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Conversations with Leather - Race Bannon

By May 24, 2017



Jaco: For those who don’t already know, please tell us about yourself and your connection with the Leather world.

Race: I’ve been active in the Leather scene since 1973. Initially, apart from being a bartender in a sleazy kinky bar, I was essentially a lone maverick player. Then around 1980 I got deeply involved with various clubs, organizations and projects that changed that lone wolf status. Since then I’ve been an organizer, writer, educator, speaker and activist in the LGBT, leather/kink, polyamory and HIV/STI prevention realms. I’ve authored a well-known BDSM book, been published extensively, spoken to hundreds of audiences, created the world's largest kink-friendly psychotherapist and medical referral service (Kink Aware Professionals), was a leader of The DSM Project that led to a beneficial change in the way psychotherapy views BDSM, founded a groundbreaking alternative sexuality publishing company (Daedalus Publishing Company), been an internet radio sex talk show host, received national and local awards, appeared in numerous documentaries, and currently am the Leather/kink columnist for the Bay Area Reporter http://www.ebar.comwww.ebar.com I also have a blog at http://www.bannon.com and there’s more information about me there for those who might be interested.


Race Bannon (center) as a panelist for Are Leather Titles Necessary? hosted by the San Francisco Leathermen’s Discussion Group, January 2015. Joe Gallagher (left), Graylin Thornton (right of Race), and Eric Paul Leue (far right) were also panelists. Photo by Rich Stadtmiller

Jaco: Please tell us who got you started in the Leather community and for how long?

Race: My entrance into the Leather scene began by accident. I’d always been kinky, even when quite young. But then in 1972 I walked into the iconic Leather bar, Gold Coast, in Chicago and my world changed. I had found my people. Everything about the men there punched my erotic buttons and I knew immediately that was where I belonged. I frequented the Gold Coast many nights each week and over time developed a circle of friends and play buddies who helped me hone my sexual proclivities.

Jaco: Are you affiliated with a club or bar? If so tell us more about the history?

Race: Over the years I’ve belonged to many clubs. Right now, I’m a member of The 15 Association, Chicago Hellfire Club and The Society of Janus. As much as I love the folks who belong to these clubs and others, the truth is I’m not much if a club guy anymore. I’ve reverted to my original default independent mindset over the last few years and that seems to be where I’m happiest. I’ve also sat on many Boards of Directors for organizations such as the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom and the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternatives Sexualities, but much like with clubs, I’ve pulled back from Board involvements for the most part. Right now, I only sit on the Board of Governors for the Leather Hall of Fame. I really enjoy acting as a free agent these days.

Jaco: Tell us about your charity involvement and goals.

Race: I don’t align with any single charity or cause. I’ve helped raise a lot of money for various nonprofits and causes. l tend to lend my skills and efforts to whatever I deem worthwhile at the time. Right now, with the political turmoil gripping my country, I’ve focused a lot on raising money for progressive political and social cause organizations.

Jaco: Tell us about your Leather family.

Race: I’m partnered with two men for the last 20 years, but most of my close Leather family resides outside of that relationship. There are a few men who are tightly bonded to me, in some cases involving 24/7 collars. I consider myself to have a wide sweeping extended Leather family comprised of many close friends, some of who are play buddies too. I don’t put any limits on with whom I can have close, intimate relationships. I’m polyamorous by nature and always have been.

Jaco: We’ve met several times at big Leather events, and I know you are an incredible writer, please tell us what drives you to write about various issues, be it Leather or health or social and where can we find some of your work?

Race: Crafting words just seems to be my thing. Once I found writing as a means of expression and communication, it’s proven to be a core means by which I connect with the world and my thoughts. Much of the time I write to try to improve the world, in small or big ways. That’s really my prime motivation. I hope that what I write does some good, makes people think, and in the case of sexuality, helps people have better erotic lives. Much of my scene writing lately has been for the Bay Area Reporter http://www.ebar.com where you can find my regular biweekly Leather/kink column. I write elsewhere as well and much of that writing can be found on or through my sexuality blog http://www.bannon.com or my blog where I write about other topics http://www.racebannon.comwww.racebannon.com

Jaco: Please tell us more about Bound to Talk and what or who inspired you to be involved.

