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
material (c) 1995, CCD. All rights reserved.
- What is Leather/SM/Fetish? How are they similar and how are they different?
- 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.
- Are Leather/SM/Fetish all sometimes found together in people?
- 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.
- What is a Leather club?
- 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.
- What focuses do you find in other Leather clubs in different parts of
- 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?
- 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.
- Let's get to TLC in particular. Tell me about the composition of the
- 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.
- How is TLC connected to national leather organizations?
- 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
- What is Safe/Sane/Consensual?
- 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.
- Tell me about your discovering of Leather/SM. I've heard that referred
to as a kind of second coming out.
- Oh, it definitely is. I was a carney and I came out in 1984, on the
road, up in Frederick, Maryland - motorcycle club.
- This was a female motorcycle club?
- 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.
- Tell me something about the educational efforts of the club.
- 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.
- What is a pledge?
- 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.
- Do you feel that people have to reach a certain point of being comfortable
with themselves before joining an organization like this?
- 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.
- What are some of the different types of body modifications that Leatherpeople
get into and some of the reasons?
- 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."
- Why do they call it body modification?
- It goes back to being born. You're born with your body, so your modifying
it to what you want.
- So these modifications are most often permanent?
- What are the different kinds of body modification that you can think
- 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.
- How do you feel about the way that some of the accoutrements of Leather
have gone into popular culture?
- 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.
- Do you think some of the symbols may be loosing their meaning with this
- 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.
- Tell me about the pins that Leatherpeople wear on their vest.
- 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.
- What are some of the other kinds of pins that you see on people's vests?
- 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.
- I've heard some people compare their vest to a personal history. Would
you agree with that?
- 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).
- What is a fantasy?
- 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.
- What about the fire purification fantasy that you performed at Bourbon
Street as a fundraiser for the March on Washington?
- 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.
- 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
- Would you compare it to performance art in that some people use it as
an opportunity to make a statement?
- 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.
- What are some of the organizations that you've been involved with?
- 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.
What has this done to your personal life?
- 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
- How did you feel actually participating in the March?
- 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.
- How did you feel about the turn-out of the Leather community for the
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- What do you feel that Leatherpeople want from the larger society?
- Understanding, compassion, if it's possible. I think definitely understanding.