Leather comes out at Chicago History Museum

The panel at the Chicago History Museum on Chicago in Leather.

The Chicago History Musuem was host to a panel discussion on Thursday, January 19, discussing the leather culture and its history in Chicago, which is arguably the organized leather community’s birthplace.

Hosted by Dr. Jennifer Tyburczy, a historian from Rice University, the panel consisted of Riley Johnson for LGBT individuals in public dungeon spaces, trans involvement, bootblacks in Chicago’s LGBT culture; Joey McDonald for International Mr. Leather; Angie S. for women’s organizations; Craig B. for Chicago Hellfire Club, the city’s oldest leather sex club; and Searah Deysach for Women’s spaces, Chicago specific fetish erotica and owner Early 2 Bed. Jeff Willoughby, who was to speak on backpatch leather clubs, was unable to attend because of an injury.

Rick Storer, executive director of the Leather Archives and Museum, the largest repository of leather history, thanked the CHM both for hosting the panel and for its assistance in the LA&M’s work in preserving historical documents and materials. The two organizations have long been working together in preserving gay history of Chicago.

This is the ninth season for Out at CHM and the first time that leather was included. Dr. Tyburczy said that the panel itself was making history since there is still debate on leather’s place in LGBT history displays and museums.

The panelists discussed both the history of the leather community and its present, especially with the effect that the internet and online sites such as Recon and FetLife have had on the community. Access to information on activities and play has made it much easier for people to learn about play before even meeting people in person. But many of the changes have been positive. Angie said that there are increasing numbers of playspaces for women in leather and Searah said that attendence at classes in techniques such as bondage have skyrocketed. Craig said with the availability of education available online, the skill level of younger men entering the community is much higher.