Saturday, October 6, 2018

When Will the Tears Stop, 1998-2018


I wrote this for and read it at a candelight vigil in Cortland, NY, right after the death of Matthew Shepard on Oct.12, 1998. I wasn't in the closet, but I had not yet made peace with myself about being gay, still a scared kid who was coming face to face with just how the world looks at LGBTQ+ people. The world hasn't changed as much as we'd like to think it has - we still have a long way to go and too many who would do us harm...

In the twenty years since, so many other names could be said using the same words. Too many. The victims at Pulse in Orlando in June 2016. Trans-folk, particularly trans-women of color, slain yet too often forgotten (if even noticed at all). Young LGBTQ+ persons taking their own lives rather than face a world of hate and prejudice.

The night I read this, I took my first step forward to stand up and fight. I haven't stopped, although maybe I haven't always done my best. Like my siblings, I've seen the bright light of hope dimmed by the darkness in which we are still surrounded. The fight isn't over, the promise made then not fulfilled.

I thought about changing this, to make it more in sync with today. I tried, but I couldn't bring myself to alter these words that I read to a crowd of crying men and women. Then I realized that the words had to stay as I wrote them, because they show just how neither the violence nor the tears have stopped.

It has to stop. The times of tears have to stop. For all the Matthews, for each one at Pulse, for all our trans-siblings, for youth with their future before them, we have to get beyond asking when the tears will stop to a place where there is no more need for the tears. 


The senseless and tragic death of Matthew Shepard has moved many across the nation and beyond to tears.

Like so many others, we have come together to share as we mourn the loss of a young man, a beautiful spirit. Together, we send forth our love and our prayers to Matthew’s family and closest friends. For each of them, and for everyone else touched by the evil of hate, we shed our tears.

When will the tears stop? How many more must we cry until the hate ends? How many more Matthews out there have to be lost? How many more families have to be torn by grief? How many more times must we gather in mourning? Will the tears ever be allowed to stop?

Even as we cry, we must remember that our tears are not without a power of their own. Each one we cry in the face of such a horrible tragedy is a symbol. A symbol of the caring human spirit that’s in each of us. A symbol of the love and sympathy we offer to the families of Matthew Shepard and all others whose lives have been devastated. A symbol to Matthew himself, and anyone else lost to hate, to let them know they are not forgotten.

Our tears - each one of them - is a reminder that, because of our love and compassion, we are not alone.

For Matthew and all others taken from the world by hate, our tears are a promise. A promise to never give up, to go forward, to do whatever it takes to overcome hatred and intolerance. A promise to keep his - and their - memory alive in our hearts. A promise that we will never surrender to the hatred around us. A promise that, someday, we will finally claim victory and justice for them - on the day hate itself dies.

And, for that death, there will be no tears.

I hope and I pray that day will come soon. That no one else will ever be forced to endure the violence and horrors brought on by hatred and ignorance. When we can finally be ourselves without having to fear. In memory of Matthew - and for the sake of those not yet fallen, I pray that day comes soon.

The day when the tears can finally stop.

Friday, October 5, 2018

The Price of Silence

In honor and memory of the Men, Women, and Children whose lives were taken because of hate and intolerance.  May their spirits guide us to the day when acceptance is truly universal, when individual differences  no longer matter.

Together we stand millions strong

Yet too few are seen or heard
Too many voices never speak out
Until it becomes too late 
Together they number in the millions
Yet each, at the end, stood alone,
Never again will their voices ring out
All paid a price too high 
We remain a community divided
They share a bond of blood 
Our silence became their condemnation
Their silence is our damnation

- May, 1999

Prayer for the Fallen

Innocence, upon a time was said 
to dwell children's eyes
Yet, innocence, like crystal, shattered
life's blood lost
Eclipsed in bitter darkness

Do they remember that final horror
When false judgment cast sentence?
When shadows of fear
 Like axes fell
And dreams, with innocence
Or do they know at last true Peace
Forever bound by love unstained?
Has, for them, Spirit's Light banished
The monsters of the night? 
For the fallen, one thing I pray
for innocence born anew
If, in truth, that dwells with children
Then for the fallen I pray -  
Please, please let them forget
So they can be little again


The World's a Stage - And You're on in Five

On October 11, National Coming Out Day will be observed across the country. This one day gives each of us a chance to stand up and be counted as part of a larger heritage. It is an opportunity we should not let slip by.

