Leather Life: The Year In Review – What I Learned During 2020

Courtesy of BigStock:master1305

Photo by of BigStock/master1305

This column appears in the “2020 Year In Review” issue of Lavender. But how do you  review a year in which so much did not happen? What kind of review can you give to a  year that, along about March, turned completely detestable? 

I could review 2020 by talking about all the GLBT and leather/BDSM/fetish events, such as the Pride Festival, Pride Parade, and all the Minnesota Leather Pride events, that did not happen. But that would just be depressing. I don’t need to remind you of everything that didn’t happen this year. You probably are depressed enough about it already.

So let’s approach this review of 2020 differently. When I meet adversity, I have learned to ask myself a question: “What am I supposed to learn from this?” If something bad happens but I learn something from it, that means it’s not totally bad after all. At least I will have benefited from the adversity by learning something from it.

So what did I learn from 2020? What did I learn from a global pandemic, from widespread economic problems, from seeing massive instances of racial injustice (and the protests that these injustices inspired), from environmental degradation causing worsening fires, storms and floods, and from a nightmarish election season? (Not to mention missing all the fun things I have done for so many years but couldn’t do this year.)

Consider America’s Great Depression in the 1930s. For the people who lived through that time and that experience, life changed. Even after things improved, their experiences of coping with the Great Depression colored their outlook for the rest of their lives. Boom times during the 1920s gave way to very dark times during the 1930s. And the darkness lingered for almost a decade until World War II came along.

World War II was another dislocating ordeal to live through. In the USA it was a time of sacrifice, rationing, and food shortages. Men were sent to battlefronts and women went to work in the factories to make war materials. No one knew how long the war would last or how it would end. Again, those who lived through it—who didn’t die as a victim of the war—came out the other side of the experience forever changed.

Both the Great Depression years and the World War II years wrought changes both on an individual, personal level and on a societal, communal level. Society was not the same after either of these experiences.

Now let us consider a more recent example of a tragic era with long-lasting and life- changing consequences: the AIDS crisis. Those whom AIDS did not kill still bear the scars of those years. And so do both the GLBT and gay leather communities. AIDS caused major losses and major changes in the makeup and culture of both of these communities, and these changes still influence how these communities operates today.

Just as AIDS caused major changes to the GLBT and gay leather communities, the current pandemic will cause changes for the whole world, and for all societies and cultures in it. Furthermore, those of us in the USA might suffer more effects, and more drastic effects, because we have had to deal with so many more cases, and so many more deaths, than many other countries.

So what can we learn from all this? Events like the Great Depression, World War II, the AIDS crisis and today’s global pandemic are almost guaranteed to prompt both individual and societal reassessment, both of the status quo and of goals and desires. The sexual revolution in the 1970s was a great time for many while it lasted, but people reassessed what they were doing when it suddenly looked like it could kill them. Likewise, the current pandemic is causing society, and us as individuals, to reassess such things as festivals, parades, weddings, funerals, church services and schooling— things that many if not most of us formerly took for granted as just the way things were. Now, suddenly, just the simple act of going out to eat with a friend or group of friends needs to be risk-assessed.

We in the leather/BDSM/fetish community are used to being aware of and assessing risk. That puts us in a healthier position than many other people who have never before had to think about these kinds of things.

We are still in the middle of this pandemic, so it is difficult to make predictions about what life will look like after the pandemic has been brought under control. But life, and society, and our community, will be different. We will have been forced to assess our priorities and make decisions and hard choices. Some of us, and some of our organizations, might have been running on autopilot and inertia, just doing things the way we have always done them—precisely because “that’s the way we’ve always done them.” There’s nothing like a global pandemic to shock us out of our comfortable routine and force us to assess things and make some changes.

Some who have been coasting on inertia might drift away. Some who might have wanted to be involved, but have been resisting involvement, might decide that life is short and it’s time to go where they have been afraid to go. And some, denied the chance to do what they have done for years and taken for granted, might wake up and realize that things cannot be taken for granted. When the pandemic subsides, they will again do what they were doing before the pandemic, but with renewed commitment, conviction, enjoyment and savor.

On a personal note, during this time of “No, it’s not safe to do that,” I find myself remembering—and missing intensely—things I used to do, places I used to go, and people I used to see. That, for me, is a truly eye-opening learning experience. I am learning, and being forced to focus on, what is most important to me—and what is less so. What have I outgrown? What have I grown into? Once this pandemic is past, what will I do again with renewed enjoyment? And what will I let go?

We, as the GLBT and the leather/BDSM/fetish communities, will experience these same kinds of learning and make these same kinds of community decisions. What have we been doing just because we’ve always done it? Which of these things are still worth doing? What have we really missed as a community? What has left a huge hole in the life of our community? That’s what we should renew when we can.

We, as individuals and as community members, would do well to come out of this pandemic with this kind of learning and reassessment. If we can do that, we will be rewarded with lives and communities with increased vigor, purpose and enjoyment— once we have gotten through this yet-another-effing-growth-experience.


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