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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The Leather Flag

Leather Pride Flag

I remember pledging allegiance to the flag, starting in kindergarten. I never really understood at that time some of the words (“and to the Republic for which it stands,” what?), and even why we were looking at a piece of cloth attached to a pole.

When I worked at the public library when I was I high school, one of my jobs was to raise and take down the flag.

I got yelled at by the head librarian because I put the flag on a bench to fold it (technically it did not touch the ground) because no one was available to take the other end in order to fold it in a specific triangular shape.

One of my nightmares was my failure to take the flag down (it was supposed to be down by sundown). The flag was up all night on the pole. Oh no!

The United States has changed, of course, since the 1960s, and e pluribus unum really emphasizes the pluribus. So many subcultures have created their own flags as concrete symbols of their most significant values.

The gay leather BDSM subculture has carried its own flag in the wake of the gay liberation movement that occurred after Stonewall.

The flag was designed by Tony DeBlase, otherwise known as Fledermaus, a major mover and shaker in the gay leather/BDSM world at that time, in many ways shaping many of its values and their public expression in a variety of publications, especially Drummer and Dungeon Master magazines.
 

Tony DeBlase
Tony DeBlase

Tony first presented the design at the International Mister Leather event in Chicago, Illinois, on May 28, 1989.

Initial reaction to the flag was mixed.

According to DeBlase's article A Leather Pride Flag,

"Some, particularly on the east coast, reacted positively to the concept, but were quite concerned, some even offended, that I had not involved the community in helping to create the design."

The original flag is on display at the Leather Archives and Museum.

According to Marcus Schmoger, DeBlase’s wish was that there are diverse interpretations of the symbolism of the flag.

One of the most familiar ones is from Stacey, Ms. National Leather Association International 1996:

The red heart is for love, the white stripe for purity in an open, honest and understanding relationship, the black stripes for leather  and the blue ones for denim, both materials that are frequently worn in the scene.

Another interpretation:

Black, the color of BDSM followers; blue: for the followers with a jeans fetish; white, solidarity with the novices of the BDSM scene; the heart: BDSM has nothing to do with raw violence, but is practiced with mutual respect, consent, and understanding.

My fear of the flag really transmuted into a different emotion, a combination of pride and excitement, when I participated in several gay pride parades with the Chicago Hellfire Club. The front of our cohort carried a large leather flag, but we also carried (on poles) larger versions of hankies that represented different fetishes (so many colors!)

Thus, the main design of our cohort was flags, carried slowly and steadily, while other club members circled about wielding our floggers and paddles and whips.
 

Chicago Leather and King Pride contingent

And let's just say all our flags were up all night, and the next night.

Check out our collection of gay fetish movies, including the uber-leather/BDSM movie, Born to Raise Hell, and the exciting Dungeons of Europe series.

Tony DeBlase himself appears in our bondage flick, Rope that Works, which deftly integrates the erotic and the educational. Tie me up, Tony!
 

Tony DeBlase aka Fledermaus in Rope That Works (1984)
Tony DeBlase aka Fledermaus in Rope That Works (1984)
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