This year's SouthEast Leather Fest (SELF) in Atlanta, GA focused on Mixology as their theme. Sir Guy was invited to be the keynote speaker at the event and chose to use the theme of the weekend as the theme for his speech as well. The following is the text of his weekend keynote.
I’d like to begin by thanking Lady Catherine Gross and SELF for inviting me to deliver this keynote and for the hard work it took to put together this fine event. I also wish to thank all of you who were able to make it here in spite of the efforts made to keep this event from happening. Those twists and turns should serve as a reminder that no matter how many pop stars wear leather and fetish gear, no matter how many people buy or watch 50 Shades of Bland, no matter how many sets of furry cuffs or naughahyde floggers are sold, BDSM and Leather will never be totally “mainstream” or accepted by what people call mainstream. It is a reminder that no matter how open we may feel today, no matter how many strides we may have made, there will always be those who will try to turn back the clock, to take away all we have gained and to force us back into the closet. Let us never forget that.
It is important for us to keep this in mind as we focus on the theme of this year’s Southeast Leather Fest. That theme is “mixology”. I think it is appropriate for a number of reasons. The first, is that its appropriateness is based upon how one chooses to define it. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “the art or skill of preparing mixed drinks” and it says the first use of the term dates back to 1872. For those who define themselves as mixologists this goes beyond simply having knowledge of a list of basic cocktail combinations that are traditionally served in bars. For mixologists it involves being able to create specialty drinks based upon a certain clientele or demographic. It involves innovation, a study of people and a knowledge of their habits and tastes. It can involve being flexible and open to change and possessing the ability to adapt. Mixologists consider themselves skilled artisans and different than the typical bartender who just makes the most traditional drinks.
The Urban Dictionary, however, has a little bit different definition of mixology. One of the definitions it gives for “mixology” is “The term used by employees of bars and night clubs to mask the fact that they are bartenders. It is intended to make the occupation sound more important or part of the sciences.” In other words, it says that mixology is a pretentious term used to make bartending seem more exciting, innovative and intelligent than it really is.
So now, you’re sitting in your seats wondering why I said the term “mixology” is appropriate for the Leather community and for this conference. You’re probably wondering which definition I am going to use. You’re probably also wondering why I’m up here and if I’m ever going to be invited back here again! I will explain:
Mixology can be a good word to use when we speak of the Leather community. The Leather lifestyle was not developed by those who wished to adhere to mainstream tradition. Leather started as bold and innovative, crafted to the needs of the individuals and groups of individuals who felt the need to express who they were, particularly at a time when doing so could be detrimental, not only to their careers but to their lives. They were not what people of the time considered “traditionalists”, though, in time, certain traditions did develop. They were not about conformity to a rigid set of rules, but were people who defied convention, broke rules and created new ones.
Mixology is not about staying the same. It is not about homogeneity. It is about change, innovation, revolution and evolution. It is about taking traditional things and building upon them to keep them fresh. It’s also about using older ideas and crafting new ones. Leather can be like that, taking ideas from the military, the monastery and other institutions and remaking them, adding and taking away from them in order to concoct a tasty mix that appeals to the ever changing palate.
Just take a moment and look around the room. We may have some similarities but we’re certainly not the same. There is an interesting and fascinating mix of people here today. We don’t all look like the Google Images version of BDSM or the popular memes of Dominance and submission, do we? At least, I don’t. But seriously, there is a mix, a blend of types of people and personalities here, all with their own uniqueness. Many types of preferences and practices are represented here.
Like drinks, some prefer old favorites, like single malt scotch or a simple rum and coke. Others prefer a potent mix like a Long Island Iced Tea or a Kamikaze. Still others prefer to experiment with newer drinks that combine different elements and excite the palate. In our communities there exists what is called “traditional” or “Old Guard” Leather. There are also Leather women and men, pups and Owners, ponies and their handlers and trainers, MDHL-fs, Daddies and Mommies, boys and girls, those in Leather who defy binary labels, and so many others who all come together with their own identities and interests. This mix transcends the labels of sex, race, gender, culture, sexuality, politics and all other methods of division to be a potent and satisfying cocktail. Or, at least, it should transcend all of those boundaries and labels. Sometimes it doesn’t, and I’ll discuss that as we continue.
