If you follow any of the writers in the leather and kink community, you’ve seen a lot about clubs and institutions going away. There are some who think it means that leather is dying, killed by the internet. Personally, I think they’re wrong.
Leather as it was, even in the 1990s when I entered the community, is dead. It’s gone and it’s not coming back. But it really wasn’t quite as perfect as some stories can say. And it wasn’t only the internet that killed it. It was simply change.
Leather and kink are changing. Change is gonna happen, no matter how fun things used to be. Accept it now and you’ll be happier. And yes, the internet did have an effect. True, not all the effects were necessarily good. But it wasn’t the only thing affecting the community.
First, gay rights. Yes, I’m serious. Until the past few years, the gay community was marginalized by the larger society. That’s not nearly as true as it used to be. We have full marriage and adoption rights in a growing number of states. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been repealed. DOMA will be going down within the next few months. And a growing percentage of Americans, including many conservatives, are joining the majority in supporting full equality. So we don’t have to hide any more. But leather and kink, to a degree, still does. What was already a division between us and the larger gay community has widened and deepened. There is actual hostility from the general gay community to the leather community now, accusing us of holding back the fight for civil rights. So while the larger community breaks their closet doors into pieces, we now consider reinforcing ours.
Second, the pansexuals. By that I mean the growing number of straight men and women (not to mention bi, trans, curious, etc.) who are discovering kink in growing numbers. They were finding it before “50 Shades.” But they don’t come to it with the history the gay side does. They didn’t build institutions with no support and keep many going through the first wave of the AIDS crisis. And the fear of some (NOT all) is they can dilute the community that has been largely gay for so long.
Third, yeah, the internet. Yes, like I said, it has had an effect. Thanks to the internet, you didn’t have to be in a large city to discover and learn about it. And it also meant any schmuck could watch a single video and call himself a Master with no way to counteract it. And you don’t have to go to the bars or clubs to meet up with someone. Just get your smartphone and order in, with a side of bondage.
Last, new guys who have no idea about the history of the community. Not much more I can add to that.
But none of these changes means that the leather community itself is dying. Our connection to the gay community has always been relatively iffy. They welcomed the money from our fundraisers. But now that they’re fully legit to the larger society, they don’t need us. So, fine. Fuck ‘em. I say from now on we raise money for our own community resources or those organizations, like the NGLTF, that fully embrace us as part of the entire gay community. We have been fighting alongside them since Stonewall and deserve respect. They don’t respect us, don’t respect them.
As for the pansexuals, bring ‘em in. Now, I’m not saying get rid of all the men-only or women-only spaces. Not at all. I happen to love the energy when I’m in an all male space. It’s fun, it’s erotic. I don’t want to give that up. But don’t reject the notion of mixed out of hand. If you simply can’t feel comfortable in a mixed sex play space, fine. You’re not being forced to. But in our social areas, don’t push them away. They are our allies and family. They understand what draws us to the ropes and floggers. They have that same need pulling them. They understand it better than our gay “brothers and sisters” do and don’t judge us for it. If anything, they’ll give tips or ask for advice. They can help revitalize our clubs and bars. They can add to our history and diversity. Yes, they will change the community drastically. And it can thrive with that change.
And with the internet, well, adapt. It’s here to stay, so use it. Many groups, when confronted with declining attendance as people turned to social media, gave up. So don’t. Social media and today’s media technology gives us an opportunity to expand and educate. Use social media to organize and promote. Use the web and video to educate and inform. Contribute to blogs and forums. If you want people to come in, you have to engage them. Offer them real contact, more than what they can get just from watching a video on YouTube or XTube. The more you reach, the more that can come out. This site is dedicated to just that. Groups that inform and engage have formed on social media in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago. Use the tools you have.
Finally, we were all new once. Someone mentored you, hopefully. If they didn’t, then give what you weren’t given. Guidance. The exploding pup, gear and rubber groups are ripe for inclusion. Don’t complain they’re taking people away from “real” leather. Incorporate them. Give them responsibilities. Ask them to step up and reach out. They have the energy and drive. Give them something to do. And just so the new guys don’t feel left out, you all should listen too. You don’t have to do things exactly how we did them in the 1990s or earlier. It’s 2013. Do things in the way that works now. But, you still need to listen. There is a lot of history. And you can understand some of the “code” that you hear from guys who have been in the scene for so long. Use what works.
None of these are miracle cures or a declaration. In fact, I’ll be surprised if there isn’t some discussion saying how I’m way off. But we do need to start talking more about how to adapt instead of just bemoaning the “death” of leather. Some of our elders (I’m not being ironic in that term) are saying that we need to adapt. Leather isn’t dying. It’s just growing up.
Ruff Wray is the publisher and founder of Great Lakes Den. He lives in Chicago with his husband Jeff. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org