Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Leather, Sex and Spirituality at League of Gentlemen May 4


Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

(Photo of Officer Wes by Corwin: © 2003 by Officer Wes. Used by permission.)

The Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — have historically taken a very repressive position against sex. They have preached that sex is the root of all human evil and it is never to be engaged in purely for the physical pleasure it offers. At times apocalyptic movements within the Abrahamic religions, including early Christianity, have bade their followers not to have sex at all. More often, however, they have compromised their anti-sex position, though only as far as they had to to allow the human race to reproduce at all; they’ve allowed sex only between legitimately married heterosexuals and only for the purpose of making babies.

Now, this is an extreme statement of the Abrahamic tradition believed in by relatively few practicing Jews, Christians and Muslims — and actually practiced by even fewer believers in those religions. But it remains the official “word from God” as preached by those traditions, and it takes an act of rebellion for anyone raised in an Abrahamic religion to explore his or her sexuality for the joy of it — and often a lot of soul-searching before that person reconciles their sexual practices and their spiritual beliefs. What’s more, the more extreme a person’s sexual tastes — the farther removed their preferences are from hetero-normative baby-making — the harder the Abrahamic tradition is going to come down on them, and the longer and more arduous the path of soul-searching, reconciliation and finding a spiritual path that will allow them to be who they are, sexually and spiritually, will be.

The three men profiled in this interview have made that journey and will be reporting on it Friday, May 4, 7 to 9 p.m., at the San Diego League of Gentlemen meeting at the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest, on Vermont Street north of University Avenue in the Uptown District mall between Terra and Aladdin restaurants. They are all Gay men who have adopted a Leather identity and various aspects of the BDSM — bondage, discipline, sadomasochism — sexual lifestyle. In this interview, they discuss some of the issues they will talk about in further detail at the meeting: how they first became interested in BDSM practices, how they struggled to resolve the contradiction between a strong religious upbringing and their sexual desires; and how they ultimately learned to draw from Eastern and pagan as well as Christian spiritual traditions, so they could not only pursue both their spiritual and sexual needs but actually bring them together.

Officer Wes relocated to San Diego from Texas in 2003 and met jeff, his current Leather slave, shortly thereafter. Both he and jeff asked that Zenger’s not publish their last names because, as Wes put it, “if we didn’t live in a fascist state, I might not [object]. But we do.” Steve Sallis, also known as “Captain Hook” for his interest in having hooks inserted into his chest and then pulled out again, suddenly and violently, as one of his particular kinks, was born and raised in rural Mississippi. Officer Wes has an extensive Web site, www.officerwes.com, which features ample information about his activities and what he calls his “Leather family,” to which jeff and Steve belong. A fourth Leatherman, Jonathon Carter, was unavailable for this interview but will join Wes, jeff and Steve on the panel at the May 4 League of Gentlemen event. For more information on the San Diego League of Gentlemen, visit www.sdlog.org

Zenger’s: Why don’t we start with you talking about your backgrounds, how you got into the Leather lifestyle, each of you in turn? Wes, would you start, please?

Officer Wes: For me, it started at age 11. I built a fort in our basement, and in this basement I had a chalkboard. On that chalkboard I drew gauges and dials. What these controlled, in my 11-year-old’s fantasy, were electrical charges being administered to other people’s genitalia. I think it was because I was picked on at that age, and I really wanted to level the playing field and to restrain those people and just torture them. At age 11, that’s where it was for me: a kind, loving S/M. When I had my basement fort, I would fantasize wearing Nazi uniforms.

I remember, too, that was the time when Happy Days was on for the first time, and I remember Fonzie and fantasizing about wearing his leather underwear. Quite where and when that morphed into having a hard-on for biker cops in uniform I’m not quite sure, but just whenever I’ve seen biker cops portrayed, traditionally they’re portrayed as sexy hunks, and that’s what got me. They got my interest, and I really always hoped to find that man to take me. That was my fantasy. And in that search, through the years, I ultimately became that man.

Which quite curiously ultimately led to that man finding me. It’s a real blessing, and my Daddy Barry and I have such wonderfully overlapping synergies. I met him on a motorcycle ride. I was riding my police Harley, and he was guarding an intersection that the group would go through, and when we stopped for lunch I said, “You know, I appreciate that thing you were doing when we pulled through the intersection and you prevented side traffic from turning into the group. What is that? Is there a name for that?” He said, “I would just call it pulling up the rear. I love pulling up rears.”

