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San Francisco Leathermen's Discussion Group

San Francisco Leathermen’s Discussion Group 15th Anniversary (December 17, 2011 — RACE BANNON)

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Good afternoon. Welcome to what I personally consider to be an event that marks an extremely important milestone in our local kink and leather scene. I think it’s safe to say that LDG has established itself as one of the more important education and social resources within our community here in San Francisco. I’d like to add my thanks and congratulations to everyone who has been involved in making LDG the successful and highly valued institution that it’s become. I must admit I found it somewhat amusing when I was told that the history of LDG began in 1996 when Salem Bucholz organized a few guys to get together to discuss kinky topics and that erotic Greek vases was among the first of those topics. Yes, LDG was born, in part, from a discussion about erotic Greek vases. I think that’s sorta cool, and it’s illustrative of the fact that you never quite know where something you start is going to go. So if you have an idea for something that might benefit the kinky community, take inspiration from LDG and go for it. Salem, along with Alan Selby, who led the first LDG discussion meeting by the way, Don Thompson and perhaps others whom I’m neglecting to mention, started something incredibly special that we are here today to celebrate.

I was told that the original vision Salem had was to get guys together to talk about something within the kink spectrum while also fostering camaraderie outside of the bars. In that sense, perhaps he was prescient in seeing what we now so clearly know – that we must foster socializing opportunities outside of the bars that had formerly served as one of our primary central meeting places. LDG serves as one of those great socializing opportunities that also educates and informs us at the same time.

Rather quickly the casually organized group morphed into a discussion group tackling a broad range of topics that spanned the entire realm of leather and kink. Education had become its focus and by around 1997-1998 it was well established that education would remain its primary focus as it is today.

LDG has since had a wonderful history of people who have taken it upon themselves to continue as the driving forces behind LDG. I could begin to name names, but I fear I will miss someone and there are a lot of important people who have contributed to LDG along the way. Some in big ways, some in small ways, but valued contributions all. I think I speak for everyone in this room when I say thanks to all of you, every single person, for helping to continue this tradition of discussion, learning and community that LDG has become.

The true impact that LDG has had upon the community isn’t necessarily best represented by how long it’s been around or how many discussions or presentations it’s hosted, but rather the impact it’s had on the people who attend LDG events. And LDG has impacted many lives in profoundly positive ways. I asked some people if they would share with me how LDG has benefited them and they generously did so. Out of respect for their privacy I’m not going to name names, but they represent a diverse cross-section of the people I’ve seen attending LDG events over the years.

One of the most moving comments came from someone who said “I guess for me, LDG is giving me sort of what feels like a 'last hope' in making my dream of being a leather boy come true.”

Think about that statement for a moment. My “last hope.” I saw this person at a recent LDG event and I could see how engaged they were with the presentation, and LDG may be responsible for this person staying within our fold when he might otherwise have left in frustration. How amazing is that?

Another person told me that “LDG has been, for me, a symbol of what I think community organizing should be at its best. Over the past couple of years I have witnessed their dedication to camaraderie, members building relationships that bring amazing opportunities for the group and the larger community, a deep respect for history but not at the expense of including new ways of thinking, and an understanding of the power of marketing. This is in sharp contrast to what many other groups suffer from – in-fighting, officers that are over-committed, and disrespectful communication.” And they added “Thank you to LDG for setting the bar high and giving the rest of us something to aspire to.”

I think that clearly pays homage not only to the founders and subsequent stewards of LDG through the years, but also to the current folks managing LDG who are doing such a great job. You do give us something to aspire to.

Someone else gave me a bit of background on himself and I think that his background clearly illustrates why LDG’s inclusiveness of newbies and the curious is so important, and then he mentions why LDG is so important to him. His story is worth hearing.

