The leather movement within the queer community dates back to the Second World War, says Ghislain Rousseau, who led a session called The History and Future of the Leather Movement at InterPride 2013 on Oct 10.
"The leather movement really started after the Second World War. It came out of biker culture,” Rousseau says. “Gay men were seen as effeminate and not butch enough."
"Gay leather culture is often associated with BDSM. That is because we are comfortable with sexuality and what we do.”
Rousseau says leather culture borrows from the military. There are rules, a hierarchy and titles like “sir,” which signify respect between partners. But the titles aren’t just for men, he says. “Women can be sir as well."
Leather folks face double discrimination, both inside and outside the queer community.“For gay men and women into leather, you are doing a second coming out. That’s to your peers. And it takes a lot of guts."
Famous leather men and women got shout-outs. “Rob Halford of Judas Priest is a gay man involved in leather. He was a kinkster. So is Joan Jett. She’s an icon of lesbian leather culture.”
Rousseau wants Pride organizers to feature the leather community more prominently.
“Leather is about smell, taste, touch, sex, respect and antics,” he says. “AIDS wiped out many of our brothers in the ‘80s and ‘90s … Also many of our brothers and sisters are aging.”
"The old guard needs to meet the new guard and make them welcome."
For leather men and leather women, it’s about feeling powerful and empowered, he says. “You’re all community leaders. Help leather folks feel welcome."
For anyone looking to learn more about leather culture, Rousseau has a couple of film recommendations: “Marlon Brando in The Wild One changed everything in 1953,” he says. “If you haven’t seen Cruising, try to find that movie. It’s very important. These images are still very strong and influential.”
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