Monday, November 25, 2013

Laying My Ghosts to Rest, After Far Too Long

UPDATE: This is Part One.  Part Two is here.

I'm a gay leatherman who has worked very, very hard for years to make our community a better place.  I've done my best to bring us all out of the Holocaust Phase, and into the next one.  

I can't predict the way that the future will go - that is for a younger, less-damaged generation to decide, now that better days are here at last, and we are blessed with many wonderful, younger leaders.  It's their show now, and I'm glad.

I'm ready to retire from active community leadership now.



"Grace/Beauty Broken/Repaired 1981-2013"
by Papa Tony. Originally an exquisite, elegant,
crisp, black-on-pure-white artwork done in
calligraphy style.  One of my best works from 1981,
just before my best friend became catastrophically ill.

He died 2-1/2 weeks after the first symptom.
I couldn't touch him or come near as he lay dying,
because nobody knew what was causing it.
I cried in the doorway for hours, yearning to hold him.
He died alone, begging to be comforted and held.

For 2013, I re-expressed the design as a damaged,
 partial memory of a memory in collage format,
torn, dirty and patched after decades of change and sorrow.

The beauty is still there, prevailing and still being
expressed, despite everything that has come at it.
Life is like that. We have to live, while we can.

The “AIDS Ribbon” inside the design
was a fortuitous coincidence, created
ten years before the first red ribbon showed up in 1991.
The original piece spoke to me very strongly
during this article, so I had to re-release it.



I am planning to have a single-man ceremony at the beach, where I will finally lay my 140+ ghosts to rest.  I will ask their forgiveness for finally ending the work that I’ve done in their name for so many years, and achieve final closure. I’ve been a turbo-charged dynamo in the Tribe for decades, because I’ve wanted to take up every scrap of the work that my dead brothers no longer could. 

It’s a crazy-making behavior. No wonder folks think I’m peculiar.  If more guys of my age and background were telling their stories, I’d look downright average.  

I’m glad that the younger generations haven’t had to hold dozens of friends over a handful of years, and tell each loved and precious young man in your arms that "it’s time to let go”.

It’s scarring to be the only one who survived from a 40+ man Leather Family.

I expected to be dead like everyone else that I loved, twenty five years ago. I never planned to become older.

Going to two or three funerals a WEEK for several years has left a lifelong wound, and I’ve tried to use all of that unresolved rage, Survivor's Guilt and grief in a healthy way. As long as I kept it inside, it was killing me in a slow-motion suicide.  I HAD to externalize all of that passion, for the sake of my own sanity. I felt like I was helping my dear, dead brothers, lovers, boyfriends, fuckbuddies, mentors, Daddies and loving uncles in some way, if I was carrying on the work that they were meant to do.

Now, this is finally the point where I let all of my beloved ghosts go at long last, and I plan to find myself somewhere underneath that ghostly pile.  I don’t know what I will find, but I sure hope that it’s peaceful and relaxing. I’ve been holding up the weight of the world for so fucking long.

I’ve been fearing retirement like death. I've been struggling with it, but every day brings me closer to peace and acceptance. 

I'm ready to love and be loved.  That's all.


Addendum, by American Leatherman 2013 Aaron Duke:

Whether you are young or old, new or well seasoned in the leather community, please take the time to read this. This is our future. This is where we go from here.

In every community, there is a small percentage of older gay leathermen left. I have traveled around the country and had the opportunity to meet some of them. They are the men left after the HIV/AIDS holocaust that swept through our communities in the 80's and 90's. If you sit down and listen to them, they have a story to tell. They have knowledge and wisdom to share with the youth of today. Many of them are reaching the point of exhaustion. They have been the ones who have kept everything together for years after countless deaths plagued our communities and no one was left to keep it all together.

When I began hanging around the leather community in 1998, I was the youngest one by far. I also noticed there seemed to be an age gap. A group of men, missing. They seem to have just vanished. There was that group of men, much older than I, who seem to be at every event, spearheading every committee, and working relentlessly. Many of these men were mentors to me on so many levels. These were the men I looked up to as a young, gay, leather man. They are the men that I have tried to emulate.

