Remember AIDS?

If I need to explain why this is another example of how gay men and the dominant culture do not respect or honor our own dignity, pain, and passion, then the cause of internalized self-worth in gay men is dead as well.

Today is World AIDS Day and it appears to be an afterthought for… well, for everybody. On facebook, on TV, and in my email inbox. AIDS and all the bravery, horror, and heroism of that time is not something anyone wants to acknowledge when we’ve got Black Friday sales and the Hollywood Christmas Parade.

I get it. AIDS is not sexy and it’s not even lethal anymore for those of us lucky enough to be on meds. But AIDS killed more American men than World War II and a combination of those war dead and the dead from every American war since.

We fought and won a victory of sorts from the plague. Guess it’s over. Move on.

That’s all I’ve got. What else is there to say?

I miss my best friend, Alvin Lorenzo. I miss my boyfriend, Tony Pruzzi. I miss my mentor, Gustav.

If I need to explain why this is another example of how gay men and the dominant culture do not respect or honor our own dignity, pain, and passion, then the cause of internalized self-worth in gay men is dead as well.


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The pain many of us elite liberals are ignoring

A Trump presidency has exposed the pain and humiliation of million’s of working people’s unfulfilled American dream. This thought provoking article, written in October 2016, explains how we got here as a nation and suggests some “respectful confrontation” to move us forward. I LOVE that this is not an us vs. them article. The author suggests that Trump’s nomination was a wake-up call to help us face an ugliness of American values, embraced by both the right AND the left, that must be confronted.
In my opinion and maybe the article’s author as well, the ugliness that must be corrected is a shift in American values:
We moved from worshiping love and character to worshiping fame and money.
We moved from being citizens to being consumers (the man with the most toys wins – why isn’t it the man who has provided the most service to his family and community?)
We moved from celebrating character (a man who will help you harvest your crops or stay to true to his word) to celebrating personality (a man who will tell you what you want to hear and be the life of the party)
We moved from identifying with our values to identifying with our possessions.
I’ve used the male pronoun because, as a white man, even if I’m a gay liberal white man, I can empathize with the pain many of us elite liberals are ignoring.
 

Trump is President – We’ve Been Through Worse

For my LGBT family and allies:

Like the chaos created by the Kennedy assassinations, 9/11, and AIDS, the world around us has fundamentally changed because of this election. We will forever talk about the way life was like before the Trump Presidency. Years from now you’ll most likely be telling the young gays in your life what life was like before Trump, what you did to fight the right wing attacks on our community during his presidency, and how we prevailed in the end. 

Yes, I really believe that. 

I’m a 51 year old gay man, so I’ve seen a lot of stuff. If you’re lucky enough to be LGBT, or an ally, you can rest assured that your queer DNA has the strength, intelligence, and resources to face whatever is coming our way. 

Read that again. It’s fucking true. 

Your queer family tree is bursting with wonderful examples of strength. Let the history of your forbearers fortify your confidence

Under fire, our diversity bonds together elements to give us superhero-like capabilities. Back in the 90’s one of our religious enemies lamented, “If we do nothing they come out. When we fight them they come out screaming.” Pressure has a great way of helping us make good choices for our gay selves. 

For those of you who have never had to fight for your LGBT rights, I’m sorry for what is most likely coming your way. Really, it saddens and angers me. Your elder gays did not want you to be faced with the threat of legitimized bigotry, hate, and violence. We were hoping you’d be spending all your time doing something other than fighting the government. 

We thought maybe you’d be hosting fabulous brunches, choosing the perfect outfit to wear to a party, and growing old with your husband. Or maybe you’d be curating queer history, building community centers for queer youth and queer seniors, or maybe you’d be running for President. 

But we’re here instead. Who says we can’t do it all? In fact, fighting the fight has led us to where we are today.

