Reflections on the Orlando/Pulse Tragedy: Three Years Later

posted by Madame Bubby

Pulse Memorial

On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard, killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in a mass shooting inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, United States. Orlando Police Department officers shot and killed him after a three-hour standoff.

Three years later the current administration of the United States government has been attempting to erase the rights of LGBTQ persons to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The genocide of LGBTQ persons continues in Chechnya and other places on the globe.

It's not just a matter of memorializing this event and making calls to resist injustice on social media. It is, as the case was at Pulse, a matter of life and death. The victims at Pulse suffered a tragic physical death they did not choose; LGBTQ persons, and not only in the United States, suffer daily not only physical death and violence, but social death, the condition of people not accepted as fully human by wider society.

Thus, this week, as part of our #PrideMonth series and a contribution to #MoralWitnessWednesday on Twitter, here is a link to the blog we wrote the week of the tragedy to “reground” our readers on the import of this event and sound another call for strength and hope.

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Stonewall 50 Is Here, But I Remember Stonewall 25!

posted by Madame Bubby

In 1994, I attended the Stonewall 25 celebrations in New York City. And, most significantly, it was my first visit to New York City. And even more significantly, it was the beginning of my intense journey into the world of BDSM relationships.
 

New York City, 1994

That year, I had pretty much abandoned the more “vanilla” activities of the LGBTQ world. My forays into, for example, singing in the choirs of Dignity and with the Windy City Gay Chorus were socially and artistically disappointing. I had been to IML a couple of times, and because I was working at a mundane office job that was not demanding outside the actual hours I had to suffer there (I should have been attempting to complete my academic ambitions, but that's another story), I spent much time on the weekends in bars. One might say, I was in my “slut” period. I was really looking for kink and romance, but that goal proved to be elusive.

Thus, looking for some excitement and still longing for connections in the LGBTQ community, I jumped at the opportunity when a couple of friends on the gay choral circuit invited me to go with them to New York. I worked some overtime so we could split one room four ways in Midtown Manhattan.

Upon arrival, in keeping with my life's trajectory at that point, I pretty much abandoned my friends' events (seeing Barbra Streisand, no thank you). The first night in New York City, I took the subway by myself down to Chelsea. I walked into a bar called Rawhide. Several persons in that bar lusted after me in my tight Levis and snakeskin cowboy boots. I smoked a joint with a guy I met outside. Yes, That Boy had arrived. Admittedly, the city was in a feverish celebratory mood, and perhaps what happened to me was a product of that feeling, but as usual, I never received such attention in my hometown.
 

Rawhide bar, NYC
Rawhide bar, NYC

I ended up at the Eagle and arrived back at the hotel room at 4 a.m., much to the consternation of one of my friends, who had previously decided I was on the path to gay perdition because I was into leather and did not like Judy Garland or Barbra Streisand. (At least I liked opera, but he did not think I loved La Divina aka Maria Callas enough.)

The next days were frenetic, but in a good way, as I, like Agnes Gooch the sponge of Auntie Mame, lived, lived, lived. Impressions: Chinatown, the fish on the streets. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a wonderland of the Old Masters (I had to show my friends how to get there, as I figured out the subway they were so scared of pretty quickly). Bodegas, fruits, flowers on the street. Buying food at D'Agostino's. People, people, so many on the sidewalk like in the movies. Vibrant, no one cared who you were or what you did. Little evidence of the segregation and compartmentalization I experienced in Chicago.

The Saturday night before the big parade the next day (we marched with the Illinois contingent), I said, I am going to go that Leather Ball in the Armory, by myself, and I don't care how much it costs. Let my roommates go to their vanilla choral concert. I put on my chaps, paid at the door an astronomical fee to get in because I had not reserved in advance, and entered a vast space of pounding house music and surprisingly, perhaps because I had arrived early, lots of space between bodies.
 

Lexington Avenue Armory
Lexington Avenue Armory

After about a half an hour, I saw him. He had been looking at me, and I at him. He certainly was no party boy, faux leather type. African-American, mature, bearded, glasses. Holding a rope. Cut off jean shorts. Worn beige work boots. Not exactly a Tom of Finland look or outfit. Perhaps that was the appeal. In less than fifteen minutes, I was tied to that rope. Yes, some enchanted evening does happen.

I spend the rest of the evening on that rope and at the boots. It was kinky, but also romantic. Lots of smiling at each other and at the straight BDSM couple at the ball (the girl was on a rope like me). At about 2 a.m., he took me to a pansexual sex party in an apartment with orange and green walls. I felt like I was in a Fellini movie. An orgy of naked grungy bodies in one corner, a coked up guy who was supposed to be guarding the door, an extremely large woman on a folding chair.