In the ongoing battle for equal rights without regard to sexual orientation or gender identification, visibility is one of the most powerful tools we have. To become more visible in larger numbers is to draw more attention, not just the ongoing fight for respect and equality, but the true power and influence we can wield. We can show clearly that the voices raised are no longer alone or scattered, but part of a larger movement united to shatter the barriers of hate and prejudice. As such, it becomes more difficult to just dismiss the cries for equality.
To remain invisible is to allow the general public to ignore and overlook us.

Only by capturing attention can we ever hope to effectively demonstrate the inequities forced on us because of our sexual orientation and gender identities.  Only by showing American society that we refuse to be denied the same rights and civil liberties enjoyed by the majority can we achieve social equality. A handful of faces and voices are not enough. Carefully limited posts on social media are not enough.
Many of those who adamantly oppose equality to the LGBTQ+ segments of our society condemn us as immoral, and target us as the cause of degenerating social values would have us remain silent. They use fear and violence to keep us silent. Why? Because by keeping our cries unheard and our numbers out of sight, they can maintain their power structures and continue to dictate codes of morality to the nation without fear of opposition. The status quo remains unaltered, and we, as LGBTQ+ individuals, are forced to endure discrimination and second-class citizenship.

Visibility ensures that we, the LGBTQ+ persons in society, will no longer settle for such social maltreatment. We will not stand by silently while injustice and violence is done on our siblings. Each new face coming out into the open means one more voice taking up the call. Each call shakes the decaying foundations of the solaced status quo.
We can shake those foundations until they crumble into the dust of history.
How does visibility relate to the individual? To the majority of the American public, the shouting throng waving pride flags is a crowd of nameless strangers. It is only the individual who can lend the catalyst of familiarity. When the face seen and the voice heard are one that is known, the isolated observer is no longer disconnected. 
Too often, I have heard another LGBTQ+ person say there is nothing they can do. Or that there are already enough of us fighting the battle for equal rights. Neither statement could be further from the truth! Each and every one of us needs to stand up and be counted. It is left to all of us to contribute to the struggle - because it is a struggle that affects all of us. By showing our numbers, the American public can see we are not a few isolated radicals. We are a collection of communities of considerable size. We show that we are friends, sons or daughters, mothers or fathers, brothers or sisters, family, neighbors, and co-workers. We can show that we are thinking, feeling human beings, capable of love and caring.
As National Coming Out Day approaches, each of us has an opportunity to reinforce the strength of visibility and shape it within the framework of familiarity. Don't think of it as an obligation to the LGBTQ+ community or the struggle for equal rights, however. It is an obligation to yourself. In the end, the triumphant achievement of equal rights rests with the individuals who work together. In the end, by casting down those that would have us stay silent, we give ourselves the freedom to be ourselves and live our truths. 
Until we finally achieve true equality within society, we must remain visible as a united community. But only the commitment and contribution of each individual provides the strength necessary to maintain the momentum of the communal effort. Our siblings out there leading the effort need our - your - support.
We owe it to them - you owe it to yourself - to give them that support. We are all in this together. We're all here, and we aren't going anywhere.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Leadership and Respect

