Learning leather bars is different from learning life outside the closet. Read about it below. [Edit]

In the room downstairs, a strobe flashed over mounds of muscle and harnesses. Men slipped in and out of shadow. I couldn’t tell if they were dancing or fucking. I later understood that to be the point.

Upstairs, things were different — a quiet dive bar, people milling around wooden tables. Someone was choking on a dick in the corner. His gagging noises mixed with the music and talk. A circle of men stood around him and I didn’t dare peek through. On the dance floor, I inched close to a guy with salt-and-pepper hair who was wearing a leather kilt. We made eye contact, he came in close. He put his arm around me and shouted in my ear, “Where are you from?”

My newness was obvious. “Georgia,” I shouted back. He held me, we swayed with the music as he rubbed my chest. I relaxed. Then he pulled my hand under his kilt: a fully erect dick with a massive Prince Albert piercing jutting through the head. He pulls my hand and I follow him through the throng.

Lessons came later: dos and don’ts, codes and courtesies, good nights and bad ones. Learning leather bars was different from learning life outside the closet. I never feared coming out — but kink scared me.

Fear coupled with desire leads us all here — eager, fresh-faced, and ready to learn. Here’s some rules of navigating a gay leather bar.

DO come as you are.

Last Pride, the outdoor deck of my local leather bar was standing-room-only, a swaying mass of sweat and skin. Furry pecs were buckled down in black leather straps, asses were out, and every few minutes a man stood, coming up for air, before dropping back to his knees.

Most were gay men, but some femdoms (female dominants) were in attendance. They spilled out the front and back entrances onto both porches, into the parking lot, down the sidewalk and around the block — men in various states of dress and undress. Some were decked out in full-body leather (“full cow”). Others wore jeans and t-shirt. Some, like me, wore almost nothing.

Every body type was on display. Large folks of every gender strutted jockstraps. Skinny kinksters slinked through in latex. Countless guys like me — guys who work out but still eat donuts, who keep their beards trim and bellies natural — felt confident to lose shirts (and more).

You don’t need to fit a mold — there is none. The lovely thing about my hometown leather bar — and about leather bars across the world, and about the communities they serve — is the invite for everyone of every size. Different bars and clubs have different policies — some require gear, some require you to get through a selective doorman, some are male-only — but these are few. Most are open to all kinky people, and kinky people come in every shape, size, gender, and color. Come as you are.