Mama Vi’s keynote to Leather Leadership Conference IV!

Hello everyone! Welcome to Women’s History Month! I’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone for sharing all the content we created for Black History Month! We’d figure we keep going and introduce some gems we’ve found over the years that feature some of the best moments in Kink and Leather History! This first post we want to take you to church…..20 years ago… LLC IV, where @Vi Johnson gave a keynote! I’ve done some extensive research on finding as many keynotes given by Black and Brown folk and it so happens, Mama Vi is a collector of history (considering she’s one of the owners of The Carter Johnson Library & Collection) and sent me all the ones that she had. So without further ado, April 2000, Mama Vi’s keynote to Leather Leadership Conference IV attendees.- Tyesha Best, Owner & President of POCKLE – People of Color Kink & Leather Experience


What a delight to be here looking at so many faces that I know. Thank you everyone for hurrying down to Washington have to listen to me.

What does one say when looking at the best and brightest of the next generation? I wanted to fill you with goals for the future, talk to you almost the same way an aged general gives a pep talk to the troops. I just couldn’t quite find the right way to start. Then a few weeks ago an e-mail was sent to me. It spoke of leaders. It said “Our leaders are the makers of a new world who work side by side with all of us in the task.” A new World.
I thought about that. I thought about what kind of world this vast place would be.

When Jill and I came out into leather in 1973 our leather world was very VERY small. As a matter of fact it consisted of just two. Did I mention that It was small? It would be more than a year before it would expand, but expand it did. On our first foray into an adult bookstore (no that wasn’t the expansion) we found one of the early ads for Eulenspiegel. We went to the meeting and within minutes of walking through the door our world expanded by thirty people.

It’s hard for this younger generation of leather to even begin to understand just how big an expansion that was, with today’s “get it instantly, connect with anywhere technology. As we sat in that room and listened to people sharing stories Jill and I understood that Eulenspeigel had been a first step in coming to terms with our sexual rebellion.

From that point on, the world just kept getting bigger and bigger. What began for us with just Eulenspiegel soon expanded to our first journey into the world of the leather bar. We were brought by the hand, like so many others, and made our first pilgrimage to the Ramrod. From then on a small group of us young citizens warmed bar stools on friday nights listening to the old leather bikers, ask a few questions as we dared, and then leaving early so as not to intrude on the boys space. When they thought we were ready, each of us crossed the street to the forbidden world of the Dockstrip to put some of our learning and courage to the test.

We citizens enjoyed the dazzling parties, given by a maverick and incredibly kinky pornographer named Fred Lincoln. Especially the once a year bash given to honor the birthday of the Marquis De Sade. Fred went on to produce one of the first s/m feature films. He called it “Defiance called it “Defiance”, because its real title, “There is no Aphrodisiac so Powerful as the Defiance of Good” was just too
long to say.

From that party came the realization that we citizens needed a new kind of place to gather, talk and learn that would be like the bars that already existed but a little less predatory and not quite so dark. Leather nightclubs were born. A phenomenon that was unique to the New York area. Those clubs and bars became more than just our watering holes. These places were our village squares and town halls rolled up into one. They never seemed to compete with each other for our attention. And we, as new citizens rolled from Club DeSade to Club O, to Le Scene, to Paddles, to Chateau 19, Club 52 if you were invited (always ending up at Hellfire) with the eager excitement and abandon that was part of our newly created world.

(For those of you who think that Hellfire is dirty now, you should have seen it 20 years ago. I’m sure there were germs on those walls that probably started the plague. It might have been a rats nest. But it was our rats nest.)

We believed that we as East Coasters, had created a leather Utopia. A place where every kinky person was welcome regardless of gender or sleeping partner. We even bragged to the citizens of the countries of San Francisco and Los Angeles that we were having more fun than they.

