In 1946, my fraternity (my undergraduate chapter specifically), initiated its first white member. This was a controversial decision which lead to many questioning the survival of the organization. Since it’s founding in 1906, the fraternity had been only for blacks and many saw the initiation of the first white member as the first nail in the coffin of the fraternity. In fact, I have seen commentaries from the time declaring that my fraternity was dead.
Then in 1990, my fraternity, along with the other Black Greek Lettered Organizations, significantly changed the process by which we inducted members into the organizations. This was partially done to stem the tide of hazing and the resulting lawsuits that had plagued our organizations for years. The problem isn’t what they did, but how they did it. This change was met with derision by many, including me, who publicly proclaimed, “The Frat is Dead!”
In August of 2011, a monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (a member of my fraternity) was erected in Washington, D.C. This monument was conceived and spearhead by my fraternity.
Obviously my frat isn’t dead.
The thing is, the fraternity changed. From that day in 1946 to the day in 1990 to today, the fraternity has undergone a series of changes. All of which were met at one point or another by someone declaring that the fraternity was dead. Or dying. Or something.
So why do I bring this up in relation to Leather?
Because I see the same questions being raised in blog postings, on FetLife and other social media networks. Many people are asking if Leather is dead, mainly because Leather is so different than it was years ago. Some postulating that due to the influence of the internet, the influx of heterosexuals and the less turgid nature of being accepted as Leather, that Leather is now dead.
Yet, the opposite is quite clearly the case. Leather is far from dead. It’s just different.
Many of us are reticent to accept change. Nostalgia causes us to live in the memories of days gone by instead of focusing not only on the present, but the future. We tend to prefer “how things were” and aren’t always willing to accept “how things are.”
Change is not inherently bad. Change does not equal death.
It would be nice if things could stay exactly how they were in our idealistic memories. It would be nice if things never changed, that people never left, and everything was exactly the way it was on the first day we walked into that Leather bar or club and met someone who exposed us to what Leather represents.
It is probably safe to say that Leather has changed primarily due to the influence of the internet. Information about Leather groups has become more accessible and easier to identify. Likewise, there is no shortage of avenues on the internet that can lead one to a Leather identification without anyone having to talk to a single person about the subject.
With the introduction of the internet, we also have the influx of more heterosexuals who are drawn to Leather which has troubled some in certain Leather circles. Others point to the lack of adherence to certain protocols and traditions as something that is killing Leather.
There are many other reasons we could name, however, I would suggest Leather is not dead, nor is it dying. Leather is changing. And if Leather didn’t change, it would be dead.
Change does not equal death. Stagnation does.
I believe what we are seeing, with the influx of individuals from different walks of life who previously either didn’t have access to or hadn’t been exposed to Leather, has resulted in a diversification of what it means to be Leather. A diversification that leaves some uncomfortable.
Which is actually understandable. No one wants Leather to become so mainstream that just anyone can slap on a vest or a cover and call themselves Master/Mistress. No one wants to see the things that made Leather special and unique slide by the wayside.
But Leather can’t be what it was 20-30 years ago. Nor should it be. However, it must be acknowledged that there are a lot new people coming to Leather who are passionate, committed and dedicated to upholding Leather as a viable sub-culture that honors and respects it past.
Nowhere is that change more evident than in the naming of Tyler McCormick, International Mr. Leather 2010. Tyler represents (in my opinion) a positive change in the direction of Leather, not just for being physically disabled, and not just for being a transman, but for wanting to publicly uphold the traditions and history of Leather, and show that Leather indeed is diverse, welcoming and that those who are new(er) to Leather can indeed find their place.
Because that is what it all boils down to. Whether or not those who come into Leather in the current day can respect what Leather was in the past.
The answer is yes.
So if we don’t want Leather to die, what we need is for people who have knowledge to share it, teach it, impart it, even if they don’t want to. If Leather is important as a cultural entity, then it must be important to share the knowledge, the traditions and the history to those who want to hear it. And there are A LOT of us who enjoy hearing the history of Leather, whether we are straight, gay, bi, queer, trans, dominant, or submissive. Even for those of us who don’t wear Leather, or haven’t yet earned their first piece of Leather or don’t even know what earning Leather means, it’s important for those who have that knowledge to share it with those who want to learn.
And it is important for those of us who are new to Leather to make sure we uphold the traditions of Leather, not just with words, but with our actions. To extend ourselves to those who have the knowledge and those who have the history to make sure we are properly informed. To make sure that we are not just making up things as we go along because we want to. New Leather MUST be respectful of the traditions, but more over, we need to get the TRUTH about what Leather represented before we came into it and why that history is important.
While it may seem overly simple, and these are not all of the steps that need to be taken, these two steps can ensure that Leather will never become stagnant and it will die. While we have already lost many Leathermen and Leatherwomen who aren’t able to share their stories and their truth, but there are enough around and enough people who want to learn where that history will never truly die.
Neither will Leather.