Within the incredibly diverse LGBT community, the worldwide Leather/fetish/kink family is undoubtedly one of its most close-knit subcultures. Leathermen, Leatherwomen, and their allies have created a large and diverse — yet simultaneously intimate — network from Amsterdam to New York City. Throughout the year, there are an endless number of social events taking place, both large and small. Those events include the many annual Leather and fetish contests. Whether it is a bar title or a state, regional, or international title, the winner of the Contest is expected to dedicate a significant amount of time to community service and to take on a philanthropic cause that he or she is passionate about. Forty year-old Dan Ronneberg, a former Officer in the U.S. Air Force who lives in Arlington, Virginia, became the thirty-second Mr. DC Eagle in March 2015. Nine months later, he won the prestigious national title of American Leatherman 2015 during American Brotherhood Weekend (ABW) in Chicago. Ronneberg is an Aviation Safety Inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration. He serves as the National Chairperson for FAA GLOBE, the FAA’s LGBT Employee Association. Fifty-one year old psychiatrist and U.S. Army veteran Todd Leavitt is also a dual Titleholder. In January 2016, Leavitt was named Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather 2016. It was the highest honor in a Contest held during one of the country’s largest and most anticipated Leather/fetish/kink events: Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend in Washington, D.C. Leavitt, however, is not a newcomer to the Leather world. Almost 25 years earlier, he had won the Title of Mr. Leather Detroit in May 1991. Leavitt is taking his journey even further later this month: He is one of 59 men from all over the world competing for the envied Title of International Mr. Leather (IML) 38 in Chicago during Memorial Day Weekend.
Dan and Todd, both incredibly muscular, make an instant impression wherever they appear. In keeping with their responsibilities as Titleholders and role models, they make a lot of public appearances all over the States as well as in other countries. It’s clear that the two of them are devoted to each other, and that they share at least one common interest: bodybuilding! They are both handsome, intelligent, and outgoing. Their three-year relationship, however, is a bit more complex than a casual admirer on the street would perceive. Dan and Todd have a modern consensual Master/slave relationship. It’s an example of a “Dominant/submissive” relationship, the spectrum of which also includes “Daddy/boy” relationships among gay men. But here comes another twist in this happily renegade family portrait: Todd is legally married to Randy Gooch, who has been his life partner for 20 years. Dan is Master to both Todd and Todd’s husband Randy. The three men live together. (And, yes, they all sleep in the same bed, along with their two English bulldogs.)
Obviously, every power differential relationship is different. Some partners choose to enact their roles on variant levels when in public and in private, for example. Although I had known Dan for quite some time, I had not yet officially met his slave Todd. To show the significance of the dynamics of a Master/slave couple, I actually felt it appropriate to ask permission of the Master before freely speaking to his slave. As you may have gathered by now, it was fine!
It is impossible to accurately estimate how many Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, are in power differential and/or polyamorous relationships. Despite superficial pop culture interest in BDSM culture, the whole subject remains largely misunderstood and often disrespected in American consciousness. In the Leather community, however, these relationships are often open and supported. Still, the idea of both BDSM and polyamorous relationships may be considered at best unusual, and at worst controversial even among the LGBT community at large. But one thing is clear: This unique Leather family makes it work. More importantly, they make it work well. Dan and Todd took the time out of their incredibly busy travel schedule for an enlightening discussion about their relationship, HIV and PReP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) awareness, and the current state of the Leather community.
JR: Hello gentlemen. Thank you for speaking with me. So, Dan, let’s start with you. A lot of people, even in the LGBT community at large, may have a hard time understanding the dynamic between a Master or Daddy and his collared slave or boy. They may have a negative impression because they say that the relationship is not “equal”. How would you explain that to them?
Dan: They aren’t equal. It’s very clear that they are power differential relationships. One person is agreeing, consensually, to give up some of their power to make decisions or to do certain things. But it is an exchange. So, the other person is agreeing to take over those roles and to be responsible for that. And that really does mean being responsible to it. That means sexually as well. I am completely responsible for making sure that they (Todd and Randy) have a good time, and that they get off, and that they are happy. There are two of them and just one of me, so I have to make sure we do things that involve all three of us, and that nobody feels left out, and to figure what we are going to do next. I have to put some thought into how I play with them and what we do. I wouldn’t necessarily call it “catering”, but it is paying attention to certain needs and interests — which may be very different for Todd then they are for Randy and determining how can I do both of those at the same time. ...
