Learning leather bars is different from learning life outside the closet. Read about it below.

In the room downstairs, a strobe flashed over mounds of muscle and harnesses. Men slipped in and out of shadow. I couldn’t tell if they were dancing or fucking. I later understood that to be the point. 

Upstairs, things were different — a quiet dive bar, people milling around wooden tables. Someone was choking on a dick in the corner. His gagging noises mixed with the music and talk. A circle of men stood around him and I didn’t dare peek through. On the dance floor, I inched close to a guy with salt-and-pepper hair who was wearing a leather kilt. We made eye contact, he came in close. He put his arm around me and shouted in my ear, “Where are you from?” 

My newness was obvious. “Georgia,” I shouted back. He held me, we swayed with the music as he rubbed my chest. I relaxed. Then he pulled my hand under his kilt: a fully erect dick with a massive Prince Albert piercing jutting through the head. He pulls my hand and I follow him through the throng. 

Lessons came later: dos and don’ts, codes and courtesies, good nights and bad ones. Learning leather bars was different from learning life outside the closet. I never feared coming out — but kink scared me. 

Fear coupled with desire leads us all here — eager, fresh-faced, and ready to learn. Here’s 35 rules of navigating a gay leather bar. 

Most of the photos in this gallery are by Advocate contributor. They were taken mostly at the Seattle Eagle, but some are from leather and kink events, like the yearly IML in Chicago. 

A word of warning from Alex Cheves.

My name is Alexander Cheves, and I am known by friends in the kink and leather community as Beastly. I am a sex-positive writer and blogger. The views in this slideshow do not reflect those of The Advocate and are based solely off of my own experiences. Like everything I write, the intent of this piece is to break down the stigmas surrounding the sex lives of gay men.

Those who are sensitive to frank discussions about sex are invited to click elsewhere, but consider this: If you are outraged by content that address sex openly and honestly, I invite you to examine this outrage and ask yourself whether it should instead be directed at those who oppress us by policing our sexuality.

For all others, enjoy the slideshow. And feel free to leave your own suggestions of sex and dating topics in the comments.

Hungry for more? Follow me on Twitter The Beastly Ex-Boyfriend

A word of warning from Alex Cheves.

1. DO come as you are.

Last Pride, the outdoor deck of my local leather bar was standing-room-only, a swaying mass of sweat and skin. Furry pecs were buckled down in black leather straps, asses were out, and every few minutes a man stood, coming up for air, before dropping back to his knees. 

Most were gay men, but some femdoms (female dominants) were in attendance. They spilled out the front and back entrances onto both porches, into the parking lot, down the sidewalk and around the block — men in various states of dress and undress. Some were decked out in full-body leather (“full cow”). Others wore jeans and t-shirt. Some, like me, wore almost nothing. 

Every body type was on display. Large folks of every gender strutted jockstraps. Skinny kinksters slinked through in latex. Countless guys like me — guys who work out but still eat donuts, who keep their beards trim and bellies natural — felt confident to lose shirts (and more). 

You don’t need to fit a mold — there is none. The lovely thing about my hometown leather bar — and about leather bars across the world, and about the communities they serve — is the invite for everyone of every size. Different bars and clubs have different policies — some require gear, some require you to get through a selective doorman, some are male-only — but these are few. Most are open to all kinky people, and kinky people come in every shape, size, gender, and color. Come as you are.

1. DO come as you are.

5. DO be respectful of the bar’s intended clientele.

If you find yourself at a leather bar and are, for whatever reason, not kinky, not into leather, not into the people who are part of leather/BDSM, then you’re not the intended clientele, and you may want to go elsewhere. 

Even if you’re in the LGBTQ+ community and you walk into an implicitly queer-dominant space, as most leather bars are, and are not into the sex lifestyles leather bars celebrate, you’re the equivalent of a bachelorette at any gay bar in America — an unwelcome nuisance potentially ruining the space for people who care about it more than you do. 

5. DO be respectful of the bar’s intended clientele.

7. DO respect collar code.

Locked collar = he’s taken. He has a partner, owner, daddy, handler, committed boyfriend, master, or sir. Behave accordingly. 

If he’s not wearing a collar, there’s no one else in the picture, and he’s free to play. If he has a collar with an open, unlocked lock on it (surprisingly difficult to wear without it falling off), he’s un-collared/single/free but looking to get locked down (i.e. he’s hunting for someone, whether that’s a BF, sir, daddy, and so on). 

7. DO respect collar code.

11. DON’T freak out if you see public sex.

You’re more likely to see public sex happening at a leather bar than, say, your classic tinsel palace gay bar with boyish go-go dancers and Top 40 hits blaring over a busy dance floor. Leather bars are implicitly more sexual, because they cater to a community that defines itself by the sex its patrons enjoy. Know what you’re walking into — don’t freak out.

