Chickens and Pigs
I would like to thank the organizers of GLLA for inviting me to speak and to have another chance to visit all the great folks of the Hoosier State again.
In case you didn’t know it, I have deep ties to Indiana. My boy, my life partner of 17 years, is from Columbus, Indiana and we visit that part of the state quite often.
I am always delighted to see so many kinky folks show up for an event like this here in the heartland of America.
It is a testament to just how many of us there are and, like LGBT people, we are everywhere.
Events like this do not happen in a vacuum but take countless hours of work by dedicated volunteers and activists to come to fruition.
I say volunteers and activists because there is a subtle difference between the two.
You have all heard the story about the pig and the chicken?
You see when I sat down to breakfast this morning to a plate of ham and eggs both those animals came to mind. You see the chicken was involved…..but the pig was committed!
That’s the different between volunteers and activists as well. A volunteer is involved with the community. They show up for events and help out as asked, and we couldn’t do it without them.
The activist is committed to the community, they can’t survive without it. They do what they do because of a burning passion for the work and for this life.
Lifestyle is a fashion, and my kink, though it may have attracted a lot of people who are interested or curious, is not a fashion for me. It is part of who I am.
Leather goes deep into my bones and is something that is essential to my sexuality.
It is not a lifestyle, it is my life.
Now I assure you I don’t show up for work wearing my club colors and brandishing a flogger, though I do believe it would be one way to maintain my colleagues attention in meetings. What it means is that my leather, my fetishes, my kinks are integral to my sexuality. Having vanilla sex just doesn’t appeal as much as leathersex.
What I do in the bedroom and the dungeon is not just a fun way to spice up my sex life, it is my sex life.
Yes, I can be vanilla at times, everyone is, but what really gets me going is hot sweaty man sex that involves some aspect of kink. It is just fundamental to who I am.
So why does any of this matter? What difference does it make if someone just likes to get a little kinky sometimes or not. Aren’t we all “kinksters” under the skin?
I would contend that there is a vast difference between someone who is a casual “kinkster” and a member of the leather community.
It is a gap that has been there all along but becomes much more pronounced when the aspect of “community” is brought into the equation.
Contrary to popular belief those Internet sites like The Book of Faces and FetLife are not communities.
They are tools for communication but they are not communities, that is a marketing “term of art” applied to them.
Lets do a little experiment.
How many “friends” do you have online? 100, 200, 2000?
Now, be honest, how many of them have you actually met face to face. If the number doesn’t drop considerably, you must spend all your time at events like this.
Now, how many of their REAL names do you know, and more importantly, how many of them know your REAL name?
That number is probably closer to the real number of friends you have.
Real friends who you can call to celebrate your victories and console you when you face defeat.
Real friends who won’t click a key and unfriend you at the drop of a hat.
Real friends who would never say anything about you in an email that they wouldn’t say to your face.
We have let the word “friend”, which should be something sacred and cherished, get stolen by marketers who only seek a little more demographic information so they can sell you something.
And trust me, every person you “friend” on social media sites gives marketing folks more ideas of who you are and what your specific buying habits are. I know because I do that for a living.
The same is true for the idea of “community”. A community is a living breathing entity that cares for each of its members and actively supports each other. Calling FetLife or Facebook a community is like calling a corporation a person.
This all brings me to my point about the critical difference between an activist and a volunteer.
Let me give you some background. I came into leather back in the mid-seventies. At that time the gay leather scene, for better or worse, was centered in the bars.
Gay bars and leather bars were sanctuaries where people who marched to the beat of a different drummer gravitated. We sought out others who shared our desires and proclivities and bars were the most obvious place to find them.
My first leather bar was a little place called the Sundance Kids in Dallas, Texas.
I had already come out as a gay man years before but I knew I wanted something more. It had to do with guys dressed in leather, masculine men who smelled of sweat, who liked men and who liked their sex rough. That bar was about as intimidating as it could get.
I sat in the parking lot for weeks watching guys go in and out.
Some of them rode motorcycles, and some even drove big rigs which they parked in the vacant lot next door.
I was scared and excited all at the same time.
