You hear this phrase all the time: leather scene. On the surface it’s people in leather. Go to a leather bar and there are people in leather. Go to a large event and you see a lot of people dressed in leather. The leather scene must be people who like to stand around drinking beer while wearing leather, right?
Well, no. Look deeper. The leather scene is far more complex than just people who like to wear leather, and this is a frequent source of frustration or confusion for many people. It took me many years and a lot of travel to understand this. Nobody ever explained it to me. They probably didn’t realize it themselves. It is, in reality, many different scenes operating under the umbrella term of leather scene. These scenes often (though not always) move in the same physical places, circles overlapping or not overlapping, dressing similarly or differently, but they are varied, and depending on what you are looking for you will have to find your way into the correct circles or risk coming up against dead ends over and over.
The leather scene is composed of 6 major groups divided by interest:
1. Those into leather but not into fetishes
2. Those into fetishes but not into leather
3. Those into both
4. Men over 35/40 not into leather/fetishes who are there because it skews older and they don’t feel comfortable elsewhere
5. Men of any age who don’t feel attractive in other social circles and feel welcome in the leather scene.
It is, of course, possible to be a member of more than one group or to socialize with more than one group–many people do–but if you move between circles be careful not to assume other people do. Many people belong to one group and appearances can deceive. Sometimes people will be in the same place at the same time or dress a certain way to fit in, but it does not mean they have a particular interest in it.
For example, many men into fetishes will wear a minimum amount of leather or similar gear to fit in at social events but they are not interested in leather. They are only interested in fetishes. My roommate of many years was obsessed with handcuffs, cops and jail scenes. He owned no leather. At leather functions he wore jeans, dark shoes, dark shirts and baseball caps when he went out–enough to fit in and not ruffle feathers.
Similarly, a lot of men you see in leather only like leather but they are not kinky. They might not even like leather enough to have sex in it. In my youth I made the mistake of assuming that anyone wearing leather was also kinky, that leather MEANT kinky, and came across a lot of men that were not sexually compatible with me. This is a typical mistake made by rookies. In social situations you’re going to have to–gasp!–talk to people to find out what they are interested in and what they are looking for in order to deal with this reality.
To complicate matters further, the leather scene can be subdivided a different way:
1. Title holders/organizers
2. Casual scene people (the largest group)
3. Outsiders/online people who rarely, if ever, go out
4. the porn scene (the smallest)
They overlap in places but often socialize separately with their own. They can be in the same hotel for MAL or IML or packed into Darklands but not really mix. I’ve seen it and lived it. It’s one reason why people say the leather scene is cliquish. In Europe they overlap and mingle more than in America, where the porn scene especially is largely separate from everyone else, but even in Europe the groups often stick to themselves. It is possible to weave in and out of these social circles but it can take time and a lot of social skill. (Large biceps or a big dick help.)
The subgroups can be divided into further subgroups, if you want to dig deeper, especially in the fetish scene. Not everyone into fetishes enjoys every fetish. You might be kinky as hell, meet another guy who is kinky as hell, and find that he mostly (or exclusively) wants to fist while you mostly (or exclusively) want to do bondage. It can be disappointing. Once again, you have to communicate with others to figure out what’s going on.
A solution to this was/is the hanky code (colored hankies that advertise what you are interested in) and flagging left or right for Top or bottom but unfortunately this is an area that is scattered, at best. Very many men in the leather scene don’t know the hanky code, and most don’t use it, and, worse, some don’t even know what flagging left or right mean. Don’t assume that because you know these things everyone else does. They don’t. I’ve had many conversations with men who don’t.
Understanding that all these subgroups exist in the leather scene is key to you finding fulfillment. Don’t despair! Moving among them can be exciting and a part of your “leather journey.” Don’t be afraid to ask people around you about people you don’t normally socialize with and don’t be afraid to go to events that aren’t at the top of your list. Don’t be afraid to approach others. A desire to explore can lead to many unexpected things. A few years ago I decided that on a trip to London during Pride I wanted to march in the parade with some London leathermen. They invited me in. One result of that adventurous spirit was that I ended up writing articles for Alphatribe.