tlc: year with
a leather club

a documentary by Randy A. Riddle


Interview Transcripts:
Janet B.


Janet B. speaking at the NAMES Project -- photo (c) by Michael Cox

Janet B. was introduced to Leather/SM through a motorcycle club. A North Carolina native, she was a delegate to the March on Washington for Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual Equal Rights and was President of the Tarheel Leather Club in 1993. Janet currently lives in Atlanta where she has continued her educational and activist activities in the community. She was named Ms. Georgia Leather 1995. 

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


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

JB - Let's get all the hard questions out of the way first (laughs). Leather is definitely a lifestyle for most people, and fetishes may be intertwined in that. Leather being an attitude, it's representative of what you wear, what you like to wear, and how you feel when you wear it. It's like a second skin to them - it's comfortable; it's not something they have to think about putting on, it's just natural for them. Fetish is something that people like to make them hot, it makes them feel good, whether it be a foot fetish, or maybe hairy guys, stuff like that. SM gets a little deeper into that, and that in itself is also a lifestyle. There are people who choose that path. To me, I read somewhere where SM is transcending and transgressing limits that are set upon ourselves, society, our peers, our work, or even ourselves. We have limits that are set upon us, and through SM we transcend and transgress those limits and become stronger for that, depending on what you do in your SM activity. 

RAR - Are Leather/SM/Fetish all sometimes found together in people? 

JB - Given our club, for example, thirty-five members and probably on ten to fifteen are Fetish/SM oriented individuals, where the rest are strictly just the Leather lifestyle. 

RAR - What is a Leather club? 

JB - Our_Leather club is a political, fraternal organization. That means we do things to raise money for people and we educate people about our lifestyle and the stuff that we're into. Fraternal means among ourselves, being a family-type organization, brothers and sisters in our cause. 

RAR - What focuses do you find in other Leather clubs in different parts of the country? 

JB - There are some Leather clubs that are strictly a sexual type of club - people get together to have sex and explore those limits. Some Leather clubs are strictly political. So, ours is a nice mix. RAR - What attracts people to fetishes and Leather? 

JB - I think, first of all, it's a taboo - it's associated with that dark side of sexuality that sometimes brings about maybe just a tinge of fear, but that turns people on. And I think it's all a turn-on. 

RAR - Let's get to TLC in particular. Tell me about the composition of the club. 

JB - It's definitely a cornicopia. When the club first started, we wanted to be totally inclusive and we still are. It's mostly gay people in it right now, but we have had bisexual people and, of course, if straight people want to join, they're welcome to. It's mostly male; we've had up to as many as five women. The rest being guys, but a great bunch of guys. Even the lifestyles, we have your average (college) student all the way up to very successful business people who own their own businesses, and every part in between. So, you can't define it by gender or lifestyle. 

RAR - How is TLC connected to national leather organizations? 

JB - The NLA is the National Leather Association, and we're an associate member, as a group we belong to that organization. That group tries to educate the same way that we educate, safe sex and trying to change laws, the sodomy laws that are still in a lot of states - the issues this last election were amendment two and amendment nine in Colorado. We also belong to a lot of our brother clubs here in North Carolina: Menamore, Capital Leathermen, Tradesmen. 

RAR - What is Safe/Sane/Consensual? 

JB - It's different for everybody out there - anybody you ask, you'll get a different definition. So, for me, Safe/Sane/Consensual is when I play with somebody or if I'm being Topped by somebody, I want that person to, first of all, (use) safe sex, so there's no risk of anything and safe for my body and my mind, so there you get the Sane (part) and Consensual, meaning I agree to it, they agree to it, so we meet in the middle. There's no questions about anything causing trauma somehow, because you definitely play with people's emotions and feelings. 

RAR - Tell me about your discovering of Leather/SM. I've heard that referred to as a kind of second coming out. 

JB - Oh, it definitely is. I was a carney and I came out in 1984, on the road, up in Frederick, Maryland - motorcycle club. 

RAR - This was a female motorcycle club? 

JB - No, it was mixed. It was kinda like a Hell's Angels-type, wild, and there was a girl with jet black hair and ice-blue eyes and wanted to know if I wanted to go for a ride, and she took me for one more than I bargained for, and I haven't been the same since (laughs). So, I have to thank her for that. I never belonged to a Leather organization, I've always known people since then and connected - there's definitely a connection across the country, people knowing people and referring you to safe people and who to stay away from, who doesn't play safe. So, I've been involved in Leather and SM since '84. I came to Greensboro; I'm from Jefferson, and I had heard about an event, the Inauguaral Weekend for the Tarheel Leather Club, and I thought, "That's interesting. Why don't I spend the weekend in Greensboro and see what's happening." It was a weekend of activities, and I liked what they said, so I went back home and I thought about it and I decided to join. So, a couple of weeks later, I was a charter member of the club. 

