gay Sunshine, 1984). A pioneering work — probably the first to connect endorphin release with BDSM experience — that today seems very “70s” in its uncritical enthusiasm but is historically valuable for that very reason.

NAN, MISTRESS: My Private Life — Real Experiences of a Dominant Woman (Daedalus, 1996). The memoirs of a famed West Coast Dominatrix with decades of experience.

* RUBIN, GAYLE: The Valley of the Kings: Leathermen in San Francisco, 1960-1990 (Ph.D. dissertation in anthropology, the University of Michigan, 1994). Unpublished; some day it will be the heart of an indispensable book.

* SAMOIS collective: Coming to Power — Writings and Graphics on Lesbian S/M (1981; revised editions published by Alyson in 1982 and 1987). Among many other things, this extremely influential book produced by the first openly lesbian s/m organization popularized the now widely accepted concept of s/m as a “consensual power exchange” (it seems to have been coined by Cynthia Slater, who founded the Society of Janus in San Francisco, and was used by local sex educations in that city).

STEWARD, SAMUEL M.: Chapters from an Autobiography (Grey Fox Press, 1981). From sleeping with Lord Alfred Douglas to filming s/m scenes for Dr. Alfred Kinsey, these are the amazing memoirs of a man who chucked a career as a college professor to satisfy his unconventional appetites and curiosities — and became famous as the erotic writer “Phil Andros.”

STEWARD, SAMUEL M.: Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos — A Social History of the Tattoo with Gangs, Sailors and Street-Corner Punks, 1950-1965 (Harrington Park Press, 1990). As “Phil Sparrow,” Steward worked as a tattooist long before such “body modifications” became semi-respectable.

THOMPSON, WILLIAM: Sadomasochism (Cassell, 1994). An English criminologist’s review of the legal and psychological concepts and definitions of s/m in Western thought, the book was written to address the issues raised by the Spanner case, but it has implications that reach much further than British jurisprudence.

* THOMPSON, MARK, editor: Leatherfolk — Radical Sex, People, Politics, and Practice (Alyson, 1991). This landmark anthology includes historical essays covering the 1940s to the 1990s by Samuel Steward, Thom Magister, Jack Fritscher, Gayle Rubin, David Stein, and the editor, plus other essays with a historical dimension by Joseph Bean, Guy Baldwin, John Preston, Pat Califia, Geoff Mains, Dianna Vesta, Eric Rofes, Wickie Stamps, Gabrielle Antolovich, and more.

THOMPSON, MARK: Gay Body — A Journey Through Shadow to Self (St, Martin’s, 1997). Thompson’s Jungian-influenced autobiography and meditation on the experience of growing up gay includes a good deal of historical material about the leather scene in California in the late 1970s and beyond.

TOWNSEND, LARRY: The Leatherman’s Handbook (1972) and The Leatherman’s Handbook II (1983). A classic. There have been various editions of both the original and the revised version (a very different book), and a 25th Anniversary edition of the original has now been published by the author. Townsend’s roots are in the early 1960s in Southern California, where he was a gay-rights activist as well as one of the first to publish gay kink erotica, including his own stories as well as work by other authors and artists. Beyond all the technical information and advice on cruising, relationships, scene-play, and so on, each book can be read as a kind of collage of the gay leather scene at a moment in time.


* GUY BALDWIN: “The Old Guard: Classical Leather Culture Revisited,” in International Leatherman #20 (Sept.-Oct. 1998), is an excellent introduction and gives a very persuasive explanation of the mutiple factors leading to the eclipse of the “old guard.” Also, “The Journey,” a free online column hosted by Leather Navigator, kicked off with two fascinating personal memoirs, “The Road to Leatherville” (Nov. 1997) and “Walking on Sand” (February 1998).

BLACK SHEETs #12 (fall 1997): “Sex Pioneers — San Francisco in the ’70s.” Part 2 will appear in issue #15, scheduled for late 1998-early 1999.

CHECKMATE #13 (November 1995) through #18 (February 1997): Charles Clark’s reminiscences about the gay s/m scene in the New York area from the 1950s to the post-Stonewall period.

CHECKMATE #19 (May 1997) and #20 (September 1997): Jack Fritscher’s personal perspective on the history of Drummer magazine and other topics in kink publishing (available online).

DRUMMER #136, January 1990: Mark Thompson’s essay on the first gathering, in 1979, of Black Leather Wings, a group of leathersex faeries, with his own photos of their recreations of Native American and other aboriginal pain rituals.

