Why Bootblacking and Rope?

Posted: May 31, 2011 in bootblacking

Very often, when a group of Leather folk get together, one or two will quietly, out of earshot of their companions, grudgingly admit, “Yes, I like rope…but I’m not a rope person.”  There is often a stereotype of rope people as being only straight, middle aged white guys dressing up in Japanese costumes and tying up skinny little yoga fanatics as enya plays quietly in the background.  It often seems like this is a world that is foreign to most Leathermen and women and most of the Leathermen I know that enjoy rope are rather private about it.  However, I run into enough of them, that I have to think that there are more of them than might be admitting it.

I am a pretty eager rope bottom myself…a rope slut even.  I love being tied up.  I love the smell of rope, the feel of it on my skin, and the tightness as it binds me.  That being said, I rarely, if ever am tied up to Enya and my Master prefers to wear boots and and leather while he ties me.  We also often do rope as part of our other play, so a beautiful shibari tie might be followed by him whipping me, lighting me on fire, or doing some other far more rough and raw type of play.  I love the contrast in that…turning me into a work of art only to tear me up, to me, is hot.

This weekend, as a gift to my Master, I stayed away from the lure of IML with all the leather and bootblacking goodness going on over there and instead spent the weekend at Shibaricon.  To say this was an act of service and submission was an understatement.  My leather brothers and sisters were all so close, just downtown in Chicago, while I was among mostly strangers in a strange land.  There were even furries there and I felt very alone and strange myself in my boots among the rope people.  Yes…I wasn’t in Kansas anymore and I was far outside my Leather comfort zone.  In some ways, it was a very tough weekend.  However, I came to recognize so many similarities between rope culture and bootblack culture that I began to feel at home, not in spite of, but because of my differences.

Bootblacks come in all different types.  In some ways, we could almost be called the rope people of the Leather world.  We are often looked at askance as we practice an old artform, even more so if we find a spiritual and creative outlet in it.  We take what comes to our chair as it is and create beauty from it.  We each have our own techniques and can argue endlessly about the minute differences between them, yet we also come to respect each other for those differences.  We are a fraternity bound together by a common artform and we work to preserve it and pass it on.  Like rope, the basic techniques of bootblacking are actually very simple to learn, but the come together to create an artform so full of nuances that it can take a lifetime to master and to learn to express yourself through the medium.  Almost every bootblack gets something different from their bootblacking.

Rope riggers also come in many varied forms.  Some find a deep spirituality and connection to their partner in rope bondage.  Others enjoy rough and tumble play and express their sadism with rope, using it as exquisite torture.  Still others see it as pure art, weaving their model into a complex design.  Some find the same zen in it, by focusing on the minute details to forget about the chaos and chatter of life for a while, that some of us find in bootblacking.  Some rope riggers do it simply as a way to get laid and still others do it as a service to please a bottom that loves to be tied up.  Like bootblacking, what is happening at first glance in a rope scene is not always all that is going on.

I love rope.  I may never completely fit in at an event like Shibaricon, but I think that there is room for all types of rope people and I certainly think that Leather people need not be embarrassed to admit that they are among that group as well.  I think there is room for Leather in rope as well as room for rope in Leather.

In fact, I met a guy this weekend who makes rope out of leather…now what could be more sublime than that?  To be tied up…in leather?  I only hope I can reach my Huberds while I’m in it!


In Praise of Producers

Posted: May 19, 2011 in Titleholding

I’ve spent a lot of time this year with Leather contest producers.  I’ve had quite a few producers myself given that I’ve held a regional and international concurrently, each with a set of producers.  Then there are the contest producers I’ve met in my travels, often staying in their homes and working closely with them as I’ve traveled from region to region.  Even after that, you have the contest producers I’ve rubbed shoulders with or worked for when I’ve ventured to events for the M/s, IMsL, and IML title tracks.  There are a lot of contest producers, but until I actually held a title, I couldn’t have said exactly what any of them really did.  In particular, I had no idea exactly how much work begins after the contest is over and the winners are announced and the pictures are all taken, with flushed faces and big smiles.  I didn’t know that this is when the real work begins.

