By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Hardy Haberman was in his local dungeon a couple years ago, beating a friend at a "play party," when things suddenly got weird. Wielding a soft leather flogger — a thick-handled instrument that resembles a whip, but with a dozen slender tails — he was lashing the slightly younger man's back. Haberman and his friend barely noticed the crowd formed around them; they were focused totally on each other. But Haberman did notice that his friend was enjoying the flogging. He knew it from the way the man moaned, writhed, screamed and cursed under his touch. True to leather-scene etiquette, though, Haberman's plaything remained unfailingly polite. "Motherfucker! Sir!" he yelled, as leather met skin.
As Haberman flogged away, a straight couple kept edging in close — way too close, stepping right into the backswing of Haberman's flogger. When he finally could sense their presence, he stopped to avoid hitting them. He gave them a look that, for most people in the crowd, would have been enough to get them to back off. But they didn't budge.
Now they were messing with Haberman's rhythm. He ignored their presence as long as he could, but then the man — wearing a billowy white Renaissance Faire-style blouse, for reasons Haberman couldn't quite make out — stepped even closer and started barraging Haberman with questions. "How do you do that?" he asked, staring in fascination as the flogger landed another blow.
Haberman was starting to understand: The couple was clueless, just the latest in a parade of curious amateurs who leather-scene vets swear are destroying Dallas' once happily insular leather community.
"Look," Haberman finally told the guy. "I'm not trying to teach a class here. I'm just trying to have a good time with my friend." He sarcastically offered to flog Ren Faire next, if he really wanted a demonstration of Haberman's "technique."
The guy and his girlfriend stormed off in a huff. Later, they complained to the party's organizer about Haberman's mid-flog display.
Haberman's a big man in his early 60s; he'd be a lot more imposing if not for the long, drooping mustache that makes him look like a friendly walrus. He's been around long enough to remember, wistfully, the way Dallas' leather scene used to be back in the 1970s. To hear him and his friends tell it, a contemporary leatherman can't swing a flogger or clamp a nipple around here without running into some "sexual tourist" poking around the city's dungeon and play-party scene — "looking," Haberman says, "to spice up their love lives."
"For years, we flew under the radar, and we had some fabulous times," he says, reveling in the memory of the scene's powerful "sex magic." "There was an erotic energy that happened that was palpable. Now you just don't see it as much."
For a dom's eye-view of this city's leather community, especially the gay part, there's no better place to start than the Dallas Eagle.
On a recent Saturday night, techno thuds from the speakers of the Maple Avenue bar, while green and purple lights swirl over the dance floor. Bartenders, in leather harnesses and metal-studded jock straps, serve drinks to a clientele that is overwhelmingly male: shirtless in jeans and boots, wearing leather harnesses of their own, or clad, despite the heat, in leather vests, chaps and motorcycle boots. These days, a few women sometimes dot the crowd, some wearing sundresses and flip-flops and looking like they've wandered in from a different movie altogether.
Out on the crowded patio, there's a bootblack chair in a corner, elevated to the height of a throne. Leaning against the fence are a few large wooden X-shaped structures called St. Andrew's crosses, used for whipping or flogging. In the corner, a guy in a harness with ornate sun and moon tattoos on his shoulders sits beneath a tree strung with Christmas lights.
Leather fetishism is a sub-category that falls under the big, spiky umbrella of BDSM — itself a combination of the terms bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism. BDSM activities are as varied as the people who perform them, but they're all about the transgressive, sexy fun that can be had with toying with power and control, pleasure and pain. Some of BDSM is physical: flogging, tying up, clamping sensitive body parts. Some of it is mental: giving over trust and control to another person, dominating someone else completely.
Most leather fetishists have a fondness for leather itself — the way it looks, smells, feels. Others love it for its outlaw associations. The first prototype for the leather look, according to Haberman, was Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones. "That was an image of power and hyper-masculinity," says Haberman, who's written two books on leather history (as well as a memoir about life as a gay Christian leatherman). "And people don't fuck with you when you wear leather. A lot of the early leathermen did it a little bit out of self-defense. People still think of it as scary."
