Eric Leven

Unbuckling Straps: An undoing of the NYC Leather Community

Filed By Eric Leven | July 09, 2009 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: GMSMA, leather community, New York City, S&M

A week ago the decades-old organization of Gay Male S/M Activists (GMSMA) of New York put the kibosh leatherflag.jpgon their twice a month meetings and community. Over the years numbers of attendees dwindled from hundreds to just a handful and as the letter below states, "there are simply not enough men who are willing and able to step forward to lead the organization."

The letter below was dropped in my inbox a few days ago.

I recently attended the final Wednesday night meeting of Gay Male S/M Activists (GMSMA). That's right, I said "final." Finished. Done. It's over. The organization's annual meeting on Wednesday, June 17, 2009, was billed as a "celebration of GMSMA." What's happening is that after decades of being a vibrant, thriving organization of gay men interested in learning about safe, sane and consensual s/m, GMSMA is now "transitioning" into a non-profit foundation. There will be no more Wednesday night programs.

Letter continues after the jump.

During its heyday, GMSMA had hundreds of members from not only New York City but from across the country and even from overseas. Regular meetings were held twice a month, and it was not uncommon for the third floor meeting room of the gay community center on West 13th Street to be jam packed with dozens or even 100 or more men eager to learn and to socialize. One night the topic might be how to tie up your boyfriend in really good rope bondage, another time you could learn all about flogging and whipping, or how to put together a really kick-ass cop or firefighter uniform....

GMSMA was also an activist organization. Its leaders were instrumental in securing a place at the table for the leather community in groundbreaking gay civil rights marches in our nation's capital. It was also the first s/m organization to include "S/M" in its title. That may not sound like much of a big deal today, but when GMSMA was founded back in 1981 those who engaged in s/m activities were often looked upon as freaks or deviants -- even by those in the larger gay community. Believe it or not, GMSMA had to fight to be allowed to meet at the gay community center. In later years it became one of the center's biggest financial donor organizations.

There were about 45 men in attendance at the last meeting in June, including a leather top who brought a very sexy and shirtless tattooed slave on a leash, who greeted the men he was introduced to by getting down on his hands and knees and licking their boots. Most who showed up were old-timers -- one came in on the train from northeastern Connecticut. A few who came were newer members. At least half -- including me -- were former board members of the organization who had put in years or in some cases even decades of service to the community. But when the official business of the meeting got under way and the remaining officers announced the sad plans to effectively shut down the organization, only one man in attendance raised an objection.

It was painful for many others as well, but the unfortunate fact, what everybody knew -- and what ultimately led to the end for GMSMA -- is that there are simply not enough men who are willing and able to step forward to lead the organization anymore. The current board was down to just three members (a fourth signed on to help in the coming months with the transition). They were over-worked and under-appreciated. The harsh reality is that the organization simply could not continue to exist in its current form without more manpower.

It's unfortunate when an organization such as this, where gay men can come together and learn "safe, sane and consensual" ways to broaden their sexual horizons comes to a close.

I'm not a leather guy and I suppose that's just the problem. Very few men hovering around my age range and younger seem to be interested or know or know-to-care or care-to-know anything about the leather community or the meaning and history behind it. Sure some of us have our Sam Brownes and harnesses for events like The Black Party and Folsom Street East, when leather is acceptable and down-right dress code but by no means is there a trend going toward the leather lifestyle. Older friends tell stories of what leather truly means. That it is much more than fashion, accessories, more than "Masc and solid," more than butch and mean. Leather is a means to discovering the deeper connections two men can have between one another. A bonding experience. An exposure and measure of trust and vulnerability. Still, maybe for those of us whose closet doors were left ajar rather than bolted shut there isn't that search for sexual comprehension or need for fetish-based sexual fulfillment. Sex is here. It's now. It's out, it's open. It may not be talked about as much as it's happening but it is happening. The analogy of leather, no longer, necessarily applies? Maybe if play spaces and dungeons were more widely available, established or more culturally/socially accepted leather would be more current or stand a greater chance? Yet even though I'm one of those casual street event, Folsom-based leather guys it strikes me as a loss, a changing of landscapes, a shifting of wavelength when communities such as these meet an end.

Is it all be too far gone? The men of true leather are either dead or significantly older and the few still proudly fastening chaps and strapping harnesses, outside of commercial scenes, are seeing their beloved, sought out organizations closing. I suppose it's all fitting. What place does leather have these days? Here in NYC. New.York.City. We have only The Eagle, which is rather leather-light and The Lure and Spike are long gone, gone, gone. If International Mr. Leather and Mid Atlantic Leather are major events, then where are the pockets of that in other urban/rural areas? Have we become lazy or casually unconcerned?

Will we see a resurgence in leather and this community? Will men step up and lead or will this be yet another relic of our past?

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Sane? Paraphilias are hardly sane.

I'm glad our youth will soon be rid of such noxious interactions and concepts of relationships as based on power distribution.

