Leather History Conference
By Master Taino
October 27, 2012
Greensboro, North Carolina
Good evening. It is an honor and a privilege to be here tonight and to be commissioned with this task at the second Leather History Conference.
When slave gypsie asked me to address this Conference, I had to say yes. I cannot say no to slave gypsie.
When I was finally able to think about what slave gypsie asked me to do, I realized it was a real challenge. Even though I have been passionate about the history of our Leather Community and one of the earliest supporters of Mama Vi Johnson and her Leather Library, I still considered myself to be “kind-of-a” newcomer.
I have been part of the Leather Community for the last two decades… just twenty years, even though I have been kinky all my life. And quoting one the most celebrated tangos of our Latino culture, “twenty years are nothing”.
I gathered some thoughts and decided that I may have something to contribute.
I am going to address two main issues:
First, Leather History --- past, present and future. Our history is not only the past, we are making history in the present moment and those who will follow us will continue making history in the future.
Second, I will address the differences – as I understand them – between our history and our traditions, because far too often we confuse one with the other.
History – the Past
I am sure that most of you had the same experience that I had. When I was a teenager, I thought that I was the only one with all these strange… kinky thoughts.
At age 13, I thought I would be the only child drawing secret dungeons, tying myself to the posts of my bed or hanging from the T-shaped pipes behind my home that my mother used for the cloth lines. I thought I was the only one with all these weird desires to explore my body with all kinds of sensations.
What a relief when I grew up and realized that there were other kinky people with similar feelings. Remember, in the 60s and 70s there was no Internet. I was born and raised in a small town in the central mountains of Puerto Rico, and there were no local Leather clubs or organizations available to me on my beautiful island. I am sure that all of you had a similar story. Discovering that we were not the only ones was a great relief.
After I relocated to the Washington DC area almost 30 years ago in the early 80s and started going to the DC Eagle and exploring more and more my kinkiness, a whole new world began to open up for me. Still it took me several years -- until the early 90s -- to finally join the Leather Community.
I was fascinated when I began to read the books from Race Bannon, Joseph Bean, Larry Townsend, Geoff Mains, and Guy Baldwin. I discovered that we had a history… that there were people doing this even before I was born. Twenty years later, I still consider myself a newcomer and I am still learning our ways and our history.
When I am able to sit down at the Carter-Johnson Leather Library and see magazines that I have in storage in my closet, and books that I have in my library, I begin to realize that I am now part of our history.
When I see the leather banner in my dungeon with way more than a hundred pins of events, clubs and organizations, I realized I am part of our history.
When I open a special box that I have with dozens of nametags of events I have attended, I realize that I am part of our history.
When I see that the program books of the events that I have attended barely fit in a huge box in the closet of my office, I realize that I am part of our history.
When I remember that I was in attendance at the first educational event on Master/slave relationships back in 1999, I realize that I am part of our history.
When I remember that I have attended 15 of the 20 International Master/slave Contests, I realize that I am part of our history.
When I remember that I have attended 10 consecutive South Plains Leather Fest in Dallas, 9 of 17 Southeast Leather Fest in Atlanta, 8 of 10 Southwest Leather Conference in Phoenix, 20 consecutive Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekends in Washington, DC, 7 International Mr. Leather in Chicago, 14 Folsom Street Fairs and 4 Dore Alley Fairs in San Francisco, 12 consecutive Folsom East in New York City, among many other events, I realize that I am part of our history.
When I reflect on the classes I have taught, on Master/slave relationships, in 17 states from coast to coast and once in Latin America, I realize that I am part of our history.
Last month, I was in San Francisco and I attended a presentation of Cleo Dubois and Fakir, two icons of our community. It was a power point presentation with photos of their history, which was also part of the Leather History. I was amazed at the number of people I knew in their presentation and of how many places I have been and books I have read. I realized once more, that, yes, I have been part of the Leather History during the past 20 years.
I encourage all of you – no matter how new you think you are – to reflect on how you have also been a part of our past history. I think that without exception, we are all a part of our history even though we may not have been part of the gay bikers after World War II, or those who remember the Catacombs in San Francisco, the Mineshaft in New York City or the original Eagle in DC, or dealt with the tough persecution that many of our predecessors endured for being gay, kinky, possessing or producing porn, receiving kinky magazines through the mail, or those who lost their jobs because they were kinky during the time when there was zero tolerance or acceptance of people like us.
