STORY OF OUR
LEATHER-S/M-FETISH SUBCULTURE & COMMUNITIES
slave david stein for
the panel on “History of Our Community” at the Leather Leadership Conference
II, New York City, 4/19/98; revised 5/3/98. Copyright is hereby waived, and the
contents may be freely reposted or reprinted, as long as this heading remains
intact so that corrections or suggested additions may be sent to the compiler,
who retains responsibility for any errors and for the opinions expressed herein.
While no single work published as yet can claim to be
definitive or comprehensive, the works listed here provide some signposts. Not
all are still in print, but copies should be available one way or another. An
asterisk (*) indicates those works that the compiler feels give the best
overviews and starting points for further research.
BALDWIN, GUY: Ties That Bind (Daedalus, 1993):
Mostly columns from Drummer magazine, 1987-1993, by the well-known kink
therapist and 1989 International Mr. Leather, including a few explicitly
* BEAN, JOSEPH: Leathersex (Daedalus, 1994) and
Leathersex Q&A (Daedalus, 1996). Not historical works, but the first has a
historical appendix, and the second has one section devoted to historical
questions -- both brief but very valuable. He was interviewed by Sensuous
Sadie and you can learn about this author, artist, editor, and educator, now
executive director of the Leather Archives & Museum by going to the following
BRAME, GLORIA, et al.: Different Loving -- The World of Sexual
Dominance and Submission (Random House, 1993; Villard
paperback, 1996). Largely based on interviews with contemporaries, but Chapter 2
gives a historical overview of the Victorian roots of modern hetero BDSM.
* CALIFIA, PAT, AND ROBIN SWEENEY, editors: The Second Coming --
A Leatherdyke Reader (Alyson, 1996). Billed as a sequel to
Coming to Power (see SAMOIS below), which Califia contributed to (and helped
edit the revised editions), this has historical essays about several women's s/m
support groups, including Briar Rose, Lesbian Sex Mafia, the Outcasts, and more,
as well as other pieces of historical interest.
HARRIS, DANIEL: The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture (Hyperion,
1997). The chapter on "The Death of Kink: Five Stages in the Metamorphosis
of the Modern Dungeon" argues that in "mainstreaming" s/m, we
have lost what made it valuable. Irritating but thought-provoking.
HOOVEN, VALENTINE F., III: Tom of Finland -- His Life and Times
(St. Martin's, 1994). This biography of our most famous gay kink artist includes
much about the history of erotic art.
MACK, JOHN E.: A Prince of Our Disorder -- The Life of T. E.
Lawrence (Harvard, paperback 1998). Lawrence of Arabia would
have fit right in with the 1950s gay leather scene in the U.S., but in Britain
in the 1930s he was a square peg looking for a round hole. This biography not
only discusses Lawrence's own homosexual masochism but also gives background
information on such previously unmentionable British institutions as the
MAINS, GEOFF: Urban Aboriginals -- A Celebration of
Leathersexuality (Gay Sunshine, 1984). A pioneering work --
probably the first to connect endorphin release with BDSM experience -- that
today seems very "70s" in its uncritical enthusiasm but is
historically valuable for that very reason.
NAN, MISTRESS: My Private Life -- Real Experiences of a Dominant
Woman (Daedalus, 1996). The memoirs of a famed West Coast
Dominatrix with decades of experience.
* RUBIN, GAYLE: The Valley of the Kings: Leathermen in San
Francisco, 1960-1990 (Ph.D. dissertation in anthropology, the
University of Michigan, 1994). Unpublished; some day it will be the heart of an
* SAMOIS collective: Coming to Power -- Writings and Graphics on
Lesbian S/M (1981; revised editions published by Alyson in
1982 and 1987). Among many other things, this extremely influential book
produced by the first openly lesbian s/m organization popularized the now widely
accepted concept of s/m as a "consensual power exchange" (it seems to
have been coined by Cynthia Slater, who founded the Society of Janus in San
Francisco, and was used by local sex educations in that city).
