The "Leather Lifestyle": What it is... and isn't

The Leather lifestyle. Tradition. Honor. Integrity. Respect. These are the things that we often associate with those who say that they are “Leather”. Some claim “Old Guard” or “New Guard” or some permutation of “Leather community”. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Having a few common interests doesn’t make you a “community.” The alcoholic on the corner with a paper bag of Thunderbird, and the connoisseur who spends thousands for a vintage Chablis will both say they love wine… neither would admit to being “community”.

So, we find ourselves looking at history and codes of honor and of conduct from what we claim to be “tradition” and assert that this is who we are. But let’s look at those so-called traditions from which we claim our legacy.

If we go back to the patched motorcycle clubs we will see that it was never an easy lifestyle to become a part of. First, you have to recognize the difference between a riding club and a motorcycle club. Then, you had to have a motorcycle… no small feat. Then you had to ingratiate yourself to a particular segment of that community. You may not have been welcomed with open arms but viewed initially with skepticism. You had to prove you were trustworthy. You had to show that you were reliable. You had to show you were loyal. You had to indicate that you knew what they were about. Then, and only then, would you, after a period of time, be able to wear that patch. If you ever dishonored that patch and what it stood for, it was removed, along with anything that would affiliate you with that club, including tattoos. Nor could you start another club with a similar name. They would come for you. Being a part of that club also meant that you would fight their battles. In the confines of your headquarters or “church” you may raise questions and opinions, but outside, you were unified and if anyone came for another member of the club, they were coming for you too and you acted accordingly. Kinship was an integral part of being in that club.

Looking at the gay Leather culture that many have either emulated or claimed, let us also understand similar principles existed. True, there was a look that many could imitate, but when being gay could cause the loss of a job, one’s family or, more poignantly, one’s life, it was important that one be careful who they trusted and who was allowed to get close. People making rash decisions had a lot to lose and put a lot at risk.

Today, beyond the romance and “trendiness” that exists, there is real concern about what we say we represent when we say we are “Leather”. Is it some mythology about bygone days with a series of traditions and rules and ways to exclude others? Is it a cover for snobbery or bigotry of various sorts? Is it a single community or a series of communities? Is it a fad, like rope, or edge play or CNC or “primal” were, with some people claiming it, just to seem cool? It all comes down to this: “By their works you will know them!” Are they promoting camaraderie or division? Are they being open or secretive? Are they the same no matter where they are or do they have different personalities in different places? Are they taking personal responsibility or deflecting? Are they spreading rumor or teaching facts? Are they enlightening or keeping people in the dark? The answers to these questions will show you who is ethical and who isn’t, who is genuine and who isn’t, who is self-serving and who isn’t.

It makes no difference what your label is. It makes a difference what YOU are.

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