Because we are a part of Leather History today, I believe we have the responsibility to study and know the history lived by many others before us, particularly the generation that fully lived the underground subculture and the generation that was wiped out in the 80s and 90s because of the AIDS pandemic.
It is important that we know that a lot of people were living their fetishes, kinkiness, and Master/slave dynamic way before many of us were even born.
History – the present
Our history is not just the past but it is also the present. We are all making history in small or big ways. The history continues… The guard continues… and we – Leathermen and Leatherwomen in 2012 – are creating and making the history that those after us will read about.
There is a famous poem by the Spaniard poet Antonio Machado which says: “Caminante no hay camino, se hace camino al andar”.
Which means, “Walker, there is no path, you make the path when you walk”. And we all are now making the path of Leather History as we walk forward.
I often tell people at the Academy and during my classes that we all have the responsibility to share our knowledge with those new ones who approach us.
Today, I will also tell you that we all have the responsibility to build our present history, to do what needs to be done for the benefit of future generations.
And we may be building that history in a different way than our forefathers did. Of course. We are a different generation. These are different times. This is the era of technology that allows us to better record our history for posterity. Now we have important speeches recorded, we have an amazing amount of literature in electronic format, or in Internet websites.
Mama Vi keeps the old books and magazines, but now we can even help to preserve that history by making electronic or digital copies of all that material and save it for future generations.
History – the future
And to the Next Generation, the TNGs, those young people in their 20s and 30s, you have the responsibility of preparing yourself to take the leadership roles in the future and to continue making and recording our history.
I have faith in the future. I see so many young people willing to learn and to take the responsibility. They are not going to do it the same way we are doing it, or our forefathers did. They will do it their way. And they will succeed.
In my Leather Family, I have three young Junior Masters between 30 and 45 years old. I see in them three leaders for the future. I see them immersed in learning the old ways and creating their own. I see them taking responsibility and contributing to our community.
And I have a young 20-year-old in my Leather Family, a college student who showed up at my door this past summer with a dream but no knowledge or experience. After spending his summer in our household, attending the MTTA Academy and the Master/slave Conference, that young man is already walking his path in an amazing way that I do envy as it took me years to learn some of what he has learned and experienced in just few months.
Or another 25-year-old college student from Maryland, who I met a year ago at the DC Fetish Ball. He was fascinated by my flogging. He contacted me to learn more, and he started learning way more that he imagined. In a matter of months, with my help, he was volunteering at events, discovered Mama Vi and her Library, and is already exploring the Master/slave dynamic as a Dom.
The future belongs to those who are getting their feet wet, reaching out to those of us who they can learn from and walking the walk, one step at a time.
They will build their own history and walk their own path. They will continue enriching our Leather History.
It is almost impossible to talk about history without talking about traditions. Traditions are the rituals, the protocols, the way of living our leather lives.
Today we have many folks making reference to the “Old Guard”. It is a common way to let the world know that they know the traditions of our community. Unfortunately, the term Old Guard has been misused far too often. I learned from my friend Guy Baldwin, that, that Old Guard has become a myth, a fantasy that did not correspond to the reality of the old times.
When we talk about Old Guard, Guy reminds us about “which one?” What he means is that there was no ONE Old Guard. Each major city with a large leather community had their own traditions and rituals and they differ from each other. There were “Old Guards” in cities like San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, among others. And these were the times, as Guy likes to remind us, before cheap airfares. So each community was pretty much isolated from each other.
Personally, I have never considered myself Old Guard or New Guard. I usually say that I am “My own guard”. Meaning I learn our history and our traditions, but I am living my leather and my Mastery one way… MY WAY… the way that works for me, taking things from here and there, from those who inspired my journey, from those who showed me the way, from those who have mentored and taught me, and from those living real and authentic lives. I have taken from all of them what works for me and I have left the rest. So, I have to agree that the Old Guard is a myth.
