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Conversations With Leather Featuring: Laura Antoniou

By August 21, 2014

 

 

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1. Please tell us about yourself & and your connection with the leather world.

Starting out with a softball question huh? Well, I'm 50 years old, a native new Yorker, a Leatherdyke, a writer, a Jew (I converted) and a kvetch. My connection with kink/alt-sex is inborn; I remember having fantasies of power and surrender, force and control, as a very small child. My earliest reading desires found me deep in books with titles like Greek Slave Boy - and yes, that's an award winning children's book! Later on, I wrote my own stories featuring the kind of relationships and behaviors living in my fantasies, and then still later, discovered there were others like me who had them too. And slightly before any club or organization would allow me in (because of my age), I was already practicing what I desired with a few (probably puzzled) erotic partners. (And of course, that was after years of solo adventuring.)

As soon as I could get out, though, I rapidly found "my people" - for better and worse. And within ten years, I was producing a contest, serving as an officer on an international board, teaching classes, and writing stories and novels.

2. What or who got you started in the leather community and for how long?

See above. I got myself in. Luckily, there were places to go, including the Eulenspiegel Society, Lesbian Sex Mafia, and the NY SM clubs, Hellfire/The Vault, and Paddles.

3. Which club or bar are you affiliated with and tell us more about the history?

 I am affiliated with no clubs, bars or organizations by choice. Been there, wore the t-shirts and pins, got involved in leadership, burned out, and now I am blissfully free of anything requiring a meeting. I do volunteer my time to help the National Leather Association in their laudable position of being the only kink organization to give awards for WRITING, which I believe is one of the best things they do.

4. Tell us about your charity involvement and goals.

My charity giving is mostly private; I support many different organizations and positions and a few politicians from time to time, as my budget allows. Within the kink communities, I occasionally donate books, readings and once, a naming opportunity in one of my books, for fundraising purposes -  but I am VERY picky about who and what I support.

5. Please tell us about your leather family, and Karen.

I am married to Karen Taylor, spiritually in 1998, legally later on. We met each other through a mutual acquaintance - OK, so she was Karen's lover and my fuck buddy, but that was the way I met a lot of people in the 80's and 90's! We had a long distance romance after our initial friendship, and eventually, she moved to the East Coast (from Seattle) to be with me. We have an egalitarian relationship because according to my values, I would never marry someone who wasn't my social equal. That said, she has given me the ultimate form of service imaginable, by supporting me so I can afford to write, speak, and teach full time.

 I also have another partner, my Daddy, Kim Attica. We have been together for ten years now, and although it is a distance-handicapped relationship, we still contact each other every day and she remains a vital person in my life, giving me guidance and support and being a good role model for positive change in my life.

Other than that, I do not describe people as part of my "family." I have many acquaintances, all over the world, and people whom I consider good friends, kinky and not-so-kinky.

6. Who is the most influential person in your life and why?

Karen wins that, hands down. There are no major decisions I make without taking my wife into account. Hell, there are plenty of minor decisions I won't make until I know what she wants, or at least take a good guess. This is called "being married." But I have also had very influential teachers in my past, both in formal schooling, in my religious education, and even a few in the kink world. I couldn't say my coming out into kink and leather would have gone the way it has without the influence of Mitch Kessler, who was my first Daddy; I gained many early introductions to people and events from Brenda Howard (of blessed memory).

And writers Dorothy Allison, Gayle Rubin, Joan Nestle, Geoff Mains Patrick Califia, Carol Queen, Aaron Travis, Kate Bornstein, Larry Townsend, John Preston - and many more, including who knows how many who wrote under "Anonymous" - all inspired me to examine my feelings and fantasies and not only put them on paper, but bring them to life. Their philosophies and challenging questions helped shape my awareness of undercurrents and conflicts that might have derailed my journey more than a few times.

7. In your mind, what’s the biggest misconception of the leather community?

That being kinky makes you a superior person. It just makes you kinky. You might still be a douchebag. You're just a kinky douchebag.

8. We judged IMsL 2014 together in San Jose, how does the contest differs for you from IML, and what advice can you give South Africa's first Ms. SA Leather in preparation for her contest in 2015?