For kinky people, finding a shrink who knows the difference between ball gags and cock and ball torture can be a godsend.
by Alice Sanders
Finding a therapist can be a major problem for anyone who's into BDSM or fetish. The most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, updated in 2013, is the first version in the 62-year history of psychiatry's diagnostic bible that does not classify BDSM as a marker of mental illness. But surveys show that far more people are into kink than commonly assumed: A 2008 survey from Durex found that 36 percent of people in the US deploy masks, blindfolds, and bondage tools as part of their sexual repertoire.
Kinky people need therapy to deal with the stresses of life just as much as their vanilla peers, but they can run into problems when trying to find a therapist who knows the difference between a dungeon monitor and a domme. Demand for kink-identified therapists has led to websites like LGBTQ-oriented Pink Therapy in the UK and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom in the US. On the NCSF website, therapists are divided into three classifications: kink friendly, kink-aware, and kink-knowledgeable.
"By stating that you work with kinky clients you're raising the possibility that you're also kinky," says Joanna*, an integrative therapist working in London. "Some clients will make that assumption, especially if you have a high level of kink knowledge." She goes on to say that she's comfortable outing herself as a BDSM practictioner to a client if they have explicitly told her that they are part of the community.
There are good reasons to do this. Clients often come to her having already had a bad experience with a therapist who lacked BDSM understanding. Katie*, a psychodynamic therapist also working in London, tells me that she sees one kinky couple who have been through four previous professionals. "I believe they've been treated poorly by the therapists they've approached."
More than just a simple lack of knowledge of kink, vanilla therapists can sometimes bring their own negative preconceptions of BDSM to sessions. It's something both Joanna's clients and friends have had to deal with in the past. "Therapists have suggested that kink is externalized self-harm; that's it's problematic playing with power, that it's a form of unhealthy risk taking." She explains that some keep bringing up kink as symptomatic of a deeper mental health issue, but kink-positive therapy means that "clients can reveal this information in passing, and it's accepted as a normal healthy part of their relationship."
Kink can sometimes involve behaviors that someone not in the scene may struggle to wrap their head around (toenail fetishes, anyone?) and clients often don't want to waste time educating a kinky therapist on the terminology and dynamics of the scene. When a shrink come out as kinky, it's not just to assure their clients that they won't have a bad experience in therapy, but to show they can have a positive one.
"There's often an assumption that BDSM-ers are attempting to re-enact childhood abuse, whereas no studies have ever found any correlation," Joanna explains of non-kinky therapists. With those who do incorporate S&M into their personal lives, however, "there's a better understanding of the differences between consensual kink and an abusive dynamic, which may be more difficult for therapists who aren't kinky themselves." In fact, a recent Northern Illinois University study showed that those who participated in BDSM are far more likely to understand key issues of consent.
But identifying yourself as a kinky professional can come with its challenges, too. Therapist and client will usually have zero relationship outside of the therapeutic space, but that isn't possible in places with small kink scenes. It brings with it the risk that the client will learn personal details about a therapist. Katie suggests that any extra information revealed to a client can tamper with the therapeutic process. "You can get into a bit of a problem if a client is able to glean so much information they can say, 'That person is like me, that's why I'm going to them.'"
Therapy relies on the client being able to create their own reality around the 'blank screen' of the therapist—the fears and emotions that a client projects onto their shrink can be very useful as insights to work with—and real information about a therapist can ruin the process. It might be harder for a client to open up if they know that they shop for spanking paddles at the same leather hardware store. As Kate puts it: "There's a reason it's easier to pick up the phone and call the Samaritans than a member of your family." ...
By Stefanie Iris Weiss | Photos by Jonathan Alpeyrie
They met on the dance floor at Burning Man.
Michel Madie, a 57-year-old French Jew of Algerian descent, a former veterinarian, and a real estate mogul in New York City. Rasmus Foyer, a 27-year-old Swedish civil engineering student with an open heart and a talent for fire dancing. Their thirty-year age-difference was a minor challenge when compared to all that would stand in the way of their love: geographical distance, sexual orientation, and the vagaries of technology and time.
Michel and Rasmus’ encounter might have been as fleeting as any other in Black Rock City, where the desert sands often act as the pixie dust of love at first sight. Thousands of people fall into instantaneous, erotic rapture with fellow travelers during this annual experimental desert arts festival with radical self-expression at its core, only to go back to their workaday lives alone. But fate’s hand interceded for Michel and Rasmus and it could not be ignored: On December 12th, 2015, sixteen months after they first met, the two men were married by a rabbi in the converted Harlem church that is also their home.
