Category Archives: History

The BDSM Emblem

The BDSM emblem has no “obvious” symbolism because it was created to be enigmatic. To the vanilla observer who would be put off by BDSM, it is merely an attractive piece of jewelry. Thus, we can wear it freely as a friendly salute, nod, and wink to other BDSMers we should happen to pass on the sidewalks and in the hallways of our daily lives.

To the insider, however, the Emblem is full of meaning.

The three divisions represent the various threesomes of BDSM. First of all, the three divisions of BDSM itself: B&D, D&S, and S&M. Secondly, the three-way creed of BDSM behavior: Safe, Sane, and Consensual. Thirdly, the three divisions of our community: Tops, Bottoms, and Switches.

It is this third symbolism that gives meaning to the holes in each unit. Since BDSM is at the very least a play style and at its greatest a love style, the holes represent the incompleteness of any individual within the BDSM context. However “together” and “whole” individuals may be, there remains a void within them that can only be filled by a complimentary other. BDSM cannot be done alone.

The resemblance to a three-way variation on the Yin-Yang symbol is not accidental. As the curved outline of Yin and Yang represent the hazy border between where one ends and the other begins, so do the curved borders here represent the indistinct divisions between B&D, D&S, and S&M.

The metal and metallic color of the medallion represents the chains or irons of BDSM servitude/ownership. The three inner fields are black, representing a celebration of the controlled dark side of  BDSM sexuality.

The curved lines themselves can be seen as a stylized depiction of a lash as it swings, or even an arm in motion to deliver an erotic spanking. The all-embracing circle, of course, represents the overlying unity of it all and the oneness of a community that protects its own.

For more information, you may go to the Emblem Project website.

The BDSM Emblem is copyright 1995 by who maintains the copyright in order to protect the symbol. It is freely available for all educational and non-commercial use within the BDSM community without charge. The explanatory
text is copyright 1995, 1997 by and used here by permission.

History of Leather Communities

 HISTORY OF OUR LEATHER-S/M-FETISH SUBCULTURE AND COMMUNITIES 
towards a bibliography 

Compiled by 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.

NONFICTION BOOKS

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.

ARTICLES

* 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).

FICTION

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.

Safe Sane Consensual

 Origins of “SAFE SANE CONSENSUAL”
by slave david stein
under the Guardianship of Master Steve of Butchmann’s

taken from the Leather History Group

The following essay is the core of a larger work that is still in progress. Comments may be sent to the author via e-mail, Copyright 2000 by david stein; all rights reserved. ***

History is what happens while you’re doing something else– and it may not be until years later that you discover what you did was “historic.” When i agreed in mid-1983 to be part of a committee of GMSMA (Gay Male S/M Activists) charged with drafting a new “statement of identity and purpose” for the two-year-old organization, i had no idea that the lasting significance of our work would be reduced to a single phrase: “safe, sane, and consensual S/M.”  Today GMSMA is the world’s largest S/M organization for men and one of the oldest and most respected S/M organizations of any sort. Yet there are thousands — perhaps tens of thousands? — of kink-lovers all over North America and around the world who have no idea what the letters “GMSMA” stand for. But they do know “safe sane consensual.” Those words appear on T-shirts, on Web sites, in personal ads, in the bylaws and foundation statements of hundreds of organizations, on porn videos, in virtually every kink magazine, in every book or pamphlet or instructional video produced for kink-curious audiences.  It’s become a cliché, and some people are heartily sick of it — but no one has yet proposed an alternative that rolls off the tongue as easily, covers so many bases, or boasts nearly the same degree of acceptance.  Blame me for it, if you like. The August 1983 report of that GMSMA committee represents the earliest use of the phrase anyone has found, and it seems very likely that i was its author. The statement of purpose we drafted began, “GMSMA is a not-for-profit organization of gay males in the New York City area who are seriously interested in safe, sane, and consensual S/M.” This wording was adopted without change by the Board of Directors on August 17, 1983, and since that fall the sentence has appeared in every GMSMA brochure and membership application as well as in most program schedules, newsletters, and other literature. The only changes made over the years have been to drop the reference to New York City and to replace “males” with “men.” Both of the other members of the committee, Martin Berkenwald and Bob Gillespie, are now dead, but a few months before his death last year, Bob said he thought it was me who came up with the formulation. It does seem likely: i produced most of GMSMA’s key early documents, and i’m sure i was the only one of the three of us to come to our meeting with a complete draft ready for comment. Martin and Bob critiqued what i’d written, and we made revisions on the spot until we came up with something we all liked. Frankly, i don’t remember who contributed what, but “safe, sane, and consensual S/M” certainly sounds like my style. Other pieces i wrote in the years just before refer to “consensual vs. involuntary S/M,” and i was always keenly interested in drawing a line between the kind of sadomasochistic sexuality that ethical people can support (at least if they are also broad-minded and unprejudiced) and the kind of abusive, exploitative, coercive activity they rightly condemn.

THE PAST RECAPTURED
It seems obvious to me now that “safe” and “sane” derived from the good old American practice of urging people to have a “safe and sane” 4th of July celebration. i heard that exhortation every year while growing up, and it stuck. It stuck with Tony DeBlase, too, and appears in an unsigned essay he wrote for the Chicago Hellfire Club’s Inferno 10 (1981) run book: “In 1980 the following was adopted as the club’s statement of purpose: ‘. . . to provide education and opportunities for participation in S&M sex among consenting adult men and to foster communication among such individuals.’ Responsible S&M has become more popular and less feared in the gay community and Chicago Hellfire Club continues to serve its community — striving always to educate and promote safe and sane enjoyment of men by men.” Since Inferno 10 was the first Inferno i attended, and it made a big impression on me, Tony’s words may have reminded me of “safe and sane,” and even suggested the association with “consensual.” But the GMSMA statement was the first place the three terms were actually conjoined. As a kid, what i took “Have a safe and sane 4th” to mean was something like, “Have a good time, but don’t be stupid and burn down the house or blow your hand off.” A couple of decades later, that seemed to fit S/M just fine. What we meant by “safe and sane S/M” in 1983, and what i believe GMSMA and most other organizations still mean by it today, is something like, “Have a good time, but keep your head and understand what you’re doing so you don’t end up dead or in the hospital — or send someone else there.” Possibly the echo of a familiar phrase explains why so many other kinky Americans have also felt immediately comfortable with “safe, sane, and consensual S/M,” which still isn’t nearly as popular in Europe or elsewhere as it is in the U.S. even aside from the issue of language.

SPREADING LIKE WILDFIRE
Clearly, GMSMA’s use and dissemination of the phrase through the mid-1980s laid the groundwork for its later explosive spread. And the fuse was lit when the Community Involvement Committee (GMSMA’s political arm), chaired by Barry Douglas, decided in late 1986 to use a streamlined form of it as the slogan for the S/M-Leather Contingent in the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights (it didn’t become the S/M-Leather-Fetish Contingent until the 1993 March on Washington). Barry is also no longer with us, but i was a member of that committee, too, and when we commissioned a 20-foot-wide banner for the march bearing the words “Safe Sane Consensual,” the bomb was set. It didn’t hurt, either, that they also appeared on the T-shirts produced for the event or that for the entire day before the march the same banner hung across the stately portico of the government building on Constitution Avenue that hosted the contingent’s huge S/M-Leather Conference. That weekend thousands of men and women from all over the U.S. and many foreign countries read those words, identified with them, and took the memory of them back to their local communities. The rest is history — and commentary. Let me give a little of both. GMSMA’s Community Involvement Committee chose “safe sane consensual” as the slogan for the contingent and the conference because we felt these words were the best sound bite to distinguish the kind of sexual expression we were marching in support of from the typical association of S/M with harmful, antisocial, predatory behavior. While no one at our meetings felt that “safe sane consensual” was the last word on the subject, or that it “defined” S/M, we felt it did the job that needed done: to say to anyone coming to us with a stereotypically negative view based on lurid headlines and exploitative movies (we all remembered Cruising), “That’s not what we’re about.” We had no idea the slogan would have the success it did, or that so many people would take it as more than a starting point. But if it hadn’t been spontaneously embraced by so many people, because they felt it fit what they were doing, or wanted to do, it wouldn’t have had such “legs.” There was no way that GMSMA, or anyone else, could have imposed the slogan on the community if most people hadn’t liked it.