For the other young men out there, it is human nature for us to seek out others who are similar to us. This is perfectly okay, but don't forget about the men that came before us. Sit down with them. Have a coffee. Share a meal. LISTEN to their story.

Men of my generation cannot fathom what this experience must have been like. The years and years of stories I have heard cannot even begin to make me understand on a basic level the emotional distress this has put on these men. The truth is, many of them are still carrying the "survivor's guilt" within them. It is something that will never go away.

I was honored to be the 30th Mr San Diego Leather in 2012. I wanted to meet and get to know the men that came before me. Even if they didn't live in San Diego anymore, I was able to track them down and meet them. So many of them are already dead.

For those more mature men of our community, this is a declaration. There are many young, vibrant, eager, and idealistic young men out there that are chomping at the bit to take the reins from you. We are here to help you. You don't have to do it alone. If you feel it is your time to "retire" from public service, know that you work will always be remembered and appreciated. You can rest assured WE will continue your work in your honor.

To the younger men, it is time for us to step-up and continue the work the wonderful men before us have achieved. We come with new, fresh ideas that can only improve where we are now. Be bold! Be daring! Always do it from the heart. We owe it to the men that came before us to continue the traditions of the past while blazing new paths before us. Our time has come. The time is now.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

An Invitation to Transform Our Tribe's Relationship With The Larger Community

Note from Tony:  I'm actively fighting my own tendency to hype-hype-HYPE this.  I just don't want to do that.  Instead, I'm inviting my brothers and sisters to be ourselves in an intentional, effective, authentic and highly-visible way. Let's tell the truth of our existence in a much bigger space than we normally do.

The Goal:  To make life better for generations that follow us.


Short Version:

If you care about changing the non-kink world's biased, obsolete viewpoint of the kink/leather/fetish Tribe, please come together with a large amount of other folks to immensely transform other people's understanding of us.  It's time to be visible and joyful!

We do this by marching together, in gear if possible, in ever-larger Pride Parade contingents in many cities, and showing lots of love for everyone around us. It's time to do this in a conscious, intentional way. It's going to make a big difference.

Let's spread the news virally - Please help enroll our friends, club members and rarely-seen community-members, because we want as many good-hearted folks on board as possible.

Why?

It's not about ego, or size for the sake of size, or fundraising, or any of that.  It's about arriving in the public's eyes and in the media as a cohesive, affectionate and numerous Tribe, that can leave our differences aside for a real Family Reunion.  WE get to have ongoing explosions of joy, community and cooperation, and the folks outside of our Tribe get to see us at our very best, in person, and in the media. Minds will change.

The news media headlined all San Diego Pride Parade coverage with the Leather Contingent in 2013. Now, can you imagine how much coverage we will get with at least five times as many folks than ever before at EVERY Pride parade, in every city? How fun, and how easy.


Long Version:


On Saturday, July 13, 2013, we had an enormous amount of folks marching in the 2013 San Diego Pride Parade's Leather/Fetish Contingent. The 150,000 folks along the parade-route showered our brothers and sisters with love as we passed.


On Sunday, November 3, 2013, we were part of the largest Leather/Fetish Contingent in Palm Springs Pride's history. It goes all of the way back to the orange balloons in the photo above, and the photo doesn't include what is behind the camera. The crowd loved us.

This is new. This is important.  I've been in every San Diego Pride Parade since 1977, and we USED to be scorned, and discouraged from even showing up. Kinky folks have had centuries of bigotry and misunderstanding working against our acceptance.  The fact of the matter is, kinky play is just "extreme intimacy."  In 2013 and beyond, our status as society's lowest-class outcasts is fading FAST, thanks to the Internet, which is removing the stereotypes with accurate, real information.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a huge worldwide bestseller for a REASON, now. It is still the fastest-selling paperback of all time.

Our current status is exactly equivalent to the transformation of people' understandings of gay people within our lifetimes.  Nowadays, trans folks, people who are demanding the freedom to marry, and so many more people have been saying "This is who I am, and this is my truth."

Let's do that too.

Our younger folks are already there ahead of most of us older folks. They are proudly, openly and unashamedly living their lives in full view.  

