Guest writer, James, a leather man in Reading, inspired by ‘Leather On Parade’ at Prides across the LeatherWest region this Summer, reports back from the first ever organised leather presence in Reading, where he was invited up on-stage to address five thousand festival goers.
Well what can I say! Where do I begin? I made the call to my leather brothers. And you answered it. That call was to invite my leather brothers to join me at this year’s Reading Pride Parade and Festival and have the first ever organised leather presence.
Being in Reading, it’s difficult to meet other leather men. Situated between the leather centres London and Bristol you either have to drive along the M4 East or West (so no Dutch courage on arrival) or travel at cost somewhere all geared-up.
Recon and Fetishmen.com have been a godsend but many of the guys you meet are after quickie hook-ups where the leather (and that usually means a ‘jock and harness’) stays on for an hour – if you’re lucky. Don’t get me wrong, I like fun just as much as the next guy but there’s also a lot to be said for socialising with the leather community where it’s more than just sex. We all need community!
So that’s why I was determined to get leather put on parade at Reading Pride. To start to build a leather community here along the M4 corridor and to finally out myself as a leather man.
Having been admiring LeatherWest for organising ‘Leather on Parade’ at Prides throughout the West, the South West and Wales this Summer, at Birmingham, Bristol, Bournemouth and Cardiff, I decided that we could do this for Reading Pride too. Strange I guess for someone who has only ever worn leather as part of a village people costume at this year’s London Pride parade. It was liberating – even if it was a toned down cathartic moment!
So, fast forward to the actual day of Reading Pride, I left home in full leathers and caught the number 40 bus from the South Reading suburbs to meet these “leather troopers” outside Reading Station.
Now I had a bit of a cunning plan. I went with some straight friends and as usually I was to accompany them as the leather man from the village people. Really, I needn’t have used this story as on the bus ride to the station, I was steadfastly informed that they all knew I was a leather man and that they thought the only thing I was missing was a big fat cigar!
So in my friends eyes I was a leather man! I just hoped the leather men coming to join me would accept me as one too.
I’m sure you’ll all remember the first time you went out in public kitted-up in full leather? Remember that mixture of nerves and excitement and a little bit of horny – call it a ‘twang’! To be honest though, the walk to the parade assembly point thorough Reading’s Saturday morning shoppers was the longest walk imaginable! Hey guys, this isn’t Berlin at Folsom, this is Saturday morning in Reading! This is radical, ‘out-there’, ‘doing it’.
I have no idea what I was expecting when I was to meet-up with the Leather Troopers. I was surprised on arrival to meet the nicest and friendliest guys possible. Without their warmth I would have let my fears and my insecurities get in the way. Their support just dissolved away any hesitations I had. This was absolutely the right thing to do!
As we were waiting for the parade to start, Reading started to welcome the leather men. We posed for photographer after photographer to pictures taken. The local newspaper has taken some great photographs and I’ve never been so proud to stand alongside other leather men in my life. I just had this feeling that can be summed up in one word: liberation.
The parade soon started and I proudly held the leather pride flag high up in the air. The rest of the ‘village people ensemble’ I had arrived with started to move further ahead. I stayed with the other leather men – I knew that throughout the day I could mingle with both groups and finally be who I really am.
The big spin-off for me on the day was I even got to meet my room share for UK Leather Pride at Bristol in November!
Not only did I get to march as a leather man, I got to speak on stage at Reading Pride as a leather man too. I was asked to speak about hate crime, something sadly I have been a victim of. Then there is the irony: I was stood on that stage in full leather gear that was paid for by the person who committed the crime against me. Thanks mate!
So I came out in leather in front of the 5,000 people assembled.
I told the thousands in front of me that:
“…I believe that blatant is better than latent. After all, visibility is the biggest weapon we can use. And whether any one of us stands here in full drag, full leather or in a My Little Pony onesie, no one is a second class citizen…'”.
“There have been so many well publicised hate crimes but the legacy of these victims of hate crime is the changes that followed. We may all stand on the shoulders of that legacy but we are the shoulders that the next generation needs to stand on”.
“As gay men, we might have secured rights but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve secured acceptance and that’s why I believe in Pride Parades and Festivals and making sure that all our diverse communities work together to continue to celebrate diversity but also show that we are the beacon of hope for the future”.
I want to say a big thank you to the guys that came to Reading Pride. Terry came all the way from Norfolk, Nick from London and the local Berkshire leather men. You showed me that even though leather maybe on the outside, it’s the leather man that’s inside that counts. And we have values of trust, respect, honour and integrity.
This is the day I grew a set of balls. I took a chance and decided not to pursue a path lined with anxiety but took the tentative steps along a path that leads to a community that wears their hearts on the leathered sleeves.
Next stop UK Leather Pride in Bristol! If you see me, stop me, say hello, let’s grab a beer and build this leather community!
From the bottom of my leather heart: thank you.