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The Leather Community Isn't 'Degenerate' — It Leads the LGBTQ Movement


Contributor Daniel Arrieta gives a history lesson to those who would promote prejudice and sex-shaming.

This past Martin Luther King Jr., Day, gay writer Brad Polumbo -- in an op-ed for the Washington Examiner -- described a perfectly normal weekend of Mexican cuisine and binging Game of Thrones with his boyfriend, while an older friend spent time with his family.

In another part of Washington, D.C., my husband and I also enjoyed a perfectly normal weekend with our friends alongside hundreds of attendees at Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend (MAL for short). We purchased leather and rubber outfits that would usually be out of our budget and then watched people in varying states of dress (or undress) enjoy themselves. For example, a slightly older gay man we know spent the weekend at the hotel with his husband and their newly adopted human puppy.

Across the country, millions of LGBTQ people such as us went about their normal lives celebrating who they are unapologetically, without making any headlines in the process.

However, the difference between these two experiences is that my husband and I didn't slam those who opted against wearing latex suits with detachable butt plugs as being any less a part of the LGBTQ community. Polumbo, however, accused a tribe of consenting adults at a private event of being "degenerates" and "giving us all a bad name and annihilating what progress we've made."

In the controversial commentary piece, the gay writer proceeded to lament how the gay community's persistent "hypersexualization" of the Pride movement is "an affront to gay acceptance," the fight for which was apparently rooted in heteronormative assimilation and the assertion that "real-life gay people tend to be as boring and domestic as anyone else." Oh, and he described programs to diversify MAL through events celebrating queer people, transgender people, and people of color as both "disgusting" and "eminently harmful to gay progress and acceptance."

Oh, sweetie darling, just where to start...

First of all, let's address the problematic social construct of "normal." For one, in the eyes of far too many people in this country, you, a homosexual, will never be "normal." In fact, you are the very degenerate they believe is destroying America. And no amount of heteronormative and cis-normative camouflage will make them think differently. If all we -- or members of any marginalized community -- are concerned with is reinforcing the majority's idea of what normal is, then we will never be able to overcome barriers to full recognition of our humanity and the rights inherent to it.

Second, let's set the record straight about exactly who ignited and continues to advance the "Pride movement" you reference that affords you the right to serve and marry. To be clear, it was the very same disgusting, degenerate people that you described -- the transgender community, people of color, and the leather community -- that rioted at Stonewall, fought on the frontlines of the AIDS crisis, and marched for equality without any of the protections that you enjoy. Indeed, what strengthens today's LGBTQ movement is the expansion of focus and attention beyond the "L" and the "G" of our alphabet to an increasingly inclusive recognition and embrace of the complexity of human sexuality and gender expression.

And finally, to put it bluntly: sex shouldn't be some flavorless mush slopped on a cafeteria tray. Instead, it should be a glorious, plentiful buffet endowed with ever-changing colors, aromas, and textures. We, as queer people, are the creative, sexual anarchists that propel exploration into all the sensations engineered in the human body. We should be free to celebrate the fun in sex in all its myriad forms. Also, many of us understand that queer sex will always be, to some degree, an act of civil disobedience and political revolution. So why not liberate ourselves from sexual norms that never applied to us in the first place?

Indeed, Brad, we shouldn't be more like what you imagine "normal" heterosexual people are. Trust me, they're just as kinky and public about it. Consider Burning Man, Coachella, Spring Break, Mardi Gras, and any number of thousands of public celebrations and festivals where straight people frequently flaunt their sexuality with wild abandon.

Instead, perhaps heterosexuals should be more like the hundreds who enjoyed MAL -- perfectly normal LGBTQ people who have finally learned that their bodies and affections are not a source of shame, but pride, joy, and love.

This freedom does not destroy the movement. In fact, it defines it.

Daniel Arrieta is a cultural savant and dedicated pot-stirrer. Follow him on Facebook.

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