Shared space: Let's stop the kvetching in 2020

  • by Race Bannon
  • Wednesday December 18, 2019
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Winner of the first Ms. Powerhouse Leather 2020 contest, Ms. V (third from left), with past winners of the Mr. titles: Will Victoria, Mr. Powerhouse Leather 2014 (left); AJ Huff, Mr. Powerhouse Leather 2019 (second from left); and Travis Santell Rowland, Mr. Powerhouse Leather 2017 (far right). photo by Dot
Winner of the first Ms. Powerhouse Leather 2020 contest, Ms. V (third from left), with past winners of the Mr. titles: Will Victoria, Mr. Powerhouse Leather 2014 (left); AJ Huff, Mr. Powerhouse Leather 2019 (second from left); and Travis Santell Rowland, Mr. Powerhouse Leather 2017 (far right). photo by Dot

I was standing in the San Francisco Eagle bar last week watching the inaugural Ms. SF Eagle Leather contest. The bar had a nice-sized crowd with a rare preponderance of women in attendance.

The Powerhouse also held its inaugural Ms. Powerhouse Leather contest recently. I'm using both new contests here as an illustrative point that San Francisco's leather bars are now officially shared space.

Welcome to the modern queer leather bar.

Yes, I know local leather bar space has been shared for a while, but these two events signal to me that our bar space is now forever inexorably mixed and as we enter the new year we avoid becoming comfortable with this fact at our own peril.

I can already envision the reactions some will have to this column. There will be a handful of loud protestations. There will be some quiet but seething rumblings within certain circles by those desperately trying to maintain that leather bars are inherently gay male space. To them I say, good luck with that.

Don't get me wrong. In an ideal world, I would much prefer we had so many leather and kink-friendly bars that they could easily compartmentalize themselves into gay, lesbian, pansexual, queer or whatever designation they chose, if any. That would be lovely. That's not our current reality.

Real estate prices and increased costs of doing business resulting from the rabid gentrification of our city, and many cities across the country, have ushered in a crisis of available shared space. Our bars are being challenged as are our various other play and meeting venues.

Couple this situation with the increased calls for inclusion within a quickly diversifying leather and kink scene and it's the perfect storm for some bumpy times ahead as everyone tries to wrap their heads around how to share space best.

I know this topic causes turmoil, especially among some gay men who feel their sacred leather space has been usurped. I get that. I come from an era where I could walk into any men's leather bar anywhere in the country and know for sure that I'd almost always be surrounded entirely by other leathermen like myself.

I recall those days fondly because the erotic heat generated for many gay men can only be optimally accomplished by an all-male space. I'm not here to counter that sentiment. That sentiment is entirely valid, and it lives within the hearts of many who are saddened such environments are harder to come by these days.

Tammy Lg Hatter, Ms. San Francisco Eagle Leather 2020, the first to win the newly created title. Photo: Race Bannon  

I don't pretend to have all the answers, but one thing I'm certain of is that we'll likely never return to the bygone era of entirely male-centric leather bars. We can remember them fondly, but the evolution of our bar spaces has morphed them into public spaces for everyone.

That's great for some people. That's sad for some people. And if people want the best outcome after all this mixing dust settles, they'd be wise to not cast aspersions on people in either of those camps. That's not useful.

Humans are adaptable. We've adapted to so much throughout human existence and we'll adapt to this change too.

My instincts tell me that much of the leather and kink scene will continue to be driven by non-bar events, both big and small, that can each —if they choose to do so— focus on a specific target demographic; men's weekend events, women's play parties, pansexual conferences, discussion and education groups catering to each sub-group's needs, clubs and organizations meeting the needs of a specific population.

I don't think we're going to lack for places to go and events to attend at which we'll each feel entirely comfortable and amid our own kind.

At the same time, while leather bars may no longer have the deeply heated, erotic and cruisy atmosphere men once enjoyed, that doesn't mean that social events there can't be equally enjoyable. I don't think it's reasonable to tell people they must feel erotically charged in a mixed space. Our sexualities are not democratic. We like what we like.

However, when faced with a stark reality, it would be folly to not try to adjust our mindsets, each of us and as set of kink communities, to figure out how we can get a win/win out of as many situations as possible. I have faith we can.

As for the new local women's leather contests, San Francisco now has two new women's titles and the first winners of them.

Someone I've known for years and have long admired, Ms. V, won the title of Ms. Powerhouse Leather 2020.

Over at the SF Eagle, Tammy Lg Hatter won the Ms. San Francisco Eagle Leather 2020 title.

I don't consider contests themselves to necessarily be harbingers of things to come, but in this case, I believe these two titles do pose significant local milestone events for the San Francisco leather and kink scene.

May 2020 be the year we all get comfortable with this reality and figure out how to best get our individual and collective erotic and kink needs met.

Race Bannon is a local author, blogger and activist.

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