Losing My Religion… Again

Posted: August 13, 2018 by Isaac Cross in About Me, Learn Something, Life Log, Philosophy

Since the original posting of this article, we have added an additional excerpt from Skip Chasey, found at the end of the article. 

“Christianity is my faith. leather is my religion.”

Someone said that during a discussion group a few days ago and I instantly had a flood of realizations about myself.

In my keynote speech at Beyond Leather earlier this year, I talked a little bit about leaving the church that I was raised in because of the rigid nature of the traditions and the unwillingness of the older generations to accommodate the younger ones.

I have faith. And I encourage others to cultivate and celebrate their own, whatever it might be.

But religion makes me uncomfortable. When the faithful come together and codify unverifiable beliefs into in dogma which is then enforced onto others or fashioned into tests measuring worthiness or piety, I am hesitant to participate. And when that religion becomes aggressively evangelical or increasingly imposing, I can’t help but push back and hold ground.

Fundamentalism (strict adherence to the basic principles of any subject or discipline) in any form is inherently oppressive. The central core is always designed to suppress new ideas in favor of the old ideas and stories (largely myths) of people long gone from the world.

That’s why I left religion. And until recently, I didn’t realize that I’ve since been treading along the edges of a different one.

“Christianity is my faith. Leather is my religion.”

Reading that sentence crystallized, for me, what has always held me back from really diving into leather, despite being SO compatible on paper.

I sometimes wear leather. I live by a code very similar to “leather ideology”. But leather is not a part of my identity.

Because I don’t do religion.

And identifying as leather seems to come with all the hallmarks of religion that drove me out of the one I was raised with.

For starters, its modern form bears little resemblance to its founding form. Leather was created as a subset of the gay community, mostly valuing things completely different from the modern heterosexual/pan community’s version of leather. And as a result, I don’t feel comfortable contributing to what I view as a co-opt and misappropriation of something that isn’t mine.

Second, and more important, I don’t care to be in yet another group that is going to police my behavior and insist that I follow their version of a set of traditions that were invented only a few decades ago and distorted through oral tradition. Much like with any religion, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with being “leather”, but in my observation, the more devout someone is, regardless of the religion, the more they care about my behavior and the less they live up to what they preach.

This isn’t new. Even in the days of the “Old Guard”, rifts between denominations formed. Guy Baldwin, considered by most to be among the foremost experts on leather history, writes in an article on Leatherati:

…in time, considerable differences of opinion slowly began to emerge about exactly how certain things were supposed to be done. “Earning” one’s leathers happened in a very formal way in one clan, but not so formally in another, for example. In some ways, this was a dim reflection of the inter-service rivalries that existed between the Army and the Navy, for example, during World War II, and still exist to some extent. And this may be why some people become so passionate about the right way to do things in the leather world. Tradition, after all, had to be respected and preserved!

This is the leather version of Protestants versus Catholics. And with the alt-right nazis growing in influence all around us, I simply do not have time to participate in a squabble about which is the correct way to exercise our sexual freedom. Seriously. Fuck all of that.

And even if there were widespread agreement on what it means to be leather (there isn’t), it would still be something that make me itchy. Eight years ago, I talked about trying to push my way passed my reluctance and try to embrace leather and its traditions. I no longer feel willing to do this.

Because, as I expressed last April in my keynote:

A lot of formal leather protocol is hot as fuck. But you’ve layered so much bullshit over it that it feels more like our parents’ religion rather than a radical rebellion.

When I wrote that, I merely meant it as a metaphor. But now I realize that this religious undertone to leather is, in fact, all too literal. And I won’t subject myself to another religion. Not in a church, and definitely not in the dungeon.

As I’ve been discussing these ideas with friends over the last few days, many have objected. The zealots are merely the most noticeable, they insist, and do not represent the leather population as a whole.

While I am sure this is true, I can only trust my experience. And that experience includes being told that I can’t be taken seriously as a kink presenter if I don’t act “more leather”. I lost the only title contest I’ve ever run for (a contest whose advertised mission emphasizes community service above appearance or popularity), in part, because I didn’t wear “enough” leather. In countless moments, small and large, I have been told that I MUST adhere to precepts of leather, and to other people’s standards, in order to have a voice or be respected. That is my experience stretching back over the last 12 years in the community. If the zealots were a small minority, this wouldn’t be true.

In his 2014 Keynote at Southwest Leather Conference, Race Bannon said:

I hear a constant drone of complaints about how our scene isn’t like it used to be (which of course is what change is all about), yet people are so stuck in their rigid views and habits that finding creative solutions to invigorate our scene seem lacking… I have answered one too many emails, phone calls or messages from a disheartened newcomer who has had their dreams and sexuality crushed because they were told in no uncertain terms they were doing it wrong, when they were doing it just fine all along.

“Christianity is my faith. Leather is my religion.”

I have faith. I have my code. But it’s mine alone. Not because it’s tradition. Not because it’s expected. But because it’s what I believe and how I want to live. From what I understand, that is at the heart of what leather was originally meant to be and represent.

In a 2014 article, “The Truth About The Old Guard” Race Bannon writes:

The guidelines for being a good leather or kinky person are essentially the same as being a good person. Be nice. Respect others. Watch out for each other. Be curious. Learn what you need to know to best enjoy yourself. Share what you know generously. That’s about it. The rest is all just a lot of noise that is more about how individuals choose to express their erotic selves than it is about how things should be done by others.

The central core of leather is something I should be eager to identify with. But much like the Christianity I was brought up with, my view of leather has been too tainted by dogma, false mythology, and fundamentalism for me to exist within it and be happy.

There are a great many leather people that I deeply respect and who I trust implicitly. They walk their paths with integrity and this is by no means meant to be an indictment of them, their leather identity, or the way they live.

I have no objection to leather, it’s culture, or it’s adherents. I share space, meals, and intimacy with them frequently.

But I don’t do religion. So leather isn’t me… for now.


EDIT 8/16/2018: Yesterday, with the help of Patrick Mulcahey, I was able to get in touch with Skip Chasey and obtain a copy of his 2005 Leather Leadership Conference Keynote address, entitled: “Vision, Passion & Direction: The Right Stuff for Authentic Leaders”, along with permission to share it here. You can download the entire address below.

Skip Chasey 2005 LLC Keynote: “Vision, Passion & Direction”

I’m really happy to give this speech an online home. I couldn’t find it anywhere when searching for it to prepare this article. Hopefully the next time someone is looking for it, they can find it here.

In particular, I wanted to share this passage:

When spiritual teachings and practices—and that includes SM and our leather culture—are fashioned into a communal doctrine (a dogma, really), pollution sets in. As the community then evolves into an institution, the pollution increases and the underlying intention of the group’s leaders quickly deteriorates from that of facilitating the spiritual awakening of the students, to maintaining the institution at all costs. When that happens, the community’s pursuit of freedom— freedom in its most profoundly spiritual sense—is pushed aside by a toxic tribal dynamic of coerced reverence, oppression of new ideas, and the banishment of those who would question both the dogma and the authority of those who created it. Sound familiar? It’s only because some —usually just a few—of the community’s leaders still have the right stuff that anything good comes out of our churches. Or, for that matter, out of our SM clubs and other leather organizations.

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