tlc: year with
a leather club

a documentary by Randy A. Riddle


Interview Transcripts:
Bill Costomiris and Michael P.


David Wr., Micheal P., and Bill C. -- (c) by Michael Cox

Bill (on the right in the photo above) and Michael (center, in the photo) are two founding members of the Tarheel Leather Club. Bill has been involved in organizing the Mr./Ms. Southeast Leather contest and spearheaded TLC's "Beat Jesse" campaign to help defeat NC Senator Jesse Helms in the 1990 elections. Michael has served as TLC's treasurer and has worked with TDA, a North Carolina Leather organization devoted to community fundraising. 

All material (c) 1995, CCD. All rights reserved. 

RAR - Let me ask you this, when the first club was getting together, and maybe both of you can talk about this, what were some of the missions of the club and what did the club hope to do. What was it's statement of purpose? 

MICHAEL - Well, I think the main thing - my main goal and purpose in being a Tarheel Leather Club member - is to bridge the gap between the different factions of the gay community and between the gay community, the leather community and the heterosexual community, and by fund raising and support and by being visible, and by supporting our brothers and sisters. It makes it positive statement to the rest of the world - just by being and being seen. 

BILL - I think one of the key goals that all of us had in the very beginning was to present a positive image of the leather life style to the rest of the world, and I think we've done a fairly good job with that. I think probably second priority was to offer to other people who were a little interested, but they weren't sure and they needed some place where they feel comfortable exploring it. We wanted to provide a place where that could happen for people; where they would feel comfortable exploring leather, exploring SM, and deciding whether it was for them or not. Probably one of the most positive aspects of the statement of purpose of the club is education, and that's not just educating ourselves about new play toys and about new leather garments, at least in my opinion and in my interpretation, it's educating everyone, whether they're straight, gay, bisexual, asexual, or whatever. That's number one, first and foremost, that people who practice leather sex, or SM, do it in a consensual manner. Contrary to popular belief, we don't just grab somebody off the street and take them home and say, "You're gonna do this, that and the other thing." And that probably the toughest job that faces us yet is the continuing education. 

RAR - Mike, let me ask you, what are fetishes and some of the different kinds of fetishes that people have? 

MICHAEL - Well, I think (Laughter from all people in room) fetishes (are) when you attribute sexual desire to normally non-sexual things, object or whatever the object of your heart's desires might not necessarily be the total package next to you. It might just be his feet... (laughter) His big beefy man feet. (laughter) Or it might be a pair of boots. But, .. what was the question? 

RAR - What's your definition of SM? 

BILL - Strenuous foreplay.. (Laughter) 

RAR - O.K. I thought you would get me on that one. (More laughter from Bill) 

BILL - You want a technical definition, or...? 

RAR - (more laughter).... Let's just skip it. (pauses) 

RAR - Let me ask you about one thing as far as education. The club concentrates on safety in not only on SM play but any kind of sex. First off, define "Safe, Sane, and Concensual". What do these mean in general terms? 

BILL - Safe, of course, is basically self-explanatory in that it means that it means not only safe sex, but safe physically, especially if you're talking about SM. Safe sex obviously for both partners or how ever many might be in the group. If you are speaking in terms of safe in an SM scene, it means in flogging nothing below the rib cage, around the head or any thing like that. Basically, it means being responsible to each other, and taking care of each other. Sane... 

MIKE - Obviously I think that one is self-explanatory. 

BILL - Self-explanatory, of course - then you have to get into a definition of what is sane. All of us have different definitions of that, but I think basically anything that doesn't hurt a person physically is sane, if that's what a person wants done. Which brings you to concensual, which means, depending on your particular point of view, and I'm not going to get into that argument - I'll just give you my definition of concensual, and that means if your going to do an SM scene, you don't have to plan out steps it's going to take. Sort of like the cartoon that has appeared in one of the magazines where you see this arbitration room and there's a lawyer and a client on one side of the table, a lawyer and a client on the other side of the table, and one of the lawyers says to the others, well, my client agrees that your client may give him 6 strokes with a 9 tail if your client will allow him to slip him twice. (laugh) Well I don't think concensuality meant that you had to negotiate everything out. I think basically it means laying some ground rules before a scene starts and... whether you use the word stop, slow down, quiet, whatever word you use, when the word is used by either person, then things need to calm down and get a grip on reality and see where you're at, and then if you want to continue on, continue on. I don't think that because a person says he'll go home with you, or she will go home with you, that gives you consent on their part for you to do anything you want to do when you get home. 

RAR - What was "Beat Jesse" and how did that get started? 