RAR - Tell me something about the educational efforts of the club. 

JB - We used to, when we first got going, have programs every month. They were discussions and demonstrations on safe sex and different ways of SM: bondage, whipping, hot wax, electricity, and that happened every single month, and we had a large amount of people coming. In our newsletter, we write articles about that and have guidelines. There's been a few of us that go out into the community. I went to the Metropolitan Community Church, here in Greensboro, because there was some question about it not being a viable lifestyle and cruelty to each other. So, there was a discussion group held there where people's eyes were opened and they were enlightened on a lot of stuff. We do safer sex education through THP (Triad Health Project), just eroticising it (with) condoms and dental dams and jellies and how to play safer that way. 

RAR - What is a pledge? 

JB - A pledge is somebody who's thinking about joining the club, and we have a pledge period where the person takes time and gets to know everybody, gets to know what the club is about, what the Leather/SM lifestyle is about and they are required to come to so many meetings beforehand, so many meetings during the pledge period, and have required reading material which will enlighten them on playing safely and some background on the Leather/SM/Fetish lifestyle. And then, after that time, they can make a decision about whether they still want to become a member. We don't want anybody coming into it blindly - it's like, "Why, I had no idea that's what you do!" We definitely want them informed. 

RAR - Do you feel that people have to reach a certain point of being comfortable with themselves before joining an organization like this? 

JB - I think it's something that, yeah, if it's something that they've never done before, it's a big step - coming out of that closet a second time. There might be a lot of issues for them. 

RAR - What are some of the different types of body modifications that Leatherpeople get into and some of the reasons? 

JB - It's definitely a rite of passage. I think it goes back to earlier times. We're all born with a body, so doing something different to it definitely stands out, saying "Hey, I'm me and this is my body and this is what I do with it." I got my first piercing in the Gauntlet in San Francisco. I got my nipple pierced and that was definitely a rite of passage. I had been doing Leather and SM for several years at that point, and having the piercing done was a symbol of (the fact that) this was my lifestyle, this an outward thing I have on all the time, because I may not wear my leather all the time, but this is something that I can feel on me all the time. This says, "This is my lifestyle, this is who I am." 

RAR - Why do they call it body modification? 

JB - It goes back to being born. You're born with your body, so your modifying it to what you want. 

RAR - So these modifications are most often permanent? 

JB - Yes. 

RAR - What are the different kinds of body modification that you can think of? 

JB - There are tattoos, and that's usually something that people have thought about for a long time because it's much harder to get rid of a tattoo than it is a piercing. A piercing can, technically, grow up if you don't wear (the jewelry). There are different piercings which make that area much more sensitive and much more fun to play with. A lot of people I know are into scarification, and there's branding. 

RAR - How do you feel about the way that some of the accoutrements of Leather have gone into popular culture? 

JB - It means two things to me. It's nice to see that it's mainstream. Madonna's book, "Sex", was supposed to be this outrageous thing, but it's stuff that people have been doing forever, anyway, in the Leather/SM lifestyle. But it's nice to see it mainstream, so that people will maybe be more receptive to understanding instead of being closed-minded and saying, "You all are sick, evil people." But, on the other hand, it's much harder to... if you see somebody at the bar and they're flagging something, and you take it for granted that they know what they're doing with that particular code and you go up and they're like, "Huh?" That's why I always say, don't advertise what you don't offer. 

RAR - Do you think some of the symbols may be loosing their meaning with this assimilation? 

JB - I would like to hope not. It's taken such a long time know everything and know what those symbols are. But, I think to some extent, especially with the Rave/Techno crowd who are wearing chains and handcuffs just because it's a fashion statement. 

RAR - Tell me about the pins that Leatherpeople wear on their vest. 

JB - They're called friendship pins. Every club in existence has the club colors and has a little pin of those colors. If they like you or if you've slept with them and they still like you, they'll give you one of these pins, and that, in itself, is tradition. When you pin somebody, they're standing up, you kneel down and, according to how you pin it, if you pin it right-side up or up-side down, it means whether or not you've slept with them and you're supposed to wear that for twenty-four hours before you take it and put it on your vest. 

