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The evolution of leather

Changes in ownership, location, technology contribute to morphing BDSM scene



MAL, Mid-Atlantic Leather, gay news, Washington Blade
MAL, Mid-Atlantic Leather, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

There’s a lot of change in the air with the D.C. gay leather community. As Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend is in town for its annual festivities, we decided to ask around and see if the changes are just coincidental, natural evolution of a maturing scene or indicators of a larger cultural shift of some type.

The bottom-line answer, not surprisingly, is that it depends whom you ask.


But first, the particulars.


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• The Leather Rack, still gay-owned but under new management, has a new name. Now known as Adam & Eve, it’s still at 1723 Connecticut Ave., N.W. (location of the nearly 40-year-old business since 1991) but is a slightly different shop.

“We felt the name attracts a broader audience, not just gay guys into leather” current owner Russwin Francisco, who bought the business from James McGlade (who’d owned it since 1994), wrote in an e-mail. “We do love gay leather guys and we’ll support the leather community in any way we can. We simply want to ensure that other folks with other sexual fetishes feel as comfortable in our store regardless of gender, sexual orientation or identity. Consequently we are offering women’s fetish wear, toys and accessories along side our men’s [items].”

Francisco is gay, married to a man and has been in Washington for more than 30 years.

McGlade didn’t respond to requests for comment but said in a press release issued when the change became official in November that he was “grateful for our time here as the Leather Rack” and “we wish to thank you for your patronage and endorsement over the years.”

“Jim is a good friend,” Francisco says. “It was a natural transition.”

• As has been widely reported, the D.C. Eagle’s days at its current location at 639 New York Ave., N.W. location are numbered. The most recent official comment was that owners would be there through the end of March via an agreement with the developer of a high-rise office complex that will displace the Eagle and other businesses in the area.

Eagle owners and management staff are being tight-lipped on their plans. Repeated phone calls, e-mails and Facebook messages to Ted Clements, Peter Lloyd and Carl Domer went unacknowledged this week.

Eddie Ortiz, president of the D.C. Boys of Leather, says he sees Clements regularly and though he can’t offer anything official, he understands an announcement is imminent. The Boys have a monthly bar night at the Eagle, as do many of the local gay leather groups.

“I understand the owners do have a location identified, but they haven’t given me a location yet,” Ortiz says. “I think they’re going to announce it over MAL weekend. Ted is the one I talk to a lot.”

David Merrill, who’s gay and DJs the monthly fetish/gear party CODE, says it’s never wise to count the Eagle out.

“We’ve heard rumors of the Eagle’s imminent demise multiple times in the past and, of course, those rumors turned out to be greatly exaggerated,” Merrill says. “I’m certain they’ll open in a new location.”

The Baltimore Eagle, however, hasn’t been as lucky. It closed last month at its 2022 N. Charles Street location and its fate remains uncertain. The estate of former owner Richard Richardson, who died suddenly in 2007 (he’d purchased it from Tom Kiple in 1995), had been running it in recent years. New owner Charles Parrish did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

In the meantime, many in the Baltimore gay leather community have moved over to Leon’s Leather Lounge, known casually as “the Triple L” at 870 Park Ave.

Rodney Burger, president of the ShipMates Club, which had called the Eagle “home” since the bar opened in 1991, said the last night it was open was memorable.

“It is my understanding that the new owner plans to turn it into office space,” he wrote in an e-mail. “How fitting that the last Saturday the bar was open was our ShipMates’ Daddy Christmas benefit. The bar was packed and we raised $3,000 for Moveable Feast. We closed the bar with a bang.”

He also said Triple L owner Ron Singer made “a nice offer” and they plan to continue meeting there.

“I just hope we can get in there to clear out our trophy case and banners,” Burger said later in a phone interview. “There’s the entire history of the Baltimore leather scene in there including banners from some clubs that haven’t existed for 30 years or more. I’m actually having nightmares about losing this stuff — we need to make sure we can get in there and get all that safely out. I hope it’s OK and doesn’t end up in a dumpster somewhere.”

Those active in the Baltimore leather scene say they’re hearing the Eagle could reopen elsewhere, but nothing definite is known.

