Alex Wisniowski didn’t intend to become a videographer.
After getting deeply involved in the local leather and kink community during his year as Mr Leather Ottawa-Hull in 2002, he realized that the community’s stories were going largely untold. Wisniowski worried that, over time, we would lose a sense of its history.
So he began interviewing people to get their stories on tape. It all started with My Leather Jacket, a documentary project that Wisniowski released in 2003. It pulls together the stories of a number of heavy hitters in leather communities throughout Canada and the US. Since then, he has self-produced six more documentaries on leather and kink, all of which tell the stories of everyday people and pioneers of these movements — recounting details and historical context that most of us don’t know.
“Without a past, you can’t have a future,” says Wisniowski, simply. “One of my favourite sayings is, ‘Know who you are and be what you know.'”
These videos are a first in the leather community because, while there is a leather archive and museum in Chicago that shelters a great deal of community history, people need to travel to access it. Wisniowski aimed to build a portable archive of sorts by way of his documentaries, so that public screenings and personal viewings could help build awareness of leather and kink.
Over the past five years, his projects have garnered a lot of attention. In 2005, he was honoured with the Pantheon of Leather President’s Award for his work in documenting leather history. This year, he was also nominated for the Pantheon of Leather Community Choice Award and the Community Service Award for outstanding community work by a Canadian.
Wisniowski’s desire to include people in the history and practice of kink and leather extends to other people’s ways of being. Unlike most gay men he knows, Wisniowski is open to playing with women, or watching scenes that involve women playing together. This may not be surprising to some, but he gets flack for it from time to time.
“A lot of gay men still can’t fathom that,” says Wisniowski. “They say, ‘You’re gay — you don’t mind watching two women play?’ But when they’re dripping, it’s marvelous! I’m happy for them. Hot is hot.”
In 2002, he was bestowed with the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award for this work — one of the highest Canadian honours for community service. This kind of recognition just follows him around, it would seem. And they range from large-scale awards to the more home-made kind — such as the night in the mid-90s when his friends at the Coral Reef decided to crown him an honorary lesbian for all the volunteering he has done to benefit women. A title that obviously delights him.