Local and international leather community reacts to sudden loss
By Julie Cruikshank, Brandon Matheson
Jon Letke, the reigning Mr Leather Ottawa (MLO), died suddenly the evening of Thursday, July 24 in an apparent suicide.
Letke, 25, known in the leather community as Nizzi Greatpup, was a well-loved member of Ottawa’s queer community. He had moved to the city from Toronto in June 2013.
“We are all shocked by his sudden death. It is the ones closest to Jon that are on my mind in this rough time; I wish there was something I could do to ease their hearts,” Mike Tattersall, MLO 2010, tells Xtra.
Letke leaves behind many friends in the leather community, as well as his partner, Steve Loki.
“Tonight, Zelda Marshall and I will hold a moment of silence in his honour at Centretown Pub,” says Tattersall.
As news of his death became known late Thursday night, messages of grief, tribute and condolence from friends across North America and in the international leather community had begun to fill Letke’s Facebook profile.
“With a smile from knowing you and quite a few tears I’m headed to bed; glad that you’ll rest well brother. (Pats and scritches) We will make sure Loki’s taken care of,” wrote Woody Woodruff, International Mr Leather 2012.
A poignant photo of the leather pride flag flying at half mast was posted by Youkali Youkali, Ms Leather Toronto 2013.
“Jon, my Canadian brother, a kindred spirit. I am in shock and sad beyond belief. Thank you for the gifts that you gave me and so many,” wrote Patty, International Ms Leather 2014.
Many expressed shock and surprise, and some shared resources for suicide awareness and prevention.
“There are also people with a lot of anger, as well, as is common in these situations,” notes Tattersall. “We all deal with the stages of grief, and yes, all emotional responses are valid.”
“Many people have banded together, in person and in constant contact on-line, to gather strength from each other, both here and in the IML Class of 36,” says Tattersall. “Jon’s IML Brothers took it hard.”
“I am so saddened by this. I still cannot believe it. We shared so much before and during the IML process. I feel that a brother has been taken... and will not sleep tonight,” Peter Reid posted last night upon learning the news. ...
Denver swingers can't catch a break. 3090 Eden, the members-only swingers' club that opened for business just last March, has closed, as has the Downing Street Grill, which was located in the same building at 3090 Downing Street. "It was a lot of money spent, but there wasn't enough support from the community that we were hoping to tap into," says James Riggs, a construction-industry exec who ran both businesses. "If we had opened up the right way, with everything the way we had wanted it, maybe it would have stayed open. But we just didn't have everything in place the way that the swinging world wanted it."
In other words, there wasn't enough swinging going on.
While 3090 provided a bar, food and a place for members of "the lifestyle" to gather, it didn't allow nudity, sex or "play." Riggs says he was trying to work with Denver officials on fire code, building code, liquor-license rules and other issues so that he could establish "play areas," but found himself buried in paperwork -- and swingers weren't willing to wait around.
After all, they'd already been loaded down with rules on the 3090 Eden website: Do Not Be Creepy; Ask Before You Touch -- Ask Once and Only Once; Do Not Open Closed Curtains; Do Not Interrupt Others; Nudity only in designated areas; No sex of any kind past the doors of the play area; Clean Up Your Own Mess.
The building at 3090 Downing has had trouble getting lucky as well. Decades ago it was a church, then for many years it was home to Tosh's Hacienda, which got overly ambitious with an expansion and wound up reneging on a city loan and closing altogether. The spot was later purchased by the folks behind Tracks and Exdo, and since then it's hosted an assortment of restaurants, including Kiva, Blackberries Bar, Swallows and, most recently, Eden, a lesbian-centric vegetarian spot that closed last summer.
The recent history of Denver swingers' clubs has been equally tumultuous. Sugar House, which was founded by infamous escort-service magnate Scotty Ewing on West Alameda Avenue, closed in March 2012 after a liquor-license violation. Ewing, who moved to San Diego, recently returned to Denver, however, and has promised to host a series of patio and pool parties, under the name Sugar House Events, targeting Denver's "young, fit, fun, and sexy open-minded couples and women."
And the Scarlet Ranch, which had occupied a nondescript building at 424 Broadway, was run out of town that same year, following raids and investigations by both the Denver fire and police departments. Owner Kendall Seifert later sued the city, but he has since opened a sprawling new place, called Squirrel Creek Lodge, in the former Northwoods Inn...of all places.
If you're into leather daddies and BDSM — this is the event for you. Think of it as a prelude to Folsom Street Fair, or as the Up Your Alley site refers to it: "Folsom Street Fair's Dirty Little Brother."
