When he put this compendium of testimonials from SM practitioners together back in 1992, Thompson probably had no idea he was rounding up what would become the usual suspects whenever “constructive” representatives of the leather community were sought. Since this book was first published, contributors Gayle Rubin, Pat Califia, Guy Baldwin, John Preston, Joseph Bean and, for that matter, Thompson himself, have become constituents of a thriving leather-community press that supports several imprints and a number of serious publications. In the process, they have come to represent that community in the wider debate over sexual politics in the culture overall.
For all the familiarity of the names, faces and opinions that predominate in this collection, the ideas expressed retain much of their freshness and bite. In an era when sexual desire has become confused and attenuated background noise to the clamor of the marketplace, it’s bracing to encounter such passion for the personal expressed in such direct emotional language. Particularly valuable are the recollections of such ur-leatherfolk as Thom Magister (describing his initiation into the very much underground bar scene of the ‘50s) and Jack Fritscher (on pioneering artist Chuck Arnett) in reconstructing the hidden history of the SM demimonde before Stonewall. That a subculture so savagely suppressed could give rise to the rigorous ideals of safe, sane, consensual SM play now generally acknowledged by practitioners of all orientations is nothing if not inspirational. Leatherfolk, in addition to its historical value, offers a refreshing tonic to the cynicism and ennui that prevail in the intellectual discourse of those who consider themselves “normal.”
Paperback: 328 pages