Many people ask: is Old Guard Leather sexist? The short answer is no, as technically a person of any gender may be a Dominant or a submissive, and women are part of the Leather scene since a very long time. It is true that Old Guard Leather tends to be very man-centric, and to some degree in today’s society Old Guard might be considered sexist in terms of the strong polarization between what is considered masculine and what is not considered such, when taken away from the context of consent. Yet, as you will read in this article, being this a lifestyle entirely based on consent, this is a very healthy form of sexism and classism.
What is sexism?
Accordingly to “The European Institute for Gender Equality” the definition of Sexism is
“Sexism is linked to power in that those with power are typically treated with favour and those without power are typically discriminated against. Sexism is also related to stereotypes since discriminatory actions or attitudes are frequently based on false beliefs or generalisations about gender, and on considering gender as relevant where it is not.
Wondering if is Old Guard Leather sexist, we can safely say that first of all, sexism is Gender Based, and generally aims to impair a female person to achieve the same status as what a male could. Sexism is also usually humiliating, demeaning, hurtful, abusive and worst of all, indirect and shady in most of its expressions. All of this, is the contrary of what a Master or a Sir in Old Guard Leather does to a sub or how he acts, as you can read in my boy’s article about Humiliation and degradation.
The definition of sexism refers in the specific to a non-consensual dynamic, where the discriminated gender carrying person has not asked to be put in such a position, while actually and rightfully demanding an equivalent position and treatment in society.
So the short answer is that no, Old Guard Leather is not technically sexist, since there are Dominants and submissives of both genders. It’s true, however, that our roots are based on an hyper polarized hierarchic structure, where especially among gay men, attributes of masculinity or femininity might be reflecting corresponding flavors in the gradient of shades that moves from Domination to submission.
As a group and also as men, we absolutely agree that in the human built society, every person should have the same rights, the same value, the same treatment and the same possibilities, where for sure no discrimination on gender, sexuality, race, color of the skin, religion or any other personal choice or distinctive trait should ever been done nor supported.
Values and principles that we adhere to in society extend not only to sexism though, but in general to polarized exercise of power. Here after, a few examples.
- In a causal morning of your everyday life, you see a cop fucking in the ass a handcuffed crying prisoner while muffling his mouth with a handed glove, in the middle of the street. Would that be ok? Of course not.
- Again in the middle of the street, out of any context, you witness a group of skinheads spitting, pissing and putting their boots on a person on the ground, would that be ok? Of course not; I suppose it’s safe to say you’d call the police.
- If you’d seen a man being hanged by his wrists and flogged and whipped to blood in some prison camp, would that be ok? Of course not. It would be torture.
Just like sexism in its more violent and outrageous expressions, these examples are violations of human rights.
At the same time, all of these examples are also part of BDSM and our identity, our sexual and relational life. That’s because there’s the missing element in all the previously stated situations: consent, and mutual enjoyment.
Is Leather sexist?
So what do people into Leather usually like?
- Cigars and smoke
- Law Enforcement
- Search Gloves
- Military, and so on.
Now, I believe it’s difficult to say that these people get a cerebral hardon thinking about these Dominant Law Enforcement people executing their function in a soft, politically correct, glittery and playful way. I find hard to believe they have an erection thinking of being dominated by a Drag Queen or a feminine twink, and I don’t believe they are sexually attracted to what they preach to be seeking. Does this mean that we have something against Drag Queens, feminine people or other similar other variations of human nature? Absolutely not. It means we don’t believe they are exactly what people with a fetish for Leather think about when they fetishize Leather. Nothing more, nothing less.
Maybe, or even probably, in the future this will also start to change, when the cultural background and symbols of society will be completely changed, when mass media will propose to people and kids a completely different imaginary of these symbols, things will change also in the way we fetishize Domination and submission. Can this be part of the future of BDSM? Yes!