MISUSE OF A SLOGAN
The understandable popularity of the slogan has a downside, however. Those with few or no roots in the struggle to bring S/M out of the shadows — who take for granted today’s world of BDSM clubs in every large town and kinky images all over the mass media — tend to apply the slogan in a simplistic way, even using it as a stick to beat anyone whose style of play offends them for whatever reason. The implication is that whatever is safe, sane, and consensual is good, and whatever isn’t is bad, which goes far beyond what we intended back in 1987. In 1987, we were trying to draw a line between what is clearly defensible, in terms of both social structures and personal well-being, and what is either indefensible or at least very questionable. It was a conscious, deliberate attempt to shift the debate onto grounds where we thought we could win, instead of having to keep proving we weren’t serial killers, spouse beaters, and child abusers. Of course, the morality of such a strategy depends on who is left out. The organized gay-rights movement has been accused many a time of marginalizing those who don’t fit a “respectable” or “straight-acting” image, and in some cases that’s a fair objection. But when it came to choosing a slogan for the S/M-Leather Contingent in the 1987 march, that wasn’t our intention. People who rejected “safe sane consensual” principles weren’t exactly clamoring to join our organizations or march in our parades. Such people, we thought, tended to be loners and to exclude themselves by crossing any line that anyone else draws; they thrive in the shadows, not the light. Of course, once an idea is reduced to a slogan that fits on buttons, T-shirts, and bumper stickers, no one can control its meaning. Each person who sees it interprets it with whatever prejudices and preconceptions he or she brings to it. While it’s evident that thousands of people have taken “safe sane consensual” as a welcome validation for a type of sexuality still considered “sick” or “crazy” by much of our society, others read it as devaluing their own “edgeplay” in favor of cautious, conventional, and completely scripted sex games. Sometime after the 1987 march, at least one prominent member of the S/M community was seen wearing a T-shirt emblazoned “Unsafe Insane Nonconsensual,” and i have seen that phrase used elsewhere. i have also heard and read more thoughtful criticisms of the slogan. The more popular and widespread it has become, the more common it is to see it angrily rejected as either trivially empty, too far removed from what makes BDSM exciting and meaningful, or else menacingly intrusive — representing yet another attempt to force individual styles of living and loving into a boring conformity. Which is it? Both? Neither?

CONTEXT IS THE KEY
Let’s return to the origin and look at the full statement of purpose GMSMA adopted in 1983:

“GMSMA is a not-for-profit organization of gay males in the New York City area who are seriously interested in safe, sane, and consensual S/M. Our purpose is to help create a more supportive S/M community for gay males, whether they desire a total lifestyle or an occasional adventure, whether they are just coming out into S/M or are long

“Our regular meetings and other activities attempt to build a sense of community by exploring common feelings and concerns. We aim to raise awareness about issues of safety and responsibility, to recover elements of our tradition, and to disseminate the best available medical and technical information about S/M practices. We seek to establish a recognized political presence in the wider gay community in order to combat the prevailing stereotypes and misconceptions about S/M while working with others for the common goals of gay liberation.”

Note that this first use of “safe, sane, and consensual” occurred in a context that also included concepts like community, responsibility, tradition, education, and gay liberation. Moreover, the rubric “safe, sane, and consensual” itself was explicitly presented as embracing all degrees of commitment, from “a total lifestyle” to “an occasional adventure,” as well as S/M practitioners ranging from novices to veterans. In other words, the strategy was not to try to redefine “S/M” itself as inherently “safe, sane, and consensual,” something that seems all too common today. Neither those of us who drafted the statement nor GMSMA’s board were that naive. We knew that the full range of real-life S/M — briefly defined as sexual arousal or gratification through the infliction or suffering of pain, bondage, or humiliation — can embrace much that is unsafe, insane, and nonconsensual by anyone’s standards. S/M involves powerful emotions and intense vulnerability, and it can be scary stuff. This must not be forgotten or swept under the rug in the quest for social acceptance. The “dark side” of S/M — the injuries, the abuse, the exploitation, the violence — was well known to us back in the early 1980s because we were still close to it. We hadn’t already had two decades of S/M education and activism, which sometimes have the effect of making it seem like a flogging, tit piercing, or mummification are routine activities for a first date. We all knew about bottoms who’d been traumatized, or tops who’d gone berserk and sent someone to the hospital. The emerging iconography of S/M in Drummer magazine and elsewhere was very edgy, very “noncon.” In the early 1980s, as again today in certain circles, being known as “dangerous” was more of a badge of honor than a liability. Knowledge of S/M’s potential for harm was one of the chief things that led us to form GMSMA in the first place. The organization was intended to shine a light into some very dark corners. Therefore, rather than saying, “This is what S/M is, and it’s okay, nothing to be worried about,” the GMSMA statement of purpose said, in effect, “This is the kind of S/M we stand for and support. S/M can be damaging, crazy, or coercive, but it doesn’t have to be, and together we’re going to learn how to tell the difference.” If someone was deliberately careless or irresponsible, or broke agreements about limits, we didn’t say, “He’s not doing S/M” but rather, “He’s not doing the kind of S/M we can support.”

DEFINING ISSUES
As an organization, GMSMA never tried to officially define “safe,” “sane,” or “consensual.” From the beginning, we knew that beyond the obvious applications of these terms, there are vast gray areas. Moreover, we knew that “safety,” especially, differed from one individual to another. A maneuver that’s perfectly safe for one gymnast or ice skater to perform could easily lead to a broken neck for another. A flogging that one bottom finds pleasurably exciting might leave another with serious damage. A session of rigid bondage and sensory deprivation that leads to fulfillment and ecstasy for one person might send another into a psychotic breakdown. A year as a 24/7 slave might be the peak experience of a lifetime for me, yet cause you to have an emotional collapse. Go back to the full statement, where it says, “We aim to raise awareness about issues of safety and responsibility . . . and to disseminate the best available medical and technical information about S/M practices.” That’s the context in which the “safe” in “safe, sane, and consensual” has to be understood: being responsible, being aware, doing your homework, taking precautions — that’s what we meant by “safe.” We did not mean, back in 1983 or 1987, to promote only G-rated S/M, a lowest common denominator that restricts people’s play to a risk-free sandbox where pain isn’t really painful, bondage isn’t really constraining, and dominance is being ordered to do only what you want to do anyway. We left “sane” and “consensual” much vaguer, “sane” because it’s pretty vague to begin with once you get past the obvious meaning — able to distinguish fantasy from reality — and “consensual” because we didn’t realize how tricky it is. We didn’t have the benefit of today’s more nuanced perspective, which has developed from a couple of decades of rising awareness of just how hard it can be to leave an abusive spouse. We did not discuss, back then, whether consent was something you could give once and for all, or if it had to be renewed continuously. The distinction we were trying to draw was much simpler: between, on one hand, the kind of controlled bondage, torture, and dominance that bottoms willingly seek out from cooperative partners and, on the other hand, the kind that predators and sociopaths impose on unwilling victims (it doesn’t help that coercive S/M is far more common in our own erotica as well as in sensationalistic journalism). It took another decade and a half for people to start talking openly about the puzzles of “consensual nonconsensuality” — but would these debates even occur if we didn’t agree that S/M should be consensual in the first place?