Because, as we all know: "If it ain't good for me, it ain't good for anyone and anyone who likes it is nuts".
I've never understood this sentiment when it comes out of the gay community. Of all people, given the history of our movement, we should be the last to turn and say "You're doing it wrong!" when other people have a different take on sex and sexuality. I can't help but find it deeply hypocritical for those in the overall LGBT community to judge those in the subsets.

As for the leather community's future, I can't say one way or the next. I have a number of YOUNG friends who are fairly involved in the community so I'd be shocked if it didn't continue to exist in some form or other for a good long while.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 14, 2009 6:47 AM

Ah, the wonderful ignorance of youth!

As someone who was first welcomed as trans in the mainstream leather community (they didn't get it, thought it was a kink, but accepted me nonetheless), I've come to realize that people can live a healthy BDSM lifestyle when they set certain parameters. "Safe, sane (i.e. responsible) and consensual" is the slogan you usually here -- in reality, leatherfolk tend to have very narrow and strict definitions of each, i.e. consent must be mature, informed persons with judgment not clouded by extenuating factors such as "oh wow, he's the President." I don't always get it, but I've known some unmistakably happy and fulfilled couples, and have learned to apply many of those principles to my own relatively vanilla life.

What's more is that every relationship has a kind of power exchange taking place. One partner might be more comfortable making decisions, another might be more comfortable letting them. That's overgeneralizing, but the point is that we either assert or surrender in even our everyday lives. And because vanilla folks are not aware of this power exchange, I've seen a lot of couples assert in unhealthy ways to the point of abuse and manipulation, seen power struggles -- all because they don't even know that there are reasonable parameters, let alone where they are.

It's fine if you don't get it. But don't blindly criticize -- when you learn more about it, there just might be insight that you or anyone could benefit from.

That's why I don't like the "Safe, Sane, Consensual" slogan. Requiring that everybody is sane before sex is inherently abelistic. Most of us hide our mental health issues from the world at large, but once I began looking into it and asking around, it seems like none of my lovers or friends are 100% sane. Depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar, asperger's, disociation, and so on.

Paraphilias on the other hand, are generally misdiagnosed. The definition in the DSM IV specifically says that one's sexual interests must "cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning" before it is considered a paraphilia. So if someone has a fetish or kink and is well adjusted and funcitoning (or if their kink is not the cause of their lack of functioning) then it is not a paraphilia.

Also, it's worth noting that while institutions like this may close, people will still have interests and desires to explore. It's when they get explored outside of a community support structure that provides direction and safety guidelines that it is more likely to be explored in unhealthy manners that cause harm. So the closure of institutions like this will lead to more paraphilias, not less.

@Tobi: The "sane" is actually more about responsibility and actions. I tend to prefer "safe, responsible, consensual and respectful" (the latter's my addition, but the successful relationships I've seen have all had it). A person can have a condition such as bipolar and deal with it capably in the context of a BDSM relationship, but it's one of those things that should be clear in negotiation and reasonably prepared to deal with.

Re: paraphilias, that's a case of psychiatry still not properly understanding fetish and the nature of human sexual desire. I agree, there needs to be an impairment of function for it to be something that needs to be treated. The DSM revision crew is not so sure on that, as it's apparently something that they're considering dropping from the definition. They're already testing dropping the distress requirement regarding asexuality, from what I've heard.

oh yeah, I know the intent. But it's still a big turn off to not be sane and show up to an event that says only "sane" sex will happen. That and also a shift from what's "safe," -- which in some cases could be argued I mean, driving a car isn't 100% safe -- to other slogans focusing on informed consent, like "Risk Aware Consensual Kink" or RACK. That's my favorite one.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 14, 2009 6:54 AM

And what in the heck is abelistic? I do not find a definition for that even in slang.

Leather is one of those things that people usually either get or they don't. For some, it's as intrinsic as being gay or being trans, and I haven't quite figured that out, but have observed it enough to accept that there are some people who are just instinctively drawn that way. For others, it's an environment that people slip into out of curiosity, and either take to or don't. But those who are curious tend to find a home sooner in mainstream BDSM than gay male BDSM.

I think that one of the things that strengthened the GM leather community in earlier years has been weakening it for awhile: exclusion. Now, a lot of what we have developed comes down to us from leathermen -- Jack Rinella, Guy Baldwin -- and I respect that heritage. But I'm actually not surprised that as mainstream leather got over its squick about other peoples' orientations, it grew, while exclusivity led to a decline. Not celebrating, not preaching, I have no vested interest in seeing GM leather decline, I'm just speculatively observing.

Another part is probably politics that all groups, non-profits, etc. tend to acquire over the years. Growth, schism and shrink are all inevitable arcs that all groups go through.

As a 24-year-old leatherman, I think the biggest loss isn't of the leather look itself -- although that is huge -- but of the yearning for the kinds of connection that leather provides and requires. You mentioned this a little, mostly in a sexual context, but I'm thinking of connections along the lines of mentoring, intergenerational bonding... the passing down of knowledge in a ritualized way.

