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Marginalia on the Old Guard, Leather Traditions, and BDSM History

Version 1.05
First posted: September 1, 2006

 

"History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren't there."
~ George Santayana

 

Preface

This article is not meant to be a comprehensive history. While you can read it by itself, it written to supplement the material already freely available and widely distributed on-line --- specifically the following:

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Wonder Woman

One of the many, many, many illustrations of Wonder Woman in bondage

Super heroine Wonder Woman was created in 1941 by Dr. William Moulton Marston under the pen name of Charles Moulton. Dr. Marston is relevant to this article in the following ways:

  • In his writings on psychology --- most notably Emotions of Normal People (1928) --- Dr. Marston sought to divide human behavior into four elementary behavior units: dominance, compliance, submission, and inducement. These are all power relationships --- or what the BDSM community call "Power Exchanges." Geoffrey C. Bunn wrote that Marston utilizes "the political and sexual connotations of dominance and submission" in his writing. (Daniels)
  • Conducting a scientific study on a sorority hazing ritual at Jackson college, Marston noted that "the strongest and most pleasant captivation emotion was experienced during a struggle with girls who were trying to escape from their captivity." (Daniels)
  • In reviewing the 1923 film The Hunchback of Norte Dame, Marston concluded that one scene in which the film's heroine is whipped wearing only a chemise and with her hands bound behind her caused "a strong, disguised captivation emotion in the minds of the audience." (Daniels)
  • In Venus with us, a historical novel about Julius Caesar, Marston includes numerous erotic scene of bondage and submission. At one point he writes "His soul was lost in beautiful, palpitating dreams of serving her glorious womanhood forever .... Those wonderful feet!" and at another he writes "I've only been your slave a short time -- but I have a felling I'm going to like it!" (Daniels)
  • Marston believed that women were less susceptible to aggression and greed than men. He stated that America would become a matriarchy. In an interview in the New York Times, he predicted that "the next one hundred years will see the beginning of an American matriarchy -- a nation of Amazons in the psychological rather than physical sense." He added that "women would take over the rule of the country, politically and economically." (Daniels)
  • Marston wrote that "submission in love belongs to the man and not the woman." (Daniels)
  • Marston lived in what we would today call a polyamorous triad with his wife --- Elizabeth Holloway Marston --- and his lover --- Olive Byrne. They shared a household together with the children Marston sired with both ladies. (The married couple formerly adopted his children by Olive Byrne.) Sheldon Mayer, his editor at DC Comics, said that Marston had "a family relationship with a lot of women, yet it was male-dominated." After his death, his wife and mistress continued to run the household together to the end. (Daniels)
 
A table representing William Marston's psychological
theory of elementary behavior units.
Attention
Active Passive
Perception Antagonistic Dominance Inducement
Favourable Submission Compliance

Not surprising, Dr. Marston's famous creation was an expression of his theories, values, and proclivities:

  • His original name for Wonder Woman was going to be "Suprema." (Daniels) Supreme --- the root of that name --- can mean "highest in rank or authority." ("Suprema" sounds like the name of a professional domina.)
  • Marston's wife suggested and in many ways inspired the character of Wonder Woman but his lover Olive Bryne was most likely the physical model for Wonder Woman. For years she wore what she described as "ancient Arab 'protective' bracelets." (Might they have had more than a decorative or magical significance? And what did she mean to signify by the quotation marks around the word "protective?") In an interview with Dr. Marston that Olive Bryne conducted for Family Circle, he called her "my Wonder Woman" and explained that her bracelets were "the original inspiration for Wonder Woman's Amazon chain bands." (Byrne)
  • Wonder Woman comes from Paradise Island, a hidden utopia populated entirely by Amazon warriors who must permanently wear metal bracelets to "remind them of what happens to a girl when she lets a man conquer her." Dr. Marston elaborates: "The Amazons once surrendered to the charm of some handsome Greeks and ... [the] Greeks put them in chains of the Hitler type, beat them, and made them work like horses in the fields. Aphrodite, goddess of love, finally freed these unhappy girls. But she laid down the rule that they must never surrender to a man for any reason." (Bryne)
  • Wonder Woman loses her Amazon strength when her bracelets are weilded togther and not surprisingly bondage was a staple of all her early adventures. (Daniels)
  • When villains are captured in her laso, they are compelled to answer her questions truthfully. Marston explains "Her magic lasso is merely a symbol of feminine charm, allure, oomph, attraction every woman man uses that power on people of both sexes whom she wants to, influence or control in any way." (Bryne)
  • Unlike other comic book villians of the time who relied on thugs, bruts, and henchmen, many of Wonder Woman's villians had numerous slaves to do their evil bidding. (Daniels)
  • One of her most enduring phrases was "Suffering Sappho!" (Daniels)
  • Fredric Wertham, child psychiatrist and author of Seduction of the Innocent, criticized the amazing Amazon's adventures for their supposed "lesbian overtones." Suffering Sappho! (Daniels)
  • Marston's editor Sheldon Mayer felt that in Wonder Woman, Marston was "writing a feminist book but not for women" and that he was writing it for a "male audience." Marston explained that his character as "psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should ... rule the world" And later he adds that "What woman lacks is the dominance or self assertive power to put over and enforce her love desires. I have given Wonder Woman this dominant force but have kept her loving, tender, maternal and feminine in every other way." (Daniels) In the Family Circle he said "Wonder Woman satisfies the subconscious, elaborately disguised desire of males to be mastered by a woman who loves them." (Bryne) Wonder Woman did really appeal to boy readers: According to a customer survey, her readership was 90% male -- more than the male readership of Superman. (Jones, 211)