12. DON’T touch without permission.*

You should never touch someone without their permission — this is a rule of life and is true 99.9% of the time. The only circumstance where this rule gets challenged is in a lights-out space made for anonymous play — spaces which exist in some leather bars, gay sex clubs, gay bathhouses, and so on. 

In these spaces, you waive a degree of consent by entering them, and consensually submit yourself to being touched by people you cannot see. This is why we enjoy these spaces. They can be uncomfortable for people who don’t understand what they are or aren’t prepared for them. 

In all other cases, never touch someone without their permission — even and especially in a leather bar, when you may be tempted to assume a “free pass” for touching because of the heightened sexuality of the space. Sure, on some dance floors, with some substances, people get touchy-feely. You know how to do this, you’ve navigated this before — that dance floor feeling when you’re crowded together and everyone’s hand is on everyone’s crotch. While it’s difficult to parse through where consent falls in situations like this, it’s wise and respectful to maintain the importance of asking first in all situations.

If someone is tied and gagged and being led around via collar and leash, ask the person holding their collar. If you’re in a sling room and a guy is in the sling waiting to get fucked, he’s giving nonverbal consent to at least come inspect him. It’s still polite to ask before touching him, but by being there he’s giving a degree of consent to be viewed. (If he’s blindfolded, as I often am, he’s forfeiting a hefty amount of consent — he’s willfully handing over the reins. Consent gets nonverbal in situations like this.) 

At first glance, kinky sex spaces make consent murky. Upon second inspection, you’ll see where consent is given. In some cases, it’s given by simply setting being in a particular situation, such as with lights-out backrooms. In all other circumstances, never touch someone without their permission. This is the fine line between consensual sex play and assault. The kinky community does not condone assault and never will. 

18. DO read up on the hanky code before you go.

The hanky code has survived in kink. Some say the hanky code was always part of kink, BDSM, and the leather community — that it never existed outside of it. Others say it was once a mainstream feature of gay life, regardless if you considered yourself kinky or “vanilla” (non-kinky). Others ask a more obvious question: Were gay men ever vanilla? 

The hanky code has vague roots, but we know it started in the 70s (or earlier) as a covert way for gay men to communicate what kind of sex they were looking for in the pre-internet, pre-Grindr, pre-mobile phone, pre-revolution days. When cruising seedy neighborhoods and underground dives could get you killed or arrested — before AIDS hit its peak — we invented a code of wearing colored hankies in the back right or left pocket of our skintight jeans with colors dictating what sex we were seeking. Right pocket meant you were bottom/submissive. Left pocket meant you were top/dominant. 

Most of the hanky code is lost to antiquity. Some of it would be considered racist, or at least problematic, in today’s milieu. Bone up on the more obscure colors of the hanky code with my guide written for today’s kinky cruiser — “69 Ways To Cruise With The Hanky Code Today.”

25. DO support leather bars — especially in places outside your city.

Leather bars are disappearing. Thank gentrification, an evolving social climate, a world of tech, and a million other factors. Even the classic, non-leathery gay bar — the drag queen palace, the queer dive, the limp-wristed cocktail lounge, gossip central — is rapidly becoming a artifact of years past, pre-Grindr nostalgia: a throwback to that simpler time before we found sex partners with a simple click. 

Leather and the sex communities synonymous with it — kink and BDSM — have transferred its arena of instruction to websites and blogs. As various internet entities crack down on adult content, we may now reasonably ask how kink and leather will survive. Thankfully it will, because there are a lot of kinky people out there. Regardless what you feel about the scene, about leather bars, or about any social interpretation or perception of what we do, there are a lot of people who enjoy getting tied up, who enjoy dominance and/or submission, who like wearing leather, and who want to be seen wearing it. Kink will change — it won’t die. 

Support leather bars. Give them your patronage. In many cities, the local leather bar is the last vestige of a public kink community, the last haven for sexual deviants, people who want and enjoy more than simple, vanilla sex with the lights on at the foot of the bed. If you want more out of sex and want to be around people who do, support our spaces. We need you. 

30. DON’T take leather competitions too seriously.

Some men and women in various kink scenes (leather, rubber, pup, bootblacking, and so on) compete for titles. If they win, they’re “titleholders,” and will hold title for a year — their “title year.” That’s the simplified version. 

Winners go on to compete in state, regional, national, and international competitions (the international leather competition happens every year in Chicago, Illinois, and is sensibly called “International Mr. Leather,” or IML). Generally speaking, winners are expected to compete for community service, for some clearly-stated cause. In the beginning, we raised money for AIDS awareness and advocacy. Some titeholdes have made it their mission to fight for homeless queer youth or LGBTQ people overseas. All are expected to care about the leather community and its history. 

