I had a lot of thoughts go through my head this week. We just had IML here in Chicago (if you read this site regularly, you might have had a clue). There was both good and bad. And some really bad.
The production of IML was great as always. Not crazy about the host hotel because the Congress Plaza just doesn’t have a great layout for the market. But I know getting a large hotel for an event like this in a convention hub like Chicago can be a bit tough. But the energy was different this year. Since IML 36, there has been an increase in conflict that is huge even by our fractious community standards. IML itself has stayed out of them, but you could see the effects in the mood. Less family, more “okay, I can get along with you for a couple of days.”
We had a second puppygate when a pup in a wheelchair was told he couldn’t be a real pup simply because of the wheelchair. Then there was Tuggergate when the very femme and totally fabulous Pup Tugger sashayed across the IML stage in heels that most women would be scared to wear. And got booed from the back of the theater. Tuggergate continued pretty much for a week. Then there are the other little complaints and sizable debates about what IML “really” is and what is “real leather.”
The thing that drives me nuts is while these were happening and Tugger was strutting, we were losing a member of the community and a friend. More were talking about a leatherman breaking the mold than were talking about one who died. That actually got me angry.
Every major event we have nowadays seems to have some kind of flame war or battle afterwards. Usually on what people consider true leather or true leather values.
Here are the core leather values:
- Supporting each other.
- Protecting each other.
- Helping each other heal.
That is it. Yes, we’ve got all the fun pervy stuff. That really should be a given. Respect and honor should come out of these core values, however. Otherwise, they’re just words.
Every major battle over the past year, and even the past few months, has happened because we have not stuck to those values. Every single one. We don’t try to help each other heal, we focus on our own pain. We don’t protect each other, we lash out at even imagined slights. We haven’t supported each other, we’ve done our damnedest to tear each other down.
And it’s not just with events or organizations. I’ve seen it on a personal level. I’ve seen people, people I trust, turn on others because something wasn’t done the “right” way, or some insult, whether it be imagined, unintentional or not. I’ve seen people who I felt were family pull away either because it got too hard or because of something they got offended at.
If there is anything that will do the community in, it is not thinking of these values. And it’s not something any single organization or event can do. They can set down rules or try to create the right environment, but it is up to each and every one of us. We are losing people. They leave the community because of the fighting, because of the distrust. Some take the worst solution because the one community that was supposed to take them in didn’t. It’s pushed me away. It’s why posting on there has gone down and my own writing has eased off. It’s had me contemplating other actions. And I’m not the only one.
If we want this to be the community we claim it to be, then we have to act like it. Listen, really listen, to each other. If you don’t have something good to say, then keep quiet. Give money, time or just boost the signal of groups and organizations that are working to help. Reach out to people you haven’t talked to in a while, like Ren Rushold said. Think of others. Help them, protect them, let them heal.
That doesn’t mean ignoring the bad. Speak out when you do see something wrong or injustice. Don’t wait for the “community” to do something or act like it isn’t your problem. But also remember that everyone, people on both sides of issues, are human. They are not “other.”
Families fight. Most of the time, they make up. Sometimes they don’t. It’s up to you if our family will.
Ruff Wray is the publisher and founder of Great Lakes Den. He lives in Chicago with his husband Jeff. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.