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A BRIEF HISTORY OF LEATHER

All Fetish’s fall into three categories. There is fetish sex acts such as fisting, foot worship, S&M etc. Secondly there is fetish where us faggots are living out our masculinity and macho fantasies copying skinheads, a military/police look, suited and booted, sportswear, etc then of course there are our own true senior fetish tribes that belong wholly to us deviants; leather, rubber (and more recently puppies) etc. The grandfather of all gay fetish is leather in everyone’s eyes so in fact the history of leather is the history of gay fetish period.

Dictionary definition ‘The leather subculture denotes practices and styles of dress organized around sexual activities that involve leather garments, such as leather jackets, vests, boots, chaps, harnesses, or other items. Wearing leather garments is one way that participants in this culture self-consciously distinguish themselves from mainstream sexual cultures. Largely associated with gay guys who refer to themselves as Leathermen’

Today every gay fetish event is lead by leather guys, it is by far the largest gay fetish tribe the world has ever seen and you will find us at every party, every pride parade and down every gay street on the globe. It is often associated with BDSM in all its horny fucked up guises and is truly seen as a ‘community’ or more commonly called a ‘brotherhood’ which all subsequent fetish types have modelled themselves on. It for 80 years has represented an image outside of the mainstream and by merely putting on a leather jacket a guy is making a huge statement. He is a strong gay man, a proud gay man and not effiminate, camp or into musical theatre as the straight world wanted to think of gay guys in the last Century John Inman in ‘Are You Being Served’ anyone ? through to today. Although of course a lot of leathermen do actually like a bit of Mamma Mia, The Sound Of Music, Cabaret & Jersey Boys too. Leather indicates heightened masculinity and sexual power which a lot of straight guys find both threatening and appealing and secretly they want the T-bird gang from Grease to take them up their straight asses and give their G-spots & prostates a first ever real work-out.

Leather as we think of today originated back in the 1940’s with the post WW2 biker clubs that of course had the image of being straight venues in those massively homophobic times but of course drew us queer boys in their thousands. From that day to this leathermen and gay guys have been permanently linked to motorcycles & possibly cigars or mirror shades and we now know that oil is not the only fluid being exchanged in these dark clubs and bars. The very first ‘gay leather motorcycle club venue was Satyrs, Los Angeles in 1954 closely followed by Oedipus nearby four years later. New York got its first also in 1958 and a year later Europe got its initial venues in Amsterdam and Berlin – Sydney, Australia had to wait until 1970 which was probably a great relief to the kangaroo shaggers who were fucking each other in the bush up until that point.

The image of the motorbiker in leather gear was all important. Key was the 1953 movie The Wild One starring Marlon Brando playing a goodlooking guy in tight jeans, white T-shirt and black leather jacket, christ he even wore a Muir Cap, forcing every closeted gay guy to reach straight for the jack off hand cream. The Military and Police uniform look were both signs of uber masculinity and straightness when gay guys had to hide their desires to eat man ass so were obvious looks to adopt in gay erotica. Up in Helsinki Tom Of Finland took this as his blueprint to produce art and images of overly muscular incredibly masculine guys in leather and uniform all with cocks the size of baseball bats ant rosebud holes, and boy were they popular. Tom’s look peaked in early 1973 with the movie ‘Nights In Black leather’ starring the German muscleman Peter Berlin (Not a lot of thought went into early porn star names !). Of course the early 70’s in Europe the whole leather scene exploded particularly in Berlin with the likes of David Bowie investigating it as is well documented. The bars all grew up around Nollendorfplatz which is still the main gay area in the Western half of the City today. It came of age in 1975 with the first Easter In Berlin Leather Festival which still is a mainstay on the fetish circuit party calendar 45 years later. The Stonewall anniversary…the leather guys are coming for ya.

