BARtab » Leather-kink

Embrace the change; create the future

by Race Bannon

A flagging dancer at this year's Folsom Street Fair. photo: Rich Stadtmiller
A flagging dancer at this year's Folsom Street Fair. photo: Rich Stadtmiller  

Phew! The busy week of events leading up to and amid Folsom Street Fair is behind us, and what a busy and fun time it was. My schedule only allowed me to attend a few of what seemed to be a record number of options for LGBTQ kinksters this year, but what I did attend was all fun and packed to the rafters with attendees. If you were in town and frequented any of those events, I hope you had fun. I sure did.

One of the things I noticed throughout the week was that the array and breadth of erotic interests and fetishes and how they present in the LGBTQ kink communities are continuing to grow and solidify into distinct groupings. Many seem to be developing entire networks and social mores that bind them with shared erotic commonalities.

Pups. BDSM. Rubber. Sports gear. Rope work. Leather. Uniforms, and so much more. The list of kinks is ever expanding with the various subsets within the larger body of kinksters overlapping in constantly morphing ways. Keeping our gang of erotic adventurers neatly defined and codified is a challenge.

However, because of all these changes, I often hear complaints from people who aren't necessarily happy with the shifting kink landscape.

They bemoan the loss of full-time leather bars and physical gathering spaces.
They long for a yesteryear of leather when us leatherfolk looked and functioned relatively similarly. It was easier to know the cast of characters without a program back then.

They are sometimes challenged to discern where they fit in among their fellow kinksters.

In short, as is the natural order of things for most of us, they are resisting change, even as that change is picking up pace. I heard friends and acquaintances offer up such concerns quite a few times over the past couple of weeks. But change is the only constant in the universe, including the kinky universe. So, adapt we must.

As kismet would have it, a few days after the Fair, The Guardian UK published an article pondering why the gay leather scene in London is dying. The article was referencing the gay men's scene in London specifically, but the article could easily have been talking about many American or European cities. A "the scene is dying" refrain is common lately closely followed by "the scene is changing, and I hate it."

Yes, the leather scene is changing, not dying. It's manifesting new versions of itself while creating offshoots and corresponding communities. That's reality. That's not going to abate. If change is an issue for you, not only is the leather and kink scene going to disappoint you, most of life will too.
I'm also going to take an occasionally unpopular stance — the change is good, or at least the changes are making the scene better more than they are making it worse. To channel Winston Churchill for a moment — "To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often."

What I saw throughout the weekend and on prominent display at Folsom Street Fair is a scene that's alive, vibrant, diverse, sexual, piggish, fun and generally doing just fine. With that said, let me address some of the more common complaints I'm hearing about the direction it's all taking.

'Leather bars are disappearing or not leather-laden enough.'

Yes, this is true. That's not going to change. Most bars host a wide range of event nights to stay afloat. Some of them are leather/kink, and some are not. If we want to keep these bars open, we must give them our business. (This applies to all our spaces such as dungeons, sex clubs, meeting locations, and so on.) It's that simple. But we need to stop complaining that a bar isn't "leather enough" because they're trying their hardest to stay in business for us.

'Younger guys (this mostly seems directed at gay guys) are ruining the scene with their new ways.'

No, they're not. They're making it better. They're creating new ways of being kinky, meeting, socializing, playing and developing anew ways of being sexual along with accompanying fresh erotic identities.

Diverse fashion styles at 2018's Folsom Street Fair. Photo by Rich Stadtmiller  

One of the things I try to point out to people is that new ways of being kinky in no way stops others from being kinky in their own fashion. Want to dress in black cow head to toe and hang out? Do it. No one's stopping you. Want more leather-clad folks to join you? Invite them and swarm our bars and events with your own kind. No one's stopping that. We can't and shouldn't badger or harass anyone's form of being kinky if they're not trying to impede our own ways of being kinky.

Think in new ways. Get creative. Create your own erotic environments and events that work for you. Stop, to use a popular phrase these days, yucking other people's yum. Leather and kink are not zero-sum propositions. There's plenty of room for all forms of kink and their expressions.

The mixing of genders, orientations and kinks is ruining it for some of us.
There is little doubt that the blending of all sectors of our scene will continue. There are lots of upsides to that blending. Sharing the cost of communal spaces thus keeping them open and available. Cross-pollinating ideas and strategies. Working toward common goals and with projects that can benefit everyone. These are all good things.

What I agree with is that we do not always need to be blended. The various genders, orientations, kinks and identities have every right to also create and maintain their own institutions, gatherings and venues that cater specifically to their focused demographic.

Clubs, events and venues for just gay leathermen or gay pups or lesbian BDSMers or bisexual power dynamic players or whoever are okay and, frankly, necessary in my opinion to keep the scene exciting overall.

We can mix. We can be separate. We can stay in one camp or meander between many camps. It's all good. None of it is more correct than another and we need to stop haranguing people who want to socialize and play in whatever ways make their sexualities sing.

There just aren't groups or events catering to my specific erotic needs.
I'm going to echo an old saying, "build it and they will come." I believe we are increasingly moving toward a more self-service, do-it-yourself scene. We can't expect the handful of producers and venues to create everything for everyone. We just can't. Costs are rising and physical spaces are diminishing while the need and diversity grows.

Chains of love at this year's Folsom Street Fair. Photo by Rich Stadtmiller  

Want a play party that meets your needs? Host one. It's not that difficult, really. We over-complicate things sometimes. I've seen some amazing play parties in people's homes, hotel or unconventional rented spaces. There are also play spaces you can rent.

Want a gathering catering to your needs and populated with the people you want there? Creating a Facebook event page takes about five minutes, or simply send out emails or texts to those people you want there and tell them where to gather. This is not rocket science folks.

Want a club or group to do something specific in the scene? Form one. It doesn't have to be formal, have bylaws, or be anything other than a casual gathering of like-minded people.

Stop complaining. Stop fighting with each other. Start creating. Be the solution and not the problem. I know it's easier to complain than to actually do something, but that's a surefire path to unhappiness and discontent. Jump in and do. You and the scene will be better off for it.

Race Bannon is a local author, blogger and activist.
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