It had been years since I’d bottomed, but when I’d bottomed I’d grabbed it enthusiastically. I’d just set it aside for a period of time, so here was this handsome man, and I was on it by saying, “Oh, really? It’s been years, but I I love having my rear pulled up.” And He smiled and said, “And I love pulling up the rear.” That was it. We got together in about two weeks, and that was some years ago.

In the early 1990’s I was reading Drummer magazine and finding that the kind of electrical gear I had fantasized about at age 11 was actually available. So I started buying it. In fact, my first purchase of it was in 1992. At that time San Francisco had Leather Pride Week, which was bounded by the Mr. Drummer Contest one weekend and Folsom Street Fair on the other. So you could actually go for the whole week and have all kinds of leather things to do. Rob Amsterdam had opened a shop right then, and my partner Tom and I were their first customers.

The electrical gear was expensive, for me with my price point at that time. so I asked the owner, “Is this really worth it?” He said, “Oh, yes.” That was all it took. I had a surfeit of money at the tiem, so I said, “I’ll take one of everything.” There were steel-gold cock rings of three different sizes, dural cock rings of three different sizes. There were the urethral inserts. There was the power box itself. So that’s how the electrical started getting integrated into real life, from fantasyland.

Zenger’s: jeff, how did you get involved in Leather?

jeff: This is very interesting. My childhood memories, back to perhaps around the same age, 11 or 12, was just an exploratory time of life. I found pleasure in my genitals, and one day I stuffed something down my piss slit and found my cock. It was a matter of trying different things, from glass thermometers to even pieces of rattan broken off from my mom’s wicker clothes basket.

As that went on, too, I had a strong sense of spirit. From that time on for the next several decades, there was a struggle between sexuality and spirituality, and reconciling my sexual orientation with the rest of my life. I ended up getting married and having four kids, and when that marriage ended I decided it was time to really deal with myself as a human being, and for all of these decades I was on a conscious spiritual journey. I found my path in that in 1973, and spent my last three decades really working on that and finding a lot of growth and peace.

Then, in the early part of this decade, I met Papa Tony [San Diego League of Gentlemen founder “Papa” Tony Lindsey]. It was at Brian’s [restaurant in Hillcrest], just after a League of Gentlemen meeting. He was warm and cordial and very sweet. He wrapped those big arms around me and just pulled me into his torso and just hugged me. Over the next months and years he encouraged me to participate in League of Gentlemen, and though this interested me I just flat-out really didn’t know what it was, or was it in me.

Other than Papa Tony, I really didn’t know anybody else there, so I really felt like a fish out of water. Yet I signed up with the League of Gentlemen Yahoo group, and I’d get postings for about a couple of years or so. In 2003, I read about a presentation that was going to be done on Leather 101, and I thought to myself, “That might be a good place to start. Guys wouldn’t be expecting everybody there to know what this stuff was about.”

I read the bio of this man who was going to be presenting, somebody I had never heard of, and this guy sounded very credentialed and very experienced. His name was Officer Wes. The bio said that he was from Texas, and hewas experienced in electrical and flogging and just a wide variety of really kinky stuff. I missed the part that said he’d moved to San Diego recently.

I really thought about going to that meeting, and I had another commitment that I could have got out of, but in the end it just didn’t feel to me the right time and the right place. The day after the presentation, on Thursday the 25th of September, I read postings about what a wonderful presentation it was and what an amazing man this Officer Wes was. I had a spiritual and intuitive overwhelming sense that, for whatever reason, this man was somebody I had to know. But I didn’t know what to do, and so I put it aside mentally.

The very next day, on Friday the 26th, I was volunteering at H.A.R.P., the Holistic AIDS Response Program. I was doing an intake of a client who was in the next room filling out the paperwork. I was standing in the hallway reading something, and I heard someone coming in through the outside door, and I kept reading, and I heard footsteps coming through the hallway, and I kept reading, and then I heard footsteps coming down the hallway, and this person walked right up to me, and I kept reading, and this person came just to my right side and was standing just about a foot from me.

I thought, “I can’t continue reading. I have to look at this person.” I looked up, and there was this really handsome, sexy guy with the most beautiful eyes and the sweetest, most electric smile. He just stood there, looking at my eyes, reached up and started stroking my goatee. Neither of us said a word. We just stood there, and it felt like his heart was just reaching out of his chest and holding mine.