“I’ve heard everything from three to five months, I’ve heard longer, the rumor mill is full of stuff,” Rik Newton-Treadway, known as “Hooker” in the leather community there, says.

MAL appears to continue thriving and local gay leather enthusiasts say it’s a major highlight of their year and remains popular with both locals and those who come from out of town.

“There’s always a huge percentage of local people at MAL,” Merrill says. He’ll be spinning his “deep house” and “progressive tribal” music at two special CODE parties at the Crucible this weekend. “I think most local guys into some part of the leather scene make it to at least one of the MAL events. There are so many things to do over the weekend — dance events, play events, times to socialize, the cocktails the Centaurs do — there’s a little something for everybody. That’s one of the great things about the leather community — it’s so diverse.”

Ortiz, whose Boys group is having its own free party/dance tonight at 10 in the Congressional Room at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill (the sold-out host hotel), says he “can’t wait to get going and start dancing.” Though married to his partner of 14 years who’s not into the leather scene, Ortiz is in a slave/master relationship with a leather lover in Michigan whom he sees about once a month and who will be here this weekend for MAL.

“It’s such a fun time,” he says. “It’s great to see people you haven’t seen since last year and it gives us a chance to really hang out in our leather, do play scenes in a safe environment, be who we are, make new friends and also see some of the local people who don’t come out as much unless it’s for MAL.”

Ortiz, by the way, says the Boys club, which even has a couple female members, is about having a boy mindset.

“It’s how you identify in your heart,” he says. “It’s who you are on the inside. There’s no certain way it has to be, but it does tend to be more service oriented. You don’t have to be a complete bottom. Boys can top, but it’s about taking care of a dom or having someone be in charge of you and dominating the play scene.”

With trust and communication in his marriage, he says his other relationship is “working out great for us.”

As for the D.C. scene overall, some say it’s just natural evolution.

Woody says it runs much deeper than simply who owns a leather bar at any given time or where it might be located.

“The smartphone has brought with it a lot of degrading factors,” he says. “There are all these mobile apps now — Scruff, Growlr, Grindr — all these things we didn’t have before. Now I can find a trick a half a mile from me with my GPS-embedded tracker and there are people coming up with different websites all the time. … You can order up anything you want, so there are not as many people interested in romance anymore. Yes, there are still softies with good hearts who want relationships and certainly gay men have always had their hook-up side, but I think there’s a higher turnover ratio when everything’s online.”

Newton-Treadway, who says lots of guys from Baltimore come to D.C. for Leather Weekend (“Are you kidding? It’s practically in our backyard — it’s like a giant cheesecake for everybody who’s supposed to be on a diet.”), says the changing leather scene is much deeper and more complex than it may initially seem.

“I think there are aspects of the lifestyle that in a way are becoming more underground, less in your face,” he says. “I think the economy hasn’t helped. The Internet hasn’t helped. It’s many, many, many different things. I would say long gone are the days when a leather bar could count on the gay leather community to keep it open. With everything out there online, you don’t need to go out. Not long ago, there wasn’t any AOL, hell, we didn’t even have cell phones. You had to go out for dick. It didn’t come to you unless you were in the middle of the gay ghetto and sitting on your front porch. So there’s a lot of change occurring and a lot of contributing factors. And even when you do go out to the bars, everybody’s got their nose in their phone. They might even be texting to someone who’s right there in the bar, but they won’t go over and talk to them.”

But the bar scene in the leather world is far from dead. Jacob Pring, who organizes CODE and the XXX parties at Green Lantern and the Crucible, says he sees lots of younger guys coming to his events and gets anywhere from 100 to 150 guys to an average event.

“There’s always new people coming in,” Pring says. “People bring their friends. It’s fun. No attitude, no drama.”

Ortiz says he’s not so sure it’s changing as much as everybody says.

“I still go out,” he says. “I don’t just sit at home online all the time. I know lots of people who go out and support the clubs.”

Merrill says it is changing but it’s futile to pine for the past.

“Every community changes over time,” he says. “It’s not gonna be 1975 forever. I don’t know what things will look like in another 10 years, but I’m looking forward to finding out.”



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Celebrate Judy Garland’s centennial by watching her movies

The dazzling force of nature made 34 films



‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ is one of Judy Garland’s iconic film roles.