Finally I got up enough nerve to go in. I put on my leather jacket I bought for an Army surplus store and went through the door.
I don’t remember much except going directly to the bartender and ordering a drink.
“I’ll have a martini, up.”
He blinked and then smiled saying, “you really want a beer.”
“No, a martini is fine.”
“Trust me,” he said, “you want a beer .”
And with that he opened a long neck and set it on the bar for me.
He knew what I was looking for, and drinking a martini in a stemmed glass would not send the right signal. He was right.
I took my beer and moved to a spot near the wall.
For several nights I leaned against that wall sipping a beer, trying to get the lay of the land. Pretty soon, the men their began to notice that I kept coming back.
Eventually, guys began striking up casual conversations and before long I got what I came for.
They had to know I was serious before they would open up to me and let me join their tight knit groups. I eventually joined one of the local gay motorcycle clubs and my real journey into leather began.
My club brothers and friends became my first taste of the burgeoning leather community that blossomed in the 1970’s.
It was a true subculture.
Slightly underground, visible but closed, and tightly bonded by the nature of what we did for entertainment.
There was no safe-sane-consensual and no RACK, just hot rough encounters with guys who you trusted and who had been vouched for by friends and club brothers.
Then in the 1980’s everything changed.
One of first men to die in Dallas from what was then called Gay Related Immune Disorder was part of the leather crowd.
He developed lesions on his skin and began wasting away.
It was disturbing, but seemed isolated until several other men got sick.
By the mid 1980’s the strange disease had a name, AIDS and the leathermen and leather dykes pulled together and became a “community”.
Watching our friends die, gave many people in our community a purpose and we were not content to sit back, withdraw from the scene and hope we didn’t get sick as well.
We began caring for the sick brothers who some hospitals wouldn’t even treat. We brought meals to AIDS patients when their families abandoned them.
We attended dozens of funerals, standing with club brothers and leather dykes as witnesses to the lives of our friends, even when their families would not.
We were scared, sure. And there was a lot of misinformation about how the disease spread, but when the facts became clear that it was predominately sexually transmitted we took action.
A group called the Disciples of De Sade made an alliance with the Dallas County Health Department and started a series of evening workshops to teach people how to have safer sex while not loosing any of the fun and intensity.
These were called Beyond Vanilla. Now over 22 years later, Beyond Vanilla, now put on by NLA Dallas, is one of the best leather/BDSM conferences in the country.
It sprang from a community. It started as a way for gay men and lesbians to retain their sex-positive attitudes in the face of the epidemic.
You see the leather community refused to just disappear, and sneak back into the shadows. We stood up and took action. That is what activists do, they act!
So, it is from that background that I formed my ideas of what activism is about. It was life and death back in the 80’s and 90’s, not just adding a little spice to the bedroom. For many of us it still is.
The same spirit of activism that served us so well back then, is still alive.
It can be seen in the countless people who spend much of their time and money putting on events like this one. It can be seen in the fundraising for charities and nonprofit groups that the leather community supports.
It can be seen in the political activism that works to protect our rights to live and love however we choose.
It can be seen in the fight for free speech that is so often oppressed whenever the topic of sex comes up.
It is the spark that kindles the fire burning in the belly of every leatherman and leatherwoman.
It was tempered in the furnace of an epidemic. Yet it survives and thrives in so many people today, even those who never knew a leatherman who died of Kaposi Sarcoma or pneumocystis pneumonia or mycobacterium tuberculosis or any of the other myriad diseases that were associated with AIDS.
It is the difference between the chicken and the pig.
Involvement and commitment.
Volunteerism and activism.
I know it is not a path for everyone, but if your life just wouldn’t be as full and rich.
If your world would be lacking something vital and key to your happiness.
If a world without kink, leather, MS, DS or SM would feel incomplete, then there is something in you that will not be still.
It is a restlessness that will either motivate you or bring you nothing but frustration.
If leather is not your lifestyle, but your life, then you have the makings of an activist.
So stop sitting on your ass, chatting with your cyber friends and start going out into the real world and make real friends.
Take your energy and time and money and do something to make our community a better place.
