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"Is Leather Dead? Does It Need to Die?"

  • LGBT Community Center 1800 Market St San Francisco, CA, 94102 United States (map)

A panel discussion with: Guy Baldwin, Race Bannon, Gayle Rubin & Michael Thorn

Even as the brick-and-mortar institutions of leather – leather bars, clubs, retailers – become more scarce, the robustness of virtual venues as various as Recon and is evidence there are more kinky gay men than ever before, with an online reach that is both much broader than Folsom Street and more immediate in finding partners to satisfy our specific tastes than flagging ever was.

But can you call it a “community” when there’s nobody there but you and your iPhone and a knock on the door later on if you get lucky? And if you don’t, hey, there’s no “last call” on the internet...

So what about capital-L Leather? Was it just a precursor, the 8-track player of kinky gay sex, and now has morphed into something we don’t have a label for? Or was it and does it remain something separate and vital, with its codes and traditions and veneration of masculinity?

Has it just changed neighborhoods, belonging now to leatherdykes and the pansexual scene – to the relief of gay men weary of black leather and its hyperbutch insistence, who want to play with a rainbow of fetishes (sports gear, neoprene, pantyhose) and not be named by them? Or are we thinking of those very same guys when we say “leather” these days?

Join us for a discussion of Leather’s past, present and cloudy future, with a panel of some of the most celebrated names in kink:

GAYLE RUBIN is a scholar and activist who was one of the founders of Samois, the first lesbian SM support group, in 1978. She has been conducting research on leather culture and history since the late 1970s, and has been deeply involved in the preservation of leather archives and artifacts. She served on the Board of Directors of the Leather Archives and Museum from 1992 to 2000 and has helped build the leather collections of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Historical Society (GLBTHS). In 1991, she became the first woman to judge a major national gay male title contest (Mr. Drummer). In 2000 Rubin received the National Leather Association Lifetime Achievement Award and was selected by the Leather Archives & Museum as a “Centurion” – one of twenty in the 20th century recognized for outstanding contributions to Leather.

Rubin is a college professor who teaches classes in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender studies. Soon to be added to her distinguished list of publications are the forthcoming books DEVIATIONS: SEX, GENDER AND POLITICS (Fall 2011) and VALLEY OF THE KINGS: LEATHERMEN IN SAN FRANCISCO, 1960-1990 (for 2012), which has already been hailed as the most authoritative history of gay male leather in San Francisco.

RACE BANNON has been exploring nontraditional sex since 1973 as an organizer, educator, commentator, activist and leader. With Guy Baldwin he founded the Kink-Aware Professionals directory (now managed by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom) and initiated The DSM Project, a grassroots coalition dedicated to changing the way psychotherapeutic professionals view BDSM and its practitioners. He is author of the best-selling classic LEARNING THE ROPES: A BASIC GUIDE TO SAFE AND FUN SM LOVEMAKING, and founder of Daedalus Publishing, the first publishing house dedicated to non-fiction books about leather/SM/fetish sexuality.

Among his many honors and distinctions are the Mister Marcus Hernandez Lifetime Achievement Pantheon of Leather Community Service Award in 2010 and the National Leather Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. He is known to thousands in the U.S. and beyond from his nearly 400 speaking engagements. He currently sits on the boards of the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities (CARAS) and the Leather Hall of Fame.

MICHAEL THORN has been active in the leather community for over 22 years, slinging drinks at the AAMeatMarket and the Chicago Eagle, hosting Crowbar’s big gay night and producing IML’s Post-Award Party at Kaboom, blacking boots alongside Harry Shattuck and managing Der Stiefelknecht (“The Bootjack”) in Vienna, selling for Mr S. and helping to launch Fort Troff, giving a keynote address at the Leather Leadership Conference 2008 here in San Francisco.

As editor-in-chief of INSTIGATOR magazine for the past eight years, he is in daily contact with leather “retailers, clubs, bars, promoters, non-profits, studios, porn stars, websites, local rags, community leaders, coalitions fending off the Justice Department, craftsmen, writers, artists, and a freakishly devoted readership” in 52 countries around the world.

GUY BALDWIN – leatherman, author, activist and pioneering psychotherapist – has worked clinically with erotically uncommon clients for the last 30 years. An acclaimed speaker, he has delivered keynote addresses for the Leather Leadership Conference, the International Master/slave Weekend & South Plains Leatherfest, the “Living in Leather” convention of the National Leather Association, the Austin Bash and the Dominion Gathering, to name a few. Of his published work, he is perhaps best known for his essays in DRUMMER magazine, many of which were collected in his 1993 book, TIES THAT BIND. His 2002 SLAVECRAFT, now in its fourth printing, offers a compelling and controversial look at the inner dynamics of erotic servitude in the Master/slave dynamic.

In 1989, he was selected Mr. National Leather Association and the 11th International Mr. Leather, and is the only person ever to hold both titles concurrently. He has been awarded both the Pantheon and Dominion Lifetime Achievement Awards, and in 2000 was named “Centurion” by the Leather Archives & Museum – one of twenty in the 20th century recognized for outstanding contributions to Leather. He was among the first inductees to the Society of Janus Hall Of Fame in 2004 and received the first Master/slave Heritage Award at the 2009 Master/slave Conference. In 2008 he received the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s third-ever “Leather Leadership Award,” in recognition of his lifelong commitment to the leather community.

LDG programs start promptly at 7:30 p.m. We advise arriving early as seating is limited.

And after the program, we invite you to continue the conversation with us and other attendees while patronizing any or all of our sponsors providing refreshments Wednesday evening:


PLEASE NOTE: the program will be video-recorded by LDG. No other recording devices will be permitted. Watch our website for information about availability of the video and/or a transcript. Thanks for your patience.