Caro's Keynote Address from BL5

Apologia from the Antichrist in a corset

Greetings, everyone, and my thanks to Top and bonnie for thinking I might have something interesting enough to deliver as the keynote speech at Beyond Leather Five. First, my congrats and well-deserved kudos to everyone involved with this fantastic event on its fifth year anniversary. It’s a wonderful milestone for any event, and I’m honored to have been asked to participate.

At any conference, it’s typically the keynote speech that addresses the issues and sets the tone or mood. More often than not, they are designed to make those who hear it all warm and fuzzy. Well, that presented an enormous challenge for me, because I don’t do “warm and fuzzy”—I’ve never done warm and fuzzy. Actually, I have a better shot at translating the Kama Sutra from the original Sanskrit than I do at pulling off warm and fuzzy. Besides, at this stage of my life, if I even attempted warm and fuzzy, I can name at least five bitches out there that’d be tweeting their thumbs off that I’m suffering from dementia.

So I’m going to continue to do what I’ve always done, tell the truth and call things as I see them, (the code word for that is “controversial”). As far as how that truth is handled? Well, I’ll leave that up to each of you and I will offer condolences in advance to any of you who may be offended by what follows, but I will not apologize for what I say, who I am, the choices I’ve made, or the life I’ve lead.

This weekend we assemble in our kinky finery to participate in kinky festivities. We celebrate being sexual outlaws and renegades. If that’s how you feel, that’s great, but honestly, maybe it’s time to reconsider, because when 300,000 people attend the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco, or when IML constitutes one of Chicago’s largest conventions, or when what we do is seen in films and on prime time TV; and when what we wear shows up on runways in Paris, Milan, and New York, and Hot Topic, and when every weekend there’s kinky activities to be found even in the most remote locales like Batcrotch, Wyoming, then it just might be time to get past thinking we are special little kinky creatures and sexual outlaws living on the edge.

Anyone seen this week’s New York Times Best Seller List? The “Grey Trilogy” occupies three of five places in fiction. If you’re not familiar with that, it’s the BDSM-based  “Beauty Series” of this millennial--sort of “Lolita” meets “The Secretary” in “9 1/2 Weeks.” Now, if that doesn’t destroy the illusion of being a sexual outlaw I don’t know what will. Frankly, as someone who’s watched it all for 30 plus years, there are times when it all appears surreal to me.

I started into all of this in the mid-70s in New York City. Verdi Square was called “Needle Park” and most of leather bars were located on or close to the West Side Highway, near the trucks and the piers, in the Village, and in a small part of town called “the meat packing district.” It was part of town where even angels and cops feared to tread, the sewer rats however, were fearless. Sometimes, blood, fresh from the meat processors, ran in the streets, and there I was, twenty-something years old -- what the hell was I thinking?

Honestly, they were much simpler times. We had tops and bottoms, S & M, and the “hanky code” colors could be counted your fingers. It was a time when there were no ceremonies and damned few rituals, and “earned leather” meant that your tribe accepted you wearing that leather regardless of what color the leather, or what piece of leather, or how you acquired that leather, by gift, by deed, by purchase, or even because someone left it behind in a bar.

It really was that simple. Don’t get me wrong, there was a ritual or two, because people need rituals, but nobody was trying to pass it off as some great military ritual that began in the Peloponnesian wars. And yes, there were coverings, but they were NOT the production numbers that could rival High Mass at St. Peter’s or a Broadway tour.

Emphasis was placed on knowledge, experience, and skill, and far less on protocol and etiquette. And etiquette? That was largely the manners we were raised with and the common sense we acquired along the way. The one constant I can remember was, “don’t be a jerk,” don’t do anything that would bring shame or dishonor to yourself, your partner, your friends or your tribe, or more importantly, prevent you from getting laid.
There were no great debates about “Leather” or “being Leather” or what Leather was, or even Leather values. It just wasn’t necessary because you lived them, and you lived by them, and if you didn’t--that was rarely an issue because the odds were that not going to be around long enough for it to matter. We even had elders back then, and we respected them, if for no other reason than that’s how many of us were raised, and we knew, heard, or saw, just what kind of ruthless SOBs these elders could be when the occasion warranted it. Simpler times, but very different.