If it wasn’t for gay men dying horrible AIDS deaths while the world watched, the consciousness of the nation most likely would not have expanded as rapidly as it did. Queers would not have invested as heavily in our political organizations and our LGBT centers. We most likely would not have same sex marriage, beds for homeless youth, or the respect we actually do enjoy, even if it’s given begrudgingly. 

Take a look. Here are some pictures I took when we were pissed about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 1993. We were some pissed off queens! And rallies like this became a regular occurrence. This was after we rallied for ten days straight, both here in in San Francisco, against Governor Pete Wilson for equal protection at work. All the rallies in this intersection are the reason Councilmember John Duran has often suggested we mark this intersection a historical monument. Perhaps it will become active once again and we can revisit that thought?

Here’s what they almost never tell you about what it’s like fighting for your liberty: It can be scary, but it’s often really fun and centering. You meet good people, many of whom are sexy as hell, and you make the world, YOUR world, a better place for you and those who come behind you. 

Check out the boy in the “Fight Back Mary” t-shirt carrying the “ANGRY FAG” sign. I always wondered what happened to him…

Today we are sad, angry, and grieving the outcome of this election. But we are even stronger today than we were when we took on AIDS, Regan, Jerry Farwell, the CDC, the FDA, and many others. We have the experience of our elders and the energy of our youth to draw upon. We are uniquely qualified and naturally inclined to face this. 

Take all the time you need to honor your grief, feel your anger, and release your sadness. There is work to do. It will be hard, but you will also cherish the experience. And when it’s over, and we no longer fighting, you may long for a young gay who is willing to hear the story of how you fought and won.

Gay Political Empathy

TRIBE Thoughts

Once the room is organized and a sign is posted on the sliding glass entry door inviting men to “come in”, the room we meet in for the monthly TRIBE Gay Men’s Discussion Group always feels to me like sacred space. We come in from the common world, a culture that generally is not focused on our interests and come into an uncommon space, one where most of the people in the room mirror our identity back to us.
It’s like a ship at sea ferrying us from point A to point B where, for an ephemeral span of time we enjoy being the dominant culture, speaking in our own idioms of shared humor, hopes, and fears.
Fifteen men started watching the live debate at 6pm and by the time the discussion started ninety minutes later we had nearly thirty men in the room.  
This group was decidedly pro Hillary. No surprise. And everyone was fairly happy with their favorite’s performance in the debate. The tenor of the TRIBE discussion regarding Trump was not simply against his policies, it was seriously fearful of the country’s ability to survive his presidency and their own personal safety as gay men should he be elected president.
While no one in the room admitted to being a republican or pro-Trump, one man did share his dilemma of meeting a sexy guy with a great ass that he’d like to see again even though Sexy Ass was voting for Trump. He asked for advice on reaching this guy. Not only did he think this guy was hot, but he also thought we should find a way to reach people on the other side rather than mark them as unredeemable and cut them out of our lives.
Sex, or even just the promise of it, obviously has the capacity to open people minds. I think this is one of the reasons why gay men are generally more empathetic than our heterosexual counterparts. Since gay men are born into every demographic conceivable, and we eventually look for connection in a relatively small pool of options, we need to become amenable to men of different class, race, religion, and maybe even political background. Or go without sex. What do you think most men do in that situation?
We also talked about the political “gay agenda”. To some it seems to have evaporated. “I went to a big fundraiser and all of the focus is was on transgender rights, which I support, but no one seems to have a vision for gay Americans after we’ve achieved legal equality.” Our institutions that once championed “gay rights” now maintain a self-conscious silence regarding the future of gay men’s culture.
I was just happy to be in a room full with men who get me. Even the ones I’d just met that night understand me in a way my non-gay friends and non-gay family ever can. We laughed, we listened, and we took each other’s fears seriously. Much was discussed. Many hugs were shared. And when we departed our sacred space, we went back into the larger world a little bit stronger and a little more at peace than when we’d arrived. 