Race: In the mid-90s there was an LGBT internet radio station and website that approached me about doing a regular discussion and call-in internet radio show about Leather, kink and sexuality. We talked and out of those negotiations Bound to Talk was born for which I was the producer and host. To the best of my knowledge it was the first internet talk show about nontraditional sexuality and relationships.

Jaco: Who is the most influential person in your life and why?

Race: That’s easy. My father. Without a doubt, he formed who and what I am more than anyone. Perhaps his greatest gift was that he instilled in me a great love of learning, especially learning undertaken on my own. That has served me well, including in my Leather and kink life. When I came out into kink there weren’t any classes, books or how to articles about it. You had to learn on your own and by whatever means necessary. In many ways, I think that’s a superior way to learn because self-motivated and self-directed learning often yields the best results.

Jaco: In your mind, what does Leather mean to you, and what is the glue that keeps us together?

Race: I’m going to espouse opinions that’s aren’t always so popular these days about this topic. First, I don’t’ think anyone can ever define “Leather” because it’s different for everyone. Whether it’s the garb, the connections, the communities, the play, or whatever, everyone sees the Leather scene differently and perhaps that’s a good thing. At the same time, I think Leather as an identifier might be waning except among a dedicated core constituency. I hear the word kink, or fetish in some parts of the world, used a lot more than Leather these days and I think that’s a reflection that the typical Leather iconography and culture isn’t always a good fit for many of the kinksters coming out into the scene today. They’re redefining what leather is, often choosing to not call it leather at all. My instincts tell me this trend will continue and that Leather as a standalone culture will simply be considered a subset of the much larger kink culture. Time will tell if I’m correct.

Jaco: America is on the brink of change, how do you feel about the change in president, how do you think it will impact the Leather an d kink community?

Race: Trump is a monumental asshole and dangerous to the world. Those of us in the United States that realize this are working hard to either get him out of office or blunt his impact on the country and the world. Sadly, the election of Trump has led to a sort of communal depression regarding where our country is headed. But I’m hopeful. There are a lot of good people in our country who care about their fellow man and the wellbeing of our citizens. I think we can survive the disaster that is Trump and his kind.

Jaco: If you can be anyone dead or alive (not yourself) who would you be and why?

Race: Benjamin Franklin. I admire his curious mind and far ranging knowledge and skills. His life has always been inspirational. Like Franklin, I’ve also considered myself a generalist, jack of all trades sort of guy. So, Franklin’s astounding breadth of knowledge and skill fascinates me.

Jaco: What do you see for the future of Leather in your community and internationally?

Race: I think we’re going to see an increased compartmentalization of the scene. Some have referred to this as the balkanization of the scene. Once upon a time our scene was generally monolithic. Most of us dressed the same, socialized the same, played the same, and so on. No longer. Now, we’re seeing the emergence of a wide variety of subsets of kink that in many ways function entirely separate from others. Pups. Master/slave. Contests and titles. Those and many other sub-communities are entire scenes unto themselves that operate in the larger Leather and kink world because that’s where they find the most common ground. However, as technology and trends continue to expand, it’s a lot easier for these sub-communities to self-organize. This may lead to a scene that looks nothing like it does today and I know that scares or upsets a lot of people. But change is inevitable. My guess is we’ll look back on the scene of today in 20 years and barely recognize it. I’m fine with that. I like change. I feel that change is the food of growth. Things staying the same leads to stagnation. Time will tell how this all plays out.

Jaco: Tell us what your favorite piece of Leather is and why?

Race: In the late 1980s my former partner, Guy Baldwin, gave me a small piece of black cowhide, maybe two feet or so square. I use it all the time when I play and each time think of Guy and those years we were together because they were so pivotal to the maturation of my Leather life.

Jaco: What’s the horniest thing that happened to you in Leather or in play and would you do it again?

