The hardest thing I found about reading Larry Townsend’s New Millennium Edition Leatherman’s Handbook II: The Sequel is that I had to stop every 20 pages or so to jerk off. All this talk of cocks and balls; how could I not?
More revision than sequel, Leatherman’s Handbook II builds on Townsend’s seminal 1972 original text with the addition of new safety guidelines and some titillating asides by the author.
The new introduction is one long clinical safer-sex lesson; something no gay man can come across too often. But when Townsend is done, you can practically hear the snap of his rubber glove as if to say, “And now to the business at hand.”
After a brief history of SM, Townsend gives step-by-step instructions on how to put a cockring on another man and deepthroat him without using your hands, necessary skills if your hands are bound behind your back.
Part Jedi Master, part Miss Manners, Townsend describes what he sees as the minimum dress code for any leather bar around the world: “Naturally, you want to display your physical attributes to their best advantage… If you don’t have a firm, slender torso, or if it’s too cold for such light covering, a leather jacket or Levi jacket with a blue work shirt is fine. Some guys prefer the T-shirt to be black, and that will pass any dress code, as well. Wear jeans, but not the designer variety.”
Townsend eases the novice into the scene and gets progressively raunchier with each chapter. He offers detailed examinations of subjects ranging from the legalities of slavery to scene setting, reinforcing each lesson with erotic stories that play in the mind like X-rated corporate training videos.
My biggest hang up with the leather scene is the whole subservient aspect of it. The moment I feel I’m being taken advantage of – the moment I feel dominated – my first impulse is to either lash out or giggle. But it’s the act letting go of control and entrusting it to others that Townsend identifies as the source of the eroticism.
“It is the expectation of the unexpected that keeps the M [masochist] on his toes, and adds the necessary spice to his scene,” Townsend writes.
The way he describes it, SM requires a measure of apprenticeship and is more about storytelling than it is about sex. On being a good top he writes, “To be worth anything, you must know how it feels, and the only way you can properly experience this is to be on the bottom.”
The same could be said of politicians.
The book offers a lot of practical tips that might not occur to the novice leatherman, like the value of keeping a metal cutter in the dungeon and keys to restraints on a large jailer’s key ring where they can be seen and not lost. But the book is sorely lacking diagrams. I don’t think you can have too many illustrations in a volume about sexual expression and I am still completely confused about how to make a pair of handcuffs out of a length of rope; a picture or two might have helped.
On a scale of vanilla to Marquis de Sade, I would describe my own sexual tastes as rocky road. I’m definitely turned on by leathermen, but intimidated by them just the same.
The first time this book made we wince came as I read a story by an anonymous author about auto-erotica: “I have clamped my sac in a large metal vise bolted to a table. In this case, the nuts hung in the middle; immobility was the point. Later I found it amusing to put the vise on a chair, clamp myself in and tighten until the handle was vertical, then push the end up into my ass and move the vise further onto the chair so that the handle would not drop down. Masturbation followed.”
While it might not be my bag (pun intended), it certainly seems to get the writer off, and that’s what it’s all about.
The most unnerving chapter of the book for me is the one about castration complex. Townsend doesn’t go so far as to describe an actual castration but he comes pretty damn close.
“He kept saying that he wished he had nuts like mine, even after finding out that they are oversized fakes. When I offered to castrate him, he begged me to do it. I got as far as snapping on a castrating band, and leaving it on as I fucked him. The next step would have been to cut off his nuts and bag, but I wasn’t sure he wanted it, so I cut the band instead.”
Most of the information in the book is based on personal experience and letters Townsend’s fans have sent to him, but the last chapter is dedicated entirely to data on the demographics and habits of the leather community. One interesting point of supposed fact: more leathermen voted for Reagan than Carter; masochists indeed.
Leatherman’s Handbook II is filled with typos and misplaced hyphens from sentence breaks in the previous edition. As I read it, I wanted to fix it. But the errors are part of the book’s gritty, dirty charm. There’s something sexily unpolished about hypermasculine leather fantasies and there is something correspondingly unpolished about Townsend’s book.
A useful guide, Leatherman’s Handbook II serves as a reminder of what is at stake in the gay community at large. “Ironically, the people who are actively concerned with ‘doing something about us,’ are the very people whose political philosophy demands less government in their own lives.”