Leather Ministry

  • by Race Bannon
  • Tuesday March 29, 2016
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Left to right: Bay Area leathermen Patrick E. Mulcaheyand Patrick Mulcahey and Men of ONYX members Mufasa Ali and Raymond Walker atthe recent Leather Leadership Conference in Atlanta. photo: Mufasa Ali
Left to right: Bay Area leathermen Patrick E. Mulcaheyand Patrick Mulcahey and Men of ONYX members Mufasa Ali and Raymond Walker atthe recent Leather Leadership Conference in Atlanta. photo: Mufasa Ali

Anyone who has been around the leather world for a while has heard a lot of words uttered related to some version of building community. Outreach. Building bridges. Inclusion. And many other canned phrases meant to represent some leather version of fostering community.

All that is well and good. The reality, though, is that much of it falls flat. It simply doesn't happen. We say the words. We have good intentions. But the community we purport to create and help grow stays much the same, or might be nudged along, improving in fits and starts almost in spite of the supposed community building efforts.

I'm not trying to besmirch anyone's or any group's efforts at community building, and I'm not saying they are all failures. But it's rare I find a way of looking at community building within our scene that makes a lot of sense to me. That all changed the other day when my friend Patrick Mulcahey posted on Facebook an insight spawned after attending a panel discussion led by ONYX (www.onyxmen.com) and Onyx Pearls (www.onyxpearlssoutheast.com) at the recent Leather Leadership conference in Atlanta. Patrick's post resonated with me immediately.

ONYX was formed and operates by men of color who enjoy the leather lifestyle. They do amazing work providing an informational and social organization to address issues specific to people of color who choose to project the positive aspects of the leather lifestyle and to support our community and economic initiatives.

Onyx Pearls is a newer organization formed for women to promote and teach the values and principles of leather, what that means, and what it entails for women of color by women of color.

Here is what Patrick Mulcahey posted that resonated so deeply with me when I read it.

"I learned something at the ONYX panel Saturday, part of Leather Leadership Conference XX. Mufasa Ali and Daddy Rod have been teachers to me since before the day we met, but here was a roomful of ONYX experience and wisdom."

"And ONYX deserves to be �"needs to be�" studied, for its astounding and indisputable success in making 'the diversity of the leather and kink communities' less a lie we've been telling ourselves for forty years and more the beginning of a reality."

"So what I learned: Daddy Rod was talking about how the ONYX board and chapters go about the work they do in manifesting community, and he said, with a shrug, 'We treat it like a ministry.'"

"Lightbulb moment. So simple but so resonant and complete. The 'ministry' is only this: showing up for the people you want to invite to show up for you. Three or four or ten of you suit up and head out to Club X's Umpteenth Anniversary Fundraiser, you stay for an hour or the weekend, and your message is 'We are family, shoulder to shoulder.' If you keep at it and your efforts are not reciprocated, then you know your invitation has not been understood or accepted, and you start staying home. If the people you show up for start showing up and keep showing up for you, then you've changed everything: you've turned 'your people' and 'my people' into 'our people.'"

"The motherlode of the secret is right there, in those simple words: 'like a ministry.' Not like a party, but like something your heart and your values call you to do, even if you had other plans."

"It's not a project we can leave to ONYX. But if we can pay attention, ONYX is showing us the way."

When I read those words, the same lightbulb that went off in Patrick's head went off in mine. He was right. If we want to truly build a leather and kink community, we have to show up. Not give lip service. Not make speeches. Not post on social media. We have to physically show up to meet, socialize and bond with each other. We have to engage in our own forms of ministry. Call it something else if you want, but if you and others show up, are physically present and engaged, the magic of true community building is the end result.

So simple. So profound. And the best part? It's not rocket science. It's not complicated. It requires nothing more than you or a small group of friends showing up at venues, events and social gatherings to be a live and vital presence.

Mufasa Ali, founder of ONYX, had this to say about their ministry approach.

"Hospitality and being intentional about meeting the needs of our members is key. We are the village! People come and people go, but home is still there to nurture and provide when needed. Heart is key to ministry. With this notion we are drawing younger men to the fold. We see other clubs aging out and we don't want to go down that road. Youth and newborns are important to sustain the mission and the vision to educate, empower and explore. Welcoming our sisters, the Onyx Pearls is also an intentional part of our support."

LadyD of Onyx Pearls told me a beautiful recounting of how the concept of ministry came to be part of her kink world view.

"I grew up in a time where sexuality and spirituality did not cross. I had to resolve that conflict within myself first. Most women, especially my age, are taught what 'good girls' do and don't do. My worlds collided when all of the things that I had been taught in the church didn't match up with my life's experiences and what my heart told me. If all gays are going to burn in hell, why did I find more love and acceptance among them than the hypocrites I sat next to in church? I cried out to God many nights and one day He answered simply, 'Be Spiritual, not Religious' (the title of my upcoming book).

"It was healing for me and allowed me to minister to those in my lifestyle. I am an ordained minister and a hypnotherapist, and I realized to allow the spirit to help me to reach and teach others. I have learned that this walk is spiritual, and our ministry, and that I can be a spiritual and a sexual woman! Let the church say Amen!"

Raymond Walker III, another ONYX member, offers yet another perspective on the ministry approach of Onyx.

"Beyond the ministry of showing up for others and hoping for reciprocity, ONYX also embodies a ministry of genuine welcome and hospitality. When I came to ONYX I felt nothing but welcome and love. As a transman I carried with me a sense of apprehension in the all-male space ONYX cultivated, but I soon after learned that my anxiety was unwarranted. These guys were real, open and genuinely wanted to know me and help me along in my leather journey. This is what I carry with me to give to others that meet me as a man of ONYX and a man in leather, the very same loving hospitality extended to me."

Recently an ONYX Northern California/Northwest Chapter was formed, and they plan to promulgate their ministry style of community building to our area. Here's what Daddy Rod said about that.

"So at the moment, we are still focusing on the local leather friendly bars in the city (San Francisco) and events (Folsom/Dore Alley). But once we become established we have already talked about talking with promoters at Black/Latin/Asian events where we might have a leather/kink-themed night and ONYX will be present. This will be our way to show our face, show what we are about, and be there to answer any questions anyone might have."

Bay Area leather and kink folks actually do the community building stuff fairly well. In my opinion, more than many other locales. We're typically united, diverse and respectful of each other. However, even we can do much better.

This concept of ministry within our scene is one I hope we'll all embrace. Let's show up for each other. Let's go to events we might not normally go to and be a presence. Let's get to know people from other walks of the leather and kink scene in which we might not normally commune.

In short, let's get out from behind our laptops and smartphones and get dressed, get out, mingle, talk and interact with fellow kinksters from all walks of our local scene. Leather and kink can thrive, grow, mature and improve. It just takes the intent of showing up and saying "I'm here, Let's get to know each other."

Race Bannon is a local author, blogger and activist. You can reach him through his website www.bannon.com.