One of the great things about the leather community is that you basically can't get into it without one or, in my case, many mentors along the way. How many other places in the queer world does this hold true? Which side to wear your hanky on, how to address others and show respect, how to hold yourself, the proper way to carry a muir cap -- all that Old-Guard stuff may seem silly and outdated, but it's a tie to your elders. And it's the jumping off point for more meaningful and intimate connections with them.

For me that is the real loss, and what I find so heartbreaking about it all. I can't think of any other community or space where I could create the type of intimate connections I have with men twice or three times my age.

(Greetings from Tuscon AZ, Bilerico crew!)

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 14, 2009 6:58 AM

Try a nursing home, look there are all kinds of ways to have relationships with older men if you look for them. Unless, of course, you will not be seen with them in public.

As long as there is power, there will be leather.
But things that fill the eyes of the young on billboards do not become fetishes. In other words, if kids are exposed to a steady stream of women's naked breasts, they will not fetishize that part of the anatomy, even if they grow up to desire it sexually. Therefore, I wonder if our current culture of accessibility (you can find anything on the net) is actually killing fetishism? Also, it is possible that the successful concept of Gay Pride may be taking the wind out of the gay master/slave trade that is rather built on shame and subservience. Just a guess. Like Eric, I am only a visitor in that community and here in Fort Lauderdale, you couldn't pay me to put on my biker jacket (but I'd also never part with it on ebay).

A. J. Lopp | July 9, 2009 10:48 PM

Gone is Michael Jackson! Gone is Sarah Palin! Gone are buttless chaps at the Gay Pride Parade!

America's comedians are going to starve to death!

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 10, 2009 10:22 AM

We have made fools of ourselves long enough!

Joe Woodman | July 12, 2009 1:56 PM

Good riddens! The dirty little closet of the leather community is meth, but is hardly ever mentioned.

Maybe it is just that we are too busy being - online@home. It seems to me that dwindling membership might be common with other gay social organizations.

Back in the pre-wired days I was out at meetings a few nights a week because who wanted to be home alone. We'd be out in the streets and bars and clubs to meet.

Now I'm home 'meeting people'.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 14, 2009 7:00 AM

and popping out your meth according to the above poster.

While GMSMA's demise certainly does follow the trend of reduced relevance of leather organizations, it is not exclusively due to this. In my experience with GMSMA, there was significant resistance to change and new ideas. I know young leathermen who sat on GMSMA's board for a time, until they discovered that their technology and communications-driven ideas were falling on deaf ears. 2009 is not 1989, and trying to serve any community with the same techniques developed decades ago will lead to this result.

More than anything, I think ageism is to blame. There are significant gaps between the younger and older generations of gay men and leathermen. Rarely are these gaps successfully bridged, so that both sides can learn from each other. Mentoring--a much-ballyhooed concept in leather--rarely happens in the idyllic way in which it is discussed.

But really, this is old news to anyone who is involved in leather. GMSMA is merely one of the bigger names to fall--leather clubs of all varieties have been disappearing for 15 years or more. The reasons are--or were, really--hotly debated. Most seem to agree that two otherwise benign forces are to blame: the Internet and a more-accepting society.

"Assless chaps" (an ignorant term--all chaps are inherently ass-less, or they'd be pants) reside in the closets of gay men all over the country who have merely passing acquaintance with leather. Who doesn't have a jacket, a harness, a vest, or a pair of boots, if only for the Black Party, Folsom East, or the once-per-quarter leather night at the local bar? Society and mainstream gays are no longer scandalized by the leather look (in fact, the "masculinity" of it is commonly glorified these days), and thus there is far less reason for leather folk to largely confine their social experiences to groups of people who "get" them. In fact, those seriously interested in BDSM are often found in rubber, neoprene, spandex, and all sorts of other attire that is pushing boundaries in different ways--if you want intense perversion, look for the guy in the superhero outfit.

And with the Internet, it's now possible to log on and find a play partner who is into rope bondage with light electrical play (but absolutely no watersports) in a very short time frame. The need for in-person interaction in order to meet new partners has been virtually eliminated. This has affected gay bars and clubs, generally, and more so for the leather crowd, as the Internet has enabled kinksters to reduce their sex-search time to a matter of minutes, even for those with the most esoteric tastes.

At the end of the day, it's just progress. GMSMA was brilliant in its time, but its time is past. I will honor its achievements, to be sure, but I won't bemoan that our society has outgrown the need for it. We've solved a lot of problems and significantly improved our lives getting to this point.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 11, 2009 11:27 AM

Sir, I understand all about sex play. I do not require toys because I have an adequate imagination and would rather be in the moment instead of playing boss or licking boots. Master-slave is as inappropriate to me as expecting a female (or trans person) to play submissive in life and business. It is role playing taken to an absurdity. Chaps are worn properly over jeans by cowboys and rodeo performers. Otherwise they are ass less pants that look foolish.

"Technology and communication driven ideas"? Amp up the electrode and talk dirty to me? How boring!

I wonder if in your insistence of your right to parade your fetish in public you ever give a thought beyond yourself? Like to that BASHED or dead KID somewhere beaten by intolerant bigots inflamed by the images you display in public in ways they would not be otherwise.

