This is how kinks, particularly niche ones, are handed down.
Leather bars are implicitly more sexual, because they cater to a community that defines itself by the sex its patrons enjoy. You should never touch someone without their permission — this is a rule of life and is true 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. Sure, on some dance floors, with some substances, people get touchy-feely. If someone is tied and gagged and being led around via collar and leash, ask the person holding their collar. Consent gets nonverbal in situations like this.
At first glance, kinky sex spaces make consent murky. 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. You may get touched, but sex is different. You assume these risks by being there, and while they might seem threatening and uncomfortable, these risks are easier to navigate than you think. Other backroom etiquette pointers: In a lights-out space, a phone light can be blinding, and ruins the purpose of the space — anonymity. Keep talking to a minimum. This is for boot-worshipers, daddy-lovers, dominant-seekers, leather submissives, and so on.
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Be a good boy. They want it. In an age when smoking areas are hard to find in any establishment in the United States, you will still find smoking patios or smoking rooms at leather bars — put there for cigar daddies and their human ashtrays.
The cigar fetish is still raging in the world of kink cigarettes less so. 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 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.
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Most of the hanky code is lost to antiquity. This is not a dig at your ability to navigate a leather bar as a newcomer. This is simply how leather bars work, how kink is: Many newcomers start as submissives, learn the ropes, then try dominance. A reality of our modern times is that sex in bars is hard to come by. Establishments are more heavily regulated now.
Underground spaces are no longer underground. We live in the era of tagging your location on Facebook and surveillance cameras everywhere. Park cruising is gone. Backroom cruising is nearly gone too.
Depending on where you are, you may not be able to fuck in front of everyone — on the dance floor, by the bar, or otherwise. Then again, you may — but wait until you get a vibe of what is allowed or better yet, ask before doing something that might get frowned upon by staffers and management concerned with keeping their lease a reasonable fear all leather bars face with the ever-growing threat of gentrification wiping them out. Your kinky, leathery family is not just men. Many women, genderfluid, and genderqueer folks are part of this awesome community.
That said, you may venture out to the oddball leather bar with no coat check — nowhere to stash your things. Bring a bag, leave your stuff in your car, or ask the bartender if you can safely keep something behind the bar. A coat check is better, and regardless what you do, you should keep your valuables phone, wallet, keys on your person, but there are ways to have fun sans-check.
Pro Tip: Some coat checks are fundraisers. In these cases, the coat check will likely cost money. If you get drunk and decide that you want to get flogged, your ability to detect pain will be changed and lessened by alcohol.
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: 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. 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. They know more than you. Kinky men and women of a certain age likely have been doing this before the internet made kink accessible to everyone, before porn became what it is today, before information on fetish scenes was widely available. When they started off, they put in serious work and probably serious travel time to find good equipment and willing players. Leather bars are places of tolerance — places where you can be the queer, kinky, leather-loving, cum-hungry, rubbery, buckled-up, cigar-smoking, nonmonogamous, polyamorous, daddy-seeking, cocksucking person you are.
They are not places where you can be racist. One of the greatest things about kink is its celebration of differences — different bodies, different fetishes, different kinks, different ways to get off. You must allow your own freedom before you play this way. You must put in the work and the communication to enjoy kink; the hardest part of which is letting yourself explore it when cultural teachings instruct us to feel shame and embarrassment for what we like.
This celebration of difference, this core truth, should be enough to tell us that racism has no place here. Prejudice and discrimination are not welcome, and we should know better. This is less a rule of leather bars and more of a reminder to self-described dominants in all scenes: You earn dominance.
You earn trust. Flying flails may hit someone nearby. Some men and women in various kink scenes leather, rubber, pup, bootblacking, and so on compete for titles. 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. They bring our community together.