The relationship between contest producers and titleholders is a challenging one by nature.  Once the titleholder is given a sash, they essentially work for the producer, but they are a volunteer.  There is so much good a titleholder can do to enhance a title, but they can also do an equal amount to harm.  In essence, these relationships, to me, seem a lot like an extension of the D/s relationships most of us are more familiar with.  After the crowds leave and the hugs finish, there is a contract which is signed.  Expectations are given.  Each side begins to get to know the other, to learn how they will work together.  For producers, the stakes are high.  For most producers, they have invested their reputation, blood, sweat, tears, and their own hard earned money in the contest.  Often they are former titleholders themselves that didn’t want to see that contest die, so they stepped up to do the work of putting it on.  That work starts the moment the contest ends and continues until it all starts over again with the next contest.  It involves an incredible balancing act between handling the sometimes huge egos of titleholders, the expectations of producers of other events their titleholders attend, the business work of balance sheets and travel funds and event budgets, the PR of schmoozing and promoting the contests and titles, and mountains of communication in the forms of emails, phone calls, and more.  I’m betting if you asked most contest producers how many hours they put in, they would have no clue.  I’m betting if you asked most of their partners, they would say far too many.  While title widows only give up their partners for the length of the title, a producer’s widow carries on year after year, with even less recognition for their sacrifice.

Even with all this work and investment, producers are often painted as the villain.  After all, they are the ones who have to rein in titleholders, telling them when they’ve gone astray or when what they’re doing isn’t working.  No one likes being called on the carpet.  They also have to tell titleholders, “no.”  Travel funds aren’t bottomless and often the priorities of the producers and those of the titleholder clash.  They also have to push their titleholders, even when it means pushing them to make personal sacrifices themselves.  In the Community, there are always questions about finances or their motivations, no matter what the region or contest.  They constantly have to defend their integrity…even while working late nights and paying out of their own pockets.  Are there bad producers who do take advantage of the Community?  I’m sure there are.  I would say, though, that from what I’ve seen in my travels, they would have to be in the vast minority, yet all contest producers pay the price for their villainy.

Yet, producers are also often the greatest source of support a titleholder has.  They are in a unique position to understand what a titleholder is going through.  While they may be open with criticism in private, they are also often just as open with praise both in public and in private.  They stand, often behind the scenes, and work to lift others up for their time in the spotlight and their cheers are deafening when they see their titleholders work hard and reach for the high standards they set.  Like any good Dominant, they are often strict and exacting, but only to push those in their care to be the very best they can be and like any good Dominant, they are overwhelmingly proud when those in their care step up to the challenge they have given and they see the growth that has been made.

In my own experience, I’ve had some incredible producers.  I have had producers that make my heart beat faster every time I opened an email from them, anxious about what it might contain and already feeling a knot in my stomach, but yet that only pushed me to hold myself to a higher standard and made their praise all the more sweet…because I knew it was not easily earned.  I’ve had producers I could call at any hour to talk about a flight canceled or to help me figure out how to handle a sticky situation, who would always listen to me and offer the best advice…even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.  I’ve had producers who worked tirelessly to raise money for my travel funds before they had even met me or knew who I was.  I’ve had producers who frustrated me, made me laugh, made me cry, but above all else, none of them ever gave up on me and all of them were committed to my success, even if we disagreed on what path would lead to it.  When I competed at ICBB, it was my regional directors, chris and Triskelan along with my Master, who were there to support me, forcing me to drink, calming my nerves, grabbing me food and working as hard as I was.  When I returned home with the title, I was embraced by both groups of producers, all of them supporting me, even if it was to tell me to stay home from an event when I had a fever and helping me not feel guilty about taking care of myself or worrying over me when my schedule became insane.  Every step of the way, they pushed and supported and cared for me.

