More lessons from Roving Pack – what if leather wasn’t about sex at all?


Last month Sinclair Sexsmith and I sat down and talked about leather writing for Lambda Literary online. They have a new anthology that just released (that I’m in!) and I’d just put out the call for Leather Ever After.  We were talking about our own work and relationship to being leather writers, as well as the books that have been the most inspirational to us and that each of us would consider to be the Leather canon.  It was a fun conversation in general and I’m really grateful to Lambda Literary for facilitating it happening.  The part that ended up being the most interesting for me was the perspective difference that emerged around sex and leather and the ways in which we relate to them and how we see them relate or not relate to one another.

Recently I’ve seen folks refer to me as (in part) an erotica writer. I understand how the assumption is made, after all I have stories published in erotica anthologies and magazines, and I do sometimes write about sex but still, I find the thought of me being considered an erotica writer really really funny.  I know it sounds like splitting hairs, but I see myself as a leather writer, a leather writer who at times adds in more sex than I find interesting to increase the likelihood that a story will find a home in an anthology but in my perspective the sex in the story isn’t ever the focus of what I’m writing.

Mainstream culture, and even the queer community to some extent see leather as being highly sexualized, but for me, leather seldom actually has anything to do with sex. I’ve had a lot of shame and self-judgment over putting that into writing and accepting that as the truth (ohhh the conflations of queerness with sexual actions).  If you’d asked me three years ago when I first began writing Roving Pack in earnest about my relationship to sex I would have given an enthusiastic though disembodied response about how sex is wonderful and incredible and the best thing ever etc. etc. etc. The reality?  The reality that it took me a lot of years to be able to actually talk about?  I’m not the most sexual person in the world, and my leather is almost entirely divorced from any sex life I might or might not be having.

I should clarify (justify?) I’ve had a lot of sex in my life with a lot of awesome (and some not so awesome) queer folks. It has been sex that I’ve wanted to have, but how much of that wanting has been because it’s what I thought I was supposed to want? Or, because it was getting me closer to something I really did want or need?  Let me try to add some clarity…

It’s no secret that the protagonist in Roving Pack is based on me, well he’s based on the past life of a gutterpunk trans guy who I was a decade ago. At some point during the writing process my writing mentor/editor on the book left me a note in the margins about how he felt for the poor boy (main character) who keeps having such bad sex that isn’t actually doing much for him. Those comments, along with a whole lot of other intense personal reflective work that happened to coincide with the writing of this novel really led me to examine more honestly my relationship to sex, and leather. Isn’t it funny how that happens?  How these intense creative projects we take on end up teaching us or starting us on a path of self-exploration that goes in directions we never would have imagined, or at least that’s how it seems to work for me.  I know, and have only recently started really talking about the ways in which I have in the past used sex to come close to the very specific sort of intimacy I crave most, the one that only comes for me through an all consuming full time D/s dynamic. It’s been consensual, but it often didn’t bring me where I needed/wanted to be and once I had the D/s, once my life was literally Neverland (think Peter Pan) bubble of magic suddenly sex became a whole lot less important, and significantly les of a focus.

A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog that was in some ways a beginning of a core piece of how I envision this intentional return to blogging looking. I am of course excited to be talking about the work – what my writing and publishing processes look like, the experience of being on the road and perspectives on events, but I’m also interested very interested being more vulnerable in my blog talking about the ways in which the writing reflects my own personal growth, and sometimes in special circumstances is the catalyst for growth itself.

The blog itself was primarily about the lessons about boundaries that Roving Pack has taught me, and the ways in which I’ve been able to grow There was a line in the blog “my primary partnership is built on love and D/s but not sexual attraction” that was in some ways the most difficult line of the whole thing for me to write, but it’s also the piece and sentiment that has gotten me a shocking amount of positive feedback in the past couple of weeks. Turns out as anxious as I was about talking publically about the ways in which leather and sex are pretty separate for me, and always has been it’s something that many other folks have also been experiencing, often in silence and were really excited to see me talking about being Leather oriented and having a primary partnership that was not built or maintained on sexual attraction.

At my core I see myself as being leather oriented, it’s not that I hate sex or don’t ever want to fuck, but that specific sort of attraction and desire very very seldomely occurs within a Leather dynamic. In fact, those who I most intensely click with around Power are folks that I usually don’t click well with sexually. It’s D/s and leather that I’m most connected to, but it took me a LONG time (a decade) to really accept, own, and cherish that there wasn’t something wrong with me if the most important relationship in my life, where I build my home, where I love and play and create family has minimal sexual chemistry and is instead based on a power exchange and that good sex is something that usually happens outside of that relationship. It took me a long time to realize that’s ok, that it doesn’t make me a bad queer, that it doesn’t make me a bad leather person to say that honestly in the bigger scheme of things that sex just isn’t even that important to me, and it never really has been. Instead Leather, which for me is often profoundly nonsexual, is where my most intimate physical and psychological needs are met— another one of those unexpected places of personal growth I can thank  Roving Pack for.

To be extra clear – I don’t associate this difference with any kind of hierarchy. I don’t think there is a “right” or “wrong” way to relate to/understand/connect with Leather just different ways of being/living/experiencing which honestly for me goes directly back to why I’m so interested in expanding the number of Leather stories in the world. I know that the way I understand myself best is when I’m able to read narratives that I can identify and connect with. It’s a reason I think I’ve struggled so much with being open about the way I relate to sex or Leather because so seldom have I seen the kinds of stories that talk about our lives like this.  I’m very committed to creating and facilitating others writing more stories about the diverse ways we live our lives in leather