Guest writer Boy Dustin writes about his leather journey as “One boy’s International Experience” that started in the deepest Georgia, in the heart of the Southern United States. Now living in the UK, pursuing his postgraduate degree, he’s a culture and history lover. He recounts about his recent visit to Cardiff for Pride Cymru to join the men of LeatherWest, leading him to say that they “encouraged me and helped me to be who I am and made me feel a part of something greater”.
The leather community and culture around the world is one that is diverse and unconventional, however, there is a popular, and rare almost myth-like creature within the community and that is the “hyper-butch, masculine leather man.”
Though there are men who fit this image, there are equally as many that do not. There is still the prevailing pressure and at times a fixation of conforming to this image. Having been in the community and culture for over 15 years now, I can say with certainty that the diversity of our community is indeed broad, various and unique. It is what makes it special. There are moments when we encounter this disconnect between what is the “ideal” and what is “real” and it causes many to feel like outsiders. Often times this discourages people from engaging, learning and trying to fit in with this unique and eye opening world.
So who am I? What gives me the right to say anything? What do I know?
Well, firstly, it boils down to the simple fact that I am someone who identifies with this culture and community surrounding leather, therefore making me a part of it. Secondly, I don’t presume to speak for everyone or to be an expert on the subject but I, like many others, have opinions and experiences that some might be able to relate to. It is my hope that someone else will see and read this and find the courage to be who they are, to get involved and to stand tall and proud despite what others may say around them. After all, the most important aspects of life are the connections we foster and develop!
I am a southerner from the U.S. I was born and raised in Georgia and grew up in strict, conservative, and religious background. I mean come on, I grew up in the heart of the Bible belt, where every year anti-gay protesters would congregate on street corners during pride parades and yell Bible passages, obscenities and slurs at us; where Sundays I would be afraid to go to Church for fear of being told I was going to hell; where road signs litter the side of the highway, reminding us of the abominations that we supposedly are. It would cause any young gay person to shy away from coming out or seek places where it was a little more accepted. But you can imagine what it was like for a gay kid who was into leather—rough as hell, and not in a good way!
I realized I was into leather in my early teens when I started gravitating towards men on television that wore leather, more specifically men in leather gloves. This was certainly something that was considered “wrong” among my family and friends when I was growing up. I struggled and had difficulty going in my late teenage years because I was tired of not being myself and bottling it all up. I remember hearing my family making comments about a movie with gay characters that were kissing. They said it was “disgusting” and I think in time I equated passion or deep feelings as wrong or “disgusting”. Especially the intense feelings I had about men in leather.
Early on, I railed against conventions and I did not fit into a particular box. I mean my own mother had difficulties trying to keep me in line, and I certainly received my share of what we call in the south as “ass whuppins.” Maybe that’s why my ass is so tough?
But I digress. When I came out at 19, I also came out into the leather scene in Atlanta. Atlanta has a distinct leather scene and fetish community that includes BDSM groups, pup play groups, leather bears and leather Masters and subs/slaves/boys (just to name a few). The leather scene has typically dominated and continues to dominate, the Eagle. The Heretic was once a leather hotspot in Atlanta and today; it’s a varied bar scene. Once, not too long ago, the now gone, Chamber was a source of the Atlanta gay leather and more general fetish scene.
Though this community was on my doorstep, I did not feel that I fit in nor was I welcomed. See I am a bigger guy, some would call me a bear, others, well there are a lot of different terms used to categorize me, but I am just a big guy. And big guys do not fit the mould or stereotype of a gay leather man. The Atlanta leather scene can be cliquey and it’s sometimes hard to penetrate that community. But with time and persistence it’s possible. We are known in the south for our southern hospitality but given the history of the leather community and culture in the states, it is easy to understand why that hospitality was lacking.
The leather culture in the states was an underground subculture in the late 1940s, after the soldiers came back from World War II, through to the 1980s. To be admitted or accepted in that community, you had to know someone, who knew someone and you had to be vetted for. There were a set of regulations, rules and standards, which had to be adhered and conformed to. This has pretty much been the customary way for many years.