What's often called "Old Guard" leather was born in the 1950s. They were World War II veterans who realized they still longed for the structure and hierarchy of the military — and the company of other men. "Imagine this," Haberman says. "You're a gay guy, but you don't know it. You're fighting in Europe, surrounded by men. You get back home and realize that something's just missing." So they started motorcycle clubs. "You could hang out with all guys and it didn't look weird."
If you didn't want sexual tourists, you shouldn't have advocated for the normalization of sadomasochistic sexual behavior or brought your behavior into the streets, ie, Folsom Street Fair, and it would have forever been exclusively a homosexual/bisexual paraphilia.
I have considerable affection for my fellow venerable gray-haired elders (senile, doddering old curmudgeons) quoted in the article.
They are absolutely right.
These darned kids today.
No respect for their elders.
Why back in my day the scene was more than just a bunch of drunk leather fairies trying to get laid.
For example, there was ... um ... well I'm sure there was more to it back then.
I can't seem to recall exactly.
It must have been that huge batch of magic mushrooms I ate back in the Sixties ... or was that this morning?
Anyway, can you imagine whipping your naked, tied-up slavegirl while two hot, sweaty, heavily tattooed, muscular dudes are getting it on at the next play station?
Um, where was I going with that?
Oh yes. Or giving your butch little slaveboy a reach-around while you are ramming his rear and then suddenly having your field of vision polluted by a steamy *HOT LESBIAN SEX* scene with all of those icky girl-bits?
It would just RUIN the entire god-damned mood!
Well, perhaps not for me personally.
I have never been able to "pick just one."
However, I can see how it might ruin the mood for less eclectic folks.
Your Humble Jester,
Philip the Foole
My first set of nipple clips was made from live trilobites. - Ancient Kung Foole Proverb by John ("The Loving Dominant") Warren
I've always enjoy the feel of leather.I own 3 pairs of pants/3-shirts a harness plus some odd and ends toys.I mention to friends that I'll be going to The Eagle and right off the bat they give this expression of shock.'That S&M bar'. I tell them that it just a bar that caters to leather/levi crowd.I can't explain why so many girls go there I try to understand but hey what can I say.If a person enjoys it them let them,I have friends that will call me to come to their home and flog and do wax.I always ask have much pain they want to endure and give them a safe word if it gets ruff.Unlike some S&M bars (Stand and Model) the Eagle a place to explore new adventures.No pain no gain. J.
Dallas is rather robust in their leather interests judging from the variety of product. Of course, a little Southern Baptist guilt helps to foster the edge sometimes needed for that little extra ingredient. Truthfully, most of my strangest sexual encounters were with Bible Thumpers.
i understand how the oldtimers are upset about newbies misunderstanding, not wanting to understand, and, not respecting (enough to their satisfaction). But, that is simply part of what happens when you are flooded with so many newbies. Yes, the newbie should learn and respect the history, and, especially those who made history and are still around to tell it.
But, i take issue with the idea that the oldtimers have fought for rights that they now have and want to exclude others just as they were excluded in the past. Certainly laws have changed and the public in general is more tolerant/accepting of the leather and BDSM folks. But, the fight for "rights" is far from won. i have been around for about ten years, and, i am constantly disheartened at the infighting in the "community" (define that how you wish - the specifics of how you define it is unimportant).
i would like to see a lot less of the fighting and posturing and junior high school behavior when hardheaded folks don't get their way. Taking your ball and going home (i.e. going back underground to play) will accomplish your goal of not getting sullied by the newbies and, yes, it will allow you to play the way you want to play (and you deserve that). But, if you want to claim to be a leader or upstanding member of the community, hiding or petty fighting is not the way to show all of us how wonderful, knowledgeable, and, admirable you are. And, it certainly doesn't help the community gain the legal acceptance that is required. Just ask the folks at the Atlanta Eagle if everything is now even after charges were dropped and police officers resigned.
i am old enough to understand BEING hardheaded and very unlikely to change. But, that doesn't mean that i and others are incapable of teaching newbies and being a good example of how to behave. There is still a long road ahead to ensure that we can attend a "con" at a hotel or play at a "public" facility without fear of arrest, job loss, and, vindictive actions from (ex-)spouses. Fighting, complaining, and, whining about having too many new people around is immature - a very disappointing commentary on folks claiming to be in an "adult" community.
