Your Leather, Your Choices

bootblackingby The Duke of Pudding

Taken from a journal entry on Fetlife.com .  For those with a Fetlife account, you can find the original posting HERE.

(c)January 2014 All rights reserved This article is the sole property of the author and CAN NOT be reprinted in any format without express written permission of the author

Sorry that this doesn’t have a more clever title… perhaps I’ll change that in a future edit. For now, I’m just trying to get my thoughts somewhat organized.

I was asked to comment on a speech given by Race Bannon at Southwest Leather Conference (SWLC), and specifically how it relates to “Earning Leather” as we’ve been defining it in some conversations among friends lately. This is probably going to seem disjointed at times because my brain seems to be moving faster than my fingers.

Bannon’s main opening argument is that the formation of large groups and the mainstreaming of What-it-is-That-We-Do has caused a groupthink mentality, ultimately leading to the “One Twue Way” methodology that is often projected in classes and workshops at gatherings similar to SWLC and in various BDSM books.

For me, this is one reason that I tend to stay away from Soft Skills classes (slave relations, self-awareness, etc) at conferences unless I know they’re being presented by someone who is very good at exploring concepts rather than “how to”s. Too often, the class presented by a novice speaker is hijacked by audience “questions” that really amount to “But I do that thing completely differently”, thereby negating much of what the “here’s one option that works for me” stuff the presenter is discussing. In trying to gain/maintain control of such a discussion, the presenter then limits questions or redirects them to support her/his discussion points, leading to that “One Twue Way” idea that people then carry out of the room with things like “Well, Master Domlypants says that all slaves must memorize the slaves ethos as published by Heroditus in 560b.c., so now you’re going to do it.” The what now?

I would argue that our desire to be included in groups is inculcated by society. While our kinks, our leather, our paths are all individualistic (and rightfully so), we look for societal justification for this “wrong” thing we do by forming into groups of like-minded people. Before groups and clubs were as prevalent as they are today, Leather was a much more underground lifestyle in the gay community. Because of the subversive nature, people started quietly seeking out like-minded folks through hanky flagging or other indicators. Indeed, many groups that we now vilify got their start simply by people hanging around in bars looking for a community. Acceptance. Camaraderie. Get enough like-minded people together, and suddenly your local watering hole is a “Leather Bar”. Gain more popularity, and you’re forming a Club where the original bar patrons are shoved into a leadership role and their way is THE WAY. Its how we operate as a society. We seek to define and justify our norms by finding other people who believe the same things.

Now, concerning “Earning Leathers”, I don’t see how a discussion of groups is applicable unless we’re talking about the “One Twue Way” to earn leather and how we need to all do it exactly the same way. That would be problematic for me.

While I understand much of the history and traditions involved with Leather gifting, I disagree that there has to be a rigid heirarchy of boots, belt, vest, etc. in the way that some groups have taken it. Don’t even get me started on the many “Old Guard” traditions that have been fabricated. Talk to any Leather person, and they will tell you a highly individualized story of what got them to where they are, and where they feel they are headed. (Leatherwomen are especially good sources for me, because their until-recently marginalized existence seems to pair well with how I’ve felt as a Het cis-male who identifies as Leather.) While some of their traditions overlap, the actual details of their journey will often seem very different. I believe that it’s good for smaller groups (close leather families, for instance) to establish their own traditions and familial bonds. However, when a group gets excessively large (state- or nation-wide groups are a good example), their “One Path” methodology becomes oppressive and disregards the individualistic ideals that our kinks and our journeys are based on. The only item I hold in reserved reverence is the Muir Cover, because of its long-standing accepted symbolism of Mastery. Other items should be gifted as deemed appropriate by the gifter, not by some hierarchical list in a book. Let the symbolism be your own.

I believe that Leather is an individual artform, and while we might not be able to control how we project our experiences and expectations onto other people we see wearing it, the earning of various pieces should remain a journey of personal significance.

In Race’s closing words: “Embrace the chaos that are your own internal changes because it is the only path to a fulfilling and happy kinkster life… Love each other. Be kind to each other. Connect and bond with each other. Have sex and play with each other. And most importantly, be the kind of kinky person you want to be. And never let anyone tell you what that’s supposed to be because they don’t know you nearly as well as you know yourself.”

This is a great community with a lot of open and accepting people. However, it’s easy to fall into the “One Twue Way” trap by judging your experiences against someone else’s. Take a moment to focus on yourself. Go where your journey takes you, not where someone else says it should go. If you have people close to you who will walk beside you, great! However, remember that this particular maze has many exits and each one has a different kind of cheese, so take care not to let others pull you down their path just because they like cheddar. Be the inquisitive mouse, and sniff out the one that smells best to you.

Mine smells like leather.

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