RAR - What are some of the other kinds of pins that you see on people's vests? 

JB - Buttons are a statement. There are different buttons that say different things: the March on Washington, ACT-UP - a lot of people wear buttons like that. There are also buttons for events that happen, like our Leather run, fourth of July weekend, we have a button for that event. So, you can tell where somebody's been from the different event buttons that they have on their vest. 

RAR - I've heard some people compare their vest to a personal history. Would you agree with that? 

JB - Oh, most definitely. You can tell somebody who's first starting off, usually if there's no holes in their vest and they might have one or two little pins and somebody who's been around a while, the pins go completely down (the sides of the vest). 

RAR - What is a fantasy? 

JB - I think everybody has fantasies, everybody fantasizes about maybe a movie star or something, who they would like to have sex with, how they would like to have sex with this person, where they would like to have sex with this person, and through our particular lifestyle, it gets a little more intricate. It's kind of choreographed to music and sound, so it's all timed and choreographed. 

RAR - What about the fire purification fantasy that you performed at Bourbon Street as a fundraiser for the March on Washington? 

JB - To drumming music, I did a purification by fire. I have very strong roots in the Native American culture, particularly Cherokee, and to me, fire's always been that thing that is like taboo, kind of like leather is to some people. It's very powerful, it's a scary thing, it can destroy things, and here I was in this fantasy putting it on my body and actually holding fire in my hand and having something that deadly in my hand was such a turn-on. 

RAR - Can you compare this kind of thing to performance art? JB - Oh, I think so, very much. It's definitely timed and choreographed, and a lot of people put in a lot of preparation before the actual fantasy scene is done so it runs smoothly. You don't want anything to happen that you don't want to happen. 

RAR - Would you compare it to performance art in that some people use it as an opportunity to make a statement? 

JB - Definitely. With the choreography and the music, they can make a statement. I've seen one particular fantasy that happened at a Drummer contest in Atlanta. It was about domestic violence, and this person did a fantasy about justification for that. So, it can definitely be that type of venue where the person's making a statement whether they're for or against something. 

RAR - What are some of the organizations that you've been involved with? 

JB - Firehouse Society here in Greensboro, I'm on the Board of Directors for that, and that's like a cornicopia of all of the Gay organizations and people together in our community. I've been the president of the Gay and Lesbian student organization at UNC-G and several groups. Then, for the past two years, I've been a delegate for the (March on Washington) steering committe for our region here, number eight, which is North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and DC, which is an entity all unto itself now, and have been working really hard on the March for two years. 

RAR- What has this done to your personal life? 

JB - It's been very hectic. For two years, it's been nothing but work. People rarely saw me. Every weekend I was out of town, speaking about the March, going to planning meetings for the March, having fundraisers for the March.Even during the week, communication via the phone or letters of some sort. So, it definitely took up my time. The March was my life for nearly two years. 

RAR - How did you feel actually participating in the March? 

JB - I went up early because I was lobbying and doing lots of stuff up there. It was just like, "Wow! We invited all of these people and they showed up!" And much more - there were estimates of a million point seven people, and just to see those people all week long, it was like being in a gay city, totally gay. It was wonderful. People who I know who are afraid of holding hands down here in public were up there being flamboyant - wearing tee-shirts and buttons and kissing their spouse on the street. So, it was definitely an air of freedom, and I really enjoyed that and I miss it now that it's gone. 

RAR - How did you feel about the turn-out of the Leather community for the event? 

JB - It was huge. I know at the Conference, we had forty-two states and two countries show up to the Conference on Saturday before the March - almost two thousand people - and for the March on Sunday, the Leather/SM/Fetish contingent had over five thousand people, which is more than what's ever showed up for a North Carolina Gay Pride March - we've only had like two thousand. That many people in leather was totally exhilarating. 

RAR - There are people who are going to see this who have never seen anything like this before who might say you shouldn't be doing stuff like this. What would you say to someone like that? 

JB - First off, I would try to convey that everything is done, I think, through love. You love this person, and it may not be somebody you're monogamous with, but you definitely have a respect for that person and their body at that time. And I'd try to tell people that if somebody hit me like that just out of the blue, it might hurt. But, if I'm sexually aroused and the endorphins are going, that might be a turn-on during sex. That's how I'd start. 

RAR - What do you feel that Leatherpeople want from the larger society? 

JB - Understanding, compassion, if it's possible. I think definitely understanding.