Get active and your energy and work will inspire others to do the same.
What kind of actions? Well, let me step on the third rail for a moment. Let’s talk politics!
I know there are some of you who have already tuned me out. For you politics is separate from your kink, at least that is what you think.
The next time you are afraid to use your real name for fear of losing your job, or friends or your children, then tell me that politics is separate from kink.
Right now, you as leather folk, or “kinksters” or whatever, have no protections whatsoever.
An employer can fire you and use your kink as the reason.
You can have your kids taken away, just because of what you do in the dungeon and bedroom. I know, because I have seen it happen.
Your sexuality, and that is what I consider my leather, puts you squarely in the position of being a “minority”. For many of you that is a new and novel idea.
So think about that next time you vote, and specifically in local elections, for judges, for local officials, or the people who appoint those judges, because these are the people who will have the most control over your life.
They are also the ones who can most easily influence by your votes and your contributions.
That commissioner who regularly runs for office in your district, might just be the man or woman who appoints the judge you face when you are arrested for what police describe as assault.
They will decide whether you were having consensual BDSM or were abusing your partner.
Now, if you don’t see the connection the between your sexuality and politics I don’t know how much more clearly I can put it.
If you have never watched how your local officials treat minorities, you should, because as Betty Davis said in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, “you are Blanche, y’are!”
I can’t guarantee anything, but I have seen from my own experience that judges and officials who are accepting of minorities and understand that sometime minorities need special protections are more likely to listen.
They are more likely to understand that what you do is a private, consensual act.
I would always prefer that kind of jurist or official than one who tossed bible sayings around in an attempt to justify their bigotry and prejudice.
You can also get your friends involved, get them registered to vote!
You would be amazed how many people a not registered or have lapsed registrations. Our local NLA chapter held a voter registration drive in Dallas last year and got more than 35 new voters from our community.
That’s 35 people who never bothered to take an active interest in the process that elects people who directly govern our lives!
Now, I suspect some of you tuned me out the minute I said the word “politics”, but tune back in for a moment.
Right now, the romance novels “Fifty Shades of Grey” are banned from some public libraries.
These books are not banned for their depiction of sex, but because they depict consensual BDSM.
If you don’t think there are folks who would like to take that ban a whole lot further, then you are living in as much a fantasy world as the one depicted in those books.
If you do not believe what you do in the privacy of your bedroom or in the dungeon is not the subject of debate in political circles, you are again, living in a fantasy world.
The LGBT community has long been the boogie man for politicians hoping to scare the muggles.
That is becoming more difficult as the country accepts LGBT people, so they, and I mean politicians and preachers, will look for the next likely candidates.
Now, turn and look at the person sitting next to you. Touch them on the shoulder.
Tag, you’re it!
You are tailor made for a political scare campaign.
Just imagine the TV spots showing whips and chains and crosses. Add a little dark threatening music and voila! Campaign gold!
So, if the thought of this scares you and makes you want to slink away and hide. I understand. It’s scary.
But if the thought of loosing your right to express your sexuality in all the rich and powerful ways we express it makes you mad…if it makes restless and unable to sleep.
If this thought burns in your gut and won’t go away.
If it makes you want to take action, to get involved and do something to preserve your way of life…then you are an “activist”.
Volunteers show up, help out and go home.
Activists are there to give the volunteers something to do. Activists show up, pitch a tent and stay.
Now before I close I want to give you something positive you can do right now to protect your freedom to express your sexuality in the manner that works for you.
I am on the board of an organization whose mission states, “Sexual freedom is the fundamental human right of all individuals to develop and express their unique sexuality.”
It’s a pretty simple but profound mission and the work we do not only affects the leather, BDSM, kink community but every person in the country.
Free speech issues, sex worker issues, gender and sexual orientation issues, reproductive justice and even sexuality education it’s all part of our mission.
We are called the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance, and I have some cards with some information on our group.
Take one if you are interested and look it over, visit our website, sign up for our news updates and yes, even donate to our cause.
And when you do, remember that story about the breakfast of ham and eggs. The chicken was involved but the pig was committed, and we need more commitment if we are going to save our bacon.