I wonder further if you consider the legislative changes desired to protect jobs, children, inheritance, personal safety and the RIGHT TO SERVE OPENLY IN A LEGITIMATE UNIFORM? Every time you fools strut about in your stupid leather drag you set the liberation of others back. I don't give a shit about the biker jacket, but B & D and leather fetish is just (my opinion) what burned out fools who have forgotten how to have an orgasm with pleasure resort to as their final refuge while denigrating another human being to compensate for their inadequacy.

Enjoy yourself, have all the immature SM bull crap you want, by as many internet avenues and social clubs you desire with consenting partners, but be thoughtful about the consequence of your behavior to others. In short, keep it in the bedroom or your favorite dungeon. And keep your spit to yourself.


Really? Are you going to condemn everyone who engages in BDSM? Because that's a lot of people. A lot of people who you already know and perhaps respect. And I'm struck by how much your tirade mirrors that of the homophobes who are disgusted by queers who "parade their fetish" or tell people to "keep it in the bedroom" and the closet.

I happen to like being flogged. It's an intense sensation that happens to feel very good to me. So I learned how to use a flogger, and now am willing to use one on folks who ask me to. What, pray tell, is inappropriate about that? Of course that's not the only activity I engage in, I too have an active imagination. Engaging in one activty doesn't mean that I don't or can't do anything else.

Blaming kinky folks for hate crimes doens't make any sense at all. First off, the vast majority of us don't create kinky imagery for public consumption. Even those who do shoudln't be blamed. Homophobes get inflamed by anything queer. Do you blame folks who get attacked for flying a rainbow flag, telling them it's their own fault for "inflaming" the bigots? Of course kinky people think about those things, surveys show that kinky people have a very high rate of being physically or sexually assualted, not to mention extremely high employment discrimination, losing parental custody, etc.

There are several organizations developed by kinky people specifically to fight these kinds of injustice. You seem to assume based on the kind of sexuality one enjoys, that they must not be an activist. Well I've been around long enough to tell you that there are kinky people in the marriage movement, in the ENDA fight, fighting to end DADT, and every other queer issue -- not to mention that community structures based in BDSM practices were some of the first folks to create a community response to AIDS. Many of the safe sex education programs (even the ones for kids) are still using activities and curiculum developed by the BDSM community.

Trust me, you don't want kinky folks to stay in our bedrooms. There would be a lot less activists fighting for causes you care about.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 12, 2009 1:20 AM

I did not condemn anyone at all. I said enjoy yourself all you want, privately. If you want hate crimes to diminish against kids and people in "flyover country" this type of "role playing" behavior is not what we can lead with. It is a public relations nightmare.

The perception of it, is just what helped to sent Bryce Faulkner to Bible Prison Camp for 14 weeks. The same young man who others have told me I am not compassionate enough toward because I insist he is an adult and must make his own decision. These behaviors do inflame bigots and are JUST what fundy preachers pray to be on television to keep the image that we are unworthy of equal civil rights.

Remember, when I came out we were still clinically officially psychologically disturbed.

Honey, I know all about kink and have my own that would curl the toes. The important thing about successful fantasy is the mystery of it and those things that are inventive and unexpected.

I would add that what you do in the bedroom is of no interest to anyone, but yourself, and has zero to do with successful activism. I find it hard to imagine "Liberation" INCLUDING subjugation even in role playing, but do as you like, I am not your moral compass.

As I said though, give a thought beyond yourself to the effect that this has on the likelihood of success of our Civil Rights movement, how people are treated in "the sticks" and how many Gay bashings there are. If you think it is unrelated feel free to believe that. Experience has shown me that in small town America the opposite is true.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 12, 2009 1:25 AM

Oh, and if you are thinking that public relations are unimportant consider that public perceptions were front and center for Dr. King and Nelson Mandella in their struggle for Civil Rights and both advocated nonviolence. BDSM by it's nature is perceived as a form of violence by those who have never practiced it

Public relations plays a huge role, I never doubted that. But dispelling your ranks of the less desireables has never achieved that goal. Feminists asked the lesbians to stay out of the ERA fight and still lost. The electoral campaigns I've been in which refused to acknowledge bi and trans folks all lost. And so on. Not to mention there's middle ground between leading with the leather community and telling them to stay in the bedroom (and the closet).

I've had enough media training to know how to make a message more palatable -- but I draw the line at expelling people from the movement to reach that goal.

I agree that hate crimes rise when there are more public images of us -- just look at violence since prop 8 last year. But kinky folks aren't the only ones producing those images. And if I get publicly flogged in leather alley when I go to pride in a big city it isn't too likely to inflame bigots to violence. Even if someone recorded it on a cell phone, the image of a topless woman screaming "Yes, yes, harder, yes" as she was whipped by a man in leather, it's not as likely to inflame them as much as the video of a school class attending a same-sex marriage did. Similarly, the image of an interacial same sex couple is going to inflame bigots more than a white same-sex couple. The image of trans queer people tends to inflame folks more than cis queer people. Should we purge images of marriages, interacial couples, and trans people as well?