FREEDOM FROM FEAR
Just as in the GMSMA statement, Tony DeBlase’s CHC article from 1981 surrounds the now-familiar terms “safe,” “sane,” and “consensual” with other concepts — education, participation, communication, responsibility, community — that provide a context for interpreting them. i am especially struck by the clause, “Responsible S&M has become more popular and less feared in the gay community . . . .” That the “safe, sane, and consensual” slogan was coined at a time when S/M was becoming “less feared” is one of the keys to this whole history. For most people in my generation and earlier, the practices and images of S/M were very scary. And taking the first steps toward realizing our fantasies of pain, bondage, dominance, or humiliation — from either side, top or bottom — was even scarier. But from the late 1970s (when the original “old guard” began dying off, though that’s another story) to now, S/M has grown progressively less scary, to the point that many teenagers today are more familiar with what goes on in our subculture than most adults were back in the 1950s. Why? Madonna and Trent Reznor can’t take all of the credit! These and other “mainstream” artists would not have been able to exploit such themes, i think, without the increasing visibility of an S/M community that promotes responsible, ethical practices, thus raising the comfort level for everyone, whether kinky or vanilla. Coming out into S/M through our community today is infinitely less scary than doing so in isolation, or with no resources except the bars, baths, backrooms, sex clubs, and porn magazines to guide you. In contrast, when i first realized back in the 1960s what made my dick hard, i was terrified. i obsessed about the horrible things that could happen to me if i ever gave in to my masochistic and submissive urges and put myself in the hands of a dominant, sadistic man. i read William Carney’s novel The Real Thing and was sure i’d end up on a slab in the morgue if i took the first step down that slippery slope. By the time i moved to New York in 1977, still a virgin in every sense of the term, i knew that leather bars existed and that some of the scenes portrayed in Drummer weren’t totally fictional, but i was still worried that i would be damaged irreparably if i allowed a man to use me and hurt me in the ways i also knew i needed. “Fear is the mind-killer,” they say in Frank Herbert’s novel Dune, and mine took a long time to fade. But it probably also kept me alive by making me think early and often about risk-reduction strategies. And when i joined with others at the end of 1980 to create GMSMA, i finally made contact with enough men committed to doing S/M in a nondestructive way that i was able to overcome my fears and begin participating actively. That’s the historical and personal context in which “safe sane consensual” emerged: overcoming fear, shame, and silence to learn what we need to know to make our own choices. On the whole, i think the phrase has served us well — and it can continue to do so if we don’t try to make it do jobs it was never designed for. Chanting “safe sane consensual” like a mantra can’t save you from a bad scene or a bad relationship, and it can’t replace the years of study and practice that guide an experienced top or bottom, dominant or submissive through the maze of choices both must confront. While “safe, sane, and consensual” may suggest the outlines of an S/M ethics, actually articulating one will take a lot more work than coining a useful slogan. But it’s a start.
<end>

***The final version of the essay is available on slave david’s site as a downloadable PDF: go to <a title=”http://www.lthredge.com/ href=”http://www.lthredge.com/”>www.lthredge.com/. That version corrects some errors in the version here  have as well as representing some changes in my his view of SSC and its (ab)uses.  

Origins of “Sadomasochism”

Origins of the term “sadomasochism”

The word sadomasochism was coined in 1922 by combining the words sadism and masochism. It means:

the derivation of pleasure from the infliction of physical or mental pain either on others or on oneself.

Marquis de Sade 

The word sadism is derived from de Sade’s name.  Born in Paris on June 2,1740, the Marquis de Sade’s full name was Donatien Alphonse François, comte de Sade.  This French author was best known for his erotic works which  were predominantly written while imprisoned (off and on for almost 30 years of his adult life).  In 1803 he was confined to the insane asylum, Charenton, until his death on December 2, 1814. Because he regarded criminal and sexually deviant acts as natural, his novels were banned into the 20th century.

Richard von Krafft-Ebing

 Born on August 14, 1840 in Mannheim, Germany, this noted physician and neurologist was recognized as an authority on deviant sexual behavior.   Krafft-Ebing, a pioneering professor of sexual psychopathology, helped to advance psychology as a clinical science. He first coined the term masochist, inspired by the life of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. He did not see the terms sadism and masochism as compliments as they are commonly thought of today. Sadists were sexually aroused by inflicting pain on others or themselves. Masochists, on the other hand, were aroused by fantasies of being controlled, dominated and humiliated.  His most noted work is Psychopathia sexualis (1886, tr. 1892).  Krafft-Ebing died in Austria on December 22, 1902.

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was born in Lemberg, Austria (now the Ukraine) in 1836.  This Austrian writer was best known for his novel “Venus in Furs” (1931, originally written in German in 1874).  As in all his books, this novel detailed his obsession with masochistic fantasies.  Venus is supposedly a true story.  Sacher-Mashoch died in Austria in 1895.  His name and life was the inspiration for the term masochist.

The Oral History Project

The Oral History Project

The Oral History project involves the taping, transcribing, indexing and filing of interviews with long time participants or important individuals in the leather community. The transcribed histories form one of the most important information sources in the LA&M’s developing collections. Identifying oral history subjects, arranging the interviews, typing them out and indexing them is an area where volunteers are always needed. Joe Gallagher is currently working on an Oral History video project with members of the Satyrs and Oedipus clubs in California. Many other projects must be undertaken soon if we are not to lose the firsthand stories of the beginning of the leather world as we know it. 

If you know someone who you think should have their oral history recorded for the LA&M or if you would like to volunteer to work with this project, please contact LA&M Director Rick Storer at .

A few Oral Histories are available for your viewing at the Leather Archives and Museum. Combined with all the others in the archives they tell the history of our community. The Oral Histories available here are most interesting and we will be adding more in the near future.

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/Post-WWII

  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.

bulldawg
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

The Myth of the Old Guard

by , author of The Master’s Manual

A recent question on one of the newslists had to do with smoking cigarettes at dungeon parties. The writer began her question with a reference to the Old Guard/New Guard dilemma.

Things have changed in fifty years, that’s for sure, but I’m not sure that things have changed as much as most “young” Leatherfolk think.

I’ll start off by saying that there’s a good chance that most of you think that I am “Old Guard.” My age and my salt and pepper hair make me look that way and the proliferation of my writing (thank the gods) makes it seem that way.

The truth is that I am a relative late-comer to Leather, having had my first “rough” sex about twenty years ago. Even at that, I’m not sure that I met that many Old Guarders in the early eighties. After all, no one ever walked up to me and said “Hi, I’m a member of the Old Guard.”

I know several people now who may be thought of as in the Old Guard, but I bet they don’t think of themselves that way. The oral history work I did with the Leather Archives gave me a great opportunity to talk with many men and woman who remember the old days. It is from my experiences and those conversations that I am drawing these reflections.

All that is to say that I don’t think of myself as a member of the Old Guard. I do, however, admit to thinking like a member of the Old Guard (whatever that is) when it comes to Leather.

If I’m going to make any point in today’s rambling, it’s going to be that there never was, and never will be, an Old Guard.

For starters, try and date the time of the Old Guard. Was there an Old Guard in 1949? I doubt it. The rough sex sub-culture was hardly a culture at the time and even though SM had been practiced for millennia, it was hardly noticed by the rest of society and was probably more closely aligned with profession dominatrices than with Gay men.

So shall we date it from 1952? Probably not, as no one is going to say that one movie, “The Wild Ones,” created a group called the Old Guard.

So was it the sixties? Maybe. But if there were an Old Guard in the sixties, they were young and new at it and feeling their way through a hell of a lot of issues. Even if they were the men and women who were to become the Old Guard, they certainly weren’t the Old Guard then.

By the late seventies Leather was alive and well and filled with newly created traditions and a relatively short history. After all, twenty years in the life of the human race isn’t much more than a blink.

Was there an Old Guard then? I doubt it.

And for my doubt I have some very reliable sources. The most reliable is an original copy of Larry Townsend’s “The Leatherman’s Handbook.” First published in 1972, those pages have a memory much better than anyone around to talk about “the good old days.”

In this book, there’s no mention at all of an Old Guard nor of requirements placed on fellow Leatherfolk by the Old Guard.

A case in point: A recent slave applicant and I had a conversation about “slavese.” For those unfamiliar with the term, it is the requirement that a slave always refer to him or herself in the third person, thereby never using the word “I,” or any other first person pronoun, for that matter. The result is that you get horribly convoluted sentences such as “Sir, this slave, Sir, requests permission for this slave to use the bathroom, Sir.”

Well, there is no way in Hell that such a requirement has anything to do with Old Guard. You can read the Handbook, for instance, all you want and you’ll find only few references to slaves and certainly no reference at all to “slavese.” You see, a person into Leather in the those days was called an “S” or an “M,” which stood for sadist and masochist and had little or nothing to do with dominance or submission.

Even the words top and bottom are rare in the Handbook, as they were rare in the seventies.

Thirty years ago, or even fifty for that matter, the Old Guard wouldn’t have had a discussion about cigarette smoke either. Groups may have but the Old Guard wouldn’t. The whole notion of smoking being permitted or not, you see, has nothing to do with Leather. That, of course, is the crux of the whole dialogue.

Most of what people want to foist on the topic of Leather has to do with being human, not with being sexual, sadistic, or kinky.

