The first time Vancouver Men in Leather (VML) founder Peter Beauchamp pulled on some gear, a new sense of confidence washed over him. That was “many, many years ago,” he says from his home in Penticton. “It was a big step. It made you stand out, made you feel bigger than you were.”
Now on the eve of its 10th anniversary, VML has offered many of its members a similar sense of sexy confidence over the years.
“I see leather as gay men’s lingerie. It makes you feel masculine and sexy, and it’s empowering. It’s accepting of all body types and ages,” says member Mike Thompson (who asked that his real name not be used).
“I’m tired of wearing just jeans and T-shirts to go out,” he says. “You can be very creative with gear, expressing your mood, personality, fantasies.”
Dave Boyack, who founded VML with Beauchamp, grew up on a farm northeast of Calgary and credits that environment with engendering a fledgling appreciation for the rough and masculine aesthetic of leather.
“Leather’s been part of my wardrobe for decades,” he says. “All the men worked outside together in leather gloves and cowboy boots and flannel shirts, in the dust and dirt of the farmyard.
“And when you think about it,” he says, “it’s not any different than wearing hockey jerseys to a hockey game. Leather identifies who your brothers are.”
Boyack remembers the first time he walked into a leather club in Montreal, in the early 1970s. “It was exhilarating,” he says, “finding a place of trust and safety and self-discovery. And I think we offer that now for men in Vancouver. A place where everyone can feel at home.”
Twenty-four-year-old Sterling (who asked that his last name not be used) vividly remembers feeling welcomed and surprisingly at ease at his first VML event, one of the organization’s twice-yearly, members-only Whistler weekends.
“The first night I wore a harness and some skimpy little leather-looking underwear,” he says. “The rest of the time, most of the gear was off — it was a ‘leather or less’ weekend. At first it was a bit weird not wearing any clothes. But people were just cool. It made me feel really good about myself, and I thought, ‘I could get used to this!’”
While internet hook-up sites entice us to stare preternaturally into the blue glow of our smartphones in the solitude of our tiny condos, VML’s 10th anniversary is proof positive that we are still social animals who long to gather with our familiar pack and sniff out the newest members. But a decade ago, Beauchamp says, Vancouver was a city without a gathering place for this particular pack.
“We had lost so many of our elder leathermen; there was a small group left, and I figured it was time to bring the remaining old guard together with men showing a new interest and those who were just curious,” Beauchamp says. “It was time to teach and to share the BDSM world with like-minded men, and in order to do this we needed a group, a focus.”
While drawing inspiration from brotherhoods like Seattle Men in Leather and clubs like the Black Eagle in Toronto and Montreal, Beauchamp began to solicit the help of other local leathermen. One of the first people he approached was Boyack.
“I’d only just recently moved to Vancouver, and this was a great opportunity to meet the leather crowd and give something back,” says Boyack, who is now part of the anniversary committee planning VML’s upcoming weekend of celebrations, Nov 21 to 23.
For its first six years, VML met upstairs at Numbers Cabaret on Davie Street, which eventually renamed its third floor The Leather Loft in the club’s honour and gave its members free rein to roam. For years, the club’s regular get-togethers consistently reached capacity, drawing about 80 to 100 people each month.
In 2010, leather and fetish retailer Priape took notice of this success and approached VML. “It was a perfect storm,” Thompson recalls. “Priape reached out to us, Club 560 was a much bigger venue that had just opened, and we had a board eager to put in the time and effort to bump things to the next level.”
Together, VML and Priape (with sponsorship from Xtra) launched the Hard Parties: four leather-fetish balls at Club 560 between November 2010 and May 2012.
“The Hard Parties were a turning point in getting younger guys to view the leather scene as fun and friendly — not the intimidating environment they might have imagined,” Thompson says.
For Sterling, his discovery of leather and kink took him by surprise. “My boyfriend was the kinkier one. I was pretty vanilla, I guess,” he confesses. “Before joining VML, there were some things I didn’t know I was into! It was an eye-opener for sure.”
With events for everyone from “the curious to the serious,” VML now hosts not one but three monthly events: Gear and the VML Social at the PumpJack Pub and the Leather Den for Men at Club 8×6.
VML also nurtures robust relationships with other volunteer-run, sex-positive groups like the Pacific Canadian Association of Nudists, Rubb-out (Vancouver’s rubber enthusiasts) and Van-PAH (Vancouver Pups and Handlers), as well as Noir and Metro Vancouver Kink from the pansexual kinky community. VML even has borrowing privileges with the latter.
“We’ve borrowed SM equipment from Metro Vancouver Kink — a cross or a spanking board,” Thompson says. “They’re always saying they wish more of our guys would come out.”
Thompson thinks the increasing exploration of kink and fetish in the broader community has helped boost VML’s popularity. “The explosion of the internet has helped people explore their fantasies and discover others are turned on by the same things they are,” he says.
“The leather scene in Vancouver has grown and evolved over the past decade,” he says. “I think more guys, and in a broader age range, have leather gear hanging in their closet than 10 years ago.”
Unfortunately, relations with Club 560 soured in late 2012, and in 2013 Priape announced the closure of all but one of its stores (the flagship store still survives in Montreal). “But change like this was an impetus for the club to get creative and think about how we wanted to create new relationships with other local businesses,” Boyack says.
VML found new retail partners, though none has filled Priape’s shoes to co-produce the Hard Party. But that hasn’t deterred the club’s 10th anniversary committee, which will host Hard Again on Saturday, Nov 22 at Club 8×6.
Boyack sees VML’s first 10 years as part of a natural urban evolution. “If VML hadn’t come along, someone else would have created a new leather club. The leather community has always reinvented itself in this city. For decades there’s been some kind of leather culture here. VML is one part of that history.”
Whatever the secret to its ongoing success, the club has proven itself to be as durable as a well-made and well-cared-for leather harness, particularly in a world of ephemeral fads and fleeting celebrity, where anything that can capture our interest for longer than a viral YouTube clip is rare.
“The launch of VML was more than any of us could have expected,” Beauchamp says. “It taught me that when you bring the right mix of people together with a similar mission and a strong desire, anything can really happen.
“And here we are 10 years later enjoying something many said would never happen or never last,” he adds. “So proud of my brothers in leather.”