Wonder Woman Powerless   Wonder Woman presenting a workshop on bondage safety

The primary source for this section of the article is
Wonder Woman: The Complete History by Les Daniels

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Leather's Military Heritage

It's widely reported that Leather -- the American phenomena of Leather as a subculture -- resulted from the US military involvement in World War II. While there have always been individuals who have practiced organized acts of sadism and masochism, it wasn't until after World War II that a recognizable community of practitioners began to coalesce in the U.S. There are five ways in which the military unknowingly contributed to that development:

  • The Formation Gay and Lesbian Identities and Communities: For thousand of gay men and hundreds of lesbian women, recruitment and the draft lead to "coming out" -- in both the sense of experiencing a homosexual encounter for the first time and in the sense of identifying as gay publicly or semi-publicly. (Berube, p.6) While many were not permitted to enlist or were forced out later because of their orientation, those who served in the military had positive experiences despite the Military's mostly homophobic policies:
    • They were exposed to a largely positive military discipline (Berube, p.35)
    • They were largely tolerated -- some times even respected -- by their heterosexual peers (Berube, p.51 & 200)
    • They were able to network and develop secret means of recognition (Berube, p.126)
    • They were able to form friendships through mutual adversity (Berube, p.227)
    (On a less positive note, many who returned from the second World War -- heterosexual as well as homosexual -- were changed for the worse. Some were troubled by what they had seen and experienced. They were rootless, antisocial, and self destructive.)
  • Motorcycle Clubs: It's widely accepted that the American military was the genesis of American motorcycle clubs. The Harley-Davidson company and the Indian Motorcycle Company supplied motorcycles in the first World War and Harley-Davidson provided 90 thousand motor bikes for the allies during World War II. Afterwards some G.I.'s brought back the bikes they rode on during the conflict. (Garson, 42) But for those that hadn't, they were still able to purchase Army surplus motorcycles at a pittance. (Garson, 36) Many free wheeling veterans spent their weekends driving from town to town and drinking at bars. (Howe, p.34 & 36) Many of these mounted veterans formed motorcycle clubs. As the authors of one motorcycle history put it:
    The genealogy of the "bad biker" starts loosely after World War II, when U.S. service men returned after talking part in a conflagration that saw over 50 million people slaughtered .... Upon returning home, they found it wasn't the same. Some of them climbed on motorcycles and wandered the byways and highways of America looking for answers to unanswerable questions or teamed up with their war buddies either because they felt safer in the company of their brothers-under-arms or they didn't quite fit back into the relatively low ebb of civilian life. Motorcycles maybe gave them back the edge they needed, the adrenaline rush they had experienced so often in combat. (Garson, 50)
    Hunter S. Thompson writes much the same thing:
    The whole thing [the outlaw biker scene] was born, they say, in the late 1940s, when most ex-GIs wanted to get back to an orderly pattern: college, marriage, a job, children -- all the peaceful extras that come with a sense of security. But not everybody felt that way. Like the drifters who rode west after Appomattox, there were thousands of veterans in 1945 who flatly rejected the idea of going back to their prewar pattern. They didn't want order, but privacy -- and time to figure things out. It was a nervous, downhill feeling, a mean kind of Angst that always comes out of wars ... a compressed sense of time on the outer limits of fatalism. They wanted more action, and one of the ways to look for it was on a big motorcycle. By 1947 the state [of California] was alive with bikes, nearly all of them powerful American made irons from Harley-Davidson and Indian. (Thompson, 58-59)
    Many adopted the names of their club after World War II fighter squadrons such as the "Hell's Angels." While many motorcycle clubs were strictly heterosexual, some were not. While many motorcycle clubs did not encourage S&M, some clubs did.
  • Leather Uniforms: The original leather jackets were brown flight jackets that Army pilots took home with them after the war and used to keep warm while cycling.
  • Colors: Today members of both Leather clubs and motorcycle clubs wear "colors" -- large patches that identify their club affiliation -- on the back of their leather vests and leather jackets. The colors are a source of great pride for the membership and they will go to great lengths to prevent their theft by or recover from rival clubs. It's very likely that this can be traced from the American and European military traditions of regimental and troop colors -- the flags and standards that served the vital role of rallying point during battle. The soldiers entrusted with the colors protected them zealously -- sometime to their death. In battle, colors were more than symbols of pride and patriotism. They served a vital role in life and death struggles. In order to fight successfully --- and hopefully survive their battles --- it was neccesary for fighting units to stay togther --- whether they were advancing, retreating, or staying put. In the chaos of battle and under difficult visual conditions (such as night fighting or thick clouds of gun smoke), the unit's colors were the best way of identifying where the fighting unit was at any one time. If the colors were lost, so was the unit. This might might explain why today's leather men still take great pains to protect their colors from rival clubs.

