5 min

Second skin; second nature

The spirited sex of leathermen

BATTLE OF THE BULGE. Duncan MacLachlan and Estevan deCastro have helped plant the leather flag in Toronto, turning the city into one of the top leather scenes in North America. Credit: Tony Fong

Boots. Chaps. Jock strap. Harness. Vest. Uniform. Leather.

These words make a lot of gay men uncomfortable; they make other gay men aroused. The leather community is a subculture within a subculture; a group of men (and often women) who wear their sexuality on their sleeve – literally.

What makes a leatherman tick?

Duncan MacLachlan is a big, brawny, good-looking man with a special interest in all things leather. As a chief force behind the upcoming Mr Leatherman Toronto 2001 events, and as a former Mr Leatherman Toronto, himself, MacLachlan knows the ins and outs of the leather scene.

MacLachlan says that his fetish for leather was something he felt as a young boy and came to enjoy more and more as he got older. “It was very much a part of my evolving sexual awareness,” he says. “I came out as a gay man and as a leather man at exactly the same time at age 20.

“For many men it’s part of an exploration that happens later in their sexual development. But my first sexual experience with a man was at a leather bar, which was also my first gay bar experience. It was a hell of a night!”

Why leather? “Of course, there’s no one answer to that. If you ask 10 people you’ll get 10 different answers. What I’ve come to understand about it for myself has to do with sexual energy. Whenever we wear something as provocative as leather, we’re making a statement about our sexuality. We’re being out in an obvious way.

“The donning of the hides is a ritual. I think of it as a uniform. It is, on some level, a celebration of sexuality.”

Leather is a material that stimulates all the senses – it has a smell and a taste; it looks and feels as though one is wearing a second skin. “When we talk about leather, there’s the material itself, but then there is a whole range of stuff that can go with it.

“For some guys it’s about a masculine attractiveness; it’s about butchness. Some like having sex in leather and that’s all it is. For others, it’s a sacred spiritual experience. From my perspective, leather is integrated with an interest in the practice of erotic SM.”

What makes leather masculine?

It has a primal quality; it’s arguably the first material that ancient humans wore. But leather is also associated with modern icons of masculinity, such as the cowboy, the cop and the biker. Their uniforms are made of leather. “Guys in leather have always been a primary sexual attraction for me,” says MacLachlan.

The leather community might appear to outsiders like an exclusive club, with its own dress codes and rules of behaviour. In fact, the leather community is extraordinarily diverse. “The exclusive aspect of it is mostly seen by people who are on the outside of it,” explains Duncan. “At MLT, I get to work with an incredible group of (mostly) men ranging in age from their 20s to the their early 60s, all with different body types.

“I find that certain qualities are valued. In terms of SM, certain skills and experiences are very important, particularly as a top, but also as a bottom. But these skills don’t have to do with age or body type. You have a lot of boys looking for daddies or masters. There’s almost an age discrimination against younger masters – they wouldn’t have the experience or skills necessary.”

Respect for age and wisdom within the leather community is especially interesting when compared to the values of the gay community at large, where an empty worship of youth and beauty is emphasized.

“SM becomes a spiritual exploration for many people,” says MacLachlan. “I can’t have the kind of scene that I want to have with someone unless I’m connecting with their soul, and that is the most important aspect. So that transcends body type and age.”

MacLachlan feels that SM relationships are similar to other types of relationships.

“A friend of mine who’s not into the leather scene and not into SM once said that he thinks there’s lots of master/slave power stuff happening in lots of relationships, it’s just that it’s not conscious, it plays itself out in other ways.

“What we do in SM relationships is externalize it and make it very conscious. What leathermen do when they wear colours or hankies, is very clearly state, ‘These are my interests; this is what I’m into. I’m top; I’m bottom.’ That may change – even in the course of a night – but that’s a very clear statement of sexuality.

“So I think that a quality that leathermen share generally is that they tend to be comfortable with their sexuality, and tend to be clear about what they are looking for.”

How does something as traditionally private and personal as sex become the rallying point for an entire community? MacLachlan laughs: “Is sex the organizing principle of the community? Well, it’s interesting that I spend such an extraordinary amount of time doing administration!

“Basically, MLT has become a production company; we have to compete with the big boys. We are putting on a big event, and expecting upwards of 2,000 people. We have corporate sponsors and there is a professional standard that has to be maintained.”

Mr Leatherman Toronto 2001 is fast approaching. The week consists of several events around town, culminating on Sat, Nov 25 with the Mr Leatherman Toronto 2001 competition, show and dance at The Docks. There are six semi-finalists, each representing a Toronto bar or bathhouse. The contestants are judged on everything from “minimal wear” to a prepared speech.

The winner becomes the leather community’s ambassador, and will go to compete in Chicago at the International Mr Leather competition. Outgoing Mr Leatherman Toronto Estevan deCastro finished eighth at last year’s event, one of the best showings ever by a Canadian.

Mr Leatherman Toronto 2001 will be the largest leather charity event in Canada; it’s part of a burgeoning local leather scene that has put Toronto on the international map.

In past years proceeds have gone towards various AIDS charities and to queer youth groups. This year’s beneficiaries are the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation.

“MLT was formed partly as a response to AIDS, because some of the volunteers in the organization are on disability and do have time and choose to contribute it in this way,” says MacLachlan. “To me it’s extraordinary that people choose to give of themselves in this way and with such passion.

“My understanding of sexuality is that it’s absolutely the core and essence of what we do. Some people say, ‘Well, I don’t mind what you do in your bedroom….’ But I see that as homophobic response. Part of what we do as gay people, how we challenge the society at large, is that we do emphasize our sexuality.

“I’m very connected to aboriginal traditions that focus on sexuality and spirituality as being interconnected. They are one and the same. I believe that our journey here is ultimately a journey of souls and spirit, and I accept sexuality as an integral part of that – it’s a spiritual quest.

Mr Leatherman Toronto 2001.

$25-$40. 8pm-6am.

Sat, Nov 25.

The Docks.

11 Polson Ave.

(416) 925-XTRA xt 2051.

In addition to the main competition and dance, the Mr Leatherman Toronto week of festivities includes a Vender’s Alley on Sat, Nov 25 at the Ramada Inn (300 Jarvis St).