Community Comment is an occasional column done by members of the bear, leather, and sexual minority communities. All viewpoints are welcome. Opinions expressed don’t necessarily reflect the views of the Great Lakes Den. To submit a column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am an unashamed, unapologetically, Sarcastic, Gay, GenXer, Middle-Aged Guard, LeatherMan with three Priorities; Beating, Drinking, and Fucking. Preferably in that order, but I’ll take what I can get.
Traditions “never” change
Earlier this year, I was holding up a cloth weave jockstrap and commented to boy johnathan, “I’m more of a traditional Leatherman, I like this style jockstrap.” To which he replied. “Sir, no disrespect, but there is nothing traditional about you, for fucks’ sake, you have a pink bar vest and walk into Leather Bars with a Hello Kitty toy bag.” I had no response so quietly closed my cockholster and went about my shopping.
What are traditions? By definition, a tradition is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past. Despite what one may have heard from the Council of Elders, there really is no “traditional” “twue way” of doing anything. Just because there is no “twue way” does not mean that different groups or individual units are wrong when they develop traditions, rooted in a thing which gave inspiration, that have evolved over time.
While having cocktails with Laura Antoniou (who is totally amazing and has some awesome literature), a few years back discussing “leather traditions”, her response, “Heck, we’re just making this shit up as we go, some of us just do it more confidently than others”, and when those whom we look up to as role models do a thing, voila, a tradition is born.
“Gay Leather” has constantly been in a state of evolution, but in reality, those of us today are really no different than those Gay Leathermen and their “traditions” from 60 years ago. We make shit up as we go, call it good, start a tradition, and continue to evolve. Traditions change, just like our communities.
A few years ago, a titleholder was going on about “Community Unity”. These days we hear that phrase uttered more often than the latest Taylor Swift Top 40 hit is played on the radio. I must say, out of that discussion came the best response from a respected Leather Sir, “Community Unity? You might as well look for a better brownie recipe, it’ll be easier.”
As we look at community evolution let’s establish an historical framework. Communities evolve over time, typically through gradual long term-development or via an episodic or catastrophic event, such as the Stonewall Riots, which causes a community to evolve at an accelerated rate. Either way, new communities evolve in new adaptable forms best suited to their particular environment. This is known as divergent evolution.
In the last 15-20 years what we have experienced socially is probably best described as Convergent Evolution. In the very exclusionary Gay Leather Culture end of the spectrum, oh, if one wants to take that statement as “proof” that all Gay Leathermen are “exclusionary” to anyone but other gay men, please, look up McCarthyism and Gay Leather Culture circa 1950 for a better backdrop to the historical significance of that statement.
Anyway, back to the convergence of communities, there were leaders and pioneers in both the Leather world and Straight Kink community who value respect, learning, and communication and saw the benefit from sharing experiences across the board and thus an invitation began to explore this niche world of gay leather and het kink.
As convergence began and respect was earned from both sides of the sexual orientation and kink divide, what used to simply be GLBT has now blossomed into an “everyone is who is different is special” and the additive nature of convergence begins to dilute the original community species. No longer is it just GLB (orientation), but is now a mixed homogenous “non-gender normative” community known as the “QUILT BAG” the combination of GLB and the more recent additions “TQUIA” (Identity), and to that end now we’re just plain lazy and throw on the “+” for good measure.
We have successfully converged and we are one big happy family, adding more and more letters to our QUILTBAG+ every day, our table has become exceedingly large, life is grand, we hold hands and sing. We are all getting along, not a care in the world, we respect everyone….oh wait….Sorry, I just had a small stroke there and was heading towards the light, back to reality.
Community… Have we ever actually looked at that word? Has anyone else noticed that just like there is no “I” in Team, there is no “Team” in “Community”. Teams imply competition with winners and losers. There is no winning or losing because our larger QUILTBAG+ Community is not a competition. It isn’t a “we’re more mis-treated than other letters” or “our letter does a better job at accepting others than that other marginalized letter”. This may come as a shock, but our Community is a long term partnership with all the distinct and separate individual units that comprise it. Each one functions as it needs, each one is marginalized by the mainstream culture.
There has been a lot of talk about the 50 Shades of Grey, not the books, but that our community should be more “grey”, “homogenous”, “unified”, and that unity should involve each group’s biological and technological distinctiveness to be added to the “Community”.
When I’ve gone to event dinners or brunches with a keynote speaker I can hear 200+ conversations at 20+ different tables. I look around and see all those tables, all those people talking, all at the same time, in the same room. Sharing experiences. I’d imagine that many people at each table probably don’t live in the same house, city, or even state. From any one point in the room all I can hear is background noise. However, when I sit at a specific table, I could hear much clearer what was being said by each person.
Imagine this reality where every single letter sitting at a single-ever growing giant table-clamoring for their share of the mythical “equality pie” and each letter is yelling louder because they are not getting as much attention as they feel they should. Meanwhile all the other letters in the homogenous QUILTBAG+ Community are doing the same. Everyone is talking, but no one can truly listen.