IMsL is a much less grueling contest for the judges, simply because there aren't as many contestants! So, we have more time with each one, and less pressure to make snap judgements. I was second-guessing myself all through IMl because...come on, it was 50 guys we had to get through, and then quickly determine which 20 were the best, and then weed that down to the winners. IMsL? I don't think ever had more than a dozen contestants.

Also, IMsL, like most leather contests for women, is not so much a meat market as IML is. Let's face it, the majority of IML winners were calendar-boy material. Which is true to the origins of the contest. It was never meant to be a selection process for "leaders" - it was meant to keep guys in a bar to sell more beer. So - get some hot and humpy boys up on stage in jockstraps!

And although gay men do have the pressure to conform to visual standards of what is attractive, women get it far worse. So there is much less emphasis on physicality in the women's contest circuit - no portion of the judging that would equal the jockstrap parade IML does. This has led to a wide variety in the IMsL winners.

9. What would you say are the most important strengths to have as a leather woman?

Thick skin. We get enough shit as women, period, but to be out and kinky opens up a whole new world of douchebags waiting to slag you. Submissive? Then you might be "betraying feminism" or "aligning with the patriarchy." (Even if you're submitting to a chick.) Or, maybe submitting is OK, but you're doing it wrong, because you are not a doormat. Or, you ARE a doormat, because you submit too much. Dominant? You might be "pretending" to get laid, or  "only into it for money" or you might be seen as a community resource or a scourge or you might even be completely invisible as thousands of people talk about masters (meaning dominant partners) but "mistress" only means a woman who tops for money. If you prefer masculine expression, you might be self hating, and if you're femme, you are dismissed as flighty and stupid. If you love to play and show it, you too can be a slut, and not in the nice, happy, Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy way, but in the "You won't ball me but you'll ball someone else? You fuck too much and you're skanky!" way.  If you're waiting for the right one? You're a tease. Oh, and by the way - you're fat. We're all fat. To be a strong kinky chick, you have to learn to put all that noise in the trash and eliminate anyone who says it or repeats it from your life. Then you can go on and be your fabulous self.

 

LMA Park

 

10. Do you think that women in leather are as respected as the men in general

I think "respect" is a tricky concept, but no, I don't believe leather women get the same level of attention and support that leathermen do. Part of it is because, hello...women in the larger world don't get as much support as men do. They make less money, they are punished more harshly for sexual adventuring, they are subject to a culture of body fetishism and they have reasonable fears of being discriminated against, sanctioned and abused, both by culture and individuals.

But, keeping it to the kinky scene - there's are reasons why there are so many men's contests and so few women's contests. Men go out to men's bars (or, they used to) where they create a local social community that will come out and drink while some studs parade in their leather lingerie. Many of their contests have backers to provide even small contest winners with sashes, belts, clothing, drink coupons, and even travel expenses. Women are lucky to get a night at the local bar, lucky to get a sash donated, and are supported, mostly, by individual donations instead of businesses. Travel expenses are scant and ongoing support is more of a theory than practice.

Then there's the difference in feel. The majority of men's contests will feature some VERY handsome men. I mean, woof, studs on the hoof, bulging out all over the place with muscles and endowments, in well-tailored outfits designed to show off the best bits. Not all contestants fit that mold of course, and it's terrific to see a burly dude with a big belly or a skinny guy without a tan strutting it under the lights. But it's rare that they win. They do! But...rarely.

Now, you look at the women's title winners and you will see such a range in skin color, age, size, shape, ability - it's a real Crayola box of diversity. Personally, I think they're all magnificent. But - remember the thick skinned thing I mentioned? Many of them will get remarked upon as not being pretty enough. Mostly by men. But sometimes by women, too. Or, they're too dykey, or not dyke enough, or they're straight (gasp!) or they're not into the right kinks, or blah, blah, blah.

Going to a men's contest guarantees a few hot men will be mostly naked. Going to a women's contest means you will see some women talking about why leather is sexy, and you will not be guaranteed to have your favorite body size and shape on the stage.

