Living Leather History

In We’re ALL Obscene in Their Eyes: Leather, Pride & Respectability Politics Kitty Stryker included quotes from Queen Cougar, B.C. Cliver, and Robert Lawrence of the Center for Sex and Culture. Those quotes were part of larger interviews, the majority of which were not included in the article.  

We stand firm in the belief that our community must never lose sight of our queer and leather history and the ways in which they are so inextricably tied. Below are the three interviews in full that Kitty conducted. 

In addition, you may find these resources helpful: Unsung Heroes – The Leather Community’s Response to AIDS, Leatherpedia, and Donna Sachet’s interview with On Guard embedded below. 

Queen Cougar

Age: 66

Pronouns: She/Her

B.C. Cliver

Age: 60 (as of the end of May!)

Pronouns: She/Her (but I don’t get worked up if I get called something else: I get misgendered a LOT)

Robert Lawrence

Age: Old

Pronouns: Depends on the moment and how I feel

How long have you identified as part of the leather/BDSM community? 

QC: I’ve been in the BDSM community since 1991

BC:  Basically, I identified as a part of the BDSM community since I moved out here [San Francisco] in 1985. I moved from Wisconsin, where there pretty much wasn’t such a thing back in the ’80s.

RL: Marched in first pride in 1976 I was stationed on the Presidio in the Combat Engineers next to GG Bridge. 

How long have you identified as part of the LGBTQIA+ community?

QC: I have been a Gay woman since 1975.

BC: I came out in 1982. I was in college in music school at the time, so it wasn’t like I didn’t know any other gay folks. (I insisted that I was straight for years before that, even though I can now look back and see that all of my serious “crushes” were on girls or women.)

Have you ever marched at Pride? If so, when was the first time you marched? What was it like? Did you march with a contingent?

QC: I first marched at SF Pride as a Gay woman in 1977. At that time I marched with a Black Lesbian Consciousness-Raising Group. I was marching in my first parade and for a political purpose and it was very exciting. I felt like I belonged and the overwhelming sense of love that I felt from my friends and strangers in the parade and crowd was very nurturing to my soul. 

BC: I marched at Pride for the first time the year after I moved to San Francisco. I actually marched with the leather contingent! It was a colossal eye-opener for me. I loved finally being able to see so many other folks like me (or at least similar to me) in the same place, celebrating ourselves. 

RL: Some of us were there but not in uniform. Just that year a Dyke had been outed and hung herself in her uniform. So being out or outed in the military was dangerous. 

When is the first time you recall seeing leatherfolk at Pride? How were they received at the time?

QC: In 1991 when I started attending leather events I watched the Leather contingent and was surprised as they were cheered along the way. Of course, I also saw people who were disgusted by the attire and behavior of some of the BDSM marchers.

BC: The leather contingent was placed toward the back of the parade due to the fact that we were still considered very controversial. We were still a bit of a pariah in the eyes of the “mainstream” LGBT folks who it seemed wanted to avoid being stigmatized by the world at large for yet another reason. (The crowd seemed to enjoy our antics, however.)

RL: The rigid organization of what is “leather” was not locked in so there were many people involved wearing a wonderful range of style and colors. We would stop and wait for other friends to come along to walk with. Yes, there was the black leather hyper-masculine look right along with brown suede and skimpy jock straps collars were there but not yet consolidated into affinity groups as it is today. 

#leatherhistory:  

What was the reception for leatherfolk like within the LGBTQIA+ community at large? 

QC: I was very aware that many Gay people felt we were presenting an image that some Gay people were embarrassed by. In the fight for Gay Rights, some opinions were that any alternative behavior such as BDSM would turn people away from supporting the greater Gay Movement.

BC: Back in the ’80s, BDSM was still a taboo subject, especially among lesbians. There were too many parallels being drawn between our version of play and “abuse”; the concept of consent was not well understood, and the women’s community in particular tended to shun BDSM folks.

RL: Darling Drag Queens and drag groups of various San Francisco neighborhoods wandered along all of us together arrived at City Hall to let them know we existed. So yes “leather” was there but politics were more important.

How did leatherfolk impact AIDS activism and other gay rights work?

QC: Leatherfolk started several of the major charities that did the bulk of the hard “boots on the ground” type of work raising funds for AIDS funding and research.

Leatherfolk raised millions of dollars…millions at a time when the world had still not begun to see AIDS as more than just a Gay problem.

BC: One of the things that the leather community started doing on a regular basis was fundraising. We were always coming up with creative ways to help AIDS organizations…anything from beer busts at the local leather bars, auctions, and fantasy shows. Since a great many if our community members were impacted by or had died from AIDS, we wanted to be there for them and anyone else who might be suffering.

#leatherhistory:  

Go Back or Keep Reading:

When is the first time you heard “leather shouldn’t be at Pride”? Who was saying it at the time?

QC: I heard this often during my leather title year (1993 – Ms. San Francisco Leather) and beyond. Various men and women within the Gay community were echoing these thoughts – here and at Pride celebrations across the country.

BC: There was a push in the ’80s for LGBT folks to try to “fit in”, to conform to a pre-set standard. I call it the “Look! We’re just like YOU!” attitude. I was of the opinion that the whole point to the parade was to let the general population know that we WEREN’T just like everyone else, and THAT should be the main reason for the celebration in the first place!

What is your response to people in 2022 who feel leatherfolk are “too obscene” for Pride?

QC: I feel that Leatherfolk should always March because we exist and all should be aware of that fact – however, I may disagree with how some marchers choose to display elements of our play and lifestyle when marching.  I may be a bit old school for 2022 tastes – but I believe everything is not for everybody.  Attire is one thing – but trying to duplicate scenes as a display element during marching can sometimes turn some people against us when it comes down to voting for our inclusion or exclusion.  Once you are in a “playroom” I feel you can do almost anything the circumstances allow.  On the street, however – we should retain our dignity and self-respect by presenting ourselves as mature individuals with particular interests which we have the right to pursue in the privacy of our designated spaces. At different times throughout history, many have been called obscene such as nudists, and now there is a greater understanding of that particular culture and their right to exist.

BC: Come on, folks! I mean, it’s 2022…anyone who still thinks that leather is “too obscene” to be in the parade needs to get over themselves. Technically, the proverbial “religious right” lumps any and all queer folk together; we’re ALL obscene in their eyes. Let’s celebrate our differences without having to chastise folks for their consensual behavior!

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