Below, some words from Carmelle La Sirena about her work.
Living a “leather lifestyle" or as some say “living in leather" is not a linear path in society, nor is it merely a fairytale lifestyle. You can live a leather lifestyle and not be part of the leather community. You can live a leather lifestyle and not ever involve yourself in the contest circuit. I can only define a leather lifestyle from my perspective and how I have lived my life. My knowledge is based upon my personal awareness through deep immersion in creating and living an alternative lifestyle. I either live with, involve myself with, talk with, read, study and research those who consider themselves to be "Leather." Although there are certain similarities and interests that flow through each of us who live this way, each story of someone’s leather journey, lifestyle and history, is vastly different from another... but like religion, there is an unspoken kinship that brings us together. It binds us and we recognize that energy in another.
I was drawn to Leatherfolk, Leathermen, and Leatherdykes because of their attitudes on sex and their radical stance on how they chose to live their lives. Most do not realize that at one time in San Francisco, it was actually dangerous for a woman to wear a leather jacket walking down the street. That "Fuck you, I will do what I want, and live the way I want to" attitude, drew me in. People that owned their sexuality, they understood their sexual power, and enjoyed immersing themselves in their kink and various fetishes — those were the people who I most connected with.
Often we glamorize the history of leather, but it was dangerous. Homes had personal dungeons that had items that were perceived as dangerous, even having insertable vibrators, could warrant an arrest. We were very careful who we brought into our lives. This also created a network and a safety net. There were private parties where we learned or would teach each other various techniques, from cutting to branding, piercing, and more. These intimate settings gave way to more of a deeper human connection and bonded different styles of relationships for many of us.
There is no right or wrong. There are ways to communicate things, such as flagging yellow for piss play, but frankly, most people don't even know the difference between a Master's or a slave's "Cover," otherwise known as a muir cap. The secret style of communication, wearing a collar to show you are owned, were subtle nuances that brought likeminded people together. Because so many people were shunned from their biological families, many of these people (mostly gay men) formed groups or created their own families, affectionally known as Leather Families. They decided what rules and rituals they wanted to construct. That's what I love about Leather, if you want rituals, if you want rules, you create them yourself. If you want to buy your own Leather muir cap, by all means, just go buy one, the only caution is to be aware of what significance it holds and what it communicates to others.
For as long as humans have evolved, there has always been a need for rituals — a primal instinct that marks various moments to acknowledge growth of ones soul. I feel that the Leather lifestyle fulfills that spiritual need for many without the heavy weight of false guilt.
Mutual exploration of sexual power, kink, BDSM can be exceptionally beautiful and spiritual. Sexual power is seductive, enticing and freeing. Being able to fully enjoy sexual desires often becomes a political statement against the norms of society, but it also teaches one how to survive and thrive in an alternative lifestyle. People love fantasy, they want to grasp at something beyond, something that takes them away from their every day worries. But what I love about Leather— the lifestyle, the sex, the kink, BDSM — you don't need to chanel a character from a book, you are the living breathing fantasy, you create it and live it on your terms.
See Leatherwomen One and Leatherwomen Two on Advocate.com.
CARMELLE LA SIRENA is a conceptual artist, painter, and photographer whose wandering heart has her living in both New York and Los Angeles. She began photographing "Leatherwomen" over 20 years ago as a way to explore and understand her own sexuality. What started out as a hobby turned into a fetish, and that somehow turned into an actual documentary affectionately known as We Are Leather Women.
See more of Carmelle's work and life on VoyeuristicOpera.com, Facebook, and Instagram.