Read about it below. In the room downstairs, a strobe flashed over mounds of muscle and harnesses. Men slipped in and out of shadow. I later understood that to be the point. Upstairs, things were different — a quiet dive bar, people milling around wooden tables. Someone was choking on a dick in the corner. His gagging noises mixed with the music and talk. On the dance floor, I inched close to a guy with salt-and-pepper hair who was wearing a leather kilt.
We made eye contact, he came in close. He held me, we swayed with the music as he rubbed my chest. Then he pulled my hand under his kilt: He pulls my hand and I follow him through the throng. Learning leather bars was different from learning life outside the closet.
I never feared coming out — but kink scared me. Fear coupled with desire leads us all here — eager, fresh-faced, and ready to learn. Most of the photos in this gallery are by Matt Baume , a long time Advocate contributor. They were taken mostly at the Seattle Eagle, but some are from leather and kink events, like the yearly IML in Chicago. A word of warning from Alex Cheves. My name is Alexander Cheves, and I am known by friends in the kink and leather community as Beastly.
I am a sex-positive writer and blogger. Like everything I write, the intent of this piece is to break down the stigmas surrounding the sex lives of gay men.
Those who are sensitive to frank discussions about sex are invited to click elsewhere, but consider this: For all others, enjoy the slideshow. And feel free to leave your own suggestions of sex and dating topics in the comments.
DO come as you are. Last Pride, the outdoor deck of my local leather bar was standing-room-only, a swaying mass of sweat and skin. Furry pecs were buckled down in black leather straps, asses were out, and every few minutes a man stood, coming up for air, before dropping back to his knees. Most were gay men, but some femdoms female dominants were in attendance. They spilled out the front and back entrances onto both porches, into the parking lot, down the sidewalk and around the block — men in various states of dress and undress.
Others wore jeans and t-shirt. Some, like me, wore almost nothing. Every body type was on display. Large folks of every gender strutted jockstraps. Skinny kinksters slinked through in latex. Countless guys like me — guys who work out but still eat donuts, who keep their beards trim and bellies natural — felt confident to lose shirts and more. The lovely thing about my hometown leather bar — and about leather bars across the world, and about the communities they serve — is the invite for everyone of every size.
Different bars and clubs have different policies — some require gear, some require you to get through a selective doorman, some are male-only — but these are few.
Most are open to all kinky people, and kinky people come in every shape, size, gender, and color. Come as you are. DO come in proper attire. In many leather bars, you can get by in jeans and a t-shirt. Some are more intense, catered to people actively in the scene who know fetish wear, and require you to meet dress code to get in the door. Find out beforehand if certain gear is required.
Gawking may be one of two things: Try not to gawk, if you can help it. You might see many different body types in little or no clothing. You might see someone getting paddled, flogged, or fisted. DO respect collar code. He has a partner, owner, daddy, handler, committed boyfriend, master, or sir. DO be aware what happens in play areas, cruise hallways, and dark backrooms. If you get touched and are simply a voyeur not there to play , gently push their hand away — and if you have to do this a lot, leave.
Some leather bars go a step further and have a sling room, or have some sex furniture available, and will likely have low light so you can see well enough to use it. You may attract an audience, which some consider part of the fun. DO tip all performers. Go-go dancers, drag queens, and porn stars are not there for free. DO wait until after a kink demonstration to barrage the demonstrator with questions.
Many leather bars have demos for various kinky sex acts. The last one I attended was a needle play demo. This was delivered by a professional on an experienced sub. I was filled with questions — so was everyone else. When the pro was ready to take our questions, everyone raised hands.
We were gathered around a man lying belly-down on a table with needles inserted through pinched layers of skin down his back. Needle play — a lesser-known kink — requires expert-level skill and certain precautions gloves, sterilized needles, and so on to be enjoyed with a degree of safety. Other kinksters will be there, some with more experience than you, some with less. Between their questions and yours, most questions will get answered. Listen to what others ask. This is how kinks, particularly niche ones, are handed down.
Leather bars are implicitly more sexual, because they cater to a community that defines itself by the sex its patrons enjoy. You should never touch someone without their permission — this is a rule of life and is true The only circumstance where this rule gets challenged is in a lights-out space made for anonymous play — spaces which exist in some leather bars, gay sex clubs, gay bathhouses, and so on.
In these spaces, you waive a degree of consent by entering them, and consensually submit yourself to being touched by people you cannot see. This is why we enjoy these spaces.
Sure, on some dance floors, with some substances, people get touchy-feely. If someone is tied and gagged and being led around via collar and leash, ask the person holding their collar.
Consent gets nonverbal in situations like this. At first glance, kinky sex spaces make consent murky. In all other circumstances, never touch someone without their permission. This is the fine line between consensual sex play and assault. The kinky community does not condone assault and never will. DO learn the etiquette of lights-out play areas. You may get touched, but sex is different. You assume these risks by being there, and while they might seem threatening and uncomfortable, these risks are easier to navigate than you think.
Other backroom etiquette pointers: In a lights-out space, a phone light can be blinding, and ruins the purpose of the space — anonymity. Keep talking to a minimum. This is for boot-worshipers, daddy-lovers, dominant-seekers, leather submissives, and so on. Be a good boy. DO expect and respect smoking areas.
In an age when smoking areas are hard to find in any establishment in the United States, you will still find smoking patios or smoking rooms at leather bars — put there for cigar daddies and their human ashtrays. The cigar fetish is still raging in the world of kink cigarettes less so. DO read up on the hanky code before you go. The hanky code has survived in kink. Some say the hanky code was always part of kink, BDSM, and the leather community — that it never existed outside of it.
Others ask a more obvious question: Were gay men ever vanilla? The hanky code has vague roots, but we know it started in the 70s or earlier as a covert way for gay men to communicate what kind of sex they were looking for in the pre-internet, pre-Grindr, pre-mobile phone, pre-revolution days.
When cruising seedy neighborhoods and underground dives could get you killed or arrested — before AIDS hit its peak — we invented a code of wearing colored hankies in the back right or left pocket of our skintight jeans with colors dictating what sex we were seeking.
Most of the hanky code is lost to antiquity. This is not a dig at your ability to navigate a leather bar as a newcomer.