Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My Leather Journey

This is a very different post than my usual. I have recently done a lot of reading on Leather history and have become inspired by those who have come before me in this journey. Here is the paper I wrote after having read the book Leather Folk.

As I was reading this book, I found myself more and more impassioned. I discovered my heart gripped by the stories and the dates contained within them. My mind started putting the dates together with the history I actually learned in history classes and I began to wonder at all of the things my education missed. I began a simple timeline in my mind comparing leather history with civil rights and the VietNam war and realized how much everything overlapped. In 1949, while the first photos of genes were being taken, Dr. Kinsey published his groundbreaking book "Sexual Behavior". It became more and more fascinating to me how much change, turmoil and uprising were taking place- all with different groups and at the same time. I began to wonder if the plight of the gay population might have been more in the forefront had the world not been in a state of chaos- or was the world being in chaos a catalyst for demand for change?

I allowed my mind to imagine myself in the midst of the chaos. I let myself be the people who had so inspired me in this moment. I was a black man, desperate and angry; a soldier, terrified and bitter; and a gay leatherman, brimming with ideals, passions and pain. In my mind, it is the year 1954 and the segregation of schools is being declared unconstitutional. As the black population celebrates this victory, the first gay motorcycle club- The Satyrs- is being created. I found myself becoming excited and immersing my imagination in the excitement, anger and fear of the time. A year later, the women rise up and demand to be heard. Rosa Parks refuses to move to the back of the bus and the Daughters of Billitis, the first lesbian organization in America is formed in San Francisco. The previously downtrodden and abused minorities begin standing up, taking action, and realizing that they can make a difference. In 1957, 9 brave black students hold hands and walk into Little Rock Central High School while the world listens by their radios. Meanwhile, the first artwork by Tom of Finland appears in a magazine, the Navy concludes that homosexuals are not a security risk and London decriminalizes homosexual acts. A year later, Oedipus MC- the second gay motorcycle club in the US is founded, and Chuck Renslow created The Gold Coast, the first leather bar. My mind reels as I imagine the excitement which must have hung in the air as Martin Luther King delivers his now famous "I Have A Dream" speech in 1963. I picture the world watching with a mixture of amazement, horror and excitement. The Civil rights movement moves on, marching and passionate- taking the world and making them watch as it unfolds. Amidst all of the chaos, the gay population is fighting a war all their own- they face brutality, non-acceptance and hatred but march on, indefatigable. They fight against every sector of the population as they search for acceptance and basic human rights. My heart is racing as I read this book, my mind eager for more stories and feeling a connection with those who fought for themselves, their loved ones, and all who would follow them. My mind is racing with dates and facts as I begin to put together the history I learned in school and the unspoken, often hidden history that so captivates me now. The Civil rights movement becomes more violent as Malcolm X emerges, the anger of the oppressed growing more urgent and a year later, this angry trailblazer is assassinated and a new source of chaos emerges as the Vietnam war begins in 1965. Anger erupted from all fronts as the Black Panthers are created, Martin Luther King is assassinated, JFK is assassinated, the Zodiac Killer strikes and the Tet offensive devastates the military. Time magazine declares 1969 as "The Year of the Newly Militant Homosexual" as the gay leather scene erupts. The Gay Activist Alliance and The Gay Liberation Front are founded in New York City. The Stonewall Riots finally make the world stand up and notice as the gay population fights back and only two months away in the same state of New York, the peaceful hopefuls gather at Woodstock.

Now the gay population had seen the benefit fighting back. They were learning, as the Civil rights movement did, that fighting back was the way to accomplish a goal. The first gay pride marches took place in LA, Chicago, and New York in June to commemorate the Stonewall riots, The Hellfire Club was founded and gay male iconography began to change. Gay male ideals were becoming more masculine, stronger and muscular. Anger was rampant on all fronts- Vietnam veterans threw over 700 medals on the west steps of the Capitol building and separatists watched in horror as busing was upheld as a viable method for school integration. True to form and always unquenchable, the gay population established the now famous Catacombs and opened up gay leather bars in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Kansas City and Berlin. The first woman, Cynthia Slater, was allowed into the Catacombs and changed the gay community forever while Harvey Milk took on the world fighting for the rights of homosexuals everywhere.

The question of power permeates this book. Scott Tucker wrote, "Power takes countless forms, but some purists pretend that only tyrants and mass murderers would choose to play with power". I believe this statement is the embodiment of, not only the gay movement, but M/s, sports, politics and even daily life. He speaks of power with a reverence, saying " Power can be refracted through play like light through a prism.. just as I can't imagine a world without light, I can't imagine a world without power. Power doesn't simply oppress people; it also empowers them to act in freedom." The stories of courage I read here inspire me; the testaments to personal power embolden me. I, with all of the benefits of a modern woman, can take the experiences, passions and courage of these brave people who came before me and use them to fortify my own personal power. I am in awe of these brave people. Though I never met them, I know them because they live within me and my community. I aspire to leave a leather legacy that will be an inspiration to those who follow me- to let my own power shine through, unfettered and passionate.

I revisit these events as I write here because I believe they are tied together. I weigh the variables in my mind and wonder if, without one historic event, the result would change. Did the existence of Martin Luther King cause a downtrodden homosexual to have a dream worth fighting for as well? Did the bravery shown at Stonewall inspire Vietnam veterans to protest their unwilling participation in a war they didn't believe in? I believe the true lesson here is that courage begets courage and change inspires growth. May we always have, not only those with the courage to lead us, but may we also have the courage to lead ourselves. May I have courage. May I have passion. May I have power.

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