When I was a kid, and here I admit to sounding like my Dad, smokers were considerate of the places where they smoked. They asked their hosts if smoking were permitted. It wasn’t a matter of Leather protocol, it was a matter of manners.

It wouldn’t have been a matter of using slavese. It would have been a matter of using good grammar. The examples can go on and on.

Do you think, after all, that the “founders” of Leather sat around inventing a hanky code?

Sure someone sat down one day and compiled this long list of colors and meanings, but I bet that by the time that happened, the list was more tongue in cheek than color in the pocket!

Life is never as pre-calculated as “historians” want us to believe. Human culture grows by ebbs and flows, by trial and error, by ideas rejected as well as accepted.

Groups have more or less formality, greater or lesser structure, few or many guidelines. In the long run, life, and hence living groups, are evolutionary, developing style and tradition, manners and mores, by what is seen as necessary, expedient, profitable, or convenient.

That’s not to say that one “Master” won’t do it one way and another quite differently. One may line up “slave protocols” ad nauseam and the other may quite firmly demand that everything be loose and laid back.

Last week at the Eagle, while the writing of this column was still in its germinal state, I asked Chuck Renslow about the Old Guard.

As our conversation meandered, he reminded me of the terms “S” and “M” and how there were all those difficulties and arguments and human foibles then as there are now. Eventually he reminded me that Leather isn’t a lifestyle. “We can only ‘do Leather’ so many hours a week,” he noted, “and then we have the rest of our lives the way everyone else does.”

Going to work and doing chores and paying bills, eating and sleeping and studying are all parts of lifestyle.

Most of what Leatherfolk call “Our Lifestyle,” after all, has to do with being polite, careful, supportive, with having manners and common sense. There are, certainly, aspects of Leather that differ from other subcultures and those differences are to be cherished, honored, and, most importantly, enjoyed, but when it really comes down to Old and New, Father Alliot’s dictum, which I first heard from him in 1966 holds true: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

So if anyone tells you about the “Old Guard,” refer them to Larry’s paragraph on page 15 of the original Leatherman’s Handbook: “All through this Handbook I will be at great pains to point out that much of what I have to say is opinion… Your reaction may be entirely different, and your desires may exceed or fall far short of the action I describe. This is exactly how it should be. No one — Larry Townsend or anyone else — can even begin to set the standards for your sexual needs and/or behavior.”

That I think is precisely the Old Guard’s view of the Old Guard.

Copyright 1999 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied in any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay, contact

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

An Essay about “The Old Days”

By


For some time now, and in particular within the last year or so, a number of assertions about so-called “Old Guard” traditions, customs, and teachings have come to my attention.  Many of these assertions have caused me to roll my eyes and utter a world-weary sigh.  I’ll also confess that I’ve been having a bit of satirical fun in this regard (as if I could deny that).  Hopefully, nobody has taken serious, lasting offense.

I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll briefly mention it again now, I see the “Old Guard” being romanticized and idealized in a manner similar to how the cowboys of the Old West were romanticized and idealized.  Sadly, the reason for this is largely identical — all too many of the people who could set the record straight are dead.

One of my slaves recently remarked to me that people, particularly disenfranchised people (such as we sadomasochists) want to have a history, and if such people don’t have such a history then they will create one and proceed to set about convincing themselves that it’s true.  I believe I see more than traces of that going on regarding “the Old Guard.”

Therefore, before these rapidly fading brain cells of mine deteriorate too much further, let me see if I can contribute something that might actually be at least slightly useful.

To paraphrase a line from a current movie: “What do I know for sure?”  In other words, what do I know because I actually witnessed it, rather than because somebody told it to me?  (By the way, I would suggest avoiding making any strong assertions about the teachings, traditions, and customs of the “Old Guard” until you can cite at least two, and preferably at least three, independent sources for your information — all of which are willing to be named.  Some of the people that I personally know well enough to consider credible on this topic include Race Bannon, Guy Baldwin, Joseph Bean, Tony DeBlase, Peter Fisk, Dossie Easton, Pat Califia, Alan Selby, and Gayle Rubin.)

By the way, there is a good general recommendation that if you want information about anything in SM, you should get your information from a variety of sources. Nowadays, I consider this recommendation to be especially true regarding the supposed “Old Guard” traditions.  The truth will survive being cross-checked.

Well, anyway, here are a few of my thoughts about what it was like “back then”:

I first came into the SM community in 1975, when I — very nervously — started attending functions at Backdrop.  I attended my first Janus function in either 1977 or 1978.  (I forget which.)  I have been told by sources I definitely consider credible that Backdrop was actually started (possibly under the name of The Menlo Park School of Bondage) by Robin Roberts in 1968.  The store currently known as “A Taste of Leather” was, I believe, started in 1967.  San Francisco Sex Information (SFSI) was started in, if memory serves, 1972.

By the way, I believe that one could make a very strong case that Robin Roberts is the father of the “relatively het” portion of the Bay Area BDSM community.  Many of the current senior prodommes, and a number of the people who went on to become founders of SM organizations got our “basic training” from Robin.  To this day, he doesn’t get the respect and recognition he deserves for doing that.

My good friend Bill Burns started the female-dominant organization called the Service of Mankind Church in 1977.  I started the male-dominant organization called the Gemini Society in 1978.  (Back in those days, a lot of submissive men did not want to be “in role” if any dominant men were present, so at the mixed-energy parties that Backdrop gave the male-top folks would often be in one area and the female-top folks would often be way off in another area.)

So what do I remember about those days?

Well, IMO, probably the most important thing to remember about those days is that SM was a LOT more taboo and vilified than it is now.  Please remember that back in those days “simply” being gay was considered evidence of being mentally ill.  Being into SM was widely considered to be evidence of being even more mentally ill.  For example, in one police training manual published in, if memory serves, 1972 advises the officers in training that a person who was found in possession of sadomasochistic pictures “should be arrested under any pretext whatsoever.” A popular sex book called “The Sensuous Woman” advised its readers that if a potential lover wanted to play with whips and chains the best thing to do was (a) refuse and (b) to urge this person to seek professional help. A book on sadomasochism that I looked over in a college library contained numerous pictures of things like murdered women’s corpses with over a hundred stab wounds in them.

Thus, while there was some discussion about matters such as what a collar meant, who should stand where in relationship to who, what was a good way to whip or bind, and so forth, we spent _much_ more time trying to reassure newbies that they weren’t necessarily sick or crazy.  It was _the_ major issue.  (The good news  was that the “free love” sexual revolution was in progress; the bad news was that it wasn’t including sadomasochism.)

If you want to get a hint about how we sadomasochists were regarded back then, imagine what popular reaction would be today towards people who were members of a group which advocated that sex between blood relatives — mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, etc. was OK as long as everyone consented.

You can get another good hint of how negatively we were regarded back then by reading the first edition of “Coming to Power.”  The section on the negotiations between the women’s SM group called The Outcasts and the people who managed the Women’s Building so that The Outcasts could meet there is particularly illuminating.  References to how the SM contingent was regarded in the Gay Freedom Day Parade are also illuminating.  Sadomasochists were frequently only slightly less unwelcome than NAMBLA (basically, the pedophile crowd).

So, point number one, IMO the most important thing to understand about “back then” is that SM was a lot more taboo and vilified than it is now.  A _whole_ lot more.

A subpoint of the above is that, because SM was so much more negatively viewed back then, it took IMO a lot more courage to contact the community than it does today, and even more courage to do something like start a club or be an SM club officer.  Please remember, in those days the entire “establishment” was asserting that wanting to engage in SM, specifically including consensual SM, was evidence of a fairly serious mental illness.  It took a lot of just plain raw guts to be able to stand up to them and say, “No!  You are wrong!”  If for no other reason, those early pioneers deserve a lot of respect for having had the bravery to show up at all.

Another subpoint: 1973 was “International Women’s Year” and the feminist vibes was very strong back then.  Among other things, that was roughly when N.O.W. took its anti-SM position — a position that only now is coming under challenge.   Thus, women who wanted to take the submissive role had to face even more negativity than sadomasochists in general had to face.

A final subpoint to the above is that any “Old Guard” which existed at the time did not widely see itself as such.  Instead, they were more like, as the song lyric goes “just a bunch of people, doin’ the best they could.”

