Leather Life: Leather/BDSM/Fetish Under Age 40

Photo courtesy of BigStock/David Tran
Photo courtesy of BigStock/David Tran

Because I recently wrote a column on “Leather and Aging” (Lavender issue #681), and because the theme of this issue of Lavender is “LGBTQ+ Under 40,” this column is an appreciation of members of the leather/BDSM/fetish community who are under the age of 40.

I am happy to report that young people are a large cohort of this community. It was not always safe to assume that this would be the case. This community grew and flourished originally because of mentorship, a passing down of information and culture from more experienced members to those who were less experienced—which usually, but not always, meant older to younger.

But the loss of most of a generation of leathermen during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and ’90s left the fabric of the community, and the chain of mentorship, severely torn. At one point I wrote a column about a question I had heard many community members asking: “Where will the new blood come from?” Fortunately, the “new blood” appeared and has kept on appearing year after year. And leather/BDSM/fetish culture has been growing and becoming ever more vibrant as a result.

People under 40 today were born in 1981 or later. They were nineteen or younger at the turn of the millennium. They were 20 or younger when 9/11 happened. They have never known a world without mobile phones and social media, and social media has in many ways remade leather culture.

Today’s under-40 community members also came of age in a world where leather, BDSM and fetish are of much less the hush-hush, embarrassing, secret worlds they were formerly. Some may mourn the loss of the scintillation that comes from doing something forbidden, but the fact that society is more open about the existence of leather, BDSM and fetish means the community is easier to find for those who would like to join it.

Because of the influence of younger community members, the leather/BDSM/fetish community has become more open to differences and diversities. The community includes many more BIPOC members now. Leatherboys, leathergirls, transmen, transwoman, gender-fluid, nonbinary, asexual—as society has become more varied, so has the leather/BDSM/fetish community. Today’s younger community members are just as pioneering as my generation was when we were younger.

Younger community members also have come up with new fetishes and new ways to express one’s sexual and kink desires. Puppy play, cosplay, and gear fetishes have supplemented the traditional leather, latex and uniforms.

Today’s under-40 community members bring to the community an energy, a curiosity, a willingness to learn and do. They may be young, but they’re not necessarily novices. They’ve taught classes and workshops and have been on discussion panels; started clubs; entered leather contests, and won and held titles; served on committees; and helped to keep their community going. They have visions of what they want the community to be, and where they want the community to go, and they’re willing to work to turn those visions into realities.

It’s not all roses, of course. I read the Facebook posts of younger community members and see the problems they’re dealing with, both within the community and just in daily life. Of course the COVID pandemic has not made things easier. But, like us older folks, they keep going and are doing the best they can.

One of the great features of this community is that community members under 40 are willing to work and socialize with community members who are over 40. But, when one is young and kinky, there are times when it’s good to be able to hang out with others who are also young and kinky. Sometimes clubs form that just happen to have primarily younger people as members. But some groups have been formed specifically as comfortable spaces for younger kinky people. Many of these groups can be described as “TNG” (“The Next Generation”) groups.

TNG groups are kink groups for those between the ages of 18 and 35. The first TNG groups were founded in 1999 on the east coast by members of Black Rose and The Eulenspiegel Society (TES), which are pansexual BDSM groups in Washington, DC, and New York City, respectively.

According to Philip Wolf (also known as Boymeat), one of the four founders of the original TNG groups in 1999, a TNG group “is meant to serve the young, who have unique experiences and unique challenges as compared to those who are older.” But Wolf also notes that TNG groups also can “establish a gateway into the larger scene. Experience has shown that many young people enter the scene looking to find their peers. TNG is that space—to get them comfortable, to establish a network of friends and acquaintances, and eventually to see them comfortable enough to explore the larger scene.”

In Minnesota, one group that is specifically for 18- to 35-year-olds is MinKY, which stands for “Minnesota Kinky Youth.” MinKY is Minnesota’s equivalent of a TNG group. Young members of Minnesota’s pansexual BDSM community created MinKY in 2003. MinKY is open to members aged 18 to 35—and the group has been around long enough that some of the MinKY’s original members have “aged out.” For MinKY, that happens when one turns 36. But then one can become a “friend of MinKY,” and there is no age limit on that.

MinKY’s website describes the group and its members: “We are students. We are young professionals. We are building our families. We are still trying to find ourselves. We are here to teach and lead. We are Kinky! . . . We put on educational events, skill shares, play parties, munches, and other social outings. Above all, we want our members to have a safe place to have kinky, sexy, fun!”

Unfortunately, it appears that MinKY’s in-person events have been put on hold due to the COVID pandemic. MinKY still maintains a web presence at minnesotakinkyyouth.org and also has a presence on Fetlife.com.

Some longtime (usually meaning older) community members might express dismay at some of the changes being wrought by younger community members. But why should this community be any different than any other community? There comes a time when elders must turn the reins over to youth, and youth may not do things the same way that their elders did. Things change, and change is good if it means reinvigoration rather than stasis—or worse, decay.

Your humble columnist was under age 40 once, which now seems like a very long time ago. I didn’t find this community until I was almost 40, so I did not have much of a chance to be a young person in leather. But I am proud to say that one of the things on my leather vest is a MinKY club patch. Those under 40 are the future of our community. I’m glad they’re here to carry on the community and culture of leather, BDSM and fetish, however it evolves in the future.

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