Saturday, January 19, 2019

Leather and Justice

artin Luther King Weekend in Washington always coincides with Mid-Atlantic Leather. Or I should probably say that the organizers of the latter have for years placed the event on the MLK Birthday weekend.

At first it would seem incongruous—a community that most of society would look upon as curiously fetishistic—focusing on things not in the slightest way linked to the great causes of Dr. King. Indeed some probably would think, if they gave any thought to it, that leather-loving men and women ought to be ashamed of partying when they ought to be taking cues from the holy example of Martin Luther King, Jr., trampling down the now virulent rise of a new wave of racism and allied injustices.
The face of leather is not always fierce.

Granted, I might be erecting "a straw man" just to knock him over by bringing up a subject that is far from the top of people's consciousness by and large. But that it precisely why I'm commenting on it today. I'm giving my life to work for the liberation of people from the shame-laden traps in which they're caught, traps erected by social forces that see no earthly good in subcultures heavily populated by sexual minorities as the leather community is. I'm giving my energy to encourage wholeness that can only come when we accept every part of ourselves, not just those that cut the muster in whatever now passes for polite society.

A huge part of that process of liberation is overthrowing the idea that great spiritual ideals—indeed the practice of a spiritual life—is incompatible with erotic energy, which sometimes finds expression in fantasy and fetish as well as in more domesticated places like the marriage bed. Indeed one of society's ills—I speak of globalized Western society in particular, but there are others—ills largely undiagnosed and thus untreated is the continual repression of erotic energy. No, I'm not talking about "sexual energy" and calling it "erotic" to sound intellectual. Erotic energy is Love, and Love has many forms and faces, its sexual visage being only one. As Carl Jung once said, eros is not about sex; it is about relatedness. Little wonder that we are a society shredded between extreme wealth and grinding poverty. No wonder at all that we are prey to forces that constantly stir up division and tear us asunder. Hatred of men for women and women for men; disdain for people who we imagine to be threatening a sacrosanct way of life; active persecution of minorities; shaming of those who are differently colored and those of different abilities than the majority; exploitation by those in religious and political authority of vulnerable people in their care and charge: credit that to a huge and devastating mismanagement of erotic energy. Someone once called sin "trampled-on love." Those things warp, twist, stomp on, degrade, and ultimately trash love.
"Only love can drive out hate."

I celebrated today. I celebrated Mid-Atlantic Leather weekend by enjoying a brunch with dozens of other men gathered in a non-pretentious and lovely home, who took the occasion to make contributions to "Brother Help Thyself," a community-based organization that provides financial and other support to non-profit organizations serving the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS community in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. metro area. Most people there came dressed in leather to one degree or another. And conversations were what you'd expect of any social gathering--who was doing what, where people lived, what they were working on, what their plans were for 2019 and so on. In other words, dress aside, we were just human beings having a great time. Government workers, physicians, therapists, clergy, architects, writers, and lots of folk about whom I have no clue: we were all brothers celebrating membership in a community, drawn by the peculiarity of liking a special commodity made possible by the larger brotherhood and sisterhood of animal life.

At that brunch I was just as much celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. His was a life and a witness to liberation from all forms of oppression. Had his life not been cut down in its prime, he would have waged battles, as indeed he had begun to do, that were far larger, wider, harder than even the Civil Rights struggle that gave him prominence. His witness consistently called out the evils, often unconscious, that cheapen human flesh and quench human spirit. Most of the guys chowing down on brunch today were men who have discovered the stellar brilliance of abandoning conformity to be themselves. I don't imagine that one soul there would disagree with these words of Dr. King: "You know, a lot of people don’t love themselves. And they go through life with deep and haunting emotional conflicts. So the length of life means that you must love yourself. And you know what loving yourself also means? It means that you’ve got to accept yourself."

The future of justice hinges on the strength of Love.

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2019

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