MEMBER ARTICLE: This, Too, is Leather

MEMBER ARTICLE: This, Too, is Leather

from Recon News

20 December 2021

By PupNoorJahan

Often, supportive kinksters of all stripes take a look at me and say something like, "love the visibility you bring!" or similar. I appreciate these accolades, certainly. But I do not dress in this gear and speak my Adaabs and Salams or Inshallahs or wah-ji-wahs merely because it makes me visible.

Instead, I aim to show that this, too, is Leather. Leather, particularly Gay Leather, draws upon a distinctly white, often Christian (whether intended or not) worldview to inform its underpinnings, mores, practices, and ways of being. This, of course, is to be expected from a subculture created in post-war America by returning soldiers traumatized by a world war. Indeed, I am not even saying it was intentional. That Leather is white is almost a given. That is the nature of men, to draw upon what they know, without being aware of its shapes, origins, boundaries, and spacetimes.

A buzzword for that is privilege. I come to Leather as an interloper. Brown, trans, non-binary, scrawny, a touch fem, Muslim, many other things. I draw upon these things with the same blasé and irreverence as the kilts, Muir caps, Nordic names, and other sartorial expressions of Leather. I could tell you epic tales of the "meanings" of fan turbans, puffy jodhpurs, fly whisks, and black eyeliner. You smoke your cigars, and I'll puff away merrily at my hookah. This, too, is Leather.

What I mean to say is, there is indeed something beyond visibility. That is recognition, conversation, understanding, and an ability to admit "I do not know everything." If no Leatherperson can be expected to know, master, and let alone enjoy every kink, then I do not think any one of us can definitively say this is Leather and that is not. Rather, I believe there is a such thing as Leather, but it functions as an assembled gathering of things, ideas, and practices entangled within space and time. As a result, it can be a generative place of intimacy and tenderness and not a defined by a boundary of hard edges that I must wedge myself into and then be "seen."


That white men assume the world as they "know" is "default" isn't a surprise. Knowledge, this worldview assumes, can be summarized. It's why we write abstracts and make news soundbites. But what I do find surprising is the idea that a lifeworld that "I know" is not taken to be an equal exchange but a presentation. Visibility, in this context, puts something on a screen for a seated audience to consume. It is, at best, a lecture but mostly feels like window dressing.

I had to put in much front-loaded effort to understand the Leather world. Some of this was to be expected, as joining an established subculture requires such things. I don't know everything and cannot hope to. But I also had to learn a new deployment of whiteness and "maleness" that was more or less unspoken, but nonetheless assumed to be there as part of Leather.

As a result, I do not merely aim to be on display per se. I aim to be as much of an assemblage of symbols, nods, hints, and winks to power, play, and their porous boundaries as the combo of a cap, gloves, boots, vest, and pants are. A turban stands as a "masculine" garment; its stiffened folds directly recall the phallus, transposed to the head. It can also be doffed or even knocked off the head, falling at the feet of one I consider a worthy Dominant.

Delicate gold hathphool, caressing the fingers like harnesses, remind me and others that, at some point, these hands have others do work for them. They are "feminine" adornments, however, with wilting brides showcasing them in wedding albums. Or another: black-rimmed eyes hiding behind dark glasses are not merely a direct reference to the imagery Leathermen know, but a reminder that the status of The Image and The Gaze hold immense power in Desi culture.

They are also a gender-neutral beauty ritual, with the Persian poets' lithe loverboys and Bollywood girlfriends all sporting intoxicating dark eyes. Deeply Islamicate in its reference, it marks in pigment something often left unsaid. In the words of a famous Bollywood song, "Teer-e-Nazar dekhenge, zakhm-e jigar dekhenge" ("I shall see arrows from your glances, I shall see the wounds of my heart").

These references, I expect, will take some people the amount of effort it took me to understand the hints, winks and nods already present in Leather. Though that may be a challenge, I don't think Leatherfolks can be called lazy, and learning new things has always been a thing we do. For instance, people tell me my name is "difficult" to pronounce, despite being three syllables in total and containing no diacritics, accent marks, or other symbols. So be it on you, then.

Putting in work is something that non-white, non-male people are expected to do daily. Brown people learn about whiteness, and in turn, they may be visible. But this does not give either party a fair chance. It assumes whiteness is the default, yet also fragile. It assumes anything else can be in a space (that remains by-and-large white and male) but not interact in nor alter that space. That requires something beyond visibility, which still burdens non-white people to be "seen" and does not demand much of the assumed hungry audience.

Wells, Dungeons, and Other Dark, Wonderful places

I could describe every portion of my gear in these terms. Just as I imagine any Leatherperson could. So what I aim to do, then, is to show this, too, is Leather. Power, sex, sexuality, gender, and their strange, terrifyingly temptingly erotic mixture come from many wells. When one dips into a well, the water is already influenced by the minerals that surround it, the cup one plunks down, and the long paths that substance had to take before ever ending up there in the first place. I merely wish to say: there are other wells. Equally sweet. They may contain mourners on Muharram beating themselves bloody, the Last King of Awadh spreading hot ashes over devotees, and many other substances now called Leather.

One can also walk down (or up) the stairs to a dungeon and immerse oneself in similar waters. I have often dreamed of bringing a Dominant a bowl of rosewater on a tray filled with incense as a welcome to a scene—just as imbued with power and ritual as the Oldest of Old Guard protocols. I am not merely here to be seen. Many things are Leather.

The reaction of "visibility!" feels like a response to a need because, in a manner of speaking, it is. But visibility does not provide an exchange of people, ideas, and bodies on a similar footing. That requires engaging, conversation, and going to what can be the darkest place of all, our own assumptions.

For example, a brief story, if you will. Once at a fetish-ish party, a man spent a long time asking about another man's traditional tartan kilt and Scottish heritage. Upon turning to me, he excitedly and eagerly asked what my sartorial expression meant. I tried two approaches, one where I launched into my family history, already assuming he knew about the Pathans of Jalandhar, the migration patterns of Indo-Europeans back and forth across the rivers of Punjab and the Hindu Kush, South Asian politics pre-and post-partition..., y'know, all the things "everyone knows." I also tried using the tartans of the previous man as a metaphor, explaining that my family, too, and by extension, a people I can trace, nod to their land, place, space, and time in what they wear and how. I am not sure which was more effective, perhaps a mixture of both?

What comes after visibility, then, is a transformation. We are never the same having interacted with anyone, and I am thankful for that. Similarly, Leather, whatever it may be, cannot stay the same after flowing across, in, and around us. I do not wish to merely be a collection of fired arrows, of piercing gazes, but an integral part of this narrative.

It is not merely that I wish to say "here I am." These are invitations to deeper understanding and solidarity. Small gifts of a chance to glimpse another world. This, too, is Leather. So, meri jaan, sit down, take a paan leaf, let me show you the wonder.

Photo: Boy Spence

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