When the world ends, aficionados will still be watching their favorite Judy Garland movies.

Queer icon Garland was born 100 years ago this year (on June 10, 1922).

Everyone knows how tragic much of Garland’s life was. MGM feeding her uppers and downers when she was a child. Bad luck with husbands. Getting fired from movies because of her addiction issues. Her death at age 47.

You can’t deny that Garland’s life was often a mess. Yet, it’s too easy to encase Garland into a box of victimhood.

Contrary to the misperception of her as a sad figure, Garland wasn’t a morbid person. She was a fabulous comedian and clown, John Fricke, author of “The Wonderful World of Oz: An Illustrated History of the American Classic,” told the Blade in 2019. Lucille Ball said Garland was the funniest woman in Hollywood, Fricke said. “‘She made me look like a mortician,’ Lucy said,” he added.

In the midst of the sentimentality and morbidity shrouding her legacy, you can readily forget Garland’s prodigious talent and productivity.

Garland was a consummate, multi-faceted, out-of-this-world talented performer. She (deservedly) received more awards than most performers would even dream of: two Grammy Awards for her album “Judy at Carnegie Hall,” a special Tony for her long-running concert at the Palace Theatre and a special Academy Juvenile Award. Garland was nominated for an Emmy for her TV series “The Judy Garland Show” and for Best Supporting Oscar for her performance in “Judgment at Nuremberg.”

Garland, a dazzling, force of nature on screen, made 34 films. There’s no better way to celebrate Garland’s centennial than to watch her movies.

Garland was renowned for connecting so intimately with audiences when she sang. She’s remembered for her legendary musicals — from “The Wizard of Oz” to “Meet Me in St. Louis” to “A Star is Born.”

But if you watch, or re-watch, her movies, you’ll see that Garland wasn’t just a singer who sang songs, and sometimes danced, in production numbers in movie musicals.

Garland was a talented actor. She wasn’t appearing on screen as herself – Judy Garland singing to her fans.

Whether she’s tearing at your heartstrings as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” performing brilliant physical comedy with Gene Kelly in the “The Pirate,” breaking your heart with “The Man that Got Away” in “A Star is Born” or unrecognizable as Irene Hoffmann in “Judgment at Nuremberg,” Garland is acting. Her performance etches these characters onto your DNA.

Picking Garland’s best movies is like deciding which five of your 20 puppies should go on an outing. But, if you’re cast away on a desert island, take these Garland movies with you:

“Meet Me in St. Louis”: This luminous 1944 musical, directed by Vincente Minnelli, has it all: Garland in top form, the Trolley song, Margaret O’Brien, along with a stellar cast, and the best Christmas song ever.

“The Clock”: This 1945 movie, also directed by Minnelli, showcases Garland as a gifted dramatic actress. Shot in stunning black-and-white near the end of World-War II, the movie is the story, set in New York City, of a young woman (Garland) and a soldier on leave (Robert Walker) who fall in love.

“Easter Parade”: Sure, this 1948 picture, directed by Charles Walters, is thought of as a light musical by some. But, who cares? It’s in Technicolor, and Judy’s in peak form – dancing with Fred Astaire.

“A Star is Born”: If you don’t know the story of this 1954 film, directed by George Cukor, starring Garland and James Mason, you’re not a member of queer nation. There have been other versions of “A Star is Born,” some quite good, but this is still the best. Garland should have gotten an Oscar for this one.

“Judgment at Nuremberg”: This 1961 film, directed by Stanley Kramer, will never be a date night movie. It’s long (3 hours, 6 minutes), grim (about Nazi crimes) and Garland is only in it for about seven minutes. But the story is gripping and Garland’s performance is mesmerizing. When you watch her as Irene, you won’t be thinking that’s Judy Garland.

Happy centennial, Judy! 

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New ACT UP book is part history, part memoir

‘Boy with the Bullhorn’ chronicles hard work, grief, anger



(Book cover image courtesy of Fordham University Press)

‘Boy with the Bullhorn: A Memoir and History of ACT UP New York’ 
By Ron Goldberg
c.2022/ Fordham University Press
$36.95/512 pages

The sign above your head shows what’s going on inside.