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 13, 2009 9:31 AM

I can count votes. How do you persuade people that full civil rights for you are in their best interest? Pushing SMBD is not the answer.

I also never heard an answer to my question:

How can Liberation and achievement of full civil rights be accomplished including examples of subjugation? The issue is entirely different from feminists exiling lesbians. They have done it before and suffered for it.

Leather fetishism is fine and can be practiced by heteros as well just as SMBD can be. Heteros do not wear their fetish items to supposed "pride" events or any situation where they desire to make a positive impression. They act in this way because they want a positive result. BDSM has zero, zip, nada to to with liberation. I get angry about this because it is time for us to act smarter.

If you notice my comment to "Marlboro Man" who defines his "leatherness" as "a direct declarative response to effeminate limp wristed pansies." Can you see the standard they are employing that is offensive to others within our community? Hyper masculinity is no path to our civil rights either. It is a non issue.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 14, 2009 8:39 AM

Please do not describe yourself as a "less desirable"

Father Tony, Little Bear, Nick and Christian- Thank you, thank you, thank you - so much for the well crafted, well thought out insight you have put into this post and conversation.

It's a relief that not everybody who posts comments on this site are inane, would-be book burning nazi cows.

moo, Lucrece, you idiot.

But I want to be a nazi sheep! Baaaaa. I can do that imitation better ;).

Pity your kind will soon have to go take refuge with the gerbils~

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 12, 2009 1:59 AM

Is there enough room up Richard Gere's butt for all of them? :) Of course he totally denies it, and should.

Marlboro Man | July 12, 2009 12:26 AM

Eric, I appreciate your post.

I will never forget the big GMSMA dance in DC at the March on Washington in 1987 or how much i was drawn to the men who were drawn to GMSMA. It gave me the kind of pride that is difficult to describe and the sense of belonging and connection to subversion that is difficult for some to ever imagine of their gay tribe.

The ignorant comments on this board that characterize and condemn the leather / BDSM community for its perverse sexuality is interesting as it is identical to the way the Radical Right sexualizes the gay community then condemns us for the discomfort they create. All humans have sex and sexuality but only the gay community -- and as a subset, the gay leather community -- is defined by it.

Regarding the psycho lingo about the use of the term, sane. We all know mental illness exists and is distributed through all populations and among all peoples. We surely have our share of crazies that need treatment, just look at some of the posts from the severely self-loathing. If anything, the leather/BDSM community was probably among the earliest to focus such an early laser on the line between willful consent and mental and physical abuse.

Much of leather culture is the ultimate tribalism. Rituals, masculine imagery, culture, muscularity, gear, the sex is almost secondary. The hyper-masculinity of the leather community was a direct declarative response to the wrong-headed stereotype of gay men as effeminate, limp-wristed pansies. Man, we own our perversity and revel in it.

The talk about brotherhood may sound shopworn, but for young men coming of age some kind of brotherhood is what most of us seek out. (For purposes of this post, I define gay leather in a pansexual way that includes lesbians and trans folk.)

While others have more eloquently documented such things, I will say I have never met a more refined and diversely cultured (in a mainstream way) group of men who could never be pigeon-holed. It used to blow my mind how the leather culture and the BDSM culture, within which there is convergence and divergence, are simply human sexuality evolved along a spectrum that is both highly intelligent and purely primal in its instinct. It also created a remarkable and highly developed language and communication about sex and power.

While this particular organization may be taking a break, the heartbeat behind it still beats as sure as every gay man comes of age and seeks out his tribe and embarks on discovery around his sexuality. So I see it as temporary. Frequently gay organizations wax and wane over time. This is healthy. New organizations arise where old ones decline and sometimes new life is breathed into old organizations with new blood.

As a Californian, I have heard much about the decline of the NY leather scene. It parallels a particular period in San Francisco. The decline -- like the activism -- was fueled by the urgency and loss from AIDS and the harsh ostracism we faced, often from within our own community.

The decline was accelerated by a general collapse of the gay community and its institutions, high rents that caused many gay bars to go out of business and many gay men to relocate to other climes. The advent of the internet surely hypersped that acceleration.

But in those geographic areas where gay men migrated and retired to, particularly the sunbelt, the culture is still flourishing albeit in a different way. And, as is true of San Francisco, the gay community regrouped, rebuilt and reimagined itself.

So while it can be sad to see a once vital and stereotype-shattering organization cease operations in one particular city, it also creates a vacuum that allows new ideas to fill the void, create something new and relevant, or to simply realize how important such a group can be.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 12, 2009 10:24 PM

The word "sane" was first used by proponents of the activity.

I stated that we still have the legacy of having been a group designated as having a psychological disease and the extremes of this behavior and the manner in which they are presented are lousy public relations for the civil rights we should strive to obtain for all those young men, women and trans persons out there "looking for their tribe."

We carry that legacy (and I know men who had electroshock treatments as part of their experience of being found out to be Gay) just as former slaves had carried theirs. We will know equality sooner than they knew equality. I reiterate that Liberation cannot be about role playing subjugation.