Bill C. -- photo (c) by Michael CoxBILL - Beat Jesse was a lot of hard work, which ultimately ended in disappointment for us. Beat Jesse was an attempt by members of the Tarheel Leather Club, several of the others Carolina Leather Clubs and members of the leather community from all over the country to get rid of Jesse Helms during his last reelection bid. I had, once I had gotten started in the leather community and we had started the Tarheel Leather Club, wanted to get involved in politics. And I had come up with the idea of just doing a North Carolina Dump Jesse campaign just in organizing the gay community, getting people registered to vote and getting them out to vote. A real good friend of mine from Portland Oregon, Suzy Sheppard, who was at that time was Ms. International Leather had caught wind of it and she called me one night and she said, "Listen, I've this really great idea." She said, "We'd like to help y'all with the Jesse Helms thing, she said we've come up with this really neat idea for this T-shirt that we can sell and do fund raisers and stuff," and it was "Beat Jesse". The T-shirt was a paddle with holes punched in the paddle with the (word) "beat" and Jesse was written out with the bull whip, in cursive writing. We donated, a little over $7,000.00 from the national leather community from all over the country; it came from T-shirts, fundraisers, and so forth to Senate Vote '90, which was a PAC committee set up solely for registering voters and putting out for public knowledge Jesse Helms's voting record. So instead of watching stupid television commercials that they had edited to make Jesse look like a saint, people got to find out what he was really doing up there. Unfortunately, when election day came we didn't win. But I think, in one sense, we all won because, number one, we showed the world that the leather community could organize for a political purpose and that all of the leather community, all the way across the country, was willing to support an issue that affected everyone of them. Secondly, I think we showed Jesse Helms that we are here, and that we're not practicing homosexuals, we have been at it long enough that we know what we're doing. (laughs) Also, I think that we showed a lot of the specifically North Carolina gay community outside the leather community that there were a good number of us here and that we could help them as well as they could help us, and I think that that particular campaign went a long way towards helping the gay community pull a little closer together. 

RAR - Some people might look at or hear of an "SM relationship" and think it's not quite equal. They may have this picture of somebody just sitting back and have a slave wait on them all the time. Could you talk about the relationship both of you have and what you mean to each other and how is your relationship that different, because you are leather people, from other relationships? 

MIKE - It's just expressed differently, personally like everyone's relationship is, but basically you have, I think, in it when any two human beings cohabitate, coexist, that there is always going to be a stronger one or weaker one, or a leader and a follower, or a top and a bottom, and a daddy and a boy, and we're no different that that, you know in that respect that, I'm the head of the house and what I say goes. (smiles) 

BILL - He wears his pants and I wear mine. Mostly cause he taller than I am and they're too damn long.(Both laugh) 

MIKE - Bill likes to say what's mine is mine and what's your's is mine and what's ours is mine. 

BILL - Well, that's cause it is. (smiles) ... Well first of all, as far as the SM relationship aspect of it, I don't think you could classify Michael's and my relationship as an SM relationship. Mostly because if we play SM, it's separate from the relationship in that Michael and I love each other and we love each other regardless of sex. I know that there was a point where I wanted to have not a master/slave, but just a little bit further than Daddy/boy, but I'd have to find somebody a whole lot less head strong than Michael, for that to ever work. I've done a couple of seminars for LIL (Living in Leather) on SM relationships, and as far as a lifetime significant other, husband, whatever type relationship, almost all of them that I know of that exist that are a master/slave, daddy/boy situation, that aspect comes into play only in the relationship when you're dealing with sex. As far as the relationship on a day-to-day basis, it doesn't come into play necessarily. There are a few, but it's a very very tough thing to deal with, simply because I think every individual has to feel equal to the other, and a person who is continually held in a subservient mode, or submissive state, sooner or later is going to lose their identity. They're simply going to become an extension of the master. I've seen a lot of people who where very very happy and it go on continually 24 hours a day, and within a short period of time, it would break them up. 

RAR - How long have you two been together? 

BILL - Six-and-a-half years, almost seven. 

MIKE - This Labor Day it will be seven years, just about a month away. 

BILL - It's 100 percent give on both parts to make it work. 

MIKE - I do believe that no matter what mode you take, if you love someone you're going to get 100 percent, you've got to give 100 percent of yourself to them and vice versa. That's just my view point on a relationship, I mean a loving relationship, that's the way I see it. There are all different levels and perceptions of that. 

BILL - One of the things with the SM that we play, is role playing. SM is not a lifestyle for us. Leather is our lifestyle, and we do SM role playing, and we have to be very careful that if we're going to do a scene that involves SM roles, that both of us are ready, that we step into the roles, and when the scene is over with is that we come completely out of the role. Otherwise, you can get mad at each other real quick, if one of you is still playing a role and the other one ain't. (laughing)