Last night, you made the sign with a slogan, firm words, a poke to authority – and now you carry it high, yelling, marching, demanding that someone pay attention. Now. Urgently. As in the new book, “Boy with the Bullhorn” by Ron Goldberg, change is a-coming.

He’d never done anything like it before.

But how could he not get involved? Ron Goldberg had read something about ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, and he heard they were holding a rally near his workplace. It was 1987, he’d never participated in anything like that before, but whispers were everywhere. He and his friends were “living under a pervasive cloud of dread.”

He “was twenty-eight years old… scared, angry, and more than a little freaked out” about AIDS, he says.

Couldn’t he at least go down and hold a sign?

That first rally led Goldberg to attend a meeting, which, like most, as he came to realize, were raucous and loud and “electric.” Because he was “living fully ‘out and proud’,” and because he realized that this was an issue “worth fighting for,” he became even more involved with ACT UP by attending larger rallies and helping with organizing and getting his fellow activists fired up. He observed as women became involved in ACT UP, too. Monday night meetings became, for Goldberg, “the most exciting place in town.”

There, he learned how politics mixed with activism, and why ACT UP tangled with the Reagan administration’s leaders. He puffed with more than just a little ownership, as other branches of ACT UP began spreading around the country. He learned from ACT UP’s founding members and he “discovered hidden talents” of his own by helping.

On his years in ACT UP, Goldberg says, “There was hard work, grief, and anger, surely, but there was also great joy.” He was “a witness. And so, I began to write.”

Let’s be honest: “Boy with the Bullhorn” is basically a history book, with a little memoir inside. Accent on the former, not so much on the latter.

Author Ron Goldberg says in his preface that Larry Kramer, who was one of ACT UP’s earliest leaders encouraged him to pull together a timeline for the organization and this book is the result of the task. It’s very detailed, in sequential order and, as one reads on, it’s quite repetitive, differing basically in location. It’s not exactly a curl-up-by-the-fire read.

Readers, however – and especially older ones who remember the AIDS crisis – won’t be able to stop scanning for Goldberg’s memories and tales of being a young man at a time when life was cautiously care-free. The memories – which also act as somewhat of a gut-wrenching collection of death-notices – are sweet, but also bittersweet.

This book is nowhere near a vacation kinda book but if you have patience, it’s worth looking twice. Take your time and you’ll get a lot from “Boy with the Bullhorn.” Rush, and it might just go over your head.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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A fine ‘Bro’-mance

Eichner, Macfarlane performances essential to movie’s appeal



Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner star in ‘Bros.’ (Photo courtesy of Universal Studios)

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that “Bros” is a history-making milestone for LGBTQ representation in the movies — the first gay romantic comedy produced by a major Hollywood studio, written by an openly gay man (Billy Eichner) who also stars in it – and that it was made with queer talent filling virtually every role, both on camera and off. The “Billy on the Street” writer/comedian/actor, true to his brand, has been loud-and-proud about his efforts to foster authenticity and inclusivity throughout the making of his film, and rightly so.

Still, now that his much-anticipated movie is finally out, we can finally stop talking about all that. After all, even when a movie scores as many points for LGBTQ representation as this one does, what really matters is whether or not it’s actually any good.

When Eichner was tapped to make his film for Universal, many may have assumed it would be a showcase for his signature comedic persona — acerbic but disarmingly funny, more than a touch manic, somehow confrontational, defiant, and self-deprecating all at the same time — that would also poke fun at a heteronormative genre beloved just as often by its queer fans for its camp value as for anything else. This expectation seemed all but confirmed when Eichner announced the casting of actor Luke Macfarlane – known for playing handsome hunks in the very romcoms his movie would presumably be sending up – as his love interest.

As it happens, those assumptions were not entirely wrong. “Bros” is unabashedly autobiographical in tone, presenting Eichner essentially as an alternative version of himself if he had been a queer history scholar and author instead of a poly-hyphenate show biz celebrity; his character, Bobby Lieber, has even got a podcast, allowing him to voice the kind of take-no-prisoners witticisms and shrewdly queer observations about life and culture for which both versions of himself have become famous. 