I knew that this man was a man of integrity, of heart and spirit. I had a sense that he was a man that lived his spirituality instead of talking about it, and if I did anything to interrupt this moment, I would regret it. I felt conflicted because I was there officially doing an intake, and I was a volunteer, and this was not entirely appropriate to the moment. At the same time, I knew I couldn’t not embrace it. After a couple of minutes in which this guy is smiling at me, and doesn’t take his eyes off mine, and we’re just locked in this, transfixed in this sweet moment, he says, “Hello. I’m Officer Wes.”

But it was very clear that he was looking for a Leather slave. He had written about what that is for him. He had links to other people’s writing about slavery and the difference between Daddy/boy and Master/slave relationships, and there was a resonance for me: “This really sounds and feels good.” But I wasn’t sure, really knowing nothing about it and never having lived in this way, if it were something I could commit to. I could not, with integrity, call him up or e-mail him and say, “This is me.”

Three weeks later to the day, there was a thread on the League of Gentlemen Yahoo! group about meeting guys and picking up guys, and I saw Officer Wes’s name on one of the e-mails. It was just a very brief posting that said, “I don’t know if this works yet, but I’ve just made up some T-shirts that say, ‘Leather boy wanted.’” And that was just enough of a signal for me to say this might be something I could do and live up to. I started to write him an e-mail and then said, no, I’ll call him. I picked up the phone, and his voice response was great surprise that I had not called sooner because he, in the moment that we met, felt very strongly that this was something that was going to move forward.

I explained to him just exactly what happened and why I hadn’t called him, and he seemed to respect that. He had me come over two days later for dinner, and that was the beginning of my Leather journey. It has been over 3 1/2 years, and I’m the luckiest slave in the whole universe. Master, Sir, thank you, Sir.

Zenger’s: And how about you, Steve?

Steve “Captain Hook” Sallis: My earliest memory is at six or seven. We were staying at my great-aunt Rose’s house in Kusciusko, Mississippi. I couldn’t have been more than seven, but I had these recurring dreams in the front bedroom where the kids stayed that I was tied down on my back, naked, in a room and people were doing things to me. But I didn’t know what they were doing. All I knew was that people were doing something to me while I was tied down. That’s the first time I remember being aware what a hard-on is, not really knowing what it was all about, but knowing that this part got hard. I thought it turned into a finger and then it turned into something else. And it scared me.

I grew up in the country, in Oxford, Mississippi. I was a country boy, and there’s bumpy roads, and there’s cuts and bruises and scrapes and falls and all that stuff. I found out early on in life that I have an extremely high tolerance for pain. I was raised Baptist, and all that awful stuff that goes along with that, and the very conditional love of a spiritual deity is what I was taught. That just didn’t work for me. I fought it from day one. I just didn’t like it. It was where I had to go on Sunday.

Fast-forward through some years in college and some years in the Navy, and a hell of a lot of not looking at myself as an individual or as an adult at all. Along the way I started experimenting more and more with kinkier and kinkier things, maybe out of a sense of boredom or just a lack of inhibition.

Wes: That reminds me. A sense of adventure?

Steve: Yes, maybe a sense of adventure, too, but always and evermore after a bigger, gnarlier, longer-lasting sex scene or orgasm or whatever. It was all very physical, though, because at this point I still didn’t consider myself spiritual, Baptist, agnostic, atheist, none of it. It was just a non-issue for me. I was very much self-centered and self-seeking all the time.

About four years ago, I got my head screwed on right and quit alcohol and drugs, and part of that self-inspection was trying to discover what a deity would be for me, what my belief system was. After a few years of tinkering around in that, and being around a group of people who were very open about their Leather and BDSM play and sexuality, it just became very easy to open up and let that start happening again.

I had done things under the influence of drugs and alcohol that most people would never even consider doing, much less do them over and over. But I did them very much out of the wrong sense. I did them out of a sense of shame and guilt and all that other stuff. It was that mean, nasty side of me that wanted to — it was all self-defeating behavior, and it was all anchored in the wrong — all the right things for all the wrong reasons.

I found out a couple of years ago, about 2 1/2 years ago, that with the endorphins, I was able to begin to connect with my God and Goddess, one-on-one, direct, no pictures, no books, no anything else. Just me and mine. Since then my spiritual journey has been one of Leather and spirit through the use of endorphins, mostly generated by me receiving play that generates endorphins, but also lately on the other side of it, the flip side of it, being the giver of these endorphin trips and actually being able to ride a bottom’s waves and takes off.