This knowledge, history, methods and type of training (“earning your leathers”) became known as “Old Guard” and it is still in existence today. I respect “Old Guard” in many ways. I like the structure it provides and the formalities that it brings to awkward situations. Furthermore, I like the traditions and history while maintaining the code of “honour, integrity and respect.”
So, it is no surprise that my leather journey included my being trained in “Old Guard” customs. I am a leather boy (not to be confused with Marvel Comic’s Leather Boy!) and it is something that I identify with deeply. It’s a part of my everyday life, I even go by “boy dustin” on Facebook.
However, over time I have learned that your leather journey is what YOU make it. Make this journey about what you want it to be and engage in the aspects and principles that you feel comfortable with, because at the end of the day, you are only given one life! There are no “do-overs” or erasers. It’s about being your most authentic self and being happy with that.
It has taken me a long time to realize that but I am starting to understand it and apply it. I am by no means perfect! I wish I were stronger in some ways and more confident in others. I have made my fair share of mistakes and some I regret deeply. I have tried very hard to rectify those mistakes, to become a better man and boy.
Given the nature of my work, I do have to keep parts of my life separate because it could have repercussions. I am not ashamed by any means; in fact many of my colleagues know this private part of my life. Though I do long for a chance to not have to hide. There is a fear: a fear of not being “enough” or being discriminated against. It’s unfortunately the nature of our society today. But as a new and wonderful friend of mine wrote very recently, that by keeping ourselves consumed by the fear then its possible we are “condemning ourselves to the effects of repression and perhaps worse self-repression each time we leave the leather hanging up in the wardrobe.”
Slowly I am becoming my authentic self and I am starting to realize that I am someone who has grown and has a lot to offer to not only the world around me, but also the relationships I develop and ultimately the person I want to end up with. It’s an ever-evolving process. But I wasn’t always like this…in fact I am still struggling with these fears and the anxiety of not fitting with the ideal that society projects and sometimes the ideals and mindsets that our own community projects. So what has changed for me? Well, I think it has to do with my life altering decision to move to the UK and follow a dream!
These past few years, I have been working hard to be better and achieve my goals. After six years of working in fields where I was not getting anywhere, I decided to go back into academia. I had always wanted to live and study in the UK, and it was my dream to get my postgraduate degrees. Therefore, with the encouragement of one of my best friends, I decided to give it a shot. What did I have to lose right? What was the worst that could happen? They would say no and I was no worse off. It was this spark; this single, momentary, act, that would change everything! I was thrilled when I got accepted to two universities to pursue my Master’s degree. At the end of 2012, when I finished my Master of Arts degree, I was accepted into a PhD program.
My perceptions of what I was capable of and how I saw myself began to change. Yet, because of all my focus on my postgraduate degrees, I did not get much experience with the leather community and culture in the UK. Given my experiences in the states and how difficult it was, I decided to push this part of me into the background. Occasionally, I got to have discussions with leathermen here in the UK through the use of various media platforms including Recon, Facebook and apps. However, we can’t hide behind the Internet or the apps—there has to be a dialogue, a connection, a touch and experiences that only come through face-to-face interactions.
Yet through these discussions, I learned that the leather culture and community in the UK is very different! There are some populations of the community that do like and engage with “Old Guard” ways. There are some that don’t adhere to any philosophy but ascribe to a general ethos of the pleasure of leather. There are men that identify as SIRs/boys, Master/sub simultaneously. I have found that there is no right or wrong way to identify or be. But I still felt shy, insecure and unsure if I would fit in and wondered if I would ever find my place as well as someone to share it with. I never ventured out. The conventions of my childhood and youth as well as my fear stopped me from embracing what was there all along.
Why am I sharing this with you? Why am I using this article as a therapy session? Well, it’s pretty simple—this past weekend my world burst open like New Year’s fireworks show and I found hope! I found leather friends, camaraderie and a place where I was welcomed. The men that I had the extreme honour and pleasure of spending time with at Cardiff Pride inspired me and changed my perceptions. They also gave me—forgive the cliché—wings!
Read part two here of Boy Dustin’s journey and his adventure to Cardiff to join the men of LeatherWest at Pride Cymru-Cardiff.