In order to build a solid, growing and exciting future for our community that builds new traditions and encourages new leaders to step forward, we have to take stock of the past, before any other work gets started.
Speaking as a gay leatherman who has been through the flames, our community is terribly wounded. We were hit the hardest and the earliest when AIDS struck so many of us down.
In the 1970's, gay leathermen were on the rise - We were bold, we were visible, we were iconic in the larger community's eyes, and we were part of a gay-rights movement that was on an endlessly-rising trend. Anita Bryant and John Briggs were on the run, and the bigots were scrambling to try and hold us back, but failing. The newest civil-rights movement had arrived. Gay men were pissed-off, unstoppable and unapologetic. We were gathering together in major cities, moving away from Squaw's Ass, Idaho and Chicken Leg, Arkansas.
We were finally having as much sex as we wanted, in the ways that we had always wanted. Leather bars and bathhouses were big money-makers, because every major city now had them. We now had ways to build a stock of kinky wisdom that would endure, rather than being hidden away and lost when isolated individuals died. Many men were writing books that were finally reaching a mass audience (rather than being banned or burned), building a consensus of shared desire. We had the largest gathering of wise, experienced kinky gay men in the history of the planet, and we did a lot of connecting, sexually, socially and politically.
We had a tradition of mentoring between the generations, and we had protocols and a distinct, focused subculture. We had to develop these things, because the older men among us still carried fears from their youth that involved imprisonment, electroshock "therapy" and much worse if they had been caught indulging in their hearts' desires. We HAD to take care of each other, because nobody else cared about our well-being.