L is for Leather
The leather subculture or leather lifestyle has existed since the mid to late 1950’s and was originally specific to gay men. Many of these men were soldiers and some were bikers and some elements of ritual (as well as a love of leather itself) came out of their backgrounds. These men enjoyed BDSM sex and leather – the feel of leather, smell of it, look of it and sometimes the taste of it. There was no one set of protocols. There have been rumours of a ‘old guard’ who set the ‘true’ protocols. Guy Baldwin is an elder in the leather community who has written about the concept of ‘old guard’ stating that a uniform set of protocols never existed. People developed the rituals they enjoyed and taught these to the people that they had relationships with and played with regularly.
If you want a more detailed history of the various leather communities, The Carter Johnson Leather Library has books and media documenting many communities, including a comprehensive library of erotica relating to kink, leather and BDSM. In Chicago, the Leather Archives and Museum houses galleries, exhibits, an archive and extensive library.
The current leather community is made up of people from all sexual orientations and genders. Different groups have different rules and protocols but all groups enjoy various aspects of power exchange, leather gear and BDSM. Most leather groups have a structure. There are distinctions made between those who are dominant and those who are submissive. There is a love of leather and most groups award or gift various pieces of leather (boots, caps, vests) for service to individuals or service to the community. There are subgroups from the more general community that cater to specific groups. For example, there is MDHL-fs which is Male Dominant Heterosexual Leather – female submissive, a group that caters to heterosexual leather couples where the man is in the dominant role. There is the Men of ONYX which is an organisation for leather men of colour. Both of these organisations have values that include supporting each other towards attaining their goals. There are groups for Female Dominant and male submissives. Many organisations are involved in charity work and seek to support people in and outside the community. They sponsor social events but also sponsor education.
Many involved in the leather community gather together to participate in contests, the largest of which is International Mr Leather.
Contests were initially seen to be ‘leather beauty contests’ because the men who competed were very attractive. They evolved to become part fundraiser for the gay community with money going to a select group of charities. Winners of the major contests (International Mr Leather, International Ms Leather, International Bootblack are examples) adopt a platform (like drug and alcohol issues, HIV) and will educate and raise money for charities related to that platform during their title year. Some titleholders complete their year and retire from community work. Others continue and go on to be leaders in the community.
Core values of most leather groups:
Service (Dominants and submissives value service)
Honour and Integrity
Some groups have dress codes for meetings and for events. Others do not. Bootblacks take caring for leather boots and clothing to an art form. They do this as a means of service but also as a result of passion (including sexual passion).
Those who follow the ‘leather lifestyle’ engage in various forms of BDSM some in public and some in private. Some consider that this is their sexual orientation rather than gay, straight, bisexual, queer or pansexual. Those who feel this way don’t engage in sexual activities without the backdrop of power exchange or BDSM. To them, the power exchange and the BDSM are more important to their attraction than the gender of the person. For example, rather than being attracted to men, they are attracted to dominance. For others, leather is a part of their sexuality that is in addition to sexual orientation (gay, straight, bi, queer, trans +).
There are many people who practice BDSM episodically and without power exchange. These people would not label themselves as ‘leather’. For those who see themselves as being leather, this is central to the way they live their lives not just to their sexuality.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on leather lifestyles and BDSM.