Interesting and provocative thoughts on gay history, gay sexual history, gay porn, and gay popular culture.
Blog posts tagged in fetish
It's always hard to believe when you start thinking about dates and chronologies and discover that 1979 was more than 30 years ago. Stonewall was more than 40 years ago! For me, I remember those years well. From the beginning of video, to all those bar contests, now there is the Internet with its fetish sites, and even Grinder. But International Mr. Leather, which is also known as IML, is still here; it's an event where you still meet like-minded people face to face.
International Mr. Leather is the world's oldest international leather and fetish event on record. Started in the 1970s as a contest, "Mr. Gold Coast Leather," at a Chicago gay leather bar called the Gold Coast, under the aegis of its owner, Chuck Renslow, who still presides over this great event known as IML. In 1979, the event moved to a larger venue, and became International Mr. Leather, held at the Chicago Radisson Hotel. The first International Mr. Leather was David Kloss, one of twelve contestants.
Since that time period, the contest has mushroomed into an event of massive proportions. IML features a leather/fetish vendor market, the International Mister Bootblack Contest, and a multitude of sex/fetish parties hosted by various organizations, dances and socials, and related sexual, fetish, leather events. The contest reportedly brings in an estimated $10 million dollars to the city of Chicago in tourism revenue. In today's world gay culture has become more accepted and integrated into the larger society, this fetish event in itself has become more diverse with hardcore gay leathermen mix with "bicurious hipsters" and tourists.
But what really makes this year's event historic is the President's pronouncement on gay marriage. Related to this context, given that gay marriage is legal in several states, two of the contestants are married. Even more significantly, according to one source, two civil unions will occur this year at the event. This is exciting!
Bijou Video and Theater this year once again will have a booth at the Vendor Mart. Stop by and check out our unique collection of vintage gay porn, some of which dates back to the 1960s, as well as to the origins of IML. As part of your Bijou IML experience, take a picture of yourself as a pornstar in one of our four porn scenes. To everyone this IML Memorial Day weekend, be safe and enjoy the party.
Slate Magazine recently published a six-part series of insightful and well-researched pieces by June Thomas, “The Gay Bar: Is It Dying?” (http://www.slate.com/id/2297608). The summation statement in part V, entitled “The New Competition,” intrigued me, “so maybe gay bars aren't doomed; instead they're moving into our phones.” I do wonder how that “netherworld” of gay culture, the leather/BDSM/fetish community, long a leader in on-line networking technology (starting with the beginnings of the Internet, before today's complex cellphones with Internet capabilities) because of its very specific and unusual content and audience, has been affected by this trend.
One leatherman, who identifies himself as “Middle Guard,” having been trained by the “Old Guard” leather of the late 60s and 70s, made this observation:
“Yeah, the younger generations socialize w/o the bars etc. The consequence of going mainstream w/c was our stated goal all along; not realizing the consequence of that, and the Internet Age. Specialty bookstores have long not been needed, that was the herald of things to come: now one can go to any Barnes and Noble or Borders Books, etc. All have large LGBT sections. “
And one can, if one doesn't even “do” hard physical copies of text (Borders is now closed, like many large bookstore chains), one can of course use one's computer and one's phone to essentially shop for a variety of like-minded partners and thus not be restricted to entrance into the backroom of a specifically leather bar or undergo initiation into a traditional leather club. Even those who still interact in a traditional leather or leather club setting assume one has a World Leathermen Recon profile.
Yet, despite the supposed diversity and seemingly endless flexibility in this new way of hooking up, what's interesting about this observation is the emphasis on homogeneity, which Mark Stoner, owner of Pony's in Seattle, quoted in the Slate article, claims is a growing trend in gay bars. Everyone mixed together. No separate backrooms with dress codes. Straights are welcome. Even ostensibly straight bars, like urban hipster ones, supposedly embrace sexual differentiation or “alternative” identities. Diversity is a virtue. But, also, could one argue that possibly the diversity is taking away some of the uniqueness of the BDSM presence in gay culture? Pluralism does not necessarily imply diffusiveness. According to the article in Slate, Part IV, “Can Gay Bars Make Money?”:
“[Pony's manager,] Marcus Wilson, explained why Pony has chosen to so clearly ward off uptight straights. He noted that 'gays and lesbians have gained politically in the last 20 years. The majority feel that the key is to be as inoffensive as possible. They want to trim off the edges, look or sound inoffensive. When gays were outsiders, gay bars could have more color and characters—the leather daddy, transpeople. Gay bars have discouraged that. Now they're going for homogeneity in the look of the place and in the music. They want to be innocuous. Some gay bars look and feel like airport lounges, with nothing to offend—or to stimulate. Pony wants to challenge that.'”
Pony is not a leather bar, per se, but what Pony is trying to do made me think of what happened to the Cellblock in Chicago. (By the way, according to Yelp, Pony is now closed.) In the Cellblock, now the décor is “light” leather, but the sensibility, the activity, is far from leather/BDSM in the traditional sense. The place even auctioned off the BDSM equipment (such as a cross) in its once notorious backroom! In essence, the place essentially gentrified in line with its surrounding “gayborhood,” now populated by strollers pushed by both gay and straight couples.
But is the gay leather bar (and club) uniformly doomed? Jesse Monteagudo argues in his column celebrating International Mr. Leather (http://www.gaytoday.com/penpoints/050304pp.asp) that leather bars and clubs are far from dead, again, because of the very specific interests of its clientele, but he also argues that the what he calls “traditional patch” clubs that date as far back as the 1960s motorcycle clubs are in trouble, because “young leathermen” find their rules and admission criteria restrictive and outdated. Given the diversity of leather culture (and I would also argue diffusiveness), that may be true, but, as he does claim, some have evolved with the time, some provide unique services, and some may be the only outlet in areas far removed from the traditional gay urban centers.
