Leather Perspectives – Past Present, and Future
An Afternoon with Master David Walker
Master David began his Leather journey in 1980 by being introduced into it from a friend. His friend happened to be gay and already in the lifestyle so Master David was introduced to his first Leather house. Although he identified as straight, he was still welcome in the house; albeit at the lowest rank. Only after years of service and dedication was he able to earn his leathers and grow within the culture of Leather. This afternoon he shared his thoughts and perspectives on Leather’s history; where we’ve been and where we’re going.
During the early 80’s there was a club in San Francisco called “Catacombs” and it was America’s first dungeon. It began as a gay men’s only club but soon included lesbians, bi, and hetero customers. This of course was not wholly accepted by the gay community, but it was a major transition for Leather at the time. Master David witnessed new terms; the Sexual Frontier and words were being adopted such as S/M standing for sensuality and mutuality. It meant to encompass everyone and to exclude none. Change was arriving and it would transform into what we may consider a beginning to our modern Leather.
Leather, as it began after World War 2, had a formal military structure that allowed no room for mistrust. What happened in Leather stayed in Leather; the ability to keep secrets was essential. Master David was quick to say, “Perhaps the most famous tradition to come from our past is the earning of leathers and the ranking system involved. Your earned leathers represented your level of trust and where you were in your journey.” Traditions are what keeps us connected to our past and provides for the future.
When speaking of Leather and its past, Master David promoted the idea that Leather is a tribal experience. By using this example he illustrated the way in which Leather folk interacted with each other as well as the protocols and traditions shared by all. A tribal structure allows for a more intimate gathering of people; it becomes like a family. Within a family there are certain rules and laws that are honored. Respect has to be earned and people are held to a certain standard. Ultimately you were not required to like everyone in the tribe, but you must render the respect that their behavior and dedication warranted.
During the 1980’s the AIDS crisis heavily impacted Leather and the gay community and eventually Leather became politically active. With the stigma that followed AIDS, many within the Leather community became inactive for reasons of health or fear. Many families were destroyed during this time… Due to the efforts of the supporters for AIDS awareness the World Health Organization recognized the first World AIDS Day and President Bush signed into law the Ryan White Care Act. Although the views concerning AIDS were changing, Leather was forever affected.
Master David smiled when he said, “The1990’s brought us the best and worst thing to happen to Leather…the Internet”. The Internet has allowed people to connect in more discreet ways and it is easier to locate groups and Leather families. Leather and BDSM education is also easier to access as well as “how to” videos. The biggest downside, according to Master David, unfortunately is that the anonymity of the internet permits “experts” to misrepresent Leather and distort information. What is the ultimate verdict? Time will tell if the ability to instantly communicate will be a boon or bane for Leather…
Where does that leave us for the new century? Master David offered this, “What we know as Leather is dying. The lifestyle is being watered down with political correctness”. It can also be said that anyone who speaks about real issues or concerns is immediately ridiculed by those who know nothing about the community or the speaker. Master David also commented that many in Leather are treating it like a cafeteria; taking what they want and leaving what they do not. Traditional Leather is changing, but is it dying or simply growing beyond its roots? With the inclusion of pansexual identities and a more democratic organization what do we see in the future?
Master David ended his presentation with a series of “what if” questions and they entailed some perspectives on the future of Leather. The first pondered if Leather is missing anything now that it had in its past. Is there a missing link between the beginning of Leather and its current iteration? What if we could change our trajectory? Perhaps more importantly, should we adopt a military style again but with slight modifications? Has Leather overall become too lax in its execution?
In conclusion, Master David insisted that fresh blood is needed for Leather to survive but there seems to be too many groups that separate us rather than unite us. Tribes and clubs are small, intimate, and familial. As we get larger we lose the intimacy that’s needed for more traditional Leather. Master David said, “I wanna find younger people to teach leadership to. This doesn’t mean that you immediately make them rulers.” Master David was fond of saying throughout the afternoon, “Leather is a ride, but not always an upward ride.”