I am a control freak. Anyone who's ever worked an event with me can attest to this. As a event producer, every detail is of vital importance to me - I spend months preparing and filling in slots on shift sheets; each job has a description and a timeframe; every person has a role to play, and that role is explicitly defined (whether they like it, or not).
The problem with being a control freak is that I literally must be on top of everything and everyone at all times. When it comes to events that I produce, I am the Leather version of the oft feared Bridezilla behind the scenes, but in front of the audience or when I'm circulating through the crowd, I put on a performance that would win me an Emmy in half the time it took Susan Lucci.
While this sort of meticulous attention to detail often leads to wonderful events, it just as often breeds hostility amongst those who do not fare well in that sort of environment.
I ended up a control freak largely as a result of growing up in the performance world - singing, dancing, acting, playing...in the world of performance arts, control freaks produce the best results. For me, there is no room for failure. When you're dealing with other types of people, particularly those who insist on "going with the flow," it's often difficult for both parties to understand where the other is coming from in terms of how they deal with one another.
As a performer, you are constantly analyzing your performance. For me, that carries over into my event production. After every event, I like to have a "debriefing session," wherein those in charge of various aspects of the event come together to discuss things that went right and those that went wrong. Anyone in show business will tell you that this is an invaluable tool for self-assessment, growth, and forward momentum. It can also be very hurtful to hear, particularly when the responsibility falls on your shoulders.
One of the hardest lessons I've stuggled, and still struggle, to learn is how to simply "Let go;" to let the chips fall where they may; to delegate important tasks to other people and, most importantly, to allow them the opportunity to fail.
Perhaps the most distressing trend in American society, in my not-so-humble opinion, is that we no longer see the benefit of failure. Everyone has to be constantly praised; you can't criticize; no one can be the "loser." "Self-esteem" has just blown the whole concept of "success vs. failure" to shit.
Without failure, we never learn; without defeat, we begin to accept mediocrity. If you never know, understand, and admit what you've done wrong, how will you ever know how not to repeat the same mistake?
With the Leather Community, I feel we frequently make this mistake, particularly when it comes to our gatherings and events. Because almost every Leather event is staffed by volunteers, it's very difficult to criticize the work of the unpaid. This does not mean, however, that assessment should not be done.
Some of the worst fights I've gotten into within Leather organizations have had to do with post-event debriefing, largely because no one wants to be culpable for failures. If money goes missing, we try to find someone else to blame; if we go over budget, we try to pin the blame on someone who had no control over it; if we're short on volunteers, we blame the......you get the picture.
This is why I am a control freak. If I am completely in charge of virtually every aspect of an event, from gathering raffle prizes, to decorating, to staffing, I am the one who is responsible if something fails. In my experience, giving in to the calls from the rest of the group and delegating major tasks to people has rarely worked out in my favor, and yet, even though I acquiesce and allow others to fail, the blame ultimately falls upon me because I didn't rip the task away from them and do their job for them.
Perhaps the most ironic part of my tendencies, for me, is the fact that my sexual proclivities range not simply on the submissive side of the spectrum, but the "completely immobilized and dominated" tip. My favorite bondage activity has always been sensory depravation, not because I like the constriction or even the bondage, but because it's the one chance I have in my head to actually "let go," because I am in no way in control. I've fallen asleep in more than one sleepsack, most hilariously during a demo at the 2010 Olympus Leather convention in Los Angeles.
I've passed out in slings (which isn't technically being a "sling lizard," as I was snoring and not actively involved); I've gone to sleep curled up in storage boxes; I've gone to sleep in suspension bondage. For me, it's literally the ultimate catharsis.
However much I might enjoy this respite, I know that it does not extend into my professional life. It's hard for me to "let go" when it comes to my reputation, and one of the other hard lessons I had to learn was that sometimes, in order to preserve friendships and, for lack of a better term, "unit cohesion," I have to let go of doing what I do best and let others do things their way. Whether "their way" is better or worse is largely a qualitative matter...except when it comes to turnout and financial results.
I leave you with this parting thought:
We in the Leather Community often wax rhapsotic about the way things "used to be," but I wonder if much of that posturing isn't really more to do with whether or not we just need to "let go." We hold on to doing things a certain way because "it's tradition" or because "we've always done it that way;" but is that really reason enough not to just "let go" and give someone else the chance to lead?
As a former Leather titleholder, I have a vested interest in ensuring that the Leather culture continues in perpetuity. Over the past few decades, what that "means" has continually been reshaped to best suit the needs of the current crop of Leather enthusiasts and the times in which they live. One thing, however, has remained consistent: the outgoing generation reviles the changes brought about by their incoming replacements.
Perhaps the one stable meeting place for those in the Leather community has been the ubiquitous "Leather bar" - that often dingy, dimly lit bastille where the local Leather denizens gather to preen as much as their restrictive clothing (or lack thereof) will allow. Beneath the layers of posturing and displaying, however, there are turbulent conversations being had about the future of these bastions of our culture, and what that future may mean for the community.
