Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Letters to the Editor

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More Drummer history


I was delighted to see that your pre-Folsom fair issue featured an article on Drummer magazine, in observance of the 40th anniversary of its relocation from Los Angeles to San Francisco ["When Drummer came to town," BARtab, September 21]. The article, however, greatly underestimates the breadth and duration of the magazine's impact, as well as the large cast of colorful characters who made it so influential.

Drummer was the major leather magazine for over two decades. John Embry ran the magazine from its founding in 1975 until he sold it to Tony DeBlase and Andy Charles in 1986. They sold it to Martijn Bakker in 1992. The magazine reflected not only the personalities of these different owners, but also its dozen-plus significant editors and many more writers, artists, and photographers. Jeanne Barney, Drummer's first editor in chief, left an indelible imprint on the magazine. As DeBlase noted in his comments on Drummer's history, "During her editorship, Drummer's emphasis on SM action was heavier than it has been anytime since." It was during Barney's tenure that Robert Opel, Sam Steward, and Chuck Arnett first appeared, along with many other luminaries of leather and kink, such as Fred Halstead, Val Martin, Cliff Raven, Bill Ward, Rex, and Etienne (Dom Orejudos).

After moving Drummer to San Francisco in 1977, Embry initially served as editor, under one of his pseudonyms. He hired Jack Fritscher later that year. In the dozen issues he edited, Fritscher, too, left his mark. DeBlase summarized the shift in emphasis by noting that "Under Jack's direction SM per se became less prominent and rough and raunchy male/male sexuality, often written by Jack himself, became the main theme."

In 1978, Embry once again assumed the editorship. He was succeeded by John Rowberry, who had been writing for Drummer since its inception. All three editors were involved in one of Drummer's most memorable serialized stories: "Mr. Benson" by "Jack Prescott" (John Preston). The first installment was published by Fritscher. Part II appeared under Embry, and the finale was on Rowberry's watch. Embry and Rowberry were the two longest serving editors from Drummer's founding until its second major phase under DeBlase and Charles.

While Charles stayed mostly behind the scenes, DeBlase (who had previously published DungeonMaster, a small but influential SM periodical) became a very active publisher and editor. In 1986, the AIDS epidemic was ripping through gay male populations, Reagan was president, the Attorney GeneralŐs Commission on Pornography was singling out SM erotica, and the Justice Department was prosecuting SM materials with special zeal. As a consequence, leather communities were more focused on political issues, and DeBlase gave Drummer a new political voice while of course, retaining the sex, sleaze, and culture for which the magazine was by then so well known and loved. One of his most significant contributions was the leather pride flag, introduced in Drummer in 1989. DeBlase also inaugurated Leather Pride Week in San Francisco by moving the Mr. Drummer title contest to the weekend of the Folsom Street Fair; this helped make the Folsom fair into the leather extravaganza it is today (the fair was begun not as a leather event but as an anti-redevelopment protest). DeBlase expanded Drummer's scope and recruited new voices such as Guy Baldwin, whose "Ties That Bind" column for Drummer was eventually published (by Race Bannon's Daedalus Press) as a stand-alone book.

DeBlase worked with a succession of brilliant individuals who had various titles but functioned as editors: JimEd Thompson, Tim Barrus, and Joseph Bean. Bean began in 1989 as managing editor and in 1991 was finally officially named as editor. Along with Embry, DeBlase, and Rowberry, Bean was among the longest serving editors of Drummer. Bean left shortly after the magazine was purchased by Bakker, and was succeeded by a series of short-lived but highly accomplished editors, including Marcus-Jay Wonacott and Wickie Stamps. Robert Davolt was the final editor, closing out Drummer's remarkable run with its 209th issue in 1998.

In addition to their work on the magazine, Drummer's staff and contributors have been involved in many facets of leather life, especially here in San Francisco. It is difficult to imagine what leather in the late 20th century would have looked like had Drummer not been such an important institutional presence. In celebrating the 40th anniversary of its arrival in San Francisco, I hope that the full extent of its impact can be appreciated, and that the legions of important, dedicated, and talented leatherfolk who created it can be remembered.


Gayle Rubin

San Francisco


Dolores Park needs more outreach workers

As a resident of the Mission Dolores district and a proud member of our neighborhood association board, I've been gratified to see our community come together over the past months to take a firm stand against violence in Dolores Park, which we all agree is unacceptable.

I do worry, though, that the response to the August incident [in which three people were injured in a shooting] is too singularly focused on increased police presence. While the police must be a part of the solution, too much presence will have negative side effects. I implore my neighbors to remember that the park does not exist solely for those who can afford to live nearby; as a public space, it is for everyone. We must therefore consider how any response affects all its users.

The data show us that people of color, especially those in the LGBTQ community, are disproportionately impacted by police presence, even in San Francisco. Given the park's critical position on the outskirts of the Castro, it serves as a safe haven for these vulnerable groups, and it would be a shame to damage that through well-intentioned efforts to end violence.

There are alternatives. In the long-term, we should invest further in programs like the city's Street Violence Intervention Program, whose on-the-ground workers deescalate potential altercations around the city every day without the direct involvement of law enforcement. They need considerably more staff to advance their mission. Proposed environmental changes, like a redesign of the park's footbridge, are also encouraging.

And in the short-term, the police will play a role. I hope that we can see beyond this period to a brighter future that is more consciously inclusive of all those who call Dolores Park a second home.


Alex Sayde

San Francisco


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