Slice it however you want, you can’t have quality in the former if they haven’t earned the latter. And, like it or not, it takes time to earn that respect. Time, effort, and quite often, a lot of endurance to get through the bullshit. Also, being a quality leader means paying back the respect given.
A quality leader does not just appear overnight. They certainly don’t just magically appear because an individual thinks they’re a quality leader. If you don’t believe me, walk into a room filled with people who don’t know you and try to get them to follow you just because you say they should. Let’s face facts here – it ain’t gonna happen. Not unless there’s a fire and you’re pointing to the nearest exit. The point is, you do not become a leader, quality or otherwise, simply because you say you are a leader.
In fact, you are not a leader until others recognize you as one. You will never be a quality leader until you have earned the respect and recognition of others as being one. You will never remain a leader if you do not respect those around you.
Being a leader of good quality is not just about taking charge and giving orders. It’s not about just jumping in to do what needs to be done. It is not necessarily about coordinating this or that event. It isn’t about single-mindedly pursuing just one vision. It isn’t about always having the right answer to the problem at hand – or even being the one to solve it. Quality leadership is many of these things and even more besides.
Many in the collective whom I view and respect as quality leaders all tell the same thing. They did not set out to be leaders in the collective. That was not what brought them into the collective. At some point, they looked back and realized that others had begun following their lead. In not seeking the limelight or the attention of others, they had stepped into the light and been noticed. Along the way they had taken on the responsibility to get things done, shown vision and dedication toward that completion, and earned the respect of others while treating them with respect. And none of them ever stood up and proclaimed themselves leaders. They didn’t have to. Through respect and recognition, they had become leaders.
They didn’t say “Follow me” or even “Hey! Look at me!”
If I had to choose one action associated with a good, quality leader, it would be that they LISTEN. Yes, it is true a quality leader is also a doer, and that’s important. However, it is the one that takes the time to listen that is going to stand out. They listen to what others have to say, even solicit their input. They listen to ideas rather than arbitrarily choosing their own. They listen to the concerns of others. Most of all, they listen to the criticisms and mistakes brought to their attention – and then learn from them.
The sad reality is that, while we have plenty of outstanding examples of quality leaders throughout the collective, we’re slowly losing them. This loss is compounded by the concurrent loss of potential future leaders of good quality. That key component – respect – is evaporating in the collective. It is the cycle of respect earned and given that keeps good leaders going and encourages new ones to step forward. It has been replaced by a cycle of viciousness and ego-driven bile that discourages all but the most hardened leaders. People who knowingly put themselves out there know there is a plethora of naysayers and detractors. They know not everyone is going to be in sync. In a healthy culture, that can be more easily endured. Sadly, our collective culture is anything but healthy these days. Ignorance, short-sightedness, personal pique, jealousy, even deliberate attempts to undermine effort for the common growth, all these are eroding the endurance of those who put themselves out there – and discouraging the newer generations from putting themselves forward.
If we’re going to keep losing the goods ones and not find any to take up the mantle, what future do we have?

Monday, May 7, 2018

Thoughts on the Road Series, Part TWO

In going back to my roots this past weekend, it was inevitable that I would think about my journey from a quiet, unobtrusive leatherboy/pup to where I am today. Just as inevitable was asking myself and looking at WHY I began that journey. And that led inexorably to what I see around me today.

We’ve all heard the tried and true tropes of finding siblinghood (ok, back then it was “brotherhood”) in the leather/kink collective. Many of us have said we felt we’d found a place where we could explore and be who were are inside in a world that discourages such self-discovery and expression. We were encouraged to follow that path and be part of the collective – and we wanted to do those very things. As long as we were respectful and accepting of others within the collective, it was fine to follow that path of self-discovery wherever it led. We were encouraged to share the insights we gained and the experiences we had so that others might learn from them.

It seems now as if somewhere along the way, the message changed. Paths of self-exploration and self-discovery are hemmed in by arbitrary views of what’s right and/or acceptable. The welcome sign to be and express who one is inside now appears to list exceptions. We’re free to be who and what we are, provided who and what we are doesn’t make people uncomfortable. We can share what we’ve learned or what we’ve been through, but only so long as it gives everyone a warm fuzzy?

Is that what we’ve become? I want to say that isn’t the collective I found 15+ years ago. Alas, I know now that it’s been this way for a very long time. I know now not everyone felt as welcomed by the collective as I did. The message didn’t change; my awareness of its selectivity increased.

A collective that purports to welcome all, that encourages self-exploration and expression, and touts itself as open to sharing of knowledge and experiences doesn’t get to go deaf when those coming in bring us face to face with things that make us uncomfortable by pointing out our own ignorance and biases. People who hold honest self-identity in high regard don’t get to disregard the honest self-identity of others.

