Leather in Lean Times

The economic downturn hits home in ways big and small. The major investment banks on Wall Street are but a memory, and the stock market has lost everything it gained since about 1998. If you’re lucky enough to have retirement savings, you probably are watching with alarm as those savings shrink.

Detroit automakers say they’re headed for bankruptcy unless Congress intervenes—and China’s automakers say they need a government bailout, too. Meanwhile Mercedes-Benzes, and even fuel-efficient Toyotas, are piling up at the docks in the Port of Long Beach, California, as people’s ability or desire to buy them evaporates.

The housing market is worse than sluggish. Perhaps you’re a homeowner who would like to sell your home, but can’t, because prospective buyers can’t get a mortgage—or because the sale price would be less than what you owe on your mortgage. Or maybe you have an adjustable-rate mortgage, and are watching helplessly as the payments balloon to the point of pain.

Unemployment is up, and personal incomes are down. I know way too many people who are looking for a job right now.

Retailers are bracing for dismal holiday sales in spite of major discounts and price cuts. Some small business owners find they can’t obtain loans needed to keep their business going.

Closer to home, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve arrived recently at a restaurant, only to find it has vanished.

And now, hitting especially close to home for folks like us, much-loved Pi Bar closed November 15, becoming a casualty of the mortgage/lending/credit crisis.

Pi’s problems reveal the truth of our current situation: This crisis isn’t just economic. It is social and cultural as well. Before things settle down, the GLBT and leather/BDSM/fetish communities stand to lose some cherished institutions.

Leather already has been through one major crisis in its 50-something-year history. AIDS hit the leather community especially hard, killing much of a generation, and disrupting the formal and informal mentoring and educational processes on which the survival and perpetuation of leather culture depends.

In the face of that crisis, the community pulled together, and dealt with it. Community members raised funds for care and research, while much of the rest of society ignored the problem. Those who were healthy took care of those who were sick. And we supported each other as we mourned the many comrades we lost.

The community survived, but much damage needed to be repaired. In some ways, we still are repairing that damage more than two decades later.

Now, our community—this time, along with the rest of the country and the world—is facing a different kind of crisis.

What do we do? How do we minimize the social and cultural damage that an economic downturn can cause?

We somehow do more with less. We acknowledge the reality of the changed circumstances for ourselves, and for our community and society at large. Then, we do what’s necessary to deal with those changed circumstances as intelligently and sensitively as possible.

Some things will have to be scaled back. Some things just won’t happen, at least for a while. We just will have to do the best we can. We decide what’s most important, and we support it. Conversely, we defer other things, or let them go altogether.

We all will have to make hard choices, although some choices effectively will be made for us. If it’s a choice between spending limited funds on travel to a leather event or buying groceries, there’s not much to argue about.

Perhaps we won’t be able to do everything we’ve been doing, or do it to the same extent. Eventually, when things settle down and straighten out, we can revisit the things we let go or scaled back, and, if we think it’s appropriate, either resurrect or expand them again.

We try not to become either mercenary or hardened. The Leather Pride flag has a heart on it for a reason. Even in the face of current circumstances, we mustn’t allow that heart to become hardened.

If we stop caring about others because we’re in trouble ourselves, we as a community will sacrifice our heritage and lose our soul. Even as we worry about our own circumstances, I hope we’ll continue to help those who are worse off than we are.

Nothing in our community—not bars, businesses, contests, other events, clubs, community institutions (like NCSF, LA&M, and Woodhull), or other community nonprofits—will be immune.

It’s a storm we all will have to weather, together. I believe we will. And I hope when the storm is over, we will come out stronger, with our priorities in sharper focus, and our conviction renewed.

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