Guest writer Boy Dustin writes about his leather journey as “One boy’s International Experience” that started in 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. His journey now leads to Cardiff for Pride Cymru to join the men of LeatherWest, and reflecting on the weekend, he just says “keep calm and leather on”.
Several weeks ago I met a few leather men when I briefly visited Cardiff. It was the first time in quite a long time since I had been in the company of leather men, let alone ONE leather man. Upon meeting these men, I became excited! They invited me to join them for Cardiff Pride weekend, and invited me to march with their group, LeatherWest, in the parade.
For once, I did not let fear take control. I agreed to join them. However, in the weeks leading up to the event, I became more and more anxious. As the day drew near, I began to talk myself out of going. I came up with all kinds of excuses like: “I don’t know anyone”, “my new leather gear is not going to be here in time” and “I wouldn’t fit in”, “I don’t want to embarrass myself or the people I am walking with”.
This went on for days.
But there was a deep part of me that was yearning to go, to reconnect and to take a chance. It was then that I said to myself: “If not now, when?” This could continue for years I was telling myself. Then I asked myself: “What is the worst that could happen?”. I came to this conclusion: I don’t have a good time and I come home—no harm, no foul? I kicked myself in the ass and went. I made a post on Facebook about going and I was greeted with words of encouragement, support and well wishes.
Friday night, I arrived in Cardiff pretty late. I went to bed that night feeling uneasy, anxious and afraid. As morning came, I took a deep breath and basically told myself to “keep calm and leather on.”
My friend proceeded to tell me that we were going to take the bus in! I was quite shocked at first. Wait – “we are going to grab the bus, in leather gear and go to the city centre for the parade???” Was he joking?! I’ve never in 15 years of being into leather taken public transportation in leather gear, much less been public with leather gear on. I was very uncomfortable. But comfort levels are meant to be broken, right? Isn’t that what the power exchange is about—expanding limits, exploring the unknown?
We got on the bus and I was conscious of people looking. They weren’t staring but they were noticing these two leather clad men. As we got closer to the city centre, more and more people boarded and the more my anxiety increased. My friend was beside me and it just reminded me to “keep calm and leather on”.
Arriving in the city centre, we got off the bus and made our way to the parade starting point. I was surprised that we got encouraging comments from people as we walked. I saw people smiling and showing interest. Never during my time in the states did I experience this. Usually, leather was reserved to the gay areas of town. Cardiff didn’t exactly seem to have concentrated spots of “gayness.”
We reached parade-starting point and waited for the rest of the group to arrive. I must admit I was excited and nervous to meet these people. I mean men in leather are about the hottest thing there is in my opinion. I am sure you can relate, right? Slowly the men started arriving and my mouth started to drool! These men were insanely hot! They were the physical manifestations of all the men I saw pictured in the Drummer, LeatherMan, Honcho, Instigator and Powerplay magazines that I snuck into my room as a young teenager. But what mattered most is that these leather men were kind, warm, friendly, and enthusiastic. They embraced me and befriended me.
The parade began and we wound our way through the city centre greeted by loud and proud pride goers! Smiles greeted us, people whooped and hollered, cheering and rushed forward to take photographs with these leather men. I was surprised by the amazing response of these people! Is this what I have been missing? I still felt like an outsider but the men around me smiled and encouraged me onward. Finally, the parade reached the end and we were directed to a field next to Cardiff Castle. The group began to disband and go in various directions—some were getting tickets, some were going through the gates to get to the booths, and some were just hanging out.
What I noticed though after getting my ticket is that the admirable leather men set up a place, where we could congregate for the afternoon. It gave some the opportunity to explore while others stayed behind, protecting their stuff or keeping our place. It was so endearing to see! This is brotherhood.