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Table Salt: Leather

The following is something new cadets at West Point are expected to memorize and recite at the request of their seniors:

Sir, if the fresh skin of an animal be cleaned and divested of all hair, fat, and other extraneous matter and immersed in a dilute solution of tannic acid, a chemical combination ensues.  The gelatinous material of the skin is converted into a non-permeable substance impervious to, and insoluble in water.  This sir, is leather.

While the author doesn't know of any use of text in the Leather community, it's certainly possible that someone will adopt it at some point.

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Six Contrasting Definitions of the "Old Guard"

In the scene, trying to come to an agreement about the "Old Guard" is a lot like comparing the merits of various religions. The problem is compounded by conflicting understandings of the term.

Old Guard

  1. From the French "Vieille Garde," historically referring to the senior members of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's Imperial Guard. The Imperial Guard was a prestigious and well paid group which Napoleon formed in 1804 from the senior infantry regiments which had comprised his Consular Guard. They were highly disciplined, experienced, elite professional soldiers. (See the Napoleon Bonaparte's Imperial Guard section below.)
  2. A conservative -- often reactionary -- element of a class, society, organization, or political group. Often a derogatory term.
  3. A group of established prestige and influence. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
  4. In the scene, the term "Old Guard  is applied specifically the community of Gay men who adopted an early leather life style following World War II and before the 1960s. These leathermen didn't create the term or use it to describe what they were doing. "Old Guard" was originally a derogatory term applied to those veteran players by a younger and more inclusive generation of leather men who came later. Many of the gay men that formed what was later called the "Old Guard" had served in the military during World War II and they retained many military traits such as respect for uniform, obedience to the chain of command, and discipline. Their community was very insular and stasis within it was based on merit and seniority. It's been said often that one had to "earn his leathers" to be accepted and work his way up the ranks from novice sub to experienced master. In addition to the military character, this new scene incorporated black leather, motorcycle clubs, motorcycle runs, motorcycles, protocols, and a very macho gay male sexuality. In time the appellation became more respectable, even admirable and in retrospect accounts of the Old Guard acquired a mythic quality. A popular perception evolved that the Old Guard was a unified group with a clearly defined, uniform set of protocols, membership requirements, and practices. It has been debated whether that was the case.
  5. In the scene, the term "Old Guard" also refers to modern day leather folk who have "earned their leathers" under an unbroken tradition of mentorship which can trace it's origins to a member of the original "Old Guard." Some question the existence of such a tradition while other are adamant about the validity of the "long leather line."
  6. In the scene, the term "Old Guard" is applied to describe practices or players which are reminiscent of the Old Guard of the recent past. It's characterized by a high protocol and a black leather "uniform." More often than not the title is self designated and is not restricted to homosexual leather men. It's not unheard of for novice heterosexual male doms to designate themselves as Old Guard without having benefited from mentorship. Sometimes the abuse of the term becomes laughable in a gallows humor way. Steven H. Bailey ("The True Master") -- who admitted to killing a play partner through his gross ineptitude -- proudly declares himself to be "Old Guard." What once was a term of ridicule among gay men has now become a sought after designation among both the homosexual and heterosexual BDSM crowd. Old Guard is now synonymous with experienced, honorable, accomplished, and masterful. However, the designation is easy adopt and it's value is dubious.

One way to avoid misunderstanding and arguments is to substitute the term "high protocol" for Old Guard.