Point Number Two would be that the community, such as it was, was much, much smaller than it is now.  It was considerably harder to find kindred spirits. Subpoint:  the main reason why what we are currently calling the mentoring system existed back then was largely because there was no alternative.  You couldn’t send someone seeking knowledge to places such as Janus, QSM, or Differences for the very good reason that they didn’t exist.

Point Number Three would be that we didn’t know as much as we do now.  Many of the things being taught today were being painfully learned, mostly by trial and error, back then.  Also, because SM people (calling what existed back then a community is something of a stretch) were a lot more isolated from one another and more underground, it was much harder to find good teachers, credible books, and other useful information. (This high degree of isolation and fragmentation are the main reasons why I view with a very dubious eye any assertion that the “Old Guard” teachings were a unified, widely agreed upon, body.  If there was a, so to speak, “Ten Commandments of SM” I never heard of it.)

Regarding “Old Guard” teachings and customs:  When I started going to Janus events (which at the time consisted of one event a month), it was about 85% gay men, about 13% lesbians, with literally a sprinkling of hetfolk like me.  Among other things, it meant that “we” had to be careful about what we did and said.  While “on paper” Janus was a pansexual organization (I don’t think that the word pansexual was in widespread use at the time), in reality it had a very strong gay male leatherman atmosphere.  Thus, being low-profile, relatively quiet, and courteous was a distinctly good idea if you were het.

Even in that atmosphere, there was something of a divide among the gay leathermen between the “highly ritualized” leathermen and the “California casual” leathermen.  Interestingly enough, one of the items that was the subject of ongoing and vigorous debate at the time was whether or not it was proper for a bottom to initiate a conversation with a top.  If memory serves, no consensus was ever reached.

(My personal “lowest common denominator” definition of BDSM is “ritualized sexual aggression and submission.” I notice that, then as now, some of us want significantly more ritual associated with our BDSM than others want.  I personally, as many of you know, definitely lean more towards the “California casual” end of the spectrum.  I also notice that the “ritual” folks sometimes regard the “casual” folks as not treating SM with the respect it deserves, and that the “casual” folks sometimes regard the “ritual” folks as taking both themselves and SM with much more seriousness than necessary.)

Regarding the assertion that “people who didn’t follow the Old Guard teaching were excluded from the community” — that ain’t exactly how I remember it. What I remember is that, then as now, if someone was considered to be dangerous, people would warn others about them.  Also, then as now, this warning process, while usually well-intentioned, lacked any shred of objectivity or due process.  Then as now, abuses of this process, such as malicious warnings, sometimes occurred.  I also remember that, then as now, people who were considered desirable and popular could repeatedly get away with things that would have gotten a less desirable, more unpopular person quickly shunned.

There was a sort of general saying that it was better to start out in the submissive or bottom role, but that was not universally agreed upon.  I remember one person making this assertion at a Janus program sometime around 1980, and a large, butch-looking leatherman replied with a loudly uttered “Bullshit!” Nobody raced to disagree with him.

My final point is often-not-subtle implication that these supposed “Old Guard” teachings are somehow better than the “regular” teachings.  This always makes me scratch my head a bit.  Was there some kind of “post Old Guard” decline in SM teachings, traditions, customs, and so forth that I failed to notice?  When did “the ‘hood” go into decline? (Some old-timers would say, privately, that “the ‘hood” went into decline when all those damned hets started coming around.  I’ve heard this lament from more than one old-timer who felt that I wasn’t like “the rest of them.”)

So that’s about it. To recap my main points:

1. SM was a lot more taboo and widely condemned than it is now. (Het women who wanted to take the submissive role faced particularly strong condemnation.)

2. The SM “community” — such as it was — was much smaller and more underground than it is now, and the different groups tended to be smaller and more isolated than they are now.

3. We didn’t know as much as we do now, and what knowledge did exist was harder to find — other than by personal trial and error.  Almost all of the books, clubs, and so forth that exist today didn’t exist back then.

4. The main “teaching” of the time was that being interested in SM wasn’t in and of itself proof that someone was seriously mentally ill.

5.  Then, as now, other than, “yeah, SM needs to be consensual or, at the very least, not distinctly nonconsensual” there was a wide spectrum of opinion and a lot of debate about almost all SM-related technical and interpersonal matters.

As the song lyrics go:

He said “They was just a bunch of people,
doin’ the best they could.
Yeah, they was just a bunch of people,
doin’ the best they could,”
and then he said that they did it
“pretty up and walkin’ good.”
—  Jim Croce (I think)

copyright , All rights reserved.

Flogging In History

by Che

“The beautiful woman bent on her adorer a strange look from her green eyes, icy and devouring, then she crossed the room, slowly donned a splendid loose coat of red satin, richly trimmed with princely ermine, and took from her dressing table a long thong attached to a short handle, with which she was wont to punish her great mastiff. ‘You want it,’ she said. ‘Then I will whip you.’ Still on his knees, ‘Whip me,’ cried her lover. ‘I implore you!'”

~Sacher-Masoch~   ‘Venus in Furs’

The flogger, in various forms, has played a surprisingly vital role in shaping the history of mankind. Throughout the centuries, our ancestors have incorporated it not only into their sexual practices, but into their spiritual, judicial and even medical practices as well.

Flagellation in the name of a god is far from being a rare thing. Nearly all of the mother religions, the ancient mystery cults of the great Mediterranean civilizations of Greece, Egypt, Rome and Persia, and even the religions of Islam and Christianity have, at some point in history, incorporated flagellation into their spiritual rites and practices. 

In pagan Sparta, for instance, each year, during a festival called ‘Day of Flagellations’, young men were brought before an altar dedicated to the goddess Diana where they were whipped for from dusk to dawn. People would turn out from all over the countryside to view the whippings and to cheer and encourage the boys to ‘bear the pain with fortitude.’ Priests, who would bear witness to the entire ceremony, would, at the end of the day, examine the wounds on each of the boys, and, according to the sizes and shapes of the wounds, would predict the young men’s futures. I might also mention, that it was not uncommon for some of the boys to die from the terrible wounds inflicted upon them during this ceremony, often without ever having uttered a sound. 

Syrian priest, like countless other religious leaders, believed that the gods could be appeased by the use of scourges and would spend hours whipping themselves profusely with an instrument made of twisted woolen cords armed with small bones. And, even today, Shiite Muslims indulge in the practice of public self-flagellation. 

The Church adopted it’s use of the scourge from a tribe of monastics who settled in small communities in the Egyptian Desert in the year 381 AD. These ‘desert fathers’, who believed that any sort of physical pleasure was sinful, were avid practitioners of self-flagellation. They were of the opinion that pain and discomfort blunted cravings for the sensual pleasures of the flesh and proved the insignificance of the body. Following their lead, the Church, even in it’s earliest ages embraced the practice of flagellation, both self inflicted and otherwise. Indeed, the tales of flogging within the church are numerous. Take the Pazzi, St. Rose, for instance, who would often run out into the rose garden and roll around on the thorns, after which she would race back into the convent and demand to be tied up and beaten. 

By the eleventh century, the Church had even begun promoting flagellation as a form of penitence for it’s parishioners, much like the modern day ‘Hail Mary’ (and doled out equally as often). In the twelfth century, St. Dominic Loricatus (who carried his scourge with him everywhere and flogged himself every night at bedtime, where ever he might be) even established a scale of equivalents, 1,000 lashes being considered as the equivalent of the reciting of ten penitential psalms. The priests would usually do the whipping themselves, in a place attached to the church, with the penitent, more often than not, being entirely nude. And, I might mention, there are a great number of tales of confessors making use of their powers of absolution to force their parishioners to beat ‘them’. 

Now, I should say that the Church neither promoted nor regarded flogging as a sensual act, though the numerous stories of and the zeal in which these floggings were given and received causes one to believe that the participants derived at least some pleasure from the act. 

In Spain, young men imparted a tone of gallantry to their discipline, by flogging themselves beneath their beloved’s window. The young lady would then reward her suitor by lifting her veil for a brief moment. 

