I was honored to be present at the leather history panel at a recent WOOLF event. In that panel, at one point, one of the panel members pointed at me and said “You’re in leather. What does it mean to you?” The answer I gave was as stammering and inadequate as any would be when facing that level of leatherati.
So I’m going to answer it here, instead.
I wear a patch on my vest, the first of its kind, a gray satyr rampant on a shield flying the colors of leather pride. It is a gift of the Madison community, the people who first saw me doing rope and said “Hey, Gray, you’ve got something there – show us more!” I showed them, and sometimes it was “Great!” and sometimes it was “No, Gray, I don’t think so…” but either way it was always followed up with “Try again. What else?”
The patch and vest were presented to me by a man who has worked hard to become a leader and teacher in the queer/kink/trans community. That vest doesn’t only remind me of home, but of the people – led by him – who were proud that I came from them. When I wear that vest, I am reminded that I was found worthy to wear their colors.
I am reminded of the responsibility to remain worthy of it.
I have combat boots and leather gloves. They were given to me by a remarkable woman I have had the pleasure of knowing intellectually, socially, and biblically. She is the person who secured my epithet “Ninja Sex Poodle and Ronin of Love”. I think of her smiling laughter every time I lace them up or pull the tight leather across my knuckles. She is a sexy ball of fiery lust and ink, and she is also one of the most spiritually mature people I’ve ever known. Her life of “creative stability” is the model of my own current path. Those gloves and boots remind me of the many shapes that love and friendship can take as they wend through the years, changed but unforgotten.
I have chaps. Some might not count them “gifted leather”, because there was no ceremony, no dignified charge of inheritance. No, the gifting came something like “Hey, Gray, these chaps don’t fit me any more – you want ’em?” Not the words of a covering ritual, but meaningful nonetheless. They came from a man who is a brother in ways that my blood kin unfortunately never can be. Aside from the bond of the USMC we share, he has traveled literally around the world with me and never failed to support my work – sometimes with a knowing “AhhAHH!” and sometimes with spirited and well-reasoned (if misguided) argument and dissent. He has given me shelter when I’ve had nowhere else to go, he’s cooked the finest steaks I’ve ever eaten, and when I imagine wielding power in a loving relationship , I think of him and his property. Those chaps remind me that I am worthy of this man’s friendship, and that I intend to remain so.
I have a leather bondage belt which was built for me by another former Marine and national leather title holder. More than that, he is the teacher who introduced cigar play to me. I wear that belt with the secure knowledge of the camaraderie inherent in eagle, globe, and anchor, as well as in flame, leaf, and smoke.
I have a big whompin’ flogger, the “thuddius maximus” that a remarkable partner gave to me because I was the one man she trusted to wield it. I have my engineer boots, that were bought with money which years ago I wasn’t sure I could spare, boots that needed to last through Wisconsin winters and have. They were a gift of confidence from the man I was then that I would become the man I am now, and I have not let either of them down.
Not all my leather is leather. Some of it is sad ashes, carried off in the wind during the bonfire when my former slave finally destroyed the collar that had bound us for five years. Some of it is happy ashes, spread across the body of my girl as we share cigars with dear friends. Some my leather is the feeling of stewardship as my vest and boots and chaps are blacked with care and attention and passion by those who have chosen to practice their art on me.
There is the leather-not-leather of a fused glass belt buckle, a gift from the wife of the greatest teacher I’ve ever known. That buckle whispers to me of the kind of teacher I would like to be, and the kind of friend that teacher has become. It happily testifies to the love and family she and her wife have found despite the ignorance so prevalent in our country’s history. It whispers that there is still much work to do in my leathers, even for a middle-aged cisgendered white guy.
My leather is filled with ritual and laughter, imbued with the strength and love of those who gave it to me. My leather is the cumulative memory of my past, my family, and my purpose. It is all bound there in the supple black, in the deep earthy aroma, in the memories of suffering and joy.
My leather is me.