I'm not requesting that.  I'm just asking that we all march together in a really, REALLY big crowd, and keep doing it more and more, in every city, as a new tradition that can build and build:


2014 Parade Schedules

(if there are additions or suggestions, please pass them along to me at papatony@mac.com)

If you only join in with ONE of these, you're making a difference.


April 5-6: Phoenix Pride, with the parade on SATURDAY, April 5th.

May 17-18: Long Beach Pride, with the parade on SUNDAY May 18.

June 6-8: Los Angeles Pride, with the parade on SUNDAY, June 8.

June 28-29: San Francisco Pride, with the parade on SUNDAY, June 29.

July 18-20: San Diego Pride, with the parade on SATURDAY, July 19.

September 5-6: Las Vegas Pride, with the parade at NIGHT, from 7-10PM, on SATURDAY, Sep. 5.

November 7-9: Palm Springs Pride, with the parade on SUNDAY, Nov. 9.


Saving Money

In an economy where too many of us can barely make ends meet, we need to find ways to make life easier for each other.

If you would like to come to San Diego to march with us in our Pride Parade, and you don't mind sleeping on somebody's couch or air-mattress, just send an email to SignMeUpForEvent@gmail.com and a team of fine folks will get you set up.

If folks in other cities are willing to help find lodging, or ride-sharing, or whatever will make the parades better while saving money, please let me know what we can do together.


Conclusion

This is not just a one-year thing.  Each time we have done this in a less-conscious way, it has been wonderful. The only difference NOW is that we are doing it intentionally, with the goal of creating a new, ongoing tradition. Folsom Street Fair and IML didn't start out big - they started with a wonderful plan that just locked-in to the public's mind as something that we can all depend upon, year after year.

We deserve more reasons to rejoice in our community. Let's be playful, joyful, light-hearted and affectionate in BIG crowds.  Better days have arrived, and it's time to let everybody know the good news!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

BIG Announcement in One Week, on Movie Night

On Wednesday, November 13, during Movie Night  I will be making the first public, formal announcement of the biggest idea our local community has ever had. I’ve previewed it with a bunch of trusted friends from all over Southern California, and it’s clearly something that has folks everywhere going wild with anticipation.  We’ve got a few months to prepare.

This new concept is really, really enormous, but it’s also a very new way of re-thinking our assumptions. Times have changed, and this is the best way that I can imagine to move with the times and make a LOT of people change their minds about our community in a wonderful, transformational way. Everybody wins, in many cities, for decades to come!



So, here is how the evening will go, on Movie Night, Nov. 13, 2013:



6PM, folks will start arriving to socialize outside the Birch North Park Theater  at 2891 University Ave  near the corner of 30th and University. Movie tickets are still available online at $5 each  but will cost $10 at the door. This supports our superb friends with FilmOut San Diego, who have obtained this movie just for US.

6:30PM - Gear Contest. If you’re in gear, we invite you to be light-hearted and playful, just the previous times that we have done this.

6:45PM - Group Photo! Also, Big Announcement.

7PM - MOVIE TIME!  Funniest gay movie in the history of film.

After the movie, bring your ticket stub to the San Diego Eagle  just a couple of blocks away, at 3040 N Park Way  Redeem it for a drink special, and let’s start quoting lines at each other from the movie, while screaming with laughter.

The purpose of the evening is to share joyful times as a large, affectionate Tribe. Sometimes, simple, brotherly fun (such as lots of belly-laughs) is exactly what we need.

Review of Palm Springs Pride 2013's Leather/Fetish Turnout

I'm hoping that more folks can help me to add to this archival information. There's waaaay too much for one man to cover, and it's ALL GOOD NEWS.  I will be snagging other folks' words off of Facebook to supplement what I have in my own files - Papa Tony



I arrived on Friday, and stayed with a dear friend. I had no official duties, but I was in Palm Springs to support Fetish In the Outfield, which has turned out, as of 2013, as the most dynamic and attractive part of the Pride Festival, according the the Pride organizers. San Diegans were specifically requested to show up as support for our Palm Springs brothers and sisters, and my - Didn't we turn out!

Last year there were VERY FEW attendees on Saturday.  For some odd reason, Palm Springs has their parade on Sunday, which caused an avalanche of eager, curious people to arrive in the leather corral on the last day, but things were deadly quiet beforehand.