Twelve years ago, meditation was beyond my capabilities. Now I can stair-step myself into it. Having learned once how to get somewhere, I can always get back there. But it took a shock to my system to do it. My play started out with needle play with Officer Wes’s partner, and it’s gone to flogging and whippings, heavy ball play, cuttings, blood play, urethral play, shaving scenes, anything having to do with mild, moderate or some severe, some types of severe pain. I’ve found out I can’t stand to have my ass whipped, but my thighs and my back are open. It’s all fair game.

So that’s where I am today. I can choose to turn any scene into a very overtly sexual, physical scene, or I can invite spirit in and turn it into a much warmer sexual scene, or keep it on a purely spiritual level. In all of my play I make sure it’s good for me and it’s good for the person I’m playing with, and that they are cognizant and capable and confident enough to make good decisions about what they’re doing. Then I invite spirit in, in my own way. I pick up different things from different faiths or belief systems: some Baptist, some Buddhism, some Wicca, some \nature-based groups. I think we can take what we want from all of it, and discard the rest, and just build our own.

I built my own system. I built my own faith, my own beliefs, That allows me to play very openly and very freely, within my own mind, and invite anyone in that wants to come. But they don’t have to. I can do it on my own and be playing with someone who’s there strictly for the physical aspect of it. I don’t have to have that input from them. Or I can use it with their tacit approval. So that’s my story.

Zenger’s: What strikes me is that we’ve all grown up with a religious tradition that says — that is very, almost viciously, anti-sex. In the Abrahamic tradition from which Judaism, Christianity and Islam all emerged , sex is considered evil: a necessary evil only insofar as we have to allow the race to reproduce by allowing sex between two married people, just to make babies. Everything else is wrong. So how can people who’ve grown up in a society where that’s the quasi-official religion say that sex and spirituality interchange in your lives, and the one actually brings you to the other?

Steve: For me, personally, I had to throw off the yoke of what I had been told was proper behavior, and I had to discover for myself what was appropriate behavior for me. I always had a problem believing that something that felt so good as sex/orgasm/that close emotional bonding could be wrong or bad or evil. It just could not be. It didn’t jibe with the book, the Bible. So my whole focus in all of this has been to find what I believe.

Wes: It’s important, I believe, to be aware that our country was founded by Puritans. These were religious fundamentalists who believed that the way their religion was being practiced in England was not pure enough. So they were willing to come to the Colonies to have some more freedoms, which in time became removal from England and the establishment of the United States. And, in the minds of the people who founded the U.S., this meant freedom from an official religion, because these people had endured an official religion and all the baggage that goes with that.

People conveniently forget that. People proclaim that we’re a “Christian nation.” That simply is not true. There are certainly more Christians in this nation than people of any other religion, but we are not a Christian nation. By our founding, we are explicit not an anything nation. It is the law. There is no official religion.

jeff: For me, I was raised in a Protestant Christian home. My father was in the Navy, and most of my early spiritual upbringing was in a nondenominational chapel setting. So there was, I think, a sweet opportunity to learn the good of what Christianity was about without the dogma of a sect called “Christianity.” My mother was from New England, so even though the religious training at home wasn’t that sex was bad, her family was D.A.R. types, back to the 1600’s. So that Puritan ethic is very inculcated into the DNA of the family.

My dad was a naval officer who was just a tyrannical fuck, and anything that a kid might think could possibly set him off, one avoided at all costs. And that by no means meant you were safe from anything. So growing up in my spiritual life, it was really about the good things, and I believed, and I sensed the truth in, the essence of Christ’s life and Christ’s teaching. As I grew and had exposure to it, participating in high school in an ecumenical youth group, reaching out to Catholics, in time I saw that essentially there was a common sense of spirit and truth in all religions of the world.

The intent of religion is not about imposing restrictions and rules and dogma, but essentially it is to help us achieve what Steve described as making that personal connection with the divine, whatever that is for us. When I found that path in 1973 for me, it was in a church that the founder called the “Church of All Religions,” and he deliberately embraces all religions and the truth underlying them, sans dogma and doctrine. It’s a meditation-based, Eastern- and Christian-based church, that embraces those teachings specifically.

