As one year ends and another begins, we all think about what the next 12 months might bring. For us, 2017 is a year to be optimistic and to look forward with confidence.

We are all very good at moaning (the British have turned it into an artform). However, we are far less good at identifying reasons to be happy.  Normally, moaning is a good thing; moaning is more fun. Whinging and moaning for many is more enjoyable – both to write and to read, say and hear. But, it’s the season of goodwill and, for all the horrible and surprising things that have happened in 2016, we believe there are reasons to be optimistic in 2017.

The Leather Community is Growing

While we have faced the sad news in 2016 of more venues closing their doors, the truth of the matter is there are more gay men interested in leather than ever before. Take a look online at the numbers of guys joining Recon, Scruff, who are declaring an interest in leather. Granted many of them may not be the traditional “hard core” leathermen and may just be looking to don a harness every now and again. But the fact is, guys are seeing leather as part of their identity and some of these will develop a more serious interest in leather as they find out more. It is the responsibility of the established leathermen to be there to help welcome and support newcomers. The Leather Community may no longer have a stronghold in bars and clubs, but it is growing elsewhere.

The Leather World is Evolving

Nothing stays the same, everything changes in time. In the leatherworld, we are seeing an evolution of styles and practices – meaning that we can enjoy fresh, new and exciting fetish ideas. 2015 through to 2016 saw a huge rise in the popularity of the Pup culture. 2017 is likely to see this trend continue and I predict a growing emergence of leather Steampunk in our community. The traditional leathermen will always be a part of our world and culture – indeed, the leather uniformed guy is the ultimate symbol of our culture. However, we will see a broadening of the tribes of leather alongside the creative ways in which we derive pleasure from leather.

Leathermen are More Visible

At the start of the leather community, leathermen were on the edge of the scene – often feared, misunderstood and surrounded by an air of mystery and danger. Over time, leathermen have become a more accepted and included part of the LGBT community. Now, I don’t think anyone would want leathermen to be seen as ‘mainstream’ but being a more visible part of the gay community means that our lifestyle and choices are easier to pursue. By being seen, by being “out and proud” leathermen are challenging the rising tide of heteronormative perceptions towards the LGBT community, helping to develop an understanding of our needs. This in turn means that we no longer have to hide away in the shadows and can legitimately request the same level of respect, services and access that others LGBT members receive.

Leathermen are More Confident

On of the most noticeable effects of the changes mentioned above, is the growing confidence of members of our community. There is a much more noticeable confidence flowing through our community and individual members are often seen proudly declaring their interests and leather lifestyle. This confidence is also reflected in the companies and organisations that are investing time and money into our community. 2016 saw an enormous amount of effort to promote and support leathermen right across the world in many different ways – from new events and activities through to campaigns and high profile title holders.

We can Overcome Challenges

We start 2017 knowing that the year will contain many challenges in many areas of our lives. The impact of the changing political and economic world will inevitably have an effect on the leather community and the LGBT community as a whole. The impact might manifest itself in many ways – as a reduction in grant funding made available to projects that benefit us; as changes in how other receive and perceive us; or maybe as a regression in equality and acceptance. However, these challenges are ones we can overcome because we have overcome them before. With a strong, growing and confident community, we can ensure our voices are heard and our lifestyles accepted.

So enter 2017 with conviction, with pride and above all optimism. After all, if we don’t, the pessimists and naysayers will be right – and we can’t have that!