DRUMMER #139, May 1990: “Remembrance of Sleaze Past” by Jack Fritscher and Gayle Rubin’s history of The Catacombs, a famous leathersex/fisting club in San Francisco (a revised and expanded version of the latter is also in Mark
Thompson’s Leatherfolk anthology).

INTERNATIONAL LEATHERMAN #4 (Summer 1995) and most subsequent issues: “Dear Diary,” the still unconcluded story of “cliffy,” a novice slave, is actually Joseph Bean’s own memoir of his initiation into a leather “family” in 1966-67. Replete with “old guard” rituals and practices.

INTERNATIONAL LEATHERMAN #10 (Nov.-Dec. 1996): “Mecca Then,” a timeline of San Francisco’s leather scene in the 1970s.

INTERNATIONAL LEATHERMAN #13 (May-July 1997): interview with Larry Townsend; also “Back in My Day,” brief memoirs by eight leathermen about how they got started

INTERNATIONAL LEATHERMAN #15 (Oct.-Nov. 1997) and #16 (Dec. 1997-Jan. 1998): Joseph Bean’s two-part interview with filmmaker Roger Earle (Born to Raise Hell and the Dungeons of Europe series) amounts to a history of gay s/m video.

THE LEATHER JOURNAL #93 (June-July 1997): The 10th Anniversary issue includes reprints from many past issues charting ten years in our community as seen from Southern California.

PROMETHEUS #24 (Winter 1996): The 25th Anniversary issue of The Eulenspiegel Society’s magazine offers a number of historical pieces and reprints from TES archives, including “S/M Through the Ages” and a history of TES itself.

RUBIN, GAYLE: Several articles based on her dissertation (see NONFICTION BOOKS above) have been published, including a chapter on San Francisco’s South of Market leather bars in _Reclaiming San Francisco — History, Politics, Culture_, edited by James Brook, Chris Carlsson, and Nancy J. Peters (City Lights, 1997); a history of The Catacombs in Drummer #139 (see above) and an expanded version in Leatherfolk (see MARK THOMPSON above); and “Elegy for the Valley of the Kings: AIDS and the Leather Community in San Francisco, 1981-1996” in In Changing Times, edited by Martin Levine, Peter Nardi, and John Gagnon (University of Chicago Press, 1997).


Erotic fiction can be a perilous guide to historical (or any) truth, and yet it is sometimes in our fictional creations that we most reveal ourselves. The following cannot be taken as gospel, but they are all extraordinarily revealing.

ANDREWS, TERRY: The Story of Harold (Holt Rinehart, 1974; the 1975 Avon Equinox trade paperback has illustrations by Edward Gorey). Written under a pseudonym by a best-selling children’s book author, the novel is set in New York’s sexual underground of the late 1960s and concerns a kinky bisexual man’s varied relationships. Although it was praised by the New York Times for its literary merit, no one dies at the end, not even the perverts! Apparently accurate historically, tremendously funny, and very moving all at the same time.

ANDROS, PHIL (pen name of Samuel Steward): $tud (Guild Press, 1969; abridged edition with introduction by John Preston published by Alyson, 1990). All of the Phil Andros books give some of the flavor of gay s/m and leathersex back when it was illicit and mostly hidden from unsuspecting eyes, but $tud was the first to be published, and it seems least compromised by the need to satisfy an audience or an editor with embellishments or idealizations.

ANDROS, PHIL: My Brother, the Hustler (1970; revised edition published by Perineum Press as My Brother, My Self in 1983, and more recently by Masquerade; a newly illustrated edition of the original version is forthcoming from Brush Creek Media) is notable for its accurate description of The Black Castle, a Chicago leather hang-out in the 1960s where the artist Etienne, Chuck Renslow (who owned the famed Gold Coast bar and still owns and runs the International Mr. Leather Contest), and their friends lived and played.

* CARNEY, WILLIAM: The Real Thing (Putnam’s, 1968; reissued by Richard Kasak Books in 1995 with an introduction by Michael Bronski). Set in the 1960s gay s/m scene in southern California and New York, this epistolary novel, consisting of letters from an experienced leatherman to his novice nephew, presents a largely accurate account of the prevailing mores, though with a tragic, ultimately s/m-negative slant. Carney was a “player” himself, if perhaps a misguided one, and the novel is a classic. Some consider its sequel, The Rose Exterminator (Everest House, 1982), to be even more interesting, but most critics have judged it harshly, at least as a reading experience.

