Editor’s Note: What Is Inclusivity?

Inclusivity has been a topic in the leather community recently. Most noticeably, it’s popped up after CLAW with a petition and with IML with this article. It is an issue that needs to be discussed. But here’s one question I have that hasn’t been asked: What EXACTLY is inclusivity in leather?

Seriously. It’s become the buzzword of the moment but I’ve not seen it defined in a way that all can agree on. And that itself has lead to some rather intense arguments online.

Much of the conflict has been around events that, while not expressly defined as male events, have traditionally been mostly gay male. CLAW (Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend) has long had a largely gay male audience. For years, classes and activities were held at a local bathhouse – not a place women would be entering. With IML… it has Mister in the name. That’s pretty clear. But they have also both been largely open to women and hetero couples. (I shy from using straight because of the heterosexual people I know, I’m not sure “straight” quite fits. And I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.) They’re present at the big parties and contests and any public area.

The big issue always comes down to the play spaces. And that is understandable. Right now, I can only think of seven play spaces that are regularly open on a weekly or monthly basis for the entire Midwest. And four them are in one city. And only one of the seven is a gay male space. Otherwise, people need to wait for one of the big events or play in their homes without a lot of interaction with other people in the community. None of us have a chance to play with other like minded people. And if we get denied that opportunity, we get… testy.

Inclusivity, welcoming new people and ones outside our usual experiences, is good. I fully support and encourage it. And I completely support allowing our traditions to change. As my friend Aaron Laxton has said, if you don’t change, you die. However, traditions aren’t necessarily bad just because they’re traditions.

There needs to be a middle ground, and respect, for our spaces, both public and private. I have played in both mixed and gay male spaces. And mixed can be a lot of fun. I remember one time seeing a female bootblack friend of mine and another friend look at each other, put Hubbard’s on their tongues, and then dive onto a man’s boots. Still one of the most erotic things I’ve seen. With the right crowd, the energy can be wonderful.

But having said that, I love the energy of an all gay male space as well. As much as I love my pansexual friends, and they are beyond awesome, they’re not gay men. The eroticism in an all male space is different than a pan space. Every once in a while, I need it. And there’s nothing wrong with that need.

There needs to be an acknowledgement that we do need separate spaces at times. Not everything has to be open to all. To open too much and water down what makes a community unique and reduce what made the community something special to begin with. Just because a space is limited doesn’t mean the host is anti-male, anti-woman or anti-hetero. It is okay to be a little bit selfish. It’s good for your mental health.

We need to have a discussion on what inclusivity really means. What the limits of openness are. Where the lines are for where we come together and where we go to have something more personal. We should be open to change and new and different people. We should also be able to preserve what makes us stand out and what drew us to this big, crazy, insane, frustrating and wonderful community. The saying is “Your kink is not my kink, and that’s okay.” That is something that can be applied to our community overall.

Please feel free offer your own opinion in the comments.


Ruff Wray is the publisher and founder of Great Lakes Den. He lives in Chicago with his husband Jeff. He can be contacted at editor@greatlakesden.net