Guy Baldwin is an American leather titleholder, author, and psychotherapist from Los Angeles, California. He is International Mr. Leather 1989 and is the author of Ties that Bind, SlaveCraft and The Leather Contest Guide. He is a member of the Leather Hall of Fame‘s Board of Governors.
Early Life and Education
Baldwin was raised in little Brighton, Colorado, among working-class Italian Catholics. As a child during the summers, he enjoyed wrangling horses on his uncle’s guest ranch. Baldwin’s older sister became the distinguished psychologist and pioneer in psychodrama, Dorothy Baldwin Satten, Ph.D., author of Real Is Better Than Perfect. Baldwin never knew his father. Days after his high-school graduation, his mother discovered he was gay and gave him a week to move out. The year was 1965.
Upon moving out, Baldwin rented a room at a boardinghouse in Denver, where he went to work as a brakeman/switchman for the Union Pacific Railroad, then later as a page for Colorado House of Representatives.
Beginnings in the Leather Community
Circa 1967, as Baldwin later recalled, James Kane became the ﬁrst man Baldwin ever saw in full leather, which occurred in a Denver gay bar called the Pirate’s Den; Baldwin said of that: “All of a sudden a man walked in the door and leaned against the wall just inside the door of a long, narrow bar, and he was in full leather and dark glasses. And that was the moment… the instant the fulcrum moment at which my sexuality shifted…. That man was Jim Kane…. There was an aura that radiated around him for about 3-1/2 feet in all directions, and I moved so that I could be near him. As I got closer I began to encounter this force ﬁeld that the man generated.”
Baldwin stumbled upon Denver’s gay leather underground, and it was there he found the men and relationships he has described as his surrogate family. “Most of them felt like dads,” he wrote. “A few were downright motherly. I remember two who most resembled a couple of really crazy aunts, too.”
First-generation, Old Guard leathermen is who Baldwin first encountered, about half of them World War II veterans. Some of the same men (including James Kane) formed Denver’s first gay motorcycle club in 1968, the Rocky Mountaineers. They encouraged Baldwin to pursue further schooling and rode miles on their bikes to witness his graduation from the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he studied anthropology and education. Soon afterward, his biker family made him an associate member of their bike club.
That same summer of 1972, Baldwin moved to San Francisco, which was a west coast ground zero for young leathermen. There James Kane became a leather mentor to him and taught him about being a top. Baldwin also got a job as an EMT with an ambulance company, later working as a credit reporter for TRW. He also spotted a tiny classified ad in the back pages of The Berkeley Barb, the infamous underground newspaper, and decided to attend the advertised meeting for “fans of S and M and B and D.” As it turned out, Cynthia Slater was hosting a monthly “rap meeting” in her living room called the Society of Janus. The Society of Janus, founded by Slater and Larry Olsen in 1974, was the second BDSM organization founded in the United States (after The Eulenspiegel Society), and Baldwin was the first openly gay man to walk through its doors. Baldwin and Slater became fast friends, and he was soon teaching classes for the Society of Janus.
Throughout the 1970s, Baldwin alternated between San Francisco and Los Angeles, coming to know many of the trailblazing west coast leatherfolk of the day, including Gayle Rubin and Tony DeBlase. In 1979, while working as a night clerk at the south of Market El Dorado Hotel, he met David Stein, later of New York’s GMSMA (Gay Male SM Activists), the start of their longstanding friendship.
In 1986, Baldwin ran a small classified ad in Drummer, asking for contact from other kink-fluent professional mental-health providers. He hoped to build a network of like-minded professionals like himself. The pre-Internet effort began as a simple file folder of hard-copy letters, along with Baldwin’s notes from phone calls with colleagues all over the world responding to his ad. As the volume of responses became more than Baldwin could handle, Race Bannon, Baldwin’s long-time friend, came forward to collate and computerize the information and assumed responsibility for the data. Bannon eventually published it online, greatly expanding Baldwin’s initial network of therapists to include other kink-friendly medical, dental, and legal professionals, giving birth to the vital international resource now known as the Kink-Aware Professionals List. Today the list is managed by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom as a free service to all.
Career in Psychotherapy
In Los Angeles in the 1970s, bored with his career in banking, Baldwin began retraining for a new career in psychotherapy. While in graduate school at the American Institute for Family Relations, he met such important figures in the de-pathologizing of homosexuality as Evelyn Hooker and Judd Marmor, and was invited to attend The Gender Identity Research Group founded by Dr. Robert Stoller at UCLA.
Out as both gay and a leatherman, Baldwin argued that, in themselves, uncommon erotic desires and sexual behaviors are not proof of “mental illness,” an opinion in strong opposition to accepted diagnostic policy at the time (as articulated in the “DSM,” the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and to the standard practice of psychology and psychiatry. While his position provoked intense debate at UCLA, it helped reframe the question for several influential figures in the field of sexuality. Baldwin received his Master’s degree in 1981 and in 1983 was licensed as a psychotherapist in California.
As a Titleholder
In 1989, separate judging panels selected Baldwin first as Mr. NLA and then as the 11th International Mr. Leather. He is still the only man ever to have held the titles concurrently, and takes pride in his long relationship both with IML, the event, and with its cofounder, the late Chuck Renslow.
In demand for 35 years as an educator and writer, Baldwin has crisscrossed the U.S. and Canada to present lectures, workshops and seminars about leather and SM sexuality, in countless TV and radio broadcasts and periodicals. He may still be best known to readers for his monthly Drummer column on leather relationship issues, “Ties That Bind,” which appeared between 1986 and 1992. Those essays and others were collected in his 1993 book, Ties That Bind, edited by Joseph Bean.
In 1993, Baldwin published The Leather Contest Guide, now considered the seminal work on the leather contest phenomenon, and routinely consulted by thousands of contestants, judges, titleholders and promoters. SlaveCraft appeared in 2002, Baldwin’s most controversial and possibly most influential book, detailing one man’s deeply personal and intimate discoveries on his journey into profound submission.
Arguably, Baldwin’s greatest impact has been as a visible public figure in the leather, kink and M/s communities. In 1999 the producers of the Seventh International Master/slave Weekend & Contest (MAsT 99) in Atlanta asked Baldwin to design and manage the landmark first-ever two-day seminar track, comprising thirty-four classes and discussions.
To this day, Baldwin continues to speak to audiences worldwide. His experience and service have made him possibly the most honored leatherman who ever lived.
Awards and Honors
2000 – “Centurion” accolade, Leather Archives & Museum
2002 – Medal for Outstanding Brotherhood and Leadership, Chicago Hellfire Club
2004 – Hall of Fame Inductee – Society of Janus
2008 – Pantheon Forebear Award
2008 – Leather Leadership Award, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force
2009 – Guy Baldwin Master/slave Heritage Award created at the Master/slave Conference
2012 – Inducted into the Leather Hall of Fame