I’ve been writing and rewriting this in my head for the last couple of months. Now that I’ve found the time and energy to type it in, I hope something I write here makes you think, makes you curious, or even just pisses you off. No matter which it is, your response is welcome, as long as you’re civil and honest.

One other caveat; this is not intended to be a scholarly article, just an opinion piece. I would love to do a scholarly article on the history of Leather culture but it would require at least $1 a word more than I’m getting right now (the research alone would require it) or an appointment with a thesis committee when the editing was finished. With that said, if you want sources, citations, and “official” accounts, you are as capable of using Google (and email/telephones/your personal network) as I am.

Leather traditions were all invented. They did not exist before WWII.

Let that sink in a bit.

Every Leather tradition you have ever heard of was invented by someone. These traditions were not passed on to mere mortals by some grand Leather god from Toptopia. Dionysus didn’t get pissed one night with Odin and Cernunnos and decree to gay men, “Thou shalt be butch and wear expensive, processed cow hides!”

Moreover, all of the traditions you “know” were probably invented by someone (or, occasionally, by committee) to serve a specific purpose for a specific group and were never intended to be considered the “One True Way” to do things. In fact, if they were intended as such, they were probably concocted by what we would now deem a cult leader as a method of controlling the behaviour of his herd.

With that background in mind, some of the recent spats over who is “permitted” leather or who can give a gift of leather or what community leaders can decide who gets to wear a particular piece of leather seem pretty fucking petty, don’t they? Fighting over “time-honored traditions” that go back no more than 73 years seems — at best — like a waste of time and — at worst — like a deliberate attempt to control the behaviour of others for perceived personal gain.

You may assume, given that last paragraph, that I think traditions and history are to be ignored, maybe ridiculed. In some cases, you would be right.

It is my personal belief that we, as individuals, groups, and a culture, should revere those traditions which have timeless merit and let go of those that are rooted in a past that is gone or one that never existed. Further, I believe we should create our own traditions within our chosen social groups without expecting others to adhere to them, unless those traditions affect social norms of politeness, propriety, and a basic expectation of honesty that we should all expect from every member of our chosen culture.

For example, my Leather family (another created tradition) recently decided to follow a tradition of given leather (as opposed to “I found this on sale and bought it for myself” leather). That sentence also begs some clarification in that my family typically functions through consensus building and democratized chaos; we decide what to do as a mob and execute it like a bunch of Adderall-addicted monkeys. We also — generally — decide who to let into our family through this same consensus building process; hang around long enough, work hard enough, don’t turn out to be a complete assjackal, and we might ask you to stick around, maybe even put a patch on you.

In deciding to follow that “time-honored tradition”, which seems to have roots in efforts during the 80‘s to keep club vests out of thrift stores, we chose to follow that particular tradition because it works for us. It wasn’t always that way; I bought my first vest at Beyond Vanilla a few years ago and my slave bought hers some time later. Does buying our own vests somehow make us “less” than someone who was given theirs more than a decade after entering this community but who was never given one because they were overlooked or simply ignored?

Another tradition which elicits no end of argument and ridiculousness is the Master’s Cap. Some of the associated beliefs and “mysteries” boggle the mind and, personally, remind me of those people who read a piece of fiction (or a series) which fantasizes M/s and BDSM, then base their entire life around it. If it works for you, personally and within your social group, great! Just don’t expect others to treat it as holy writ.

A Cap is, at its best, an outward symbol of the time, energy, blood, and labor someone has put into making the Leather community a better place. At its worst, it can be viewed as another “achievement” to be unlocked (I levelled up and got a “Master’s Cap”!) through political manoeuvring, manipulation, and blowing the right people. To me, if it didn’t come from your (chosen) family and friends as recognition of personal sacrifice and honourable actions, it doesn’t serve any purpose beyond keeping your bald spot from showing.

I could continue picking apart traditions and practices but the point I’m trying to make is “Your Leather is not mine. My Leather is not yours. Our Leather is not theirs.” If you’re going to claim to be Leather, then carry yourself honourably, honestly, consistently, and serve your community selflessly. The rest is just window dressing.

If you feel that I left out a part of the debate, please feel free to say so, politely, of course. I didn’t write this intending it to be an end to the discussion but a beginning. If you want to crosspost (rather than link), the writing is CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 licensed; that means you have to acknowledge that I wrote it, you can’t use it commercially (even if you aren’t making money on it), and you have to make any derivative works available with the same license.

©2013 Ivarr Brokksson

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