I know many of you have heard the fictionalized accounts of “Ye Olde Knights of the Leather Round Table” who were governed by the Council of Elders appointed by extraterrestrial visitors from Orac. Many of you continue to believe them, and that’s OK, because there’s nothing wrong with believing in mythology and fantasy as long as you realize that’s what it is.

However, if you can believe that fantasy, try these facts on for size: It was also a time when Leather and kink were pockmarked by organized crime, police corruption, black mail, extortion, and an occasional murder. And for the record, that played a large part in the secrecy and exclusivity of all of it.

Since then, things have become quite convoluted and complicated. So how and when did that happen? One explanation is as good as the next, but the one I offer is a 30,000 foot overview that started in the 1980s and that I’ve named “The Grand Inclusion”— when various factors contributed to Leather taking on the mantle of activism, with the most visible manifestation of its success being the “Leather Contingent” in the 1987 Equality March in DC.

As Guy Baldwin and others have mentioned, the thinking of those earliest activists was that increasing the numbers would hopefully result in an increase in visibility, acceptance, and political clout, what have you. It was a logical assumption that was less than successful with regards to the practical application.

In the late 1980s within the gay Leather community, there was an ever-growing rift emerged between those who wanted things done as they had “always” been done, and those who wanted to do things differently, a new way, or even their way. Some of these articles suggested that there was indeed parity between the 20-something Master and his more mature and experienced peers. Debates began between those various factions.

By the mid-1990s, what began with activism in Leather eventually morphed into a commodity, and eventually a revenue stream. Regardless, activism or commodity, at each stage, more and more bodies were required to keep the wheels turning and more and more money was needed to grease those wheels—and almost each time that happened, various accommodations and exceptions were made to boost the “inclusivity.” It was like the Leather version of “Musical Chairs” where more and more chairs were added to insure that everyone had a seat.

Whether that was right or wrong is irrelevant. The relevance lies in the fact that in order to add those chairs, a new “Leather equality” emerged. All were deemed equal under the Leather Pride Flag. Gone were much of the exclusivity, the hierarchical structure, and the emphasis on experience. Gone too was the notion of doing something as it was done previously.

As this “Grand Inclusion” continued through the 90s, buoyed by the growing popularity of the internet, practical, face-to-face, human experience and interaction seemed to take a back seat to endless online debates about theory, displays of technique, and how things were vs. how things are, vs. they should be, and that continues even today. With the participation of more and more heterosexuals, what was largely a distinct and uniquely gay subculture became “pansexual,” making it even more necessary to establish parity.
Eventually, this push for parity between straight and gay, old and young, veteran and novice resulted in the rejection or discounting of experience and previously accepted and acceptable practices, and eventually to the vilification and “villain-ization” of Leather itself. That strategy was more successful than one might imagine for no other reason but that the “pre-internet” veterans were severely outnumbered in both the real and online worlds.

In addition, there was this “invisible mandate” that one should “go along to get along,” which in turn created an environment where people were too afraid of being ostracized or ridiculed to open their mouths. It was a “Damned if you don’t, more damned if you do” environment, which gave rise to a PT Barnum-esque Leather/BDSM/Kink “community” that allowed, tolerated, encouraged, and accepted damned near everything and everyone.

People and personalities appeared, all armed with a raft of phony biographies and unique versions of “personal histories”: the straight man who hung with and learned from gay men, or biker clubs, etc., but never sucked a dick and never had any colors. In turn, this gave rise to, and set the stage for a raft of instructors, leaders, trainers, gurus, experts, sexperts and con artists to emerge and to operate without fear of challenge or of repercussion or reprisal. So what if most lied, invented, or misrepresented? It was all about “Unity in the community,” and apparently there can’t be “unity” if even one person is squawking about a naked Emperor.

Especially loathsome was that this also allowed the proliferation of any number of bogus charities, fundraisers, organizations, and whatnot that duped hundreds into thinking that they received or were waiting for their tax tax-exempt status. For years they sucked thousands of dollars out of this community without ever meeting the IRS requirements of getting or providing a tax ID number, and that practice continues. Shame on them for fooling us once and shame on us if we allow it again.

But that’s the point, when people are afraid or are prevented from asking questions, expressing themselves, or challenging the status quo for any reason, all manner of bovine and equine excrement, (that’s bull- and horse-shit for those of you who weren’t science majors), results. A few more “notable” topics at the time were Eurohouses and secret BDSM societies.