While at a launch event for a new dating app, Bobby meets Aaron (Macfarlane), who – as one of the crowd of shirtless gay scenesters he’s used to being ignored by, he assumes is shallow, not too bright, and not into him at all. It turns out he’s wrong on all counts, and the two men soon find themselves drawn into a relationship, despite some serious issues around commitment and the fact that they seem to have nothing in common.

All of this is a perfect match for Eichner’s comic sensibilities – he’s built his image on calling out society for the absurdity of its assumptions, the illogic of its priorities, the depth of its shallowness, and “Bros” gives him plenty of opportunity to do exactly that, as well as plenty of fodder for his usual zingers and pop-culture references. It’s very much the kind of savagely iconoclastic spoof we would expect from its creator, making fun of social conventions (both gay and straight) and lampooning everything from awards-show stunt fashion to celebrity athletes coming out of the closet to “Dear Evan Hansen” — but it’s not nearly as scattershot as it sometimes feels. There’s a method to Eichner’s madness, and it hinges on reminding us that we are all, from a certain perspective, utterly ridiculous.

If that were all that “Bros” accomplished, it would be enough, but it gives us so much more. Not content to simply settle into familiar territory, he sets his sights on rising to the level of the romance classics he boldly references throughout, from “When Harry Met Sally” to “You’ve Got Mail” to “Manhattan.” With the help of director and co-writer Nicholas Stoller, whose sure-handed cinematic sensibility allows the star’s broadly satirical strokes and flights of absurdist fancy to flourish while still remaining grounded, he succeeds.

In large part, this is because Eichner’s screenplay doesn’t fall into the trap of being governed by the same tropes and expectations it makes fun of. Instead, it undermines them to take us further; unlike many romances, this one goes past the feel-good “falling in love” stuff and explores what it’s like for two adult men to build a relationship that works. It’s hardly a spoiler to say that’s not an easy or comfortable process, especially for a generation that came of age under the lingering shadow of widespread homophobia, but “Bros” is willing to go there – and because of that, its seemingly mismatched and dysfunctional lead couple are infinitely more relatable.

That doesn’t mean Eichner and Stoller ever allow their movie to become a “bummer.” Things might get a little messy from time to time, but what relationship doesn’t? By choosing to give “Bros” the kind of maturity that’s able to weather the storm, they’ve built something deeper and more lasting – the kind of movie that’s worthy of setting a few milestones – without sacrificing any of the comedy. And despite the cynical pose that’s always been at the heart of Eichner’s persona, they’re not afraid to let it get a little sappy, too.

As for its two stars, Eichner and Macfarlane’s performances are essential elements in the movie’s winning appeal. It’s perhaps not too surprising that Eichner, who’s been able to show us hints of his wider range before, rises to the occasion for his debut as a leading man; it’s the kind of work with the potential to elevate him into a whole new echelon of talent. A greater revelation is Macfarlane, who dives way below the pretty surface of Aaron to deliver a braver and more vulnerable performance than anyone might have expected. Together, the two actors find an easy and affectionate chemistry that is not only believable but makes it easy for real-life couples to recognize themselves in their relationship. They front a superb cast that includes Monica Raymund, Dot-Marie Jones, Jim Rash, Guillermo Díaz, Amanda Bearse, Miss Lawrence, TS Madison, Bowen Yang, and Jai Rodriguez, not to mention a host of queer and queer-friendly celebrity cameos from Kristin Chenoweth, Harvey Fierstein, and Amy Schumer, among several others.

It would be easy to go into detail about the many things that make “Bros” stand out as a piece of “queer cinema” — the way it weaves educational tidbits about LGBTQ history into the story as a tongue-in-cheek primer for straight viewers, or the sex-positive attitude with which it boldly and playfully depicts gay love-making, or its assertion of the differences instead of the similarities between same-sex relationships and straight ones — but it’s better to let viewers discover these things for themselves, along with all the movie’s other pleasures. We don’t want to give any more away, though we will tell you to watch for a scene-stealing turn by Debra Messing, who seems to be having the time of her life.

Other than that, all you need to know is that “Bros” lives up to its hype to become one of the smartest, sexiest, and yes, sweetest comedies of the year so far – the kind of rom-com that’s good enough to recommend even for people who don’t like rom-coms. 

And yes, it sets a lot of LGBTQ milestones, but don’t see it because of that. See it because it’s good.

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