Meet the New Guard – Same as the Old Guard?
In the dream that is my reality, I am Galatea with a difference. I am an alabaster veined maiden, caught in cold sad stone for seemingly endless years and brought, by stages, to warm life by a passionate synergy of heart, mind, flesh and yearning.
Ovid claimed of the mythic Greek beauty, “Her face was life itself.” Michelangelo believed that every block of marble contained within it a completed work that sought release through the ministrations of a master craftsman with vision, patience and sensitivity to the material worked by his hands.
The story of Pygmalion, king of Cyprus and ardent sculptor, and his love for the ideal of womanhood he released from its marble prison was told and retold throughout ancient times and continues to endure even in this often shallow, virtual age. The liberated creation of pure love was nameless in the earliest tales, her significance not determined by a proper noun but by the power of what she symbolized: the transformational might of melding art and life.
In the reality that is my dream, I am both Galatea and Pygmalion. I am a force that creates and a force born of creation. I am a collaborative work molded with my own hands, those of my intimates and of history. I am a blending of past, present and the transitions between them. And that is what makes me both the unique being that is Darklady, as well as part of a larger work in progress constantly emerging from beneath the hands of as many masters as are enflamed with a passionate synergy of heart, mind, flesh and yearning: the BDSM leather/fetish community.
Clearly, our history, legends and archetypes as a self-identified community don’t trace back as far as those of the ancient Greeks, yet we benefit from the passionate visions brought to life by men and women who walked on the leather frontier and whose mere existences made them political art in a time before a quick trip to the mall revealed all the latest in trendy uptown girl kinky leopard print slave collar fashion wear, black fingernail polish and cleverly colored “pervert” bumper stickers and jacket patches. Before the Internet with its selection of real and imagined fetish imagery, text, chat rooms and hot bi bondage babes. Before munches and leather conferences, and tattoo parlors with shiny, alternative lifestyle rich piercing rooms.
So often, as individuals — and nearly always as collective groups – we live life glancing nervously behind us in our hand mirrors. My experience with fellow kinky people is that many of us, no matter how otherwise pragmatic or skeptical, are deliciously attracted to some degree of formality, ritual and/or ceremony. The very words we use to describe our explorations reek of layered meanings: Sir, Master, slave, Mistress, Goddess, Daddy, boy, girl, pet, slut, surrender, conquest, worship, serve… Each of these words creates powerful images and generates visceral reactions within us, in part because we associate them with aspects of our personal lives as well as our shared human histories. What we now call the BDSM leather/fetish community has, as part of the act of melding art and life, embraced these ancient words of power and imbued them with meanings unique to its members’ needs. In order for living cultures, languages and individuals to survive and thrive, they must be able to grow and adapt.
Those of us who have pushed our boundaries know that growth can be traumatic at times. In fact, it’s often trauma that inspires growth. Nay, requires it. What is commonly referred to as the Old Guard, for instance, came to life during the 1940s and ‘50s, years spent in war and recovery from war. A time of men in uniform returning home and influencing the sexual mores and developing traditions of a new phenomenon: the gay male leather culture. These men came together in leather brotherhood during an era popularly associated with the alleged wholesomeness of heterosexual marriage and joy of a high holy nuclear family complete with gelatin desserts and suburban tract housing.
What resulted from these bold, clandestine meeting was some of the earliest rituals and social mores for the developing self-identified leather community. A system of tight knit and dedicated clubs were organized, providing mentorship for inexperienced. Because of this intense connectivity and strongly regimented approach to the leather lifestyle, the Old Guard is often seen now as having been uniquely exclusive. This tendency for cohesion served its members well during the early days of AIDS, when care giving became an issue. It also made it difficult to continue mentoring those men entering the Scene, causing many newbies to seek previously unavailable methods for self-educating, including books, magazines and fetish videos.
This trauma to the developing community helped what is now referred to as the New Guard philosophy emerge. More and more information began to come from print media and, as today, the Internet. An increasingly diverse social, sexual and cultural population began identifying as being kinky – some even with complex and still largely unchronicled histories. This New Guard brought with it a myriad of approaches to both BDSM technique and lifestyle. With increased ease in exchanging information, the look and feel of BDSM has changed considerably from the Old Guard days of uniforms and sometimes heavy discipline.
With the melding of populations came a blending of styles. Gay, straight, bisexual, transsexual, male, female, transgendered, undefined and indefinable, multi-racial and even multi-partnered – the “pansexual” New Guard, although exclusive in its own ways and not without its faults, embraces a wide variety of play styles ranging from traditional Old Guard discipline to Gorean lifestyle Dominance/submission to cross-dressing and gender play to soft bondage, foot worship and sensual spanking. Its members tend to be more “out” in their behavior, including wearing visible signs of their interests such as body and facial piercings, tattoos, fetish wear, and even once richly symbolic items such as collars and leashes.
There are valuable elements of Old Guard culture that many feel are being lost to the New Guard generation – as well as those who will come afterwards. Most notably, signs of respect and general Scene etiquette. For instance, what were originally meant as titles of honor, such as “Sir,” can often be heard used casually as names or mere nouns, watering down their earlier power. Many younger players are unfamiliar with how to behave at play parties, how to interact with unfamiliar Doms or subs, and many other finer points of BDSM manners and tradition. On the other hand, the New Guard has sped up pre-play communication and negotiation, as well as placing additional emphasis on play safety.
Neither Ovid nor any of Galatea’s other narrators bothered to explain with what ease or difficulty she adjusted to her altered life, but experience suggests that, like all who see the world with new eyes, at least occasional awkwardness and error was her lot. The process of transformation is traumatic because it is boundary expanding. Just as some tales of the Old Guard are largely romanticized reminiscences of a “better time” that never truly existed, there will come a day when, as with Pygmalion’s release of his idealized passion made flesh, the New Guard will also gain its mythic elements.
Fortunately, there are still articulate, active and educating voices to speak for and spread the best ways of both grand traditions. The fortunate philosophical offspring of this beautiful blending have the potential to place BDSM on its pedestal with the pomp, ceremony and gracious good manners that provide it structure, guidance, and class — as well as allow it to walk among the people.
The following books are highly recommended for reading to gain a richer understanding of the beliefs and practices of the Old Guard leather community. (Special thanks to Luke Owens for his assistance.):
Beneath the Skins by Ivo Dominguez, Jr.
Leathermen’s Handbook 1 and 2 by Larry Townsend
Learning the Ropes by Race Bannon
The Kiss of the Whip by Jim Prezwalski
Leathersex by Joseph Bean
The Q Letters by Sir John
Ties That Bind by Guy Baldwin
The Only Reason I Mention This by Daddy Bob Allen
The Wings of Icarus by Daddy Allen
Leatherfolk, edited by Mark Thompson
SM Classics, edited by Susan Wright
Sir! More Sir! The Joy of S&M by Master Jackson