The letter below was dropped in my inbox a few days ago.
I recently attended the final Wednesday night meeting of Gay Male S/M Activists (GMSMA). That’s right, I said “final.” Finished. Done. It’s over. The organization’s annual meeting on Wednesday, June 17, 2009, was billed as a “celebration of GMSMA." What’s happening is that after decades of being a vibrant, thriving organization of gay men interested in learning about safe, sane and consensual s/m, GMSMA is now “transitioning” into a non-profit foundation. There will be no more Wednesday night programs.It's unfortunate when an organization such as this, where gay men can come together and learn "safe, sane and consensual" ways to broaden their sexual horizons comes to a close.
During its heyday, GMSMA had hundreds of members from not only New York City but from across the country and even from overseas. Regular meetings were held twice a month, and it was not uncommon for the third floor meeting room of the gay community center on West 13th Street to be jam packed with dozens or even 100 or more men eager to learn and to socialize. One night the topic might be how to tie up your boyfriend in really good rope bondage, another time you could learn all about flogging and whipping, or how to put together a really kick-ass cop or firefighter uniform....
GMSMA was also an activist organization. Its leaders were instrumental in securing a place at the table for the leather community in groundbreaking gay civil rights marches in our nation’s capital. It was also the first s/m organization to include “S/M” in its title. That may not sound like much of a big deal today, but when GMSMA was founded back in 1981 those who engaged in s/m activities were often looked upon as freaks or deviants — even by those in the larger gay community. Believe it or not, GMSMA had to fight to be allowed to meet at the gay community center. In later years it became one of the center’s biggest financial donor organizations.
There were about 45 men in attendance at the last meeting in June, including a leather top who brought a very sexy and shirtless tattooed slave on a leash, who greeted the men he was introduced to by getting down on his hands and knees and licking their boots. Most who showed up were old-timers — one came in on the train from northeastern Connecticut. A few who came were newer members. At least half — including me — were former board members of the organization who had put in years or in some cases even decades of service to the community. But when the official business of the meeting got under way and the remaining officers announced the sad plans to effectively shut down the organization, only one man in attendance raised an objection.
It was painful for many others as well, but the unfortunate fact, what everybody knew — and what ultimately led to the end for GMSMA — is that there are simply not enough men who are willing and able to step forward to lead the organization anymore. The current board was down to just three members (a fourth signed on to help in the coming months with the transition). They were over-worked and under-appreciated. The harsh reality is that the organization simply could not continue to exist in its current form without more manpower.
I'm not a leather guy and I suppose that's just the problem. Very few men hovering around my age range and younger seem to be interested or know or know-to-care or care-to-know anything about the leather community or the meaning and history behind it. Sure some of us have our Sam Brownes and harnesses for events like The Black Party and Folsom Street East, when leather is acceptable and down-right dress code but by no means is there a trend going toward the leather lifestyle. Older friends tell stories of what leather truly means. That it is much more than fashion, accessories, more than "Masc and solid," more than butch and mean. Leather is a means to discovering the deeper connections two men can have between one another. A bonding experience. An exposure and measure of trust and vulnerability. Still, maybe for those of us whose closet doors were left ajar rather than bolted shut there isn't that search for sexual comprehension or need for fetish-based sexual fulfillment. Sex is here. It's now. It's out, it's open. It may not be talked about as much as it's happening but it is happening. The analogy of leather, no longer, necessarily applies? Maybe if play spaces and dungeons were more widely available, established or more culturally/socially accepted leather would be more current or stand a greater chance? Yet even though I'm one of those casual street event, Folsom-based leather guys it strikes me as a loss, a changing of landscapes, a shifting of wavelength when communities such as these meet an end.
Is it all be too far gone? The men of true leather are either dead or significantly older and the few still proudly fastening chaps and strapping harnesses, outside of commercial scenes, are seeing their beloved, sought out organizations closing. I suppose it's all fitting. What place does leather have these days? Here in NYC. New.York.City. We have only The Eagle, which is rather leather-light and The Lure and Spike are long gone, gone, gone. If International Mr. Leather and Mid Atlantic Leather are major events, then where are the pockets of that in other urban/rural areas? Have we become lazy or casually unconcerned?
Will we see a resurgence in leather and this community? Will men step up and lead or will this be yet another relic of our past?