* FRITSCHER, JACK: Leather Blues — The Adventures of Denny Sargent (Gay Sunshine, 1984). As terse and concentrated as the same author’s novel of the 1970s, Some Dance to Remember (Knights Press, 1990), is bloated, Leather Blues distills the 1960s leather-biker-outlaw-sex scene in just 82 memorable pages. www.jackfritscher.com contains bibliographies, interviews, and more. Fritscher, one of the great Drummer editors, seems to have been everywhere and done everyone during the “good old days” of leather culture.

The Black Leather Community

From Dark Connections

The leather community, created for the most part by gay men and soldiers returning home after World War ll, was a society steeped in secrecy. It’s members shared a love of motorcycles and leather accoutrements and longed for the familiar military principles and discipline they endured during the war. The term “Old Guard” pretty much referred to the first generation of gay leather men who formed these leather communities in the late 1940s and early 1950s and the styles they pioneered. Unfortunately, there is not much information to be found on the history of people of color within the Old Guard.

In the 80’s leather competitions became a major part of the community. Competing in and attending leather contests became a way to comfortably meet others in the lifestyle and titleholders are held in very high esteem within the community. In 1993 Graylin Thornton and Gregory Adams started the Ebony in Leather contest in San Francisco. The highly popular contest has since been renamed Mr. Ebony Leather and today is run by Cain Berlinger.

There are quite a few books, newsletters and articles written by and for those in the Black leather community. To Love, to Obey, to Serve: Diary of an Old Guard Slave by African-American author Vi Johnson has become a cult classic within the community. Cain Berlinger is the author of Black Men in Leather, a study on what it means to be Black and a part of the Leather, Fetish, BDSM Community. Black Leather in Color magazine published their first edition in winter of 1994. The NYC based quarterly magazine’s goal was to present the people of color images missing in mainstream leather publications and help leathermen and women of color gain acceptance within the leather community.

Jack Jackson (1921-1983) was the president of The Eulenspiegel Society for almost an entire decade since almost its inception in the early 70’s. Jackson was a charismatic leader and a self proclaimed “loving sadist”. He also took many of the photographs and ads featured in TES’s Prometheus magazine.

The first leather organizations for men of color such as “L.A. Brotherhood” and “Brothers in Leather” were formed as early as the 1980s but most have since faded away. In the fall of 1995, one of the most prominent leather clubs for people of color, ONYX (Men of ONYX, Inc) joined the SM, leather, fetish community in Chicago. Founded by Mufasa Ali, the goal of ONYX is to provide an informational and social organization to address issues specific to men of color who choose to discuss and/or participate in the lifestyle.

In September 1999 another prominent club, The New York Panthers Leather Club, founded by John K, was formed for men of color in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tri-state area who are interested and involved in leather and BDSM activities. The group is still active.

There haven’t been many leather organizations created specifically for women of color, however there are several notable women of color in the leather community, and quite a few leather contest titleholders.

Vi Johnson is one of the most well known African-American women in the Leather Community. A lifestyle slave, author and vampire, Johnson has been active for over two decades as an activist, writer, and educator and has been dubbed “mother” by a whole generation of leather men and women. She is slave and wife of Jill Carter and husband to Queen Cougar (former Ms. San Francisco Leather, 1993 and winner of the Pantheon of Leather “Reader’s Choice Woman of the Year 2000”.) From her journals kept while living as a slave and vampire, Johnson authored two autobiographical books Dhampir, Child of The Blood and To Love, To Obey, To Serve, Diary of an Old Guard Slave. Her work has been published in Some Women (the Anthology) and various leather magazines such as Dominant Mystique, Black Leather in Color, Passion, The Link, Black Mistress Review, Black Amazon Digest, Ouch, Obeya, and Bitches with Whips.

Jill Carter, International Ms Leather 1996 has been active in the leather lifestyle for over 25 years. She has been an officer or founding member of various organizations across the United States, President of Ms. World Leather, a speaker or workshop presenter for leather organizations and colleges. Carter was the recipient of the Pantheon of Leather Woman of the Year Award 1998 and 2001, Readers Choice Woman of the Year 1998, one-third of the Couple of the Year Award, The National Leather Association International Order of Merit and Lifetime Achievement Awards and the Emerald Award from the state of Washington.

The Ms. World Leather 2003 contest was the first time in any international leather contest that two African-American Women stood on the same stage as winner, Goddess Lakshimi, and first runner up, Daddie Millarca.

