An essay written for Letherati
The One True Banner
Deep in the North American state of California, in the high altitudes of the Sierra Forest, the Leather Council convenes under a star lit sky and the glow of a roaring bon fire. Upon a giant granite rock, under the One True Banner, the First and Final Five Master Tenders of Leather Tradition sit in cloaked anonymity. Simple shadows of humanity encased in polished leather from boots to cover.
Only THE ONE ever speaks and it has always been accepted that THE ONE knows all and what is best for leather folk everywhere. His voice is like thunder. It calls forth the language of the leather Gods and makes it decipherable to mere mortal leather folk.
“The high court will recognize the leather boy in jump boots, jock strap, simple vest, and collar who calls himself “jim”. You may approach Us!”
Until now, jim has been kneeling dutifully at the feet of his black leather clad Master. Knees apart, arms behind his back and head slightly bowed forward. His short military hair cut lays under the trembling gloved hand of his Sir.
The thousands gathered in the meadow of the tall redwoods say nothing. Do nothing. Look neither left nor right. Only forward and upward to the Master Tenders on the high holy rock. The crack and spit of the fire threaten to puncture the delicate membrane that is holding back a torrent of expectation. The derision of difference presses in. Only the Master Tenders can make it right.
“You have two minutes to make your case for wishing to wear your boot laces threaded on top of the first two eyelets of your boots instead of threading them under the first two eyelets of your boots as it has been done since leather men first road out on their motorcycles from the port cities of old! Explain your BLASPHAMY!”
Wow, where did that little fantasy come from and what does it have to do with Leather diversity? I wonder?
To me, there are a lot of attractive elements to that scene: the intense protocol, the leather itself, the Master/slave practices, the fire, the sense of tradition, the drama. I love that stuff! But there are other parts that suck: like the inflexibility of the Master Tenders of Leather Tradition, the stifling environment jim finds himself in, and the silence of the other community members present.
Please notice the words “to me” in the above paragraph. I have some intense ideas on how I think the community should behave, who belongs in it, and who doesn’t. Did anyone read Carpetbaggers? But at the end of the day, that is what is important TO ME. My little world designed exactly the way I want it is my own personal trip. They are MY ideas and I’m entitled to them.
Unfortunately (and I say “unfortunately” because it complicates my carefully arranged little world) I also value diversity. I value having a broader pool of talent and resources to draw on when I get into trouble or my community needs help. When I’m fighting for my basic human rights, or dealing with a catastrophic calamity (like AIDS) I need some strong professionals and kinky family to help me get through it.
I also value finding new and twisted ways to get off. I might get bored! I’m the kind of person who wants all the bells and whistles installed on my kink caravan. I want options for installing features I don’t even know I want yet. I’m selfish that way. Being around people who look, play, and think differently than I do is the only way I can think of to be exposed to those new ideas.
But that process seems random. It’s unpredictable and I like things in order. Diversity is messy. So what is a tight ass, OCD, kinky man to do? Find some all encompassing banner we can all get along under?
I don’t think so.
The members of the community in my imaginary world above all stand under one banner, and because of that, there is no room for the difference in diversity to flourish. jim is not even allowed to lace his boots differently without permission from THE ONE.
As a Leatherman, I have to call foul! A big fat non-consensual foul! He’s at the foot of the alter of the One True Banner. Where is jim to turn? How is the difference in diversity supposed to express itself under that kind of single-mindedness?
That scene might be hot to many of us (who no doubt see ourselves as THE ONE) but its expectations and protocols are best left in a smaller private club, under a smaller more distinct banner, whose values are shared by those who choose to follow it.
The values of one club should not be expected to be followed by the totality of the kinky world.
Trying to pull ourselves together under one big all-inclusive-all-the-time-banner brings us to a pretty oppressive and sometimes mind numbingly boring place. The best we can do is try to agree on a few general principles like “Safe, Sane, and Consensual” – “Risk Aware Consensual Kink” – “Trust, Honor, and Respect” and leave it at that.
Trying to agree on the smaller minutia of kink or leather is impossible and I think it actually hinders our growth as individuals and as clubs when we give up our autonomy and attempt to come to consensus on everything.
Let’s give ourselves permission to disagree with one another on the small stuff. Maybe even look at those differences as a good thing. When that happens, we’re actually supporting the development of diversity.
But there are times when I’m just not feeling it. When I don’t want to be politically correct and tolerant. When I just want to be around people whose values and principles and gear and play are all similar to my own. The good news is that there is actually still room for me in the fetish world during those times.
I just need to plan my schedule accordingly.
As a responsible kinky player I’m going to have to take responsibility for informing myself about the kinky world I live in by looking at the calendar of events available to me and only going to the ones I’m in the proper frame of mind to attend. When I’m not feeling the warm fuzzies of the all inclusive bug, I will be spending more time at private events, in private dungeons, in German dark rooms, and on-line hook ups than I will be at huge events where the doors are open to anyone and everyone.
