Less than a year after my coming out as bisexual, my “guncle” (gay uncle) told me he had a surprise gift. He made a big deal out of the surprise, refusing to tell me what it was but insisting I would like it.
After dinner one night, while dropping me off, he popped the trunk of his car and handed me a mysterious gift — a gorgeous bag made of genuine black leather and blue latex. It was quite large too, roughly the size of a carry-on that would barely squeeze in an overhead compartment. I looked at him confused as he’d never bought me anything remotely expensive, and the bag itself was worth at least a few hundred dollars.
“Go ahead, open it,” he said with a mischievous grin. I unzipped the bag to reveal what can only be described as a kinkster’s wet dream: leather harnesses, suspenders, assless chaps, vests, collars, bracelets, a cock ring, a book called Leatherman’s Handbook II, and reusable medical gloves.
As I removed one leather item after the next, pinching each accessory with just my thumb and middle finger, he asked, “Do you think you’d use it? If not, I’ll sell it. I got all of this for five bucks at a yard sale, but it has to be worth at least a couple thousand dollars.”
“Whoa, let’s not sell it.” I replied, in shock that (a) he was giving me these items in the first place, and (b) he was giving me such expensive things.
“Let me see if they fit,” I continued. “And if they do, I’ll see if I like wearing them.” I tried on everything later that night. Not only did they fit perfectly, but I also looked good. Let me rephrase that: I looked damn good.
But being a baby queer and a newcomer to Boston, I had no idea where or when I’d have the opportunity to wear my fancy garb. That was, until I heard of an event called Fascination, which takes place in the basement of Jacques Cabaret, a staple in Boston’s gay nightlife scene and one of the oldest drag bars in the United States.
I heard of the event through an older couple I met up with on Grindr. After our sexual encounter, they wanted to hang out again and recommended we go to this party together. One of them explained Fascination as “hairy, sweaty men in leather and/or jockstraps making out with one another.”
Then he asked, “Do you have anything you can wear?” I said yes, thinking back to all the goodies in my leather bag and smiling. “I think I have the perfect outfit for this.”
Saying that I was excited about the party isn’t doing it justice. I was intensely curious, but equally anxious to see what the night would bring. I had never been to this kind of event, and I had never worn this type of attire. Not only was I ready for the novelty that would arise from this bear/leather/kink event, but I also needed it.
After a year of coming out, I was growing tired of the same old Boston gay scene. The men always looked the same, blending together into one white, twinky blob. The music was always Top 40 remixes, and no one seemed dressed to impress; everyone wore the most basic outfits. I could forgive all of this if the gay men in Boston were friendly, but in my experience they were far from it. No one wanted to meet new guys at gay bars or queer spaces. It seemed like they only went to the club to talk about and judge other guys.
Looking back in hindsight, I know now that this is a Boston characteristic. The gay scene is very cliquey, and Bostonians in general are not known to be the most open of individuals. Additionally, in the months since coming out I had been taken advantage of time and time again — which was partly my fault. Being recently out, I was naive and overly trusting. I was so desperate to make gay friends in the city and have a crew to call my own that I overlooked clear red flags.
I thought I was making new friends who were interested in hanging out with me because I’m the smartest, coolest, funniest, and most humble person in the existence of gaykind; but sadly that wasn’t the case. If I didn’t want to sleep with them, they no longer wanted to be my friends.
Between the rejections and unwelcoming atmosphere of gay scenes, the homonormativity of spaces I’d been to, and the fact that my worth as a queer man seemed solely rooted in my appearance, I wasn’t yet feeling okay with being queer. The whole “it gets better” nonsense felt like complete bullshit — until I found Fascination. I didn’t know it at the time, but I needed to find a subculture within the gay community that would embrace me.
The night of the party, I dressed up in a full leather daddy outfit. We’re talking leather boots, assless chaps (and a black jockstrap underneath), leather cap, bracelets, collar, and of course a harness. I went the extra mile and gave myself a handlebar moustache, just for the fuck of it. I figured if I was going to do this, it was not going to be half-assed. It was going to be full-assed. Literally.
When I walked into the basement of Jacques, I went straight to the bar and ordered a Jack and diet, downed it, then ordered another. While I may have looked the part, I didn’t feel it. To be honest, I felt like a fraud, an imposter. I thought people would think I was dressing up and it wasn’t actually a part of who I am.
As I turned around from the bar to take in the scene, I saw men everywhere. They were sweaty, hairy, and sporting leather, singlets, and jockstraps. Butts were out — there were more full moons there than orbit Jupiter! And while I stood at the bar waiting for liquid courage to kick in, men approached me, one after the next.
They loved my outfit. They asked if I had been to this event before. When I told them it was my first time, they expressed how much they loved it. They told me it is the consistent leather/bear/sex-positive event in Boston, yet despite being a sex-positive space with bare asses out for all to see, no one was sexually aggressive. Everyone was polite, respectful, and even though I was serving body-ody-ody, they weren’t objectifying me. It was clear they wanted to get to know me for who I was.
I gave out my number to three guys, and the next day they all texted me. No waiting and no playing hard to get. I met up with all of them, and get this: No one canceled last-minute. In fact, two of the guys I met up with as friends and the other for a sexual encounter. To this day, we’re all still close.
I felt welcomed at Fascination unlike I’d ever felt in Boston, or had felt since coming out. I felt like a member of the queer community.
So naturally, the next month I went to the party again and that’s where I met the man I would call my boyfriend for over a year. While we have since broken up, we are still best friends, and together both of us found a home in the Boston leather scene.
I know the leather scene isn’t for everyone, but it is 100 percent for me. Now that I think about it, I couldn’t fully embrace being queer until I’d discovered the leather queer. So to all the leather queers out there, fearlessly donning their jockstraps and sporting buns of steel, thank you for letting me find myself. And yes, I still look damn good.
ZACHARY ZANE is a regular contributor to The Advocate. Follow him on Twitter @ZacharyZane_.