Although the leather scene was available to all sexual orientations and genders, most heterosexuals felt the need to form their own groups….


  Pre-WWII SM vs.post-WWII Leather

By Gayle S. Rubin

From the LeatherHistory E-Group
On Sat, 13 Apr 2002, dogg_starr1 wrote:

Their newest claim is that the old guard invented WIITWD and specificly the “leather lifestyle”. I have been challenged to find  documentation that there was a “leather lifestyle” before WWII.  Normally I pretty much ignore their challenges, but I happen to be interested in learning about our history pre WWII, myself.

One of the problems here is a failure to distinguish between the overlapping but distinct histories of heterosexual and gay male SM, as well as a confusion between a “leather lifestyle” and “SM.” These terms also overlap, but have some different connotations and can refer to different phenomena and institutional complexes, particularly in the past.

SM and kinky sex certainly predate WWII. But the set of institutional and symbolic structures called “leather” did not. Moreover, “leather” as community form– as distinct from leather as a fetish– was largely developed by gay men after WWII and did not initially refer to heterosexual practice. Over time, “Leather” eventually began to function as another general term for all SM, but originally in its gay male context meant masculine gay men, gay men who were into motorcycles, and kinky gay men who all inhabited a community largely structured by gay leather bars and gay bike clubs. Not everyone in such leather communities was interested in SM. In addition, the term “Old Guard” pretty much referred to the first generation of these gay leather men who formed these leather communities in the late 1940s and early 1950s and the styles they pioneered (a superb essay on this period and these guys is the one by Guy Baldwin in his “Ties that Bind”). So in that sense, “the old guard” can be said to have invented “the leather lifestyle.” But this does not mean they invented nor ever claimed to have invented sadomasochism or fetishism.

Leather was a sexual fetish long before. Moreover, SM was practiced long before leather was a significant sexual fetish, much less before the development of “leather communities.” But the institutional contexts were different. There is a fabulous dissertation by Rob Bienvenu on the history of SM as a cultural style that covers a great deal of the history of organized non-gay male SM and fetish in the 2oth century. I highly recommend it.

There is scattered documentation of SM activity in, for example, late Victorian England and turn of the century Europe. There’s a book by Ian Gibson called The English Vice that has material on specialized flagellation prostitution; similar material can be found in other books on the sexual underworld in late 19th century London.

Turn of the century (that’s the last turn of the century, not the recent one) sexology contains plentiful descriptive data as well as attempts to interpret and explain SM (be warned, however: SM was considered a pathology).

Among early sexology, some works stand out. Havelock Ellis’ Love and Pain is a fascinating exploration of what he called “algolagnia” (love of pain) and provides ample evidence that people were certainly doing SM in the
early 20th century. Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis is full of cases of SM, fetishism, and flagellation in the late 19th century. The focus there is on individuals (suffering from sexual pathologies), but one can still catch occasional glimpses of some kind of heterosexual SM public life. It’s nothing to compare with what exists now, but for example, one of his cases reported responding to newspaper ads from women with language such as “lady, strict teacher, seeks pupils….” There is a book devoted entirely to Sadism and Masochism by another early sexologist, Albert Eulenberg. Eulenberg’s book was translated into English (from German) and contains photographs from around 1900 that document professional “Mistresses” (although that term is anchronistic), houses of prostitution that specialized in flagellation, scenes in progress, and equipment for bondage and flagellation. Most of Eulenberg’s photos were in turn reprinted from still untranslated works by other sexologists writing in German, notably Hirschfeld and Wulffen. But when all these men were writing none of this would have been called “the leather lifestyle.”

Unfortunately, Krafft-Ebing, Ellis, and Eulenberg’s books are all out of print, so yes, you do need to check used book stores or your local libraries. I think Guy’s book is however available. I’m not sure about Gibson. Rob’s dissertation can be obtained through University Microfilms and I think he also has it posted on the web.

Happy hunting.

PS. It seems to me I do a version of this post every year or two; you might check the archives for a previous one.

PPS. stay tuned– there are a lot of people doing work on the history of SM now, so there is a good bit of excellent research in the pipeline. This just wasn’t considered a subject for serious historical scholarship until recently, so most of the material on SM from the mid-20th century is psychiatric and medical and has little information on the social worlds of practitioners.

Old Guard…or not…

(Dogmatism) Old Guard…or not…

By BullDawg66  (post from the LeatherHistory Yahoo! Group)

If anyone finds this offensive…sorry in advance but it is something that eats at me from time to time.