Berliner Nollendorfplatz bei nacht

Other landmark moments in the progress of the leather scene and image came thick and fast through the Seventies. Largely helped by Homosexuality in many territories now being made legal the cultural zeigist was able to flourish and gay men were free to buy magazines, visit sex theatres, saunas, get into public office and have their own club nights etc. Their was still rampant homophobia underneath but at least we were on the way to winning the battle against the Neanderthal knuckle draggers who were so scared of gay men because deep down they kind of knew they wanted to suck a huge throbbing cock too. In 1970 the legendary book by Jay Green ‘Cruising’ was published which became the most successful leather film of all time in 1980 starring a very sexy Al Pacino searching the streets for hot raw ass and this was in the mainstream market too. Music did its part also most notably with Glenn Hughes wearing full leathers in the Village People bringing YMCA to the number one spot in 77 countries. Joan Jett famously had a ‘leatherpride’ sticker on her guitar when she topped the US charts singing ‘I Love Rock N Roll’ and it even stormed the bastion of male music that is heavy metal. The hugely successful British rock band Judas Priest’s lead singer Rob Halford was secretly gay (He later came out) started wearing full black leather gear on stage. Then he started arriving to the opening number on a motorbike, a year later the whole band did the same and in the same look to belt out ‘Living After Midnight’ and ‘Breaking The Law’ and another milestone in fetish history was achieved in a traditionally straight area. The Disco Sucks movement hated that music because it was popular with gays, sung by black performers & often sung by women they wanted hetero Rock so us gays took that off those homophobes too.

The most common word associated with leather fetish is ‘community’. This is why any gay man that has not experienced it yet should start going to events, joining associations etc as he will find out that similar latterly to the Rubber and Puppy world he will meet many lifetime friends that he will be bumping into all over the globe day and night in various states of rimming, cumguzzling and hole destruction. Gay men don’t have clubs to join but fetish gay men do and you will love the camaraderie and brotherhood that they exude and will bring into your life and as for your sex life…….. 

In 1979 the first International Mr Leather was held in Chicago which continues today. This has grown into a massive event and is the centrepoint of the Leather calendar. It is where the top leatherman from each country, area, bar, association etc competes for the ultimate accolade of the top leatherman on the planet. This shows how structured the leather community has become and these clubs and associations have grown exponentially ever since. SM Gays were one of the first in 1981 alongside enumerous other Bluf’s MSC’s, Claws, MAL’s ECMC’s etc in every Western country all pushing the leather agenda and organising a million events, meetings, parades etc giving us the fantastic scene we have today where no leather clad faggot is that far away from a band of brothers to hang around with wearing his best coloured cowhide. Most important of which was the National leather Association which changed it’s name to International after it came to the aid of 18 gay BDSM fans in London through the infamous Spanner case. The NLA stared in 1986 when Steve Maidof an IML contestant that year decided that the leather world needed organising. It was a huge success and soon became multi-country and at its peak had 36 separate autonymous chapters. It’s high point was in 1990 when it raised $50,000 in America alone for it’s British brothers in need who had been arrested for taking part in a wholly consensual BDSM gangbang in the aforementioned Spanner Case. This was over half of their defence money needed – a case which this writer was also proud to be on the defence trust of. It went on for two decades but there was no better evidence of brotherhood and community that we have known about in the fetish scene for over half a century than what the yanky leatherboys did for there European brothers under attack. 

Leather is now more prevalient on the scene than ever and presently on the International scene Europe is now thought of as the centre of it much moreso than North America who have so many rules for there sex clubs and bars that are different state by state but nothing comes close to Berlin, Cologne, Amsterdam, Antwerp, London etc (On stage at Hustlaball Berlin the performers can fuck bareback, fist and piss at Hustlaball Las Vegas they are not allowed to show their cocks or assholes !). Folsom Street Fair is the most well know event one Sunday in late September South Of Market in San Francisco. Folsom Street Fair started in Europe in 2004 and now huge mega Fetish circuit weeks/weekends such as CLAW/Darklands/London Fetish Week/Pig Fort Lauderdale/Maspalomas Fetish Week in Gran Canaria and the super Leatherpride Palm Springs etc that regularly fill our calendar pages and empty ballsacks weekly. Europe is buzzing but America lost its way a bit letting the leather scene be associated with guys over 40 with the younger lads turning to rubber/sports and puppy gear resulting in the now current battle between ‘Fetish Traditionalists’ subscribing to the Tom Of Finland look and the New Age Leathermen who wear everything under the sun and ever colour, don’t wear Muir caps, don’t understand the hanky code and god forbid sometimes wear their Sam Browns over the other shoulder because it looks better to them !!!! (But that is a future AT article all on it’s own). In Germany a queer lad does not have his hands in the air to Madonna/Gaga in a dance club phase as he is thrown into leather on his 17th birthday, put straight on PrEP and thrown into a sling to ride a security guards wrist as his coming out and hopefully his ring will never close properly again. There are of course nowadays many leather women with their own events, associations and retailers. The fetish girls even have their own contest associated with IML called IMsL (International Ms Leather) and boy do they look great and we fully support them and gay men love them attending all our events as they are just the best fun. Our history is recorded in the most famous gay museum ‘Leather Archives and Museum’ in Chicago which is just coming up to it’s 30th Anniversary. With Stonewall/IML/Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence/The Leather Flag/Pride/Mr S Leather/Mister B/Nasty Pig etc all celebrating huge milestone anniversary’s it truly shows how far and institutionalised Leather & our gay world has become and as we have siad many times this is just the greatest time ever to be gay and even better be a fetish gay. In Europe our fetish history is looked after by The Leather History.EU Foundation in Amsterdam which was founded in 2011 by Pieter Claeys a former Mr Leather Europe and it has now moved to it’s permanent home in a great award winning facility in Central London. So we have come a long way from hiding our queerness in a straight leather masculinity image 80 years ago to our ubiquitous presence today. Leather did not crawl out of the closet so much as exploded and although it may mutate into a million other fetish tribes (thank god else we would not have a magazine here at AT) all of which owe some of their existence and certainly the speed of their acceptance to our leather trailblazers who we will continue to bring to you and educate you with their fantastic stories in your favourite magazine.  


