Representation Part 1: Diversity and Dialogue
Following this weeks Blackout recap post, I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things with writing more regularly. I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read through my thoughts on various aspects of the leather community.
This is part one of a two part post on Representation in the leather community. In the Blackout recap I touched on how unique the event was, partially to do with how well so many folks were represented and celebrated at that event. Part one of this post will focus on why representation is important and what bars and Leather events can do to promote representation.
It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this that I care deeply about diversity and representation in the leather community. I firmly believe that anyone: cis, trans, male, female, GNC/NB, Black, white, Asian, Latino, middle eastern, indigenous, young, old, twink, bear, and any other minority I have neglected to name (feel free to tell me what I missed) should be able to venture into a leather bar or Leather event and see themselves represented among the event attendees, titleholders, title contestants, title judges, education instructors, and any other position of authority, privilege and respect we hold dear in our community. Sidebar: are there going to be men focused bars and bar nights? Of course. Are there going to be men only play parties and events? Of course. But when there are bar nights and leather events for the entire community, then the entire community should be represented.
Diversity and representation isn’t a room full of cis white gay dudes where one guy has red hair and everyone else is blonde. Diversity and representation is looking at the population of a given area and bringing together a room full of people with representation from all the different people groups within a given area based on gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc. even if it means that you yourself may no longer be in the majority. Diversity among kinksters doesn’t mean that you’ve got 20 “traditional” leathermen and 1 rubber man in a room. It means that among those 20 leathermen and 1 rubberman you have a variety of cis and trans men of different ethnic backgrounds. It means that if you are in a city that is majority black, or majority Asian, or majority latino, then the majority of leatherfolk in a room in that particular city shouldn’t be white. It doesn’t mean that one people group is excluded, it means there should be representation of all people groups within that city.
Why is representation important?
Think back on your first time walking into a leather bar or attending a leather event. Remember how excited you were? How nervous you were? You knew you were turned on by Leather and leathermen or leatherwomen, but you were intimidated. It’s one thing to get off on magazines or videos, it’s another to actually put yourself out there in person. The moment finally came for you to walk through those doors. The first thing you probably do is grab a drink to calm the nerves. Then you look around and try not to slip on the puddle of drool growing at your feet from all the leather hotness in the room. You try to find a friendly face. A familiar face. Even if it’s not someone you know, you try to look for someone that appears friendly to you, maybe someone that looks like you. Maybe someone your own age, your own body size/shape, your own ethnicity. You want to find someone to make you feel comfortable.
For minorities, this experience is made all the more difficult by the life experiences we have had up until this point. For women, odds are they have been sexually harassed by men, possibly/probably even a gay man, so they may seek out a fellow woman so they don’t have to fear being harassed. A person of color has seen too many online profiles of white men that say “looking for a Dom alpha black man” or “an Asian sub who knows his place”, they may look for someone who makes them feel comfortable without the fear of being fetishized.
Once you do find someone you are comfortable with, you gather up the strength to talk to another person and another. Next thing you know you’re being voluntold to compete in a bare chest contest, or you’re modeling gear for a leather contest, or you may find yourself running for a leather contest. It all starts by finding a friendly face. That friendly face takes many shapes, but it’s important for anyone venturing into a bar or an event to be able to find a friendly face so that they stay at that bar or event and become part of our community.
“Ok, Beacon, I’m a (insert cis/white/gay/male here) and I want to reach out to other people groups. How do we get representation at our bars or events?” Great question!
First of all, consider the marketing of your bar and events. The first thing that people see in the hope that they become interested in your bar or event. Are you using diverse marketing? I saw a recent ad for Folsom. It was full of about 20–30 bearded, muscly white guys. Someone made a joke “finally, bearded, muscly white guys are able to find modeling work.” Is your marketing targeting a single demographic? Consider adding people of color to your marketing. Consider adding people of different body types. If you look at the past year of your marketing and you can’t tell if you’ve been using the same model for each ad or if it’s just guys that look alike, maybe it’s time to mix it up. Secondly, consider the environment of your bar. Are you showing porn? Awesome! People love porn, that’s why we invented the Internet. Is your porn diverse? Is your porn diverse but relying on offensive stereotypes such as a thug black guy, cholo Latino, etc? Maybe it’s time to mix it up a bit. Is your bar displaying any banners, ads or flags that are antagonistic or meant to be racially divisive whether you realize it or not? Maybe it’s time to consider if there are any alternatives that can be hung instead. Third, partner with local LGBT non profits that cater to minorities. See if they would be willing to come to your bar or event to provide HIV testing or literature. Reach out to local community groups or Leather clubs that focus on minorities and offer space in your bar or event. See if they want to host a cocktail hour.
Start up a dialogue. The most important thing anyone can do is start a dialogue. And not just with one single person in a people group. Just as you do not speak for your people group, I don’t speak for mine. Talk to more than one black person. Talk to more than one woman. Talk to more than one trans person. Everyone has different life experiences. But after awhile, you will start hearing common themes within a given people group. You will hear about common issues a given people group faces at home, in the workplace, in the leather community, in the world at large. You will hear about the unique joys a given people group experiences based on their culture or upbringing. You will hear why certain coded phrases and imagery are problematic and perpetuates inaccurate and harmful rhetoric relating to minorities. You will hear ways you can best help and support them. You will hear the ways minorities encounter discrimination and oppression.
“Ok Beacon, I know all about discrimination, I’m gay after all. I know exactly what you’re going through.”
Well, not exactly. While LGB (I left out the T for a reason) folk understand what it’s like to experience discrimination based on their sexuality, minorities experience discrimination in a different way. It’s not a competition, but understanding these differences helps in learning more about the importance of representation as well as how you best can be an ally in the fight to end discrimination and oppression. Part two will get into this a bit more.
Whether you agree or disagree, feel free to comment. Let’s have a dialogue.