Drew and Brian doing their bondage and spanking demo.

In 2013, this was NOT a problem. There were as many folks coming through Fetish In The Outfield on Saturday this year, as both days combined in the previous year. Word has gotten around.


Andrea McMillan and Jim Neff have worked like maniacs to spread the word, organize every aspect of the weekend, corral vendors and sponsors, and coordinate a BIG crowd of eager and dedicated volunteers. THIS is how to do it right.

Photo by Andrea, who says: ...a break between workshops. no one wanted to leave!!

Jim says:
I want to personally thank all my San Diego brothers and sisters that came out to Palm Springs this last weekend for Palm Springs Gay Pride. It was a big success- both the leather realm and the leather contingent. We made history as the largest leather contingent in PS Pride Parade history . And we estimated about 5 thousand people came thru the venue over the whole weekend. Thank you all again for being apart of it all. xoxox
My response:
I have to say it: For years, I've known Jim Neff as a visionary. He has the ability to see The Big Picture. He can see when things need to shift, and he can see the direction of a crucial transition that would benefit the largest number of people.  
The attendees at Fetish in the Outfield were just plain HAPPY. The folks marching in the Leather Contingent were in a party mood. The folks watching the parade were ecstatic and welcoming. The volunteers were numerous, and hard-working. We are in a new age.
Did Jim do all of that, all by himself? No, of course not. It took a huge team of fellow visionaries, volunteers and leaders, all working together with a common goal that benefits the maximum number of people. 
But it all started with Jim's dream. I was there when it started, and I want my brothers and sisters to know that history can pivot in a moment just like THAT, when somebody just explains how things can be better when we all cooperate.  
This weekend's results show how we can be, when we are at our best. As long as we revere (and thank) our dreamers and visionaries, then we are always going to get better together.
Andrea worked harder than anybody else, and I bet she was WIPED after it was all over. The effort was entirely worth it, and I hope that she delegates even more next year - She was omnipresent, but I'd much rather see her sitting upon a throne, waving a riding-crop as her underlings scurry frantically to please the QUEEN!



The Parade's Leather Contingent

Seeking shelter from the sun, waiting to get going. 
Photo by Andrea.

As Jim said earlier, this was the biggest Leather Contingent in Palm Springs Pride's history. I dare say that there were very few bigger contingents in the parade, but I have no way of actually knowing that. Being in contingent #105 and #106 tends to distort one's perspective!

The very start of the Palm Springs 
Pride 2013 parade… Waiting to get moving. Video is here.
The Leather Contingent reaches all of the way back to the orange balloons.
This makes a really good kick-off for 
Palm Springs Leather Pride this next weekend!

Instead of marching, I BOOGIED on the Barracks Bar truck the entire time.  Old man, hot sun, great music, constant exercise. Sunburn, despite sunscreen.


At the start, I thought that I would be clever and swing a whip in circles above my head.  BAD IDEA, even if the crowd loved it.  I'm quite expert with a whip, but not on a moving truck that stops and starts. I kept accidentally whacking some poor guy's hand as he stood too close.  I finally gave up trying to control the uncontrollable, and just flicked the whip a little bit from side to side like a cat's tail, as it hung downward over the side of the truck.  Suddenly, people were willing to stand nearby again.

The Leather Contingent is just going to get much, much bigger and happier as the years go by. I hope everybody plans accordingly!



Fetish In The Outfield

Photo by Andrea McMillan, who says: 
 Papa Tony and my neighbor Tom, 
who was not thrilled at being suddenly 
included in the workshop, but went along graciously.

I only attended the festival and Fetish in the Outfield on Saturday - I was pretty wiped out by the end of Sunday's parade.

Click here to see the video of Alex demonstrating 
Florentine Whip style on two hot men from Canada!

Also, I was SATISFIED.  The local team had everything perfectly in control. I knew that the next generation was thriving beautifully.

Happy, happy attendees.

Yet another wonderful, life-affirming and educational tradition has been born, worked expertly  through its beginning stages, and has now arrived as an annual success!