If self-identity and self-expression are as important as we claim they are, then why do we still see people being disregarded for how they identify? If this is a place where one can be themselves, why are people having to fight for their ability to be and express themselves as they are? Be it gender identification/expression or sexual orientation, race, age, choice of kink, or any other basis, it doesn’t matter. All should be able to be themselves – and respected as such – in a collective that claims to be as open and welcoming as this one.

I was taught “leather” is in the heart. I was also taught that some of the traits associated with “leather” were integrity and respect, honor, and siblinghood. If these tenets are as valuable as we say, why the hell are we not listening to those who just wanted to be treated as equal and as part of the whole?

Thoughts on teh Road Series, PART ONE

One of the advantages/caveats of long road trips by yourself is you get time with just yourself and your thoughts:

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been kind of quiet for awhile. Some of the reasons have been resolved or are passed. Others I won’t go into here – those will be addressed where and when they need to be. One of the reasons, though, has been because I’ve felt more and more disillusioned with what I see unfolding in the collective around me. Added to that was that I felt like I just couldn’t bring myself to care. Odd thing is, I’ve realized that isn’t true. 

It isn’t that I didn’t or don’t care, Actually I do. The problem is that I’ve been frustrated by so much of what I see and not knowing how to share my thoughts and feelings – mainly because I knew if I did so, people wouldn’t like what I had to say.

This past weekend, I essentially returned to my roots in the community. It was good, but it was also a study in contrasts; an opportunity to look at how much things have changed both around me and within me. That I have feet in both the world of pups and handlers as well as the broader leather/kink collective only worked to add perspective to those observations.

So now I’ll just say it.

Yes, it’s human nature to resist change. In generally, we’re built to not like it. It makes us uncomfortable. Change brings with it unknowns, and uncertainty is something that we, by nature, want to avoid.

Change is here with us, every day, and it isn’t going to go away. So many in my generation have dug in and resisted change so much that we – the leather and kink collective – have become the very thing those who came before us rebelled against. We’ve built walls out of arguments in a futile attempt to defend something that was rather than keep re-seeding the ground to keep it fertile for future growth. I know a lot of people don’t want to face this, but it isn’t the younger generation ruining everything. It’s us old farts that don’t want to make room for new blood and the fresh ideas and views they bring. 

The future isn’t ours alone to define. In fact, more of the future belongs to those coming behind us than those with 15, 20, or 30 years of experience in the collective. We’ve had time to leave our marks on the collective, to add to what the future can hold. But ours are not the only voices and actions that set it up. 

I understand that it can be frustrating to have all that time and experience and then feel it’s being cast aside as irrelevant. No one wants to be made to feel like they don’t matter, that their experiences aren’t relevant. After all, the present that is was the future we strove to build. Of course we’re going to want to defend that. 

But what’s the point of defending it if we don’t let the next generation do the same? What’s the point of defending it all if we aren’t also open to what we didn’t accomplish? Is it so difficult to accept that the next generation is bringing to the fore and addressing those things we didn’t? The world wasn’t perfect then (no matter how many arguments to the contrary), and there are bitter legacies my generation left unresolved and pushed off to the future (intentionally or not). Well, the future we set up is the next generation’s present, and they ain’t having it.

We don’t get to define what’s going to be important to the next generation. It’s their place to take what we built and decide how to best fit it to the world they’re building on top of what we’ve done. 

Speaking for myself, I’ve done my fair share to add to the collective. But I realize it isn’t up to me to decide what takes hold and what doesn’t. What is up to me is knowing I did my best and that it’s time to let the new take it from here. For a time we may work side-by-side, but in the end, someone else has to continue what was begun if it’s going to last – and is worthy of being continued. 

And where things won't be continued, the next generation will bring forth their ideas to fill those voids. And the generation after that will work with what is passed to them. It's a cycle that has to be allowed to grow and evolve.

