Page 231 - Gay Pioneers: How Drummer Shaped Gay Popular Culture 1965-1999
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Jack Fritscher              Chapter 8                        213


                                  Who’s Your Big Daddy?
                                      Chuck Renslow
                                      by Jack Fritscher
                          Bay Area Reporter, June 9-15, 2011, page 37

             Leatherman: The Legend of Chuck Renslow
             by Tracy Baim and Owen Keehnen, Prairie Avenue Productions, 300
             Illustrations, $24.99

             In Casablanca, “Sooner or later everybody comes to Rick’s.” In Chicago,
             the world comes to Chuck’s. Since 1950, Chuck Renslow, now 82, and one
             of the most famous gay men on the planet, has safely hosted thousands of
             GLBT visitors at his thirty venues from his legendary Gold Coast bar (1960-
             88), to his International Mr. Leather Contest (1979), and his prestigious
             Leather Archives & Museum (1991). For sixty years, Renslow, a politically
             aggressive Democrat in the Chicago Machine, has been a person of interest
             to cops, politicians, fans, and frenemies.
                Rather than review Leatherman, I can best, as a SoMa historian, serve
             as local tour guide to this bespoke book with its candid backstage drama
             of leathermen, lesbians, and Mafia wise-guys shaping homoculture two
             decades before Stonewall. I came out on Renslow’s 1950s Kris Studio pho-
             tography and his Gold Coast where, beginning a ten-year union, I mar-
             ried his handsome bartender, photographer David Sparrow. As eyewitness,
             I appreciate the authenticity of Leatherman into which my two-bits was
             invited by leather-village griots Owen Keehnen and Tracy Baim.
                Renslow’s strategic business mind led gays politically into a new age.
             He saw first what others only saw eventually. As an occult practitioner of
             magical thinking, he intuited the private necessity of coming out, and the
             public necessity of founding safe venues to do it. Starting Kris Studio (1953),
             he first courted homomasculine men by creating butch social destinations
             which he eventually diversified to all genders: his 2010 IML winner was
             FTM wheel-charioteer Tyler McCormick. Pioneering locally, he built a
             nationally sustainable model proving gay-owned businesses key to building
             community, politics, and social networks. Born a year before Harvey Milk,
             and politically active twenty years before Milk hit Castro, Chicago-native
             Renslow evolved an early 1950s heartland leathersex identity that defied
             city, state, and federal laws.
                In 1954, with lifelong muse, Dom Orejudos, the artist “Etienne,” he

               ©Jack Fritscher, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved—posted 03-14-2017
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