But that’s not Leather. Leather has a History, a reason to exist, and it’s in the very same name of the fetish, Leather; it’s a fabric that connotes a very specific time in history, a very specific group of people wearing it, and a a very specific use of Uniforms, Boots and so on.
I am sorry apologize to the occasional radical queer reader which might feel hurt and excluded by this statement, but this is about mere logic. Leather is leather. The unpleasant feelings linked to the perception of gatekeeping has to do with the impression of being entitled to everything, always, as a queer person; and it actually has nothing to do with being queer, it has to do with personality.
Is BDSM sexist?
BDSM is about hyperpolarized intercourses and relationships where one side is Dominant, and the other is submissive. One is Alpha, the other is omega. One is in charge, the other follows and obeys. It stands for Bondage / Discipline, Domination / Submission, Sadism / Masochism. You can read more about BDSM on our dedicated article here.
In particular, BDSM focuses its engine on the consensual authority imbalance between the two parties. This is exactly what people seek, especially when it comes to the Leather scene; sometimes what we desire sexually and in our private life don’t match up with what we fight for in the outer society, and that’s ok. For many people it’s difficult to admit that while you can (and should) fight a for an ideal to better the society you live in, deep inside you host the same entity you fight against. To make a clear example: just because as an activist I have been fighting against homophobia and internalized homophobia, does it mean I don’t carry homophobia inside of me as well? of course not. To consider this duality something negative or to deny this simple truth, would be conveniently naive and not constructive.
Just like Panty Bliss once said in a brilliant speech she gave to the public, it would be impossible when you’re born and raised in a world dipped in homophobia (but this applies to sexism too) to somehow manage to grow up unscathed from it. We all carry inside the same symbols and socially inherited cultural backgrounds, be them positive or negative, and acknowledging it is the first step to build better version of ourselves.
So what is, under this light and for the sake of the topic we’re writing about, what so many gay men nowadays seem to have trouble admitting to themselves? A sexualization and fetishization of sexism and attraction for Dominance in a patriarchic and stereotyped fashion (see Law Enforcement fetish, as an example).
For instance, just think about the countless gay men with a fetish for married men, where the presence of the female part of the equation is fundamental for that fetish. When someone on a gay chat sees that you are married, they are going to ask you if you’re married to a woman or to a man; if you are perceived to as more “heterosexual”, you are still more desirable. Most gay men behave this way, and those same gay men criticize this dynamic.
It almost seems that just because they are rightfully fighting for a more welcoming, positive and just society, they should deny their own private sexual nature as individuals. Is it wrong to work for a more democratic and free society and then inside of your household to keep up a strictly conservative, even gender polarized environment? No.
That’s because there is a difference between the society we must all live in together, and of course we must come to compromise and respect one another, even when we come from different backgrounds or lives different lives, and our private existence as individuals and the relationships we create with other consensual people that share our same vision and ideals.
Where does Fetish stem from?
Fetish, often stems from trauma, as documented in many psychological researches . That doesn’t mean that a person who has a fetish is a broken person, nor that fetishes are weird and strange. In fact, everybody have fetishes; it all stands on wether the person is aware of having a fetish, or not.
As stated before, if you saw a group of men stomping on another man on the ground, pissing on him, spitting on him and so on, it would be something tragic and very wrong; why then is this a very frequent vision outside of a Leather bar (or inside of it)? Because in that context, there’s consent.
Fetish is the way our brain exorcises and wins trauma. Thanks to fetish, the visually and conceptually negative/abusive dynamic, is exorcized to something pleasant, empowering and engaging for all the parties involved. Fetish is the way the human brain is able to exorcise trauma, taking away the trauma’s power over the individual (fear, anxiety, phobiae), allowing the individual itself to overcome trauma and dominate it (I choose to do this in a safe environment, with people I trust).
Also note that trauma doesn’t always equal abuse. A trauma is a strong impression, leaving a mark on us.