Pre-CLAW sharpening

CLAW 2018

CLAW 2018 is ended and the road points toward home.
Gotta be fully candid. This doesn’t go down as one of the best CLAWs I’ve been to. It was great seeing friends and family, meeting some new friends for the first time. It was AWESOME presenting the knife play class with Tina Landi(I learned as much as I shared). Added some new toys to the collection. Shenanigans were had to satisfaction.
Even so, something about it just It’s not something I can put my finger on, just that the overall vibe felt different. Wasn’t the weather that made it ungodly cold on the cigar deck. Wasn’t the protesters that made for an unexpected sideshow. All I can really say is that it wasn’t the same charged atmosphere I’ve come to know.
What matters still though is the people. I came to see friends and family, and that made for the fun. Miss you all already

The Heels Have It!

My husband posed me a question while we were in the car: What is it I get out of wearing heels?
A straightforward and valid question. I had to really think about it before answering – and I’ll get to that answer in a little bit. The question also got me to thinking further, and its timing was more than a little coincidental. There have been a couple of discussion posts on social media on the subject of men wearing heels at leather/kink & fetish events in the past couple days. Knowing Ken as I do, I doubt he actually saw those.
To have the question asked showed a curiosity and an attempt to understand. Ironically, this is in stark contrast to some negative statements against it from so-called “community” leaders. It was a step toward accepting something that is, in his view, different. A step apparently some in a “community” that touts acceptance can’t seem to make. Change and difference can be difficult to brook, even for the most open-minded of individuals. That he was engaging in the conversation – well, I know that was difficult. I applaud his effort to understand.
Alas, I cannot say that about some people in the leather/kink collective. Not after comments I saw or heard made. Not after some of the glares I noticed hurled my way at CLAW. How ironic indeed when a “community” that has its roots in rebellion against established norms and promoting our individual sexuality and fetishes has within it leaders and loud voices that apparently have forgotten that legacy, preferring instead to preserve their own version of what constitutes “proper” leather.
In a time when there are other points of divisiveness far more important, maybe this doesn’t rate far up on the scale. However, that it’s even questioned in event spaces is symptomatic of the irrational clinging to old values and fallacies that are hurdles to the more important issues we need to overcome.
So, what was my answer you may wonder? I wear the heels because it’s a way for me to express part of who I am. I femme it up because that is as much a part of who I am as my “masculine” side. I’m not one or the other exclusively; I’m an alloy of both fused in one person. I wear the heels because I actually feel sexy in them. I wear them because it’s a way for me to be rebellious against proscribed norms of “manly” behavior. I wear them because, dammit, I like it!
I’ve said elsewhere, it took finding courage when Tugger appeared onstage at IML in heels for me to finally get beyond my own inhibitions. It was when people like Sam Brinton stood in public looking fabulous in their heels that I began to see I don’t have to be embarrassed. Being out in heels has been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, practically since my earliest days of being out. But I got hung up somewhere along the way on the erroneous notion that this wasn’t something “leathermen” did. I got caught up in the false ideal of “leather” as a masculine construct. Hell, even as I took my first wobbly steps in stiletto heels, I worried about what others would think.
So why the looks? Why the commentary by some that they hope this is a passing thing? Does a male-identified person in stiletto heels threaten the masculine self-image that much? Does it somehow infringe on someone else’s definition of what leather and kink should be? How does my being comfortable enough to highlight both my masculine and feminine traits somehow undermine another’s comfort in the same event social space? Is it because, while I'm out there smoking a cigar, the heels make my legs look better or make my butt stand out more (hey, that’s a good thing no matter how you do it!). Is it because my wide-brimmed hat threw too much shade? I don’t know. Please tell me.
Or could it be that me being me highlights the changes that so many in my generation seem to resist at every turn? Again, please tell me. I really want to hear it.
Or course, it does not mean I’m going to change or stop what I’m doing. I was taught that leather/kink was about exploring and expressing one’s self within a safe place to do so. I was also taught that we grow and evolve as time goes forward and that we learn about ourselves every day. By default, the growth and realization is going to result in change (unless, or course, we choose to fight and deny who we are, but that is a different argument entirely). For me, I’m here to stand proud (and maybe just a little taller in my 7” knee-highs).
Sorry, the problem isn’t with me in this one. I’m me, and by every definition of leather/kink I’ve ever been taught, that’s exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.