tlc: year with
a leather club

a documentary by Randy A. Riddle


Interview Transcripts:
David Wr.


David Wr and Bill Costomiris -- photo (c) by Michael Cox

David Wr. was a founding member of the Tarheel Leather Club. He has worked extensively with other local community organizations and has served on TLC's Executive Committee. 

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

RAR - What is Leather/SM/Fetish? How are they similar and how are they different? 

DWr - Of course, it's all a matter of personal opinion in a lot of cases, but to me, Leather is two things. It can be personal and then it can be inclusive to mean the whole group of people who are interested in Leather. But, just the word Leather, or to say, like Leather as an adjective as in "Leather Community", or into "Leather", simply means that you enjoy the sensuality and sexuality of Leather on you or someone else - the way it makes you feel, the mental attitude it lets you portray, any of/and/or all of the above (laughs). SM gets a little more serious, into more physical play and/or sex - it can be both, but doesn't have to be. A lot of people play SM and never have actual sexual experiences - to them, that is the experience. Fetish is really needing something to have that experience, something that's necessary, whether it's an action or an object that has to be present before you can have the experience, whether, again, it's mental or actually sexual. So, I guess the way that they could all come together would be that you could be... leather itself is a fetish, but certainly not the only one. I mean, you can be into fetishes and have nothing to do with leather or SM. 

RAR - So, sometimes the three terms are related and sometimes they're not. 

DWr - Right. They can be all together and, I think, probably one of the reasons that a lot of people do is that the typical stereotype of what "Leather" is in the first place to most people - it's radical sex and all that goes with it (laughs). 

RAR - Give me an idea of the kind of diversity one sees in the Leather community. 

DWr - As far my experience has been there's... in general, you're going to find, a very representative cross-section of different kinds of people, a lot of times in the smaller clubs, you won't find a lot of age diversity, for instance. In some of the newer clubs like Tarheel Leather Club you do, but other than the age factor, and maybe special interests, as far who the people are and what their backgrounds are and what their professions are, you're going to find a natural diversity as in the general population. I'm not aware that any segment of the population is more attracted to this particular lifestyle than any other. 

RAR - Have women started to make their presence known in the community since it has been, traditionally, a Gay male subculture? 

DWr - Somewhat. There are a lot of women out there. There are probably two reasons for not seeing more of them than you do in public arenas; the first being, as you mentioned, that the "Old Guard" Leather Community was almost exclusively male, simply from the traditions and the way it was sort of tribal oriented, I guess. And another reason, I think, is that one of the underlying differences that makes it so difficult for Gay men and women (laughs). I don't even like to be separatist enough to say that we're "Gay men" and they're "Lesbians", you know, why can't we be Gay men and women? That's always bothered me, but if they insist on being called Lesbians, I guess we'll have to call them Lesbians (laughs). One of the other reasons, I think, is that there's such an underlying mistrust of men in general in the Lesbian community. They may have friends who are male and they may associate some socially with males, but, in general, they feel that men have nothing to offer them and certainly not a predominately male organization of any kind or gathering, and that's what most of the clubs and events are, simply out of sheer numbers. So, I think that's one of the reasons you don't see more women is that they simply feel that they have nothing to gain. 

RAR - Has this visiblity changed the way people react to someone dressed in leather in the local bars? 

DWr - Well, we like to think that it's helped a great deal. My own personal philosophy is that if you just be yourself and go about your business, then people will accept you for who you are and what you are. You don't try to be too radical and you don't try to force yourself and your ideas on people but if... the point is that in the topic we're discussing is Leather and people's ideas of Leather, so the fact that I'm a Leatherperson is generally not important in my dealings with other individuals unless that's the basis of the relationship in the first place. So, as far as being out in public, that's not important to me. If you reduce that importance, if you establish the relationship first and then that becomes a factor then it's a non-factor, so to speak. If you understand what I'm trying to say. The point was to meet people and make friends and to let them see that, in some cases, we were the same people that they already knew, and that just because we put the leather on it didn't make us a different person. And the other thing was to try to help them understand what it was we liked about Leather. 

RAR - How does TLC work with other parts of the community, particularly the female impersontion community? 

