Issue:  Vol. 45 / No. 16 / 16 April 2015
 
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Under the collar

Leather

Symbolic statement, bonding icon or just fashion?


A kissing couple with collars up close.
photo: Rich Stadtmiller
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These days you can't go to any of our leather or kink events, bars or venues and not see many people wearing collars. Even a walk down a San Francisco street will reveal the prevalence of collars. The use of collars within our scene is at an all-time high, yet perhaps their meanings are more muddled than ever.

The meanings and purposes behind collars seem to be changing with the times. I am specifically referring here to the types of collars worn continually or regularly by someone, not the kinds that might be used primarily during a BDSM or kink play scene.

If you wear a collar or someone in your life does, what does it mean to you? What is its purpose? How do you navigate their use? What social graces do you feel should be adhered to when dealing with collars? How do you interpret what a collar on someone else actually means? These are the questions I've asked myself and my circle of friends lately. Here are my thoughts on the topic.

Once upon a time, at least in the gay men's leather scene, collars were not a common sight. Occasionally you would see a guy wearing a locked chain collar and you figured the key was held by someone else. There were a few permutations of this concept, but generally that's what you thought.

Today, that assumption can lead to a lot of miscommunications. Especially with so many people wearing collars with varying meanings. Hopefully this column will clear up some potential misunderstandings regarding collars and make navigating them within our scene a bit easier.

I currently observe collars worn to indicate a wide variety of meanings in our contemporary scene, such as...

Partners wearing matching collars as a symbol of their partnership (not necessarily dominant/submissive in nature).

Guys wearing collars they put on themselves to indicate their submissive nature.

Pup collars, some with locks and some not, to indicate pup status, but not necessarily with any power dynamic attached to it.

Collars with open locks indicating they're open to the idea of someone taking control (locking the lock).

Chain collars with no lock (dog style choker collars for example) worn simply to engender a masculine look telegraphing an interest in edgier sex or kink.

Leather thongs tied in a knot around the neck used as a trial "dating" collar.

Collars that symbolize boy status, but with no ownership attached.

Collars that symbolize a dominant/submissive relationship, but not necessarily ownership.

Collars that symbolize a master/slave relationship, indicating ownership.

And many other variations. In short, the meanings of a collar have changed and people have adapted them to suit their own particular erotic or identity needs.

Collared dude at a leather beer bust at the SF Eagle. photo: Rich Stadtmiller

The many meanings of collars these days have proven controversial for some. There are those kinksters who feel that collars are sacred and their meanings more fixed and less fluid than others might consider them. My own personal stance is that all subcultural symbols are a product of that subculture, and our leather and kink subculture is clearly signaling that such symbols need to change to meet certain people's needs.

I'm okay with that. Change is the norm and we have to accept that we can't remain transfixed by a supposed rigid leather past when such symbols might have had more narrow interpretations.

But we still have to honor and navigate all those meanings. How do you do that?

There are three specific things I think everyone needs to do when encountering someone wearing a collar, and they're pretty basic and simple.

First, never reach out and touch someone's collar. Never. Ever. It is an invasion of someone's personal space, but you might also be violating a sacred or cherished meaning for the collar. It's considered downright rude and disrespectful to touch someone's collar without first asking the person. And honestly, why do you need to touch it at all? If you have the inclination to reach out and touch someone's collar without asking, stop. It's simply bad manners to do it.

Kink retailers like Mr. S Leather have realized the popularity of collars and stock a wide assortment of them. photo: Race Bannon

Second, make no assumptions when you see someone wearing a collar. It is human nature to make such assumptions, but try to resist that tendency. It might be an important relationship totem or it might be a personal statement for an evening. Or it might be one of many other personal or relationship statements. There's just no one assumption that's likely to be correct. So try to keep an open mind about what a collar might mean.

Also, in spite of what anyone might say, there is no such thing as a correct way to collar someone or to wear a collar. Everyone makes up their own process by which they offer or take a collar, or wear one on their own without anyone else's involvement. Do what works for you and allow others to do the same.

Regardless of the fact that many leather and kink folk are wearing collars of varying meanings, some still make a quick assumption. One friend said to me, "For me, a collar means the person is owned. I don't speak to that person without their owner's permission."

If one were to proceed with this assumption 100% of the time, you'd be wrong much of the time.

A Daddy-identified friend said, "If one of my boys is wearing my collar, it's a sign of mutual obligation and protection."

Notice there's no mention of ownership or dominance in what he said.

Four gents show off various collars.
photo: Rich Stadtmiller

Another friend said, "It merely means a commitment to me, similar to a promise ring." This is a more generalized assumption and while likely to be more correct than other assumptions. It's also not always going to be correct.