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Napoleon Bonaparte's Imperial Guard

"Nothing is more stable than that which has ceased to exist."
~ Commandant Henri Lachouque
Anatomy of Glory: Napoleon and His Guard (p.500)

 

A lot has been written and said about the "Old Guard" -- a term applied to the community of gay leather men who returned home after serving in the military in World War II and started many of the traditions and conventions that we recognize in BDSM and Leather. These leathermen didn't create the term or use it to describe what they were doing. "Old Guard" was originally a derogatory term applied to those veteran players by a newer and more inclusive generation of leather men who came later. To the new players, the term meant that their elders were conservative, even reactionary, and self important. To understand how the term relates, we need to look to European history for it's origin.

The term "Old Guard" comes from the French "Vieille Garde," historically referring to the senior members of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's Imperial Guard. The Imperial Guard was a prestigious and well paid group of soldiers which Napoleon formed in 1804 from the senior infantry regiments which had comprised his Consular Guard -- the creme de la creme of his Grand Army and which he supplemented over the years with the best soldiers in his expanding forces -- including Italians, Poles, Germans, Swiss, and Egyptian Mamluks. They were highly disciplined, experienced, elite professional soldiers. In addition to their abilities as warriors, they were held to high moral standards. Napoleon said "If I wished only intrepid men, I could take at hazard the first soldiers in the army I came to, but I desire more, I want good conduct, morality, and obedience, and this I find difficult." Guardmen who were caught dueling or visiting prostitutes were dismissed permanently.

As Steve Vakesh writes in a post to a mailing list:

All 18th century armies formed guard regiments of hand picked soldiers. Generally, they either anchored the line of battle, or (especially in Napoleon's case) were committed at the climactic moment of battle to break the enemy's line and shatter his army's cohesion. Napoleon created his Imperial Guard in 1804 by combining soldiers from his personal escort with soldiers from the Guard regiment of the Directory and the Consular Guard that he had formed in 1799. As Emperor, Napoleon steadily increased the size of the guard from about 8,000 soldiers in 1804 to 112,482 at the start of the 1814 campaign. As part of this steady expansion, Napoleon divided the Guard into three elements: the Old Guard, composed of hand picked men with four years service who had fought in at least two campaigns (generally the great campaigns of 1805-6); the Middle Guard, formed between 1806 and 1809 of veteran soldiers from both French and Allied regiments (the French army became less French over time); and the Young Guard, composed of hand picked recruits from each annual group of French conscript.

Napoleon doted on the soldiers of the Old Guard, and began keeping them out of battle (such as at Borodino) or committing them late (as at Waterloo). Napoleon nicknamed them les grognards (the grumblers), because of their constant complaints and the name stuck. The terms grognard and Old Guard found their way into many armies, and soldiers generally used them to indicate old, curmudgeonly, hidebound traditionalists. Wargamers, Civil War re-enactors, and similar military hobbyists also commonly use the terms, generally to indicate people who have been in the hobby a long time, often dating to some mythical golden age when people did things the right way or when things 'really tough' (as compared to the present when the new folks have it easy).

Until their final battle at Waterloo, the Guard remained undefeated. Because of that status they were know as the "Immortals." That term was used both as a compliment to the immortal fame of their fighting prowess and ironically to refer to the fact that Napoleon kept them out of harm's way.

J.T. Headley writes in The Imperial Guard of Napoleon about the importance with which the Guard was viewed and which it viewed itself:

Called upon only in great emergencies, it came to regard itself as the prop of the empire. When its columns were ordered to move to the attack, every soldier knew it was not to execute a manoeuvre, or perform a subordinate part in the battle, but to march where the struggle was deadliest, and the fate of the army was to be decided. He knew, too, that over the dead and dying, over flaming batteries, and through ranks of steel, the steady battalions were to go. The bugle was never to sound a retreat for him and no reserve help him sustain the shock. It was the consciousness of this great responsibility that made it great and irresistible.

In the final act of Waterloo, Napoleon Bonaparte sent his Middle Guard in a final assault on the alliance formed against him.  In the past he had always lead the Guard himself but -- most likely because of poor health -- he gave that responsibility to Marshal Ney.

The Guard was out numbered, unsupported by artillery bombardment and cavalry, and were advancing uphill against a line of British Foot Guards. Because they were advancing in tightly compacted hollow squares formations, they were limited in firepower. To make matters more difficult, not only were they advancing uphill into the heavy, sustained fire of the First Foot Guards in front of them but they were being fired upon by cannons 40 to 50 yards away and another British regiment firing on their flank. The Guard was out matched.  In the space of less than a minute, 300 of the Guard were killed and the survivors were forced to fall back in a controlled retreat.

The rest of the French army watched appalled. French soldiers cried out "Le Garde recule!" (The Guard is retreating) and "Sauve qui peut!" ("Every man for himself!")  It was as one French historian called it "the death knell of the Grande Army."  Having witnessed the invincible Guard retreat, the rest of the French Army panicked and fled with the British and their allies in pursuit.