When a person doesn’t feel they are being heard and understood, emotions rise, tempers flare, frustrations increase and micro chasms form around the “unified” table.
Before I continue, let me be perfectly clear. All feelings are acceptable; however, all behaviors are not. If you didn’t get that, let me say it again. All feelings are acceptable; however, all behaviors are not.
People will get frustrated when they are not heard and understood as clearly as they desire. Personal attacks over a difference in opinion on an issue, slander, name calling, bully pulpits, outright threats, and character assassination to other members in the community while behind the safety of your keyboard in the Social Media world are examples of unacceptable behaviors and conduct unbecoming of individuals and leaders in our larger Kink Community.
Social Orientation V Sexual Orientation
That was a little heavy, so allow me to lighten the mood some. Blowjobs. I can say with a certain level of confidence that gay or straight, men love blowjobs. In fact, I give really good ones myself, some of you reading this may have experienced that. Some of you hot straight kinky men who happen upon this, I’d probably enjoy showing you some of my talents.
With that said, I bet some straight men and maybe women are feeling a little uncomfortable about me talking about giving them or their husbands blowjobs, sure, you’ll come say hit to me at an event and give me a hug because our Social Orientation is different than our Sexual Orientation. It is important to point out what I just said “all feelings are acceptable, but all behaviors are not.” There are straight men who are uncomfortable around gay men, just like there are gay men who are uncomfortable around women, and let’s face it, there are people who are just uncomfortable around other people. This is not a bad thing, nor should we judge their feelings based on our own abilities to interact with a greater spectrum of people because of our Bi-Social Orientation.
Simply talking about a problem is as pointless as trying to find my dignity after a Leather Event weekend. Seriously though, do I have a solution? No, I don’t. I’m not that smart, however, I do have a vision.
My vision is that some of us can have coffee with the Gay Leathermen’s Table, lunch with the High Femmes, afternoon cocktails with Transgender Folks, and dinner with Butches, and dessert with the Drag Queens. Even though some have a very limited sexual attraction morphotype, we can appreciate those who transvers a broader spectrum of Social-Orientation which allows them to hear and understand the important issues from each table they visit. They can then go back to their own tables and promote respect and understanding of those tables to others who are not as broad-based in their Social Orientation spectrum…you know, those awkward and uncomfortable ones in our own niche-cultures? There will be tables who do not want anyone else joining them, and you know what? That is perfectly okay. Just because one is not invited to that table isn’t reason to ban all members from that table at other tables, because communication works in many ways through many people.
Not everyone needs to visit all the tables, nor should we chastise them for them not sitting with tables we think they should. To what end does this serve? After all, we are all still in same Kinky Dining Hall and trust me on this next point. If you are honored with an invitation to a table that is traditionally not your own, enjoy the experience, and respect the fact that a one-time invitation is not an open invitation to join the table when you please, nor an invitation to tell that table what they should eat and how they should eat it. If one of the tables in our Kinky Dining Hall of life continues to kick over and bash other tables because they’re not eating the way they want them to eat, well, that is a prime example of unacceptable behavior, and one of two things result. One, the table being told they’re wrong will simply leave and no longer associate with the antics of the dining hall, or two, the particular table causing the disruption and divisiveness will soon learn that alliance can move to ambivalence and outright hostility if the unacceptable behavior is allowed to continue.
Bringing It Home
If our community desires cohesion, we cannot continue kicking over other tables because they’re playing the game differently. It’s been 66-years since McCarthyism caused many LGBT’s to hide and there are still people in our QUILTBAG+ community who must go by one gender at work and their identified gender at home. Het Kink folks fear being “outed” and losing jobs and children. Yet, still 66-years later, we’re spending more time ripping each other apart over how someone likes their coffee, or who they “unfriended” on Social Media, meanwhile we have State and Federal politicians telling people where they can and cannot pee, and passing laws that allow discrimination against everyone in the QUILTBAG+ Dining Hall. I ask. How far have we really come since McCarthyism? Since Stonewall? Since the AIDS Crisis? Why do individual letters in the QUILTBAG+ insist that other letters do as they think they should which results in outright hostilities?
I have said a lot of things here I’m not known for my subtly at times. It is my hope that this will spur some honest conversations about who we are, where we are, and where we want to be. As we continue to shape our distinct individual communities, learn to respect the boundaries of others, communicate openly, and honor every group’s individual and unique contribution, path, and evolution.
I close with these three questions that we should ask ourselves:
1. What am I doing to hear and understand what people at other tables say is important to them?
2. What am I doing to help others hear and understand what is important at my table?
3. What am I doing to help educate someone not in this Kinky Dining Hall better understand the letter I represent or defend another letter from someone who lacks the understanding we have gained by our respect for the other tables?
Sir Ernie has been active in the Leather Community since 2000 and currently resides in Danville, Illinois where his day job is: ” Helping People Help the Land”. He can be reached at Scificowboy@gmail.com. This essay was originally posted on his Tumblr blog.