“New” Leather

Posted: April 22, 2011 in bootblacking, general

In Leather, we celebrate experience and time spent in service to one’s community.  It is a wonderful thing that, within a wider society that seems obsessed with youth and anything new and shiny, that we acknowledge elders and try to show respect for those who have come before us whenever we can.  I was recently at IMsL and was humbled to see 25 years of women’s Leather history represented on stage.  We value our collective history in ways that the wider “throw away society” simply can’t grasp.

Still, like most things, there is an extreme element to this that can be destructive.  Any good thing can be taken too far.

We all know of someone who has been found out to be lying about the amount of experience they have.  I think almost every city or region has a story of someone who claimed years and years of experience in Leather, only to be found out to have lied.  Most of us have also heard others complaining about this person or that person, very often with a derisive comment about how new that person is to Leather.  While I’m certainly not defending anyone lying about who they are or what their experience is, it’s easy to see why they do it.  The overwhelming message is, “Old is better…new is bad.”  Often, the message we send is that anything old is inherently better than anything new.  We talk about the current state of our communities, Leather bars, protocols, and pretty much anything Leather with an air of nostalgia for a better past that has come and gone…leaving us with…well, what is new, which is certainly not nearly as good as what once was.  The past was more intense, more respectful, more dirty, more thoughtful, and more authentic than anything…new.

In some cases, this is true.  We have lost a lot over the years, both in Leather places and in loved ones.  Still, all is not lost unless we believe it is.

The message anyone new to Leather gets, loud and clear, is that it is bad to be new.  Not only that, they get the message that those who are new cannot have anything of value to contribute and are not fit to serve.  If you’re new, the best thing you can do is keep quiet about it and stay out of the way, in the corner, and watch and wait until your mentors and teachers find you and drag you off to the secret Leather catacombs where all true Leathermen and women are taught and age until they have reached the peak of flavor and are brought out in oaken casks, ready to contribute and serve.  Or am I thinking of wine again?  In any case, if you are new, you should hold back any gifts you have until it is the proper time to give them to the community, after they’ve had time to sit and ripen.

There is some wisdom to this and we see examples of people who would have been wise to follow it every time we watch someone very new come into Leather and try to tell everyone in the room how they are “doing it wrong.”  We each know stories of one 19-year-old “Master” or another trying to tell everyone the meaning of Life and Leather.  In this case, their sour grapes certainly could have benefited from some fermentation time as well as some quiet time observing.

However, how many “new” people are out there who do have something to contribute or gifts that our Community needs, but are afraid to come forward and offer them because they have seen how the “new” is welcomed?  How many great, fresh ideas never get shared and how much youthful enthusiasm and vigor is lost when we continually quash the new in favor of the old?  How many people who may be old in years but young in Leather either are afraid to admit their Leather youth or miss out on opportunities to learn because it is just assumed that they’ve been in Leather bars since the dawn of time?  How many young people are avoiding Leather altogether because it is seen as the realm of the “old” and that “new” is not welcome here?

It is ok to be new.  In fact, it’s something we ALL are at some point or another.

Being new can be exciting.  Being new is an adventure.  Being new can mean more energy and more enthusiasm as well as fresher ideas.  There is nothing wrong with being new so long as you are honest and embrace that newness as an opportunity to learn from others and grow.  I think we all do ourselves a disservice when we look down on others for being new.  For one, we contribute to the shame that helps drive people to hide who they really are in an attempt to avoid that label.  For another, we lose out on the contributions a whole section of our Community have to make now, many of which are needed right now.  Finally, we can often delay or even push away our next generation of Leatherfolk, those who will bring new energy to our Tribe and will continue its traditions into the future.

I am young in my Leather journey.

I am unashamed of being young and of having a lot left to learn and years left to learn it.  It’s wonderful to be looking down a long road not far past the beginning of a long journey because the view is full of possibilities.  Still, I very early on saw that there were ways I could contribute and serve and I stepped forward to do them, almost even before I knew what a sin it was to be new.  I naively saw needs and worked to fill them to the best of my ability.  I didn’t wait until I’d been found by a mentor, but instead sought one out and I continue to seek out more experienced teachers and mentors wherever I can find them.  I devoured wisdom hungrily at the boots of those in my chair and I shared what I learned with whoever wanted to learn, as I did.  Now I try to help others not have to make quite such a dive into the deep end as I did, but I see value in each place along the path, not just toward one end or the other.  I hope I never stop learning and never feel like I’ve done and seen so much that there is nothing new to discover.  I was happy to discover this weekend that I could meet a new bootblack who could make me look at bootblacking from a new perspective, one I hadn’t encountered even in all my travels.  Not bad for a newbie.

Let us embrace the new, remembering when we were new ourselves, whether it was last week or a lifetime ago.  Let’s give them the permission to be new and to be unashamed and unafraid to admit what they don’t know and ask questions as well as to give what gifts they have without fear of rejection simply because they haven’t seen as many years.  I think our Community will be healthier for it.

  1. I really appreciate this viewpoint! Being new to BDSM (a year in the pan scene) and even newer to Leather (a few months of interest), I am glad to see that one a bit further in experience but still new, can see both ends of the spectrum and the information both can bring. It is very inspiring & exciting!!

  2. Thank you for a great post.

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