29 Gay Men Murdered in Fire – “The Lord had something to do with this.”

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the largest gay massacre in America. I did not know that until I saw this post on Facebook today. In June of 1973 I was enjoying the summer break between my 2nd and 3rd grade years in grammar school. Forty years have gone by and not one of my educators mentioned this massacre. I have worked and lived in a gay city my entire adult life and I have not heard about his until today. How is that possible?

Tomorrow the SCOTUS is going to announce their decisions on marriage. If it goes our way, do we just say “thank you” and blend neatly into hetro-normative society forgetting all the hate? Do we continue to bury this type of history because it makes the middle class assimilationists uncomfortable?

I’m just asking here, because the burial of this story for forty years – the story of my people being hideously murdered in mass – is outrageous.

Again, how is this possible?

What kind of world is this?

This is one of those days we are going to be talking about years, or even decades, from now – the time when it was against the law for two men or two women to get married.

Maybe the weirdest part of today is how commonplace everything around us is while something so extraordinary is happening. I dropped off my dry cleaning this morning, jotted off a to do list at work, checked my email, and all the while the Supreme Court of the United States is discussing marriage equality for gays and lesbians. And it’s looking good for us.

Today, in the state of California, in the United State of America, I cannot legally marry the man I love. When gay pride rolls around in June that reality will quite possibly be changed forever. I will no longer be legally second class.

It’s mind boggling.

I no longer need to wonder how this feels – feeling embraced by the world rather than shamed by it. Seeing thousands of people support my LGBT tribe in person at the Supreme Court building in Washington D.C. and on facebook with red equal sign profile pictures is astonishing. Seeing Time Magazine’s cover proclaim that we have “already won.” Hearing the President of the United States, and the recently retired Secretary of State publicly state that, “gay rights are human right.”
What kind of world is this? Please don’t wake me up…  

