By Cory David, Mr. Eagle Wilton Manors 2020/2021
I mentioned in my first issue, to inform about history, current events, and stories from the pillars of our community. This issue I chose to explore the history of the leather movement. Here is my overview of our own leatheresque American Graffiti seen through my leatherman’s view.
The culture actually started before our bars opened when post WWII late 1940’s motorcycle clubs were forming. The popularity of the motorcycle and their style of clothing attracted the freedoms and masculinity of returning soldiers. Then we had the Hollister, California riots (4,000 bikers, party week) summer of 1947.
Sensationalized coverage inspired the 1953 film The Wild One starring Marlon Brando. Wearing a black leather muir cap (commonly known as a cover, a U.S. military hat, Sir hat, or Masters hat), boots, jacket, white t-shirt, and jeans that Brando wore in the movie created a pop-culture fascination in the leather biker culture. Dissatisfied with mainstream culture, some gay men starting wearing the style, and our leather community emerged. This became symbolic for men’s open exploration of kink and S&M.
In 1958, The Gold Coast was the first gay leather bar in the country and opened in Chicago. In 1961, the opening of The Tool Box in San Francisco was first made famous in a 1964 Life article entitled “Homosexuality in America.” This Life spread showcased the leather community and it described San Francisco as “the gay capital of America.” This created a movement for gay leathermen to migrate to San Francisco, New York City, and Chicago.
In the 1970’s, the leather culture grew, including Berlin as one of the largest leather communities in the world. Then in 1978, the lesbian leather subculture emerged on the scene with the first BDSM organization in the U.S., followed by the lesbian bike club Dykes on Bikes in 1979 and Leather and Lace in 1980. In 1984, Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco was also one of the first events to showcase the leather and BDSM community, not as a gay event, but as a diverse and inclusive fetish fair. The culture continues today with Onyx, Centaurs, International Ms Leather, Mama’s Family, and so many more.
The Finnish, being my dominant heritage, bring great pride in mentioning the worldwide icon, known as the most influential artist of gay male erotica, Tom of Finland. Tom’s highly masculinized images of men wearing leather and uniforms and his first pieces of lumberjacks, influenced from Finnish mythology, emerged in 1957. His images and art are some of the most collectable to date.
Then there is the godfather, Chuck Renslow. What can I say? Just grappling with the words that would honor him has me in tears. A singular decision to open a bar in Chicago can create a culture worldwide. Following one’s genuine self always prevails. Since 1979, Chuck’s legacy lives on with International Mr. Leather (IML) in Chicago, the ethereal leather event of the year. Tony DeBlase, a community leader who co-founded The Leather Archive & Museum with Chuck, designed the leather pride flag. It’s now left to us, our leather community, and our LGBTQ+ community to carry that torch with pride, acceptance, and, as the heart of the leather pride flag reminds us, LOVE.