This blog will cover my interest in the Leather, Bear and other gay related communities.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Who can truly be part of the leather community?

For the sake of simplicity, any time that the masculine nouns of he/him are referenced, it is equally applied to males and females...biological or self-identifying.

Anyone with the passion and desire to be part of the leather community is what makes up the leather community.

It has been a very long time since I have written, for this or any of my blogs.  That is one of the drawbacks to Facebook.  It gives me a venue to briefly make a statement, but it is not really the place to put something for people to truly read.  But this weekend, several things combined to really want me to write a little bit.

For those of you in the Texas area, you know that this weekend was the Mr and Ms Texas Leather competition.  I was one of the five contestants for the Mr Texas title.  I was surprised to see how far and wide people came from to attend this event.  Not only did we have people from all the reaches of Texas at our event; we had people from New York to Oregon and many states in between.  It was amazing to see so many different people, from all walks of life, all different backgrounds, and each with their own interest in leather.

This brings me to one of the questions that I received during my interview.  I will paraphrase it a little as I cannot remember the exact wording.  But it went something along the line of what my views or reaction would be to someone commenting that there are so many people in the leather community nowadays that don't even ride motorcycles, how can they really be considered part of the community?  This question struck a very personal chord with me.  That kind of mentality being brought up in the question is something that kept me out of the leather community for years.

For a little backhistory on me.  My partner and I travel a lot.  Whenever we hit a new city, we tend to hit the various gay bars in the towns.  The one thing that we found is a lot of the bars we would go to were usually pretty "cold" in attitude towards us.  As you can see in my picture, after leaving the military, I packed on a few pounds.  Since I was not muscular or a twink, people tended to avoid us.  My partner had always known I had a fascination with leather, but we never lived anywhere that I could get more into it.  Then during one of our trips to Atlanta, my partner said to hell with the regular bars this time...let's hit the Atlanta Eagle.  To our surprise, we weren't welcomed with the usual snide glances or being completely ignored.  People were very friendly.  They came up and talked to my partner and I.  A couple guys even snagged my partner onto the dance floor and they had a great time while I was at the table chit-chatting with the guy from the group who was like me and wasn't too much into dancing.  All-in-all, it was a great time.  This even continued when we would visit Washington DC and hit the DC Eagle.  It was a great time.  The people at the DC Eagle didn't care that you don't drive a snazzy car or which Congressman or military contractor do you work for, like they would at the other bars.  People at the DC Eagle also were just there to have a good time.

For me though, I had overheard someone spouting their opinion about someone else that this one guy isn't truly a leatherman because he didn't earn his leather and didn't have a Sir.  That comment actually stuck with me for a long time.  While my partner and I still enjoyed the atmosphere of the leather bars, I never thought I could be any more within the leather community.  After all, I just have a partner...I don't have some Leather Sir to bring me into the community.  It is amazing...but it only took one negative opinion to create a lot of influence.  Especially when it is the first opinion I heard about it.  After all, it is very hard to make a second impression.

My second impression did come though.  My partner and I happened to be in DC at the same time as Mid Atlantic Leather (MAL) in 2012.  The DC Eagle was packed, especially with a lot of hot guys with these sashes and back patches I really hadn't noticed before.  My partner had noticed me checking out this really hot guy in a harness that I had never seen before.  He made some sort of comment about me going over to talk to him before I drool on myself.  At some point he nudged me to go talk to him.  For anyone who knows me, I am incredibly shy.  I think it took me a couple tries to actually get the sentences out of my mouth as I was talking to this hot guy.  As I was talking to him about the harness he was in, he had actually started asking me about my interests in leather.  And, as he found out more and more about my interests too, he was wondering why I wasn't in any leather.  I told him that I didn't think I could, along with the reason that I had thought was why I couldn't.  He told me, "The only thing you need to do to be part of the leather community is the desire to be part of the leather community."  He was telling me I needed to go check out MAL.  Just go check out the lobby.  Check out the vendor areas.  Just look around and go talk to people.  Then after a bit, he went and introduced me to a bunch of people he was at the bar with.  There was a whole contingent of guys there that would be competing at International Mr Leather later that year.  He introduced himself to me as Woody and then introduced me to the other guys that he was there with.  I was taken aback (in a good way) that all these guys getting ready to compete in an event would talk to some guy, not even in leather, and they all happened to express similar sentiments about being part of the leather community.

I had wanted to get more involved, but at the time, I was living in Richmond, Virginia.  We had no leather clubs and barely had a couple gay bars that could stay open.  But out of some random Internet search, my partner actually found a leather and fetish group that would get together at one of our bars for a dinner once a month.  I was excited.  I was able to find a small group of people that came from all over the state...and even from North Carolina and West Virginia at times too.  This was something that I liked.  It gave me people of similar interests to talk to and to find out about more things.   But even that had to come to an end.  I found out that I was going to move to Texas.  All I could think of was "oh god, redneck cowboys.  I hope they aren't worse then the Appalachian rednecks of Virginia."  But, before I moved, I had hit the next MAL.  I got to see Woody again, to my surprise.  This time he was wearing the IML sash that he had won the previous year.  We had caught up on what had had occurred over the previous year.  And then, I had mentioned I would be moving to Texas in a few months.  He told me that we needed to have dinner the last night of MAL, he wanted to introduce me to someone.  That was when I got to meet Bobby Thurman for the first time who was representing Mr Texas Leather at the time.  Woody also gave me a couple names to look up when I got to Dallas.  One of which was Jeffrey Payne.  I had no clue who it was at the time, but if Woody thought highly of him, I'd look him up.

Then, I arrive in Dallas.  One of the first bars I had to hit was the Dallas Eagle.  I had to see if it was just as welcoming as the other bars we had been to.  And to my surprise, not only was it as welcoming, it was moreso.  In our bars in Richmond, people of varying races barely were in the same bar together.  But here, race, sex, gender, interest...none of that mattered.  And everyone felt like they belonged.  This is where I truly learned that to be part of the leather community, it was one of open arms.  Our community has leathermen who ride motorcycles and those who have never touched one.  It has people who live a strict Sir/boy relationship and it has people who just wear leather for something hot to have on while having sex.  We also have bears, pups, bootblacks, drag queens (which were barely welcome at the Richmond bars outside of performances), Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the Court...and it just goes on.  I have learned that for those people who try to say only a certain part of the community is the only true part...I have to say that your time has come and has passed on.  The community has grown and will continue to change.  For if it doesn't adapt to the changes of our world, it will die out completely.

Eventually I finally wound up meeting Jeffrey completely by accident when someone had invited me to a Leather Knights meeting.  My time there is still just beginning, but it is now also part of my history.  I have seen how the negative attitude of just a single individual can impact someone.  But, I have also seen a community with arms wide open.  But like with Woody, taking the time to talk to me...we all have to take that time to talk to those we see at our bars who happen to be standing off by themselves.  You don't need to be a titleholder.  Anyone can be that welcoming smile at the bar.  You may even find that they may be in the same situation I was in.  They might feel welcome to the bar, but not know there is a larger community that they can be part of.  And, as something I try to do when I can at the bar...I try to talk to those people who look uncomfortable like I was.  Find out if they are interested in the leather community and help guide them to a group that closely fits their interests...whether it is social, service, play, etc.

Because for those people not yet part of the leather community, they may not know what opportunities they might be able to have as part of the leather community...but even more importantly, the leather community doesn't know what that person can bring into the group.

John Pates
Chamberlain (Vice President)
Leather Knights

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