With a title like "Diary of a Leatherman", you'd want to hope I'd get to explaining this part early on.
Leather is a complex topic. Many think it's simply about the fabric, many think it's just a synonym for kinkster, while for many "Leather" refers to a strict, protocol based lifestyle that was born out of returning gay WWII soldiers in the 40s and 50s.
Personally I think they're all right, but then, this is often my attitude towards these types of things (I feel the same about religion).
But this isn't about them, it's about me.
It is only relatively recently that I have begun calling myself a Leather man, and begun identifying myself with Leather. In order to explain it, I think we'll need to cover a little history.
Before I turned 18, I already knew that I was kinky, that I wanted to live this lifestyle. Of course you can't do anything about it before you are 18, aside from playing privately with your partners. So that's what I did - I played with my partners, and I read books and articles on the internet.
The internet was a lot smaller back then, but it was still big enough for me to find the information I craved. I read safety notes, "how to" articles, journal entries, anything I could find. I snuck into sex stores that I knew wouldn't ask for my ID so I could buy floggers, collars, handcuffs. Then I took those toys home, and using the information that I had gleaned from the internet, I practiced. I practiced flogging on pillows, I would tie up chairs and pillows with rope.
For the mental side of it, I would roleplay. I would get into online roleplaying games and roleplay Master/slave relationships, using them to explore this world that I was so drawn to.
I would play with my partners - only things I was confident in, slowly increasing the complexity and intensity of toys, words, voice, play.
By the time I turned 18, I was ready to burst out onto the public scene - and I did. Now, I did so as part of a couple - I had a girl at the time, and we would go out together. Because we were a couple and we already had some idea what we were doing (so we were not complete newbies), we had a lot of trouble making friends. It's very difficult to get to know people when you first enter the scene if you are in a couple and you are not incredibly new to BDSM. So it actually took a few years before people started recognizing me around the scene - but anyway, that's getting off topic.
So for a long time, I identified simply as a kinkster, as a dom.
However, my voracious appetite for learning and reading did not stop at 18. I continued buying books (many of which, unfortunately, I no longer have) and I continued reading everything I could find on the internet.
I can't remember how old I was when I first heard about Leather as a lifestyle. It was probably via googling the term "old guard" - goodness knows you see that term everywhere around places like collarme and bondage.com and such, mostly used by people who have no idea what it actually means.
So I began to learn about Leather. I found it intriguing, yet somehow intimidating. It was so full of rules and protocols and "the right way to do things"... it took a long time for me to stop being afraid of Leather.
As you might have gathered from my history, I was not trained in the old ways, in the old protocols. And generally, this has always been the thing that stopped me from identifying as Leather - even when I was utilizing much of its philosophy and traditions myself. I did not want to step on toes. I did not want to offend anyone by identifying as Leather when I had not gone through the same beginnings as they had.
So you're probably wondering what changed my mind.
A few things happened. Let's take a look at them.
First, there is another aspect to my personal history that is relevant here. I grew up being very involved with martial arts, and when I switched styles at age 12 (from GKR Karate to Okinawan Goju-ryu Karate-do) I found the most incredible teacher.
His name was David Lambert, and he was the highest grade black belt in Australia, as well as the regional Master.
To me, he was and always will simply be "Sensei".
Sensei's classes were nothing at all like what I was used to. While there was certainly a lot of formality and serious business, he smiled and laughed and talked with his students. He taught us personally, with special care and interest in each and every one of us. He took very good care of me, coming to teach me not only martial arts but also much about life. He was my mentor.
He was also the most caring, sadistic and powerful dominant anyone could ever ask for.
Of course I did not know this at the time - indeed, it took many years later for me to realize what had happened. At the tender age of 12 I had found my Master. I lived and died on his words, he pushed me until I feared I could go no further, only for him to show me that I could go further after all. He showed me what I was capable of, he kept me grounded, he beat me and held me and it was all too magnificent for me to describe here. Anyone who has learnt martial arts in a very traditional way will know exactly what it was like.
Leather lifestyle was built vaguely on a military foundation. Well, the only place in the world as military as the actual military is a martial arts Master's dojo.
Sadly I lost Sensei to cancer some years ago now, but he still lives on in my memory.
However, my background in martial arts, when I compare it to taking the first steps into Leather... are not all that different. That was one of the pieces that made me realize that perhaps I was more Leather than I thought.
To get back a little closer to home, the other thing that happened was that I started socializing with more Leather people. Those found in the kink scene, those found in the queer scene. I met them, I talked with them. I watched them and their relationships and their journeys.
I realized I wasn't that different from them.
So, it took a very long time, but through looking at myself, my past, and at others, and at the past stories from Leather men before me, I gradually began to see that I was Leather.
Now here is where we get to something important.
I am not, nor do I particularly wish to be, "Old Guard". I have come from a different source, and I am walking a different journey, to the old guard ways.
I am "New Leather". Not only am I all right with this, I am actually very pleased with it. I am forging my own path, that happens to coincide with Leather ideas and philosophy.
So after a very long history lesson, we come back to the title of this post - what Leather means to me.
In karate, we had a set of rules - called "dojo kun" (loosely, "school rules"). This is what they say:
Train in mind and body.
Practice daily and protect traditional karate.
Strive to reach the essence of Goju Ryu.
Never give up.
You can apply "dojo kun" to Leather. Leather, to me, means respecting others, being courageous, constantly aiming to improve yourself, living the lifestyle, serving the community, always finding the meaning and spirituality in Leather, and never giving up.
About karate, Sensei would say, "Karate is not a sport. It is a way of life."
Leather is a set of protocols, yes. But is it also a way of life.