Looking back, a simple thank you during a step down speech just isn’t enough thanks for people like this.  We often may begrudge them their moments on stage, but without them, there would be no contests and no titles.  Each one of my producers stood with me through this year, taking whatever those around them dished out, often sheltering me from the arrows.  Each one of them has given of their time, their energy, their finances, and their hearts just so that I could do what I have done.  I wouldn’t be here without all of them and it’s unlikely you would be reading this blog if it wasn’t for them.  Part of the great anxiety of producing a title contest is that you don’t get to choose who gets the title, the judges do that, but afterward, that person and all they are and do reflects back on your reputation, the same as a submissive or slave’s actions reflect back on their Owner.  In that light, it’s pretty clear why producers sometimes have to be tough on titleholders.

For my part, I hope that I have been a good reflection on all those who have done so much behind the scenes.  There is no way to adequately thank them for all that they do and all that they put up with, but a simple thank you, I guess, is a start.

In my world, there are two types of Masters.  There is the Master whom I belong to, who does not bear the title of Master and is only called that by me and others like him who pursue M/s relationships.  Then there are those who are so highly respected by their communities that their long years of service are acknowledged by giving them the title of Master.  For me, it is often difficult to call someone else “Master X.”  That word, Master is infused with so much weight for me.  To me, it is often a bit like calling someone a god.  A Master is someone in my world who has some power to them that I can’t quite describe or put my finger on.  Words, for once, escape me when I try.  Whatever it is, though, it inspires me to my knees.  I feel it and I bow to it, almost intoxicated by the feeling of just being near it.

I’m conscious of the place the title has in Leather and I use it where it is appropriate.  Usually, though, there is an awkward moment mentally for me, where I have to consciously shift gears from my perception of Master to a more Leather perception of Master.  This awkwardness has everything to do with my own hang-ups and nothing to do with the honorable people who have been recognized with that title.  I understand this, so I make the mental adjustment and then call them as they are.  “Master X, Master Y.”

With Master Barry, there was no awkwardness, no moment of having to shift my perceptions.  He was, simply, Master Barry from the moment I met him and in my mind he fit easily into both of my definitions of Master.

What I know of Master Barry, I know less from personal experience or his own words, than from those who respected and loved him.  I began to come to know him even before I boarded my flight to Calgary this past November.  I remember that people who barely knew me asked me to bring him their regards.  They spoke with a mixture of fondness and respect and these were men who don’t give either out to just anyone.  I was already intrigued as to what sort of man would inspire this.  We flew up to Calgary just after a snowstorm, from Florida and I was embraced by a Community there that was warm enough to even warm us up in the Canadian winter.  Almost the moment we got off the plane, though, it became clear, though, that this was a Community with a broken heart.

Over the weekend, I only briefly saw Master Barry until the contest itself.  Still, from each person I spoke to, I got a slightly different picture of him.  I learned of his great care for his Community from one, I learned of his soft heartedness and loyalty as a Sir to his boy from another.  Each story was like a puzzle piece of this man, this man who was very, very sick and who’s illness had struck at the heart of the strong Community he was a cornerstone for.  As the pieces combined, they did so against the backdrop of a Leather contest where I judged an incredible Sir contestant.  The two storylines fed off of each other, as often happens, each of them giving me a glimpse into the hearts of these two men as well as the men who loved them.  Both, I learned were men strong enough to feel and strong enough to open their hearts to the men around them.

When the contest ended, I set up to bootblack.  I was still flying high from the fantasies and I was eager to play, hoping to entice some there into some hot boot scenes, if I could.  When Master Barry came to my chair and asked me to do his boots, though, my pulse stilled and I became more meditative than playful.  I could sense the great honor this was, even though I didn’t know then that previously he would never have let a girl do his boots.  What began next was the greatest boot scene I’ve had all year and perhaps the most meaningful one I will ever have as a bootblack.