This little brother event is just as kinky as Folsom, and will bring out more than 15,000 "leather men" for some BDSM play on Dore Alley and the section of Folsom Street between Ninth and 11th streets. There will also be dancing and vendors selling fetish accessories; if you need some new whips, chains, and rubber items, then this may be the time to stock up!
But heed these words of caution from their site: "Up Your Alley is for real players — and not for the faint of heart..." So if you're more into gawking than participating, it's best to just stay out of the way, you don't want to get a whip to the eye!
Also, check back here on Monday where we'll have a review of the Exhibitionist's first time to the event.
Up Your Alley, July 26, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Dore Alley (at Howard).
The pair, who play leads Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, confirmed that yes, the full trailer is much racier than what could be shown on morning television.
But that wasn't the reason Johnson said she didn't think she'd want her actor parents, Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, to see the film. "If it were them doing a (sexy) movie I wouldn't want them to see that (either)," she chuckled.
Still, while the movie is hot, making it was ... less so. "It's not, like, a romantic situation," said Johnson. "It's more, like, technical and choreographed and less ... it's more of a task."
"Wow!" said Dornan with a sigh. But he bounced back and noted that the pair had chemistry on the set.
"That's a big part of it ... having trust," he said. "Because, you know, we got ourselves into situations that don't feel that sort of natural and they're not that easy and you need to have the trust there." ...
The Center for Positive Sexuality is currently seeking participants for a research study on how BDSM is experienced. Participation is minimal and simply requires taking quick five-minute survey. If you are an adult who regularly engages in BDSM, please consider taking the survey. This research is endorsed and supported by Idaho State University IRB and CARAS. Thank you!
Domina, a Sonoma-based event planner, advice-dispenser, and proprietor of the chatty BDSM website The Frugal Domme, has hosted trailer trash parties at local bondage club The San Francisco Citadel for about a decade. According to club owners Phil Derby and August Knight, those parties have always gone off without a hitch.
"It's just a fun night," Derby says. "We serve hot dogs and fried bologna sandwiches, and people dress up in overalls and Dixie shorts."
"It's just utter craziness, man," Knight chimes in.
The owners were dismayed, however, when this year's Trailer Trash Takeover — held on Saturday, July 5 — spawned craziness of a different sort. In the days leading up to the event, protest flared up on the BDSM social media site FetLife, where users chafed at the term "trailer trash."
According to Derby, they'd mistakenly conflated it with "white trash."
"Suddenly people got sensitive about it," he says. "They were saying things like, 'I grew up there, I'm offended.'" He sighs. "It was a no-win situation."
Though the comment threads in question appear to have been erased, debate about "trash" stereotypes still proliferates on the rest of the internet.
"Well, the term 'trash' is derogatory," UC Berkeley linguistics professor emeritus Robin Lakoff explains. "It suggests that you are the kind of white person to be thrown away."
She adds that since the term is often lobbed at low-income white people, it has derisive class connotations.
But Derby and Knight believe that the "trash" flare-up on FetLife wasn't about a legitimate class slur; rather, it was a battle over political correctness, they say. Derby attributes that to an influx of newcomers into the BDSM scene. Many of them are skittish or sanctimonious about party themes that have been around for years, he says.
A longstanding scene member (who didn't want to be identified) wholeheartedly agrees. "More people are getting into kink, especially after Fifty Shades of Grey," he says. "And they're coming at it with a normative vanilla outlook." ...
Polyamorous people still face plenty of stigmas, but some studies suggest they handle certain relationship challenges better than monogamous people do.
by Olga Khazan
hen I met Jonica Hunter, Sarah Taub, and Michael Rios on a typical weekday afternoon in their tidy duplex in Northern Virginia, a very small part of me worried they might try to convert me.
All three live there together, but they aren’t roommates—they’re lovers.
Or rather, Jonica and Michael are. And Sarah and Michael are. And so are Sarah and whomever she happens to bring home some weekends. And Michael and whomever he might be courting. They’re polyamorous.
Michael is 65, and he has a chinstrap beard that makes him look like he just walked off an Amish homestead. Jonica is 27, with close-cropped hair, a pointed chin, and a quiet air. Sarah is 46 and has an Earth Motherly demeanor that put me at relative ease.
Together, they form a polyamorous “triad”— one of the many formations that’s possible in this jellyfish of a sexual preference. “There’s no one way to do polyamory” is a common refrain in “the community.” Polyamory—which literally means “many loves”—can involve any number of people, either cohabiting or not, sometimes all having sex with each other, and sometimes just in couples within the larger group.
Sarah and Michael met 15 years ago when they were both folk singers and active in the polyamorous community. Both of them say they knew from a young age that there was something different about their sexuality. “Growing up, I never understood why loving someone meant putting restrictions on relationships,” Michael said.