Before I delve into the content of these conversations, I should take a moment to describe my own experience. I have moved a grand total of 43 times, the most recent in April from los angeles, CA to Morgantown, WV. As someone who was raised on the outskirts of the Leather community in New York City in the late 80s, only to be transplanted into the rural South in my teen years, I was lucky enough to experience a variety of different "scenes" along my journey to my current state of being. When I first started going out to bars, the only options around were of the "small-town gay bar" variety - a hodgepodge of every social type, gender, and sexual proclivity. It is largely due to these vastly different experiences that I am so open to change. The decor and clientelle aside, these bars are the most similar to Leather bars that I have found in that they provide patrons both with a sense of belonging to a community and of being on the outskirts as an anomaly within that community.
These things having been established, please allow me to begin:
When I first moved to los angeles, I found myself voluntarily thrust into the middle of the Leather titleholder community, and by way of my then-partner, the Avatar education non-profit. As an educator, myself, I have always been concerned with ensuring that whenever people engage in any type of sexual activity, they're smart (and educated) about it. At one of my first educational sessions (on the subject of fisting), I entered into a rather heated debate with a very prominent figure in the LA Leather community over the current state of Leather bars.
"I don't even like to go out to (redacted) on a Friday night! How is it that I'm the one being given the stink eye over my attire in my own goddamned bar?"
Flip flops, tennis shoes, outsiders, and, worst of all, women - no irritant was too small for my friend, each of them more of an affront to his sensibilities than the last.
"I miss the days of enforced dress codes," was his, and the most common, refrain when arguing that the Leather bars just "aren't what they used to be," and to some degree, I agree with him. When I made my first (legal) forays into the Leather bar scene, it was so I could find for myself a sense that I was not the outsider standing on the sidelines while the rest of my peers played in the big game. That I was into BDSM and fetish gear happened to be my Scarlet Letter in the small-town gay bars; it was in these Leather bars that I sought acceptance and, most horrifying to me, now, admittance - a feeling that I had been allowed into a special event to which few were ever invited.
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I played the part and donned the drag of my Leather compatriots, but still, there was something missing from my experience. While I had all but forced my way into this exclusive brotherhood, the reality was that, even though I get on famously with the 40-plus crowd, I still found their approach to enjoying their scene still too conservative for my tastes. So many rules; so many protocols; so much bullshit.
Over time, I began to realize that, while after a few (dozen) drinks I could find myself having a good time, I always felt like the Leather bar scene was such a compartmentalized part of my life. I was cut off from the friends I held dearest because, as my friend so vehemently pointed out, they were not welcome on this field of play. My female, straight, bisexual, and "normal" friends often found themselves on the receiving end of distasteful and inartful signals that they had wandered into the wrong part of town; that they'd better get off the old man's lawn.
It was at this time that I began to notice the existence of those to whom I refer as "The Gerontocracy" - a group of gay men over the age of 40 who played a very vital roll in the late 80s and early 90s in helping to ensure that LGBT rights and causes were advance, but who, in their (as my friend put it) "senescence," have come to find themselves being not-so-gently shoved out of the spotlight only to be replaced by those whom they feel to be either too incapable or too incompetent to take up the mantle they so publically bore.
"The younger generation doesn't care about our traditions; they don't respect us," my friend averred, as I sat across from him wearing my title vest and medallion at the tender age of 28, the four pieces of Leather I could afford clinging to my form as I endured his tirade. Was I so dismissive of our Leather heritage? Was I really the cause of the downfall of the Leather bar?
In a word, "No." Economically speaking, the times had to change. The Leather bar faces a unique challenge ahead of them because, if this is the attitude of those in our community who are supposed to be leading and teaching the new generation, they are not replacing themselves at their rate of expiration. Younger people have fewer economic advantages than their elders, and have had to make some not-so-tough choices: $250 for a pair of Leather pants or rent? I'll go with rent. And so they go to the Leather bars in what they have, more often because they are the bars where they are ostensibly less likely to wind up on the receiving end of shady pretty boys because they can't afford to wear high-end clothing and get into the VIP lounge. What they often find, however, is an older generation no more forgiving of their status than their A-Gay peers.
And so, I posit this:
Rather than bitch about how the Leather bars are falling from grace and devolving from dens of iniquity into just another gay bar, why not welcome all comers into the fold and educate them about what we find so damn wonderful about our culture and our community. The days of the oft-mourned Leather bar are gone, and I say, "Good riddance." We have to realize that the Leather community is no longer the only game in town, and if the newer generations can't find acceptance for the sexual deviances with us, they will most assuredly find it elsewhere.