Events Planning 101 Q&A

There will be an "Events 101" panel discussion this Wednesday, November 6, 7PM at Pleasures & Treasures.  It will be moderated by our own Patrick Willoughby, and he sent me a questionnaire that relates to the discussion.  Here are his questions, and my responses, re-posted here with Patrick's permission:




On Nov 3, 2013, at 4:53 PM, Patrick <doubledogg11@gmail.com> wrote:
Tony, I am conducting a meeting this week on the subject of Event Planning 101. The format is interview style by me asking progressive questions to drive a process discussion and educate or inspire members who may want to launch their own event in the future. Questions are as follows:

1. What types of events have you facilitated previously, simple to complex?
Formal Leather Dinner, May 2000.
I had hair back then!

Every kind that most folks could imagine. Fundraisers, statewide car shows, huge weekly dance parties, massive Movie Nights, Men’s Discussions, Cigars & Boots, Gear Nights, Formal Leather Dinners, play parties of every level, Beat & Greets/Hands-On Demos (originally called “Percussion Play Night"), and, I helped design the BELT and HARNESS nights. I created the first Leather Pride ever, anywhere.  Since 1981, I have organized thousands of events (too many kinds to mention here).  It’s just what I do.  I create events, and if they are good enough to repeat successfully, I hand them away.


Gear Night, February 2000
2. How are typical event subjects identified. Request, your idea, team brainstorm
Same as with the Entrepreneurial Imperative: "Find A Need And Fill It”.  I have an unusually keen ability to understand trends by observing crowd behavior.  If I see that there is a need for something new, I do whatever it takes to make it happen, such as the Flog Swarm - I tried to explain it before it happened, but nobody else could see what was crystal-clear to me.  The pieces were all around me, and I could see how they could fit together. So, I basically shoved folks into position and made it happen. THEN, everybody got it.

Whether somebody has the ability to intuitively spot when needs arise or not, the news can arrive in people’s complaints; “How come we never do that thing I want so much?”  That sort of feedback should never be ignored. However, there is a huge difference between having an idea and DOING something about it.  That’s why I structured FMSD to be crowdsourced.  If somebody has a wonderful idea, the rest of us can gather around and support the new idea so that it succeeds.



SDLOG Bondage Workshop, July 2001
3. what resources do you rely on to coordinate an event. Organizations, business owners, support group members, friends, solo performance
It ALWAYS takes a village.  There is no such thing as being a Lone Wolf event organizer - people don’t lend their strength to bossy loudmouths.  Just because somebody (say, me) is visibly ramrodding an event to completion doesn’t mean that there aren’t scads of team-members who are helping to drag it over the finish-line. 

It takes inspirational words from a leader to enroll followers, so that they can lend their resources gladly, and make the event succeed.

Every aspect has to be included - the venue (getting the bar manager to agree to allow the event), the cost (if any), the lead-time for announcing the event (at LEAST a month in advance, preferably two, then announcing it again three weeks beforehand, then one week, then three days before), the ability to spread the word across multiple social-circles (“marketing", 2014-style), and...

Thanking the team (in GREAT detail) afterward. This is not optional. A true leader’s job is to observe during the event, and then lavish lots of HONEST feedback, coming from love and friendship.  If somebody screwed up, then approach them with affectionate suggestions on how to do their job even BETTER, next time around.

If somebody did great, then let them have your honest thoughts with full force. Volunteer-types have a specific personality, and they are keenly sensitive to being taken advantage of, based on ample past experience.  A wise leader knows this, and never holds back on honest acknowledgment.  PUBLIC acknowledgment is even better.  Unfortunately, as I grow older and less able, I can’t remember a particular person's name (even if I used to know it), so my approval doesn’t have the same effectiveness.


My legendary RAMPART dance party, November 1999.
I hosted it every Friday for 2-1/2 years.
4. How do you schedule an event to minimize conflicts with other competing events. Pup contest versus bear quake 
Having excellent social connections is essential.  Even so, I struggle with this quandary. It’s a wildly random social network flowing around us.  The best thing is to announce an events months in advance, so that there’s at least some hope of gaining some “mental real estate” among the folks in the community, so that they plan AROUND your event.


