I’m standing against the wall of the Eagle scanning the red-lit bodies and thinking, “Who are these men? Who are we as a group?” A shirtless muscle daddy with a dirty jock hanging out of his back left pocket fondles the nipples of a boy; a bald and bearded leatherman in a harness has another man sniffing his armpit; a Sir is holding his boy closely in a casual and intimate embrace; two big bears exchange a cheers and then exchange some spit…all of these movements and touches happening together in the warm, dark bar.
As I stand and watch all these interaction I’m trying to figure out my connection to the guys, to the “community”. I know that in the past there has been a very big and vibrant leather community…but in recent times this group has faded and shrunk some. Who are we today and where are we going? I want a community…but I’m not exactly sure where our place is today.
I’m sitting at a table off to the side of a trendy Lower East Side bar scanning the well dressed/well groomed crowd and wondering, “Who are these men? Are we part of the same group? Is there a place for leather here?” A handsome man with a confident smile poses with a friend for a picture; a bearded guy with a forearm tattoo scans through something on his iPhone and then shows it to those around him; two hipsters reunite with a squeal and a kiss; a guy in a tux with sequined Converse sneakers sips a martini in a James Bond-like pose against the bar…all of these familiar movements and touches happening together in the loud, trendy bar.
As I sit and observe all these interactions I wonder if this is what gay men are supposed to be…if this is what’s expected of me. NYC is a parade of gorgeous, successful gay men with gym bodies and designer clothes. Guys talk about not eating carbs, getting botox, and other generally shallow, soul-destroying topics that drive me fucking bananas. Sometimes I want to scream and slap them and say, “Just chill out! For fuck’s sake stop being so vapid and come back to reality! And do you really believe the things you’re saying?! Or are you just trapped in a way of behaving because of the crazy-ass shit framework we’ve created for gay males?!”
Deep breaths. In….out…ok. So I’m standing and sitting here looking at a bunch of homos and wondering who they are, who WE are, and how it all goes together. There are lots of external voices telling me what it is to be gay…and then there are a myriad of examples in front of me showing me what I should look like. And when I go to different bars and interact with different groups of gay men I think, “The Eagle crowd is down to earth and way more fun…but I seem to sense a struggling momentum as the L.C.’s place in society is changing. And then the “mainstream” queers have a lot of vibrance and activity, but they’re just so damn annoying.”
And we’re all gay men…don’t we still need each other?
My fear is that the place the L.C. has occupied and served is gradually disappearing…and will one day be lost to the pretty shallow void that popular media has ascribed to the gays…and then years down the road as society becomes more enlightened, queers will be fully accepted into all aspects of mainstream society and there will be nothing left of the subversive subcultures that inspire us today. But of course perhaps I’m getting too far ahead…
Right now, what I want is a space where gay men can find refuge from whatever it is that stresses them out: repressive religious families, short-sided politicians, frustrating jobs, shallow peers, a string of sexually-unfulfilling relationships…whatever it is that makes a man doubt himself or his future…I want to have a space that warmly welcomes and encourages him. We’re all human…we’ve all got basic needs…and a lot of the time the road to happiness is easily found with the support of a friend (and if he’s beefy and bearded, well all the better). And no matter how society changes, or how the L.C. shifts and morphs as the years pass, there will always be a great value and need for such a space.
So after I’m done standing and sitting off to the side, what do I do? I move forward being an open-minded and open-hearted soul ready to enjoy and interact with my peers. Gay men still need each other…we still need to join forces and fight for our rights (still not equal citizens)…and you never know who might turn out to be a great leatherman 🙂
Journey forth gentlemen.
As a gay many myself I’ve never fit in or understood either side, and as shallow as the one side may seem, the other seems equally cloned (castro clone?) One who is desperately drenched in degrading machismo antics and domination, as if to prove they they are indeed still men.
Hey John Doe, I think it all depends on the individuals you meet in the different communities (there are plenty of great guys not in either of the two camps I presented). I agree that in Leather there can be plenty of BS in the way, but in the NY scene, I have definitely found a lot less BS with the leathermen. At the core, Leather folks are some of the most open and real people I’ve ever met. The ones engaged in degrading machismo antics and domination are those men still trying to find their way.
We are different parts of all of the above. I come from the gay divorced dad contingent – we are bears, silver daddies, into leather (once we can afford it after the kids graduate college), and some of us knew when to call it quits gracefully in our drag days.
That we share the commonality of male attraction (and some of us across multiple sub-groups in the gay community), we strive to not repeat the hurtful, repressive tactics that in our own ways and times, found a way to not shackled to. Acceptance is powerful. Loving that guy (or girl, even the straight ones) for who they are, regardless of how different they may seem – well, it’s the calling I feel held to. It has provided me the greatest amount of opportunity for growth and appreciation of another’s soul and existence.