Surrounded by hundreds of friends dressed in faux fur, feathers and LED-lit animal costumes, the couple took their vows and was blessed under Michel’s ancestral tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl. Each of them stomped on a symbolic glass under a chupah threaded with feathers, African masks, tribal chest pieces and dream catchers. The crowd wept and burst into cheers. Then the party went for another 24 hours, starting with a traditional Algerian dinner, and followed by belly and flamenco dancers, acrobats and a rotation of five gifted DJ’s spinning deep house, down-tempo and funk. Glowing antlers and mermaid tails swayed to the beat, sky-high on the thumping love buzz.
“Dancing is a place of giving free expression, giving in to who you are with movement, being an animal – being your own animal,” says Michel, whose wedding guests embraced his philosophy that night. All four floors of the building vibrated with explosive joy and in some cases, nakedness and sharing of intimate pleasures. Sexual evolution is part of everyday life for this pair, so conscious sexual play was a natural denouement of their wedding ceremony.
In the summer of 2016 they will have a second wedding at Burning Man — one that will surely somehow outdo the first one, whose invitation beseeched guests to:
Be your totem animal: body-paint on your bare skin or body suit, full-on animal costume, or CREATE your own CREATURE. What we want present at our wedding is the beast inside of you. Is it furry, feathery, fuzzy, prickly, clawy, funny, mystical, dark, ethereal, dangerous, charming, sexy, all the above…? Cartoons and fairy-tales, jungle and fantasies, Noah’s Arch and mythology, be invited!
Both men are strikingly handsome, tall, and unflinchingly masculine; disarmingly attractive and seemingly completely free of pretense and affectation. It seems natural that Rasmus and Michel’s lives would change the moment they saw each other – so much raw power colliding – but it would be a few months until either understood exactly how.
Michel and Rasmus were each in relationships with women the night they met, and both had been previously married to women. (Michel also has a 35-year-old son from a previous relationship who lives in Paris, and attended the wedding.) They both made it clear that their blossoming partnership was no ethical breach – their previous relationships had ended before they allowed themselves to consider pursuing each other. ...
According to new research from Northern Illinois University, participants in "cultures of consent" like BDSM engage in less rape myth acceptance, benevolent sexism, and victim blaming.
by Steven Blum
A new study suggests our nation's children would be better off learning about consensual sex from dungeon masters than their awkward gym teachers.
After measuring rates of "hostile sexism, benevolent sexism, rape myth acceptance, victim blaming, expectation of sexual aggression, and acceptance of sexual aggression" in three groups, researchers at Northern Illinois University found that BDSM communities with "cultures of consent" held significantly lower rape-supportive beliefs compared to college undergraduates and the general public.
"BDSM culture is built around affirmative consent norms, including talking about and negotiating a scene way beforehand," Kathryn Klement, one of the study's authors, told Broadly. "It's about not just seeing sexual consent as an on-off switch—yes or no—but as a continuous process."
Another poll backs this up. According to a large survey of BDSM practitioners conducted by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) in 2012, at least 85 percent of respondents endorsed statements like "a person can revoke consent at any time," "consent should be an ongoing discussion in a relationship," and "clear, overt consent must be given before a scene." Over 93 percent of respondents endorsed the statement "consent is not valid when coerced."
To test whether individuals in the sadomasochist world held fewer rape-supportive beliefs, the researchers at Northern Illinois asked them whether they agreed with a number of victim-blaming statements, like "if a girl goes to a room alone with a guy at a party, it is her fault if she is raped" and "rape happens when a guy's sex drive goes out of control." They also measured how respondents felt about sexual aggression being used in various scenarios, like if a man was stoned, drunk, or so turned on that he "couldn't stop."
The results showed that the kink community had significantly lower levels of benevolent sexism (using sexist stereotypes to give women backhanded compliments, for example), rape myth acceptance, and victim blaming compared to members of the general public recruited online, as well as to college students who took the survey for class credit.
The study seems to contradict recent reports from victims who were shamed by the BDSM scene when they came forward with allegations of abuse, though it shouldn't. Klement acknowledges that a perceived culture of consent can inoculate the community against allegations of sexual violence, giving violators plausible deniability. But despite the presence of serial predators—which exist in every scene—another poll by the NCSF found that a majority of those in the BDSM community saw the subculture as "safer for them than mainstream society."
