Soul of a Second Skin: Spirituality, Christianity and the Leather Community

“When I get flogged, I go into a trance state. That’s the only thing I know to call it. Outside stimuli are simply not present.”

A newcomer looks intently at the heavyset man speaking from the corner.

Another voice breaks in, “It’s like locking onto radar for me. I go on auto pilot and just let the Top take me away. Or at least until his arm gives out.”

The room breaks into laughter, and I glance at my watch. 9:15pm. We’re running over, and they like the building cleared by nine, so I take the hands of my lover to my right and the newcomer to my left.

“I hate to end this so soon, but some of us are going out for coffee afterward, If anyone wants to join us we can continue for a while there. Let’s close in the usual manner.”

Before I close my eyes, I see a circle of 16 men, most dressed in leather or uniforms, grasp hands. Some bow their heads while others like myself turn out faces upward.

After a few words of prayer, 16 strong voices join in a resonating ” In Jesus name, Amen”.

What’s wrong with this picture? Absolutely nothing, and that’s what this is all about.

For a long time, I had compartmentalized my life neatly. There was a box for business, a box for love, a box for sex, a box for family and a box for my spirituality. There is a problem inherent in living in boxes: sometimes things don’t fit.

It was that box that held my Leather-sexuality that I was having trouble with. Through the leather community, I had met some of the most caring, open, honest and passionate people I had ever known. They quickly became part of my family — people so close I could share my troubles and my triumphs. I had further trouble when I began really getting into heavy scenes. The experiences I had were beyond sex, they were almost transcendent, otherworldly encounters. At times I felt a presence larger than that of my partner and me. Sometimes when a scene was really working, I felt connected to existence as a whole.

These experiences tipped over all my boxes and scattered the elements of my life everywhere. I would never again be able to compartmentalize things the same way. It was through these experiences as well as a lot of time spent in 12 step programs that I began picking up my things and putting them in the box called “me”.

“How can you be a Christian and be gay?”

It’s a question I hear a lot, and mainly from my friends in the gay and lesbian community. They identify Christianity with the Bible thumping televangelists who fill the airwaves with their gay bashing rhetoric. To many of them, bigotry wrapped in the pages of the Bible was the wedge that drove them from their families and faith. To them, the very idea that there could be gay Christians requires a big paradigm shift.

I keep my answer simple. I have decided to follow Jesus, and He asks of that I tend his sheep, love my fellows, and live an abundant life. Most questions stop there. Satisfied that I am serious, most of my friends will accept my answer and move on to another topic. In a few cases they follow up with another question.

“But how can you be a Christian and be into leather?”

My answer to that is far more complex. It’s that part about leading an “abundant life”. To me that means embracing all the aspects of my being and living my life with joy. If I do not do this I find myself back in those boxes again, and a person broken into pieces and stuffed away can’t find much joy.

“What does leather have to do with spirituality?”

I truly believe that there are many of us who are “differently pleasured”. We have been given a gift that allows us to experience a wider variety of sensations as enjoyable. As Leatherfolk, we find our lives and our loves outside the ordinary realm of experience. We bring our unique and sometimes unsettling perspective to pain, pleasure, life and love.

For most of the world, domination is a sign of anger and suppression, yet in the context of a leather scene it can be an act of caring and affection. As children we were taught that submission is a sign of weakness, yet in our realm submission becomes a voluntary surrender of power and an act worthy of respect. To some, bondage is a cruel affliction to be fought against. In our community, it can be an experience of soaring freedom and release. Acts of discipline can be punishment, a source of fear and trauma, but when it is part of a “scene” it can be a framework of protocol for our play. We take pain, ordinarily something to be avoided at all cost and embrace it, transforming it into pleasure.

Even the toys we play with are subject to context. The leather whip and cat-of-nine-tails, an instrument known even in the days of Jesus, can be a weapon of punishment and torture. To us, it is often an integral part of our sensuality and sexuality.

This is a lot to swallow for people not familiar with the leather community or our practices. Our leather may seem to be a sign of aberration, a politically incorrect kink that doesn’t belong. To us Christian Leatherfolk, it is a God given gift, which we use in living our lives abundantly.

I am reminded of the fact that to the disciples, the cross was a cursed tree where Jesus was nailed and left to die. Today, we Christians see that instrument of death as a symbol of eternal life. It is all a matter of perspective.

Through my association with the leather community, I have found an inner peace that brought me to the foot of that cross. Now, as a disciple of Christ, I find myself helping others reconcile their faith with their lives. It has been an incredible experience that has transformed me and many people I know.

In the leather world we talk of a “power exchange”, that give-and-take of power and sensation during a scene. In my faith, I have found an even greater power exchange, and as far as I can tell, it works much the same way. The more I give myself to God, the greater I feel God’s power in and around me.

“Can I be into leather and still be a Christian?”

The real answer is far too complex and yet too simple to express. Only my actions can answer that question.