I breathed in deeply, centering myself.  His boy stood next to him and the men were all around us.  As I began cleaning his boots, I could feel his energy.  It was strong even though his body was already weakened by hisillness.  It was calm and strong even now and I knelt at his feet and began to clean his boots.  I quickly noticed something very wrong.  His boots were in terrible condition!  They were dry and cracked, in contrast with his neat leathers.  I wondered how they could have gotten in such a state, but I had a feeling there was a story there.  Gently, I asked him about his boots.  His eyes welled up with tears as he explained.

“These are my boy boots, ” he spoke with effort, “My feet are too swollen from the chemo to wear my regular boots.”

I felt the full weight of this settle quickly on me and I had to breathe deeply not to let my own tears fall.  These were his boy boots, the boots he wore at the beginning of his Leather journey, likely the first Leather he had earned or been given.  It was too much and I felt so small, there at his feet.  Somehow, though, I knew that I couldn’t cry and that this was one of those times to be strong.  I felt like the pain and tears of the men around me were held back by a dam and that if I cried it would poke a hole in that dam and they needed that to cling to.  So, I breathed deeply and explained to him that I would like to condition rather than shine them because they needed it.  He agreed.

I may be a hell-raising Buddhist Atheist now, but I was raised Catholic and the first image that came to my mind as I began to gently rub conditioner into Master Barry’s boy boots was that of Mary washing Jesus’s feet and drying them with her hair.  I put all the love I could into my hands, all the good things I had inside me, I tried to put into my touch.  I tried to channel all the devotion and love I had heard from the men around me about this man into that act…a simple act of caring for one man’s boots.  I don’t know if he felt it, but for me, that act was elevated in those moments into an act almost of worship.  I was attempting, in my own limited way to pay homage to all this man had walked and to his brave fight against a cowardly opponent.  We spoke as I worked.  His words were kind and his love for his boy and for his Community showed clearly in his eyes.  His voice broke when I gave him the regards of those who had sent word with me, tears held back but there for old friends that he missed.

It was one of the greatest honors of my life to kneel at the feet of such a great man and be allowed to serve him.  I think of him often when I come across people who just don’t seem to “get it,” who view Leather as just the wearing of cowhide or bootblacking as just caring for that cowhide.  I think of him when I see a 20-something give themselves a title of “Lord Master Beauregard of White Castle.”  I think of him when I hear the term “Old Guard” used simply as a way to justify one’s point or appropriated by people outside the Leather Community.  When I think of him, I remember that I know what Leather is.  I felt it in my hands when I touched his boots.  I saw it in his eyes when he spoke about others.  I felt it in the bonds of his Community and I feel it now when I speak to those in mourning.  When I think of him, I also remember that I know what a Master is from the way he never used that title when introducing himself to me, but everyone else always used it when speaking or referring to him and in the way he put others ahead of himself, caring for his Community like a father cares for his family.

I am so glad that I made a trip up from warm Florida into the midst of a Calgary winter.  I consider myself so fortunate to have been there in time to have met Master Barry and to, for even a short time, be a part of his world.  I only wish everyone could have experiences like these because, to me, that boot scene, while definitely not my wildest and the boots did not turn out looking perfect from all their cracks and dryness, that boot scene was to me what this is all about.  I have never felt more a bootblack.

Thank you, Master Barry.

Leather Bar

Posted: May 12, 2011 in general

While it might be possible to be Leather without ever having set foot inside a Leather bar, I think that you would be missing out on a huge part of the visceral experience of Leather by doing so.  I think the memory of those experiences is why a small piece of our hearts dies each time another Leather bar shuts its doors for good.  There is something about being in that space, surrounded by Leatherfolk, that no amount of reading or talking can teach you.  I wanted to write about that experience this week, basically a view for those who have never been and a reminder for those missing it.

