3 min

Chicago’s leather party ingnites debate on trans leathermen

Raging Inferno

Tensions are rising over the exclusion of trans men from leatherman events with the approach of Inferno, the weeklong end-of-summer play party hosted by the Chicago Hellfire Club (CHC).

“I think what’s needed regarding Hellfire is education,” says Vancouver-based trans leatherman Nate Solomon. “They’re not going to be suddenly swamped with 5,000 of us storming the doors.”

Solomon, who is awaiting sex reassignment surgery, has played exclusively with men since transitioning and hopes to someday be able to attend Inferno.

Similar to the ongoing exclusion of trans women from the annual Michigan Womyn’s Festival, the policy at Inferno has become a focal point for the larger issue of trans inclusion in the leathermen’s scene.

“People have dropped out of CHC over this issue because CHC’s position is so fundamentally unjust,” says Toronto leatherman Trevor Jacques, who has attended Inferno many times.

CHC is one of the oldest men’s SM clubs in the US, with 400 members from across the continent and an annual operating budget of US$300,000. During Inferno, an invitation-only event now in its 35th year, leathermen take over a midwestern motel for the week and the grounds are transformed into a fantasy SM play area.

CHC has had a strict policy prohibiting trans men for 10 years now. CHC will not accept trans men even with valid government ID. The “dick at the door rule” that has kept trans women out of some women’s SM events prevails at this men’s event, but in the reverse: No dick, no party.

“I think FTMs [female-to-male transsexuals] should be able attend,” says Jacques. “Probably the most appropriate way to judge if a person is male is their legal status is, because it is indisputable. Unfortunately, however, it still leaves those who are in transition in an awkward middle ground.”

But legal gender status is not enough for the majority of CHC’s voting members.

“The problem is that those members seem to feel the gender identity is determined by genitals,” says Jacques. “Big problem. In this day and age we, and science, know better. Another problem is that those with the older understanding of gender identity don’t seem to be willing to review the current data on this topic, even though it’s been made available to them. They could easily look it up on the Internet, and have had years to do so, if they were so inclined.”

But some trans men say that if Inferno doesn’t want them, they don’t want to be there.

“In the men’s community they are viewing trans men as women or other, and as other they want to have the right to not include them,” says New York City trans leatherman Val Turino. “It’s a private event not a public accommodation. There is no requirement. It doesn’t foster community in the way that we’d like to see it fostered — however there’s nothing wrong with it. If they said it’s an open event for all men than they should let FTMs in. When they make that decision, such as at the Michigan Women’s Music Festival has, that doesn’t mean I have to support the event by attending. If you don’t want me there then I don’t want to be there.

“Men are very dick-centered,” says Turino. “They want to know what have you got, how big is it, is it cut or uncut? It’s all about your dick. They’re also using that to filter out law enforcement where they have to show their dick at the door to prove they’re not the law. If it’s a sex event like Inferno, what’s wrong with this?”

Turino, who says he passes as male “100 percent of the time,” would rather that trans men be excluded outright than be allowed to attend but required to keep their genitals under wraps.

“LSM [Lesbian Sex Mafia, a dyke SM club in NYC] will not allow bio penises visible at play parties. If you say FTMs and MTFs are included you must afford them the same accommodation as everyone else. I understand you want to respect women’s space — it’s the same thing for men — but you cannot say someone is welcome if they have to sit at the back of the bus.

“If you reverse what you’re talking about with the women’s parties that’s how the men feel. They don’t want to see pussies. They want men with men’s experience and a dick.”

But Jacques says CHC has bent other rules, so why not this one?

“I have been at Inferno when heterosexuals, who normally aren’t allowed to attend, have been there,” says Jacques. “CHC has let in bisexuals, and heterosexuals have been warmly welcomed, in spite of rules against their attendance at the time. The inference is plainly that the rules could be waived under some circumstances but not under others.”

CHC did not respond to Xtra’s request for comment by press time.