And, what is wrong with being an effeminate limp wristed pansey? Why do men need to act in a way counter to it to belong to the Gay tribe? It seems to me you are the person proposing exclusion.

Robert, the box was getting thin so I'm starting a new thread for us here.

There's something I haven't been clear about, so let me do so now. People face discrimination and oppression for being kinky. It can be wholly separate from sexual orientation or gender identity. According to a 1998 survey by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, 30% of kinky people have faced discrimination for being kinky. 36% have faced harassment or violence for being kinky. This is despite the fact that 72% were closeted about being kinky. The closet is not protection. (Read the executive summary here if you like).

So you ask how I might obtain full civil rights if I'm out about being kinky, I ask you, how could I ever obtain full civil rights if I'm closeted about it. ENDA will pass or not regardless of whether I'm out, but even if it does pass, I still could be fired for being kinky. If I want full civil rights, including the right to not be fired because of my off the job sexual proclivities, then being kinky is something that I'm going to have to talk about. I'm not suggesting we "lead with" it or "push" it, just that we don't demand everyone remain closeted.

You said the BDSM is "percieved as violence by those who have never practiced it." That sounds like an education problem to me. We will never change that perception as long as we hide in our closets.

Malboro Man may be anti-femme, but he doesn't speak for all leather folk. When there is a problem with femmephobia in leather community, you solve it by addressing femmephobia rather than becoming anti-leather. The same way you address misogyny in the gay men's community by addressing misogyny rather than becoming anti-gay.

He doesn't like feeling "represented" by images of gender non-conforming people. You see, the limp-wristed flamer is experiencing an additional layer of oppression which makes them less publicly palatable. Marlboro Man doesn't want to be associated with that, so his knee-jerk reaction is to wish them out of existence. I deplore such ignorance. What I'm trying to point out to you is that you are doing the exact same thing. Kinky queers experience an additional layer of oppression which makes us less publicly palatable, but that does not give you the right to tell us to all be closeted about our kinks.

When 28% of us are out about being kinky yet 36% face harassment or violence, you're not helping. Think of those besides yourself. You might be squimish about having kinky queers associated with queer folks in general, but flying off the handle and say "parade your fetish in pulbic," "burned out old fools who have forgotten how to have an orgasm with pleasure," "keep it in the bedroom," and so on. Rhetoric like that has no justification and is at least as likely to inflame anti-kink bigots to go beat up that kinky neighbor as the images of self expression you condemn are likely to inflame anti-queer bigots to go beat up queers. At least in my own self expression of my sexual identity, I'm not deriding the sexuality of others. If I ever do cross that ine, like Malboro Man did, please, call me out on it.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 14, 2009 9:27 AM

You could always be fired for any reason. Do your job well and keep your home life your own. It is no one else's business and you do not lead with it. Now, how many jobs have you lost for being kinky? I have to tell you that a lot of other people are still employed who are.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 13, 2009 11:39 PM

How can liberation and achievement of full civil rights be accomplished using examples of subjugation? That is what I have asked, twice. The two concepts are irreconcilable.

The Marquis de Sade's credo was the pursuit of personal pleasure without regard to pleasure of his partners. (those poor sheep!)

Being sexually kinky is not on my resume, nor do I share my intimate life and sexual practices with family, friends or co workers as I value a certain privacy. I do not engage in sexual acts that are painful, subjugating, discriminatory, cause a lack of reciprocal control, etc. as that is the way I am wired.

Dog collars, prison camp trappings, uniforms, overt "masculinity" held up as a virtue are not what liberation is about. I found your "executive summary" very interesting in that it is so very heterosexual. It is probably far more hetero than Gay as you are going to get Gay respondents easier than straights. I suspect the 36% are those who are indiscreet as I can imagine no other way one could lose a job or promotion "because someone found out."

I can hear all the handcuffs clattering on tile floors in bedrooms across America. BDSM is a very common little secret.

No one suspended the rules of life being about choices. Make healthy ones. Though I would love to see the class plan on how you are going to educate the masses that BDSM is mainstream and healthy I am sure it is going to remain in classes on psychology and be limited to few attendees for some long time to come. Of course it is all over the internet, but what is not?

The practices are about power and control, not liberation. I do not say do not to enjoy this behavior with an accepting partner (or group), but by it's nature it is non specific to the LGBT drive for civil rights.

I do hope you have had the "discipline" to read the real stuff. The Marquis de Sade's "120 Days of Sodom" and "Justine."

I haven't answered it because I don't understand what I or others do has anything to do with "subjugation." Sade's name wasn't chosen by us, but forced upon us by the same doctor who invented the disorder of homosexuality. The Marquis de Sade has about as much to do with modern kinksters as Alexander the Great (and his widespread murder and conquering) has to do with modern gay men. Your question is akin to asking how one can be liberated by going against nature and sticking things in holes that aren't meant to have things go in them.

Kink "community" is incredibly diverse, with many sub-cultures and perspectives. Sure you can point to some jerks who are kinky, there are jerks who are gay, jerks who are trans, and so on. That doesn't mean they represent everyone or that it's okay to be malign the entire group, though.