I arrived back at the hotel room at 5 a.m., much to the consternation of the friend mentioned above.
 

Giant rainbow banner, Pride/Stonewall 25 parade, NYC
Stonewall 25 banner

After all the above activities, and the massive parade (which I managed to walk in cowboy boots) the next day, the return to Chicago was extremely disappointing. The physical space of my hometown seemed to me flat, with too much arid space between buildings, and a ramshackle public transit system. Provincial, I kept saying.

New York had called because the man, the first master, was there. And I would return there, and he would come to me. My ritual initiation into serious BDSM. The scouring of body and soul. We were the one to each other.

I often dreamed of living there, but for practical reasons, mostly financial, that never occurred, but for a few years I could enjoy a world that for me resembled one I had only seen in movies. New York and Stonewall 25 were an escape, but also the beginning of a real life which showed me, contrary to what I was hearing from so many persons I knew at that time, that romantic love and BDSM can exist together in the diverse spectrum of human relationships.

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International Mr. Leather 2019 Fashion

posted by Madame Bubby

I passed by a booth at the leather market, and I noticed witches' hats. Yes, the kind with the peak. I heard a woman cackling. No, I am not making the above up, and I am not recounting a surrealistic dream.

And this booth was also selling a particularly hot item at the mart, a leather crown (for Baby Boomers like me, it resembles the head gear of the character Jughead in the Archie comics).

jughead leather crown

To be honest, I've noticed changes in the types of items sold at the market over the years, but this one was certainly, let's just say, interesting. The leather market is no longer solely a gay male space, or for that matter, a “traditional” gay cis leatherman space, with guys wearing the iconic Village People gay macho gear.
 

Village People

Through the years, as a diversity of genders have competed in various contests, the overall inventory of the mart and those who attend it has changed to reflect a more fluid, self-defining identification with and practice of kink.

Thus, the witches' hats could reflect, however superficially, a Wiccan influence, and many gay leathermen have rejected traditional monotheistic religions in favor of other forms of spirituality, often veering toward transmutations of beliefs and rituals prominent globally before Christian domination and colonization. In fact, the polyamorous life of many leatherfolk meshes well with a fluid polytheism.

Other kink/fantasy trends that have integrated themselves into International Mr. Leather include costume play. Think Renaissance fair, think Lord of the Rings, think Game of Thrones. Opera masks, capes, pirate boots with the cuff.
 

Renaissance men's clothing

I also noticed a couple of furries, though the fox had to take off the head (the mart tends to become hot and claustrophobic).
 

Leathermen and furries at IML

And, surprisingly, because I had thought it was not trending, steampunk fashion. I noticed a couple of guys with this gear attached to their hats.

One of the events this year was a discussion of the superhero fetish; this event makes sense, as the culture is replete with multiple constructions, reconstructions, and deconstructions in this genre. The line to get into Avengers: Endgame merges with the line to get into the mart.
 

Men in superhero fetish attire at IML

Even the conventional leather gear is taking on the colors of the rainbow. No longer black and red leather shirts: I noticed bright yellow and a green that somewhat resembles a lawn turf.

Uniforms composed of cloth are now composed of leather. I noticed a boy scout uniform produced completely in leather, and a couple of leather football shirts. Leather for those who can afford it or who want to combine looks and textures, while the cloth will fulfill the fetish/fantasy on its own terms.

Overall, dizzying! A traditional Old Guard type might lament the diffusiveness and lack of authenticity he sees in these fashions, while a millennial might rejoice that she can find something that fits her sensibility and budget. Leather gear has always been expensive. In fact, I noticed substantive price increases all around), and I am not trying to perpetuate the broke millennial stereotype, but the traditional leather scene has tended to attract older, established guys who possess the time and money to be kinky.

But who can really determine not just how to appear non-normative, but be non-normative? The leather kink world thrives on the tensions between hierarchy/freedom, appearance/reality, norm/taboo.

Perhaps the kaleidoscope of colors and textures shows this tension as the scene embraces generations who assume sexuality develops on a spectrum, and for whom reality shifts at a dizzying pace between a cyberspace primarily visual and private: pics, gifs and memes, and the physical, public space of the mart invaded by all the senses: the smell of leather and sweat, the sound of boots, the touch of meaty hands and moist tongues.