(In two well circulated ancedotes, the British called out to General Pierre Cambronne of the Guard to surrender but he replied variously with either the simple but evocative "merde" or the more eloquent "the guard dies but never surrenders!" There is a famous painting of the scene. Unfortunately the authenticity of either version is dubious. General Cambronne survived the battle of Waterloo and in the years that followed he denied making the more eloquent statement. Despite that, his tombstone includes it anyway.)

Napoleon was unable to rally his troops and had to take refuge with a square formation of his Guard.  In a controlled retreat they made their way to Napoleon's escort.  He fled to France as irrevocably beaten as his Immortals.

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What was the First Use of the Term Old Guard in a Leather Context?

This author believes that the term old guard was first used in a leather context by someone familar with European history who was using the term in a derogatory or playful manner. But to prove that theory, it's necessary to find the first use of that term in the leather comunity. That might not be possible, especially if the first use was spoken instead of written. But the research is still worth attempting. The table below is an on going project for identifying the earliest and most prominent uses of the term going backward,

What was the First Use of the Term Old Guard in a Leather Context?
DateUse
1996The Leatherman's Handbook: The Silver Jubilee Edition by Larry Townsend includes an introduction -- "I am Curious (Leather)" -- by Jack Fritscher, Ph.d. In it Dr. Fritscher writes:
However, no good deed goes unpunished.  That's a basic tenet of SM.  So, naturally, on the progressive occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of The Leatherman's Handbook, it is necessary to weed out a certain hatefulness of rhetoric hurtful to the progress of leather and of homosexual activism itself.  In a direct attack on Townsend, some "leatherish novice" recently coined the label "The Old Guard" to discard the wisdom of deeply established writers, mentors, and teachers, and classic books such as The Leatherman's Handbook.  Shades of the Cultural Revolution in China, where intellectuals and artists were murdered or exiled to remote work camps.  That self-centered novice devised such exclusionist coinage as a separatist way of show-boating himself/herself as "The New Guard."  Shame on such "politically incorrect" ageists who should be slapped across the face the way hysterical twits in movies are always slapped to get a grip!  Actually, The Leatherman's Hand-book, which has sold more than 12345XXillion copies, thrives on this new brushfire of controversy! (Fritscher, p.19-20)
On reading this introduction, this author had inferred that Dr. Fritscher must have referred to the first use of the "Old Guard" term in a Leather context. But further research has shown earlier uses.
September 1991Guy Baldwin's Old Guard: Its Origins, Traditions, Mystique & Rules appears in Drummer magazine (Issue # 150.) In it he writes that he had used the term Old Guard three years previously.
late 1980'sBrian Dawson makes comments about "that 'Old Guard'" in a published interview. Guy Baldwin mentions the interview in the Sept. '91 column.
July 1989"Rough Stuff" editorial piece by Andy Mangels about "Old Guard vs. New Guard" in the leather scene appeared in the Drummer magazine issue #130
January 1988Guy Baldwin "Let's Not Take the Olde Guard Judges Too Seriously" in Drummer, Issue # 112 (January, 1988).
December 1973The phrase appears in Rover's column in the December 1973 issue of California Scene Magazine --- a Gay news magazine that also carried quite a bit of information about the leather clubs and happenings. Rover's column covers California bike clubs in each issue. Rover writes:
The Hawks is the name of another social and bike club that appeared during the year, now there are twenty-two signed up members most of whom are afiliated with HELP.  Another supporter of HELP is the Kingmasters Club.  During the year it came to the forefront of club activities by virtue of its many charitable functions and in its very active support of the bike and leatherbar under aggressive presidency of Lee L., well known about town for his striking white leather and studs uniform.  None of the clubs is a member of the old guard controlled council yet they fulfill the needs not catered to by the older clubs.  Thus the difference netween the standoffishness in Southern California and the camaraderie among the Bay area Clubs is highlighted.  ....  Some clubs that are more social than bike-oriented have not been too readily accepted in Southern California, yet in San Francisco all clubs, be they drinking, social or machine oriented are part of the "society."  The secretness of many Southern California clubs, so remarked on by visitors, is partly a reflection of the more uptight gay scene prevailing in all areas of gay life in the Sunny Southland.

This use of the phrase appears to apply to gay bikers in general but not necessarily to SM Leathermen specifically.

(Trivia: Larry Townsend was a member of Kingmasters)

Click on the images below for a larger view of the December 1973 column. The phrase appears in the middle of the center column on the second page.

Rover's Column Page 1  

(Source: The Colors of Leather web site.)