Competitions include a degree of pageantry and some public speaking. As an attendee at some of them, I can say they’re a lot of fun. They bring our community together. But as always happens in anything involving winners and losers, politics and infighting can sour them. 

Competitions are fun and made to do good, to give back. They’re not meant to be taken too seriously. Enjoy them. Enjoy the spaces where they happen. Enjoy the people you meet at them. 

31. DO learn the history of the leather bar.

It’s important. Patrick Smith, the 37th International Mr. Leather titleholder, created Leatherpedia for this purpose — to pass down info on all things kink. Other organizations like the Tom of Finland Foundation and the Leather Archives and Museum (LA&M) do good work bringing leather history out of obscurity and into public record. Leather bars and their clientele were among the first to mobilize against AIDS. Some of the first gay bars in the United States were leather/kink-catered. Learn your history! 

33. DO ask the bartender about the scene — particularly if you’re in an unfamiliar city.

Touched down in a new city? Go to the nearest leather bar. The bartender (or someone there) will be able to tell you where to go, what places sell gear, what parties are happening, where the guys cruise, where the gayborhood is, and so on. 

You might say this is true of all gay bars — not so. Many dancey, disco-ball pop bars hire hot straight hunks with no clue about the scene. This is frustratingly true for many gay bars that cater to non-kinky clientele. 

Being a bartender at a leather bar is different. It comes with a certain degree of responsibility. Your bartender may not be an Abercrombie & Fitch model with washboard abs. He may be a seasoned, bearded gentleman with a red hanky is his back pocket, a man who’s seen everything, with a fat septum ring in his nose and hours of stories at the ready. Treasure him, this patron saint of the gay leather bar. Some of them have delicious nicknames — “Daddy Sal,” “Pete The Pig,” or simply “Grunt” — and they know where to go. They’ll size you up immediately as a newbie and give you the lowdown. Tip generously when they fix you a stiff drink. 

35. DO try more than one.

If your first night at the nearest leather bar is a letdown, try again. Avoid sweeping summations of the scene from a few experiences. If you decide your nearest one is not for you, go to a gay leather bar in New York City (Eagle NYC, The Cock), San Francisco (Powerhouse, Eagle SF, 440 Castro), Los Angeles (Eagle LA, Faultline), London (Eagle London, The Backstreet), Berlin (SO MANY). You may not have to travel far. More cities have bars with leather, fetish clientele than you think. Explore! 

A willingness to try new experiences is crucial — it’s kind of the whole point of kink. The more you grow, you’ll learn the crucial role that leather bars play. They give our communities ground space — a place to exist that isn’t digital. They deliver the irreplaceable experience of interacting with each other. 

In case you haven’t realized this yet, your sex life is important. When you go to a leather bar, you take a step into this idea that we can build a community based around what we like, how we want it, and how we play — and we do. Welcome to the family.

BLUF Blog: Classic Meets Fetish Berlin 2021 – Musicians Wanted

Are you a professional musician? Would you like to perform in your fetish gear to a large audience whilst also supporting other gay men in the process? Then we’d like to hear from you!

CLASSIC MEETS FETISH is a classical music fetish event that takes place every year at Folsom Europe in Berlin. Just like our average audience of about 350 guests, our musicians come from all over the world in every shape, size, and fetish. The proceeds are donated to gay charitable organisations.

CLASSIC MEETS FETISH Berlin won the X Award for the Best Gay Fetish Event 2017 and was dedicated an article in both the online and print versions of the New York Times on 29 October 2019, the same year that we were visited by a team from RBB local television. Nonetheless, we understand that some of our musicians prefer to remain as anonymous as possible and do what we can to protect their privacy.

As we are planning a particularly special event this year, we’re also looking for some new faces and instruments to join our core team of musicians in our 90-minute classical music concert held at the Zwölf-Apostel church in Berlin-Schöneberg, only a

Are you a professional musician? Would you like to perform in your fetish gear to a large audience whilst also supporting other gay men in the process? Then we’d like to hear from you!

CLASSIC MEETS FETISH is a classical music fetish event that takes place every year at Folsom Europe in Berlin. Just like our average audience of about 350 guests, our musicians come from all over the world in every shape, size, and fetish. The proceeds are donated to gay charitable organisations.

CLASSIC MEETS FETISH Berlin won the X Award for the Best Gay Fetish Event 2017 and was dedicated an article in both the online and print versions of the New York Times on 29 October 2019, the same year that we were visited by a team from RBB local television. Nonetheless, we understand that some of our musicians prefer to remain as anonymous as possible and do what we can to protect their privacy.

As we are planning a particularly special event this year, we’re also looking for some new faces and instruments to join our core team of musicians in our 90-minute classical music concert held at the Zwölf-Apostel church in Berlin-Schöneberg, only a