Leather Life: 25 Years of the Leather Life Column

Photo by Tom Roster
Photo by Tom Roster

The first issue of Lavender Magazine appeared in June of 1995 during that year’s LGBTQ Pride season. That first issue contained the first appearance of my Leather Life column. Twenty-five years later, both the magazine and the column are still here.

What isn’t here this year, and what won’t be, are the usual ways we have celebrated Pride since Minnesota’s first Pride march and picnic in 1972. (I wasn’t there—I would not come out for another two years.)

In addition to being about these twin 25-year anniversaries, this column also is my annual LGBTQ Pride and Leather Pride column. I’ve been writing an annual Pride column for 25 years—that’s a lot of pride—and I’ve always enjoyed writing them.

And I’ve always enjoyed each year’s Pride festival—hanging out at the festival on Saturday, marching in the Pride Parade on Sunday, and then hanging out at the Minnesota Leather Pride booth on Sunday afternoon. And I love taking photos for the annual Pride in Pictures issue of Lavender.

I’m sad we can’t do all these things this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, parade or no parade and festival or no festival, we can still feel proud. We can, and we will, come up with different ways to express our pride this year. We can, and we will, still hold our heads high and be who we are with no apologies.

Steve Lenius – Then

In 25 years of writing this column, I’ve constantly seen, and experienced, the kind of pride that has made the leather/BDSM/fetish community grow and flourish. When I started this column, I was writing for gay leathermen and a few leather lesbians. Then the community grew to include bisexuals, pansexuals, heterosexuals, puppies, ponies, transwomen, transmen, and gender nonbinary folks. I’ve seen the community’s interests expand beyond leather to latex, gear, fetishwear, cosplay, and so much more. I’ve seen the community become more racially and ethnically diverse and inclusive.

Over the years, I’ve seen more and more flags appear: from pink triangle to rainbow flag, leather pride flag, bear pride, bi pride, trans, non-binary, and asexual pride. I’ve written a lot about flags as symbols of pride. At last year’s Pride parade, I was amazed to see 12 different flags.

In 25 years, I’ve seen clubs and organizations come and go, leather contests come and go, titleholders come and go, businesses come and go, people come and go.

I’ve attended, and written about, many club events and runs. I’ve presented at a few of them. I’m a proud honorary member of the Knights of Leather and the Atons of Minneapolis (and also of the Minnesota Storm Patrol while that club was active). I’ve helped celebrate many club anniversaries. I’ve been to a lot of banquets.

When I started this column there were three leather clubs in the Twin Cities. Now, a recent count put the number of Minnesota leather/BDSM/fetish clubs and organizations at over 50. I’m especially happy to see recently formed clubs for transwomen and transmen, and how involved their members are becoming in the local community.

I’ve seen Minnesota Leather Pride develop and grow. I’ve worn a lot of annual Minnesota Leather Pride dog tags. I’ve designed a few of them.

I’ve covered local, regional, national and international leather title contests. I’ve been a contest judge and written about it. I’ve seen many leather titleholders compete for and win their titles. Some local titleholders have gone on to win regional, national, and international titles. Some have had a great title year and then stuck around, integrating themselves into the fabric of the community. Others have disappeared or moved on after their title year.

I’ve met so many fascinating people from all parts of this community, some of whom I’ve interviewed. I’ve collected their thoughts, words, and experiences to share with my readers and to preserve for those yet to join this community. I hope to eventually release these interviews as a book.

I’ve written columns about social capital and power dynamics and leather generations and the importance of having allies. I’ve written many Holiday Gift Guides (great fun to research). I’ve written poetry and song lyrics.

I’ve written about artists in our community and about other authors and their books: Robert Davolt, Cain Berlinger, Brent Heinze, Joseph D.R. OLeary, Barbara Nitke, and many more. For years, I’ve written about same-sex marriage, and I’ve now seen it legalized. I’ve written a lot of obituaries and remembrances—way too many.

I’ve seen the ideas of leather, BDSM, fetish, and kink become more and more mainstream. I’ve seen sex, kink, and technology intersect in ways I could imagine and in ways I couldn’t.

I’ve been able to photographically capture a lot of what I’ve seen: 25 years’ worth of photos, and memories, that I treasure.

Steve Lenius – Now. Photo by Tom Roster.

The media landscape has changed considerably since I started writing. But somehow I’m still here, both in print and on that newfangled Web thingie. My first 500 columns are archived at leathercolumn.blogspot.com. Newer columns are archived on the Lavender website. My writings also have been published elsewhere, including in the Journal of Bisexuality—twice. And another milestone: this year is the tenth anniversary of the publication of my book, Life, Leather, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

My goal for this column has been to educate, inform, support, and build community. I also have tried to preserve this community’s life, activities, history and culture for those still to come.

I’m the last remaining writer who’s been with Lavender since the first issue. Here’s a shoutout to two other longtime Lavender writers: former “Consider the Source” columnist Julie Dafydd and the late John Townsend, who was an amazing arts and theater writer and who left us much too soon.

Also memorial shoutouts to former leather-columnist colleagues Robert Davolt and Marcus Hernandez, both of whom I miss terribly. Hernandez was the leather columnist for San Francisco’s Bay Area Reporter for 38 years. Marcus, I’m gaining on you, but I doubt I will equal your tenure.

Thank you to Steve Rocheford and the dedicated staff of Lavender, past and present, for keeping the magazine growing and thriving for 25 years. Thank you to all the editors who have been so supportive of this column. Thank you to founding editor George Holdgrafer, who gave my column its name. Thank you to J.D. Laufman, who offered me the chance to write this column.

Thank you to Ken Binder, my partner during the early years of this column and still part of my family. And thank you to my current partner Bill Schlichting—we celebrated 20 years together in January. Bill is the first person to see and critique a column after I write it.

I feel fortunate and extremely grateful. How many people get to write a column in the same publication for 25 years? For that matter, how many people get to do anything they’re passionate about for 25 years?

My last thank-you is to you, whether you’re a longtime reader or are reading this column for the first time. Let me close by saying what Your Humble Columnist has been saying for 25 years:

Thanks for reading.

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