And that leads to the last point about why they are not as popular as men's contests - women don't want to run. Why? Because ...economics. They're not getting a $3000 travel fund. Hell, they're lucky if they get a ticket to another contest. They know they will be expected to travel and be seen for a year, mostly on their own money, and in addition, are often expected to raise money for a charitable cause. While spending their own. They will not be invited to travel as often or as far as the men do, and their expenses will not be covered as often. A few of the early IMsLs actually went bankrupts supporting their title. We paid attention to this. It doesn't happen any more (as far as I know) but the duties of a winner seem more onerous for a woman to this day.

So, that covers the title system. But there's also the way women and men are treated as instructors and presenters and speakers, and yes - men - and women who are conventionally attractive - are morel likely to get invited, paid, and have sizeable attendance at their appearances. All things being equal? Women get the shaft. And not in the happy, fun way.

11. Please tell us more about the Middle Age Guard?

You know, the fetish some people have for a mythological age when all kinky people somehow emerged, like Athena from Zeus's noggin, complete and leathered up from a gang of World War II returning vets all ran out, bought motorcycles and dressed up like Marlon Brando, and that this group somehow communicated a universally understood code of behavior that everyone followed...is incredible. And whereas the phrase "old guard" used to just mean "the guys who came before me," it evolved into this...totem, almost. An untouchable origin story that you could never question, and was used to try and intimidate, manipulate or even shame people who are just trying to get their kink on.

People, chill out. Even if there was ONE group, exactly like that, or even if there were TEN - WTF does that have to do with anything? We're all making this up as we go along. Learn history, sure, but make sure it's history, not fairy tales. Look for verifiable sources, eyewitness accounts. And if you like the way they did it back then, awesome. Go do what you like with whoever also likes it. But "old" does not equal "right." It's just old.

So anyway, people started calling ME "old guard' when I was in my 40's. I don't know why. Like, WTF, again. Old Guard phone sex veteran, maybe. I started making a joke out of it and said I was Middle Aged Guard. This not only got a laugh, it struck a chord. I'm not old enough for old ANYTHING. and I am too old for the next-generation leather-spawn, so...Middle Aged Guard. We know each other by the snazzy pins I sell (ca-ching!) and the secret signal we give each other when reading fine print.

12. Please tell us about your very successful novel and any new projects in the pipeline?

Now that I have finished re-editing The Reunion, the book I first released in 2001, it is back with Circlet Press, being made into e-book and paperback formats. It will see a release as soon as they're finished and test the files to make sure they're complete. So right now, and for the rest of the year, my primary project is The Inheritor, book 6 in the Marketplace series. It's been long-awaited, and I am grateful to be at last in a place where I have the time and focus to finish it.

Then I am hoping to sign a contract for a sequel to The Killer Wore Leather, which was my big release this year. Also in the making is a collection of all the short stories I have written in my Marketplace world, and...who know what else?

13. What do you see for the future of leather in your community and internationally?

Lacking a crystal ball, I can only guess based on what I have seen in the past ten years. I see more and more people doing exactly what I am doing now - sitting at home on a computer or tablet, typing like mad to find people to chat or hook up with. I see more leather bars closing, and attendance at kink events going down, unless their focus is on play and sexy stage shows. I see more small contests coming and going so fast we can't register the names, more splitting of clubs, and more segregation of play styles, as people will tend to only go out among others who like exactly the same things they do. I see more and more porn selling - go me! - but fewer chances to actually go out and meet my readers. And...I see much coffee in my future. Much, much coffee.

14. In 2010 you were a judge at IML, how did you experience the weekend and does that competition differ from any other you have judged?

Judging IML is so different from any other thing I have ever done, it might as well have taken place on Mars. I agreed to judge, even though it was years after I had given up judging contests, because it was for Chuck Renslow. When your culture owes so much to one man and his business, you have to stand up when called. So, I did. I expected it to be grueling - I'd never judged a contest before with more than, say, twelve contestants. I know over 50 would be mind-numbing. But what I didn't know was how much damn FUN I'd have with my fellow judges, and how many of the men I met in that small, windowless room I would still feel a bond with, even years later. I also had no clue how emotionally invested I would be in who won. I'd never burst into tears before at the announcement of a winner. And we sure had a great one in Tyler McCormick. What a weekend it was.

15. Tell us what your favorite punishment toy and why?

 I love a leather strap made for me. It's brown leather, with a formed handle, two straps that smack with a thunderous sound and meaningful thud.