Fantasy Fire Ritual: Supporting The Diverse In Diversity

An essay written for Letherati

The One True Banner

Deep in the North American state of California, in the high altitudes of the Sierra Forest, the Leather Council convenes under a star lit sky and the glow of a roaring bon fire. Upon a giant granite rock, under the One True Banner, the First and Final Five Master Tenders of Leather Tradition sit in cloaked anonymity. Simple shadows of humanity encased in polished leather from boots to cover.
Only THE ONE ever speaks and it has always been accepted that THE ONE knows all and what is best for leather folk everywhere. His voice is like thunder. It calls forth the language of the leather Gods and makes it decipherable to mere mortal leather folk.
“The high court will recognize the leather boy in jump boots, jock strap, simple vest, and collar who calls himself “jim”. You may approach Us!”
Until now, jim has been kneeling dutifully at the feet of his black leather clad Master. Knees apart, arms behind his back and head slightly bowed forward. His short military hair cut lays under the trembling gloved hand of his Sir.
The thousands gathered in the meadow of the tall redwoods say nothing. Do nothing. Look neither left nor right. Only forward and upward to the Master Tenders on the high holy rock. The crack and spit of the fire threaten to puncture the delicate membrane that is holding back a torrent of expectation. The derision of difference presses in. Only the Master Tenders can make it right.
“You have two minutes to make your case for wishing to wear your boot laces threaded on top of the first two eyelets of your boots instead of threading them under the first two eyelets of your boots as it has been done since leather men first road out on their motorcycles from the port cities of old! Explain your BLASPHAMY!”
**********
Wow, where did that little fantasy come from and what does it have to do with Leather diversity? I wonder?
To me, there are a lot of attractive elements to that scene: the intense protocol, the leather itself, the Master/slave practices, the fire, the sense of tradition, the drama. I love that stuff! But there are other parts that suck: like the inflexibility of the Master Tenders of Leather Tradition, the stifling environment jim finds himself in, and the silence of the other community members present.
Please notice the words “to me” in the above paragraph. I have some intense ideas on how I think the community should behave, who belongs in it, and who doesn’t. Did anyone read Carpetbaggers? But at the end of the day, that is what is important TO ME. My little world designed exactly the way I want it is my own personal trip. They are MY ideas and I’m entitled to them.
Unfortunately (and I say “unfortunately” because it complicates my carefully arranged little world) I also value diversity. I value having a broader pool of talent and resources to draw on when I get into trouble or my community needs help. When I’m fighting for my basic human rights, or dealing with a catastrophic calamity (like AIDS) I need some strong professionals and kinky family to help me get through it.
I also value finding new and twisted ways to get off. I might get bored! I’m the kind of person who wants all the bells and whistles installed on my kink caravan. I want options for installing features I don’t even know I want yet. I’m selfish that way. Being around people who look, play, and think differently than I do is the only way I can think of to be exposed to those new ideas.
But that process seems random. It’s unpredictable and I like things in order. Diversity is messy. So what is a tight ass, OCD, kinky man to do? Find some all encompassing banner we can all get along under?
I don’t think so.
The members of the community in my imaginary world above all stand under one banner, and because of that, there is no room for the difference in diversity to flourish. jim is not even allowed to lace his boots differently without permission from THE ONE.
As a Leatherman, I have to call foul! A big fat non-consensual foul! He’s at the foot of the alter of the One True Banner. Where is jim to turn? How is the difference in diversity supposed to express itself under that kind of single-mindedness?
That scene might be hot to many of us (who no doubt see ourselves as THE ONE) but its expectations and protocols are best left in a smaller private club, under a smaller more distinct banner, whose values are shared by those who choose to follow it.
The values of one club should not be expected to be followed by the totality of the kinky world.
Trying to pull ourselves together under one big all-inclusive-all-the-time-banner brings us to a pretty oppressive and sometimes mind numbingly boring place. The best we can do is try to agree on a few general principles like “Safe, Sane, and Consensual” – “Risk Aware Consensual Kink” – “Trust, Honor, and Respect” and leave it at that.
Trying to agree on the smaller minutia of kink or leather is impossible and I think it actually hinders our growth as individuals and as clubs when we give up our autonomy and attempt to come to consensus on everything.
Let’s give ourselves permission to disagree with one another on the small stuff. Maybe even look at those differences as a good thing. When that happens, we’re actually supporting the development of diversity.
But there are times when I’m just not feeling it. When I don’t want to be politically correct and tolerant. When I just want to be around people whose values and principles and gear and play are all similar to my own. The good news is that there is actually still room for me in the fetish world during those times.
I just need to plan my schedule accordingly.
As a responsible kinky player I’m going to have to take responsibility for informing myself about the kinky world I live in by looking at the calendar of events available to me and only going to the ones I’m in the proper frame of mind to attend. When I’m not feeling the warm fuzzies of the all inclusive bug, I will be spending more time at private events, in private dungeons, in German dark rooms, and on-line hook ups than I will be at huge events where the doors are open to anyone and everyone.
There are lots of private events that are very specific to the kind of people and play that resonate with me. It’s my responsibility to identify them. If they don’t exist, guess what? I need to either create those spaces myself or I need to support the clubs, events, and parties that speak to me.
In the end I’ll be a much happier kinkoid.
It also means that I’m going to need to give those freaks out there who think and act differently than I do the same room and privacy I want when they are doing the freaky things they enjoy. No matter how bizarre. I need to accept what they are doing even if I’m not invited.
It’s an under 40 party? More power to you my brothers. I don’t qualify for entry. I can’t wait to hear about how it went.
Unless you are taking away my opportunity to organize and produce my unique flavored play spaces, I’m going to have to sit back, shut the hell up, and wish you well on your endeavor.
It also means I might have to stay away from events that I’m invited to, but don’t like how they’re being run or who is showing up to them. For example: Let’s say a big event like, well, IML or Folsom is not up to my standard of kink anymore?
Maybe I should stop going. It might actually be my responsibility to not attend if I can’t keep my complaining mouth shut at the event.
This conundrum just slapped me in the face at July’s Dore Alley street fair. I was grabbed on the arm and stopped by three spiky haired, iPhone carrying, tennis shoe wearing, early twenty something twinks and their two girl friends. They stopped me and my boy and wanted our photo.
I was so incensed I decided to tell anyone who would listen at Stompers about what had just happened. “I’m not freakin Goofy and this isn’t Disneyland!”
Unfortunately, nothing is more certain than change. Our big events are not immune to it. And I need to accept it. I either need to accept the change or stop going and create an event that truly speaks to me. After all, who is forcing me to go?
After giving it some thought and seeing how shrill my 45 year old voice sounded when someone else told my Goofy story (accurately, damn it), I’ve decided that “being Goofy” is simply part of the price I need to pay to enjoy an exclusive packed patio area of booted up kinky people in a twink-free zone at Stompers.
We are a confederation of diverse communities, not one single community.
Have you noticed that I’ve been using the term, fetish world instead of Leather Community? I’m going to try that on for size for a while because I think it’s more accurate than calling ourselves a “community.” Each member of a confederation can be encouraged to be brilliantly different from the other members. Individual community members are expected to conform to the rules of the community.
So I started thinking; would it be possible to I create an event that acknowledges my personal kinks while still honoring other perverts out there whose kinks look, behave, and maybe even smell different than my own? How can I create a fetish world event?
And then I said fuck it, I’ll worry about the “how” later. What would it look like? And this is what I came up with.
**********
The Fire Event