Somewhere around 1999 or 2000, I coined the phrase, “Kumbaya Kink and Barney BDSM,” in protest. To compound all of this, the late 90s saw the emergence of a an almost tyrannical stance in favor of “political correctness,” and in many parts of the country, this kinky egalitarianism joined with an entire “civility” movement that pushed the inclusivity envelope even more. In the pan community, the appearance of a tome, (penned by someone relatively new at the time), touted the need for “civility” and positioned “incivility” as a violating the basic tenets of SSC.

I get PC, but when I think about it for any length of time, it rankles me because on some level, I can’t help but view much of it as a runaway train, a culturally condoned Orwellian “Newspeak”—a mandate for censorship, intent on controlling thought, expression, and behavior.  And here’s my problem with that. In addition to being insidious, I question that if one is only allowed the “freedom” to speak or express themselves in only the most neutral/inoffensive and benign manner possible, isn’t that a recipe for dishonesty? In other words, when the delivery of the message takes precedent over the message itself, at what point is the dilution or disappearance of the original message almost inevitable?

In the mid-90s, I moved from SF back to the East Coast, and culture shock doesn’t begin to describe the vast differences in philosophies, play styles, name it. In SF, (at least in the het/pan community), while there were some modifications, the “basic stuff” stayed the same, which I think had much to do with the established presence and strength of an established community. People were still vetted, references checked, etc. and there was less resistance to experience. On the east coast, at least where I was, if an experienced person even suggested vetting, someone else would call that an invasion of privacy or a form of outing and giving references so that you could be vetted was “namedropping,” and those who suggested it were branded as “Leather Nazis.”
Mentoring was reduced to nothing more than a bunch of dirty old predators who were looking to take advantage of people and slobber all over their soft, young, inexperienced flesh. Well, ok, sometimes that was true, but sometimes it wasn’t, but what it did do was open the door for the guy with the bogus history who lacked experience, morals, mores, but was no less predatory.
If the suggestion was made that people had a right to question or discuss things openly, or have the right to maintain some level of exclusivity, those heresies were met with warnings that those who would even suggest such a thing were nothing more dangerous insiders, enemies, cancers and cankers in the communities, whose sole focus was to convert others to their way of thinking or worse, suggesting that it was the experienced people themselves who were trying to destroy the community.

Likewise those who spoke of Leather, or those who referenced anything but blanket inclusion were portrayed as a bunch of elitist, egotistical villains, and “dangerous insiders.”  As the decade of the 90s closed, I actually heard the term “pleather” and “pleather family” being touted as “better” than leather.

But here’s the take-away message in all of this, demonizing experience and knowledge, sends a clear message: Those who will not fall into line or who cannot be herded should not be heeded, because they are rabid and dangerous animals; and because they are rabid and dangerous animals, they need to be destroyed, for the “good of the community”—and for those of you who aren’t history buffs, the parallels between that thinking and the Inquisition are staggering.

Somewhere, somebody or bodies mixed up a great batch of Kinky Kool-Aid and it was served up to the parched masses so thirsty for any drop knowledge or information or acceptance that they gulped it down without thinking. Jonestown. Ring any bells?

Such was the zeitgeist of the 90s, at least in my memory. It was a time when experience and knowledge, and even when many with it, were vilified and sacrificed on the altar of inclusion, acceptance, and change, “for the sake of community,” and I officially became the “Antichrist in a Corset” in more than a few circles. In a couple decades, I’d witnessed participation in Leather go from being expected to prove oneself and one’s worth to having a pulse and a computer.

As time went on, the terminology would also reflect the changes. “The scene” of the 60s and 70s became Leather/SM/Leathersex, and eventually, by the late 80s, the all-inclusive moniker of “Leather/Kink/BDSM” and in the 90s, “Leather/Kink/BDSM/Fetish.” And next year, who knows how it may change? Our perspectives changed accordingly. SM/Leathersex went from an “all about sex” mindset focused on “rough trade” to a sexo-spiritual stance, and eventually to being told that Leather/BDSM wasn’t about sex at all, and it’s my belief that particular “asexual” point of view may be due to the fact that as the popularity grew, those working as dominatrices erroneously believed that charges of prostitution could be avoided if no overt sexual acts occurred.

