Why the Research
My time in the Las Vegas Leather community, while admittedly short, has taught me that today’s leather community is torn about what the Old Guard is, and if there even is such a thing. On my Leather Journey, I have strives to find the right information so I can model myself in a positive light. Stories of high protocol, high ritual, and long standing traditions permeate the conversations and mentoring sessions of young Letherpersons. A fear that is instilled in us that we are “doing it wrong” that we are disrespecting others, and the leather heritage that came before us.
The interesting thing I have found about the “Old Guard” is I can’t find any unifying documentation of what these High protocols, rituals, and traditions were. In my frustration I started researching our Leather Elders.
What I found
In my readings and research I came across an article by Master Guy Baldwin, a Psychotherapist, and renown Leathermen, who started his Leather Journey during what he called the first Golden Age of Leather, or what is now known as the “Old Guard”.
Master Baldwin, in his article “The Old Guard: Classical Leather Culture Revisited” found here, describes a period between 1972 and 1982 where, while still in secret from society, Leathermen, Leather houses, and Leather Families thrived, were allowed to grow, and mature. He describes a type of hierarchy where the patron of a family or house would pass down protocols, rituals, and traditions that they learned from their mentors in Leather. These are the Old Guard everyone today is talking about.
So why is there no record of what these Protocols, rituals and traditions are? Surly, even after the scattering and breaking of the community in the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 80’s there are those among us who had the ways of the Old Guard passed down to them? The thing is, there are. The issue isn’t that this information was lost in a time before the internet, a time before all things could be saved with a few clicks of a mouse. The issue is that during the “Golden Age” the Patrons of the Old Guard did exactly what we do today.
Imagine, for a second, that you are a Leatherperson, you have spent years learning from your mentor and your now ready to start your own house. You are a Leatherperson, the very spirit of rebellion, and individuality permeates your soul. The structure of the Leather lifestyle gives you a voice, a code, a sense of honor, but only insomuch that it allows you to be your true self. What do you do with your own Leather House? your own Leather Family? Sure, the easy answer is to say you set it up exactly as your patron before you did.
The reality of being human though, is that even if you tried, you are still going to put your own interpretation of the protocols, rituals, and traditions in what you teach others. Another reality is, many, if not most new patrons took most of their teaching and training, and added, changed, or disregarded things to meet their own interests and needs.
Each Leather House, each Leather Family, while based in the basic principles of Leather: Honor, Integrity, Service to the community, Education, etc. are unique in there own protocols, rituals, and traditions, and this is as true in the “Golden Age” of Leather as it is today.