What are not myths are the traditions that we have preserved through many decades. Mama Vi was telling me recently how the traditions kept throughout the times have united and preserved groups of people. I tend to agree, but I also know how some traditions have gotten people stuck and not allowed them to evolve and grow.
So what I suggest is this: that we learn and practice the traditions that we like and that mean something to us, that we create our own traditions and rituals, that we remain open and willing to share and teach others who are seeking to learn, and finally, that we allow ourselves to grow and evolve as the Universe leads our journeys.
Our traditions worthy of being preserved include living the values of Leather: honesty, integrity, truthfulness, respect, honor, discipline, and hard work. Our traditions include many rituals like the Covering of a Master, the collaring of a slave, the leather families, the back patches, the clubs, the brotherhood, tattoos and brandings, earning leathers, passing leathers, etc.
I believe that our community is striving to keep and preserve many good traditions. I tip my hat to the bootblacks who are doing an awesome job in our community to keep that tradition alive. They are everywhere.
In the Master/slave Community, I see the renewed respect for covered Masters and the ceremony of covering, the collaring of slaves, and the earning of leather.
But at the same time, we are sometimes abusing those traditions. The way I understand – for example – the covering of a Master is that it is the community of his peers who decides who has earned that privilege and organizes the ceremony to recognize that Master.
While we are seeing more and more of that, we are also seeing Cover Ceremonies organized by the slaves of a Master or initiated by the Master himself, and not by the community of Masters who have chosen to honor one of their peers.
I also question when I go to a Leather event and see in a room dozens of men wearing Covers, which are just the traditional biker caps, how many of those people at IML, MAL, CLAW or Folsom are really covered by their peers? How many are wearing it as another fashionable piece of leather? How can we know one from the other?
The tradition of earning or passing leather is well and alive. Many of us have experienced this tradition, one way or the other. I have to admit that the only leather I “earned” in my beginning was the patch of my leather club, after the pledge period. And still I had to purchase the vest.
Since I began my leather family in the late 90s, I have had the opportunity to pass my leathers or to give earned leather to members of my family or to my mentees.
The first time was after the passing of my slave tommy. In the years following his death, I passed his vest to his slave brother and other pieces of leather to my new slaves. I wanted them to have a piece of slave tommy as a way to remember and honor him.
I used to present my slaves with leather suspenders and it became a symbol and a tradition to family members. The tradition has now evolved with the arrival of the family patches on the vests and leather belts with “Handcuff” style buckles.
To all three junior Masters in my family, I have passed some of my leathers that they have earned as my mentees and members of my family. Sir Ross got my first pair of biker boots, boots that reflect and record almost 20 years of my leather history. He also received my wrist and armbands. Sir Silas got my original handcuff belt buckle I wore for years as well as a wristband and a leather bandana cap. Sir Greg received my harness. slave mordecai, the college student in service to this Master, earned his first pair of boots when inducted in the family. I know many of my friends doing the same with family members or mentees.
This wristband I am wearing was given to me by Ms Khiki, from her wrist to mine. Last year, Sir Greg presented me with an armband. Master Skip and a group of Masters presented me during MsC 2005 a kilt to teach me to wear it, as I used to hate them. Some of you know that story well.
Individuals whose lives I have touched in some way or who I have mentored have presented me with floggers and paddles during my journey.
But for some leather guys, leather is fashion and they need an outfit for each occasion. Young people go for the first time to IML or Folsom and go crazy purchasing leather clothing and gear. And you see them wearing a leather collar with a band on the left arm. Go figure!
Selling leather is a big business. And I am not saying that purchasing your own leather is bad. It is just the reality of our times. If we do not buy our own leather, we are in for a big surprise if we think that someone else is going to do that for us. Leather is expensive and sometimes we cannot just wait for someone to give us our Leather.
So, the reality is that there is a balance to make between the great traditions of our community and the reality of our times.
Those who are part of leather families, slaves who are owned, mentees who are in a serious mentoring program with a mentor can and should expect to earn some of their leathers. That is terrific each time it does happen.
Also I have seen volunteers at specific events being given earned leathers by the producers or members of a local community being recognized for their deeds with the presentation of leather. Those examples are awesome when they do happen.
