For thirty-one years, this annual event celebrated New York City’s Leather Community. It was borne out of a financial crisis surrounding the NYC Pride Parade in 1983 when the City’s leather and fetish organizations came together, pitched in and helped raise the money the parade needed to continue that year. When I first became involved in LPN as an attendee 15 years ago, there were more than a dozen vibrant leather and fetish groups helping to produce it, along with a handful of “GDI’s” as they were called – God Damned Independents. For most of the history of the organization, the GDI’s didn’t have a vote: the organizations, through representatives that facilitated communication back and forth, selected beneficiaries, acquired donations, promoted the event and sold the tickets.
Last night, it was time to say “When.”
Times are hard. I was there when we shut down The Next Generation group of Gay Male S/M Activists back in 2004-2005. I was there when GMSMA proper shut its doors a few years later. They had lost too many active members in an age where people could hook up on line and could learn (sort of) about leather practice and the community through videos. The lack of personal connection and safe space to grow and learn is sorely missed in this city, but it’s not just GMSMA: other organizations have come and gone, some are still out there but struggling with their own decreased memberships, some no longer see the value in a collaborative community, for others still, LPN just isn't a priority. When the committee voted last night to end Leather Pride Night, we did so mostly as individuals.
Trying to hold on to a community that stubbornly insists on being ephemeral is frustrating. There are no fewer people interested in leather, fetish and kink than in the past: take a quick glance on Fetlife or Recon and you’ll see new people every day getting into the scene. What’s missing is the family, the shared sense of purpose and responsibility to maintain a communal, shared space. New York City kills gay bars, and leather/fetish bars even moreso, but I am very proud to be part of the New York Eagle’s family.
I appreciate that we have a major generational gap in gay male culture where HIV/AIDS wiped out a huge proportion of the men who would today be between 45 and 65: those who should have been here to help pass down traditions, values and a shared commitment. Leather families in other cities and spaces seem to be thriving in ways that make this New Yorker envious. (Wait, we live in the greatest city on the planet and we’re envious of others? YES!) People in general seem less committed to collective work, group dynamics and community than they used to. Am I bitter because I seem to have been on the tail end of those that WERE committed? Perhaps, but dammit, it was good. And should BE good.
What happened? And what’s next?
Leather Pride Night is gone, but when The Next Generation shut its doors, the New York Boys of Leather rose to fill the vacuum for a few years. I look forward to seeing what new collaborations come up, because we ARE a community whether we recognize it or not, and as long as we’re seeking brotherhood, we will find it.
To those who came before, I salute you. To those with whom I sat last night and knew the time had come to say “When,” I am proud to have been among you – we did good. To those who come next: don’t forget to invite everyone to the party.