16. What’s the funniest thing that happened to you with your book readings?

Finding the "Slave Bitsy" of each group I read to! I swear, all over the WORLD, there's always one women, who, when I am reading the first chapter, starts to blush and shrink down in her chair while *everyone around her* is giggling and pointing to her. But of course, you can't run an event without Slave Bitsy.

 Also, when Earl poked me to guess who I based the character on. And he was right. Mostly.

17. In your own words, can you tell us the difference between BDSM and Leather.

Look, I call what I am and do "leather" because I came out 30 years ago and I'm stubborn and I like leather. But if we must be pedantic about it, BDSM is a portmanteau acronym encompassing Bondage & Discipline, Dominance & Submission and Sadism and Masochism, which you could imagine covers a huge chunk of kinky sex, but apparently isn't enough, because we're coming up with new shit all the time and insisting on flags and logos and different conferences and clubs and contests for our special little corner of Kinkland.

Leather, aside from being the tanned hide of a dead animal, is a style - not only in terms of fashion, but behavior and social custom, modified by location and time. To me, the leather is more of an identity than BDSM, which is a spectrum of behaviors. Leather *can be* the clothing - but more important to me, it's the social connection, the recognition gained from the wearing of the hides. Our scene has lots of subtle ways for people ti identify each other, from the use of code words to stealth logos and pins. But to wear chaps and boots and a bar vest is to walk out in the world showing your colors, so to speak. It says - even for that moment, that night - you are out. And when we gather in our finery, whether from toes to cap or even just a well-worn belt and boots, we can recognize each other in a moment of mutual understanding.

The year I judged IML, I asked a lot of the contestants, "Can you be leather without doing SM or engaging in dominant/submissive relationships?" and  have to admit, the answer was important. Because anyone can wear leather. Anyone can have sex while wearing leather. But other than fashion, what attracted me, what I sought, found and embraced in leather - were expressions of power and surrender. So, while I acknowledge BDSM and leather mean different things - I see them as intertwined.

18. What are your favorite S&M activities?

Fisting, straps, canes, a sense of authentic authority and surrender to it, mutual embrace of the ebb and flow of power and sexual tastes and desires.

19. What’s your favorite drink? And if you could invent a cocktail for the leather community and what would you call it?

I used to love a good, ice cold Cosmopolitan, and as the pinkest, girliest drink you can imagine, LOVED ordering it in a leather bar. But my tolerance for drink has changed, and these days I am more likely to want a nice glass of Shiraz or some spicy blend of wines. And if we're talking the elixir of life, my absolute favorite drink in the world is coffee. I live on coffee.

20. Tell us your favorite movie at this moment or of all time.

The Godfather. Been thinking a lot about that movie lately.

21. If you were stranded on an island with no technology, what three items would you like to have with you and why?

I'd just end it all, as quickly as possibly. No technology? No other people? Hell, no. Talking to a volley ball ain't my thing.

On the other hand, anything "built" is "technology." A bow to shoot arrows with is technology - it's just tech from an earlier era. So, give me a sailboat (invented about 4000 BCE) and some flares (invented 11th Century) and a hold full of food and water, and I'll freakin' get myself rescued.

 22. You are probably the only person I know who has a Cards Against Humanity answer card, who do you think in the leather and kink world deserves one too and why?

Ah, I only have that because I donated to a fund-raising campaign they were doing. Anyone can make up their own card, you know, the template is online. I've already added things like "Finding your Dad on Grindr," "Finding your Mom on CollarMe.com," "Last year's IML," "Last year's IMsL," and "Understanding bootblacks," to my set. Also, "The hot new fetish on Fetlife is ______, _______ and ______"  Grin! I haven't added specific names because I play with such a wide variety of people, I don't want to have to explain who someone is.

23. In conclusion, anything you would like to add to this interview for the leather community of South Africa?

Greetings and felicitations! Sanibonani! Halo! Molweni! Hey, howyadoin'? as we say in New York. Thanks for the hot gentlemen you keep sending over here - now, where the leatherwomen at? Do I have to come down there and look for some? Please give me an excuse.

Oh, and can you send me a lion cub, please? Just one.

I'm sure my co-op board won't mind. 

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