Leathermen, Catholics, and Lolita

There was a time when leathermen could only find each other in seedy bars, back alleys, or public rest rooms. They wore motorcycle jackets or vests, and flagged colored handkerchiefs from their back pockets to announce their desires. A hankie on the left signaled he's a top, a hankie on the right meant he's a bottom. Red is for fisting, black for heavy s/m, light blue for oral sex, dark blue for anal sex, yellow for piss play, orange for anything goes, purple for piercing, and so on. One small piece of fabric communicated all they needed to know about one another. Gay men have always had a flair for color.

Contemporary leathermen still like dark bars and brightly colored hankies, of course. But judging by the 11 contestants at the Gotham Leatherman 2000 Contest, November 12 at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in the meatpacking district, today's leatherman is out, proud, and evolving. He can be a badass on a Harley or the boy next door, depending on his mood.

New York's a big town with a lot of leather guys, and we need a big men's leather contest. It looks like we might have one in Gotham Leatherman 2000, sponsored by Gay Male S/M Activists (GMSMA). They are the nation's largest organization of men into s/m, or so their Web site claims (www.gmsma.org). The contest made no boners about being a beauty pageant; categories included:jeans/T-shirt, jockstrap, fantasy wear, and bar wear. The guys changed their outfits so many times in two hours, it must have been madness backstage. (How do you tell 11 jockstraps apart? Perhaps they had sewn-in name tags.)

The contestants were poised and sexy, but too many of them resembled pumped-up Chelsea boys who had raided leather daddy's closet. The cult of the hot bod is insidious among gay men, and it's no different among leathermen. Boymeat (not his real name) was the youngest contestant, 23 years old, and the only one to openly identify himself as bisexual. In his fantasy section, he dressed as a young schoolboy hoping to be abducted by a leather top. In his bar wear, he sported a T-shirt, chaps, and a dark green handkerchief out of the left jean pocket (signaling he's a daddy). Later Boymeat told me, "The next generation of leather is here, and we're ready to be passed the torch. Hell, we're ready to take it."

As part of the proceedings, contestants were put on the spot with randomly selected questions. Leatherman No. 8, a buff, tattooed stud named Bobby, had to field "Do you think that winning the contest tonight will increase your chances of getting laid? Why or why not?" He responded honestly: "I know it will because my boyfriend told me that if I didn't win, I'd be sleeping in the hallway tonight." Well, Bobby, a 46-year-old graphic designer from Jersey City, did get laid that night. Gotham Leatherman 2000 confessed, "I lucked out with my question. All I had to do was tell the truth because my boyfriend really did say that. I've always tried to just be who I am, and I think people respect you for that."

I did leathermen all weekend. The next night I went to Indulgence 2, the second annual black-tie dinner honoring members of the s/m community sponsored by Defenders NY. Defenders NY is the leather, s/m, motorcycle-club contingent of Dignity NY. Dignity NY is one of 75 local chapters of Dignity, the national organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Catholics and their families and friends. Catholic leatherfolk? Well, it does make sense, with all that shame, guilt, confession, self-flagellation, and communion. I've found that Catholics and ex-Catholics are some of the kinkiest people around. But the idea that the leather community is so large, so diverse, so visible (and Jesus Christ, so organized!) that there is a Catholic leather group is pretty impressive.

One of the honorees of the evening was Lolita Wolf, who also has the distinction of being one of only three women named an honorary member of GMSMA. Lolita is an s/m activist, educator, and publisher of her own weekly e-mail newsletter called Lolita's Predictions and Predilections (www.leatherpage.com/lwcol.htm), which Lolita says has thousands of subscribers from around the world. In addition to s/m listings and news, she details her personal adventures in the land of bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, and sadomasochism. The accounts are frank, sexy, informative, smart, inspiring, and often hysterical, with a cast of fascinating characters (The Commander, Neptune, Blue). Lolita also includes a Q&A of the Week. (Example: Do I have to start as a puppy or can I just be a full-grown dog without going through the puppy stage?)

When Lolita accepted her award, an engraved crystal heart from Tiffany, she touchingly revealed her struggle with lovers who rejected and shamed her for having s/m desires. She recounted her own discovery of the leather community and her realization that "my desires were not just okay, they were great, they were desirable." She reminded the audience that while s/m activists stress the importance of outreach, activism, and education, we sometimes forget that s/m is about getting off.

I looked around a room full of leather vests, chaps, police uniforms, military dress blues and whites. What united these people was our turn-ons, fetishes, kinks, erotic expressions, and sexual practices. And those might seem to be tenuous bonds for a community. At one table sat a uniform fetishist, a submissive man into cross-dressing, a gay male couple who like public sex and golden showers, a dominant woman who likes to punish and beat masochists, a man who likes dominant/submissive role-playing with no pain or heavy sensation at all, a straight man who enjoys being tied up and spanked, and a leatherdyke who loves to cut, pierce, and brand other women. What could such a varied group of people have in common? Our identification with each other is based on unique, nontraditional, nonnormative desires, desires often so diverse they are drawn to each other like tops and bottoms. People into s/m do have a sense of community, albeit one made up of intensely different neighborhoods. We are organized socially and politically. And, at least for one evening, we shared a belief in a new holy trinity: leathermen, Catholics, and Lolita. God bless America.

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