STEWARD, SAMUEL M.: Chapters from an Autobiography (Grey
Fox Press, 1981). From sleeping with Lord Alfred Douglas to filming s/m scenes
for Dr. Alfred Kinsey, these are the amazing memoirs of a man who chucked a
career as a college professor to satisfy his unconventional appetites and
curiosities -- and became famous as the erotic writer "Phil Andros."
STEWARD, SAMUEL M.: Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos -- A Social
History of the Tattoo with Gangs, Sailors and Street-Corner Punks, 1950-1965 (Harrington
Park Press, 1990). As "Phil Sparrow," Steward worked as a tattooist
long before such "body modifications" became semi-respectable.
THOMPSON, WILLIAM: Sadomasochism (Cassell,
1994). An English criminologist's review of the legal and psychological concepts
and definitions of s/m in Western thought, the book was written to address the
issues raised by the
Spanner case, but it has implications that reach much further than British
* THOMPSON, MARK, editor: Leatherfolk -- Radical Sex, People,
Politics, and Practice (Alyson, 1991). This landmark anthology
includes historical essays covering the 1940s to the 1990s by Samuel Steward,
Thom Magister, Jack Fritscher, Gayle Rubin, David Stein, and the editor, plus
other essays with a historical dimension by Joseph Bean, Guy Baldwin, John
Preston, Pat Califia, Geoff Mains, Dianna Vesta, Eric Rofes, Wickie Stamps,
Gabrielle Antolovich, and more.
THOMPSON, MARK: Gay Body -- A Journey Through Shadow to Self
(St, Martin's, 1997). Thompson's Jungian-influenced autobiography and meditation
on the experience of growing up gay includes a good deal of historical material
about the leather scene in California in the late 1970s and beyond.
TOWNSEND, LARRY: The Leatherman's Handbook (1972)
and The Leatherman's Handbook II (1983). A
classic. There have been various editions of both the original and the revised
version (a very different book), and a 25th Anniversary edition of the original
has now been published by the author. Townsend's roots are in the early 1960s in
Southern California, where he was a gay-rights activist as well as one of the
first to publish gay kink erotica, including his own stories as well as work by
other authors and artists. Beyond all the technical information and advice on
cruising, relationships, scene-play, and so on, each book can be read as a kind
of collage of the gay leather scene at a moment in time.
* GUY BALDWIN: "The Old Guard: Classical Leather Culture
Revisited," in International Leatherman #20 (Sept.-Oct.
1998), is an excellent introduction and gives a very persuasive explanation of
the mutiple factors leading to the eclipse of the "old guard." Also,
"The Journey", a free online column
hosted by Leather Navigator, kicked off with two fascinating personal memoirs,
"The Road to Leatherville" (Nov.
1997) and "Walking on Sand" (February
BLACK SHEETs #12 (fall 1997): "Sex Pioneers -- San Francisco
in the '70s." Part 2 will appear in issue #15, scheduled
for late 1998-early 1999.
CHECKMATE #13 (November 1995) through #18 (February 1997): Charles Clark's
reminiscences about the gay s/m scene in the New York area from the 1950s to the
CHECKMATE #19 (May 1997) and #20 (September 1997): Jack Fritscher's personal
perspective on the history of Drummer magazine and other topics in kink
publishing (available online).
DRUMMER #136, January 1990: Mark Thompson's essay on the first gathering, in
1979, of Black Leather Wings, a group of leathersex faeries, with his own photos
of their recreations of Native American and other aboriginal pain rituals.
DRUMMER #139, May 1990: "Remembrance of Sleaze Past"
by Jack Fritscher and Gayle Rubin's history of The Catacombs, a famous
leathersex/fisting club in San Francisco (a revised and expanded version of the
latter is also in Mark
Thompson's Leatherfolk anthology).
