Beyond Vanilla Keynote
Delivered by Hardy Haberman
Saturday, October 17 at Beyond Vanilla XXV
Dallas, Texas

This is a Muir Cap. They are called this because they were manufactured by the Muir Cap & Regalia Ltd. of Canada. When I got my first one, it was given to me as a casual gift by friends. Since then I have had three others, they wear out.

Here is the story of the cap and what it meant to me and the leathermen I knew back”in the day”. Others may have differing stories and probably do since there was no official committee setting down rules for us.

We were frigging sexual outlaws and we lived by a simple code. “Play hard, don’t permanently hurt anyone and don’t scare old ladies and children. And, have a lot of sex!”

It is not a “masters cover” to me, it is a frigging hat and I like the way it looks when I wear it.

It signifies one thing, I am into leather and the silver brim used to mean I am a Top. Bottoms wore them too back in the dark ages of the 1970s, but theirs had no decoration. They were quick easy symbols to let people know what role you played in the dungeon and bedroom.

They were not awarded by any committee or group as certification. Though they came from a military design, they did not infer rank.

My cap means a lot to me, because of the history I associate with it, and even though it is not my original cap, (that was loaned to a theater group and never came back), It has seen it’s share of lube, cum and spit. I keep the brim clean and try not to touch it, not from tradition, but because it leaved fingerprints.

Some caps were gifts, like mine, most were bought outright because the buyer liked the look. I do too, it makes my dick hard and that’s why I wear it. Guys who also react the same way find it appealing and are attracted to me and therefore it serves it’s purpose.

Had Marlon Brando not worn one similar to it in the movie the Wild One in 1953, and Tom of Finland not iconized it in his sexy drawings, we would probably be wearing fedoras.

Today, some folk like to make a ceremony over the gift of a “cover”. Nice idea. It’s a nice way to show you respect someone in your family or community. It does not automatically bestow on the wearer any power or rank over anyone else. That is negotiated, not automatic.

So enjoy your covering ceremony with engraved invitations and grand ceremonies. Embrace it as a new tradition, but do not rewrite my frigging history and try to pass it off as truth.

You may now bow and kiss my ring!

I posted a little rant about this cap on Facebook a couple of years ago and to date it has been shared over 100 times, got over 850 likes and over 250 comments. It keeps bubbling up now and then still.

Apparently a lot of folks are confused about these caps, so I wanted to give my opinion. And I am reminded of the old saw.. Opinions are like hemorrhoids, sooner or later every asshole develops one.

The popularity of that post is probably because it touches on something that has become synonymous with leather. And that brings me the big question.

I am often asked, what is leather?

That question seems to be something a lot of people are obsessed with. They are not just curious, but driven to find the answer.

Why?

Perhaps a need to know if they themselves are “leather”, whatever that is.

Or perhaps it is to validate their own opinions as to the definition. Or worse, to invalidate others.

What use is a member of an exclusive club if you can’t EXCLUDE others?

I will give you a brief definition of what I think “leather” is, and I am borrowing from an address I gave in Houston a couple of years ago.

So here goes.

When you are pushing your way through a crowded dark bar, and the musk of a hundred half-naked men blends with the scent of their leather vests and harnesses.

When you feel a dozen hands “accidentally” brush up against your crotch or butt.

When you feel the arms of a big muscular man wrap around you as he whispers in your ear, “What are you into?”

When you slam that hot boy up against your car in the parking lot and invade his mouth with your tongue and his pants with your hand.

That’s leather.

When you find yourself facing a naked man, his feet in the stirrups of a sling as you grease your hand with Crisco.

When you see his eyes burn with erotic desire as you slowly invade his body.

When you hear the deep guttural primal growl as his body opens to your hand.

When you pant like an animal, every breath matching his as you move in and out of his ass.

That’s leather.

When you share a cigar with your buddies on a patio and laugh at the tales of their misadventures.

When you burn the chest hairs off that big bear one at a time using the glowing tip of your stogie.

When you carefully nurse your cigar ash until it seems to be defying gravity and then reward that hot guy on his knees with a mouthful of burned tobacco and he savors it like a fine wine.

When your cock gets hard just watching him do it.

That’s leather.

When you spend an hour carefully wrapping a man old enough to be your grandfather in plastic and duct tape creating a cocoon around his body.

When you stand watch over him as he experiences the out-of-body floating that mummification induces.

When you tease and taunt his nipples and cock through the covering, controlling the sensations that you deprived him of.
When you cut open the covering around his hardening dick and after suitable torture, stroke him to an earthshaking orgasm.

When you cut him out of the tape and plastic and hold his still shaking body close as he returns from that magical place he was in.

That’s leather.

When you sit through the hundredth drag show and carry dollars up to the glittered performers like bringing an offering to the queen…and you are.

When you pimp your friends for raffle tickets to raise funds for those brothers and sisters medications and health care.

When you stand on stage and endure the taunts and cat calls as you raffle yourself off for a charity.

That’s leather.

When you answer the late night phone call from a friend who needs to talk.

When they bend your ear about a relationship that has soured and they just don’t know what to do.

When you listen patiently because you know that simple act is exactly what they are really seeking, and you refrain from giving advice.

Just listen.

When they thank you and apologize for waking you at 3:00am and before they hang up, say “thanks for being there for me”.

That’s leather.

When you help your friends clean out the house of a leatherman who died before his family arrives and discovers his personal dungeon.

When you pack up years of memorabilia and move it to storage and unkink an apartment before relatives who never really knew him throw it all away.

When you attend a memorial service and sit with a leatherman’s extended family, and endure the nervous stares of his blood relatives to pay your last respects.

That’s leather.

