The Intersection of the Queer Black and Leather Communities
Coming into my own in Los Angeles within the queer community was truly a time to live and experience life. Even though my experience was enriching and full of many once-in-a-lifetime memories, it also had more than its fair share of struggles and hardships.
Being black and trans within the queer community (before it was ‘in’ and when trans visibility was at a zero) was very difficult and isolating. And being an unapologetic, black trans artist made things exponentially hard. Unless you fit into the very misogynoir, stereotypical box of what the community wanted, you were often left ostracized. If you didn’t look or dress a certain way, it was often hard. Many queer spaces at the time were still very much underground and very exclusive. My first feeling of community of sense of belonging to the greater queer community was within L.A.’s leather and bear community.
The leather community, to a black girl from the ghetto Midwestern streets of St. Louis, Missouri, was a whole new world to me. The leather scene, while primarily white, cisgender, and gay, was very open and welcoming. The leather community was all about openness and the freedom of sexuality and sexual expression. I soon found myself incorporating not only their dress (harnesses, leather straps, and accessories) but also their forward, sexual nature, and free-loving spirit. And they were welcoming both on and off the stage. I was (and still am) always greeted with warm hugs, long conversations, and genuinely good times. Many of those friendships extended well past the physical confines of their spaces as well.
As I continued to exist within the leather community, I saw how there was very little black and brown representation within the community, and even less trans representation and girls that looked and identified as me. I also saw my own black community’s response to the leather community.
The lack of black and brown presence within the leather community can be, in part, a testament to the underlying racism within the queer community. As the LGBT community rallies around (some) queer issues, the overall community tends to be silent around other marginalized groups, even if they intersect with them. Queer spaces tend to stay mostly segregated and do the minimum to integrate diversity. The leather community, even as I was welcomed with open arms, tends to be a very white, male-dominated space.
The black community’s overall stance on the leather community is one that is birthed from the overall suppression of sexuality, expression, and sexual freedom. Many within the black community cannot understand the concept of a free, open space that celebrates raw sexuality, and often speak to it being a “white” thing. Indeed, falling onto, and calling out the visible racial disparity within the leather community is both the scapegoat and the only fleeting dissection of it. Because of the lack of visible black and brown faces within the leather community, it becomes hard for the larger black community to relate or see themselves within it.
Statistics about race and the leather community are scarce. Due to the fact that the leather community is an exclusive, small subset of the larger LGBT community and the fact while the community tends to be more open towards sexual expression, it is less forthcoming about the dissection of race within their community.
As we continue to make strides as an LGBT community, both in representation, visibility, and self-expression, it’s important that we also look inward. It’s important to look at how intersectionality shapes and affects us within the community, and how it tends to separate and isolate us instead of bringing us together. Regardless of how it may appear, there is so much love and worthwhile experiences to be gained; even if it’s wrapped in leather instead of a bow.