INTERNATIONAL LEATHERMAN #4 (Summer 1995) and most subsequent issues: "Dear
Diary", the still unconcluded story of
"cliffy," a novice slave, is actually Joseph Bean's own memoir of his
initiation into a leather "family" in 1966-67. Replete with "old
guard" rituals and practices.
INTERNATIONAL LEATHERMAN #10 (Nov.-Dec. 1996): "Mecca Then,"
a timeline of San Francisco's leather scene in the 1970s.
INTERNATIONAL LEATHERMAN #13 (May-July 1997): interview with Larry Townsend;
also "Back in My Day", brief memoirs
by eight leathermen about how they got started
INTERNATIONAL LEATHERMAN #15 (Oct.-Nov. 1997) and #16 (Dec. 1997-Jan. 1998):
Joseph Bean's two-part interview with filmmaker Roger Earle (Born to Raise Hell
and the Dungeons of Europe series) amounts to a history of gay s/m video.
THE LEATHER JOURNAL #93 (June-July 1997): The 10th Anniversary issue includes
reprints from many past issues charting ten years in our community as seen from
PROMETHEUS #24 (Winter 1996): The 25th Anniversary issue of The Eulenspiegel
Society's magazine offers a number of historical pieces and reprints from TES
archives, including "S/M Through the Ages"
and a history of TES itself.
RUBIN, GAYLE: Several articles based on her dissertation (see NONFICTION BOOKS
above) have been published, including a chapter on San Francisco's South of
Market leather bars in _Reclaiming San Francisco -- History,
Politics, Culture_, edited by James Brook, Chris Carlsson, and
Nancy J. Peters (City Lights, 1997); a history of The Catacombs in Drummer #139
(see above) and an expanded version in Leatherfolk (see MARK THOMPSON above);
and "Elegy for the Valley of the Kings: AIDS and the Leather
Community in San Francisco, 1981-1996" in In Changing
Times, edited by Martin Levine, Peter Nardi, and John Gagnon (University of
Chicago Press, 1997).
Erotic fiction can be a perilous guide to historical (or any) truth, and yet it
is sometimes in our fictional creations that we most reveal ourselves. The
following cannot be taken as gospel, but they are all extraordinarily revealing.
ANDREWS, TERRY: The Story of Harold (Holt
Rinehart, 1974; the 1975 Avon Equinox trade paperback has illustrations by
Edward Gorey). Written under a pseudonym by a best-selling children's book
author, the novel is set in New York's sexual underground of the late 1960s and
concerns a kinky bisexual man's varied relationships. Although it was praised by
the New York Times for its literary merit, no one dies at the end, not even the
perverts! Apparently accurate historically, tremendously funny, and very moving
all at the same time.
ANDROS, PHIL (pen name of Samuel Steward): $tud (Guild
Press, 1969; abridged edition with introduction by John Preston published by
Alyson, 1990). All of the Phil Andros books give some of the flavor of gay s/m
and leathersex back when it was illicit and mostly hidden from unsuspecting
eyes, but $tud was the first to be published, and it seems least compromised by
the need to satisfy an audience or an editor with embellishments or
ANDROS, PHIL: My Brother, the Hustler (1970;
revised edition published by Perineum Press as My Brother, My Self in 1983, and
more recently by Masquerade; a newly illustrated edition of the original version
is forthcoming from Brush Creek Media) is notable for its accurate description
of The Black Castle, a Chicago leather hang-out in the 1960s where the artist
Etienne, Chuck Renslow (who owned the famed Gold Coast bar and still owns and
runs the International Mr. Leather Contest), and their friends lived and played.
* CARNEY, WILLIAM: The Real Thing (Putnam's,
1968; reissued by Richard Kasak Books in 1995 with an introduction by Michael
Bronski). Set in the 1960s gay s/m scene in southern California and New York,
this epistolary novel, consisting of letters from an experienced leatherman to
his novice nephew, presents a largely accurate account of the prevailing mores,
though with a tragic, ultimately s/m-negative slant. Carney was a
"player" himself, if perhaps a misguided one, and the novel is a
classic. Some consider its sequel, The Rose Exterminator (Everest
House, 1982), to be even more interesting, but most critics have judged it
harshly, at least as a reading experience.