Okay, enough about “Old Guard” vs. “New Guard” stuff. Let’s be realistic about things. Those who care to sit down and make a name for  themselves, and these days it seems to be everyone in the world, write history.  It has nothing to do with what really might have happened or what actually did happen. I’m not knocking that there were some of these “Old Guard” attitude type folks around, but it certainly wasn’t the norm of life, even for the leather community of 20 years ago, and when one tries to pinpoint them to say who “they” were…they don’t exist. We were all different people 20 years ago and will be different in another 20. Society and life has a mysterious way of doing that to people.

20 years ago I could be found riding my little rice burner of a Yamaha FZR-400 up and down Sunset Highway and Interstate 5. Stopping in Laguna beach long enough for a beer or two. The Boom-Boom Room, on the cliffs overlooking the beach, a place for gay bikers by day and dance club by night. Being in the leather scene back then meant having a bike, belonging to a club, drinking beer, and more importantly…getting laid. The bars were about cruising and if you were lucky enough to live in a town with a good bar, a back room might be thrown in for good measure.

Since most of us had jumped on the cold war bandwagon in an effort to do our part against Mother Russia, we all just assumed that the protocol stay at work. Protocol in the leather community, by and large that meant you were an officer of your motorcycle club and were entitled to more beer.

The places we stayed at if we went to Los Angeles were geared towards parties and sex. No different now than it was then either. The infamous Coral Sands Hotel on West Hollywood Blvd. A veritable orgy when things got going. Occasionally we might see something that we of the so-called leather crowd would see something we thought a bit weird…someone might come in, move the beds around, open the windows in their room, spread out some plastic, and open a can of Crisco for some old fashioned fisting. Normal? Back then no, these days… more likely to happen.

Other things the bike clubs thought were kind of eccentric, one of our guys was into riding dildos…laugh if you must but it was out of the norm as it wasn’t cruising for dick after the local bands left the stage. It didn’t involve drinking beer or riding our bikes. We made fun of the guy a lot and then a few years later as our community changed and AIDS took its toll, so did attitudes…lots of guys into toys now. It’s safe.

I had a boyfriend back then too…a tattoo artist who got me into the punk scene. His idea of leather was putting on his jacket and chaps and riding off on his 1957 Triumph motorcycle. I still have his chaps hanging in my closet. Hell, he wouldn’t even consider fucking someone in a sling…too out of the norm, and he was a punker, can’t get much more out there than that in the late 70’s early 80’s. Open minded to anything new,just don’t get into the weird sex shit with him.

History also had no place for the women bikers we knew, both the straight Harley biker bitches and the lesbians who weren’t the dykes on bikes. There was a woman once, her name was Corky…for a living she rebuilt custom Harley’s. These days she would be called a lipstick lesbian, back then she even made all the gay guys hearts stop. Sweet, charming, not kinky…but damn, what a looker. The history we write of today doesn’t include her type…she’s not old guard into all the protocol propaganda.

So where does this leave us…back at the beginning of this dissertation.  All these terms we use today are in retrospect. They were designed for a better understanding to describe and to categorize relationships so that people could better understand what was going on. Where did we go with it? Instead a few people use it to dictate to people that this is the way it has always been and to dictate that therefore it should be thus.

The scene and the people involved have come a long ways over the years but in the end still have a lot to learn. The way it was…hell, i was there just as much as anyone else. Most of the military protocol junk incorporated into the scene is jut that…most vets don’t give a rats ass about it unless it pertains to them and their involvement with others on a personal level…it is modified to fit their needs. Most of the people who say that the protocol is there because of the service, have never served. I’m not saying all of them, but a good majority of them. If the “real” protocol of the military showed up on their doorstep and bit them in the ass they wouldn’t know what it was. People can’t be pigeon holed in society and the leather scene today is more concerned with technique and who supposedly did what 20 years ago, 30 years ago, etc. In 100 years, ask yourself…who will remember me? Nobody will unless you were to become president or discover something.