I often looked at the headboard of my bed. On my side, were two sashes hanging that made me smile daily. As the years waned on, one by one the sashes started disappearing. Left behind was my Cover and three medallions. It took about two weeks of no sashes for it to sink in. You know, when you are standing in the middle of peanut shells and confetti, no music and no one around, it hits you like a thunderbolt! I am no longer a current titleholder. What do I do now, after the sash has come off?
In my experience with “wussie” titleholders; (and I include my myself and my partner in that statement), they do one of two things. One, they disappear and are never heard from again, or two, they take the bull by the horns and give back to the community that gave so much to them during their title years!
I felt like I paid my dues as a titleholder, going to mandated events and those that were strongly suggested. And, doing all those fundraisers. And, maybe along the way, I created a little change in my wake. Now there’s no one telling me I have to do this, that, and the other, there’s no one telling me anything at all.
Instead of relaxing, I felt discarded, depressed, and all alone. They call it “sash withdrawal!” That’s when a lot of titleholders disappear.
After I “centered” myself, I saw one of my titles, Illinois Leather Sir, going by the wayside, sharing the same fate of most leather bars. I couldn’t let that happen. With the help of my husband and leather family, I’m now executive producer of that contest. Funny how things come full circle.
So, my friends, you should know coming off your title years, you’re not alone. If you just open your eyes, you’d see that you have a whole community standing behind you, still helping you on your journey! It starts with listening to the community. Its wants, needs, and desires you will hear. Then with you and your Leather heart, you try to set in motion those changes.
Now, I produce, I judge, I attend, I walk in parades, and my partner and I have started a non-profit organization called “PozPets.” We’re trying to bring affordable healthcare and nutrition to the pets of HIV positive people in the greater Chicago area.
As I said before, you don’t need a sash to create great things, but it does give you a platform and a voice that will be heard. And, after your years of community service are complete, you should have established yourself enough in the community, where you don’t need that sash to be heard. This is when the work/fun begins!
From now on, if you choose, it’s your party to have. Make the music, throw the confetti, and fill up the peanut barrels. It’s fun, hard work, and a royal pain in the ass! But, when you look, with a cigar hanging out of your mouth, at the fruits of your labor, you’ll know inside, you did your very best, and everyone is having a great time! In the meantime, you also realize you created change within the community. And, that is what happens, After the Sash Comes Off!
In Light and Leather,
Sir Bear Abbott
Great Lakes Leather Sir 2010
It's not the destination, it's the journey!
I have been trying to figure out what words would share with the leather journal readers my feelings about all the amazing things happening today, first fresh coffee at an early hour lovingly set up last night by my light and love was waiting for me at what was now a tradition of pre-8am wake ups. There was rare shared conversation this morning with him, and I know he wanted to stay home and celebrate with me. The energy of the 320,000 other folks including no less than 20 friends from around the world sitting with me in a live blog event on SCOTUSblog.com, we could have been in the same room it didn't matter, big things were going to happen, SOON.
I sit down to my work station fire up my monitors and open Google - "texas abortion bill" - FAILED - hail DAVIS and her act of heroism for the rights of Texan Women. It's a good day.
635am Scotusblog.com - now flipping through its reasurring click clack clack as bloggers partake in a rare bit of fun being punchy and light hearted with thier "gallery" which already numbered over 150,000. The site had suspended all other pages in efforts to keep the site from crashing in what was to end up being a live blog feed feeding over (initial estimates) 1 million viewers throughout the morning blog-cast, with a high-traffic of 312,000 at one point.
DOMA - overturned. The federal government must now recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples married in the 12 states that allow same-sex marriage, plus the District of Columbia, and give them the same benefits that they had been previously denied. They must now offer equal rights to ALL citizens regardless of race, color, sex, or sexual orientation it's a good day.
BUT WAIT!!!! There's MORE!
Prop8 - Dismissed, Vacated and Justice served cold, 10 years almost to the date it became a festering infectious boil on the Golden States progressive nature. Justice Roberts spoke about the Courts decision, "We have no authority to consider the question in their case," he concluded, noting that the court's role was to address disputes that were "judicial rather than political."
The defendants were "free to pursue an ideological commitment" to their definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, Roberts said.
Good? No Great day! The sun is shining, the Federal Government granted my - our - community special notice about these decisions so that we may prepare and gather joyfully, in "fabulous, flamboyant" manner, to quote SisterUnity Devine's description of Pride. For the last week cities around the state have been preparing for good and bad. Today, was a victory for my community as a whole. Tonight I will be among my friends and family and new community here in San Diego, celebrating, having a dance for my friends that I know must miss the celebration due to work, for which we are also very grateful to have! I thank those of you who were my information sources in West Hollywood, San Francisco, Long Beach, San Diego for your eager intrest in disseminating information to me so that I may do with it what I have.
I feel these words shared with you shallow, and unrepresentative of my mood today. I just keep finding myself saying "It's a good day". Thank you for reading this small token of my gratitude to the universe and all it offers to us on this the 26th of June, 2013 a good day, a very good day.