Thanks to The Colors of Leather web site for the discovery, the trivia, and the images. (BTW, Colors of Leather has about 10 issues of California Scene Magazine but they "would absolutely love to have the remainder of the set" so if anyone has copies that they'd be willing to part with please contact the Colors of Leather site owner through the email address listed on the web site at http://www.colors-of-leather.com/)

1972Larry Townsend publishes The Leatherman's Handbook. As Jack Rinella points out, the phrase in question doesn't appear anywhere in the book.
1966Random House publishes Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga by Hunter S. Thompson. It is about the heterosexual outlaw bikers. And while the phrase "Old Guard" doesn't appear in the book, Thompson uses the phrase "Praetorian Guard" several times to refer to the Angel's leaders. (During the times of the Roman Empire, the Praetorian Guard --- or Imperial Guard --- were the personal body guards of the Caesars.)

If you have more documentation or suggestions for further research, please share it with the author through his email form at http://www.evilmonk.org/A/email.cfm. Unless you state otherwise, the author will assume that it would be acceptable to cite you as the source. Please let him know how you would be cited: Bob of the Midnight Cowboys Motorcycle Club, Bob Q., Bob Quinteira, Lord Bob of Ar, etc.,

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Life looks at Leather

The June 26, 1964 issue of Life magazine, included two articles in a report that covered "Homosexuality in America." (68) The first article by reporter Paul Welch was entitled "The 'Gay' World Takes to the City Streets." Early in the article he describes a contemporary Leather bar:

On another far-out fringe of the gay world are the so-called S & M bars ("S" for sadism and "M" for masochism).  One of the most dramatic examples is in the warehouse district of San Francisco.  Outside the entrance stand a few brightly polished motorcycles, including an occasional lavender model.  Inside the bar the accent is on leather and sadistic symbolism.  The walls are covered with murals of masculine-looking men in black leather jackets.  A metal collage of motorcycle part hangs on one wall.  A cluster of tennis shoes -- favorite footwear of homosexuals with feminine traits -- dangles from the ceiling.  Behind it a derisive sign reads: "Down with sneakers!"

"This is the antifeminine side of homosexuality," says Bill Ruquy, part owner of the bar.  "We throw out anybody who is too swishy.  If one is going to be homosexual, why have anything to do with women of either sex?  We don't go for the giddy kids."

Metal is much in evidence in the room: chains on the wall, the collage and bunches of keys hanging from the customers leather belts.  "That's part of the sadistic business," Ruquy explains.  "We used to wear chains on our shoulders.  Now the keys are in."

The effort of these homosexuals to appear manly is obsessive -- in the rakish angle of the caps, in the thumbs boldly hooked in belts.  Ruquy says, "This is a place for men, a place without all those screaming faggots, fuzzy sweaters and sneakers.  Those guys -- the ones you see in the other bars -- are afraid of us.  They're afraid come here because everything looks tough.  But we're probably the most genteel bar in town." (p.68, p.70)

After those four paragraphs, the scope of the article expands to cover the larger canvas of homosexuality in the U.S. With phrases such as "sad and often sordid world," Life's editors and Welch betray alot of the prejudices of their day. But the article gradually becomes more sympathetic and details the growing movement to decriminalize and destigmatize homosexuality at a time when it was even more unacceptable than today. That Life magazine report also included a companion article by Ernest Havemann (on pages 76-80) which summed up the current scientific theories about the causes of and statistics about homoxexuality.

Jack Fritischer writes about the Life magazine articles in "Artist Chuck Arnett: His life/our times" in Leather-Folk edited by Mark Thompson. He identifies the previously mentioned leather bar as the "Tool Box."

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A Gonzo Look at Leather

"The motorcycle is obviously a sexual symbol. It's what's called a phallic locomotor symbol. It's an extension of one's body, a power between one's legs."
~ Dr. Bernard Diamond,
  University of California
  criminologist, 1965
  (quoted ion page 86 of Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels)

 

The book publisher Random House released Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga by Hunter S. Thompson in 1966 -- two years after the Life magazine article and a year after the Stonewall riots. While Thompson's book is about the notorious biker gang of the title, it also mentions in passing the gay leather scene of the time:

Any man who tacitly admits to being terrified is safe from them [the Hell's Angels] unless he overdoes it ... and this happens, often covert homosexuals long gone on booze or drugs and unable to control themselves in the presence of so much 'rough trade.' The outlaws will nearly always give a flip-out a bad time. I recall a party one night when they decided to set an offending Berkeley student on fire. Then, when the host protested, they looped a rope around the victim's ankels and said they were going to drag him away behind a motorcycle. This also caused protests, so they settled for hanging him by one arm from a living-room rafter. After a half hour or so they relented and cut him down, shaking their heads in puzzlement at his stoney silence. The wretch hadn't uttered a word throughout the ordeal. He seemed in a daze, and and I had the fleeting impression that he's planned the whole thing. Afterward, he went outside and sat on a stump for several hours, saying nothing at all, but trembling now and then like a man coming down from some indescribable peak.

