Working out the kink
Faithful readers will recall that Nothing Ever Happens’ foray into the world of leather fetishists last October, via the Sacramento Valley Leathermen’s monthly pancake breakfast, left us with more questions than answers. For not-so-faithful readers: my brilliant conclusion after delicious pancakes, Bloody Marys and sideways glances at jovial men in leather vests went something like, “How did all these folks get into leather, and what is the mystique of cowhide, anyway?”
So when SVL Education Coordinator Mark Olsen invited me to write a column about an “Introduction to Leather” lecture, presented last week by the newly co-ed and appropriately renamed Sacramento Valley Leathercorps, I agreed. With the arrival of women-owned sex-toy shop Grind & Groove and recent efforts by SVL to promote its lecture series to a wider audience, it seems Sacramento’s sexual development is keeping pace with its commercial development. No one need drive to suburban strip clubs under cover of night to peruse “marital aids.” (Unless that’s your kink, in which case, more power to you.) Now you can buy high-quality toys from brightly lit neighborhood boutiques and listen to experts explain their uses in a comfortable theater setting.
I arrived at the Geery Theater promptly at 7:30 p.m. and received a gracious welcome from SVL President Dave Weller, who wore a large smile, close-cropped spiky hair and a black-leather vest. A registered nurse, Weller got involved with the lecture series because he’s seen firsthand how people who misunderstand the rules of safe-sex play end up in the emergency room. (His stories of patients’ internal lacerations from light bulbs, soda bottles and other inappropriate “toys” are cringe-inducing.)
Weller handed me a pamphlet titled “SM Safely,” with a cover photo of a man licking a pierced nipple, and invited me to sit down. I turned toward the stage, where a large man in chaps assembled an array of whips, canes and cuffs, and surveyed the mostly empty theater. Like me, every other attendee flew solo. Unlike me, all but one were male. Everyone sat as far away from everyone else as possible, which I figured must be the etiquette for such events. I walked down the aisle until I found an empty row.
The lecture began with a talk on AIDS prevention from a Breaking Barriers volunteer, who also offered free on-site HIV tests. Then our chap-wearing instructor, Armand, explained the ins and ouches of bondage, domination and other fetishes. “There is no natural equality in the world,” Armand said. “Some people need to be dominant. Some people need to be submissive. We may declare a politically correct equality, but it ain’t real.”
I pondered this worldview while we passed around cuffs, eye masks and coils of rope. Although the room was brightly lit and Armand’s expository speeches had the pleasantly educational tone of a PBS documentary, I was having trouble looking people in the eye.
Things lightened up when Armand, Weller and Olsen began bantering with the ease of old friends. The trio traded tips for creative scene-setting and fun safe words. (“Mangos and watermelon,” anyone?) I learned, among other things, that the hardware store is a treasure trove of thrifty bondage supplies. Paint-stirring sticks, mini-blind wands, wooden spoons, clothespins and canning tools all have their kinky uses. I’ll never look at my fellow Ace Hardware shoppers in the same way.
At lecture’s end, the only other woman in the room raised her hand and said, “No demonstration?” My head was already swimming with information overload—always obtain consent, never twist the scrotum, a gray handkerchief in the back pocket means you’re into bondage—but I sat politely as Weller lightly whipped a shirtless volunteer across the back. When the group headed to the Merc for drinks afterward, I retired to my own couch to watch The Office with a strong sense of relief.
Though I remain vegan and rather vanilla, I am grateful to the Leathercorps for its hospitality and for providing an educational and social outlet to the leather fetishists in our community. And if this column left you with more questions than answers, next month’s lecture is titled “Breaking in the Novice.”