And then, a strange thing happened in the new millennium. People started to question and to speak out. More importantly, people starting thinking it out, with glacial speed at first, but soon it gained momentum, and when it did, people wanted to hear things from the horses’ mouth. People wanted to hear history from those who saw it, lived it, and sometimes made it.

Everything old was new again, especially if it was Leather, and most especially if it was “Old Guard” Leather. It was almost as if by just mentioning the phrase, credibility would be conferred and respect garnered.

As the het/pan community came to the realization that “Eurohouses” and “Victorian households” weren’t necessarily the way to go, for “insta-credibility,” it was replaced with “The Old Guard” and patch clubs and “leather values” and “leather families.” Even those nice “pleather people” formed clubs and reinvented themselves as Leather.

About three years ago, after much debate between Top, Bonnie, myself, and others, about the growing interest in Leather history, Top and Bonnie made the decision to try it out at Beyond Leather and see what happens. We did the first warhorse roundup for something I still affectionately refer to as, “The Fossil Hour,” but you may be more familiar with the term “the Elder’s Panel,” and since that time, similar discussions have been done all over the country.

And while I think that’s terrific, there’s a caveat about “elders” I feel I must add. Not all elders are created equal. Regardless of what sort of geezer, crone, old fart, and "alteh cocker" one might appear to be, an AARP card and the infamous but undocumented 20 plus years' experience does not necessarily an “elder” make. 

Which brings us to another problem...know that old expression that those who don’t learn from history will be doomed to repeat it? Well, I think we’re exactly at that point again. I mean look around, we’re almost 10 years into this entire “learning real leather” and yet we still have those serious and solemn affairs known as “Master’s Capping Ceremonies,” and although people may be given a version of the Muir cap, in my little corner of Leather, unless you are a tooth, a knee, a mushroom, a gangsta, or potatoes on the menu at the Waffle House, if you want to be taken seriously, one would do well to remember that a Master is covered, not capped. So if one is going to crow about “established Leather traditions” kindly make the effort to preserve that tradition or at least not make an utter travesty of it—new traditions are also fine, just do a little homework and avoid confusing the two.

And while the debates and discussions continue about etiquette, protocol, ritual, tradition, values, and who and what is or isn’t leather, here’s an interesting little challenge for you. The next time you hear someone rattle off the litany of core leather values, you know, brotherhood, honor, honesty, integrity, respect, curbing your dog, and whatever else---pay attention what’s not on that list.
Incredibly to me, the one thing most often omitted is courage, or if you prefer: guts, balls, stones, chutzpa, cajones, coglioni, huervos, ovaries, resolve, pluck or anything else you want to call it. I find that particularly interesting, because without courage, we wouldn’t be where we are today and besides that, it’s damned difficult to have honor, integrity and the rest without courage—in Leather or in life.

For those who are not sure what courage is, well, according to, courage is, “the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” According to me, courage isn’t recklessness, mindlessly functioning without fear. It’s recognizing the fear, and the potential consequences, but deciding that something else is more important. It’s the courage of the few that can provide the benefit for generations to come. Doubt that? Well, in my head, one of the things that marked President Obama’s road to the White House began with Rosa Parks, and at a Woolworth’s lunch counter. Gay marriage began in the 1950s, if not before, with the founding of the Mattachine Society and the Daughter of Bilitis.

It is all about links in the chain that lead to a change, and the one vital link is courage. It all starts with those one or two people who have the courage to take a stand and say, “This is not acceptable. This must change.”

Granted, not all examples of courage are that monumental. Sometimes it’s quietly telling people what they don’t want to hear. I mean if the Emperor is naked, and you think that’s important—tell him. He might actually thank you for taking the time to cover his ass. Then again, he might try to have you executed.

Here’s something else to consider…each of you had the courage to make the choice to get here, and to be part of an alternative lifestyle. Each of you had to “come out” at least once, to even be here in the first place, so why would any of us check or rein in our courage once we’ve arrived? Because we’re afraid we won’t get invited to the next whatever? So what? We might not have been invited anyway.