It takes a while for my eyes to adjust as I step inside the door.  It is dark inside, shutting out the world outside and becoming more real than anything beyond the doors.  This is where creatures like me come alive and where we find our own kind.  I have to squeeze past men at the coat check, but these aren’t just any men…they are Leathermen.  They are men who are unafraid to be men and to love like men.  They are rough and big and hulking and they smell like men, not like aftershave.  They smell of the leather they wear as well as the sweat they sweat…and the sex they have.  I inhale deeply and that scent helps me feel like the animal I am.  I am different than them, but I am of the same species.  I move through them, catlike, past the coat check where they shed their false skins to reveal the leather and skin beneath.

The bar is much like any other bar, only darker.  You also don’t often find “girly” drinks here.  Here it is mainly beer and hard liquor with the occasional jello shot.  I see a group of boys drinking and frolicking.  Their youth is barely restrained by the leather they wear as they joke and jostle each other.  Along the edge of the bar, though, in the shadows, the hunters watch the prey play.  Their eyes are harder, often rimmed with a few wrinkles and they seem to see more in the low light than most people do at midday.  In other lives, these men might be managers or they might be mechanics, but here they are the hunters, watching every move around them, occasionally nodding in recognition to a friend or engaging in conversation as they lean back against the wall, idly sipping a beer, like big cats relaxing before they chase down a gazelle.

As I stalk my way through the crowd I feel the music even more than I hear it.  It is a loud heartbeat that seems to rattle my ribcage, like drums of war.  I smell the familiar smells of beer, sweat, leather, piss, and cigar smoke wafting through the air, making it hazy.  I narrow my eyes and smile at a passing friend, a handsome boy bringing an equally handsome Sir a drink.  I tease him with my smile, baring my fangs, but we both know that neither of us are on each other’s menu.  I am not a hunter and there are few here who would attempt to hunt me…I’m just not their kind of prey.  Boldly, I revel in this freedom, enjoying it rather than feeling disappointed that I am outside the games at play as the hunters lure their prey closer.  That is, until I feel a pair of eyes tracing my own body and I turn, intrigued.

Amid the Sirs is a Leatherdyke, equally seasoned and strong.  She relaxes amid the hunters and one of her companions turns to see where her gaze has settles and laughs.  I can’t hear his words, but I feel my heart quicken as her eyes stay on me, measuring me, gauging my reaction.  I feel my face flush and my throat grow dry and I swallow, my eyes looking down, breaking the tension of our stares.  When I look back up, she has turned to her companion, laughing, but her eyes dart back to mine, telling me that she marked my nervousness and I know the game is on.

All around me men and some women dance similar mating dances, more like a dance between predator and prey in the smoky haze.  A man near me groans as another twists his nipple, his lips near the boy’s ear, almost brushing it as he whispers what he will do next.  The boy leans closer to the Sir, eager for his touch and tormented by thoughts of the pleasure and pain to come and the Sir toys with him, drawing out the anticipation so that the boy will be even more eager to please.  I smile, forgetting for a moment my own weakness and vulnerability and regaining my composure, yet envious of the boy, wishing I had lips near my ear promising such sweet torments.  I head to the bar and I can almost smell the pheromones, the musky smell of horniness and desire as the prey entice their hunters and the hunters stealthily lure in their prey, each of them marking off some space to share in the crowd.  I turn my back to all this, floating on the thick energy coming from it all and feeling a deep, gutteral connection to our ancestors, men and women who saw what they wanted…and took it.  Here the game is a bit more civilized.  The takers ask before taking, but they take just the same after the niceties are completed and consent given.  I ache to be taken, but instead, I order a drink from a cut barback, marveling at the mix of primal, sex driven ferocity tempered with more courtesy and manners than one would find on the average street outside.

Then I feel her behind me before she speaks, the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end.  I fear it is her and yet I also fear that I am mistaken and that she has gone on to other quarry.  Her voice, though, is husky but female, strong as the muscles of her arms, yet mixed with the softness of her lips.

