(This article appears courtesy of the author and Camp Magazine, http://www.campkc.com/)
Hey Buckle Down! It's Time to Learn About K.C.'s Leather Community
October 17, 2008 by Janet Ryan
One of the most committed and intriguing segments of our big gay family is the leather community. You may have noticed men in motorcycle gear wearing leather vests with interesting back patches. Maybe you’ve wandered into the Leather Shop upstairs at Missie B’s and had a chance to try on something racy. Perhaps you’ve thought about experimenting with something kinky in the bedroom and didn’t know where to start.
Some people compare their coming out in leather to their experience of coming out as gay. It is a process of self-discovery and acceptance, finding community, and living your fantasy. Kansas City has a rich and varied leather community that sponsors many events. All the clubs accept members of any gender and orientation and work together on events like the leather contests, which are similar to pageants, and the leather/uniform night upstairs at Missie B’s. Most leather folk are very approachable and friendly in spite of the black leather and tough exterior! Most believe in a code of ethics that include a safe, sane and consensual approach to sexuality.
The first club to come onto the Kansas City scene was the KC Pioneers in 1974. Full members go through a pledge period and take leadership roles in the club. Associate members are friends and supporters who join the club for events. Originally the club was centered on riding motorcycles and socializing. These days it’s less of a motorcycle club and more of a leather/Levi club or a back patch club, which is somewhat like a fraternity. Pioneers still refer to each other as club brothers.
Although the group is primarily focused on fun, it also raises money to help the community. Pioneers’ fundraisers include pub crawls, beer busts, coat checks and the annual Sadistic Santa Photos. Organizations that have received donations include Kansas City Anti-Violence Project, Kansas City Free Health Clinic and Southwest Boulevard Clinic, as well as local leather titleholders and title producers. The Pioneers belong to the Mid-America Conference of Clubs, an association of other similar back patch clubs in the region.
The biggest Pioneer event is the Trails’ End Run. The runs began in 1975, when they took place in members’ back yards. Activities included motorcycle competitions and lots of camaraderie. Today’s runs include games, food, a show and cocktail parties with costumes. Eventually, the runs moved to downtown hotels — the Hyatt hosted Trails’ End 30. The next run’s theme is “Mystery in the Master’s Dungeon,” and it will be April 17-19 at Comfort Inn and Suites, 770 Admiral Blvd.
The next community resource to be established was the Leather Shop, which was the first place in town to shop for high-quality fetish gear. The shop, on the second floor of Missie B’s, welcomes people of all levels and interests. The staff is always open to questions about the lifestyle and available to help fit garments. The Leather Shop is a place to find local clubs as well as hot leather fashions and fun playthings. It’s a fun and eye-opening experience. If you haven’t been there, what are you waiting for?
Craig Heslop opened the Leather Shop in 1983 in the second Dixie Belle, 1924 Main. Heslop has been a founding member of many groups and titles in Kansas City. He is Mr. Kansas Fantasy 1995, and in 2006 he was awarded Business Person of the Year at Pantheon of Leather, which recognizes contributors to the international leather community. He has been an organizer and steadfast supporter of the local leather community through the years.
Another longtime supporter of the leather community is Michael Burns, owner of Missie B’s/Bootleggers Club, which is the home bar for several leather groups. Burns has been generous and accommodating for decades. Many club colors are displayed on the second floor, and the atmosphere and wall art are leather-oriented. Check out the leather/uniform night upstairs on the last Friday of every month. The dress code area is open to people in leather or uniforms and men who remove their shirts. A very friendly crowd turns out, dressed for fun and adventure.
In 2002, a group was formed to offer educational seminars about the leather lifestyle. With tongue in cheek, KC Leather University (KCLU) and its Headmasters have drawn presenters from near and far to teach the technique and philosophy of various forms of bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism, master and slave lifestyles, fetishes and other related subjects. They have drawn the most varied crowd with members of Alternative Hedonistic Source and other pansexual BDSM groups joining in. They often hold the classes on Saturday afternoons during leather contest weekends. Local experts and nationally known titleholders have presented a variety of workshops, some about technique and others about the safety, philosophy and emotional aspects of play. KCLU will next present workshops on Saturday afternoon of the Heart of America contest, Feb. 6-8.
Leather in the Woods is KCLU’s main event of the year. Held during August in the Ozarks, it takes place at the biggest all-male, clothing-optional campground in the nation. It is another event where all the clubs come together and contribute to the success of the whole. Since the mission of KCLU is to have events open to all, it was able to arrange with the campground to let four leather women attend the camp for this one weekend each year. The weekend includes cocktail and cigar parties, demos, discussions, a mud pit, and lots of men wearing little or nothing. The campground has a restaurant, pool, hot tub, cabins and a great view of the Milky Way. Tent camping is available with electricity and running water. It’s a fun road trip!
The group in town that best represents the future of the leather scene in Kansas City is the KC boys of Leather. The club was established in 2002 and welcomes adults of all genders who identify as “boys.” At the turn of the millennium, a movement swept through the leather world recognizing the contributions and uniqueness of adults who identify as submissive and masculine. Many groups sprang up around the country. KC boys of Leather is considered a back patch club. Full members go through a pledge period, and the club accepts associate members also. “The boys” do fundraisers, such as bootblacking, beer busts and car washes, to benefit charities and the title contests.
The KC boys of Leather produce two local leather contest weekends. Contestants compete in categories that include speech, interview, formal leather and fantasy wear or jock strap. Panels of seven or so judges use the Olympic scoring method to rank competitors in each category and choose a winner. Titleholders raise money for charity and their travel fund. They are ambassadors to the local gay community, as well as to the larger leather community outside of Kansas City.
The fall contest is a feeder to International Mr. Leather in Chicago. From 1996 to 2008, Kansas City’s representative to International Mr. Leather was the Mr. Dixie Belle Leather. With the passing of the Dixie Belle/DB Warehouse and move to Missie B’s, a new title has evolved: the Mr. Bootleggers Leather title. Last month the first Mr. Bootleggers Contest was held and Jeremy Cherry won. His focus will be to raise awareness, especially among younger gay men, of the need for safer sex to reduce new HIV infection rates. He will compete in Chicago in May.
The other contest is Heart of America Leather Weekend, which will be Feb. 6-8. Winners go on to compete at the American Brotherhood Weekend. Last year boy Shane competed in New Orleans in July and was first runner-up. This contest system includes a fantasy, which is always the highlight of the show.
If you have an interest in the leather lifestyle, there are lots of ways to get involved and discover another side of the LGBT community in Kansas City. The Web sites have pictures of members and ways to contact the group and get notices about events. The Kansas City leather community is a diverse, friendly and respectful crowd that has interesting ways of adding excitement to your life!
(The author, Janet Ryan is a photographer, foodstylist and longtime activist in the leather community. She is involved with all the local leather clubs and is staff photographer and personal assistant to the producers of International Ms. Leather, held in San Francisco in the spring.)