Your advice of being closeted simply doesn't work. Think about how it would be recieved toward an LGBT audience. Don't put gay or trans on your resume and as long as you don't talk about it no one will ever have any reason to discriminate or perpetrate violence against you. Silence is death, my friend, there's no reason that should apply to one aspect of my sexuality and not any other.

I won't be putting it on my resume (unless applicable), but the closet does not protect us. Those 36% who experienced harassment and violence and 30% who experienced discrimination were not all out. The survey showed only 28% were out. Mathematically, you're looking a hypothetical minimum of 8% experiencing harassment and violence despite being closeted -- and applying simply probability, the number is more likely to be 26%.

You say that it is non-specific to LGBT civil rights -- of course. But neither is fighting racism, classism, abelism, and so on. Kinky folks gay or straight have just as much right to exist, be out of the closet, form organizations, and fight for our rights as anyone else. You don't have to be out about your kinks, you don't have to donate your money to sexual freedom organizations, you don't have to create media that deals with BDSM, but there's nothing wrong with those who do. And maligning kinksters with overused stereotypes and personal attacks is just unecessarily hurtful.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 14, 2009 8:52 AM

Wrong, not the same doctor.

"How can liberation and achievement of full civil rights be accomplished using examples of subjugation? That is what I have asked, twice. The two concepts are irreconcilable."

Not irreconcilable, although my example departs a lot from leathermen-centered BDSM. Simone De beauvoir provides a curious example of a resolution of this, probably unintentionally so. She argued strongly for a woman's right to own her sexuality, her body, her fantasies, etc. and at occasional places throughout her writings, confessed to having fantasies of subjugation and torture throughout her childhood and into adulthood. She attributed these to the effect of male subjugation of women on her psyche, but still expressed a bit of fondness for these daydreams -- sort of saying (although it may not have been what was intended), if this is what I choose to play, then I demand the right to play it in the circumstances of my choosing.

If the leather community is to undergo a civil rights movement, this is probably the message that will have to happen. It won't (can't) be a single image, but can occur through the expressions of participants, particularly the submissives.

But then, homosexuality didn't come as far as it did by showing images of sodomy. It achieved much of its gains by presenting real people with human needs and desires that the mainstream realized it could somewhat relate to.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 14, 2009 9:07 AM

Real people, you finally had me at the last. Male subjugation of women that she was socially expected to conform exact point.


Not the limp wristed lisping stereotypical man.

Not the 18 wheel truck driving woman.

Not the "submissive" which really peeves me because they want it so.

When I was 22 I took a weekend in Chicago from College. The nearest Gay bar to the bus station was "The Gold Coast" now gone. Run by the disreputable Chuck Renslow who was a Mafia front.

Wide shouldered and strong as I was I was shortly approached by a man who had a face that was a network of scars. He asked me if I was "more of a man" than anyone else in the bar and if I would take him home and beat the shit out of him.

Mercedes, I am glad that your first experience with these folks was sanguine, but mine was and is total revulsion. I do not regard it as healthy because it leads to more and more self destruction. See comments above about meth.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 14, 2009 9:15 AM

google his name, he also has the guts (besides the hairpiece) to be a 33rd degree Mason

Well, I won't belabor the point past this, but the bottom line is that some of us can and do find enjoyment, even catharsis in BDSM, and it's not something that everyone can tap into or understand. I still think Ms. De beauvoir stands as a good example of the principle, even if we don't know if she engaged in the practice -- here is someone who was clearly not submissive in her 24/7, had clearly risen above that societal subjugation, and questioned a society that required her to be submissive, but defended the right to play either way. It's a clear separation between fantasy and reality, which is vital to most practitioners (I won't say all, because there is diversity in this community too, and I've seen successful 24/7ers, who've committed and negotiated to their mutual satisfaction to make that work, even if it's not something I could do).

Further to that, I switch, but don't see submission play as emotional subjugation. It is escape only, in the same way that I don't ride a rollercoaster and then try to replicate that during the drive home. And when topping, I will not top someone who I suspect is playing to a negative self-image. There has to be that separation.

I'm sorry to hear that your experience was so negative, but the bottom line is that it is not a negative for everyone, and as such demands a mutual respect in the same way that we who are trans or gay expect mutual respect from those who don't understand us.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 14, 2009 4:39 AM

"120 Days of Sodom" is great literature. And he did it all without electricity! :)

Oh, that's right, "masters" marching their "slaves" wearing dog collars down the center of the street for "pride" has nothing to do with an image of subjugation.

Who is most likely to fill out a research study? Someone who feels motivated or someone unmotivated? Please do not tell me they went on street corners. It was a targeted study to demonstrate how "awful" it is. Marlboro Man at least did not allow himself to be a victim and I do respect that much about him.

Maybe I missed something about "Bondage." It must not involve subjugation it is about adhesion.

"Discipline" must be a major area of study. In your case, a moist one.

Masochism must be about overly frequent church attendance.

The imagery of the "specialties" of the extreme do not inspire, but repel the majority of people regardless of their orientation. You are right that there is nothing wrong with those who enjoy this activity "sanely." But it has zip, zero, nothing to do with Civil Rights Liberation for LGBT.