Contestants for Mr. San Diego Leather 2003, 
the year that I ran San Diego Leather Pride. 
May 2003 (Tom Dickerson won!)
5. how do you minimize excessive reliance on the same resources. Bar owners, volunteers, sister organizations
Be open to possibility.  Ask around for options. If you declare a need for a new type of venue (to fit a specific need) on Facebook, as one example, you’ll get back at least three new, valuable ideas that you would never have found on your own.


Motorcycle Interclub Meet at Pecs, July 2000
6. What are the most common failures, issues, problems you have experienced or witnessed? 
1. Bossiness, as opposed to “inspiring the troops”.

2. Not trusting your followers. If they say “ummm - The music is too loud”, your job is to DO something about it, and right away.  NOT to argue with them and tell them that they are mistaken. Each event has to re-shape as time goes by, to fit the crowd, NOT the other way around. Theory has to mingle with reality, every time.

3. Using only ONE social circle (your own, which isn’t nearly as big as you think), and expecting a big turnout, if that’s the goal. It’s best to have at least one team-member who has a HUGE following… The Center, or FMSD, or the Imperial Court, or AIDS Walk, or Auntie Helens, etc. 

Otherwise, three people will show up at your fundraiser, people will wonder why they showed up, your heart gets broken, and we all lose another new leader due to “Rookie Mistakes”.  That’s why I mentor SO many folks, whether they welcome it or not. I know how important MOMENTUM is, in order to create new traditions that the public looks forward to, and will eagerly tell their friends to accompany them next time. 

I also have to include:

4. Failing to love, acknowledge and treasure your team at every stage: Before, During and Afterward. They won’t come back next time. When a club president whines “I have to do everything myself - Nobody will volunteer!”, I look at them, and I know the central source of the problem. No volunteer (no matter how masochistic) likes to be taken for granted, worked to death, and then replaced with some other poor schnook the moment that the first one burns out. That’s abuse.

Inspiring a large team is always better. More work gets spread around, more new people can observe the process and learn from it, and if it’s handled right, every participant will feel that they have a stake in the glorious success that covers us all in a golden glow of shared triumph.



SDLOG Dinner, January 2004
7. What's the best advice you can offer. 
The best currency is not MONEY (despite arguments to the contrary), it’s CREDIBILITY. No amount of money can buy credibility. It has to be earned every single day. Here is how:

- Staying in integrity (never being a flake), 

- Staying with a project with all of your heart, even if the first one has a tiny turnout. 

- At every event, thank folks for coming, and MEAN it. Let them know that they did the right thing by “voting” for you and your event. Don’t publicly and audibly moan that “NOBODY CAME TO MY EVENT”.  That tells your core group of followers within earshot that they are “nobody”.  I wish I could say that this was uncommon, but it’s not. Aaarrrgh.

- Never dream small dreams. The bigger the dream, the more it will excite discussion all over the Internet in places that you would never find on your own. Big dreams go VIRAL, and expand outward. Small dreams die the INSTANT that they come into being, and then everything just stops:  

1. “Let’s create a club!” 

2. The club is created. 

3. “Now what?”  “I dunno - what do YOU want to do?”

4. Repeat step 3 endlessly.



Waxing Demo, November 1998.
8. What do you need help with that someone attending this meeting could offer and better learn the process themselves
I have two HUGE “Family Reunion” events coming up (so far), that will be wildly diverse - Men and women of all flavors:

1. The next Flog Swarm is going to be HUGE, outdoors, and much, much more loving and Tribal. Music (so that everybody can be flogged with the beat), drummers, sage burning, and periodic pauses, so that folks can switch positions if desired before continuing onward.

2. I will be making the big announcement in a week or so, but I am enrolling people in the dream of July 2014’s San Diego Pride Parade containing the largest Leather Contingent in the history of the world. We are aiming for a MINIMUM of 800 people in gear. It will also be the FRIENDLIEST contingent as well. One long, transformational explosion of love and Family for the onlookers to be dragged into with big, happy smiles. More details (such as motivation and payoff) will be coming soon.

Being old, deeply experienced and wise is a HUGE advantage, and that’s why I lend my credibility to so many people. It’s horrid to start from zero, and I see it too often. It’s my self-appointed job to be a Saturn rocket-booster….to get a new leader up to orbit.  After that, it’s his or her job to make it to the stars. I can’t do that for them, but I can love them and support them unconditionally during the process.