Page 214 - Gay San Francisco_Eyewitness Drummer
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194                                     Jack Fritscher, Ph.D.
            Ask Costello.  Leather — barbaric, medieval, industrial — is from cow to
            linguistics, in truth, “the flesh become word.”
               Leather is the conjure amulet, the lo-tech talisman, the fetish to
            which a certain erotic drive attaches itself and through which a certain
            erotic desire commands its visible incarnation.
               The word becomes flesh, and leather moves to a photographer’s stu-
            dio in New York, a doctor’s office in San Francisco, or a bodybuilder’s
            gym in Venice Beach. Literal leather skin, by the time leather moved to
            the typewriter of Larry Townsend, had become a psychologist’s dream of
            a symbol for an outlaw lifestyle few wanted to acknowledge. Ask John
                In the mid-1960s, Larry Townsend was politically active in Los
            Angeles, the pop culture capital of the world where he was well aware of
            the leather culture popping up across the nation. By 1969, he was circulat-
            ing his famous samizdat mimeographed sadomasochistic questionnaire
            through the circuit of leathermen. I dubbed it “The Leather List.”
               Townsend’s was the job of the good reporter scouting the latest news
            of the newest liberation front during an astounding period in American
            culture. Remember, with the civil rights movement marrying the peace
            movement, the five years of war from the Summer of Love in 1967 to
            1972 (when The Leatherman’s Handbook was published), were the most
            rebellious civic episode in the U.S. twentieth century.
               In November 1970, the world’s premiere leather/uniform writer,
            Yukio Mishima, author of the must-read disciplinary Sun and Steel,
            accomplished the ultimate homomasculine S&M suicide-execution that
            rocked the literary world and freaked the gay leather culture.
               Larry became absolutely necessary to arbitrate how leather was to
            behave this side of death. Twenty years later, in the 1980s, it fell to that
            freaky visitor to Folsom Street, the irrepressible French philosopher Fou-
            cault, “The S&M Poster Boy,” to probe the human psyche far deeper.
            Foucault twisted S&M leather recreational sex into existential endgame
            about power.
               But  it  was  Larry  Townsend  who,  “beating  Foucault,”  introduced
            Leather Vocabulary 101. As a journalist he used his ear as a novelist to hear
            the voice of emerging leather and suggest certain standards of courtesy
            and behavior. He didn’t invent codes of leather behavior; he searched at
            the grass roots level and introduced the leather underground to itself. Ask
            leather author William Carney.
               Like everything else in life, leather takes time to come to conclusions
            about itself.
               The Leatherman’s Handbook was one of the first analytical mirrors
            held up to the masculine homosexual face.

          ©Jack Fritscher, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved—posted 05-05-2017
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