Fashion in the field of LGBTQ+ has been a topic that is much discussed about. Thanks to our emphasis on performance and perception of the community, we have always tried to connect certain dots and claim elements of fashion as ours. The Gay leather culture runs on similar lines and explores arenas of fashion during the early 19th century. It is also linked to the S&M of the BDSM.
Where it all began
The leather subculture roughly began around the 1940s and 50s as an extension of the motorcycle clubs, post World War II. The military sourced hyper-masculinity is also considered to be a reason for leather bars to become commonly used by men. The leather clubs were found all across the USA and the UK. The clubs first cropped up in cities like Amsterdam, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and more.
As you can predict, Bikers wore leather pants and jackets while riding. And their clubs and bars reflected the same vibe. Initially, the clubs were basically just the living room of a member, but soon enough, bars began to adapt.
So how did this convert into the BDSM identification of the gay culture that we know of today?
What is Leather Subculture?
The leather subculture refers to the usage of leather attire by Sadist and Masochist men who were dominantly gay. They used leather attire to show the anti-feminine side of homosexuality. Since femininity was one of the major features associated with homosexuality. And reclaiming it through the usage of leather, a material that objectified masculinity was the smartest and quickest tactic.
The reclaiming was done to such a degree that the leather clubs became central to gay men who were into masochism and sadism. The two other elements of masculinity for gay men who were not effeminate. Furthermore, the clubs became exclusive. The article on The Guardian also stated that “Networks of wealthy and closeted gay leather fans hosted invitation-only private parties to avoid the glare of the authorities.”
So was being gay criminal?
The bars are public access, so leather bars should have been shut down if being gay was illegal. But if it was not, then why were the authorities supervising?
Think of it like alcohol during national holidays in India. Many states considered homosexuality to be illegal, but the cops could be paid off to keep from raiding the bars on most occasions. If they raided, they would round up a few of the patrons and put them behind bars for lewd conduct.
And yet, in 1972, with the publishing of Larry Townsend’s Leatherman’s Handbook, a how-to manual of sorts, many more men got into leather than the private clubs and informal networks in comparison to the past two decades. Many works of gay-themed fiction from these years include a reference to or commentary on leather life.
The leather clubs saw a drop again. With the 1980’s AIDS breakout, the clubs were majorly impacted. They were held responsible for the breakout because of their “lewd practices”. The impact and effect of the accusation were so high that many leather bars closed from lack of patrons.
And then there was a gradual recuperation. Several leather events were held within 4-5 years after the outbreak. The year 1984 saw one of the biggest leather events held in San Francisco. Titles such as Mr Leather also became popular. Gay Magazines that targeted the leather culture also began to be sold as health magazines.
The leather culture has evidently had its share of ups and downs, and they have been trying to revive the culture. The most recent event held by a leather club was in 2012.
But wait, where have the women been?
The Leathermen and the Leatherwomen
Lesbian women could not find inclusion within the leather club for a long long time. Even today, there are very few lesbian women who are able to partake in it. This might have three probable reasons. One, women’s perception of masculinity. Two. It was a gay men club, specifically for those who were, not straight, not bi, just gay. So why would lesbians be considered? And reason number three, the outcasting of women since the times of Bronte’s Jane Eyre.
Although there has been a small percentage of women who are into the leather Kink, and BDSM, being part of the leather club is a whole other affair. The LGBTQ Archive stated that “The “leathermen” formed social institutions distinct from others in the gay world that allowed them to pursue a social life with those who shared their interests.” This idea was only realized well into the 2000s for the women.
But with the increase in awareness, access to porn, and the general rise in internet usage, the leather subculture has definitely taken a hit. With apps such as Grindr, and Tinder, the space to satisfy specific individualised and personalised has increased. One does not find the need to be a part of a culture to satiate their own kinks. Even if the kink is common.
So, is the Gay Leather Scene Dying?
I found the perfect answer to this question on The Guardian
Leather culture continues to draw medical and legal opprobrium. It remains socially and spatially marginal and thus vulnerable to the vicissitudes of moral crusaders, medical authorities, social service providers, real estate mavens, and conservative forces within the “mainstream” lesbian and gay community. But as more leatherfolk discover the rich history and tremendous diversity of their community and choose to publicly acknowledge their affiliation with one another, leather culture becomes a more formidable entity
Kinks and fetishes have always hidden behind closed doors since sex is usually a topic of taboo. But with rising awareness, shouldn’t we create a safe space? A safe space for people to talk about their sexual needs openly. Could this help address safer sex practices and smarter sexual interactions?
http://www.glbtqarchive.com/ssh/leather_culture_S.pdf https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/oct/04/why-is-gay-leather-scene-dying https://www.cuirmale.nl/history/leatherbars.htm