Another thing about courage—it’s contagious and in this case it’s OK to “infect” people. If you feel something is a serious issue that affects you, or the community, speak up—and if you do, then own it. Don’t be so quick to buy into the whole “let’s discuss it privately,” because if it’s an important enough issue that affects more than a couple people, then maybe someone with the same concerns but less courage feels the same way? And if by chance you find yourself marked as “controversial”? Fear not. It’s survivable.
If you should speak out, own your words and your actions as well. Let them reflect and project who you really are, and allow others to do the same, because agree or not, we need to create an environment were people are comfortable with their ability to express themselves and their concerns, to question everyone, and discuss everything, No one and nothing should be beyond question, or beyond reproach for that matter. But whatever the sword, it has to cut both ways.

And can we not be so quick to dismiss everything as “drahhhmah?” For the record, I happen to think that “drahhhmah” is often something one person believes is important but the next guy doesn’t want to hear. And while we’re on the subject of “draaahmah”--we need to avoid playing the victim.

So what if you had a party and nobody came? Stop whining! Maybe they had other things to do. Maybe they just didn’t feel like going. Maybe they had car trouble. But don’t discount the fact that just maybe it’s possible that nobody likes you or wanted to be at your stupid party in the first place.

We also need to be adult and astute enough to recognize that if someone voices their displeasure, or disagrees with you, it should not be automatically assumed that they are attacking you. Likewise, we need to move past the notion that making a judgment automatically equates to being negative or critical. Sometimes it’s nothing more than a choice—and if we’re so hot about consent, then we should be equally positioned about choices. We have got to get past the assumption that “like-minded” means of one mind.
And really, can we please stop playing the kinky version of “the dog ate my homework?” You know, that whole blaming the other guy thing? Think about it, how many more times is some dominant going to launch the accusation of, ”You’re not submissive enough?” How many times do we have to hear the expert brag about their flawless technique only to be the first to blame the equipment, the bottom, troubles at work, or their first grade teacher when the scene goes wrong? We are human and because we are, none of us is infallible.

We need to remember that while what we do is highly therapeutic, it isn’t and should never be substituted for therapy. If you need therapy, go get it, it will all be here when you get back, I promise--only please, do not turn the rest of us into supporting players for your personal psychodrama.

Also, it is incumbent upon the het/pan community to recognize and respect the staggering contributions, support, and tolerance that have been demonstrated by the gay community and remember this: whatever you may think is still owed you? Trust me, that debt’s been paid long ago, and whatever community or communities we create moving forward do not have to be all-inclusive to the point of obliteration, because the best way to destroy any cultural identity is to assimilate it out of existence.

One more thing: No, we don’t all like each other, and we don’t all have to like each other unless we let that dislike stand between us and the good we can do for each other, with each other, and for this “community.”

Lastly, we need to stop drinking the kinky Kool-Aid. More importantly, we need stop making the kinky Kool-Aid. And for heaven’s sake, please, we need stop serving it up to the next generation that wants to learn. They deserve better and it’s up to us to give it to them, so if you plan on offering them opinion and fiction and fantasy instead of facts, then find out the facts, or keep your mouth shut.

We’re supposed to be engaging in adult activities? Well, if you believe that then it’s time we start acting like adults take and take responsibility for our own words and actions, warts and all—and if by chance you can’t do any of that? Then do me and everyone else a favor and get the hell out of my face, my dungeon, my club, and this community, however that is defined--because frankly, if you’re not prepared to act as a responsible adult, who needs you?

So that’s my keynote…and honestly I’m surprised so many of you are still here. Thank you for your time, attention, and patience. In closing, I’d ask you consider this. As I’ve said before, “There’s no shortcuts in life or in Leather, and if you’re not willing to work for the community you want, then I can promise you that you will get the one you deserve.”

In closing, I’d to borrow from the Blue Oyster Cult, “I will drink a toast to those years gone by, that have sealed my fate forever. My best years have all flown by, The Golden Age of Leather.”

When it comes to Leather/kink/BDSM /fetish, I am decidedly yesterday. Together we are today, and tomorrow, who knows? If the Mayans are right, it won’t matter much. But take it from someone who was part of the Woodstock generation…there are special moments in life when it all comes together, and when that happens it’s magical…and, if we’re lucky, this will be the time and the place for magic. So go. There’s magic to do. Do it! Go and make your magic.

Thank you all, and enjoy the weekend!