Even with that, and the liberalness of that, my Puritanical upbringing has had me really stuck for years. It was in meeting Officer Wes, and really having a sense of his spiritual nature and that truth, that I was able, in my journey as his slave, to to integrate my innate spiritual heart and soul, my spirit, and my spiritual practices with physical expressions of sexuality, of living the truth of my spiritual practices in my relationship with him as his slave, being of service.

His primary standing order for me is to go forth with my loving heart, and to spread love and joy, and to be of service. So it dovetails perfectly with my own spiritual life. It became very apparent to me early on that they’re integrated and harmonious, and really indistinguishable.

Wes: We’re living in a strange period of time right now where there are polarities that are in large part created by our government. We’re pissing off the Muslim world, and it’s very sad to me. But to keep looking back, the Oriental tradition, the Chinese tradition, the Tao and the Buddhist, is to view things as unity. That viewpoint says that everything, good and evil, is part of the same whole. Western thinking starts with duality: that there is a separation, something is “good” or it’s “evil.” And that’s how some of this bifurcation of spirit and man happens here.

Steve: It’s been my experience with the people that I’ve played with that very few, if any, people that have had a hard-core belief in mainstream organized religion will bring spirit into the play. It’ s more likely that they need something either physical, chemical or situational to take them away from all they’ve been taught, in order to be open and uninhibited. They will be as vocal about their religion as they are twisted when they get into an altered state, however they need to get to that altered reality.

I have a high tolerance for pain. I love the endorphins, but I’m not a pain pig. I’m not after the pain. I’m after the endorphins, the connection with the greater, higher power. It’s a path. It’s a mode of transport, maybe. With a pain pig, it stops at the pain. They are not after the endorphins. They’re not interested in what the endorphins can do for them. They want the pain for whatever their reasons are.

It’s been my experience that true pain pigs are usually not very happy with themselves about something. There are underlying things going on that make them into pain pigs. It’s easy to take advantage of people like that, I think, because they don’t put a lot of thought into what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. It’s an almost subconscious need to be belittled or humiliated or hurt. It feeds into their religious upbringing, because what they’re doing is inherently “wrong,” according to everything they’ve ever learned.

In my case, it was very hard to throw off the yoke of Christianity. It was much too limiting for where my imagination was going. Now I just ask myself four questions when I want to play with something new: a new kink or a new fetish. What are my motives? What are the consequences? Am I hurting myself? Am I hurting anyone else? And if all of those answers are positive, then it’s good to go.

Wes: When you were talking about how you’re interested in the endorphins as a vehicle for consciousness, it’s my hypothesis that this duality that we’re taught in America, that is sometimes brought out as “the mind/body connection,” it’s my belief that endorphins help quiet the “mind chatter,” so that we feel the divinity that’s always there.

jeff: That works for me, Sir. And if it would please you, Sir, in the 30 years I have been on a specific spiritual path, in meditation I’ve learned to connect with my own heart and spirit, and to experience bliss and joy and overwhelming gratitude. The essence of spirit is to connect with the divine. That’s a lot, because if one talks about God the absolute creator of the universe, that’s kind of impersonal and hard to wrap one’s own mind and consciousness around. You need longer arms.

Wes: It’s my experience that, as someone’s dancing partner, when I’m in top mode — when I’m in bottom mode, but especially in a top mode —having some way to help focus on the moment is very, very helpful: a way, a discipline to help quiet the mind and be fully present. On the bottom side it’s helpful as well, but the top can take you there. Master Skip refers to it as the flogger can just whack after whack, saying, “Be here NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW!” So from either perspective, it’s helpful to have a background in something like meditation, to help be present.

Steve: For me, it’s focus. It’s pure, unadulterated, right-here, right-now. Nothing before, nothing after.

jeff: And there certainly is an immediacy of leather biting flesh in a flogger or single-tail, or clothespins being ripped off the flesh in a clothespin-zipper; fingers pinching, twisting and torturing nipples; steel-toed boots impacting testicles; that really bring you into the moment. It is very centered. It is very focusing. It is very much in the now. It’s hard for the mind to go anywhere else but right here, right now!

Steve: The only time that I’ve ever been both selfish and selfless at the same time is in a scene. That’s my duality that I try, that I’m hunting for, is to be able to be, in being completely selfish, to be most giving, purely giving, selfless, “I want what you want. Give me what I need. Give me what I want,” all at the same time, whether I’m a top or a bottom.