“It’s about time you bought me a drink,” she says as I turn and see her smile.  She is testing me, waiting to see how I will react.  I offer it to her, my eyes darting up to hers only to lower again.  She wears a cover and I know her.  I’ve been dreaming of her ever since I saw her in her leathers, wondering how those boots would feel pressing against my skin.  She laughs and instead orders a beer from the barback, moving closer to the bar, intentionally into my space.

“Do you still think you want to take me on?” she teases as she takes a swig of beer.  I swallow hard, measuring her up, knowing she is a heavy player, knowing she is muscular and knows her way around.  I feel my whole body heat up and I try not to show how badly I want to feel her teeth in me, her fists hitting me, anything she has to give.

“Yes…Sir.”  I manage and my voice nearly cracks, I’m such a mixture of turned on and terrified and excited and anxious.  Her eyes dig into mine and I know that she has read all that I didn’t say.  There is no hiding from eyes like that, as the boys around me know too well from the pairs of similar eyes that seek them.  She moves quickly and suddenly I’m pinned back against the bar, her hard muscle holding me helpless as her eyes look down at me.  I feel a bead of sweat start running down my forehead and I’m embarassed as a moan escapes my lips as she digs a hard thigh into my crotch.

“Well then…”  she is as calm and composed as I am a mess, smiling casually, her hard eyes full of everything she plans to do to me, knowing I will surrender eagerly to her.

And the music thumps on, this moment lost among all the other moments like it, all around us, mixing together.

Those who know me well know that I am a bit puzzled as to why people seem to take notice of me.  I find it kind of fascinating in the way I puzzle over anything I can’t understand.  When I received emails in my inbox stating that I’d been nominated for several Pantheon of Leather awards, my honest first response was that, “We need to have higher standards.”  To be honest, I don’t think anything I have done or accomplished over this past year is above or beyond anything we should expect of our Leather titleholders.  To me, I have only done the job I was given, to the best of my ability, and even then I can point to many times I’ve felt like I fell short of the great responsibility I was given.  We should expect the very best our Leaders, titleholders or not have to offer.  When we give someone a sash and ask them to represent us, they should feel the weight of it, and even maybe fear it.  I feel like a title year should be a struggle, an ordeal which calls upon each titleholder to rise up and be more than they think they are capable of, straining to reach an ideal.  All our leaders should feel a great weight of responsibility to those who have given them their trust and a huge responsibility to live up to the great expectations we have of them.

Yet, I also believe in balance.  We should understand that our leaders are not gods and godesses descending from the pantheon on Mount Olympus to grace us with their presence, but rather mere mortals trying to be Atlas, holding the weight of the world on their shoulders.  They will stumble.  They will even fall.  It’s tough to fail when so many eyes are on you, but being too afraid to fail means that often we won’t be willing to take the risks necessary to make a bigger impact.  It’s even tougher to see those we look up to fall.  I’ve had to learn to separate moments of human weakness from the great contributions of my own heros, to allow them to be human as well as admire that which rises above in them.  I have often been afraid.  I have sat across from a contestant in a Leather contest, my own heart beating out of my chest, afraid as I pushed them, not wanting to push them too hard.  I’ve been afraid as I’ve stood up in front of classes and put myself out there as some sort of authority, for fear that I would offend, anger, or even just make a fool of myself.  There have been times I’ve thought I’ve done all three.  I have laid in my bathtub, trying to console myself as I felt I was the worst failure, just days after feeling I was on top of the world.  I’ve quickly learned that often those who are the most eager to push you up on a pedestal are doing so because they are hoping to knock you off it and watch you fall.  Yet, I have also had so many people who have been there when I did fall, to brush me off and send me back on the path.

