Thick, pungent cigar smoke wafts lazily in the air of the Underground cigar shop and invades my senses. I’m observing the well-lit social smoking area, listening to the laughter and voices of everyone gathered to partake in a long-held pastime of gathering for a good stick, drinks, and conversation. The atmosphere is one of good vibes and fellowship as everyone catches up and relaxes, having a chance to forget for a moment about the raging pandemic and uneasy political climate outside the little cigar shop’s door. As six-thirty rolls around, Master TC calls the meeting to order and announces that the topic of the evening is the different ways of procuring leather in the leather community: bought, gifted, earned, and legacy leather.
A guided conversation ensues: the elders of the Dallas leather community guiding and instructing the leather younglings on a vibrant culture of fluid traditions and the significance of the meaning of each type of leather, and how it came to be and why. Unbeknownst to some of us in the room, as Master Gator comes back from his vehicle with his cover on for what we think is going to be a visual presentation of a Master’s cover, Master TC announces the real reason for tonight’s conversation topic: a gifting ceremony. “Attention to Order!” Master TC’s voice rings loud and clear through the little shop, full of command, presence, and intent. A bright, brand new, orange leather vest appears from a USPS postal package, sheds its plastic wrapper, and is presented to the bewildered, visibly shocked Alice.
Bright red and teary eyed, Alice humbly accepts her vest and tries it on. Master TC continues, “The reason Alice got her vest tonight is because Alice has been working behind the scenes and in front of the scenes for a while now. Ever since she entered the community.” A list of her service work and what she has been involved in ensues, including work and volunteerism in the community with events such as Beyond Vanilla (BV) and Oklahoma Leather Fest (OKLF), while co-leading the group Smoke and Mirrors and her service with NLA-Dallas, in which she is now the Marketing Chair on the EC Board. “I had no fucking clue, you Asshats!” she jokes as the room settles back down from formal ceremony to a gathering of friends and family. Master Gator even chimes in on the fun and says, “There’s kinky with just the feather,” then he turns and points to Alice, “and then there is the Whole God Damn Chicken.” The room erupts into roaring laughter as Alice shakes her head in agreement.
Later, when I ask how she feels about receiving her vest, Alice smiles and says, “I feel seen. I feel respected. I feel loved. And I’m really pissed because they made me cry and I didn’t see this coming.” According to Daddy Eir, the planning for this gifting ceremony has been in the works since South Plains Leather fest back in March, with plans to present her with her vest at OKLF. However due to COVID-19 canceling events left and right, it was decided that her vest would be presented her tonight at the cigar social. According to Master TC, “That’s how this shit works!”
Now as I sit here typing this fondly, remembering the events that unfolded this evening, I can’t help but smile and sit in awe to think I witnessed such a momentous step on Alice’s journey. Tonight Master TC started talking about the path, a mindset, also called one’s journey and I can’t help but wonder what type of future is in store for the Dallas leather community and where we are headed next. Will the pandemic affect us as a community? Will there be events next year? Will the conversations around Racism and monikers further divide us? Will we ever get back to normal? These are the questions that I ask myself during these times of uncertainty as I reflect on my own burgeoning leather path; but for now, I am so proud of Alice and respect the hell out of her for having achieved such a monumental milestone on her journey. For now, I say with a hell of a lot of gusto and enthusiasm, “Congratulations Alice on doing the work and earning your vest!”