THE GAY BIBLE

The Leatherman’s Handbook by Larry Townsend, published in 1972, epitomizes the association of the leather subculture with BDSM. Townsend described in detail a community of gay males who wore leather and casually engaged in sadomasochistic sex with one another. Recreational drugs and alcohol were frequently used. Pairings were often just for one night or a few days. Participants often took a dominant role in one encounter but a submissive role in another (a practice known as “switching”) or nowadays known as doing a Blue Bailey. There is a massive feeling of community in the gay leatherworld that is unquestionable. This is the bible that we do actually like a lot.


THE LEATHER FLAG

The Leather Pride Flag is a symbol used by the leather subculture since the 1990s. It was designed by Tony DeBlase in 1989, (Currently celebrating it’s 30th birthday) and was quickly embraced by the gay Leather community. It was first unveiled and presented to the leather tribe at IML (International Mr Leather) 27 years ago. It has since become associated with Leather in general and also with related groups.


THE LEATHER ARCHIVES & MUSEUM.

1 It was founded by one of the originators of gay porn and the founder of International Mr Leather  Chuck Renslow who is greatly missed by all Leathermen.
2 It was started in 1991 in Rogers Park, Chicago moving only once to larger premises.
3 It is a very impressive 10,000sq ft two storey building and is the largest gay museum in the world not including Ashley Ryder’s dildo collection..
4 It has 8 exhibition galleries, a library and 164 seater auditorium amongst other rooms.
5 Since 2009 all procedes from IML go to the museum and into ‘preserving our leather history and gay fight.
6 It contains original works by the Marquis De Sade, Tom Of Finland and has an entire set of the trailblazing 1970’s onwards Drummer magazine whose editor the superb Jack Fritscher now contributes the most interesting articles to AT.
7 It has many historic sadomasochism and sexual devices that makes that item in a scene from Brad Pitt’s ‘Seven’ look like a tin can opener.
8 Its caretaker was Rick Storer who has the best knowledge of Leather history of anyone we know. He retired two years ago but is still active on the scene and the new team are there to help with any inquiries you may have…and they are great in bed too.
9 Every gay leatherman should make the pilgrimage to our Mecca at some point in his life – preferably during IML/Vetreran’s Day weekend in May.
10 It is one of the most visited museums in America’s second City and is protected by the state of Illinois.


THE TOP 10 LEATHER EVENTS 

If you have the cash you should attend every year and if your asshole can handle it.

10 Folsom Street East, New York
9 Berlin Easter Week,
8 Amsterdam Leatherpride,
7 CLAW, Cleveland
6 Mid-Atlantic Leather, Washington DC
5 London Fetish Week,
4 Folsom Europe, Berlin
3 Darklands – formerly Leatherpride, Antwerp
2 Folsom Street Fair, San Francisco
1 IML (International Mr Leather), Chicago

Honourary mention to Leather Pride Palm Springs, Sleazy Madrid, Pig Fort Lauderdale, Maspalomas Fetish Pride which we have to put else Patrick Marmion beats us and D’Evidence, Nice which we also have to mention else Roby Leather beats us even harder…..we do like that really.

Master

Written by Paul Stag

Paul is an international porn star and a long time editor for Alphatribe magazine.

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