Might the general public have something to learn from the way kinksters talk to each other before, during, and after a flogging sesh? Those who study BDSM believe the same rules of engagement could easily be applied to vanilla encounters.
"Affirmative consent is kind of like foreplay," Susan Wright, member of the NCSF board of directors, told Broadly. "Talking about what you want to get into is such a sexy, vulnerable thing to do. It really heightens the intensity." ...
PHOENIX (KSAZ) - In the middle of a major spring snowstorm, the streets of Denver seem deserted, but it's a celebration of love, at the National Loving More Convention in the Denver suburbs. Here a wife may be dancing with her boyfriend, and her husband doesn't mind. That's the polyamorous way.
"It is loving more than one in a committed relationship, it's that simple," said Torin Caffrey.
Robyn Trask runs the nonprofit dedicated to promoting polyamory. She is married to Jesus but has had a year-long intimate relationship with Ben.
Photo Exploring polyamorous relationships
"I just came to terms with the fact I wasn't a monogamous person, if that meant I had to be alone then I would rather be alone than cheat or be dishonest," said Robyn Trask.
"For me it just comes naturally, I love seeing Robyn happy, so the thought of her going out and seeing her giddy it actually just warms my heart," said Jesus Garcia.
Robyn met Ben years ago at a conference, and the two have been close ever since.
"Over time anything is going to change, and when people see that there are options they didn't know they had, some of those people are going to be interested," said Ben.
People came from across the country to attend the conference; some say they've been "polys" as long as they can remember, others are just learning about it. Attendance at the event has grown every year, and the organizers say the younger generation tends to be much more accepting of the lifestyle.
"I always knew that our family was a little different from our friends, but I never really paid a lot of attention to it until about age 11 when I noticed some of my mom's friends weren't just friends," said Marina Trask.
Trask has nothing bad to say about her mom's lifestyle. She says she is polyamorous too.
"I feel like my mom being polyamorous made her more honest with me, she used the same honestly, she did with me, and she did with her partners, and any child would want to have that honest with their parents," said Trask.
Seminars at the convention were taught by longtime supporters of the lifestyle; one literally wrote the book on polyamory.
"Love doesn't equal ownership if I'd go to a party and people would say who do you belong to, and I would say didn't slavery go out a long time ago, I really believe love is about giving not about clinging," said Mim Chapman.
Make no mistake we live in a monogamous world; we've all heard about swingers, but polyamory, supporters say, is different. It's more about long term relationships than flings. But with those multiple relationships come a range of emotions, including jealousy.
"With a polyamorous relationship it is important that a person is ready to give time to each of the people they are involved with, give emotional space to each person they are involved with," said Frances. ...
I wasn’t sure what I was looking for the first time I attended a Meetup for polyamorous people. But when the group leader asked me if I wanted to hang out sometime, I knew that I did. So I said yes.
He already had three girlfriends. But he was “always open to more love in his life,” he told me.
I’d never heard the term “polyamory” when my high school boyfriend suggested we stay together but also sleep with other people. After cheating on me just weeks after we’d lost our virginity to each other, he apologized with tears and gifts and proclamations of true love. Soon after, he suggested that he continue to sleep with other people — and that I do the same.
He was starting his first year of college, while I was a lonely senior, missing him. Couldn’t I understand that he needed to explore?
Perhaps it would be selfish to deny him that. We went back and forth between cheating and allowing each other to stray, but it never hurt any less. I’d shrug to my friends. “It’s cool,” I’d say. But it wasn’t.
Later in life, there were other men who cheated. There were also men who cheated on their girlfriends with me. And there were committed boyfriends from whom I strayed. I learned how to let things slide, for myself and my partners. I made fewer and fewer demands of people and relationships but continued to be disappointed. Monogamy was failing me — again and again. So I decided to try something new.
Polyamory is the practice of having “many loves.” Polyamorysociety.org defines it as a “nonpossessive, honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultaneously.” Honest, ethical — these things sounded good. They emphasized respect for yourself and for others and acknowledging each person’s needs. After neglecting my own for so long, I desperately wanted someone — or multiple someones — to care.
A quick Google search led me to a polyamorous Meetup group in Portland, Ore. I’d recently moved to the city, and through browsing online dating apps, I discovered a surprising prevalence of polyamory. So I decided to learn more.
