A couple of weeks ago I attended my first leather event: the 2020 Kentucky Leather Pride Competition. I went in a virgin (figuratively speaking), and left with a newfound appreciation and respect for the leather community.
By the time I arrived, the bar was filled all the way up with queers in leather harnesses, pup play gear, and other kink attire. I was definitely the odd man out in my button-down and jeans. But I didn’t feel out of place. In fact, one of the first things I noticed was how friendly and welcoming the crowd was. The majority of the audience appeared to be cis gay men, but there was also a good showing of trans men, non-binary folks, cis and trans women, and sober folk—some in leather, some not—all comfortably intermixing: a refreshing change from the segregation I usually witness at LGBTQ+ events.
But the inclusive vibes didn’t end there. The competitors were just as diverse as the audience, with two trans man, a non-binary person, a cisgender lesbian, and several people of color competing for titles. In front of a panel of judges and a packed bar, the competitors enacted their sexual fantasies, auctioned off gift baskets they had personally curated, and gave speeches in which they shared their personal experiences with family rejection, police violence, and other hardships. The common thread running through all of their stories was the way that the leather community had welcomed them and helped them find the courage to stand in their truth.
The performances were excellent: some were sexy, others moving, and others hilarious. But for me the biggest takeaway of the evening wasn’t the competition but the community itself, as a powerful example of how solidarity and acceptance can cut through so many different intersections of identity and experience.
I reached out to 2020 Leather Pride Boy title holder, Derek Guy, to ask him about his experiences as an openly trans black man in the leather community. Keep scrolling to read his answers.
How did you become involved in the gay leather scene?
I was fortunate enough to be brought into the community by my ex. He is very active in the community and when I got involved, it was the most accepting and nurturing place that I have been involved in.
In your experience, how is the leather community perceived by the rest of the gay community?
I believe we are mysterious to the gay community. We aren’t though. We are a kink community but we are welcoming of everyone.
As a black trans man, what has your experience been like in the leather scene? How has this compared with your experience in the gay community at large?
I have felt nothing but entirely accepting and affirmed in this community. It has been an amazing experience and I love it. I feel more accepted as my entire self in the leather community than I ever have in the LGB+ community. They accept me as a man and never make me feel like a token of diversity. It has been a rewarding experience.
What are some myths about leather subculture that you’d like to dispel?
That we are standoffish and unwelcoming. We are so accepting and anyone is welcomed to come to be a part of this community. It has been a great experience for me. I want more LGBTQ+ people to come and feel accepted as themselves within the community.
If you had to sum it up in a sentence or two, what does leather mean to you?
Leather is a community of unique individuals who enjoy some of the same experiences. It is a fellowship that enjoys leather and all that it means to be involved in leather and it’s community.