Let’s be realistic, these attitudes of telling people how to think in order to be part of something…it doesn’t attract a younger crowd to further ideas or ideals.

leather, punk, red doc martin wearing, sportbike riding, pen weilding, nuclear radiated, psycho killer skindawg with a blue/black mohawk and packing a 9mm, patiently waiting a new collar – cause it’s a dawg on a journey thing

History of Leather Traditions

The Old Guard

The History of Leather Traditions

By Guy Baldwin, M.S., author of The Ties That Bind

        While reading a recent interview with  Brian Dawson, I came across some of his comments about that ‘Old Guard’ In the  leather lifestyle. Although  I used that label in a piece I wrote almost three years  ago, I only recently realized that there was a strong likelihood that large numbers of leather guys don’t quite know for sure what the phrase, ‘Old Guard’ really  means. I’m sure that I have never seen  a description of the style (and it is a style,  so I want to offer one now. I have carried  my own ‘Old Guard’ card in my wallet right next to my Selective Service Registration card (draft card) for long enough that I probably qualify to offer what follows so, here goes…

First, a bit of historical perspective  will be more helpful than you might guess.  ‘Old Guard’ is really a misnomer – a  misapplied name – for the earliest set of  habits that jelled by the mid- to late 1950s  in the men’s leather community here in  the U.S. It is very important to remember  that the modern leather scene as we now  know it first formalized itself out of the  group of men who were soldiers returning home after World War ll. (l939-1945).

For many gay men of that era, their  World War ll. military service was their first homosocial experience (first time being thrown together mostly in the company of other men for significant lengths  of time), their first time away from their growing up places, and their first experience of male bonding during periods of high stress. War was (and is) serious business; people died, buddies depended  on each other for their lives, and the chips were down. Discipline was the order of  the day, and the nation believed that only  discipline and dedication would win the  war and champion freedom: (Ever notice  the especially strong patriotic feelings that happen at leather events?)

Anyway, these gay war veterans learned about the value and pleasure of discipline and hard work in the achievement of a noble purpose. They also learned how to play hard when they got the chance for leave time. Indeed, military life during wartime was (and is) a mix of emotional extremes born out of sure knowledge that one could literally be ‘here today, and gone tomorrow. ‘ Lastly (for these purposes), the gay vets had the secret knowledge that they fought and served every bit as well as straight soldiers, and this information strengthened their self-esteem.  All of these things came to be associated with the disciplined, military way of life as it existed during the wartime years.

Although not all gay men of that time served in the military, those who didn’t were exposed to the military attitudes through their contact with the vast numbers of military men who were everywhere to be seen and cruised both during and immediately after the war years. In any case, all these things greatly influenced the shape of masculine gay sexualities.

Upon their return to the States about 1946, many of the gay vets wanted to retain the most satisfying elements of their military experience and, at the same time, hang out socially and sexually with other masculine gay men. They found that only in the swashbuckling motorcycle culture did such opportunities exist and so the gay bike clubs were born. It was here  that they found the combination of easy camaraderie, the stress and thrill of real risk taking (the riding), and the masculine sexuality that they had known during their military days.

Since one can tell who is and is not in the military only when uniforms are worn, these gay men unconsciously (in most cases) transferred their loyalties to their own uniform-the leather gear of bike riders with a few paramilitary touches thrown in. Club insignia often recalled hose insignia of special military units: Thunderbolts, Warriors, Blue Max, and Iron Cross to name only a few. Club members would exchange their insignia with members of other clubs in friendship; christening rituals were transferred from tanks, ships and airplanes to motorcycles and piss was substituted for champagne; the military dress uniform hats became the leather bike caps-all these elements were just as had been during military service.

Incidentally, during the war, the soldiers would often put on skits for their own amusement. Since women were not allowed at the front, some of the men would play the parts of women by doing a kind of mock dress-up (as in one scene from ‘South Pacific’). Later, this tradition would be expressed in ‘drag’ shows during bike runs. So, masculine men pretended to be pretending to be women-not truly ‘drag’ at all. (lt. still happens in a few places.)

In any case, being in the military also meant following lots of rules. And just as in the military, there were (unspoken) rules about what you did and did not wear, how you handled your personal affairs, who you could and could not socialize with and more. All this was overlaid with a kind of ritual formalism just as in the military. Those men who were really into dominance and submission, SM, or leather sex tended to take these rules rather more seriously than those  guys who simply thought of themselves as butch. The butch ones wore just enough leather to be practical when riding, and those into the exotic sexualities tended to wear more gear than necessary to signal this fact about themselves, but they all hung out together in the same settings. As you might guess, in some cases, any particular person might be into both riding and the exotic sexualities.

Just as an aside here, before and during the war, kinky folks seeking to identify each other would sometimes defensively ask, ‘Do you play the mandolin or the saxophone?’ to discover which of them was the masochist or the sadist by the first letter of these instruments. All this while wearing street clothes! The creation of a butch subculture by the gay vets began to allow people to specialize  their sexual interests in a way that had  been impossible earlier. Prior to this  development. it was not apparent that  there were very many ways to be gay.