If you have been around long enough to accomplish all you did in the early days, then, you are smart enough to figure out how to deal with the current day situation. Stand up and be recognized, don't give up, and, others will rally around you. There are others on the sideline looking for you, wanting to learn from you, and, wanting to help you. Certainly we can recognize and accept our differences, but, i believe that too many people are spending too much energy on fighting each other instead of banding together to fight those outside the community who wish to destroy it.
The article it self made some valid points, and being that I am not a Leather person I do not feel appropriate posting about something that is so tied in with that culture. However, one thing that has been bothering me, and sorry if I sound nit picky, is the section regarding what Lady Shiver's does. Branding - via a cautery pen or any other implement - is not the same as Devil's Fire/Cell Popping. The cautery pen is a steady constant stream supplied by electricity (usually) and the heat tip of which, will literally part flesh. In a lot of surgeries, they will actually OPEN the person with the cautery pen, in part due to the benefits of immediate coagulation of bleeders and it almost scalpel-like effectiveness at parting skin. Devil's Fire/Cell Popping is when you take a needle or what I have had used on me and seen used on other is a wood handled sharp object similar to a mounting pin (bigger than a needle), super heat it, red hot, with a torch of some flavor, and touch it to skin for BRIEF moments, sometimes in a pattern or just whatever the individuals involved in that particular scene have decided on, leaving a small round burn, reheating or changed out the heated object as needed. Part of the reason it is called Cell Popping is if you are listening and it isn't too loud, you can literally hear a "pop" when the red hot end touches your skin. In summation, they are not the same thing. Both will leave marks, but the methods, implements and results are very, very different.
Am reminded of Bette Midler's classic line:
'leather boots, leather hat, leather chaps, leather vest, you smell like a brand new car!'
Looking at some of the comments I see a rather disturbing misunderstanding. Leather is NOT BDSM and BDSM is NOT Leather. One can be a Leather person that participates in BDSM or Ms/Ds but that was not the point of where Leather came from or what it is. This is the greatest misunderstanding the Leather community has to deal with.
If you talk to those that have been around for a while in the Leather scene, they will tell you that wearing leather was about the sex and who looked hot or not. Some participated in "fringe" sexual practices that can today be called BDSM but most just wanted to have sex with a hot guy in leather.
So when people (both gay and straight) from the BDSM community call themself "Leather," Leatherfolk get angry. Just because someone practices BDSM does not automatically mean they are Leather. Leatherfolk are more than willing to mentor anyone that wishes to learn but most are hesitant because they have been burned by those that say they want to learn and then get pissy when they realize it is not what they romanticized.
For a strong counterpoint, check out my article from a week or so ago:
A Brutally Frank Message to My Fellow Older Gay Leathermen
You will notice that it's NOT a big, fat gripe-session. I give actual, useful advice.
Speaking from the point of view as someone who is currently active in the community this article really is quite disturbing. This "issue" has been around for a while, and still to this day is nothing but complaints. These same arguments have been heard in more than one forum and yet there is no action, no change, by those who complain. The days of yester-year are gone, your great war that helped spark and facilitate what you have is over. Reiterating what has already been said, quit pining and start adapting. You don't have to integrate, just keep up with the changes and realize that just because you may have helped create something, doesn't mean you'll still be able to grasp the helm. BDSM has grown past what it was and is evolving and becoming more than it has ever been. No matter how impure some of the changes may seem to you, evolution rarely can be contained. I've seen this happen over and over with a multitude of "rights movements". You fight for your rights, but once you have them, you become just as discriminatory as those you fought against. I don't expect change over night, and those that do are just delusional. End result we need to work together to help carry on tradition instead of shunning those who don't know any better.
I have just recently truly come out into the community and I have to say I prefer being around the Leather community than the regular folks sometimes. Yes there is discrimination against hetero men and women but I have never faced that luckily. I am blessed to be a part of this community and hear all of the stories of its roots. I have been lucky to have dated a experienced Leatherman who educated e in many ways but I still have quite a bit to learn. We do not police the community well enough still but things are a work in progress. My loveTormented Slumber
I'm an extreme female submissive/masochist. I don't participate in the leather "community" or scene because the gay men there seem to think that they invented sex and rough sex. I was BORN this way and discovered my sexuality very early in elementary school, long before I knew what a gay man was. So I do wish they'd get over themselves. Some people are kinky and some are not. It does not matter what they look like, what orientation they are, or anything and this has been going on throughout history. The men I'm involved with don't belong to the community either. I like being in my closet. I don't think the Internet has ruined anything, it's been my long experience that the general attitude of the Dallas leather community ruins what should be great hot fun.