There is always a set time in youth where we are impressed or shocked by something we are exposed to, especially when it’s violent or discomforting, and when we are able to evolve from it, often it can become something else; but it stays part of our lives. Sometimes it becomes the enemy of a fight you want to bring on. Some other times, it becomes a fetish of yours. Often, it can become both, and this contradiction is as safe and ok (as long as consensual) as human nature is: complex and contradictory.
Think about some of the main and most common fetishes that are around:
Law enforcement & Military Fetish
Most probably if you have this fetish, you were exposed at a young age to visuals or direct experiences that have impressed you, where policemen, military people and other Law Enforcement personas were expressing what you encoded as masculinity and Domination. Even just the fact that your parents might have reacted with deference and submission to a law enforcement person (for instance, obeying directions of a cop stopping your car for documents check) is enough to impress a child. It could have been on mass media or it could have been in person; it could have been something horrible and negative, or even something perfectly normal: this doesn’t really have to do with what you saw, it has to do with your uniqueness as an individual and how you’ve received it.
Men smells and underwear Fetish
Possibly you started to know you were homosexual (or bi..) at a younger age when you were still going to school and played sport or hanged out in a locker room with other boys. You knew you were attracted to the environment, but you weren’t ready to process it or weren’t allowed to express it. Therefor, every symbol that held your desire for contact with other males in that environment, attracted you. The used clothes, the smell of sweat, all of the things that made those boys present and sexual through your senses. You could have been even bullied, or not ever been bullied: this doesn’t really have to do with what you experienced, it has to do with your uniqueness as an individual and how you’ve received it.
Breath control and choking Fetish
This deepens a bit the analysis of the possibilities as the human brain is a very, very complex work of art. Sometimes we fetishize not directly visual stimuli, but mere experiences. Experiences such as fear, anxiety and panic can be oppressive, but they are also a normal experience in life (on this, Lacan’s study on distress and the trauma of birth is extremely interesting). When these emotions have been set in place by determined situation which held a specific value in an individual’s history, they can be fetishized as well. Who would say that feeling that it’s hard to breathe or even impossible to breathe, is a pleasant experience? Well it can be one, if you chose to purposedly living this experience. It all depends on your personal history and your absolute freedom in having a fetish for whatever has a personal meaning to you. As usual, it doesn’t have to do with the original meaning of the act; it’s about how you’ve received and processed this emotion.
Dad and son Fetish and Physical Discipline
Maybe you grew up without a father, or with a very absent father figure; maybe instead you had a perfect example of a loving father, but you perceived it differently as you had the need of a different father figure due to your personality (example: need of more discipline or need of more understanding instead of only discipline and so on). However it went for you, you have experienced something that impressed you in your house with your parents involving being punished or spanked, or the lack or too strong presence of the Father figure in your early years of life, have determined for you a strong impression that you have processed as a fetish when adult. Does it destroys the magic of the Fetish? No, it simply proves how all fetishes are, on different levels, natural and often the healthiest evolution from trauma.
When I was asked if I believed if true Leather Fetish / Leather Culture is sexist, I immediately thought about writing this article. Instead of keeping up with a useless witch hunt on twitter, I preferred to answer broadly with our point of view on the matter, as the whole aim of the LeatherBigWold project and the Old Guard Leathermen Project is to inform, educate and raise awareness on what Old Guard Leather is, what we do, what we approve and what we disapprove. We hope that by now is clear that we don’t support at all any kind of discrimination on the public society in which we all must live in as “people”, but we also do not want to endorse the wrong turn that gay activism took in normalizing everything for everyone, no matter what it takes.
That’s because by doing that, as we said in our specific article on the problem, modern queer culture (not differently form the modern general society), is flattening all culture’s differences, wiping away from history determined cultures that have a reason and right to exist, for the benefit of commercialization, fashion and easy access to everything. This aspect of culture globalization, I think, really is the toxic invisible enemy, as while you think your’e fighting for freedom, you’re actually denying those who are different from you to have their own identity.