The above is true, to some extent, but what seems to be lacking in the “new” culture is a sense of having to “earn one's leather,” and by undergoing what it takes to earn, one grows, into the leather life. It's easy to be leather-curious these days, and I applaud that fact, but doesn't the leather/fetish/BDSM embody elements of pain, fear, taboo, self-scouring, psychological submission to another, in fact, many of the components of a religious journey that requires a life-changing commitment? And what about the value learning from the past clubs and their own individual historical journeys, not just judging a club on how it has evolved with the times (which, in most cases, seems to be technological advancement?
Monteagudo mentions the passing of “leather elders,” which has created some difficulties for bars and clubs to continue, but doesn't seem to be aware that the techniques and philosophy of these elders are the foundation of what many leathermen today practice. I'm concerned that in the new diffusiveness of interactions that is occurring in the leather community this foundation, with its rough and ready, on the edge, unique personalism, will be lost.
But that dangerous edge in leather/BDSM/fetish still scares many (well, it's supposed to be scary!). Though many younger people, both gay and straight, subscribe to the new openness about sexual diversity where cable channels can air shows like “Strange Sex,” some still tend to view BDSM activity physically and psychologically harmful and dangerous, and the confuse it with situations like domestic abuse and slavery. Even that extremely open-minded nurse Sue on her show “Talk Sex with Sue” seemed ambivalent about BDSM practices; she, in one case, advocated the use of a flogger on the skin for a blind person, was clear that no pain should be involved. I do wonder if this attitude has affected the social interactions of gay leathermen and thus the leather bar/club as well, in addition to the other factors above, and will continue to do so.
In 1985, readers of FirstHand Magazine began to request "harder, rougher, kinkier" stories and reader letters. In response, Jackie Lewis, the publisher, began Manscape. But according to Lewis, the readers wanted even more. Thus, Manscape 2 emerged, essentially, Manscape plus photos. The premiere issue, billed as a "Collector's Edition," claims to present "all aspects of sex."
What could be significant in exploring the purpose, audience, and content of this magazine is the AIDS crisis? In 1985, AIDS was decimating gays, especially in urban areas. Rock Hudson died in October 25 of that year. AIDS was no longer a gay disease, a disease suffered only by outcasts and sinners, but something that could kill an ostensibly heterosexual celebrity. Elizabeth Taylor attended an AIDS Foundation fundraiser that year with Ronald Reagan. Finally, the federal government, so criminally negligent in its previous response to the crisis, was getting involved. AIDS had become the preeminent health issue that year.
Manscape 2 offers fantasy material that seems to exist in a world without AIDS. But in a world where AIDS was now a life-and-death matter for gay men, other aspects of sexuality such as S & M activities and bondage that did not involve risky behavior like rimming or fucking without condoms were perhaps becoming a viable alternative for many gay men. For example, phone sex was becoming more popular and safe way to express oneself sexually.
In the premier issue of Manscape 2, Fred Bercovitz contributes a poem, "Pig in Training," essentially a transcript of a phone sex session written in rhyming couplets a la the eighteenth century poets Pope and Addison:
Ask for it first, and ask for it nice
Please Sir's the way, pig, and then say it twice
You're getting me hot now, my dicks got pre-cum
I'll choke you then listen to how well you hum
Pinch on your tits 'til they're red and they're sore
Pull on them harder than ever before You ready to cum?
Are your balls stretched enough?
Are you beating your meat 'till it's raw and rough?
The choice of the rhymed couplets is interesting (not that this piece is great literature), but the author using a tight, fixed form for a sexually charged subject which is also a structured, highly verbal, artificial situation itself (phone sex), ends up conveying to the reader a complex tension.
As mentioned above, "non-vanilla" sexual practices abound in this magazine, in reality (reader's letters) and in fantasy (the stories). For example, many of the letters and stories in this issue revolve around watersports (at that time the verdict was not out on the safety of such a practice in regards to AIDS transmission).
One reader compliments the magazine for its watersports stories, harking back to the famous piss trough at the Mineshaft. A reader letter in this issue is entitled "Pissed In His Brother's Mouth." Another story, related to watersports, is entitled "Erotic Enema."
Another piece, the "fiction special" entitled "Dr. Sex," involves "catheter-like" sex acts. The magazine is emphasizing what for many gay men were quite exotic fetishes, but which also, as time would tell, would prove to be safer than the conventional cock in the ass.
Even the centerfold, besides exemplifying the leather macho guy type, is posing in a way that could perhaps suggest, beneath the fetishes, a reining in of the sexual plethora of the pre-AIDS gay culture. He holds his cock with tight leather gloves, pulling it out of a tight jockstrap, the bottom of his cock shaft bound in straps.
In another story, a leathermaster becomes a slave-daddy, deliberately reversing the "Old Guard" dynamic. The story involves lots of bondage, whippings, bootlicking, slappings, cum control (including a threat of castration, telling in a time when sex really equaled death) and verbal abuse, ending in a condomless fucking, but the majority of the story is psychological. The fucking does conclude the story, but it is not necessarily the most significant interaction. The willingness of the slave-daddy to be fucked by a boy who would normally be his slave boy is the point, not the details of penetration.
And the story's context, the world of bars and bathhouse leather orgy pick-ups that was being swept away by the AIDS epidemic, is also not a significant setting after the initial encounter.
In sum, the story is really about role reversal, significant in a time when gay sexual interactions were increasingly rethought and reevaluated by gay men in a time when sex was in the most literal way a matter of life and death.