It is not necessarily being “inclusive”. LGBT activist Ignacio Rivera once said that to use that word often means that you’re trying to fit something in that was not originally intended to be there. I don’t want to be included in as an afterthought or accommodated and I’m pretty sure that the same holds true for most of us here. I also understand that there is a difference between “acceptance” and “approval”. There are places, groups and organizations that may accept me and people like me, but they may not necessarily approve of me or mine. That difference is not as subtle as many believe and that’s where it can become tricky. I have sat on board meetings of organizations where the question has been asked, “How do we attract more Black, trans, young, gay, fill in the blanks…?” The answer to that is simple: create a place where people feel comfortable and welcome, no matter who they are. There is no need to have a “recruitment drive” targeted at a particular audience. If you truly love the mix, you will do all you can to encourage it, to welcome it and to embrace it. You won’t need to strategize to achieve it.
Whenever you mix people together you are bound to have a little volatility, or in bar parlance, a little “kick”. We are formed by our experiences, influenced by our ideals and connected to our values. We are not all the same. Because of that we can sometimes rub each other the wrong way. Many of us have been so conditioned that we may not even be aware of our prejudices, especially if all we associate with are people like ourselves. If we have only been around the same types of people with the same types of ideas, we can become convinced that everyone is or should be the way we are and see things the way that we do. We may think that people who present differing views are either wrong or assailing all that we believe. Sometimes we forget that the vast majority of us didn’t spring fully formed from the womb of a Leather entity, educated by the Grand Council of Elders and weaned from the breast milk of tradition into a Leather Shangri-La. No, we came out of this world and brought with us the bigotry, racism, sexism and all the other ugliness that exists in those communities we come from. It takes skill to be able to transcend those differences and to rise above those experiences that form us and the prejudices that we’ve grown up with and been conditioned by in order to create a pleasant vibrant mix. If we are to survive as “community” we all must strive to acquire that skill. Let us remember that just because we may all like the same thing, it doesn’t make us community. The down and out alcoholic buying a bottle of Thunderbird for $3 and the wine connoisseur who purchases a Chateau Margaux 1787 for $225,000 may both call themselves “wine lovers” but they wouldn’t call themselves “community”.
But, there is that “other” definition of mixology, the one where it’s said to be a pretentious term used to make something simple sound complicated and prestigious. There is the idea that the bartender is tradition, the approachable person in your corner bar who will pour you a beer or give you a shot and listen to you talk about your day and your problems, whereas the “mixologist” is a performer, an elitist who believes that they are the stars, not the customer. They are approachable but only in the way they draw you into their celebrity. No matter how simple you may want things, they will try to convince you that your simple tastes are not quite enough, that you are not daring enough. They may tell you that once you expand your palate you will be more open to new things. They may show no concern for what’s on your mind except for the drink combination they can convince you to spend extra dollars buying.
There are people like that who walk among us. They present themselves as more knowledgeable. They can be condescending when you deal with them. They may be full of personality when you engage them, but full of something else when they think nobody is watching. They may deride the “traditionalists” as being stuck in one way of doing things. They may rail on and on about “those vanilla people” or those “play actors”. On the other hand, they may themselves identify as traditionalists who have skills and knowledge that you have yet to obtain and if you open yourself up to their “gift”, they may bless you with a holy nugget, if they deem you worthy. They are to be your only source of knowledge and they are not to be questioned because they’re “Old Guard” or schooled in “European houses” and have been on the scene for years… though not IN the scene for years.
But let us refresh our memories. While it seems that the term “mixology” is a new one, the dictionary says that it was first noted in 1872. Ah, tradition! Yet, it seems the term may have evolved and taken on an expanded meaning with the progression of time. And that is often true of traditions. Each succeeding generation builds upon that tradition and expands upon it. The original traditions serve as a firm foundation and new thoughts and ideas are built upon that. We remember that things we now refer to as “traditions” started out as ideas. So remembering that what many call traditions were themselves appropriated, modified and revolutionized to be what they are today is a key to avoiding an elitist attitude.
So, with that in mind, we may ask, what are we doing to add to the mix? What are we doing to make sure that the mix remains and that it is one that maintains its viability and vitality? At one Leather event, a gay male made a misogynistic comment to a Leather woman in an elevator filled with other gay Leather men, but no one challenged him. At another Leather event people called Leather People of Color demanding diversity and sensitivity for racial issues “terrorists”. A Leather titleholder who is a woman of color serving on a board of an event was called a “token” to her face. We are hearing of insensitivity to Trans people and gay Leather people labeling heterosexual Leather people as “appropriating Leather culture” all from people who themselves claim the identity of “Leather”. I don’t think there is one Person of Color in the room that does not have an experience about a slight or even an overt act of prejudice. I am sure many of you here have experienced bigotry in one form or another because of sexual identity, gender identity, racial or cultural identity.
