On Another Note: Ms. Constance Speaks

16 Dec

One way to get out of my own head space is to think about other people and service, right?  i had asked Ms. Constance to share something about “earning leather,” which she kindly did.  Then i got caught up in my own angst.  At last, here’s that piece from her.

Thank you, Ms. Constance, for sharing your wisdom.

Earning Leather

Whenever there’s a Leather presentation, or there’s a discussion about earning Leather, I always have people who come to me and ask about earning Leather themselves. I believe they are sincere in their interests, but it’s a hard question to answer, and even harder because part of the answer is that earning Leather isn’t for everyone. Earning Leather is, I think, a little like falling in love, in that one rarely sets out to do that. It’s more a case of recognizing at some point that it has happened, often without intention. Earning Leather isn’t so much a destination as a mile marker on the path.

Not everyone would agree with my views about earning Leather, just as they wouldn’t agree with my views on Mastery or slavery or, for that matter, the best chocolate chip cookie. Some people will tell you that this isn’t the one true way, and I wouldn’t disagree. I will say it is my way, and the way of many of the people I know and admire, and that the reasons behind it make sense to me. So, now that I’ve given you the requisite warning, reminded you that your mileage may vary, etc., off we go.

The Leather community is a relatively small one, one that intersects with both the gay male community and the BDSM community. Traditionally, it was made up mostly of gay men, but over the last decade or so, it’s opened up a bit more. Being a woman in the Leather community is still not always easy and one is not always welcome in every venue.

Most people who consider themselves to be a Leather person would tell you that they believe strongly in certain tenets and modes of behavior, with some of those being honesty, respect, integrity and service. For me, it is important to be honest, both with myself and others.  I believe I owe respect to others regardless of their orientation until they demonstrate that they don’t deserve it.  I expect of myself that I will do what I say I will do, because I said I would.  

Finally, I believe that I owe service to my community, both the Leather and greater community. Those things matter to me. That’s not to say that non-Leather people do not hold those qualities dear, but they are, for lack of a better word, our founding principles.

Within the Leather community there has long been a tradition of “earning” the Leather we wear. That’s not to say that one can’t ever wear a piece of Leather that wasn’t earned, but that earned Leather has a particular meaning within the community, that it signifies something to the person who wears it, and the people who recognize the meaning behind it. 

Leather isn’t earned in a day or a week or even a year, normally. Earning Leather is more like earning a degree in that there are some ways to fast track it – putting in more time and doing more – but that has limits. No matter how hard you work, you cannot earn a Bachelor’s Degree from a reputable institution in six months, and if someone tells you they have, you are likely to wonder about the validity of the institution or the truthfulness of the speaker.

In the code to which I ascribe, one may not give earned Leather to another unless they themselves have earned it. In that tradition, too, only a person who has earned three pieces of Leather may give a piece of earned Leather themselves. Having earned three pieces is rather like being vested in your retirement – at that point, you have earned all rights and privileges. Giving a piece of Leather to someone is also a form of vouching for them, of saying, I believe this person lives up to the standards I hold for myself.

When I give a piece of earned Leather, it means the person to whom I am giving it has met some basic qualifications in my view. For one, I have known them at least three years. I have never given Leather to anyone I had known less than that time frame. Knowing someone for that long gives me a fair amount of experience to draw on, to ensure that they are someone for whom I am comfortable vouching. They must be someone who I feel possesses the same qualities I consider important – honesty and integrity – and, most importantly, they must be serving their community.

There are a lot of different ways to serve. Sometimes people serve in formal roles, as leaders of groups, or producers of events or contests. Sometimes it is less formal, they are people who always seem to volunteer. They’re the ones who are setting up and breaking down play furniture, providing security or registration help. 

Having organized many events over time, I can tell you that another form of service is being participatory. Who shows up regularly? Who can you count on to be at a given event, even without checking with them. That doesn’t mean that a person has to attend everything in order to “qualify,” but they do have to be involved in their community. Someone who shows up once or twice a year, no matter how sincere or helpful they may be, simply doesn’t have the commitment that I consider a cornerstone. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people or lazy or uninterested, but for me it requires a continuing commitment.

I also do not make the decision to give a piece of Leather in a vacuum. I speak to others in the community whose opinion and experience I value. I ask other people to participate in a presentation of earned Leather, because I think that it’s important others have the same sense that I do of the person and because it means something to the person who is receiving Leather, too. Those who speak need not have earned Leather themselves, need not even consider themselves part of the Leather community. They are people who have experience with the person who is being presented with Leather, experience that confirms they have the values that I have seen in them. 

Another element I like to add to a presentation is the passing around of the Leather I am about to give. I do it for two reasons, one of them being that I believe serving the community is an essential component, the community should be able to see and touch that which is being given. It also gives me a chance to remind people not to touch another’s Leather without permission.

In my mind, earning Leather is kind of a prospective thing, too. I give Leather in the belief that the person who has earned it will continue to do so. It is expected that the person who has earned Leather will not only hold to the principles I ascribe to, but also continue to serve, until age or illness makes it unreasonable to expect that. It is not a community that believes in resting on one’s laurels. One continues to earn one’s Leathers so long as one is able to do so. In the rare instance when someone chooses to leave the community, when they plan not to be involved further, the earned Leather should go back to the person that presented it.