“When I came to San Francisco in my mid-twenties I’d been playing in leather and kink for a few years. When I turned 21, I hit every old-school guy’s bar and leather bar available. I didn’t own, and couldn’t afford, any leather but I’d heard that tight 501s, white tee-shirts, and boots were acceptable gear for boys. That’s all I had, so for many years, that’s what I wore. Eventually, I saved to buy my first belt, which ended up being used on me a lot.” Then he joked that he wished it hadn’t taken him so long to buy that damn belt!

“Moving to San Francisco was a dream. I was a kinky hippie. Where else should I be? I hit the ground running, horny, hot, and ready to find men who would work me over. I guess I started really playing here in 1995 by swallowing the nervous lump in my throat and finally taking out ads in the Bay Area Reporter. The more I played, the more I wanted to play but, again, it was without community or guidance or fellowship. At that age, whether I knew it consciously or not, I was hungry for community.”

“I really don’t remember where I first heard of LDG, but I think it actually was an ad in the Bay Area Reporter. This was probably around 1996 or 1997. I remember going to a lot of LDG meetings. I felt like such a newbie and I was, a newbie in the community I’d been hoping I’d find eventually. I made so many friends at LDG meetings and after many meetings we’d hit SOMA Leather bars for a drink and cruise guys.”

He mentions that due to scheduling conflicts he as away from LDG for a couple of years. His schedule freed up and he said: “LDG was the family, the group, the organization I came right back to. LDG will always be my home base, no matter where I go or whatever organizations and clubs I may feel a part of or support. LDG is home… it has been since I moved here.”

Home. To call something your home is a powerful and telling statement. What is a home? It is a place where you “live,” and I contend that LDG offers the kinky folks of San Francisco just that – a place where they can truly live and be who they are in a safe, caring and nonjudgmental atmosphere. The value of that cannot be emphasized enough.

Lastly, in addition to asking people who attended LDG events for their thoughts, I also asked some of the key people who were involved as LDG organizers for their thoughts. One stood out in particular from someone with heavy involvement in the early years of LDG.

“Through all the blood, sweat, and occasional conflict that it took to keep LDG surviving through its 15 years, and despite our different perspectives and experiences, it is undeniable that all the people who have committed so much time and energy over our history have shared a common vision. That common vision was that the San Francisco Bay Area leather scene would be stronger and more cohesive through what we created and have maintained – an organization that could foster community, teaching, learning, hands-on, and sometimes hands-in, kinky experiences for both newcomers and experienced players. And we all shared the realization that unless each and every one of us stepped up and got the job done week after week, we would feel like we had let our community down. For all of us, that was simply unacceptable, and it remains unacceptable to those who are carrying the torch now. We should all refuse to accept that a leather capital like San Francisco can ever lose an asset like LDG – luckily, it seems we don’t have anything to worry about.”

Let me add to this person’s commentary and say that based on my observations of LDG lately, that person is correct that we don’t have anything to worry about. The recent history of LDG suggests that it’s serving the needs of San Francisco’s leather and kink community admirably and the popularity of recent events suggests they are reaching out and engaging some folks who perhaps haven’t always felt part of our community.

There is an old Kenyan proverb that states “Having a good discussion is like having riches.” LDG is one of those elements of riches that we in the San Francisco Bay Area get to enjoy over and over because of great people who give a damn that the rest of us have the fulfilling and enjoyable kinky lives we want and often need.

To everyone in this room who had or has anything to do with organizing LDG, I thank you on behalf of the countless folks you’ve helped over the years. To those who are no longer with us, but have done the same, you are in my thoughts and you have our collective thanks. And to those here today, and those not here today, who attend LDG events, it is you who make the discussions and presentations come alive. Keep coming to LDG events. It feeds the kinky soul.

Congratulations to LDG on 15 wonderful years. As for the future of LDG, I hope I’m at their 20th, 25th and 30th anniversary events because I think it is more important than ever to maintain things like LDG’s education and discussion events. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can replace the power that face-to-face discussion and communal learning has to empower and bond people.

Thank you for your time.

Race Bannon at bannon.com