The leather culture typically includes both a style of dress and an affiliation with BDSM practices. Both the style of dress and the kinds of BDSM activities characteristic of a community may differ between gay, lesbian, and straight communities, and between Old Guard and newer generations of players. While most people who engage in the leather culture style of dress are also affiliated with BDSM practice, not all BDSM practitioners wear leather culture apparel. "Heavy leather" is often regarded as synonymous.
Leather attire is not strictly necessary to be part of the leather subculture; a tattered denim look is always acceptable, as is "cowboy" and more rarely encountered, "uniform". Those into fisting, for example rarely wear leather, but are distinctly within the S&M community. Similarly those into scat and golden showers] (which is not really S&M) also rarely wear leather. What is discouraged at leather venues is drag, disco, preppy and tweedy clothing.
Demeanour in a male leather venue, as well as when having sex, is also extremely important. Effeminacy, campiness or frivolous gossip is strongly discouraged. One is expected behave in a very serious, very butch manner, projecting a hyper-masculinity; while recognized for the pose it is, it is consistently adhered to.
Gay male BDSM leather culture grew out of post-World War II biker culture. Current leather culture is also inspired by the chains and leather or denim and leather look espoused by heavy metal bands "Rock leather"; the first practitioner of this look in a heavy metal context was Rob Halford, the lead singer of the influential NWOBHM band Judas Priest, who wore a leather suit on stage as early as 1978. Halford, a gay man, picked up the image from leather-culture bars on tour. The rest of the band quickly joined in, and so did subsequent metal bands. Rock leather, as well as "fashion leather", both worn by those outside the leather scene, are generally disparaged by those in the leather scene, and the real leather does not really mix with the other.
Old Guard Leather
(See main topic)
The early gay male leather subculture is epitomized by the Leatherman's Handbook by Larry Townsend, published in 1972, which essentially defined the "Old Guard leather culture", consisting of men born largely in the 'teens and 20s, who had experienced the Depression and very often had served in World War II; their mind-set was very different from those who came later. This code emphasized strict formality and fixed roles (i.e. no switching). This was reinforced by the fact this group was dominated by war veterans, who had experience in the do-what-you're-told, don't-whine military culture. The scene was rather small, and essentially underground, with only a few discreet venues in the largest of cities for men of such a persuasion to meet.
Very few lesbian women or heterosexuals were visible during the early emergence of gay male leather subculture. Patrick Califia (formally Pat Califia) was inspired by the gay male leather culture and is credited for defining the emergence of lesbian leather culture. In 1978, Califia co-founded one of the first lesbian S/M support groups, Samois, and is best known for prolific contributions to the body of lesbian BDSM erotica and sex-guides.
As the baby boom and sexual revolution impacted the leather scene, the leather subculture became progressively less underground. Serious changes began in the 70s, when the first boomers started exploring the scene and with the development of anything-goes sex clubs where the scene could be sampled in safety, the average age of men first getting into the scene began to tumble.
New Guard Leather
(See main topic)
"New Guard leather culture" evolved out of the changes in the 1980s. This sub-culture was more relaxed in both its protocol and in its sexuality, a fact that was reflected in a growth in pansexual clubs. As much a child of BDSM than the leather culture before it, New Guard's primary distinction is that it is not restricted to gays.
There is small controversy among the BDSM community about the popularity of wearing leather. There are those who believe the wearing of leather and other popular BDSM apparel has come to represent something of a uniform for those practising BDSM, discouraging personal creativity and variety in dress. Others note how expensive both leather clothing and leather BDSM equipment is. In the year 2005, a new pair of leather pants costs up to $400. The cost of participating in leather culture prevents many low-income people from participating in the ways that might be expected of BDSM practitioners, due to the popularity of leather apparel and equipment. Finally, there are those who are concerned for animal rights. Many animal rights activists within the BDSM community point to vinyl and latex as alternatives for the leather look.
However, any boy wearing tattered denim and ready to play with a leatherman is always welcomed; such people generally start wearing leather soon.
- Leather pride flag
- Leather fetishism
- Folsom Street Fair
- Daedalus Publishing
- Urban Aboriginals: A Celebration of Leathersexuality ISBN 1881943186
- Leatherfolk: Radical sex, people, and practice ISBN 1881943208
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