Someone else I talked to discounts collars entirely because they feel they are nothing but a fashion statement. I can personally attest to the fact that many collars are by no means a fashion statement, although I'm not upset myself if someone chooses to wear a collar as some sort of personal statement, whatever that statement might be.

Third, if you're unsure of what a collar on someone's neck means, ask. Yes, ask. It's so simple, but so many people don't to it. Something pretty basic like, "I really like your collar. May I ask what it means to you?" will suffice. I've yet to encounter anyone who was unwilling to answer that question. In fact, many people wearing collars are so enthused about it that they enjoy telling others what it means.

Navigating our use of collars might be a bit more complicated than it once was, but it's heartening to me to see folks taking ownership of their own symbols and using them in ways that best resonate with their own particular erotic or identity style. I think our scene is richer for it. If everyone abides by a few politeness guidelines, there's no reason the collared and uncollared can't all coexist quite nicely.

Race Bannon is a local author, blogger and activist. You can reach him on his website, www.bannon.com.

Fashion or full-out kink at 2014's Folsom Street Fair. Note the chain from collar to belt. photo: Rich Stadtmiller

 


Leather Events, April 16 – May 3, 2015

 

There's always a lot going on in the San Francisco Bay Area for leather folks and other kinksters.

Fri 17

Sober Kink Together @ Castro Country Club

Officially a CMA meeting, but open to all Anonymous 12-step Fellowship members, 4058 18th St., 9:30pm.

Gear Party @ 442 Natoma

Gear play party (leather, rubber, harnesses, etc.) for gay men. 442 Natoma St., $15 (requires $5 membership), 10pm. www.442parties.com/

Sat 18

43rd Annual Golden Dildeaux Awards @ SF Eagle

These humorous awards are intended to poke fun at various sexual activities while at the same time provide a unique charity fundraising opportunity. 398 12th St., 7pm. www.ggguards.org

Device @ SF Eagle

Get your leather out and bring a dirty playful mood and get sleazy at this event. 398 12th St., 9pm. www.sf-eagle.com

Mon 20

Ride Mondays @ Eros

A motorcycle rider and leathermen night at Eros, bring your helmet, AMA card, MC club card or club colors and get $3 off entry or massage. 2051 Market St. www.erossf.com

Collared bear; is he taken?
photo: Rich Stadtmiller

Wed 22

Leathermen's Discussion Group @ SF LGBT Community Center

Richtrove.com 10th anniversary - in conversation with founder, Rich Stadtmiller. 1800 Market St., 7:30pm. www.sfldg.org

Leather/Gear Buddies @ Blow Buddies

Erotic fun for leather and gear guys, $15, 933 Harrison St., 8pm. www.blowbuddies.com

Fri 24

Sober Kink Together @ Castro Country Club

Officially a CMA meeting, but open to all Anonymous 12-step Fellowship members, 4058 18th St., 9:30pm.

Gear Party @ 442 Natoma

Gear play party (leather, rubber, harnesses, etc.) for gay men. 442 Natoma St., $15 (requires $5 membership), 10pm. www.442parties.com/

Sat 25

The 15 Association Men's Play Party @ SF Citadel

A men's BDSM play party during their Associate's Weekend. 181 Eddy St., 8pm. www.the15sf.org

Sun 26

The 15 Association Men's Play Party @ Alchemy

A men's BDSM play party during their Associate's Weekend. 1060 Folsom St., 2pm. www.the15sf.org

Women with open and locked collars at the 2014 Up Your Alley street fair.
photo: Rich Stadtmiller

Mon 27

Ride Mondays @ Eros

A motorcycle rider and leathermen night at Eros, bring your helmet, AMA card, MC club card or club colors and get $3 off entry or massage. 2051 Market St. www.erossf.com

Tue 28

GameGear @ Wicked Grounds

Game night hosted by Rubber Men of San Francisco. 289 8th St., 7:30pm. www.rmsf.org

Thu 30

Hot Draw! @ Mark I Chester Studio

Erotic, leather, fetish poses for gay male sketchers of all skill levels. 1229 Folsom St., 6:30pm. http://markichester.com/hotdraw

Fri 1

SCCLA Bar Schmooz @ Renegades Bar

Informal social where friends, prospective members and anyone else who wants to relax, laugh, talk and hang out with like minded people, 501 W. Taylor St., San Jose, 9pm.

Boots Leather Cigars @ SF Eagle

Boots Leather Cigars @ SF Eagle. Social gathering for men into boots, leather, uniforms and cigars. 398 12th St., 9pm-midnight.

Sober Kink Together @ Castro Country Club

Officially a CMA meeting, but open to all Anonymous 12-step Fellowship members, 4058 18th St., 9:30pm.

Gear Party @ 442 Natoma

Gear play party (leather, rubber, harnesses, etc.) for gay men. 442 Natoma St., $15 (requires $5 membership), 10pm. www.442parties.com/

 

 






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