DWr - That's really a good question about us working with the female impersonator segment of the community. It would probably be more aptly put that they work with us, rather than us working with them. They've been extremely supportive from the very beginning, so much so that one of them was made an honorary member from the very beginning and is still the only full, honorary member we have - that's Monica Marlowe. We now have one other female impersonator that is an honorary member, an honorary associate member. One of the things that we decided from the very beginning, I guess that's one of the differences in our club and a lot of the other clubs was that we realized that we're out here on the edge as far as general acceptability is concerned (laughs). We would certainly be considered extremists in describing us as where we fit into the Gay community in general. And it only made sense that the people who are probably on the other extreme that the two of us would work together very well. There again, it's one of those things that we... it's kind of like something I used to tell people about the bars and it's the same thing with the organizations. Growing up in the South, communities are generally smaller, especially Gay communities and a lot of us never had the option of going to a "Leather" bar or a "Western/Levi" bar or a "Womyn's" bar or a "Preppy" bar; in a lot of cities for many years, there was only ONE bar to go to and we felt lucky to have that. So, we were forced to socialize together and got along together. I consider that an asset that I didn't live in a big city and never grew into that (mindset) where the Blacks have their bar and the Latinos have their bar and the Womyn have their bar and the female impersonators have their bar - everybody was all together in one place. I think the same idea, I hope that I'm not naive enough to be the only one who thinks this way, but there's no reasons. One of my little soapboxes with the Gay community in general is that it really irritates me to hear people putting other people down. I'm not saying that everybody has to like everybody and go to bed with everybody and be real close friends with everybody, but if, especially those of us who are obviously different in our tastes and likes... you have no right whatsoever to expect people to accept you if you're not willing to accept them. In the Gay community in general, it really irritates me that we're willing to march in the streets, we go to Raleigh and march, we go to Washington and march, but yet we come home and say, "Fuck her, she's a drag queen. Hell no, we don't want drag queens around here. We don't want Blacks or we don't want women." What's the point? It just seems all wrong. So, that's kind of what the club was all about was that everybody who wanted to be a member of the club would be welcome. 

RAR - Would you like to say something about your own "coming out" process? 

DWr - With me, coming out and having that experience, so to speak, was a slow process. Probably, I'm sure different people would have different definitions of what this experience is, but to me, it's that point where you really feel comfortable that this is who you are and where you want to be. I'd been attracted to leather for a number of years, and there again, doing what so many people in this area still do, you had it at home in the closet, and very few people ever saw it even in your home, much less in your city. But, when you went out of town somewhere, if you were in Washington or Fort Lauderdale or Atlanta, then you wore it and had a great time and was proud of it. But, I think a great deal of that was due to that stereotypical misperception that people have of what we're about in the first place. Yes, I had the same feeling... to really say that coming out experience probably was that weekend at Southeast Leather where, for the first time, I really felt a part of the Leather community instead of an outsider observing and only wishing I was part of it. 

RAR - What are some of the stereotypes that people have or have had about people in leather? 

DWr - Probably the general stereotypical image of Leatherpeople ... The general feeling that I have that, in dicussing this with people over the years, in watching people's reactions and talking with them, is that so many people's general stereotype is really wild and crazy, most often, real S and M and not just SM as we now differentiate, but we're talking painful type experiences simply for the joy of inflicting pain with no knowledge of understanding that they have no perception of what that's all about in the first place. I think that so many people think that all of us only have one thing on our minds and that's to find somebody to take home somebody to tie up and beat up or that we like to do wild and crazy things to ourselves as evidenced by body jewelry. So, it's a general perception that leather and S and M are synonymous. 

RAR - What are colors? 

DWr - The term colors usually refers to club colors. It can be two things as far as Leatherpeople are concerned, but in general, if you said "colors" most people would think immediately of a club insignia, generally speaking, a larger patch that's worn on the back of a jacket or vest, which is most often the club logo, so to speak. 

RAR - What about the different pins that you find on people's vests? What do those signify? 

DWr - They're generally referred to as "friendship pins". There are basically three different categories. Friendship pins are either club or personal insignia that people give to each other in various ritualistic performances. Then there are event pins, which signify a specific event, for instance a club run or a regional contest or some other gathering of people, and then there are just pins that maybe expresses that person's own personality or particular thought or something that you just think looks pretty. Some people separate them in different areas, some people (place) one on one side, some on the other, and some people just mix them all up together. 

RAR - Would you say that these pins are a personal statement or a personal history? 

DWr - Yes. I'm not sure how the tradition started, but a lot of organizations do it. I hadn't really paid that much attention to it before, but at the Olympics, for instance this year, that was one the top news items - one of the hottest things was trading pins, different pins teams and countries and whatever, swaping pins with each other. I work in a convention business and see a lot of other large groups having yearly conventions and meetings and in the last few years, especially since the formation of the club, have noticed that a lot of organizations have a similar type tradition, all the way from people like the American Legion and the VFW to the Women's Bowling Congress. Everybody does it, it just seems that we're a little more visible about it than some, and part of that could be very much that a lot of people ask me when I'm wearing my vest with all of the pins on it, are these merit badges? Some of us wear them with a great deal of pride, and I'm sure that sense of pride is different with different people and the reasons for wearing them may be generally traced to some egotistical type feeling, though (laughs). 

DWr - I think that, in general, it's been good. People have a tendency to fear the unknown. If you don't know anything about it, then it's easy to say what it is and make it what you want it to be or what somebody told you it was. So, if you don't know anything about what Leatherpeople do or what they're all about, then it's easy to say the same thing that somebody else told you. So, exposure and knowledge is more often than not a good thing. I think it's been good in the fact that it's just from the exposure angle. Maybe taking something away from what those of us who call ourselves "Old Guard" or who other people call "Old Guard" type thinkers, from the real family, tribal, ritualistic type life that the Leather community used to be, but still, I think it's good simply from the exposure point of view.