During that decade, I played with many men. Being a professional ballet dancer, I enjoyed the thrill of the rough physicality that could occur between Leathermen. Unlike the staid and often guilt-riddled sex in the mainstream Gay Community, many Leathermen were deeply invested in celebrating sex while advocating safer practices. To offset my impetuous sexual behavior, many experienced men would take the time to instruct me in these practices. They would also show me how to wear clothes to accentuate my body, instruct me on the nuances of cruising, and teach me how to show respect for myself and others. These men were gods to me, beautiful men who exuded sex and confidence.
"A Leatherman must be invited to such exaltation," I thought. "I am not worthy."
Around this time, I met a handsome Seattle Leatherman with a tight, toned body, a perfectly groomed mustache, and a voracious appetite for sex. We met at the Triangle Campground north of Everett, Washington, and passed a long weekend in unbridled passion and hot sex. After returning back to Seattle, he called me up on the telephone, and asked me out on a date.
My response was immediate. "I can't," I replied. "You are a Leatherman. I am not. It wouldn't work."
I will never forget this man's astonishment. "WHO do you think you are?" he asked. "We have spent days having hot Leathersex, and you say you are not a Leatherman?"
To which I replied, "Sorry! It wouldn't work between us. I am not like you."
During the next couple of years, in spite of my growing attendance at Leather gatherings, I still did not consider myself part of the Leather Community. I wore my boots daily, always impeccably shined. I developed a reputation as a hard player. I hung out more and more with Leathermen. Still, I felt I had not earned the right to call myself anything but "Hugh."
One spring evening, I attended a Leather awards event. I listened as my friend, Wes Randall, presented tokens of appreciation to various members of the Leather Community in Seattle. Wes had a particular way of speaking that always made me smile. As he called out each name, I watched the person walk to the front, receive the award, and return to join the group of applauding Leatherfolk. After he had finished presenting the awards, Wes stopped, smiled, and said in his distinct voice, "I would now like to take this opportunity to recognize someone who does not consider himself a 'Leatherman.' He feels that he cannot assume this title, so I am going to give it to him. To Hugh, the best Leatherman I know."
I felt embarrassed, speechless, and I felt proud. I stood sheepishly as members of the Community looked on approvingly. After years, I had been invited to join the ranks of others that I had respected and revered. I felt validated, worthy to wear my Leather in public. I had become a Leatherman.
The world today seems to revolve at a faster pace than it did then. Leather is easier to obtain, as is instruction into Leatherplay. Becoming a part of the Community now takes days instead of years; there is a place for everyone in the expanding world of Leather and fetish. Still, I value the slow path that led me to become a Leatherman decades ago. Today, as I stand next to my husband, another proud Leatherman, I feel fortunate to have emerged from a generation of so many great Leatherfolk, a great number who are no longer with us. To them, I owe a great debt that cannot be repaid.