The history of the leather community, according to many, originated sometime around the time that soldiers returned home after the end of the Second World War in 1945. The closeness and camaraderie that an all-male society created at wartime often lead to a sexual expression of this closeness. Stories of male-on-male love and sex between soldiers date as far back as Greek and Roman history and mythology. Examples of same sex warrior/lovers of myth and history include Alexander the Great and Hephaestion, Julius Caesar, Hadrian and Antonius, Achilles and Patroclus, Apollo and Hyacinthus, Hercules and Iolaus, and Richard I of England.
During the late 1940s and 1950s, the leather culture originated primarily in Europe and in large U.S. cities like San Francisco and New York City as motorcycle clubs became popular. They adopted leather clothing, such as jackets, boots, caps, pants and chaps, for a few reasons: partly for its toughness to protect themselves from injury and partly to identify themselves as men who actually liked one another and liked their sex with an edge. It was a look and image of the tough guy. It is believed that this was also the dawning of S/M play, and while there is a link between sadomasochism and the leather community, not everyone interested in leather practises S/M. The biker look born in the 40s still exists today in our leather community.
As time went on, role playing became an important aspect of the leather community. Ultimately, role playing is something that actually exists in all walks of life but it is not discussed or condoned in the way it is in the leather community. The concept of masters and tops, slaves and bottoms, daddies and boys was thus born and followers of this rigid code of ethics are often called the Old Guard. Clothing, such as dog collars and harnesses, could indicate what role
you wanted to portray in the leather community. Sex was a very private function performed behind closed doors in what is known today as dungeons.
The leather community came out of the closet during the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969, when a group of patrons at a local gay bar fought back after being harassed by the police, notably including drag queens and leathermen. Since then, the leather community has been a leader in the queer community for activism and fundraising, particularly during the beginning and height of the AIDS epidemic in the 70s and 80s.
As in most cultures, the leather community continued to evolve. In the 1980s, fetish wear, such as uniforms, emerged portraying the role play of sex between two men in a much more open and vivid style. Police, firemen, ambulance attendants, military personnel, law enforcement officers, garage mechanics and similar uniforms were eroticized and are still being donned today.
Gay leather clubs have been going since the early 60s, especially in Europe. Most of these were known as motorcycle clubs thus the letters “MC” were added to their title. Some of our cubs are now celebrating a half-century of existence. There is also a culture known as the GDI, an acronym for Goddamn Independents. These men and women are groups who do not want to associate with a club or organization but they are very much into the leather/BDSM lifestyle. The Ottawa Knights began its existence in 1975. We are not considered a motorcycle club, but rather we are a gay men’s leather, fetish and denim club.
As leather becomes more acceptable for sexual identity and expression, many people are finding the act of wearing leather appealing, but do not believe in the S/M or role playing code of ethics that the Old Guard follows. This new group of members is often called the New Guard.
If you have any other information to add to this article, we would love to hear your theories and stories about leather culture and history. Please feel free to contact us… we’d love to hear from you.