The bike clubs and the bars where  they hung out became the magnets of  their day which attracted those gay men  who were interested in the masculine  end of the gay spectrum, but it was the leather men who defined the masculine extreme at  that time. (Nowadays, we know there are many ways to be masculine.) This  meant that those who had an  inclination to kinky action pretty much felt compelled to explore kink in the context of the leather SM scene since it was the  only game in town. If motorcycle riding or  black leather itself was not ‘your thing’,  that meant one felt obligated to visit the  hang outs and look and act the part as  much as possible to find one’s way into  the inner circle of those who looked like  they knew something about the exotic  sexualities. This meant finding out what the rules of inclusion were (how can I be  included?) in order to gain access. To  some extent, all this is still true because the attitude still  prevails that the ‘uniform”  indicates experience and social access to the Knowledgeable People.

And so, the Scene became EX-clusive rather than IN-clusive, meaning  that the people in the Scene understood  the rules and tried to keep outsiders  out-to exclude them. An outsider became defined as anyone (butch or not)  who did not have a primary interest in and experience with the exotic sexualities or  at least an interest in motorcycles. (This excluding attitude was probably also reinforced by guilt about being kinky.)

I know that this combination of kinky  men mixed in with motorcycle riders may  sound a bit odd now, but that’s how the  Scene worked and, to some slight extent,  still does. All through the 80’s, with the  emergence of kinky organizations and  specifically leather/SM events, the motorcycle riding community and the kinky leather community have grown apart such  that now those in one group are pretty  much  ignorant of or indifferent to the  events happening in the other.

This growing separation is more true  in larger cities which have the numbers of  people that are necessary to support  each of these two  communities, each  with separate needs and agendas. Consequently, many old and venerable bike  clubs have experienced a drop in membership and some have disbanded altogether.

But for the most part, kinky people have segregated themselves out from the riders as the process of erotic specialization has continued.  Generally, the riding community seems not to have minded this development perhaps because many of the members of riding clubs are either turned off or embarrassed by the erotic visibility of the kinky crowd “Birds of a feather”.  But for this discussion, it is noteworthy that many of those kinky people    retained the paramilitary trappings, manners and attitudes of that early, core group of returning World War ll. gay vets.

Most importantly, these features of the military mind-set joined with inky interests and became erotic in and of themselves became fetishes. These men then were the original ‘0ld Guard’, and so it will come as no surprise that their quasi-military rules of inclusion and exclusion still influence kinky society today.

So  what exactly were the  (unspoken) “Old Guard’ rules? Here are a few of the more important ones that had prevailed  by 1970:

About Attire

Always were boots, butch ones, and preferably black.

Always wear a wide black leather belt plain, not fancy.

Never mix brown leather with black leather.

Never mix chrome or silver trim with gold or brass trim.

Long pants only, Levi’s or leather, and no shorts.

Chaps indicate more commitment than Levi’s, and leather pants more commitment than chaps, especially when worn consistently.

Leather Jackets must have epaulets (bike riders excepted).

Head gear is reserved for Tops or experienced or heavy bottoms only.

Bottoms may not own collars unless a particular Top has allowed that bottom to be the custodian of the Top’s collar. A bottom wearing a collar is a slave, and belongs to the owner of the collar who, presumably, has the keys. Other Tops are not to engage a collared bottom in conversation, but other bottoms may do so. Should such a relationship end, the collar must be returned to the Top.

Never touch the bill of a bike cap, including your own.

Never touch another man’s cap (or head gear) unless you are very intimate friends or lovers.

Keep studs and other decorations to a tasteful minimum unless they happen to be club insignia.

Never wear another man’s leather unless he puts it on you.

Leather, other than boots and belt, must be ‘earned’ through the achievement of successively challenging ‘scenes.’

Wearing gloves is reserved for heavy players, glove fetishists or bike riders.

Always indicate SM preference, only with keys left or right.

If you are cruising seriously, wear the keys out; if not seriously, tuck them  in a  back pocket.
Always indicate strictly leather sex or ‘rough sex’ interest by wearing no keys at all.

Those who ‘switch’ are second class players and not to be taken as seriously because they haven’t made their minds up. If you must switch, do so in another town.

‘Full’ leather is reserved for after 10:00 P.M. only and only with ‘our own kind’.

Respect the public by wearing less of it during the day–don’t frighten old ladies (l did once by accident), or anyone else for that matter.


