As a favour to a friend, I volunteered to work at CLAW
, or Cleveland Leather Awareness Week. Or, Cleveland's version of IML.
I've never been to such an event, so I was not 100% sure what to expect. Sure one has ideas, but.......
To be fair, I didn't participate in any of the events, other than walk around for a few minutes. My time there was truly to work - taking in auction items, cataloging them, and getting paperwork completed for tax deduction purposes. Pretty racy, huh?
Mind you, the items I was taking in were leather pants, boots, jock straps, hoods, arm bands, old porn and gas masks and the like. But the auction is a money maker and the proceeds go to local charities.
Guys were funny about dropping the stuff off. Some stuff didn't fit them.....anymore. Some stuff was brand new that they purchased just to donate. A few guys said some tricks left the items behind and it was just taking up room at their house. Let it be known, I never asked for a reason they were providing an item. There info was all voluntary My job was all clerical.
But I had the main intake desk and it sat in a high traffic area and in view a lot of goings on. Nothing sexual. Nope, nothing like that. I'll assume that happened at the parties or in the privacy of their hotel rooms.
Since I was at that desk, people assumed I was the main info desk. I was so not - though by the end of my shift, I could tell you where the Sir / Boy seminar was being held or the Single Mingle room was. I could tell you where to go if you needed to register, or if you needed the hospitality suite to get pizza for the volunteers (oh yes, they fed us.....though I have to say, I felt sorry for the unsuspecting pizza delivery guy who walked into the hotel area to see men dressed in, and partially out of, leather).
However, what I got to observe was a subculture of gay life: the leather community. Even more so, there were clearly sub-subcultures to that. Some you hear about and assume things about - some that were a little newer to me.
Take the title image. Please.
There is a whole sub-genre on Pup training. Yes - subservient boys who wear dog masks and introduce each other with barks and growls. I found it fairly disconcerting. I think I dealt with them crawling on all fours, on a leash and with a bowl in their mouth better than the yelping. The dog mask thing did not help matters.
While I was very open to it all, I didn't quite fit into the mode of addressing people by "Boy Jeffrey" or "Master Ron". Or worse, when people asked me where "Boy X" was, I had no idea. I'm sure I broke rules by calling someone by first name and not their 'status'.
Don (or was it Dan?), who worked with me, was very perceptive to when someone walked up to donate and would say "thank you, Sir" or "thank you, Boy". I wasn't that tuned in to their place in the leather world hierarchy.
I am never sure about the leather world. It just seems like another form of drag - not to say it can't look good on some. I would only say about 15% of the men could pull it off. The rest just seemed to either try too hard or needed a leather fashion police to help them dress correctly.
I got along well with the head of the auction, also Don (or was it Dan?), who everyone from Atlanta seemed to know, and going by the public conversations, I could tell you specifically what Don (or was it Dan?) likes to have done to him.
And then there was Brian (or was it Bryan?), who ran the hospitality suite. A nice man, an attractive man, who seemed to come over and chat during down time - though I think he was being nice and not flirting. Shame.
Actually, unless I was oblivious, no one flirted with me. I think they saw folks who worked behind the desk differently than when you were out participating in the event. I was the only person I know who just volunteered and left. I attended no workshops or events, though my badge got me into all of them - save one.
I will say this - it is a community. For all the distance people came to go to Cleveland for this, and it was at least from Washington and California, folks seemed to know each other or of each other. Everyone, myself included, was greeted warmly. Everyone knew I was "new".
So if nothing else, I got a blog entry out of the experience....and a t-shirt. One I can never wear anywhere. Ever. Unless I attend a Tom of Finland convention.
Song by: Sam Bush