Our Leaders are human.  They will say the wrong things.  They will burn out when we need them.  They will forget details and even forget to thank us.  They will sometimes be selfish or even cruel without meaning to.  Even the greatest among us will have days when we wonder what we were thinking when we put our trust in them.  Somehow, we need to learn to temper high standards with compassion for the humanity of those trying to reach those standards.  We need to encourage the best qualities among our leaders while still being forgiving of their faults.

I have been honored to share time with some of our Leather communities leaders this year.  Some of my favorite moments were the times when I saw behind the armor we all must put on when we go out to do battle with cameras.  I have seen great leaders wrestle with their humanity.  I’ve seen them tired, sad, unsure, even frustrated.  I’ve even seen great people when it seemed like life or even someone they trusted had just delivered a sucker punch to them.  It was in those moments when I really saw why they are great people and worthy leaders…by watching how they handled the tough moments.  I watched them put aside their own personal feelings to serve others and to make sure what needed to be done was done.  I watched tears swallowed and angry words held back for the good of others in moments that no one else would see or appreciate.  Those aren’t the moments we see on the front page of the Leather Journal or written about in Leatherati, but those are the moments that make these great men and women who they are.

As I think of their faces, as they covered the hurt and put on a smile to help someone else or make sure an event succeeded for others, I see a pantheon, not of Leather gods, but of something much more noble…regular human beings striving to overcome their own human frailties to help others in their humanness.  To me, that is so much more interesting and compelling than the idea of powerful gods and godesses descending from on high to rescue us.  The idea that we each, as humans could rise to higher standards and hold each other to them and that each one of us could be a part of this is truly inspiring and one of the reasons I try to stress to the people I meet that I’m just a bootblack, a slave, and someone who decided to run for a Leather contest and happened to win.  I am very much human as are the people I look up to and every other Leather titleholder and leader I know within our Community is just as human…and all the more inspiring for it.  We are the Rocky Balboa’s of our world, flawed, anxious, and unsure of ourselves, yet doing what must be done anyway simply because it is the right thing to do.

I see nothing remarkable about myself that deserves to be on a list with the amazing men and women nominated for the Pantheon of Leather nominations this year, but perhaps my name joining theirs might inspire someone else out there, to set their sights higher and maybe we all can collectively raise our standards while still caring for each other as the humans we are rather than pretending to be gods and punishing each other for our humanity.

“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.

Leather Family

Posted: April 19, 2011 in bootblacking, general, Titleholding

This past weekend at International Ms Leather was a very meaningful one for me.  It left me thinking a lot about family.  For one, I was honored to judge 4 members of the bootblack family in the IMsBB contest.  For another, this really was my first major interaction with the women’s Leather community.  Finally, I was brought into my first Leather family this weekend, when Mama herself pinned me.  It was a lot to process and I’m still feeling it all settle in.

I have often, even during this year, felt much like a Leather orphan.  I come from a community that is rebuilding itself in the shadows of the bible belt.  I come from a place where Leathermen still have to be careful about wearing their leathers during Gay Pride…lest we not even be allowed to have a Gay Pride at all.  I come from a place where there are only a handful of active Leatherwomen to look up to and mentors are few and far between.  I drove 5 hours down south to Ft. Lauderdale to be mentored myself.  I have often felt like I missed out on something by not finding a Leather family when I was brand new to kink and learning at the feet of elders, but instead going searching on my own.  When I heard others talk about Leather families, I listened with envy, imagining what it would feel like to be loved and accepted and taught and guided.  There just weren’t those kinds of opportunites nearby me.

So, I went out and I found them.

I pieced together family out of the Leathermen I met as I traveled, primarily within the men’s community.  I found older brothers and father figures all across North America and I learned at their feet, albeit by doing their boots.  I found mentors and teachers in every city I visited and I hungrily listened to their stories.  I pledged my local Leather club, even though there were few women there, and I was welcomed with open arms, finding more hugs and brothers.  My path has not been the traditional one that I always pictured, but I can’t complain considering how many wonderful Leathermen have been patient enough to teach me and help me along my way, even if just in the time it takes to do their leathers.  In my title family, I was even given a taste of what it might feel like to have a Leather family, with Sir Hugh and boy Ian embracing me as their own.  I learned what it felt like to have people who had my back and who would give advice and take care of me.  I learned to trust and form bonds that had nothing to do with our genders or orientation, but went deeper than that.

