I still remember my earliest leathery memory.
I must have been about eight years old. I was in Winnipeg, walking down Churchill Dr, when I was startled by a thunderous noise in the distance. The noise grew louder, and soon the origins of that sound came into view.
I was witnessing something that would have a profound effect on how I shaped my life and who I would become. It was a glistening parade of leather, tattoos, chrome, and amazing motorcycles. I decided right then and there that this is the essence of being a man. It was pure masculinity!
As I grew up, that vision of masculinity expanded to include men in uniform. I spent my early youth pursuing activities that would help me emulate what I thought it was to be a man.
First the Navy League, then Air Cadets, then at the age of 14, I took a trip to Germany where I bought my first leather bike jacket and a pair of high-laced paratrooper boots just like the ones I had been coveting since I was eight.
I soon left the idea of military service behind and started to seek out the darker side of what I felt it was to be a man. I surrounded myself with all things biker. I found these men shared my down-to-earth attitude; a rebellious, “fuck you” attitude that was appealing to a young man struggling with testosterone-driven ideas of masculinity.
I was a biker wannabe, who wound up getting involved in less than desirable businesses and eventually had to leave Winnipeg.
From Winnipeg, I moved to Calgary, then eventually on to Vancouver–where I promptly ran into an old friend named Brian Young.
Turns out he remembered me working the door at the Rek Room in Calgary. We used to play pool together. As it happens, he tells me he’s managing a new bar here, just opened.
I didn’t hesitate. “Hey, do you have a job for me?”
I don’t think Brian even looked at my résumé. The only question I really remember from the interview was: “Do you have any leather or fetish wear?”
My education had begun.
I decided that if these were the people I was going to be serving, I was going to get to know them, and learn about their lifestyle. I had plenty of people around me ready to welcome me and educate me. I read books and learned and played and had experiences and understood.
I made friends, found mentors and became family.
Mostly I came to realize that there was a connection, a common theme running through all the phases of my life. It was the sense of brotherhood I had always searched for, be it military, biker, or now my new leather family.
It really struck home when one day, maybe a couple of months after I started, Brian looked at me as I watched the crowd and said, “You really are home aren’t you?”
My new family was huge. The bears, the Border Riders, the fetish folk, the leatherfolk! They all meshed into and became part of my life, and I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever had and will cherish my memories and my baptism by fire forever.
Unfortunately my utopia didn’t last forever.
Things changed. Friends left this realm. People moved away to pursue dreams and goals. These things can’t be helped.
But some things can be helped. Should be helped.
Take our lack of visibility, for example. Vancouver Women in Leather is no longer visible, I don’t know what happened to Raven, I haven’t seen VASM out with any visibility lately, and on Border Rider nights there are very few other leatherfolk in the bar.
I go out on leather nights to local bars and I see a lot of leathermen, but no leather. The only exception seems to be on Vancouver Men in Leather nights, but once a month just doesn’t cut it.
My biggest fear is that the environment I found so welcoming when I first moved here no longer exists.
And it’s not due to the unforeseen circumstances of life. It’s because there is no tolerance for each other in this community and rather than risk hearing the comments of uninformed and unappreciative people, we would rather just hide who we are.
Leatherfolk, in my experience and opinion, tend to have strong personalities and convictions and this can lead to conflict.
And it’s not just the leatherfolk, either. We all have our little segregated bars–the twinks, the bears, the drag queens, the leatherfolk, the fetish folk–because we all don’t want to be judged for who and what we are.
I have a better idea, a different vision.
How about we all just respect each other and our differences? Let’s live and let live and keep our negative comments to ourselves, shall we? Then maybe we can get back together, have fun and raise money for this community.
I wasn’t blessed by growing up in a city where there was a gay community, and it kills me that you all don’t realize that by being who you are–being visible and seen, and saying “fuck you” to the naysayers–you keep this community colourful and vibrant and fun.
There are always going to be negative little people with negative little minds, but if there is one thing my leather family has taught me, it’s to take pride in who I am.
There will always be people that think you’re ugly, or silly, or fat or thin, too vanilla or too decadent, on and on ad nauseam. Try to filter those out and only listen to the ones who think you’re sexy and smart and beautiful and perfect.
For those of us out there that feel the need to constantly pass judgment on one another, I reach out to you and say let’s just relax a little and realize that in order to bring people into our tribe we need to practice tolerance and offer the same wonderful, inviting environment to those coming up that I had when I arrived.
Show your leather, and help those who truly want to learn what it is to be leather. Because that’s what being leather is all about.