Slowly I got to know each individual more and more. These men were kind, hilariously funny, sexy and down to earth! They greeted me with open arms. They invited me to walk around with them. People were clamouring to have their photographs taken with the leather men. I must admit I wanted to take some photos too. I realized that I still didn’t feel like a leather man, I felt like an outsider looking in, wanting desperately to be a part, wanting desperately to look the part. But as the afternoon wore on, slowly I began to come to the realization that these men accepted me for me. We were connecting; we were sharing in the experience. We shared jokes and laughs. We talked about leather and gear. We became friends, but I feel like we became brothers. As afternoon turned to evening, and evening gave way to night, we began to get restless and so we all ventured back to our respective places to have a rest before we headed out for dinner. Oh dinner, I thought? This was another first and a new step for me: dining in public in leather gear!
We made our way to dinner at Viva Brazil and we received looks of curiousness and side-glances from people afraid too make eye contact. But I was surprised at how at ease I felt. We were shown to our table and proceeded with the business of ordering our dinner. Dinner was delicious. There were a few people who came up to our table, including one sweet woman, wanting to have their pictures taken with us. The woman looked down at me and asked me did I have a leather hat like the others. I shyly shook my head and apologized. She motioned towards the pair of glasses lying next to me and said put those on; you will look hot in that! I blushed and in that moment, it hit me.
She considered me one of these leathermen!
Maybe I was. It was a powerful moment.
As she left, we resumed our discussions. I sat next to my friend and he leaned over and asked me if I was having a good time? And for the first time, I was speechless. I nodded my head. He proceeded to tell me that as he looked around the table, he could not help but be overwhelmed by the admiration and love for these individuals around the table. He looked at me and said, “you too!” I was taken aback and completely surprised by his declaration, because I was in awe of him. I told him that he was right. It was a table full of incredible and wonderful people and we are lucky: lucky to have this moment, this chance, this memory surrounded by kind and caring people! And we were lucky to be touched by these rare and extraordinary leather men!
As the night went on, the conversations flowed like fine wine, stronger with each glass. It was comfortable, friendly and yet unusual. I continued to learn about these incredibly unique men each having a story of their own, each sharing a piece of their journey with me. Strong, honourable characters, warm souls and a loving embrace surrounded me. Again, the question that rose to the forefront of my mind was: is that what I have been missing?
As we finished our dinner, we began to make our way to our final destination of the evening; the Eagle! As I walked towards the Eagle, leather arms surrounded my shoulders, as these two new friends embraced me and we walked like this through the streets of Cardiff chattering away. It was an unforgettable moment! The Eagle was packed and everyone was smiling, celebrating this wonderful pride weekend. The group headed towards the outdoor space and motioned me to come with them. I followed and we continued to talk, to laugh, and to share in this experience. I didn’t want this to end.
The end of the night proved to be hard. As I got up to go back to my friend’s flat where I was staying, each individual from the group hugged me. Each one thanked me for coming, said they enjoyed my company, to come back and see them again and keep in touch! Many of them said they would see me again soon!
So the moral or lesson of the story is what?
DON’T BE AFRAID! KEEP CALM! LEATHER ON!
Barbara De Angelis once wrote: “The journey in between who you once were and who you are now becoming, is where the dance of life takes place.” And trust me, its a dance worth having!
The leather world and the various communities are not all about a certain type or look, a specific training, or having a specified uniform of gear. I have learned it’s about connecting with people with similar interests and who will embrace you for you!
I can’t promise that every place will be like Cardiff. I can’t promise that you won’t have negative experiences within the leather community! I can, however, promise you that there is a place where you belong and you do fit in. I can most certainly say that LeatherWest is one group that will welcome you and change your perspective of what its like to be with other leather men! It transformed me and it made me see the world, especially the leather world, in a new way.
As I returned home the next day, I replayed the whole weekend in my mind. It didn’t seem real. When I saw messages from the other individuals from the weekend about how much they enjoyed it and thanking me for being a part of it, I just shook my head; because what these wonderful leather men do not know is that they healed me.
I am the one who was grateful, who enjoyed their company, and was grateful for this life affirming moment. These men gave me back a piece of me that was missing. They encouraged me and helped me to be who I am and they made me feel a part of something greater. These wonderful friends, incredible brothers, these leather men of LeatherWest helped me find a home and a place to belong within the leather community; a place where I hope to dwell and thrive for a long time to come.
Read part one here of Boy Dustin’s journey from his roots in deepest Georgia, in the heart of the Southern United States.