recent question on one of the newslists had to do with
smoking cigarettes at dungeon parties. The writer began
her question with a reference to the Old Guard/New Guard
Things have changed in fifty years, that's for sure, but
I'm not sure that things have changed as much as most
"young" Leatherfolk think.
I'll start off by saying that there's a good chance that
most of you think that I am "Old Guard." My
age and my salt and pepper hair make me look that way
and the proliferation of my writing (thank the gods) makes
it seem that way.
The truth is that I am a relative late-comer to Leather,
having had my first "rough" sex about twenty
years ago. Even at that, I'm not sure that I met that
many Old Guarders in the early eighties. After all, no
one ever walked up to me and said "Hi, I'm a member
of the Old Guard."
I know several people now who may be thought of as in
the Old Guard, but I bet they don't think of themselves
that way. The oral history work I did with the Leather
Archives gave me a great opportunity to talk with many
men and woman who remember the old days. It is from my
experiences and those conversations that I am drawing
All that is to say that I don't think of myself as a member
of the Old Guard. I do, however, admit to thinking like
a member of the Old Guard (whatever that is) when it comes
If I'm going to make any point in today's rambling, it's
going to be that there never was, and never will be, an
For starters, try and date the time of the Old Guard.
Was there an Old Guard in 1949? I doubt it. The rough
sex sub-culture was hardly a culture at the time and even
though SM had been practiced for millennia, it was hardly
noticed by the rest of society and was probably more closely
aligned with profession dominatrices than with Gay men.
So shall we date it from 1952? Probably not, as no one
is going to say that one movie, "The Wild Ones,"
created a group called the Old Guard.
So was it the sixties? Maybe. But if there were an Old
Guard in the sixties, they were young and new at it and
feeling their way through a hell of a lot of issues. Even
if they were the men and women who were to become the
Old Guard, they certainly weren't the Old Guard then.
By the late seventies Leather was alive and well and filled
with newly created traditions and a relatively short history.
After all, twenty years in the life of the human race
isn't much more than a blink.
Was there an Old Guard then? I doubt it.
And for my doubt I have some very reliable sources. The
most reliable is an original copy of Larry Townsend's
"The Leatherman's Handbook." First published
in 1972, those pages have a memory much better than anyone
around to talk about "the good old days."
In this book, there's no mention at all of an Old Guard
nor of requirements placed on fellow Leatherfolk by the
A case in point: A recent slave applicant and I had a
conversation about "slavese." For those unfamiliar
with the term, it is the requirement that a slave always
refer to him or herself in the third person, thereby never
using the word "I," or any other first person
pronoun, for that matter. The result is that you get horribly
convoluted sentences such as "Sir, this slave, Sir,
requests permission for this slave to use the bathroom,
Well, there is no way in Hell that such a requirement
has anything to do with Old Guard. You can read the Handbook,
for instance, all you want and you'll find only few references
to slaves and certainly no reference at all to "slavese."
You see, a person into Leather in the those days was called
an "S" or an "M," which stood for
sadist and masochist and had little or nothing to do with
dominance or submission.
Even the words top and bottom are rare in the Handbook,
as they were rare in the seventies.
Thirty years ago, or even fifty for that matter, the Old
Guard wouldn't have had a discussion about cigarette smoke
either. Groups may have but the Old Guard wouldn't. The
whole notion of smoking being permitted or not, you see,
has nothing to do with Leather. That, of course, is the
crux of the whole dialogue.
Most of what people want to foist on the topic of Leather
has to do with being human, not with being sexual, sadistic,
When I was a kid, and here I admit to sounding like my
Dad, smokers were considerate of the places where they
smoked. They asked their hosts if smoking were permitted.
It wasn't a matter of Leather protocol, it was a matter
It wouldn't have been a matter of using slavese. It would
have been a matter of using good grammar. The examples
can go on and on.
Do you think, after all, that the "founders"
of Leather sat around inventing a hanky code?
Sure someone sat down one day and compiled this long list
of colors and meanings, but I bet that by the time that
happened, the list was more tongue in cheek than color
in the pocket!
Life is never as pre-calculated as "historians"
want us to believe. Human culture grows by ebbs and flows,
by trial and error, by ideas rejected as well as accepted.
Groups have more or less formality, greater or lesser
structure, few or many guidelines. In the long run, life,
and hence living groups, are evolutionary, developing
style and tradition, manners and mores, by what is seen
as necessary, expedient, profitable, or convenient.
1999 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied in
any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay, contact
That's not to say that one "Master" won't do
it one way and another quite differently. One may line
up "slave protocols" ad nauseam and the other
may quite firmly demand that everything be loose and laid
Last week at the Eagle, while the writing of this column
was still in its germinal state, I asked Chuck Renslow
about the Old Guard.
As our conversation meandered, he reminded me of the terms
"S" and "M" and how there were all
those difficulties and arguments and human foibles then
as there are now. Eventually he reminded me that Leather
isn't a lifestyle. "We can only 'do Leather' so many
hours a week," he noted, "and then we have the
rest of our lives the way everyone else does."
Going to work and doing chores and paying bills, eating
and sleeping and studying are all parts of lifestyle.
Most of what Leatherfolk call "Our Lifestyle,"
after all, has to do with being polite, careful, supportive,
with having manners and common sense. There are, certainly,
aspects of Leather that differ from other subcultures
and those differences are to be cherished, honored, and,
most importantly, enjoyed, but when it really comes down
to Old and New, Father Alliot's dictum, which I first
heard from him in 1966 holds true: "The more things
change, the more they stay the same."
So if anyone tells you about the "Old Guard,"
refer them to Larry's paragraph on page 15 of the original
Leatherman's Handbook: "All through this Handbook
I will be at great pains to point out that much of what
I have to say is opinion
Your reaction may be entirely
different, and your desires may exceed or fall far short
of the action I describe. This is exactly how it should
be. No one -- Larry Townsend or anyone else -- can even
begin to set the standards for your sexual needs and/or
That I think is precisely the Old Guard's view of the
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