When you take in a timid newcomer and show her the proper way to tie a person’s wrists so the circulation still flows to their hands.

When you explain how to hold a flogger and use it like an instrument to elicit moans and whimpers from a willing bottom.

When you guide her through a scene step by step and then watch her grow and bloom on her own.

That’s leather.

Now, you will notice there was no detailed list of rules in that definition.

There was no mention of dress codes and “tradition” in that definition.

There were no prescriptions at all.

That’s because to me “leather” is a state of being. It is a life not a lifestyle.

Yet, we still have people coming into our community and they look for rules,

and after the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon the number of those folks will only continue to rise.

Some people ask, where will it end? My answer is who knows? The easier question to answer is where did it begin? Well I can tell you where it began for me and this is from my personal recollections, so pardon any omissions.

Join me in a flash back to the disco era, the 1970’s when gay culture was driving the pop scene.

Gay culture was real and we influenced fashion, music, art and film.

I was politically active back then, unlike today….

I was working with members of a group called the Dallas Gay Political Caucus. During that time I became fascinated with one of the members who wore a leather motorcycle jacket. He was hot and dressed in leather even hotter.

I asked him where he hung out, hoping for a date, but instead he told me about the city’s most popular leather bar. The Sundance Kids down on Maple Ave.

Other friends warned me, that those leather people are dangerous…and so I immediately went and bought a motorcycle jacket at the Army Navy store and went to the bar.

That’s not really true. I went to the bar parking lot. I did that for a couple of weeks before getting the courage to go in. Finally, I made it of the doorman, who monitored the dress code for the bar and walked up to the bar and ordered a “martini straight up”. The bartender looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language and then told be “you want a beer”.

I took his advice and got my long-neck and found a place by the wall where I could get the lay of the land. And I observed. Again for a couple of weeks until I got the courage to talk to anyone. Once they had seen me around enough, the men there opened up and eventually befriended me.

Those were heady times. Things were going pretty well and my new found leather and my politics kept me busy, in every way imaginable.

Then shortly after the first March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1979, gay men began getting sick. They were stricken by rare opportunistic diseases that left them frail, covered in hideous sores and unable to breathe without wheezing.

That combination of symptoms later became Gay Related Immune Disorder or GRID and finally the acronym that stuck was Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, AIDS. And after a good deal of research the cause of that set of symptoms was discovered to be a virus, we now refer to as HIV.

In the midst of the sexual revolution and the fight for Gay Power the community was hit with the chilling news that the virus was most likely transmitted through sexual contact.

The joyous, raunchy, hedonistic and delights of gay sex suddenly became something to be feared. Worse still, in Dallas and elsewhere the leathermen seemed to be dying of the disease at an alarmingly high rate.

It seemed like overnight, backrooms at bars were sealed, bathhouses were closed and the free and rebellious sex of the leather community became suspect.

We were dangerous in many people’s eyes before the epidemic, but now we seemed deadly. Scary stuff.

By the mid 1980’s it seemed that any “joy of gay sex” as the title of the bestselling book once celebrated, was drained of any joy at all.

The leather community, such as it was, turned from BDSM activities to fundraising for our brothers and sisters who were being bankrupted by medical costs and to fund AIDS research.

Luckily a group of men who refused to give up their edgy version of sex, The Disciples of deSade, worked with some folks at the Dallas County Health Department and developed a series of workshops.

These were presented on Thursday nights at the Dallas Gay Alliance center. They were intended as a way to keep the spark of Eros alive while practicing what we called “Safer-Sex”.

BDSM was a big part of it and as long as there was no fluid exchange, most everything we did as leathermen, was safer-sex! Even fisting, so long as you wore gloves and took precautions was in actuality, less risky for disease transmission than a lot of what passed as vanilla sex.

These workshops opened the eyes of a lot of gay men and they realized that sex could still be hot and raunchy and fun with just a few changes in their behavior.

The workshops were eventually taken over by the fledgling NLA-Dallas club and in 1990 and “Beyond Vanilla” became a once a year weekend event.

Once that happened, the influx of non-gay people became noticeable. NLA-Dallas was formed as a “pansexual” group, and that word gained parlance through the National Leather Association. That meant if you were an adult and had a sincere interest in what we called “Leather/BDSM/Fetish” you were welcome.

Your sexual orientation didn’t matter.

That was the beginning in Dallas of what some disparagingly call “the great inclusion”.

As I became involved with NLA-Dallas I was a big part of that. I felt sincerely that if we were to survive as a subculture, we needed allies.

And now 25 years later, here we are. Leather dykes, Gay leathermen, trans leather folk, bisexual leather people, gender fluid leather folk and something called het-er-o-sex-ual leather folk?

And though we all sometimes need our own spaces for our own sexual orientations, I believe we function best as the big melting pot. A big messy family with one common thread that ties us together.

Leather

That word that defies definition, yet begs for it.

And so, let me add just a couple of more definitions of what leather is to me.

When you are approached respectfully by a man in leather chaps, wearing a shy smile and bright eyes.

When he asks you if the flippant remark you made in your speech about “not having a date” was true.

When he follows you to a late night cafe riding his Harley and you both spend the rest of the evening talking and laughing.

When you end up taking him home and end up sleeping together, actually sleeping together and don’t get to sex or SM until the morning.

When you end up spending the next 20 years together and he still calls you Sir.

That’s leather.

When you think you have done it all and still find something new and exciting to try.

When you find that you still have something to offer even if you never looked like a Tom of Finland illustration and you will never fit into those sexy chaps again.

When you find yourself being asked to speak at events, month after month and though you say you are going to finally say “no” you say “yes” instead.

When you feel so much gratitude to your sisters and brothers in leather that it almost brings you to tears.

That my friends, is leather.

Thank you.