And even that we still called our community “the Leather Community”, the truth is that we have evolved beyond leather. Leather is not what everyone wears anymore. For many years, we have seen alternative clothing to leather, for example: uniforms, rubber, neoprene, military gear, and sports gear, among many others.
If I would have to offer some advice on what to do, I would say the following: To those who love and want to follow the traditions, go for it… And feel good for your contributions to preserve our traditions that are part of our own history.
Let me address another tradition: the Leather Contests. Years ago, there were several iconic contests like Mr IML and Drummer Sir and boy. Nowadays, we have a proliferation of contests that – in my very personal opinion – have diminished the value of such contests.
I have to admit, I may be biased. But it is my honest and sincere opinion. I have grown to dislike most contests because I have seen the opposite of what I think was the original purpose of such competitions.
There are too many contests, and because of that, the quality of contestants suffers without a doubt. I also see leaders pushing newcomers to the community to compete just because they look good or have a great body and not because they are ready to represent the community in whatever is the purpose of a particular contest. Way too often, I see contests with one contestant or the same individual competing in every contest they can until finally they get a sash. It may be time to reevaluate the need for so many contests.
That is why I like some of the new events in the past few years that don’t have contests but have other excellent goals such as fundraising for charities, education and history, and the development of leadership skills. For example: CLAW in Cleveland, the Leather Leadership Conference and this Leather History Conference.
Finally, how about the Leather Bars? For decades the Eagles and other leather bars across the nation were the places to cruise, to meet and to mingle. The Leather clubs did have a “home bar” where they would hang their colors, and hold bar nights, fund-raisers, beer busts, and other events.
During the last decade, the leather bars are either gone or empty. Bars like the Lure in New York, the Eagles in San Francisco and Chicago, the old Eagle and Spike in Manhattan, just to mention a few, are all closed. The DC Eagle, after being in three locations during 40 years, will close at the end of November and hopefully it will reopen next year somewhere else.
Can we still call some of the Leather bars that remain open “Leather bars”? I’m not sure. There is no dress code, sneakers and flip flops are the norm, and the club members are absent. Because less and less activities take place in our bars, often with smaller crowds, owners have been forced to welcome non-leather patrons just to stay in business.
And at the same time the bars are disappearing, the leather clubs are also suffering. Many of them, including mine, are having difficulties in recruiting new members. They are not as active as they use to be. At this moment, I am not sure what the future holds for the Leather Clubs. I can guess that they have to reinvent themselves. Many members are less active, perhaps getting older or dying, and the young folks are not joining. We do not see that many club patches when we go to a bar or to leather events.
Master/slave History Project
I would like to take this opportunity to announce – on behalf of our organization MTTA – that our Board of Directors has approved to go ahead with the Master/slave History Project. We have contracted a writer and researcher to put together a book on consensual Master/slave History. We are very excited with this project that we see as our contribution to preserving the history of Master/slave relationships.
I truly think that our community is doing a great job in learning our history and preserving many of our traditions.
This is seen everyday with the immense support generated through the years by the Leather Archives and Museum and more recently by the Carter Johnson Leather Library.
I love every time I see a young man or woman fascinated while visiting the Library, reading for hours, and the glow that shows in their faces.
I want to commend Mama Vi for her dedication with the next generation. But guess what? That is not only Mama Vi’s job. We all have to do something to pass our history and our traditions to those who are coming behind us.
They are the future. They have the responsibility to take the torch and walk the walk honoring and teaching our history and our traditions. But we now have the responsibility to take them under our wings, teach them and then let them fly to discover their own hearts and spirits and continue making history the way they see fit.
To the elders or older here, we cannot and should not, expect that the young ones coming behind us are going to do things the way we have done it or the way our forefathers did it before us. They will learn from us, but they are free to build their own future and enhance our community with their ideas and goals.
We keep our dear Library that Mama Vi has taught us to love. The next generation will make the library digital so more and more people will have access to it.
History is not just the past. History is the past, the present and the future. We have to remember and honor the past, build the present and prepare the path for the future.
All of us together: The memories of those who preceded us. The deeds of those who are walking the path now. And the eagerness of those who will follow us. Past, present and future united to preserve our history and our traditions. Together we can do it. Thanks so much.