Meeting other leather guys
"In the 21st century, it is impossible for today's leather fans, with all the freedom of communication in words and pictures that the internet provides, to understand how difficult it was to find others with the same interests in the 1950's or even before. Since just being gay was a crime in most countries, punishable by years in prison or even execution, it was extremely dangerous to risk being exposed. Besides being a crime, just being suspected of being a homosexual could make you lose your job or get beaten up. Small wonder, that gay leather was not visible; but it was there, underground, waiting for the opportunity to burst out." An impressive statement from Jason, who was 34 in 1950.
Race tracks and motorcycles
So how did gay leather enthusiasts meet? Fortunately there was one male bastion where wearing leather was totally accepted. Both in Europe and the USA, wearing leather clothing for motorcycle racing was recognized even before the 1920's, as necessary protection for such a daredevil sport. It comes as no surprise that gay leather lovers found motorcycles the key to their emancipation. Going to race meetings became a way of seeing other men wearing leather and the possibility that a casual conversation might lead to much more. For those who were able to afford to buy a motorcycle, the next step was to hang out at the cafes and bars which the cyclists patronized.
Meeting other leather enthusiasts at the racetrack, London 1940's.
In the UK, even before leather became widely available and most people still wore cloth breeches, some gay motorcyclists wore a long leather coat. They advertised their interests to others. This led to a method of searching for gay leather friends, by placing an ad in the Personal Column that some motorcycle magazines offered or by writing letters to the editor. Carefully worded requests for information about leather articles or sometimes descriptions of items for sale, by reading between the lines, could be an introduction to a leather adventure.
Exchange & Mart in London also had advertisements of people 'selling' Leather. In the 1930's those ads could be
contact-ads in disguise.
To preserve anonymity, people in Britain needed a secret address which could be obtained by subscribing to British Monomark, Ltd. For a small fee, you obtained a BM Code number at the Company's London address and they would forward your mail. Thousands of people used this system to hide their identity in advertising their interests. To make things easier for the leather fetishist, a weekly London publication called, 'Bazaar - Exchange & Mart' had sections from A to Z of items wanted and for sale, including leather clothing. Even in such a public medium some ads were worded to send a hidden message for those looking for clues to find a leather friend.
Openly gay leather ads
In countries where homosexuality was not a crime (like in the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, Belgium and France) the advertisements have always been more open. In the Netherlands, personal ads of men openly asking for "correspondence and friendship" with other men could already be found in 1949. But even in those countries advertisements clearly asking for leather friends did not appear before the 1960's. Right away these were a very good way to meet other leather enthusiasts. Gay magazines in those days targeted a very large audience. Danish magazines were read all over Europe even in countries where such magazines were illegal. This is the reason why advertisements in many different languages appeared even in magazines that were issued in Danish.
Ads (mostly) from Danish magazines Amigo and MANège from 1965/1966.
Click the non-English ads for a translation in a new window.
We can see a distinct difference in wording between the ads from the continent and the one from the London young man. Where the German ad speaks of "tight jeans" and "not just interested in S/M" the English ad is only talking about "discipline" and "masculine companions".
If you wanted to respond to an ad the normal procedure was that you sent a letter with a picture in a second envelop addressed to the magazine featuring the ad. The magazine would then forward your letter to the person who had placed the ad. This person could in turn contact you directly from then on.
Home made leather pictures from 1964.
Possibly used for responding to a personal ad.
In the UK it was difficult and even dangerous to be open in advertisements. But magazines were very resourceful in creating other ways for people to come in contact with each other. Atomage, a magazine for the Leather, Vinyl and Rubber interested (gay and straight) had its own Correspondence Club for two way anonymous correspondence.
Mid 1970's: correspondence Club founded by Atomage in London,
a magazine for the Leather, Vinyl and Rubber interested (gay and straight).
Sending your pictures in responce to these advertisements had to be done very carefully as well. In the UK it was (even in the 1970's!) an offence to "send any material through the post that could be considered obscene by the postal authorities here or abroad". This was the case for the US too, but in most of mainland Europe laws were not that tight.
Gay Motorcycle clubs
It seems just a small step from meeting each other at the race tracks to founding gay motorcycle clubs. And clubs like that were indeed formed in the US in the mid 1950's, even before most gay leather bars were opened. But in Europe the gay motorcycle clubs were founded much later. The 69-Club in London was the first in 1965, and that was even three years before homosexuality was decriminalized in the UK! The club was founded by Felix Jones (1916-2003) & Tony Hepworth. The name was taken from the famous Rocker Motorcycle club that was called the 59-ers. Again we see how influential these Rockers have been!
Left: Felix Jones co-founder of the 69-club in London.
Right: logo's of European Gay Motorcycle Clubs.
By early 1974 the time was right for a "European Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs" ECMC. The founding members were six motor clubs, three from the UK and one from the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland. Later that year 3 other clubs joined from Germany, Belgium and Denmark, while some others had already showed interest to join on a later date. During the 1970's many clubs would follow from all over Europe. Today the ECMC has over 40 member clubs from 16 countries.
The motor clubs were a great opportunity for gay leathermen to meet others like them. Also in countries were there was no gay leather club scene. The motor clubs have always been participating in gay life in general in a very positive way. Most organize events open to all leathermen. And to help increase aids-awareness among gay leathermen in Europe, the three Dutch member clubs helped finance a brochure "safe sex for Leather men" (in both Dutch and English) in 1991. The booklets were based on an original brochure in German by the Swiss founder member of the ECMC. Three years later the Berlin club would issue a version for the German leathermen.
Early 1990's: information booklet by European Gay Motorcycle clubs.
But there were also leathermen without bikes, for them an increasing number of leatherbars was opened from the 1950's on. We look at them on the next page.