The Angles are great favorites on the sado-masochism circuit .... I have never heard anyone who had any personal dealings with them endorse the Freudian viewpoint -- probably because anyone who spends any time with the Angles knows the difference between outlaw motorcyclists and homosexual leather cults. At any bar full of Hell's Angels there will be a row of sleek bikes lined up on the curb outside. At a leather bar there are surrealistic renderings of motorcycles on the wall and perhaps, but not always, one or two huge, accessory-laden Harleys parked outside -- complete with windshields, radios and red plastic saddlebags. The difference is as basic as between a professional football player and a rabid fan. One is a performer in a harsh, unique corner of reality; the other is a cultist, a passive worshiper, and occasionally a sloppy emulator of a style that fascinates him because it is so hopelessly remote from the reality he wakes up to every morning. (84-86)

While Thompson only addresses the Gay Leather biker scene in those three pages, the rest of the book is still informative for no other reason than that it contrasts what we know about the Gay Leather Bike culture of that time with Thompson's illustration of the heterosexual outlaw bikers. Consider the Hell's Angels attitude towards leather:

... there has never been an outlaw who saw his bike as anything but a King Kong equalizer, and there has never been one, either, who had anything but contempt for the idea of good clean fun ... which is one of the reasons they shun even the minimum safety measures that most cyclists take for granted. You will never see a Hell's Angels wearing a crash helmet. Nor do they wear the Brando-Dylan-Style 'silver studded phantom' leather jackets, commonly associated with motorcycle hoodlums and 'leather fetish cults.' This viewpoint is limited to people who know nothing about motorcycles. Heavy leather jackets are standard even for New York's Madison Avenue Motorcycle Club, an executive-level gang whose members include a dentist, a film producer, a psychiatrist and a United Nations official. Ted Develat, the film producer, has lamented the image problem that he and the others run into with their leather jackets. 'But if you're practical you have to dress that way,' he explained. 'If you take a skid, it's a lot cheaper to shred that leather than to scrape off your own skin.'

It is also a lot less painful. An eight-inch circle of raw flesh on your back is awkward with and slow to heal. Professional motorcycle racers, who have learned the hard way, wear helmets, gloves and full-length leather suits.

But not the Hell's Angels. Anything safe, they want no part of. They'll stoop to wearing shades or weird googles on the road, more for show than protection. The Angels don't want anybody to think that they're hedging their bets. The leather jackets were in vogue until the mid-fifties, and many of the outlaws sewed their colors on them. But as their reputation grew and the police began closing in, one of the Frisco Angels came up with the idea of removable colors, to be snatched off and hidden in time of stress. This marked the era of the sleeveless denim vest: In the beginning most outlaws wore the colors on top of leather jackets, but in southern California it was too hot for that, so the Berdoo chapter pioneered the idea of wind in the armpits, no jackets at all -- only colors ... A few of the older outlaws still wear leather jackets, especially around the Bay Area, where the winters are cold, but they are definately not the style, and any independent making a pitch for Angel membership would be rejected as "corny and chickenshit" if he showed up in leather. (p.81-82)

Thompson also describes the influence of The Wild One, the 1954 movie that had effects on the image of the Outlaw Biker as well as the Gay Leatherman:

The truth is that The Wild One -- despite an admittedly fictional treatment -- was an inspired piece of film journalism. ... It gave the the outlaws a lasting, romance-glazed image of themselves, a coherant reflection that only a very few had been able to find in a mirror, and it quickly became the bike rider's answer to The Sun Also Rises. The image is not valid, but its wide acceptance can hardly be blamed on the movie. The Wild One was careful to distinguish between "good outlaws" and "bad outlaws," but the people who who were most influenced chose to identify Brando instead of Lee Marvin whose role as the villiain was a lot more true to life than Brando's portrayal of the confused hero. They saw themselves as modern Robin Hoods ... virile, inarticulate brutes whose good instincts got warped somewhere in the struggle for self-expression and who spent the rest of their violent lives seeking revenge on a world that done them wrong when they were young and defenseless. (p.66)

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Word Origin of Domme

"Domme" is a term for dom (dominant) with the "-me" added to specify the female gender. The commonly accepted theory for the term's origin is that it was coined online to quickly differentiate a female dominant from her male brethren.

Some people pronounce it like "dom" and others pronounce it "Dom-may." Despite the French sounding pronounciation, the word has no determinable foreign origin.