Every new world needs a form of communication. We wanted to know what was going on in those far away lands and the mother countries of kink, France and England. So we looked to the older publications of Nutrix, Bizarre Magazine, Justice Weekly and the erotic works of New Yorker Charles Guyette. But these publications were erratic. We wanted something that was a little more consistent. Our attention soon turned to the Travelers Companion and the Evergreen Reader. They weren’t always full of the erotic kinkiness that we craved but they “had” published the “Story of O” and some of the works of DeSade. It wasn’t much but we were hungry for information and hey, ya gotta start somewhere. Our patience was soon rewarded with Atomage, then something called Drummer (even though it was aimed at gay men we all read it eagerly) and a host of new and revised magazines.

It was heaven for many years but then our world began to experience changes. To many of us these changes were an intrusion into our private and EXCLUSIVE playspace and we weren’t sure we liked them. Mr and Mrs Polyester started coming to our village squares. We didn’t want to teach them, we wanted them to go away. We no longer seemed to be in agreement about how our erotic lifestyle should be practiced. Our world had gotten bigger and we were experiencing our first real growing pains. The words we used were changing. It wasn’t just s/m any more. It was s/m, or m/s (depending on your view) b/d, d/s and something most of us east coasters really hadn’t cared about much before, gay/straight. Then along came something the citizens of the country of San Francisco were calling GRID, gay related immune disease. It started to decimate our leather paradise. That was it. Many of us surrendered our citizenship and went home.

But, ya know. Once a good thing is our of the closet it will not bury its head again and hide. The leather world EVOLVED, as young civilizations can. The next generation of citizens were more opinionated and less willing to follow the old players. They were eager to re-write the rules for their Brave New World and in doing so teach a few old dogs some new tricks. They took advantage of the printed medium, giving themselves how-to books to read, as well as the advice of good teachers. Imagine that, BOOKS. They could learn in a day or two what it had taken old folk like me lots and lots of time and energy to find. And they had MAGAZINES. Magazines that had far more information than ours ever did. And they were YOUNGER!!! In reality, these new citizens were just about the same age we were when we first started seeking like minds to explore our sexuality. They just looked like babies to us.

As a matter of fact, they looked like younger versions of us, but they had new causes and concerns that we had never thought about. They were talking about gender as a matter of choice not birth. They were carrying things like Hypocleanse in their bags to clean their toys, human or otherwise. They were talking about drugs and alcohol and why they shouldn’t be part of a scene. These new citizens were worried about the law. How and what to do in the event of… We had been so small a group that the law was something we rarely considered. They were raising money for charities and raising consciousness in the process. This next generation was thinking in ways that we never had. We had grown stronger because of the changes evolution brings.

Then along came the 90’s. Gen X was putting its touch on the leather world. This generation of latch key kids was coming into an awareness of their leather sexuality at an even earlier age. When I was first included in a Next Generation discussion I asked them to educate me about the leather community as they saw it. Some of their answers surprised me. One of the founders of “BR The Next Generation” told me that “for her generation s/m is just about the only safe sex. My generation had free love. There wasn’t much that we could have gotten into that couldn’t be cured with a visit to the doctor. The next generation of sexual rebels had to deal with hepatitis a and b. Far more dangerous, but still worth the risk. The world that we passed on contained the message that regular sex equals death.” I found that thought VERY scary.

She went on to say that another commonality of Gen X was that they taught themselves, They found their own answers, then shared them with each other because Mom and Dad weren’t around to help find them. And with leather is wasn’t all that different. They wanted someone to teach them but few people were there, to help or protect. It wasn’t meant to be a condemnation but it sure made me think.

Now a new millennium has dawned. The leather world is evolving yet again. Hopefully getting stronger for the changes. And I am looking out at many of the faces that are the new leaders. As a community we are not just teaching Bondage 101. Now the curriculum includes Roberts Rules of Order, Lobbying Skills, and Coalition Building. Many of the techniques effective leaders will need for the future.

I am also looking at this next evolution with a sense of awe. I see in the eyes of young leather a willingness to explore their own raging hormones without being bound by political correctness and the rules of the Old Guard. In that sense they really are the proud descendants of the sexual rebels that began the erotic revolution. This new leather citizen is not going to be pacified by yesterdays world order. More likely, they will be learning through their avatars at on line universities, and having interactive scenes so realistic that they can be heard seen and touched.