The great sacred meadow of the redwoods has been meticulously cleared in preparation for the annual ritual. The full moon and stars that are shining through crisp mountain air blanket the ground with light. The movement of the towering redwoods in the cool summer breeze is all that can be heard. A thirty foot high and equally wide pyre waits in solitude in the center of the meadow. A ring of countless unlit torches are staked into the packed earth a safe distance from the still cool stack of wood which lays more than seven hundred footfalls from the tree line.
Inside the woods the Kurrent Kinksters are making their way through the dark forest down a well worn path that leads to the revered field. In the tradition of the annual gathering, they walk behind their new banner, mounted high on a tall staff. They are dressed in retro hipster low slung pants, button up collared shirts, thick black rimmed classes and untied hiking boots. Some wear a black leather armband on their wrist. Many of them carry classic medium sized brown overnight cases from the 1960’s.
From the covered darkness of the redwoods they emerge onto the field of the sacred meadow and see that from every point on the compass other banners are emerging from the ancient forest edge into the moonlight. Ten, twenty, thirty banners come forward. A myriad of crews expressing their own kink each find a torch and plant their banner behind it. Some reverently approach the circle while others roar with boisterousness revelry.
The Kurrent Kinkster quietly watch as the meadow fills with hundreds of clubs comprised of thousands of individuals. Motorcycle, drag, skin, uniform, rubber, sport, spandex, all genders, all ages, all colors are present. Each under its own banner. Additional torches are brought out when they are needed to be matched with new banners.
“Satyrs, motorcycle club!” A voice rings out with clarity. The light of the relatively small flame and decisive declaration quiets the great sea of people. The oldest crew present, by tradition, has fired up the first torch.
He and his crew have searched the gathering and have found the newest crew present. “The Kurrent Kinksters!” is called out nervously by the twenty-two year old banner carrier and his crew’s torch is lit by the light of the Satyrs’ torch fire.
One by one ever crew name is called out. Every torch is lit. Every banner’s colors are brought to light from the torches that are now lit.
“Whose flame remains undeclared?” The question is answered by the quiet reflections of smiling faces looking at the cornucopia of diversity they are surrounded by.
“Then it is time to light the one fire that brings us all together.”
Simultaneously, every torch is carried forward and the huge pyre is brought to life. Music bursts into the night air and with a collective roar the individual crews disperse into the sea of kinky brothers and sisters around them to celebrate their differences.