For me, the Leather community has been the place in which I have felt the most at home and accepted. I have earned my place here, and earning it matters to me. I don’t quite trust that which is handed to me. I am far more comfortable with the feeling of accomplishment, and the belief that the things which I wear, which have meaning to me, signify something to others, too, and are a visible representation of the work I have done.

10 Responses to “On Another Note: Ms. Constance Speaks”

  1. Striving for Peace December 16, 2011 at 7:23 am #

    Thank you Ms Constance — this is a part of that community that many of us didn’t know about

    your writing so easily communicates your voice — it was lovely to have met you — and lovely to hear you again now

    sfp

  2. vanillamom December 16, 2011 at 8:10 am #

    oh, how lovely to ‘hear’ Ms. Constance’s voice…*smiling*…

    This dovetails nicely with the brief tutorial she gave me at the munch, fleshes it out a bit more. Thanks for sharing, Ms. Constance, and aisha!

    nilla

  3. vanillamom December 16, 2011 at 10:31 am #

    on another note….i just made your cinnamon cookie recipe…easy peasy to put together, and with my little cookie ball scoop, that part went pretty fast. I used superfine sugar (er…powdered sugar)…mixed with cinnamon….

    let me tell you…my kids get pretty inured to all the cookies that go thru my kitchen…but the two littles came into the room a dozen or more time, pointing at their empty mouths…

    “i can’t STAND it…i want one sooo bad,” the 7 yr old sez..(he, the pickiest eater on the planet, even for sweet stuff!) they need two more minutes in the oven and i fear for my life…they may mob me at any moment, *laughing*….

    i make a muffin that “tastes like donuts” that are dipped in the same sugar mix…these cookies have just been dubbed “cookies that taste like donuts”…

    just thought you should know that you made two littles extremely happy…(and i can blame the sugar rush on YOU! mwahahahahaha!)

    nilla

    • aisha December 17, 2011 at 4:42 am #

      @’Nilla,

      Laughing… ah, the magic of cinnamon! i’m so glad they liked them ~ in fact, i feel kind of honored!

      aisha

  4. mouse December 16, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

    While mouse has known a few people in the Leather community (mostly gay men that mouse has known for YEARS) the whole rules about earning leather were always a mystery. They never made it a big issue to mouse..yanno? Sure they were proud of it…but honestly, it’s the one area where mouse felt she was an outsider. There was something more that they didn’t say.

    Thank you so much Ms. Constance for writing such a thoughtful post on this topic and thank you Aisha for asking about it and posting it.

    Hugs,
    mouse

  5. aisha December 17, 2011 at 4:49 am #

    @Sfp & ‘Nilla ~ i know, it sounds JUST like Ms, Constance, doesn’t it?

    @Mouse ~ O, that’s cool, i’m glad it had meaning for you.

    hugs,

    aisha

  6. Ms Constance December 17, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    Thanks to all of you for the comments. There are, of course, things that I realized I should have added, once it was out of my hands, but isn’t that the way it always goes?

    I should have said, for instance, that if your goal is to get a piece of earned Leather, then you’re not there for the right reasons and, as it is so often perversely true, that path probably won’t lead you to where you want to go.

    I should have said that not only Leather people should be participatory, either. I’ve never had a taste for people who belong to any group, whether it’s a church or a bowling league, and never seem to really DO anything for it or with it other than show up for the occasional Christmas service or championship. If something matters to you, whatever it is, then dig in and DO something with it and for it. Even if you don’t get a nifty leather vest out of it, you’ll likely make friends and get a sense of accomplishment.

    I should have pointed out that earned Leather isn’t limited to tops, that regardless of the orientation you can earn Leather within the community. The only limitation I have ever heard of is that the actual pieces of leather given are sometimes different, the main difference being that only a top would ever be given a Master’s cover. A Master’s cover is the leather cap that looks like a military peak cap, often decorated with chain or metallic trim, which signifies that one is viewed as a Master by one’s community.

    I should also have said that I believe that nepotism is also not appropriate in the earning of Leathers, in that if a slave believes his or her Master has earned Leather by dint of their work, they should not be the one to lobby that it be presented, as a top shouldn’t give Leather to their own slave and call it earned Leather. Gifted Leather can be just as meaningful and is perfectly appropriate, but in the same way that when the boss’ son is named the CEO of the company, it leads to speculation as to whether he would have earned the position on his own, gifts of Leather from those with whom we are in primary relationships are likely to seem to be less valid than one might hope.

    I’m sure there will be more things that occur to me, because that’s the way I am, but I am glad that you all found this useful and/or entertaining.

    Ms Constance

  7. caile December 18, 2011 at 3:28 am #

    I have been privileged to attend two leather presentation ceremonies. At the first ceremony I was rather new and really had no idea the significance or history associated with Leather Community. Since that first ceremony I have learned so much. At the last ceremony I attended, I cried. I feel so honored to know the people who were being presented Leather, they are both wonderful human beings who contribute tirelessly to others. I am so happy that I was able to share that experience with them. Thank you Ms. Constance for introducing others to the history, honor, service and family that is the Leather Community.

    • aisha December 18, 2011 at 10:30 am #

      @Caile,

      How cool to see you here!! Thanks so much for your comment ~ i know just how you feel!

      aisha

  8. Ms Constance December 18, 2011 at 10:39 am #

    I really appreciate the nice comment, thank you. I find that the presentation ceremony is usually quite moving for a lot of people, which is, I think, important.

    Ms Constance

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