Does anyone remember when the “Pride” movement that many of us now proudly embrace didn’t want Leatherfolk and drag people at the parades or highly visible in the movement because they believed it was counterproductive to their efforts to make it seem that “we’re just like you but gay” and that we would undermine that image? Yet, today many Leatherfolk are expressing the same bigotry that was once perpetrated against them.
This has always been a marginalized community and many of us in BDSM and Leather have embraced that fact, championing our uniqueness and non-conformity. But like many other marginalized communities, there are some of us that have begun to emulate the very people from whom we claim to have separated ourselves. We have become elitist, and judgmental. We have embodied the racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny or misandry, and class distinctions of the people who have marginalized us in the first place… and not only have we sought to excuse it, but many wear it proudly. Something must be done about this.
If mixology is indeed a skill that requires knowledge of the ingredients and their effects when mixed, then we as communities must also become knowledgeable of all the ingredients among us in order to make a potent but satisfying blend. How do we do that? We are taught early in the lifestyle that communication is the key for what it is that we do. What some of us seem to forget is that part of communicating is listening. How many of us listen to learn and how many of us listen just so that we can make a counterpoint? How many of us have bothered to converse with someone a little different than us, someone who may identify differently, come from a different background, practice a different tradition? How many of us have bothered to put aside things we’ve been taught about people through parents, friends and society to learn enough about another person to formulate our own opinions? How many of us see people in our communities who may be different than us only through the eyes of limited experience or through our sexual fetishes?
At a time when the pressures of today’s political climate seem to be drawing people apart, what are we doing to bring people together? At a time when attacks, both verbal and physical, are increasing against those who are not in the majority, what are we doing to help protect each other? Are we going beyond the symbols and doing something substantive? Wearing a safety pin is nice, but will you put yourself between a racist or sexist or transphobe and their target even if that person may turn violent? Wearing a pink pussy hat may make you feel good but what will you do to stop an attack? Let’s make it simpler than that. When someone in your circle or just in your circumference makes a comment that is racist, or sexist or transphobic or homophobic, are you quick to check them? That is part of being an ally. That is part of being community. If doing this type of thing or hearing this type of discussion offends you, if you feel the need to strongly defend these types of actions, then maybe the old saying applies, “If you throw a rock into a pack of dogs, the one that yelps the loudest is the one that got hit!”
Preserving the mix means more than talking the talk. We must walk the walk. We can’t throw around the word “community” like it has some magical power to make us all think alike and love one another. No it takes work. Leather families were formed, not because it was a cool thing to do, but because many of us were rejected and shamed by our biological families simply for being who we are. Leather families were formed because those biological families destroyed their property and tried to eliminate any vestiges of the lives they chose to lead. Leather families were formed to find solace and peace and acceptance with each other. They were formed to protect and care for one another because often times, no one else would. What happened to that spirit? We can look around us at the things occurring today, with trans folks being murdered, gay bashing increasing, racial and religious hatred being accepted among the people who make laws and see that the need for family hasn’t diminished. Here in Pride Month let us not forget that when the rebellion started at Stonewall, it wasn’t just a bunch of white male mainstream gays, but drag queens, People of Color, an eclectic mix of people in the LGBT community in New York who set things off. Since then it has also been their loving friends and families and others who have stood fearlessly with them who have also pushed things forward. Why then should we today seek to reserve Leather, BDSM and all it stands for to a select few who look or act in a particular way? No, we must reach out and embrace those who desire this freedom and are willing to work to maintain it. In addition, we must reject those who refuse to do this, those who would divide us from within and perpetuate the division that seems to be flourishing all around us. Part of that is being part of the mix. We will not survive if we continue to bring the same hatred among us that we sought to escape when we came here in the first place.
So, as we go on, and we look around us at the wonderful mix that is us, let us continue to do the work that adds flavor to the mix. Let us take time to learn about new ingredients as we continue to embrace our old favorites. Let us continue the efforts to keep it deliciously diverse. Let’s do our absolute best to make the mix as potent as possible, as exotic as possible and yet as pleasing as possible so everyone can enjoy our unique concoctions. If we can do that, we can all say that we have earned the right to be called mixologists.