Thursday, October 18, 2007

Give to Me Your Leather....

*Disclaimer: I am not a leather person, nor a part of the BDSM culture. What I say here is from observation and reading. Corrections/amplifications welcome!*


In the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community, this has a very different connotation than for the straight or mainstream community.

First, being a leather person is simply about enjoying the touch, sensation, scent of leather—whether in clothing, upholstery or accessories. This is what I would call the first level.

Some members of the leather community are also a part of the BDSM (bondage/discipline/sadism/masochism) community. The two do not always go together, although they frequently do.

BDSM is a touchy subject in many circles, not least in the LGBT Christian world. Of course there are limits. But safe, sane and consensual is the mantra here. Testing the limits of your own body or another’s can be liberating and very spiritual. Think of the asceticism of some Roman Catholic orders or of some First Nations traditions.

Dr. Paul Brand, in his book The Gift Nobody Wants, points out that pain is actually good—pain shows us the limits of our bodies, tells us when to stop and shows us just how far we can go, how much strength we really have. Without pain, we would injure ourselves many times every day. Pain is not necessarily something to be avoided, but can be something to be embraced.

Individuals who practise bondage and discipline speak often of the transcendence of a “scene,” of a carefully planned and carried out experience, in which both the dominant partner and the submissive partner find a level of conscienceness akin to the spiritual ecstasy of a Saint Theresa or the nirvana of Zen meditation.

Yes, these experiences are on the edges of experience for most people; but can we deny the validity of these experiences, of this way of reaching the I-Thou presence of God many say they have reached through this practise? We cannot deny the power of these experiences simply because we do not understand or feel the same draw to such experiences. Each of us has our own spiritual practise, our own sexual preferences, food tastes, clothing style, communication methods. When we are sane, safe and consensual, I don’t see that anyone can judge or deny the spiritual experience of another.

It may not appeal to you, you may find BDSM or even leather distasteful or uncomfortable or frightening. If you are LGBT, remember that many heterosexual people find your sexuality, gender identity and sexual practises to be all those things. If you are heterosexual or LGBT, remember that we’re to do to others what we want done to us.

All of which is a digression. The term “leather” covers everything from a leather vest to a leather kilt to chaps and shorts and harnesses, dresses, armbands and stiletto-heel boots and even jackets and hats. It’s often seen as hyper-masculine, akin to the lumberjack or cowboy style.

I was going to talk about drag as well, but that’s really a whole other (although related) topic. Stay tuned!

And I invite comments. I’m always interested in educating myself—P.L.A.Y. (People of Leather Among You) members and others, please amplify what I’ve said here, correct me where I’ve gone astray—and compliments are welcome, too!

I also recommend this article about the founders of P.L.A.Y.which covers far more ground better than I ever could.

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