Now, would you like to have full civil rights or "bondage" yourself to all things that assure that you do not have them? When you have your full civil rights as a trans person you will have more rights in your private life as well. You may subjugate, be subjugated, attain an advanced degree in your Discipline and over attend churches of your choosing. Don't make a profession of looking to be discriminated against.

You also have not answered the question because there is no answer to it. The two concepts remain irreconcilable. Your personal liberation may include this, but it is not capable of being written into law.

I thought you might be able to listen to a real person for a bit, and maybe be educated, but it seems the more discussion we have the more you turn to stereotypes and generalizations based on individuals. I'll have to exit this conversation, but let me refute a few of your more egregious points.

*Generalization and assumption. I'm sorry your experience was so horrific, it seems to have left quite a lasting impression. But I think you're making an assumption that his scars are from kink. "Beat the shit out of" in most kinky contexts does not mean without negotiation, much less permenant marks. Even if it did in this case, that's one bar where the rest of the community emphasizes safety and informed consent. I'm sure I could find a few self-hating, self-destructive, unhealthy people of any minority group, but you can't paint the whole minority group with that brush.

*Meth. I've seen posters, ad campaigns, and discussion about meth as a problem in gay men's communities, leather and vanilla. I've never seen meth even discussed as a problem in leatherdyke or queer women's BDSM spaces or in the straight BDSM scene. Stop blaming kink for this one.

*Subjugation. Your words here have left far deeper wounds than any a top has given me or I have left on any bottom. And the marks from them will last more than a day. If you truly see me as a victim when I take on a submissive role, then the last thing you should be doing is further victimizing me.

*Self-destruction. My life is fairly well put together. I've got a lot of love, support, and stability. Enough that I can give back to my communities and do so all the time. If you must know, I've never touched tobacco, much less meth, and had so few alcoholic drinks in my lifetime that I can count them on my fingers. I'm happy and in a good place in life. BDSM does not take away from that, instead, it adds to it.

P.S. Abelism is not slang, it is the systematic priviliging of temporary able bodied and able minded people and simultaneous subjugation of people with disabilities.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 15, 2009 12:04 AM

Thank you Tobi for those clarifications. As I said I condemn no one, wish you well personally and enjoy what you do privately. The importance of image and public relations are vital to progress of the common civil rights issues important to all LGBT persons.

Tobi, you must not take a thread personally and if my points of view "left wounds" upon you I do apologize for that.

I know that I come from an ancient time compared to you, but some of the most disgusting things to me about the oppressed group we were was the open acceptance of "specialties" whether they involved the subject at hand or sex with those who were underage. The fifteen and sixteen year old boys I saw being taken advantage of were many. "Chicken hawlks" of the day were included in Gay parties. I was of age and all I could do was leave the premises as this abuse of children was so accepted by everyone else. Needless to say I did not spend a lot of time at parties.

I found "ableism" which clears that up at least. Just a transposed "l" and "e".

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 15, 2009 6:09 AM

That should have been "...tell you to enjoy what you do privately."

two points.

1. the ignorance about alternative sexualities here doesn't surprise me. part of the sex-negative integration of homosexuals into the mainstream.

2. i have two kinky young male friends who are turned off by the use of leather for anything. both are "green" vegetarians. their ranks are growing. that's not to say they don't fetishize a lot of other things. that may be one of the causes of the lack of younger people at leather bars. a true generational change in attitude toward leather. i always thought it was silly when people at IML freaked out when someone walked thru in lingerie and fetish high heels. as if one sexual interest is better than another.

GMSMA has gone the way of many organizations Gay & Straight, that have been based on a non-mainstream concepts and actions. As Gay people become more mainstream, the many sub-cultures in it's community are losing their appeal to the younger generations. Like Leather, Drag has become more of an entertainment lifestyle than the sexual he/she idicator for which it began. Today it is more a a part-time way of life that is primarily for the theatrical than for the sexual. Many if not most of the Drag-Queen appear as men when they aren't performaing.

With Leather, it still exists sexually, but more "behind-closed-doors" and private. It's almost like the "no one needs to know what I do in bed' attitude prevails. Only time you find out is when you discuss you're likes and dislikes in the initial or even subsequencial meetings. I think a lot of the reason for that is the widespread accetance of Leather as a dress style not a lifestyle. Dressing in leather doesn't mean your like the sexual tastes that are deemed Kink.

All this added to the decrease in visibility at gay bars of all gay people due to many factors, with the internet being a prominent one. Private Leather parties (W/S, Spanking, and Bondage to name a few) are also a factor in the loss of attendance to organizations like GMSMA.

We are in a changing world and sometimes things we don't want to see disapper, have a way of slipping away. Only thing we can hope is that it's only for a short time. GMSMA was a great expereince for me and like such iconic Gay symbols as the old NYC Leathers bars (the original Eagle, the Spike and the Mine Shaft), the 70's/80's Discos and the old Westside piers, it has left it mark on me for the good I hope.