When I was younger and I thought of the word 'fetish', my mind instantly went to leather. Leathermen in full gear. Aviators. A darkened, sinister room. Red lighting. A musky air. This was what the word conjured up for me. In truth, I think this image came from the gay bar scenes in Police Academy or Cruising, but what can I say, I was a late bloomer.
I remember as a teenager coming across my first Tom of Finland images in a magazine; the strip where Kake climbs through a window, fucks a guy, then gets fucked by the guy's dad. Needless to say, I wanked over those pages for quite some time. It wasn't just the exaggerated anatomy and explicitness of the drawings that turned me on, it was the thrill of this man coming in and doing as he pleased. In my head, leather reeked of sex and sin. It made me feel oddly wary but excited at the same time. I didn't know if leather was for me, but it certainly had my interest.
As I started to get more curious as I got older, making tentative steps into the fetish world, it was leather I went to first. A guy put me in a harness one time, and I liked the feeling, so I went out and bought one for myself. I loved it, but my leather collection stagnated following this. I got a jacket, some shorts, some jeans and an apron. All nice enough pieces (apart from the jeans which are ill-fitting and ugly), but nothing that could really be combined. Leather is expensive, and my finances wouldn't permit a full leather look, so I branched out into other things, like rubber and sports gear.
I don't think it's unusual for the cost of leather to be a hindrance, either. For example, in the UK 69% of guys who have leather selected as one of their primary interests on Recon are aged 35+. Now, obviously, younger people can be wealthier, and older guys can have less (…I'm 35), but it's fairly standard that the older you get, the more financially comfortable you are, meaning more money to spend on your gear.
Though I've been to leather events with work in the past – primarily the BLF Easter – I always felt like a bit of an imposter, skulking in the background in my ill-fitting, ugly jeans. I don't think it helped that at such events, there's a lot of guys in full gear, looking incredible, making me feel a bit underdressed. I should stress now, though, that these feelings were coming from me and me alone, as everyone I've ever met at a leather event has always been super friendly. This was more a case of my own critical eye, rather than theirs.
Having limited experience of leather – especially at home in London – I decided it was about time I started to explore the scene some more. Back in November I'd met with Recon member BLKaiser, who'd spoken about The Leather Social at Comptons, Soho, which he now helps organise. Simon, the creator of the Social (ximeno on Recon), wanted to start a leather community event that was reminiscent of the bar culture of Berlin. The goal was for a relaxed, Sunday afternoon atmosphere, that was friendly, open to all and brought leather guys together. This, therefore, seemed like a good option for edging out further into the scene.
On the afternoon of the social I geared up as best I could (jacket, belt, boots, DENIM jeans) and headed down to Soho. On arriving at Comptons and heading upstairs, I realised that any mild anxiety I'd had was for nothing. Sticking true to its sociable, inclusive nature, there were guys in a variety of different leather looks, from full gear to just a jacket to no leather at all. The space was full of leather fans, and there was a nice atmosphere to the event which made it easy to relax into the evening.
BLKaiser approached me and I chatted with him about the Leather Social and the scene in general. "I think that to some guys, the leather scene is a scary and intimidating world, full of hard, rough and big men" he said when I asked him about getting new guys into the scene "Often, beginners don't own leather gear and they feel like it's hard for them to integrate without it - which is only partly true." I asked what he thought guys could do to get around this, "You can buy second hand gear - I personally do! Go to Camden and browse through the rails in leather shops. Try things on – it's about the fit not the price tag". He also pointed out that the Leather Social has its own second-hand rail. The idea being that guys can bring old gear to swap and sell, which is, I think, a great starting point for newbies. Not only do you get yourself some gear, but you can also get some knowledge from guys already on the scene.
"The main aim of The Leather Social - as designed by Simon - is to create an environment where leather guys actually speak to each other in a social context" He told me "This ultimately creates links that strengthen our community." Further, he added "The other aim is to create a safe environment where guys new to leather, such as yourself, can come and interact with experienced leathermen in order to develop their own interests."
I took BLKaiser's last comments to heart and started chatting with some of the guys in attendance. The whole event seemed entirely devoid of attitude, and my lack of gear really didn't seem to matter. The Social was packed with guys from all walks of life, from all over the world, all ages, shapes and sizes. All there with a common starting point of leather. I didn't feel like an imposter, because I stopped over thinking things. I mostly just enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells – as well as about five or six pints.
I stuck around for a couple of hours, then decided it was maybe time to head home. It was a warm evening and though I'd learned I didn't need to, I chose to keep my jacket on throughout, meaning I was roasting hot (my Celtic heritage heat aversion was running down my back and pooling in my arse crack). I left Comptons with a nice glow and with my head raised just a little higher as I walked through evening crowds of Soho. I wasn't quite a leatherman, but I was determined to wear what I had with pride.
As I made my way home on the Tube, I realised once again that the only thing that holds me back is myself. Yes, you'd struggle to be a leatherman without any leather gear, but there are ways around this, and guys like ximeno and BLKaiser there to lend you some advice, if you just get out to events like The Leather Social and ask for it. I still feel very much at the beginning of my leather journey, but it feels like the road ahead has opened up more, and I'm definitely curious to explore it.
*This article was originally published in June 2017