Flagellation for punishment’s sake has been practiced throughout the world. In ancient Rome, judges would decorate the walls of their courtrooms with various types of scourges in order to strike fear into the hearts of criminals, many of whom would be ordered to endure whippings of such severity that more than just a few of them died from the wounds inflicted upon them; Austrian soldiers who misbehaved were made to run the terrible gauntlet; Russia has the knout; China still has the great bamboo; Turkey governs with the stick; the Siamese have their nightly birches; and, in Africa, there is ‘mumbo jumbo’. 

English schoolmasters learned to use the rod upon the backs of their students at a very early period in history. In fact, flogging is still common practice in many English schools even today. One schoolmaster, in the course of fifty years, administered to his pupils nearly half a million canings and twenty-four thousand floggings. 

Flogging has also been reputed to have a good amount of medicinal value as well. At various times throughout history, it has been promoted as a way of ‘stirring up the body’s stagnating juices, dissolving the precipitating salts, purifying the coagulating humours of the body, clearing the brain, purging the belly, circulating the blood and bracing the nerves.’ It has been used as a treatment for insanity, laziness, depression, obstruction of the bowels and even for lockjaw and choking. And, during the years 1348-1349, when the Black Death was sweeping through Western Europe, it was promoted as both a preventative and a cure for the plague. 

Though sexual sado-masochism has been practiced since ancient times, the first known written account was published, in the fifteenth century, by an Italian man named Pico della Mirandola. He told of a man who could only enjoy sex if he had first been beaten to the point of bleeding with a whip which had first been soaked in vinegar. (Ouch!) 

The first overtly pornographic work on the subject of flagellation was published in the year 1718, and was entitled ‘A Treatise on the Use of Flogging’. With the appearance of this book, flagellation became a passion throughout Europe, so much so that the French soon dubbed it ‘le vice anglais,’ the English vice, a nickname which would stick for centuries. 

By the late 1700’s, dozens of brothels, dedicated exclusively to the practice of flagellation, were erected throughout Europe, and, I might mention, enjoyed a huge success. In fact, one of these establishments, owned by a Mrs. Colet, was so popular that even King George IV made a well-known royal visit. Another madam, Mrs. Theresa Berkley (who, in the year 1828, invented a spanking bench known as the Berkley Horse or Chavelet), made the equivalent of $20,000 American dollars during the eight years in which she operated her flagellatory brothel, quite a substantial amount for her time. 

Also during this period, a man by the name of Chase Pine invented a machine which was capable of whipping up to forty persons simultaneously. (Personally, I think that this one lacks one of the most important ingredients of a good scene…the human touch.) 

There are many tales of flogging amongst the ranks of nobility, including kings and queens. Among these tales is one of a certain nobleman who lived during the reign of King George II. This masochistic gentleman rented a house in St. James’ Place and hired an attractive, elderly woman as his housekeeper. One day each week, she had been instructed to lay out scrub brushes, mops, cleansers, and every other item necessary to clean a room, and to engage two women to meet him there on that day: one of these women was to ‘role play’ a housekeeper and the other a chambermaid. The nobleman would then dress himself up as a parish girl and begin scrubbing the room. Afterwards, either one or both of the women would scold for doing a poor job and then whip him, just as many parish girls were, in those days, whipped by their mistresses. 

And then there is the tale of Queen Catherine de’ Medicis who would place her maids of honour over her knees and whip them like little children. Even ladies of quality, living at court, were not exempt from this same type of chastisement, when they were naughty, whether they were in the immediate suite of the Queen or not, and pages often found themselves upon the whipping block as well. 

Now, the flogger you see today is much different than the ones our ancestors used. In fact, often they would make due with whatever they could find at hand, be it a bundle of rods or switches, leather thongs, or any of a countless variety of other items. 

There is little doubt that the scourge has played, and continues to play, more than just a passing role in the shaping of the history, and the future, of mankind. Even today, may people still find pleasure at the business end of the scourge. It is regarded among practitioners of BDSM to be a tool of sensuality…an instrument of passion and affection. I won’t attempt, in this article, to explain our reasons for our love of the scourge, that topic, at the very least, deserves an article all it’s own. Just know that present day D&Ser’s use their whips with the safety and well being of their partner in the forefront of their mind. We have developed safewords to let us know when our partners limits have been reached and have educated ourselves in ‘safeplay’ practices so that we might be skilled in our whipping and thereby be able to to so without serious injury to our partner(s). 

Needless to say, the little history that I have sited here is far from being complete. I would refer those of you interested in knowing more to the following books: ‘An Illustrated History of the Rod‘ by William M. Cooper, ‘Different Loving‘ by Gloria Brame, William Brame and Joe Jacobs, ‘Sex in History’ by G. Rattray Taylor, and, another book entitled ‘Sex in History‘ by Reay Tannahill. 

S&M Isn’t What It Used to Be

 Sadomasochism Isn’t What It Used to Be or 
Why Would Anyone Participate in S/M

By Keith Kendrick, RN, Ch.

NOTE: Keith Kendrick is a Portland, Oregon Top who wrote the following essay. Pemission to reprint this is freely granted, but please email him at and let him know.

In major American cities today small groups of otherwise relatively normal people get together to discuss, and to a lesser extent practice, S/M. But wait a minute — doesn’t S/M mean one person who enjoys deliberately inflicting pain on another person who, for some reason, likes receiving that pain? 

The answer certainly is yes, but to understand why these people gather to discuss and practice S/M, you first need to understand the difference between the old, traditional mainstream concept of sadism and masochism and the newer concept of S/M that is currently being practiced in a healthy manner. In the old concept, a sadist was usually someone who enjoyed inflicting pain on a person who had not consented to it, and a masochist was someone who felt compelled to experience the pain though it was usually considered “sick” to enjoy it. Furthermore, these participants usually had a significant psychological imbalance or disorder, and their S/M activities quite often could easily cause long term harm, both physically and mentally. 

The people who gather today to form small communities and even clubs devoted to S/M enthusiasts are very different from this old concept. Before discussing this difference though, let’s examine the perception and image of pain. When most people think of pain, they attach very negative connotations to it, and the more negative the connotation, the more likely they are to think the experience of pain is awful. However, in some cultures the stoic endurance of pain has been viewed as a character builder, and consequently in such cultures it is not always thought of as something bad. In a similar vein, in medical “pain clinics” people are taught to change their thinking towards pain so that the “hurt” doesn’t bother them as much. Many of these pain clinic patients also report that as a result of creating a new attitude towards dealing with physical pain, they have made similar attitude changes and corresponding improvements in other aspects of their lives as well. 

Another facet of pain is found in the “runners high,” which also occurs in some other sports activities. In this type of “high,” as a result of exhausting physical exertion people experience muscle pain that causes the body to produce endorphins, which is a natural pain-killing response. Endorphins are similar to morphine and produce pleasurable euphoric feelings. They are also a significant factor in why some people can discover pleasure in feeling pain, but there are other factors as well. 

Now back to the new versus the old concept of S/M. In contrast to the old concept, this new S/M has come to emphasize the motto of “Safe, Sane, and Consensual.” This means that the S/M “play” is done in such a manner that will not cause or transmit any long term physically disabling injury or disease. Foremost is the concern with disabling muscle, skeletal or nerve injury, and the transmission of hepatitis and AIDS’s viruses as well as other diseases. 

Secondly, this means that the S/M play is to be engaged in by participants who are free of significant mental impairment, whether by psychological disturbance or disorder, or by mind-altering substances. 

Then each participant must willingly consent to whatever S/M activity that is performed. If during an S/M “play scene” one person indicates he or she wishes to stop, whether through a prearranged signal or an outright request, then the other person must stop immediately. Of course this requires prior communication–and people who don’t communicate well usually don’t do well in this type of S/M. 

One element of the contemporary S/M scene is also associated with the safe, sane and consensual motto: respect and tolerance for other people. Most people in S/M communities act with respect towards each other even though they may dislike certain aspects of some members– this is what is meant by tolerance. Those who don’t follow this implicit rule are usually quite effectively ostracized from the group. About the only time tolerance is not shown is when someone engages in activities that are not regarded as safe, sane, and consensual, or when someone expresses hate or hostility based on unjust discrimination. 

Something else also occurs due to the growth of S/M communities: their members form close relationships and often these relationships become somewhat spiritual in nature, much as the bonds that develop between “churchgoers” can enrich their spiritual lives. 