Not noticing the here above stated point, leads to a frequent schizophrenic dynamic in our community. Because of the fear of being judged as inconsistent and hypocrites, they try to extend their very right social fights to other individual’s freedom of having their own natural, primal consensual identity. Often we see situations like these:
people lecturing you about being abusive for defending your culture through elaborated articles available to everybody online, and one hour later they retweet a findom guy who states “pay me, faggot. Give me what’s mine and starve to death like you should”.
people ranting about how disgusted they are by the “toxic masculinity” examples, but if you visit their twitter feed they only retweet content where the same examples of “toxic masculinity” are penetrating, fisting, using/abusing smaller guys.
people advertising queer life as a milestone of positiveness and warmth on the outside for their perceived social gain, and occupying 80% of their time being as mean and hurtful as possible to people they don’t even know, online.
The above one here is just a quick example I’ve found today.
I believe this is also one of the true consequences (probably with the best starting intentions) of a mishandling of the fight against internalized homophobia, where we work so hard (somebody with a pure heart, somebody just to get followers and validation) to advocate for ideals that we perceived as widely shared, but that don’t completely belong to our nature and history as an individual; is this wrong? No.
This can actually be elevating and wonderful. But then, if we don’t acknowledge it and we actually keep denying our true primal nature, and find a way to let it live in a consensual, positive and respectful way, we start building up inside a sense of self judgment, discomfort and pain that we project on others. In the specific, all of this self hate is projected onto those ones who have no problems in publicly standing for thoughts and values which don’t align with the painful duality denial they are trapped in. Yet, the assumption that these two different people are enemies, si completely inaccurate.
All of these groups of people, as already stated, can be composed both by genuine folk who walk their talk and really believe in what they fight for, and other who are just impostors, trying to get through their day with their perceived sense of belonging. But sticking to people who are genuine and really believe in what they preach, I believe the only difference between the first and the second group, is this:
- the first thinks that having a duality inside of them is sign of hypocrisy, and feel offended towards those who try to make the best out of the duality,
- the second group feels that the first one is living in hypocrisy, and that it’s showing up by the amount of rage, aggression and intolerance they show towards the second group.
Old Guard Leather is the most traditional adherence to a lifestyle that nowadays is outdated to most people in terms of symbologies, more than in terms of values. Even under the lens of a modern interpretation or roles and hierarchies, Old Guard Leather and Leather in general are not sexist, as any kind of gender can be “Leather Folk”. At the same time, the symbolism that Leather refers to, is based surely on a sexist pattern, as Leather roots and History go back over a century now, to a very different world that you can explore on our dedicated article: what is Old Guard Leather.
What is Old Guard Leather?
Old Guard Leather is a lifestyle taking its roots in a Man to man dynamic coming from Military life, based on Strictness, Structure, Stability and often expressing the extremely polarized hierarchy trough BDSM; Old Guard Leathermen live respecting Protocols and Doctrines passed on trough generations of "Leather Families". You can read more about Old Guard Leather here.
Is Leather Culture misogynistic?
The pop Leather scene is not misogynistic in the United States, where females are part of the scene as much as men are; in Europe the scene is more man-centric, but opening and evolving fast year by year. Old Guard Leather, however, can be considered misogynistic, as it is deeply linked to the symbolisms and man to man dynamics that don't include women.
Is Leather Linked to Toxic Masculinity?
It depends. If for you masculinity is toxic by default, and the only way to be validly masculine is to be non cisgender or hiding virility, then yes. Leather culture and also Leather fetish are surely based on stereotypes about masculinity, but masculinity is not always a stereotype, nor it is toxic, just as much femininity isn't toxic by default.
Are women welcomed to Leather?
Surely as observed in this article, women into Leather represent a sub-community within a sub-culture; the answer is: it depends. It depends on geographical aspects and on the purpose of a club or group. To answer the question, I'll say this: as a Leather Master, if I'm presented with an excellent submissive who is respectful and takes their role seriously, I couldn't care less if they are a man or a woman or anything in between.