In a post to the Yahoo Leather History mailing list, Hypatia Swan, Ph.D. presented her research on the term:

I researched the use of the word "domme" in connection with "the scene" by tracking the usage of the word on usenet.  I used "alt.sex.bondage" as a representative newsgroup and tracked the frequency of occurrence of the word "domme" for each year starting in 1989 (As far as I can tell, the group didn't exist until 1989).

I used tracking for the word "rope" as a baseline to get an idea of general trends in usenet usage (a sort of normalization factor).

All tracking was conducted using google search function (formerly dejanews.com).  I searched by year, exclusively in the newsgroup mentioned.  Feel free to repeat and/or verify/correct this search.  It's kind of fun to diddle with.

Important points:

I found that the word "domme" first appeared on alt.sex.bondage in 1990 - a single hit (perhaps a misspelling?).

"Domme" didn't appear until 1993 after that, and there were 35 occurrences of the word in that year.

Interestingly, in 1993, people were writing "dom femme" and "fem domme" interchangeably - usually when referring to pro dominants.

After 1993, use of the word "domme" grew quickly on this usenet group.

....

All of this leads me to believe that use of the word "domme" didn't really catch on until about 1993-1994... the same time that "that thar inner net [sic]" was catching on (who knew?).

In addition, I think it might be entirely possible that the word domme came into existence because some people interchanged the words "femme dom" with "fem domme."  A misspelling-spelling of sorts.  It may have caught on after that since the misspelled-spelled word may have filled the perceived niche of having gender specificity.  Any thoughts on this? Anyone hear the term in real life prior to 1993?  Just my theory.

Dr. Swan found that the peak frequency for the word Domme occurred in about 1996 at about ~550 or so hits. Then as usenet usage declined, the number of hits for "domme" and "rope" declined similarly.

The frequencies of the word rope and domme on certain usenet groups
The frequencies of the words "rope" and "domme" on certain usenet groups
Courtesy of Hypatia Swan Ph.D. (aka Hype)

NOTE: Hypatia Swan holds a real Ph.D. in one of the hard sciences.

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Comming Soon (Eventually)

The author plans on expanding this article with the following topics:

  • Significance and Symbolism of the Eagle
  • Possible Origins of the Two Steps Behind Rule
  • St. Andrews Cross
  • The Military Influences on Tom of Finland

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Sources

  • Baldwin, Guy, Ties That Bind (San Francisco: Daedalus, 1993)
  • Berube, Allan, Coming Out Under Fire, The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two (Plume, 1991)
  • Bryne, Oliver (under the name Olive Richard) "Our Women Are Our Future" Family Circle August 14, 1942
  • Daniels, Les Wonder Woman: The Complete History (Chronicle Books, 2004)
  • Fritscher, Ph.d., Jack, "I am Curious (Leather)" in The Leatherman's Handbook: The Silver Jubilee Edition (1996)
  • Garson, Paul, and the Editors of Easyriders, Born to be Wild: A History of the American Bikers and Bikes 1947-20 (New York: Simon & Shuster, 2003)
  • Herold, J. Christopher, The Battle of Waterloo (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1967)
  • Howarth, David, Waterloo: Day of Battle (New York: Antheneum, 1968)
  • Howe, Robert F., "Wild Thing," Smithsonian (magazine), August 2003
  • Jones, Gerald, Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book (New York: Basic Books, 2004)
  • Keegan, John, The Mask of Command (New York: Penguin, 1987)
  • Lachouque, Commandant Henri, (Translated by Anne S. K. Brown), Anatomy of Glory: Napoleon and His Guard (London: Greenhill Books, 2006)
  • Marston, William Moulton, Emotions of Normal People (Taylor & Francis Ltd., 1999)
  • Reynolds, Tom, Wild Ride: How Outlaw Motorcycle Myth Conquered America (New York: TV Books, 2000)
  • Roberts, Andrew Napoleon and Wellington (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001)
  • Sutherland, John Patrick, Men of Waterloo (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1966)
  • Thompson, Hunter S., Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga (New York: Random House, 1966)
  • Townsend, Larry, The Leatherman's Handbook: The Silver Jubilee Edition (Masquerade Books: New York, 1997)
  • Townsend, Larry, The Leatherman's Handbook II (1983)
  • Vakesh, Steve, "Napoleon's Imperial Guard" Sun Jul 4, 2004 2:36 PM (post to mailing list quoted with the author's permission)
       

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Recommended Further Reading

More on the "Old Guard"

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Reposting Policy

This article is from Ambrosio's BDSM Website at http://www.EvilMonk.org/A/

You are free to print this article or repost it to any freely accessible Internet site provided you:
  • Post it in it's entirety (including these instructions),
  • Credit me properly,
  • Include a working hyperlink to my website at the bottom of the article, and
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