Leather Life: Clubs, Organizations, and Community
This issue’s Leather Life column has been based on, and inspired by, a recent community discussion about the many clubs and organizations that are such an important part of the leather/BDSM/fetish community both in the Twin Cities and around the world. The discussion took place Tuesday evening, Jan. 9, 2018 at LUSH in Minneapolis. It was sponsored by the Knights of Leather in partnership with the Atons of Minneapolis, two of the longest-running leather clubs in the Twin Cities. The moderator for the evening was David Coral of the Knights of Leather.
The discussion attracted a crowd of around 60 participants of all ages, genders, ethnicities, interests, club and organization memberships, and lengths of time in the community. About half the people in attendance were involved with at least one club or organization. Many people were involved in more than one. In this column I will recap some of the issues and ideas that were discussed that evening.
Clubs and organizations have been an important part of the leather/BDSM/fetish community for a long time. The Atons of Minneapolis, formed in 1972, is the oldest leather club in the Twin Cities. Since that time, the number of clubs and organizations that are part of the Twin Cities leather/BDSM/fetish community has grown to the point where currently about 50 different groups are part of the local community.
The conversation started by asking why clubs and organizations are important. Clubs and organizations can be seen as making up the skeleton of the community, the bones on which the rest of the community hangs. Clubs and their members must realize, however, that not everyone wants to belong to a club, and that those who choose to remain independent are still equally important members of the community.
Clubs and organizations may be social or educational in nature, or may be organized around play or a certain interest or fetish. (The point was made, however, that club membership does not mean sexual availability.) Some clubs are formally organized with bylaws and officers while others are more informally organized. Clubs are started to fill a community need for connection and, especially important for the leather/BDSM/fetish community, to have safe spaces. We like to associate with people who want to do the same things we want to do. Even with social media, clubs and organizations fill a need for face-to-face contact and socializing. Sometimes groups of people with common interests get to know each other online and then decide to take it to the next level in real life. The opinion was offered that for members of our community the current political situation is too scary not to be connected to other likeminded folks.
Minnesota’s community tends to form a lot of clubs. And community members tend not to wait for someone else to form a club. If someone senses a need, they take it upon themselves to form a new club to meet that need. This can be good because it allows the community to reach and involve more people. Also good is the fact that clubs cooperate with each other and allow people to belong to more than one group. A newcomer to the community noted that the Internet has made it much easier to find clubs and organizations. Another person wondered, however, whether having so many clubs, and especially so many clubs for specific interests, was helping the community or dividing it.
Clubs and organizations benefit the community by raising money for charity and by presenting many types of educational sessions and demonstrations. Clubs also are good instruments for mentoring new community members and allowing them to then take the reins of community leadership, thereby renewing the community.
A continuing issue with clubs and organizations is being welcoming. Some community newcomers said they had attended club events and munches and did not feel welcomed and that the atmosphere was cliquish. Younger people, especially, might not feel welcome if no one speaks to them all evening.
On the other hand, growing old in the leather community can also be difficult. The point was made that if young people need to feel welcome, more mature people need to feel wanted.
And it is important for clubs to make events and spaces accessible and welcoming to people with disabilities—and to publicize this accessibility and do outreach to people with disabilities to let them know they will be welcome.
One person reminded the group that the issue of being welcoming is self-policing: with so many groups to choose from, if people do not feel welcomed, they will go somewhere else.
Communication between clubs and groups can be a challenge. Often there seems to be a kind of divide between the pansexual kink and gay leather communities. This can lead to both missed opportunities and duplicated efforts. The point was made that we need to find ways to build shared capacity and to pool our knowledge.
In the end, it’s all about community. We build our community ourselves; the tooth fairy doesn’t create it for us. Clubs and organizations are important community building blocks.
The Leather Journal maintains an online worldwide listing of leather/BDSM/fetish community clubs, organizations, publications, events calendars, and other resources at www.theleatherjournal.com/op-ed/item/55-club-directory.