Kinky Sex Ed: A Leather Manifesto

We have reached that time of year that some affectionately term as “contest season.” For the months leading up to Memorial Day there will be leather contests all around the world funnel into the “main event” the most Holy of Holies in our community, International Mr. Leather. Our community gathers at nightclubs and bars “titleholders” are sashed to represent their communities. If, however, titleholders are selected to represent the communities, then should we not hold them accountable for what they do or do not do? If there are no expectations, then what is the purpose of such titles and their respective contests?

Kinky-Sex-EdRecently, I met with a trusted friend and mentor who has been in the scene for more decades that I have been alive. We discussed the state of leather and our community. The conversation jumped from topic to topic as we evaluated the current state of our dear community. He reflected on the fact that leather was once very-much connected with sexuality and kink. Today, however, many people only wear leather for contests or when they are going out to a bar. If asked why they are wearing leather, you would be hard-pressed to get an answer of substance. Once leather was stained with the stains of sweat, spit and piss. Today, a spilled drink is the best that some leather men are going to do.

As a community member and leatherman myself, there are two questions that I believe we must ask. The first, “What purpose do leather contests serve in today’s culture and community?” Are we simply having contests to have contests or is there a greater purpose? The second question is, “What should be expected from titleholders in the leather community?”

A title has the potential to launch a person into service-work which helps to improve their community in some way. That same service work can last long after a step-down speech is given and a new title-holder is named. I know many leathermen who have through their hard work, creativity and dedication have changed the landscape of their respective communities. I also know others who have done nothing.

Contestants seeking to run for leather titles will “pad” or “beef up” their contestant profiles prior to major contests in the months leading up to the contest. For the other eight months out of the year, they might not have done anything for the community. Should judges for contests disregard any service-work initiate leading up to the contest?

If we as a community agree that we are simply looking for a person with the “perfect” application and new leather, then have we not sold out to a basterdized version of what leather use to be? This is not a conversation debating “new guard” versus “old guard” but rather a question of what qualities we want to embody. Regardless of the gear you wear or what you are into, there is one common denominator… Without a community, we are all alone. We however come from a rich history of leather men and women who banded together in order to forge through the worst times bigotry, gay-bashing, homophobia and an entire generation of leathermen who fell victim to AIDS.

My mind reflects on a leatherman who had witnessed countless of his friends dying all around him. Through it all he strapped on his leather, the smell of it somehow comforting the pain and misery that was all around. As AIDS started to take its effects on him and Karposi’s sarcoma lesions could be seen, he proudly wore his vest and his gear. It was when he wore his gear and walked into the bar that he could feel like he was part of a world that was quickly escaping him. It wasn’t gear that he simply worse while going out, but gear that he wore during some his manliest and most kinky fuck-sessions. As he grew sicker and sicker, he would still put on his leather, even if he was only sitting at home beating his cock to Drummer or other past memories of what he once was. He was part of a family, albeit dysfunctional, but still a family. Today, I wear that leatherman’s gear proudly. The spirit of who he was and where he comes from lives in the leather and it reminds me that one day a new leatherman might be telling my story.

This question is at the very heart of who we are a leather community; Instead of avoiding it or simply bitching about it, we should collective consider the implication of how our communities are changing.

Asking these questions will not make me popular. Some will agree with what I am saying while others disagree. The end result however is for this to create a dialog in which these issues might be addressed. In the words of my matriarch, Mama Sandy Reinhardt, “Ask Yourself What Can I do to make a difference, then do it from your heart.”

While some might call this my leather manifesto, I simply call it a reflection of the current state of things as I see it. I love leather and I only want it to evolve while embracing the qualities of who we are. As we consider these things, simply ask yourself, “What purpose do leather contests serve in today’s culture and community and “What should be expected from title-holders in the leather community?”

Only you can answer these questions and demand an answer.


Aaron Laxton is an HIV activist and “Mama’s Kinky Educator.” Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlaxton. He serves on the Community Advisory Board for the AIDS Clinical Trials Group as well as the Community Scientific Sub-Committee. He lives in St. Louis and his column runs monthly.

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