About Socializing and Cruising:

Experience in the Scene determines social seniority (Top or bottom) , not age, not size, not amount of leather worn, and not offices held in organizations, awards received or titles won.

Tops and experienced bottoms should be accorded higher respect and deference unless and until they behave rudely–all are expected to observe rules of social courtesy-bad manners are inexcusable and can lower one’s status in the Scene (thereby reducing access to the Knowledgeable People  for information or play),

Real Leathermen keep their word: they do not borrow or lend money; they conduct their affairs with honor and integrity-they don’t lie.

Preliminary social contact should be on the formal side.

‘Senior Persons’ (Top or bottom) are not to be interrupted when in conversation.

Experience being equal, Tops lead the conversation.

Junior Tops defer to Senior Tops and Senior bottoms in social situations.

Junior bottoms defer to all others in the Scene but not to outsiders.

When walking together, bottoms walk half-a-step behind and to the left of Tops with whom they are involved or playing.

It is up to the Top or the experienced bottom to extend a hand to invite a handshake. (All touching is highly restricted during initial contact between strangers.) NEVER over-indulge in drugs or alcohol in public, or otherwise attract scornful attention to one’s self–to do so brings dishonor on the men in the Scene,

Tops should always have the first two opportunities to make verbal or physical contact,

The more submissive one is, the less direct eye contact one makes-glance frequently at or stare at His boots only when cruising; less so in non-sexual conversation. The more dominant one is,  the more direct the eye contact is  unless there is no erotic interest (cruising only).

Men in the Scene do not discuss (or write about the  Scene with outsiders. All men in the Scene must be able to spot outsiders with the ‘right stuff’ and be ready to facilitate them into the Scene after they indicate sincere interest.

None of these rules are taught or explained to anyone except by innuendo, inference, or example.

Erotic technical information is only shared among peers.

Maintain formal and non-committal relationships with those outside the scene; avoid contact with feminine men. Women are not allowed although Senior People may occasionally have intellectual or brief social relationships with the occasional qualified kinky woman, but only in private.



Very  few men maintained  full compliance with all these rules all the time, and some, flatly refused to follow rules they personally objected to.  But, to be included one was expected to follow at least most of these rules most of the time. Also, confusingly, there was some variation in some of the rules depending on what city you happened to be in at the time. The list above is not complete although it conveys the sense of the style.

Understandably, a certain stiffness surrounded the men who followed these rules, just as a  certain stiffness surrounded the military men of the era. Those who sought inclusion had the challenge of finding  a relaxed and easygoing way to follow rules. However, this required considerable social skill and many  kinky people lacking those skills (or patience ) simply gave up and accepted a frustrated role on the fringe.

As time passed, there were more  and more guys in their twenties whose early sexual development had not been influenced strongly by contact with the military.  Therefore, they lacked the early raw material with which to fetish-ize the military   features of the ‘0ld Guard’ leather/SM scene. Still, they needed information and experiences to help shape the urges of insistent kinky longings.

These people were essentially without resources until the establishment of kinky organizations brought about new educational opportunities that were not bound  by  ‘0ld Guard’ rules.

Consequently, there is a lot more support now for new people coming into the leather/ SM scene who have other ideas (non- military) about what is hot. Long hair, rockers with wild designs on their jackets, road racing bikers  with brightly colored leathers, leather faeries, skinheads, women and others now are found on turf once dominated by the ‘0ld Guard’ system’.

So, ‘0ld Early Guard’ or perhaps thought of as ‘Early Guard” or perhaps ‘First Guard’ because that style makes sense given the erotic influences that shaped the inner lives of the men who were coming of age sexually at that time. The Old Guard made some real contributions and made some real mistakes, and still does both.

It is more useful to understand than  to criticize. And, perhaps most importantly, what the Old Guard did for the development and expansion of kinky life and butch gay male sexuality can best be appreciated against the backdrop of what  had existed earlier–not much of anything!

But remember this, as long as we have a military, and a paramilitary police system, and as long as that military has traditions of initiation, ritual, inclusion/exclusion, honor and service, there will always be an ‘0ld Guard’.  Its size and influence in the leather/SM scene will probably always be proportional to the role played by the military and other paramilitary organizations in society-larger following wartime and smaller during peace. I thought maybe you’d like to know.

Guy Baldwin, M.S. a Los Angeles psychotherapist, served as International Mr. Leather and Mr. National Leather Association during 1989-90