“What I love about polyamory is that everything is up for modification,” Sarah says. “There are no ‘shoulds.’ You don’t have to draw a line between who is a lover and who is a friend. It’s about what is the path of my heart in this moment.”
They’ve been “nesting partners” for 12 years, but they’ve both had other relationships throughout that time. Jonica moved in three years ago after meeting Michael on OkCupid. She describes the arrangement’s appeal as “more intimacy, less rules. I don’t have to limit my relationship with other partners.”
The house is, as they describe, an “intentional community”—a type of resource-sharing collectivist household. They each have their own room and own bed. Sarah is a night owl, so she and Michael spend time together alone late at night. Jonica sees him alone in the early morning. They all hang out together throughout the day. The house occasionally plays host to a rotating cast of outside characters, as well—be they friends of the triad or potential love interests.
The triad works together, too, running a consulting nonprofit that puts on events “that teach skills for living together peacefully, such as clear communication, boundaries, what to do when you get upset,” Sarah said. An added bonus of the living arrangement is that it cuts down on commuting time.
I initially expected the polyamorous people I met to tell me that there were times their relationships made them sick with envy. After all, how could someone listen to his significant other’s stories of tragedy and conquest in the dating world, as Michael regularly does for Sarah, and not feel possessive? But it became clear to me that for “polys,” as they’re sometimes known, jealousy is more of an internal, negligible feeling than a partner-induced, important one. To them, it’s more like a passing head cold than a tumor spreading through the relationship.
Of the three people living in the Northern Virginia duplex, Sarah volunteers that she’s the one most prone to jealousy. “It can be about feeling like you’re not special, or feeling like this thing belonged to me and now someone’s taken it.”
She said it was rough for her when Jonica first moved in. Sarah had been accustomed to seeing Michael whenever she wanted, but she started to feel a pang when he spent time with Jonica.
“At first I thought, ‘Is something bad happening, something I don’t want to support?” she said. “No, I want to support Michael and Jonica in being together. From there, I look at my own reaction. I can be an anxious person, so maybe I was feeling anxious. I find other ways of getting grounded. I might go for a walk or play guitar.
“It’s part of learning a healthy self-awareness and the ability to self-soothe,” she added. “I notice what I’m feeling, and do a dive inward.” ...
Sunny Megatron and Ken Melvoin-Berg visited the Tool Shed a while back to teach their popular class ZAP! Electric Play, which covers toys that use electricity for stimulation, such as neon wands, violet wands and TENS units. These items were originally designed to improve physical or mental health, but were adapted—“by perverts,” as Ken puts it—for sexual use.
We have a glass case full of neon wands, violet wands and various metal implements in the store, and we are frequently asked what, exactly, they are, followed by, “Why would anyone use those?!??” After the class, I asked Sunny and Ken what their responses to this question would be.
Laura Anne Stuart: How would you explain the appeal of electric toys to someone who has never used them before?
Ken Melvoin-Berg: The appeal of neon wands and violet wands, for me at least, stem from when I was peeing on an electric fence at my uncle’s farm. That feeling of electricity caused a little bit of arousal in me…it’s a very primal thing. [Y]ou start playing with electricity, whether a neon wand or a violet wand or a TENS unit, and automatically start thinking about electric shock therapy and all the evils—One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But as soon as I started getting zapped, it made me happy instantaneously. It’s that primal feeling that made me come back to [it] over and over. Plus, I’m a science geek!
Sunny Megatron: For me, in a sensual realm, it’s a great couples toy. You think of sensation play and running a feather over someone—well, this kicks it into overdrive. Not only do you have the great sensation that doesn’t really hurt, but you have the element of excitement, because we all associate electricity with something like, “Oooooh, it’s gonna be bad, it’s gonna tingle, it’s gonna be horrible,” and it’s actually fun. For BDSM purposes, it takes on a whole other purpose. If someone is a little bit scared of it, the sound is like a tattoo gun, or if they stuck a fork in an outlet when they were three—it’s going to give them the mental stimulation and play with their mind.
LAS: How would you describe what a neon wand or violet wand feels like?
SM: They feel like a prickly tingle. Not painful, but just enough to make your hair stand up—in a good way, not an ouch-y way. On high settings, some people would say that it’s like when you run your feet across the carpet and then you get that little shock—but on the pleasurable side.
KMB: I don’t think that’s exactly it, because static electricity is sharper and faster. For me, it’s more like if you’ve had an accidental electrical accident, like sticking a fork in a toaster, and you get that pulsating wave, the contractions of your muscles going in-and-out and in-and-out…It’s a very different sensation than anything else to have your muscles start to spasm involuntarily. ...