Race: Hmm, that’s impossible for me to decide. I’ve had an active sex and play life and dozens of experiences that stand out. Let me say this though. It’s rarely been the physical act that’s made an experience stand out for me, but rather the mental connection and mindset that occurred during it. It’s one of the reasons I believe we often err too much on the side of technique over substance in our scene. Two people who are truly and deeply erotically connected can go places sexually that have little to do with the techniques or gear trappings themselves.

Jaco: What’s the funniest safe word you ever heard?

Race: I don’t have a funniest safe word I can think of, but have a funny safe signal story. Many years ago, I was doing a scene at a public dungeon with someone I’d never played with. Since he was going to be gagged, I decided to give him a safe signal as I’d done many times before so he could let me know if we needed to talk or adjust something during the play. The signal I gave him was snapping his fingers. I use that often because I can hear it, not just see it, and this is useful especially in public settings. Midway through the scene I turned around to grab a piece of gear and when I turned back his fingers were moving quickly and clumsily. I approached him and asked what’s going on. He had wanted to adjust a restraint and tried to signal, but turns out he couldn’t snap his fingers. We laughed at it, but it was a lesson to always make sure someone can do the signal you give them. Now I always have someone show me that they can snap their fingers before we play if I’m using that safe signal.

Jaco: What’s your favorite drink? And design a drink or cocktail that represents you and what would it be called?

Race: I am not much of an alcohol drinker typically. So apart from good wine I don’t have a favorite alcoholic drink. If I ever do drink hard liquor it’s likely vodka mixed with something. So were I to design a drink it would be vodka mixed with my cum in a shot glass and I’d call it a Lucky Load. Of course, only a few special people in my life would get to drink one.

Jaco: What was the last meal you cooked just for yourself?

Race: I know this is going to sound odd, but I have never cooked a meal for myself unless you count scrambled eggs or something simple like that. But I know every function on a microwave and I’m great at making restaurant reservations.

Jaco: Recently you saw (what you referred to as one of the best movies ever) La La Land, what did you enjoy about the movie, and can you replace all the main characters with people in the Leather community and tell us why you chose those people.

Race: La La Land is one of those movies that people seem to love or hate. I loved it. Perhaps it was the setting of Los Angeles where I lived for 14 years. Or maybe it made me think of my former career in entertainment as both a performer and behind the scenes. Or maybe it was simply the metaphor of artistic struggle that applies to all of life. I cried so much in the movie theater when I saw it that I nearly left the theater because I thought I might be disturbing others. It was that moving for me. As for replacing the main characters with Leatherfolk, I’m not sure who I’d pick.

Jaco: I have visited San Francisco on many occasions, one of my favorite cities in the world, what five non-touristy things would you show me and why?

Race: (1) Flagging in the Park is my favorite thing to do. Flagging, for those who don’t know, is spinning brightly colored silk flags to music while dancing. It happens a few times a year in Golden Gate Park and it’s one of the few events I try to never miss. (2) Take a walking tour of the Castro to learn about LGBT history in one of the places where much of the early gay rights struggle was centered. (3) The food here is remarkable. So, I’d give you a list of amazing restaurants to try out. (4) Lay out in the sun in Dolores Park on a weekend. Always a great time. (5) Walk. Anywhere. San Francisco is one of the best walking cities in the world. Our city is quite small. Only 7x7 miles. Each part of the city has a unique flavor and culture to it. Put on your best walking shoes and explore.

Jaco: In conclusion, anything you would like to add to this interview for the Leather community?

Race: No. Just a thank you for asking me to do this interview. I enjoyed it.


Race and Mike Pierce as Southern California Master and slave 1991 on The Leather Journal cover.

Race Bannon (left) with his former partner, Guy Baldwin, in 1987. Photo by Race Bannon


Race Bannon, taken on the street a few blocks from his home in San Francisco. Photo by Ron Stafford


Race Bannon with Guy Baldwin who was inducted into the Leather Hall of Fame at CLAW in Cleveland, OH in April, 2012. Photo by Dave Rhodes


A selfie of Race Bannon taken at Folsom Street Fair, September 2016.


Race Bannon. Photo by Rich Stadtmiller