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The New Age of Leather

posted by Madame Bubby

International Mr. Leather 2019

Now that I am in the autumnal phase of my life (early autumn, mind you), and International Mr. Leather is fast upon us (its fortieth year!), I share again a paragraph I wrote a few years ago about this event:

“The leather community has entered a new age. It's no longer so much on the margins, even of the gay community. I even argue it's lost something of its edginess, its element of taboo and danger. Where do I, who was trained by a master who was influenced by hardcore Old Guard, fit into this picture? I'm still exploring that question, but I hold fast to the core values of mutual respect/courtesy and a desire to learn and grow in the scene I experienced through the years with the many leathermen I've known since that first day in 1991 when I entered the leather mart.”

I still agree with many of the ideas in the paragraph, but I am revisiting with another concern, one that is more focused on demographic. To what extent is the leather/BDSM community, still primarily gay and male, aging out? Or, perhaps, the real question could be, how is transforming itself as its social and cultural context changes?
 

International Mr. Leather, 1979
International Mr. Leather, 1979

Some of the changes that have developed I see paralleling with mainstream social progressive movements. 2010 was particularly significant when Tyler McCormick competed as Mr. Rio Grande Leather. When he won the contest, he made history three ways: first transgender IML, first IML to use a wheelchair, and first IML from New Mexico.
 

Tyler McCormick
Tyler McCormick

Yet, I've also noticed that the traditional leather/BDSM club social structure, based upon I claim a kind of lodge/fraternity model, seems to be less popular than before. Perhaps I am landing on a cliché or stereotype here rather than a more nuanced interpretation, but these groups are aging, and younger guys (not just millenials) aren't necessarily seeing them as a prime, exclusive space to discover, learn about, and grow in, their complex sexuality.

The line of mentoring I experienced in this community seems to be less certain. Just because a young guy says Daddy, teach me, doesn't necessarily mean anymore a serious ritual of initiation. It could mean a quick fuck. It may have always been that way to some extent, and gay sexual spaces have always been commodified in various respects (thinking of bathhouses, another space that seems to be much less ubiquitous than before), but this is the age of nanosecond ratings, the Yelp/Amazon world. Of course technology has played a part in a fluidity that risks diffusiveness, and of course social media apps have changed drastically how one lives physically and mentally as a sexual person.

Perhaps the gay male leather/BDSM club, used to be the center of this world, forced in the past to into a fortress-like mentality because of its taboo activities in a world just starting to tolerate LGBTQ persons, is now shifting to one point on a spectrum.

Overall, I am concerned that future generations will forget about or even claim is outmoded this point of origin in spaces like the Gold Coast Leather Bar and the Chicago Hellfire Club. But without this history of external and internal courage and danger and respect and conflict, there wouldn't be persons today engaged in transforming it.
 

Chicago Hellfire Club

International Mr. Leather, 1979
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1979 In United States LGBTQ History: Mass Visibility Ten Years After Stonewall

posted by Madame Bubby

In 1979, Stephen Lachs becomes the first openly gay judge appointed in the United States. He is also thought but not proved to be the first openly gay judge appointed anywhere in the world. He served as a judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court from 1979 to 1999.
 

Stephen Lachs
Stephen Lachs

May 21 – The White Night riots occur in San Francisco after Dan White is convicted of two counts of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder in the assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. White had employed the so-called "Twinkie defense".
 

White Night riots
White Night riots

May 29 – Los Angeles outlaws discrimination against homosexuals in private sector employment and in patronization of business establishments in its city. Mayor Thomas Bradley signs bills into effect July 2.

June 24 – 10th annual Gay Pride Parade in Chicago.

September 1 – New Jersey decriminalizes private consensual homosexual acts.

October 14 – More than 100,000 people take part in the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It was the largest political gathering in support of LGBT rights to date.
 

March on Washington

And, the Florida Citrus Commission quietly decides not to renew Anita Bryant's contract because of the backlash against her antigay crusade and also her association with white supremacist groups. The main reason: she was causing them to lose money.
 

Anita Bryant pied in the face
Anita Bryant pied in the face by a gay activist, 1977

Yet, after all these groundbreaking events, this year also heralded a religious revival movement in America, climaxing in the Moral Majority movement of the 1980s.

And in 1981, what was later called the AIDS virus appeared in America, infecting gay men and intravenous drug users. The LGBTQ community, in the wake of its first strides toward social and cultural liberation, would now be fighting for its physical survival.

We research and write on various LGBTQ history topics at our blog, which you can find here.

We also have created a Pinterest site with images and information and post additional information on our Twitter page.

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