All this, I did almost completely within the men’s community, which to me was remarkable in itself and completely busted the myth that a woman, particularly a woman like me, would never be accepted there.  I was accepted at a level that was so much deeper than my surface appearance by my brothers there.

And yet, I still felt envy when people talked about their Leather families and I also began to feel envy when people talked about the women’s community.  My closest women’s groups for Leatherwomen are in Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale, hours away.  I have enjoyed my visits with them and formed bonds with them, but I’d never really experienced the women’s community on a broader scale.  I’d heard about it, in bits and pieces, from the women I met on my travels.  Every now and then I got a small glimpse of it.  This past weekend at IMsL, I was immersed in it.  I felt it all around me.  At first, ironically, I even felt like an outsider, as if I were an interloper from the men’s community.  By the end of the weekend, though, I found myself embraced by it, wide-eyed learning the history of it at the brunch keynote by Gayle Rubin.  I got to know 4 amazing women bootblacks and I got to talk, play, and laugh with so many incredible Leatherwomen.  This was a healing weekend in which I fully realized that I do fit in both worlds, something I was unsure of starting out.

This all kind of culminated in being received into Mama’s family on Saturday, before the contest.  I was silent, something which is actually rather remarkable for me.  Honestly, I didn’t have the words for it and I was just trying hard not to cry.  When I told a few people, “This is the first Leather family I’ve ever been in,” I think I got a few odd looks.  It’s probably not usual for someone’s first Leather family to be arguably the largest, spanning over 1,000 members.  Yet, considering how unconventional my Leather journey has been up to now, it seemed perfectly fitting.  I looked around me at the faces of my new family, most of which I already knew from my travels.  As they congratulated me, I tried just to remain composed, fearful that if I let go of any bit of control, I would be a tearful mess.

Me…a Leather orphan, adopted by Mama’s Family.

I marveled at what this all meant, both finding the women’s community and a Leather family at the same event, being hugged by Sir Hugh who had shepherded me safely through the men’s community all year and taught me so much and surrounded by so many people.  It was all just too much to process at once, the CPU in my geeky little brain smoking from the effort.  So…I set it aside for a while, concentrating on the contest and my title work.  I let it all sink in and settle.  As I did, I came to realize that, maybe, that picture I had of the standard path in Leather was just that…a picture and that maybe my own path was exactly the right one for me.  Given that I’ve always lived surrounded by men, working in male dominated fields, and growing up with brothers, not sisters, it seems fitting for me as an individual to be bonded with my Leather brothers.  Given that I’ve become so close to so many people as I’ve traveled far and wide, it makes sense that my Leather family would be composed of those same people, spread across distance and gathered back together when we meet, as the nomads we are, at Leather events.  This might not be every Leathergirl’s perfect path, but for me, it makes perfect sense.

I come away from IMsL and I look at my calendar with a smile.  I have always been unique and I will continue to be.  I will always feel my roots within the men’s and player’s and bootblack communities even as I sometimes ache for more time with other Leatherwomen.  I will always be a searcher, seeking out knowledge where I can find it.  Still, in my own way, I do belong and I am complete and content right where I am.  It may look different from the outside, but there is no contradiction.  It took getting to know IMsBB and appreciate and respect it to know that I am right where I belong.  It took getting to know the women’s community to know that I don’t have to choose between them.  It took becoming part of a Leather family to realize that I had unofficially been a part of several all along, made up of bootblacks and players.

Thank you to all of you who have been a part of this, no matter which community you consider yourself a part of…you have all been a part of mine.