Yet as a proud but hopefully ever learning holdout from the past, I have questions. Will this new world of cyberspace allow a man or woman in Somewhere Wyoming to feel like they belong to the leather community? Or will the information super highway isolate them even more in a fantasy world? Will this next leather generation set some sort of new standards for and with leather education? Or will I get yet another call telling me that a leather person has died in real time because of an on line scene, or psychotic on line partner?

Some enemies and monsters don’t die easily. The laws that threaten our ability to love as we choose are still out there waiting to ensnare us. We can still loose children, jobs and businesses because we are differently pleasured. Lack of understanding tells a great many that the welt of a loving play partner and the black eye of an abusers fist are one and the same. The ISMS that have always tried to destroy our sexual freedom still nibble on all that we have accomplished. The many labels that our community uses to show our diversity are becoming wedges between us. The progress of AIDS has been slowed but not stopped. Hepatitis is now a killer. And these are just the old enemies.

There are new monsters out there that we’ve never had to face. Enemies more insidious because they don’t have to look you in the eye for their poison to be felt. The mis and dis information on the internet about who and what we are, is just as dangerous as the Moral Majority. Maybe more. Hollywood’s willingness to use our symbols, because “sex sells ” and the kinkier the better, may enlighten a few but is misrepresents us to many. The concept that one can meet, date, marry, and divorce without ever having spent “real time” with your partner is something that this citizen of an earlier world cannot even comprehend.

What are the solutions? I don’t know. Let me rephrase that, I’m not sure. I am a history teacher, a relic of the past. And history has shown that yesterdays pieces will not always work in tomorrows puzzles. History can only illuminate the path as you walk it, offering insight but not answers. Yet as I thumb through the pages of this booklet, (hold up the conference program) I have reason to believe some of the answers to my questions and fears may just be in here. Or in the minds of the people who are sharing what’s in here.

New worlds are built of blood, sweat, tears and hope. Those ingredients are the mortar that bind together the foundations of new worlds. and this…is one hell of an set of building plans. (hold program high)

Thank you, young contractors.”- Mama Vi Johnson #keynotes #BlackLeatherHistory #BlackKinkHistory #BIPOCLeather #MamaVi #ViJohnson #LeatherLeadershipConference #WomensHistoryMonth #Leatherwomen #POCKLEWomensHistoryMonth

  • Elimination Phunzo Onyx

    Thank you for this!!

    March 1, 2020at10:35 pm Reply
  • The Carter Johnson Library & Collection

    I remember when I wrote that speech. The Leather Leadership Conference was a new and radical idea back then. The concept of teaching lobbying, or how to start letter writing campaigns were only beginning to take hold in the community. Aids galvanized us as a community and taught us that we indeed *had* political power. This new generation is taking all of that, carrying it forward and adding the strength, ideas and voice of a new generation. I’m very proud of you! KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON!!

    March 1, 2020at10:41 pm Reply
  • Sur JJay

    History in its purest of forms, thanks Mama

    March 1, 2020at11:03 pm Reply
  • Katrina Jean Perry

    How wonderful!

    March 2, 2020at12:25 am Reply
  • Cortney Beth LaValle

    As always, Mama speaks beautifully and asks the questions all of us need to consider.

    March 2, 2020at12:58 am Reply
  • Megan Lubbers

    This speech is as powerful today as it was when it was written. I was not old enough to hear it in its original form, however it speaks to me now. I am and have taken small steps to become the leader those who I hold as mentors and teachers have seen all along.

    Thank You to all who came before me; that fought and bled for my current freedoms. You words and deeds do not fall on deaf ears, heart, or minds.

    March 2, 2020at3:45 am Reply
  • Demitrius Mitchell

    This was so great

    March 2, 2020at12:44 pm Reply
  • Cathy A Haynes

    Thank you for sharing! How powerful and wonderful.

    March 2, 2020at8:29 pm Reply
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