Photograph by Fleshblack Images, Brussels

A column written by Bas, Mr. Hoist 2015.

I only accepted myself as a gay man the moment I became a leather man. That experience is something deeply personal, that nonetheless has been shared with the world (and my future employers, thank you google and YouTube) during my speech at IML. But there is so much more to this story, so let me start at the beginning. The setting? Progressive Holland, in a loving, liberal, middle class family. And the protagonist, well, that’s me. You will see it is a story filled with support, void of any struggle, and bursting with acceptance. I know this is not everyone’s story, but it is mine…

Imagine a young man, about 20 years of age, knees trembling as he steps from the central station toward the Warmoesstraat. Just a short walk, toward the edge of the red light district, but to him it was like climbing Mount Everest. Years he had dreamed of going here, to the famous leather bars that lined this infamous street, the sodom and gomorra of his fantasies, glimpsed through books by the Sade and BDSM writings on the internet. He was so close but would he dare? All alone, hundreds of miles from home, his heart beating out of his chest. No one knew he was here, no one even knew he was gay, let alone that much darker secret: his sexual dreams were filled with burly men, moustached authority figures, irresistible, doing unspeakable things. Not only was he gay, he was into BDSM. That young man, with that big secret, found the courage and stepped…

This could be the beginning of a murder mystery. Thankfully it isn’t, because I know that young man very well. It is me. There I was, in front of the oldest leather bar in the Netherlands. Naive but determined, I had finally found the courage to take the train and travel across the country. Calming myself, adjusting the sleeveless white t-shirt I had bought earlier that morning, inspired by Tom of Finland drawings, lacking both the confidence and the figure to pull off the look, but blissfully unaware. There I was, one deep breath and I stepped into the world of my dreams, I stepped…

I stepped into the Argos, and fell right into the arms of a leather Daddy. Fifty something he was, sporting a salt and pepper goatee and a leather jacket. He shook his head disapprovingly about me not having booked lodgings, even though the smile playing around his lips betrayed him: my youthful ignorance amused, aroused him even, vulnerability feeding the Dominant he was. Looking back, I should be thankful he was a Daddy not only in looks, but in spirit as well. He brought me to his home, never entering my personal space, until I asked him to. There, in that bed, that Leather Daddy straight off the pages of 70`s porn magazines and that inexperienced young man had sex. To him, it was probably unremarkable, boring even. To me, it was so much more. He taught me how to give up control. And in that moment I let go of my hangups, let go of the guilt. If something could feel this good, it couldn’t be bad. This was not sex, this was… a transformation.

The next morning, I decided; this was it. I was a leatherman. It should have been the beginning of my journey. And indeed, on my way home, I started writing letters to my family, to my friends, eager to tell everyone what a life changing moment I had experienced. Letters in which I bared my soul and apologised for no longer living up to expectations. In my mind I told them I WAS GAY but even more so, I WAS FREE. I would explore my fantasies, and everything would change.

Well, it didn’t, really. When I came out to my parents, it went horribly….  Nope. A disastrous coming out would make for an interesting story, but my parents were fantastic, as always. The worst bit? My mum saying ‘I just hope you will find yourself, find inner peace, and settle down’.

Then I came out to my friends, my fellow students, my fraternity. Acceptance was everywhere. A shrug, a hug. ‘Well you’re still the same’. And I started to believe I was. As the memory of that night faded back into fantasy, my narrative waned, along with my resolve. No longer was I telling the world I had broken free, that I had started a spiritual journey of self discovery. Soon I was assuring everyone, including myself: ‘I’m still the same. Everything will be the same, just slightly different’. I didn’t show the whole me, just that slightly different side of me, that my world accepted without questioning. And the world that had expected me to fit in before, expected me to fit in now, just slightly different. So I did.

Life meandered onwards for fifteen years. Fast forwarding the memories brings flashes of a partner, moving in together, building a house together, Saturday evenings on the couch, and the leathers locked in a box, away from the eyes of prying mother-in-laws. Female friends asking when the big day would come, friends tying the knot in matching outfits. And then, a breakup, fighting about money. the couch and the TV. You see, just like normal people, just slightly different.

Fifteen years in which I tried to conform to the hetero norms, as was expected. Straight, but with a man. But was that really me?

Slowly, after moving to London, I reawakened. Encounters with people that did not conform, who experimented with new ways of living and loving, reminded me of how a young leather man had once seen endless possibilities. I started exploring again, this time with maturity and confidence instead of courage and ignorance. My leathers, in the background for so long, claimed their rightful spot on centre stage: I entered and won Mr Hoist, and in preparation of IML I dived into our history and was inspired by the heroes of our struggle for personal freedom.

And finally, like a flashback, I again met a man. Him I would call Sir. Fifty something, white beard this time, same leather jacket. During one short month we explored sexual avenues I had not been on previously, and again I was transformed. The shackles that came out at night helped me throw off the ones society had put on me. After all those years, the fire rekindled. I was back on my leather journey.


Sorry mum.

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