There are lots of private events that are very specific to the kind of people and play that resonate with me. It’s my responsibility to identify them. If they don’t exist, guess what? I need to either create those spaces myself or I need to support the clubs, events, and parties that speak to me.
In the end I’ll be a much happier kinkoid.
It also means that I’m going to need to give those freaks out there who think and act differently than I do the same room and privacy I want when they are doing the freaky things they enjoy. No matter how bizarre. I need to accept what they are doing even if I’m not invited.
It’s an under 40 party? More power to you my brothers. I don’t qualify for entry. I can’t wait to hear about how it went.
Unless you are taking away my opportunity to organize and produce my unique flavored play spaces, I’m going to have to sit back, shut the hell up, and wish you well on your endeavor.
It also means I might have to stay away from events that I’m invited to, but don’t like how they’re being run or who is showing up to them. For example: Let’s say a big event like, well, IML or Folsom is not up to my standard of kink anymore?
Maybe I should stop going. It might actually be my responsibility to not attend if I can’t keep my complaining mouth shut at the event.
This conundrum just slapped me in the face at July’s Dore Alley street fair. I was grabbed on the arm and stopped by three spiky haired, iPhone carrying, tennis shoe wearing, early twenty something twinks and their two girl friends. They stopped me and my boy and wanted our photo.
I was so incensed I decided to tell anyone who would listen at Stompers about what had just happened. “I’m not freakin Goofy and this isn’t Disneyland!”
Unfortunately, nothing is more certain than change. Our big events are not immune to it. And I need to accept it. I either need to accept the change or stop going and create an event that truly speaks to me. After all, who is forcing me to go?
After giving it some thought and seeing how shrill my 45 year old voice sounded when someone else told my Goofy story (accurately, damn it), I’ve decided that “being Goofy” is simply part of the price I need to pay to enjoy an exclusive packed patio area of booted up kinky people in a twink-free zone at Stompers.
We are a confederation of diverse communities, not one single community.
Have you noticed that I’ve been using the term, fetish world instead of Leather Community? I’m going to try that on for size for a while because I think it’s more accurate than calling ourselves a “community.” Each member of a confederation can be encouraged to be brilliantly different from the other members. Individual community members are expected to conform to the rules of the community.
So I started thinking; would it be possible to I create an event that acknowledges my personal kinks while still honoring other perverts out there whose kinks look, behave, and maybe even smell different than my own? How can I create a fetish world event?
And then I said fuck it, I’ll worry about the “how” later. What would it look like? And this is what I came up with.
The Fire Event
The great sacred meadow of the redwoods has been meticulously cleared in preparation for the annual ritual. The full moon and stars that are shining through crisp mountain air blanket the ground with light. The movement of the towering redwoods in the cool summer breeze is all that can be heard. A thirty foot high and equally wide pyre waits in solitude in the center of the meadow. A ring of countless unlit torches are staked into the packed earth a safe distance from the still cool stack of wood which lays more than seven hundred footfalls from the tree line.
Inside the woods the Kurrent Kinksters are making their way through the dark forest down a well worn path that leads to the revered field. In the tradition of the annual gathering, they walk behind their new banner, mounted high on a tall staff. They are dressed in retro hipster low slung pants, button up collared shirts, thick black rimmed classes and untied hiking boots. Some wear a black leather armband on their wrist. Many of them carry classic medium sized brown overnight cases from the 1960’s.
From the covered darkness of the redwoods they emerge onto the field of the sacred meadow and see that from every point on the compass other banners are emerging from the ancient forest edge into the moonlight. Ten, twenty, thirty banners come forward. A myriad of crews expressing their own kink each find a torch and plant their banner behind it. Some reverently approach the circle while others roar with boisterousness revelry.
The Kurrent Kinkster quietly watch as the meadow fills with hundreds of clubs comprised of thousands of individuals. Motorcycle, drag, skin, uniform, rubber, sport, spandex, all genders, all ages, all colors are present. Each under its own banner. Additional torches are brought out when they are needed to be matched with new banners.
“Satyrs, motorcycle club!” A voice rings out with clarity. The light of the relatively small flame and decisive declaration quiets the great sea of people. The oldest crew present, by tradition, has fired up the first torch.
He and his crew have searched the gathering and have found the newest crew present. “The Kurrent Kinksters!” is called out nervously by the twenty-two year old banner carrier and his crew’s torch is lit by the light of the Satyrs’ torch fire.
One by one ever crew name is called out. Every torch is lit. Every banner’s colors are brought to light from the torches that are now lit.
“Whose flame remains undeclared?” The question is answered by the quiet reflections of smiling faces looking at the cornucopia of diversity they are surrounded by.
“Then it is time to light the one fire that brings us all together.”
Simultaneously, every torch is carried forward and the huge pyre is brought to life. Music bursts into the night air and with a collective roar the individual crews disperse into the sea of kinky brothers and sisters around them to celebrate their differences.