* FRITSCHER, JACK: Leather Blues -- The Adventures of Denny
Sargent (Gay Sunshine, 1984). As terse and concentrated as the
same author's novel of the 1970s, Some Dance to Remember (Knights
Press, 1990), is bloated, Leather Blues distills the 1960s
leather-biker-outlaw-sex scene in just 82 memorable pages.
contains bibliographies, interviews, and more. Fritscher, one of the great
Drummer editors, seems to have been everywhere and done everyone during the
"good old days" of leather culture.
(end slave david stein's references)
CLEUGH, JAMES; The
First Masochist: A Biography of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1836-95);
London: Anthony Blond, 1967.
Love and Pain; Originally published in
1905 Random House edition, 1942
JOHNSON, V. M.: To
Love, To Obey, To Serve - Diary of an Old Guard Slave (Mystic
Rose Press, 1999) ; one of the only times I would agree that someone does not
have to be a gay male to define themselves as "Old Guard". Viola
Johnson stuns the reader in modern times with these excerpts from her diary of a
time in leather before 'safe, sane, and consensual'. Her diary works
through her 'kink' days of college, through her 'coming out' period, as an
originating member of THE EULENSPIEGEL SOCIETY™ (TES), and into a world
that most people consider to be impossible, that of a submissive without
restraint or personal concern. Viola truly is an admirable example of a person
who desires a life in leather more than most others could comprehend.
KATHERINE A.; Victim of Love, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch; Naked
SHATTUCK, ROGER: Forbidden
Knowledge (from Promethius to Pornography), (St. Martin's
Press, 1996). An exposition into the literary merits (and, dismerit) of writing
through the ages., How it shaped our views, our cultures and our lives.
specific: Chapter seven discusses the "rise" of the Marquis De Sade in
the literary circles of the 20th Century, from a lesser known and poorly read
author of pornography and hapless revolutionary tracks to a writer deemed
eminent by the French Academy in the 1930's.
S.: Hell's Angels - A Strange and Terrible Saga,
(Modern Library 1999). An expose written in the early 1960's about the
motorcycle gang the Hell's Angel, including rare glimpses into the actuality of
who they thought they were, their interaction with the social and cutural icons
and issues of the time. It includes a brief discussion about the leather
community and interaction/comparison with the "outlaw motorcycle"
groups of the time.
DR. RICHARD; Psychopathia Sexualis U.S.
edition of 1926 translated by F.J. Rebman; The ultimate beginning of definitions
for S&M. Von Krafft-Ebing defied his time's norms and labeled us as
something more then 'they'.
The Marketplace Series (The Marketplace,
(Mystic Rose Books. 1993), The Slave (Mystic
Rose Books, 1994), The Trainer (Mystic Rose
Books, 1995), The Academy - Tales of the Marketplace
(Mystic Rose Books, 2000), The Reunion (Mystic
Rose Books, 2002). The penultimate tales of the inner workings of fantasy
world of "Houses" that buy sell and trade slaves (some are in Europe
too, and have been about for centuries. Note: These books are FICTION). Laura
spins her web in a very good way, drawing you into the story and the lives of
the characters she creates in a wonderful way. If you liked the 'Story of
O', these are the natural progression beyond the singular houses and into a
fantastic realm of slavery and ownership.
Some Dance To Remember, (Knights Press 1990). A
fictional history that overviews the leather movement from the late 1960's
through the early 1980's in San Fransisco. Set in the "Golden Age" for
homosexual social revolution, the account details issues important to the gay
and 'homomuscular' community and the effects that reach into today. Well written
and intricately inciteful into issues of human interrelational dynamics, this
book is a must read for anyone interested in the subjects it looks into.