Making the Connection: David Stein

How We Brought Leather and S/M Out of the Closet

Sunday, March 11, 2012  2:00pm-4:00pm
Doors open at 1:30pm
at Mr. S Leather, 385 8th St. SF, Ca.

Class Description:

Longtime gay leather activist and educator David Stein will share his personal erotic journey, which spans nearly four decades, and discuss the critical period in the early 1980s, before AIDS struck hard, when he and others struggled to make s/m-leather more accessible and less mysterious. Part of their motivation was political, to incorporate this hitherto underground type of sexuality into the organized movements for sexual liberation. But it was at least as much because connecting with kinky mentors and potential partners back then was frustratingly difficult, and often dangerous. To many who came into the scene in the late ’70s, the existing subculture of leather bars and backpatch clubs was insular and off-putting rather than welcoming, so they forged alternatives, including discussing and even teaching s/m in public — anathema to the old guard.

David will talk about the New York City group he co-founded, Gay Male S/M Activists, or GMSMA, which quickly grew to become one of the largest and most influential s/m organizations in the world. It took a leadership position through the 1987 and 1993 marches on Washington for gay rights, the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion in 1994, and beyond. For instance, for better or worse, the now-ubiquitous “safe sane consensual” slogan came out of GMSMA. But after years of shrinkage and drift in the new century, in 2009 GMSMA dissolved. Having largely achieved its original goals, it no longer seemed to have a role to play in our new, Internet-centered world. However, just as in the 1980s, today there is growing dissatisfaction with the way things are typically done in leatherland. Should we reverse course and take kinky gay sex back underground? Or is there a new way forward?


David Stein has been emotionally kinky since before puberty, having started tying himself up as a child, but it wasn’t until after he moved to New York City in 1977 that he managed to enjoy leathersex with another man. Late in 1980 he joined with a handful of other kinky gay men to create an alternative to NYC’s leather bars and clubs for making connections. Their group, GMSMA, soon began holding public meetings where men shared experiences and knowledge, easing the way for novices and helping to undermine prevailing misconceptions and biases.

Having served as GMSMA’s first chairman, David remained on its board of directors, and in 1983 he coined the phrase “safe, sane, and consensual s/m” for the group’s Statement of Purpose. (Go here to download his essay about the origin, use, and misuse of the “SSC” slogan.) He served GMSMA in several offices — including president, publications director, and longtime program chairman — through 1991, after which he left the board. In 1999 he instigated formation of the New York area’s first chapter of Masters And slaves Together (MAsT), which he also led for several years.

Since the ’80s David has been a prolific writer on kink subjects both in print and online, including six years of safety columns for Bound&Gagged magazine, issue 14 (1997) of International Leatherman magazine on real-world gay Master/slave relationships, which he guest edited, his 2002 novel Carried Away: An S/M Romance, and many essays, reviews, and stories in gay and non-gay kink publications. He has presented at various leather and kink events, including the South Plains Leatherfest in Dallas, the Southeast Leather Conference in Atlanta, two Leather Leadership Conferences, Kinky Kollege in Chicago, and many times at the Master/slave Conference in Washington, DC.

During a year in San Francisco, David wrote Ask the Man Who Owns Him: The real lives of gay Masters and slaves, a nonfiction book based on live interviews around the U.S. and in Canada, and the story collection Boots, Bondage, and Beatings, both published in 2009 under his own imprint, Perfectbound Press. Back home in New York, he published collections of gay leather erotica by Thom Magister and Christopher Pierce in 2010 and 2011, and several other books are in the works.

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