In a room full of pillows and erotic paintings, I found myself in the middle of a refreshingly honest conversation. “I don’t want to muscle through commitment,” one woman said as her partner rubbed her shoulder. “I want to wake up each day and decide for myself: Do I still want to be with this person? And know that he’s deciding for himself, too.”
The man rubbing her shoulder had other girlfriends. But here, his attention was laser-focused on her. He watched her with adoration, and I found myself feeling envious of that emotional attachment.
About 15 people sat in our circle — some came alone, others with partners. There was a transgender woman in a long black dress and dark makeup; a middle-aged couple in business attire, their legs crossed conservatively. There was a woman in her early 20s and some couples in their 60s. But each person in this wide spectrum listened and discussed their polyamorous lifestyle in similar terms. They all believed that love could be limitless, and that they deserved as much of it as they could find. ...
See the Panels and Plenary on NCSF's YouTube Channel
NCSF Consent Summit
The goal of the NCSF Consent Summit was to bring people together across cultural lines to discuss consent in order to help promote consent in our own communities. Now you can watch the Plenary and Panel discussions online!
Susan Wright gave the State of Consent Plenary for a sold out crowd of over 100 people at the NCSF Consent Summit on April 23rd at the Center for Sex Positive Culture. The State of Consent Plenary explores consent and the movements for social change that have fought against sexual violence.
Legal and policy experts discussed issues related to Federal and state laws involving consent to sexual activities, including those used to criminally prosecute consensual BDSM. Presenters (from left): Robyn Friedman, Rudy Serra, Judy Guerin, Riddhi Mukhopadhyay and Dick Cunningham.
Consent activists who are making a difference in their own communities discuss their current projects, what's in the works, and how you can get involved. Presenters (clockwise from top left): Tobi Hill-Meyer, Tristan Taormino, Susan Wright, Mercy Stackhouse, Doris O'Neal, Kitty Stryker and Ashley Haymond.
"Yes means Yes" is replacing the old paradigm of "No means No" on college campuses and in state assault laws. What does that mean for you? Presenters (from left): Rudy Serra, Ruby B. Johnson, Robyn Friedman, Cassie Lawrence, Dick Cunningham and Judy Guerin.
The NCSF Consent Summit was an all-day event of workshops and discussions on consent on April 23rd that was sponsored by the Seattle Erotic Arts Festival and the Foundation and Center for Sex Positive Culture.
The NCSF Consent Summit was held in April to help further the goals of Sexual Assault Awareness Month to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities on how to prevent it.
Fargo, ND (WDAY/WDAZ TV) - Love can be felt and described in a number of ways and to many, its often defined as a relationship between two people but an age old practice is seeing a new movement in the Red River Valley that challenges the social norm.
The polyamorous community is now reaching out, showing that they are here, should be accepted and that it's more common than you may think.
Game night with family and friends can bring a lot of laughter and love but for many in this room, love has broader boundaries than many traditionally think.
“None of this, I have to have a secret life in my head,”
“Yes, I have played wingman for my husband. It's a thing.”
Kurt Mesford and his wife, who's asked to be called Ashton and have her identity hidden, share a view on love that's not the norm.
“At the moment, I don't think we have,” said Kurt.
“We don't have anyone shared,” said Ashton.
“That would be convenient.”
“Then they could just show up at the house and hang out with whoever's there.”
“I don't share your taste in women.”
“We're attracted to very different types, I guess.”
They're polyamorous, which means many loves.
Each currently has five relationships, a dynamic they're open with in their church where Ashton teaches Sunday school, with their family and friends and with their young daughter Haven.
“She doesn't know anything more about our love life than she would if we were monogamous,” said Ashton.
With the unique family dynamic, Haven has had to explain it to friends.
“I just say one person loves more than one person that's not in the family,” said Haven.
But she loves her parents as well as all of their partners, including one of Ashton's boyfriends, Andrew Tyson.
“If you're married and you're falling in love with a second person, your options are to either cheat or grit your teeth an bare it. Polyamory offers another option,” said Tyson.
As a once monogamous married man, Andrew has made polyamorous activism his passion with the recent creation of a group called PolyAware.
He estimates about 1,000 people in Fargo-Moorhead are polyamorous and he wants others who are interested to know there is a place to learn more and feel accepted.
“Monogamy is so present and engrained in our culture that people never really question it. It's rare that you find someone who questions and wakes up one day and says 'huh, I wonder if I really should be monogamous', because they don't realize they have other choices,” said Tyson. ...