I am fully prepared for a flood of messages asking if I’ve lost my mind or if I’m happy that I’ve perpetuated a gay stereotype with this issue’s in-depth section on the local Leather Community. To each of those letters I plan to respond the same way: “Did you actually read the section or did you just see leather and immediately get offended?”
People, no matter their sexual orientation or religion, tend to run (judgmentally) away from things they don’t understand or attack those who may explore something deemed as “uncomfortable.”
I’ve been witness to this my whole life and yes, even from our own LGBT community in my five-plus years as editor-in-chief of this publication.
I’ve been told the following myths many times: Drag queens are just gay men who wish they were women. Gay Republicans are self-hating. People of faith want to twist doctrine to fit their ‘choices.’ Gay Democrats are blind to any issue that doesn’t deal with a social aspects. Transgender individuals are just mentally unstable.
And God-forbid we put a photo of a man in a leather harness on one of our pages. That just reeks of stereotyping and puts a big, nasty shiner on the eye of the LGBT community as we battle for equality.
I simply disagree with all of those sentiments above. The reason is simple: As a community which constantly uses “diversity” as a talking point, we too often forget that there is plenty of diversity within the jumbled alphabet soup of our own family.
The Leather Community is a prime example of that diversity.
I am not a leatherman, nor do I plan to become one any time soon. However, the history of our leather brothers and sisters is undeniable. In fact, it reaches back to before any of us were on the planet. Some researchers say the “leather lifestyle” began in Ancient Rome. Others say it pre-dates World War I and rose to prominence after World War II.
And late 20th century history documents the men in leather who stood up to police harassment at Stonewall in 1969. We’ve evolved as a community over the years. We’re getting married, having children and working in governmental agencies as out and proud Americans. But just because we have made some amazing changes and witnessed some historic moments doesn’t mean we’ve lost our connection with everything that came before.
In the 21st Century, the leather lifestyle has had to make adjustments, and to those of us not directly involved, it may even appear to be fading. Most see leather simply as something we see at Pride events on large floats; it’s something we watch with curiosity when a contest happens to show up at our favorite bar.
The Leather Community makes many of us uncomfortable. And, honestly, that’s the inspiration behind this issue of Watermark.
This issues isn’t intended to recruit anyone into the leather lifestyle. It’s also not an expose on what really happens at leather events. It’s a simple introduction—or reintroduction for some—to a part of our community that fascinates and intrigues us. What the staff at Watermark found is that the vast majority of people in the Leather Community are more than willing to talk about their lifestyle and share their stories. Only a few were reserved or declined to discuss the lifestyle with us at all.
But the overall enthusiasm was so large that we have additional coverage, timelines and profiles online that we couldn’t fit within these pages.
So here is my challenge to the readers of Watermark who aren’t used to seeing leather-clad individuals staring back at you from our cover. Take time to read the section. Learn about why your neighbors are involved in this subculture and recognize that everyone has different experiences and perspectives.
To those in the Leather Community, I thank you for entrusting your culture, your stories and your history with us. Describing the experience as an eye-opener is putting it mildly, but it reminded me of why I love the LGBT community so much.
Each person has his or her own perspective and the freedom to live as he or she so desires. And that is truly amazing.