Another development in this new S/M is the spiritual growth from an individual perspective, whether from that of the giver (the “top”) or the receiver (the “bottom”). This spiritual development occurs as a result of learning greater self-mastery, either in the sense of developing the ability to administer pain in such a manner that ultimately provides pleasure, or in the sense of learning to approach pain as a challenge to meet and come to enjoy. Sometimes these two perspectives will be combined in one person (who is indeed fortunate) in his or her ability to “switch” between “top” and “bottom” roles. And sometimes the development of this self- mastery becomes a varying combination of artistic and athletic expression, though it usually would be judged extreme by our cultural norms. 

But regardless of whether one is a top, bottom, or switch, the accompanying inner growth brings a sense of satisfaction and sometimes real joy. Then when such personal growth is shared with someone of a similar mind in an S/M play setting, and you know you are enriching the other persons psychic/spiritual life, the energy between the two people is multiplied in a synergistic effect known as a “power exchange.” This synergy is further enhanced when the power exchange takes place among like-minded members of the S/M community. 

There are also other reasons why people are attracted to this relatively new style of S/M. Some people enjoy its rebellious quality of going against society’s taboos and cultural norms. For many the allure of S/M would be significantly reduced if the majority of people were openly practicing it. But there probably isn’t much need to worry about this happening in the near future. And by no means insignificant, the thrill of doing something that goes against cultural norms, as well as the stimulation of pain itself, can cause the body to produce extra adrenaline that can be very exhilarating. 

Furthermore, for many people the practice of this contemporary S/M leads to what many psychologists refer to as “flow.” This is a pleasurable and virtually universally sought after psychological experience in which a person is so immersed in his or her experience that to a great extent the “self” is forgotten and time becomes significantly altered, and the person feels enriched from the experience. This is similar to the flow experience that artists and athletes often experience. And just as extreme sports enthusiasts such as skydivers and motorcycle racers often experience this enriching state of being, so do practitioners of this new blend of art and sport called S/M. 

Though this style of S/M may be an extreme in comparison to most of what society enjoys, rather than being “sick,” as some people who have narrow minds would call it, it can lead to a multifaceted enrichment of one’s spirituality. Lastly though, safe, sane and consensual S/M is simply fun–or at least it should be. If you don’t enjoy it, you shouldn’t be doing it. But if you don’t enjoy it–which is fine, not everyone needs to–please be opened minded enough to allow others the freedom to enrich their lives with it. After all, the individual’s freedom to pursue happiness is the foundation that our country was built on.

Copyright © 2000 by Keith L. Kendrick

Did You Know?

by

First published in England in approximately 1749, “Fanny Hill, the Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure” by John Cleland was the first book censored in the United States in Massachusetts in 1821.

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was a novelist, born in 1836 in Galacia (now Poland). He was a well-known author during his lifetime. His best-known work is “Venus in Furs,” published in 1870, a classic novel detailing his masochist fantasies. What is more amazing is that this novel is the true story of one of von Sacher-Masoch’s escapades.

The Austrian psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing published (in 1886) his “Psychopathia Sexualis,” a collection of case histories documenting strange and unusual sexual practices. These are supposedly symptomatic of certain “sexual diseases of the mind.” Among other things, he introduces the concepts of “sadism” (after the Marquis de Sade) and “masochism” (after the then still living Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch).

From 1893 to 1913, Yva Richard promoted the production and sale of SM and fetish paraphernalia from his salon in Paris. He also sold his wares through mail order.

In 1897, Berlin physician Magnus Hirschfeld founded the “Scientific Humanitarian Committee,” the world’s first “Gay Rights” organization. Its goal was the repeal of the German anti-homosexual law § 175 which punished sexual contact between men. For the committee Hirschfeld edited the “Yearbook for Intermediate Sexual Stages” (1899-1923). In 1914 Hirschfeld published a 1,067 page study on homosexuality.

Magnus Hirschfeld also founded the Institute for Sexology in Berlin in 1919. The Institute combined the world’s first sex counseling center, a museum, a library and an ongoing series of educational events. In 1933, the Nazis plundered and closed his institute and burned his books.

Chicago readers should know that The Society for Human Rights, founded in Chicago by Henry Gerber (1892-1972), probably the first “gay lib” organization in the US, was granted a charter by the Illinois legislature on December 10, 1924.  Together with three “inverted” friends who co-founded the group, Gerber published several issues of Friendship and Freedom, the first American publication for gays, but neither the magazine nor the organization lasted long; within a few months of the society’s incorporation, Chicago police shut them down.  Authorities first learned of the group from the disgruntled wife of one of a Society member when she complained that her husband had sex with men in their home – in front of their children. The charges were spurious, but when the police came to
arrest the accused husband, they discovered papers from the Society, and hauled its founders to jail. Even though Gerber escaped conviction, he lost his job as a post office clerk when his superiors learned of the fracas.

In 1922, Emily Post’s “Etiquette” was published by Funk & Wagnalls Publishing company. For those looking to find a copy of Old Guard protocols, here it is. This tome was given to men and women (among others) who wanted to know how to serve their masters and mistresses in the correct style. Indeed it could be called one of our most-used training manuals.

You could buy all kinds of fetish photographs through ads you would find in London Life magazine (1918-1941). Among the best known fetish photographers of his day was Charles Guyette who ran ads that read like this: “Photographs — Collectors: We have costume studies of all kinds. Lingerie, corsets, high heels, etc. Female boxers and wrestlers in action. Also other types. 5/- per dozen. 30 photos for 10/-.  Send cash or International Postal Order. C. Guyette, 116 East 11 Street, New York City.” It was the “et cetera” and the “other types” that showed bondage, whipping, and kinky play.

On July 4, 1947, several thousand motorcycle gang members converged on the city of Hollister, California and took it over. This nationally-publicized event became the story line for the movie “The Wild One” (1954) starring Marlon Brando as a leather jacketed motorcycle gang member, creating a sensation and giving seed to the image of the leather-clad renegade, the image adopted by Gay Leathermen. In that same year The Satyrs MC was founded in Los Angeles, the first gay motorcycle club. Satyr MC held its first Badger Flats Run in 1962 and the annual event continued uninterrupted for 33 years, until 1994. Then resumed in 1998!

In 1951 Shaw’s was opened in New York City as the first Leather bar, though the date is disputed. The Gold Coast opened as a Leather bar in Chicago in June of 1958. The first dedicated leather bar in San Francisco was the Why Not, which opened briefly in the Tenderloin sometime between 1959 and 1961. Its address was 518 Ellis St.

In 1957 in the Crittenden Report, the US Navy concluded that homosexuals serving in the military do not create a security risk. The Pentagon denied the existence of this report for twenty years. That same year in London, the Wolfenden Report recommended decriminalization of “private homosexual acts between consenting adults.”

The Federal Court of Appeals ruled in 1960 that the Post Office’s rulings are “fully reviewable” lifting the ban on Lady Chatterly’s Lover (published 1928 and written by DH Lawrence). In July of 1962, The Tropic Cancer, having been banned in several states, was declared protected by the First Amendment by the Supreme Court. In 1963, Fanny Hill, published openly by Grove Press,  was attacked by “decency” groups. The highest courts of New Jersey and Massachusetts declared it obscene; on March 21, 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the unfavorable judgments, clearing “Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, also known as Fanny Hill” for publication.

It was a wide variety of events, such as are listed above, that made our subculture what it is today. Know your past and you’ll have a much better idea about the present and what to expect in the future.

In the meantime, what are you doing to collect and preserve our kinky history? It doesn’t take a lot of work and what work there is can be fun. Support the Leather Archives and Museum with your monetary contributions. Send them mementos, memorabilia, and items of kinky historical interest especially out-of-print books about our lifestyle, both fiction and non-fiction. Do you know any older kinky folks? Arrange to interview them on cassette. Transcribe the interviews and send the transcription and the tape to the archives. Who has your club’s history? Is it safe and well-preserved? Consider sending what you no longer need to the Archives for safe-keeping.

The above information was collected with the help of the Leather Archives and Museum at www.LeatherArchives.org , The Kinsey Institute, and Robert Bienvenu www.AmericanFetish.net . The above also represents a small part of a slide presentation that I give on Our Kinky History. See my website for more details about my public speaking.

Have a great week. You can leave me email at   or visit my website at http://www.LeatherViews.com . Copyright 2003 by Jack Rinella, all rights reserved.