I have a great deal of respect for the people who step forward to tell their stories. I think the community would also be served by hearing from people who not only lament "the glory days" but have forward-looking ideas and ideals, and will embrace the future of leather rather than eulogize the past. The one thing that is certain is change. Embracing it and educating those who desire education can, and does, foster growth. Dismissing those who follow in your footsteps, or create their own new paths leaves little room for evolution.
As someone who has been in the scene for over 19 years (starting as a collared boy-in-training), this story sounds very familiar. Before the internet, it was personal ads. Not much difference only the internet is even faster for connections. We as a community need to learn to continually evolve with the times and educate the "noobs" Just stepping back and being annoyed will only hurt our future generations. I'm still educating in the community and i know many others out there that do as well. Some of those social tourists will become leather folk and need our support. ~Cosmo Jetson
When I first entered the scene, it was very different than it is now. I learned from my mistakes the hard way, and I apologized for my misdeeds and bad actions/choices; and I still do for ones I made years ago. Now, people come in and think that they know everything because they saw one thing and all of a sudden they are a "Master" when they are still learning...we all are...no one knows everything. I stepped away from the Dallas scene because of family issues and am now coming back to the Dallas scene and have found many changes and see what the article is talking about. I am very saddened and disheartened by a lot of what I have seen, heard, read, and experienced within this city since moving back and I long for the days of old. How do we get back to what once was? I do not know. Education? Possibly. But how does one educate the ones who do not care to learn?
I was once active in the Dallas Leather and BDSM communites, for about 7 years, before moving to where there is no Leather community at all and very little BDSM. I took the time to learn what it was all about, the history, the reasons for how things are done, and most of all the respect that is deserved for what has come before. I am saddened that there is still so much drama over there being hets or women in Leather. I can understand needing space for "one's own" ie the Gay Leather men, and that is why I personally always left the Eagle before midnight, even during special events raising money for this or that charity. I have given of my time in service to the Leather community, and learned from the "bottom up" as it were. To me, it is not fair to want to exclude entire groups of people just because of how they identify because then you exclude those like me that really are Leather. Do I think that there needs to be more vetting? Yes. Do I think that the "sexual tourists" need to learn the rules before they go to a place or event? Yes. Do I think we all need to look forward and learn how to blend to make Leather stronger? Hell Yes.
This is a good article. I wonder exactly -why- a sexual minority, gays, are afraid of excluding us (straight people), though. Are there not enough straight folks who are into this stuff to make their own events without invading places that aren't meant for us?
The whole thing sounds just as silly as white folks trying to emulate black culture to me
Thank you Hardy for being such a stand up member of our community! And thank you to the Observer for not making us out to look like scary, degenerative freaks!
We may still be freaks, but only in the best way ;)
My experiences with Leather Men and Women have largely been extremely positive. I have never felt unwelcomed at any Leather event or environment. Any animosity on others' part have been very well concealed.
Just a little clarification, I (Robert H) am the current president of the National Leather Association-International and the former president of NLA-Houston.
Everyone I've had the pleasure to meet in the Dallas Leather community has been fantastic. I'm lucky enough to know almost everyone mentioned in this article. If anyone's going to be able to keep that community alive, these folks are. Hardworking, dedicated, and passionate... and pretty darn good looking, too. :)
I agree with you. I love being around the leathermen of our community. Especially one very wise one that is helping me learn.
I'm neither making excuses nor trying to flame. But the issue is not whether gay men invented BDSM, but rather that the pansexual community at large has opted to borrow their traditions and history to forge their own, and seem to have forgotten where they got it from. it's really no different than the internet and libraries. The internet has created such a new realm for information exchange that very few people nowadays know how to index a book on a shelf or use an encyclopedia.
No problem. With all the titles that get bandied about, it is not a major issue. I'm fine and not upset.