The First Munch

By

The Palo Alto Burger Munch was the first such regular event of its type in the country and is the event from which all other similar events were patterned after.  It started in April 1992 at a place called Kirk’s Steakburgers in Palo Alto, California by a person named Stella. Hence the name Burger Munch.  It’s direct descendant is the Thursday Palo Alto Munch that still runs to this day, currently held at Cafe Dolce Vida.

Because it is just easier to say “munch” as opposed to “burger munch”, and because munches are held in many types of places other than steak and burger joints, the name munch has become a standard for the vanilla type socials people in the scene attend on a monthly basis.  

It is interesting how history is always in the making.  Since Albany Power eXchange started calling their “munches” Meet and Greets and Friday Soirees (words which more accurately describe the style of the events), several other clubs have decided to use these terms in the place of the word munch.  Perhaps 10 or 20 years from now people will be pondering the origins of the popular Friday Soiree and forget it originated in Albany, New York in November 2000. 

Old Guard, New Guard

By Gayle Rubin

I have problems with the way in which the distinction between “Old Guard” and “New Guard” is sometimes deployed. While there are many differences between leather/SM as it was practiced in the 1950s and as it is practiced today, the shorthand terms can exaggerate and oversimplify our past and our present.

Most of the alleged differences popularly thought to differentiate “Old Guard” and “New Guard” — formality versus informality, strict etiquette versus a more casual style of social interaction, deliberate training versus less organized acquisition of skills and knowledge — are more a matter of degree than absolute distinctions.

In fact, if one looks at “Old Guard” leather and SM communities from the late 1940s through the early 1960s, one can see that both tendencies were already present. Louis Weingarden, who opened one of the first leather art galleries at his Stompers boot store in New York City 20 years ago, identified two stylistic poles of traditional gay male leather. One was the military, with its strict formality, hierarchy, order, and discipline. The other was the world of bikers, associated with the celebration of disorder, rebelliousness, and individualism. Both tendencies were important to leather imagery and SM practice.

In the 1950s there were those who eroticized and engaged in very formal interactions based on strict codes of courtesy in the military model, and others who preferred the look of dirty bikers and a more orgiastic kind of buddy sexuality. Of course, there were spit and polish bikers too, and others who looked like greasy bikers but preferred formal SM sex. Similarly, while many people in those days underwent formal training and apprenticeships, others entered leather communities via the bars, social clubs or parties, and absorbed their socialization in a more haphazard fashion.

Today, while the leather/SM community’s dominant styles of public interaction have changed, all of the “Old Guard” practices and preferences are still with us. Even now, there are those for whom leather and SM are formal affairs with strict codes and etiquette, and those who seek and find training through apprenticeship types of relationships. At the same time, there are others for whom leather means freedom from certain conventions and a way to chart an individual path. Across the different eras, many have found freedom in formality, individualism through observance of custom, and a sublime order in things non-leatherfolk might consider completely chaotic.

There have certainly been many changes in leather and SM social life since the late 1940s, but these are more complicated than the simple distinction between “Old Guard” and “New Guard” can express. Many people today regard just about everything before the 1980s as “Old Guard,” but by then, leather/SM had already undergone several social revolutions and “Old Guard” had already had several “New Guards.”

In the mid-1960s, classic leather styles began to give way to a kind of “hippie leather.” People grew their hair, took psychedelic drugs, became less invested in 1950s formality and created new subgroups organized around different sexual styles, for example fistfucking. At one point, dope smoking leather guys and fistfuckers were in effect a kind of “New Guard,” although that terminology was not yet commonly used.

By the mid-1970s, there were several distinct leather styles and cultures, although individuals could move among them. After Stonewall, urban gay male populations grew, and by the late 1970s leather had become a kind of uniform for urban gay men — most of whom would never experience the business end of a whip. This “clone” look included short haircuts, mustaches, tight 501 jeans, boots, leather jackets, and keys dangling from belts. The late 1970s are often seen as a kind of “golden age” of SM in San Francisco, but the large scale adoption of leather styles by non-leathermen diluted the signals and frustrated the hard core leather population. This situation led to the founding of the 15 Association in 1980; the 15 intended to create a more reliable SM environment, in which people did not wear hankies or keys as fashion accessories.

From a larger perspective, it is clear that many of the differences between “Old Guard” and “New Guard” are the differences between life in the US in the 1950s and life in the 1990s. These differences are common to many groups, not just leather/SM. For example, among surfers one hears laments about the loss of “serious” surfing as the activity has become popularized, styles have become commercialized, and communities have becomes more open.

Much of what is described when people talk about changes in the the leather community comes down to more people, more money, and more commercialization. Leather public social spaces are less cozy. Communities are now bigger and it’s hard to know everyone. People often make judgments about others — and about what is important — based on what they see at a distance on a stage, not what they experience on a daily basis or within the intimacy of a dungeon.

In earlier days, people still had to take risks to be involved in leather/SM, and there wasn’t much to be gained apart from the experience itself. Today, some people seem to care more about money and glory and their high profile than they do about the quality of their interactions.

I began to notice some of these shifts in the mid-1980s, when the energy at public play parties seemed to change for the worse. Before then, many of the parties had been informal rituals of solidarity, pleasure, celebration, and connection. People cared most about having a good time. Even in casual or recreational play, the focus seemed to be on the quality of the connection between the players themselves and on building and sharing an energy that whole rooms could get high on together. At some time in the mid-1980s, it seems that many people began to care more about what the audience saw than what their partners experienced. Leather had become trendy and popular rather than despised and stigmatized. Others seemed to merely go through the motions — SM too often became a mechanical exercise rather than an art form or a form of intimate communication. I’m not saying that there is no great public play today, but I often see a community that lacks some of its former style, grace, and values.

Apart from increases in numbers, popularization, and commercialization, the gay leather community has had to deal with one unique factor that cannot be underestimated: the escalated rate of early mortality due to AIDS. The HIV/AIDS epidemic has damaged leather communities and social life in incalculable ways. Communities have experienced the loss, in a short period of time, of many of the men (and a few women) who made major contributions to creating and sustaining public leather life.

Among these were Cynthia Slater, who did so much to build bridges between the genders and orientations; Mark Joplin whose spirit and soundtrack helped shape the great parties of yesteryear; Steve and Fred who made the Catacombs such a fabulous club; Kurt Woodhil whose brilliant dungeon design made the Hothouse and later the 15 Cedar Alley space so memorable; artists like Chuck Arnett, A. Jay, Cirby, Dirk Dykstra, and Robert Pruzan who decorated so many walls and lives; playwrights like Robert Chesley; producers and gallery owners like Peter Hartmann, Robert Opel, and Claude DuVall; doctors like Dick Hamilton who treated perverts and fistfuckers who couldn’t take their injuries elsewhere; therapists like David Lourea who tended the same population for a different set of ills; club presidents and owners such as Louis Gaspar, Hal Slate, Jack Green, and Steve Maidhof; writers like Geoff Mains and John Preston; and hundreds of others.

The collective absence of so many leather forebears is, I think, one of the main reasons why the social changes of the last decade seem to have produced so much more of a chasm than did previous ones. These people not only built and refined our institutions, but they also met and talked and played with innumerable others, all the while transmitting community values to newcomers. Their loss has damaged the social fabric of the leather community and has created huge gaps in the transmission of leather culture. Some of this culture has been irretrievably lost, and leather society has had to reinvent important pieces of itself as a result.

Although much has been lost as leather/SM has evolved, new developments have brought positive changes as well as problems. I’m not proposing that we could or should go back to the 1950s. We should neither romanticize the past nor fail to value it. Today, there are many ways to acquire leather attitudes and leather knowledge, including open classes, books, structured programs such as the Journeyman II Academy, as well as more traditional apprentice relationships.

We have only begun to systematically think about leather history. As more archival and historical material becomes available for study, the schema outlined here will undoubtedly be modified. But I suspect that as we learn more, the simple opposition of “Old Guard” and “New Guard” will be even more radically dislodged by increasingly nuanced and detailed accounts of different leather practices and populations. The early 1990s eruption of concern over “Old Guard” and “New Guard” will itself become a part of that history.

This article is excerpted from a speech given by Gayle Rubin at the graduation ceremony for the Journeyman II Academy on October 4, 1997.