The following essay is from my upcoming book “Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of Alternative Sex and BDSM” and is unedited. But it stared at me and said it could not wait in here, in me, until Halloween… so it goes out, raw, beautiful, uncut into the world for you.
Sole/Soul: The Conscious Art of Leather
by Lee Harrington
With special thanks to Jim Deuder and Hunter Demonachello for putting me on a path towards understanding
My gut reaction had always been that I’m not that into leather. I’ve had issues for years with being read as part of the Leather community. I was a pervert, a kinkster, a fetishist of other materials and concepts. I was a sadist and masochist. But leather? When asked if I would run for a leather title years ago I responded that I couldn’t because I wasn’t part of the leather community.
But when they asked me that day what I got out of boot blacking, what it was about leather, that’s not what came out of my mouth. Closing my eyes, I let it fall off my tongue. I stopped thinking, and instead surrendered to experience and emotion. I opened up, and the words tumbled out in a waterfall that washed me clean.
Leather is alive.
The relationship that we have with leather is different because it is alive. The latex dress that clings to your form did not once wander openly under blue skies. It was born. It lived. It died. But I say leather is alive because in embracing it, caring for it, we can still close our eyes and feel the heartbeat that echoes out of the memory hiding in the hide.
Leather to skin is skin to skin. We slip our flesh up against the flesh of what breathed and take on its power. We are inside the body of another being. I can feel myself enveloped in their experience, wear that life force not only as my second skin, but as a strengthening of my own flesh, a magnification of my own flesh. I become stronger, tougher, and yet more supple in the expressions of my desire.
Leather is unique.
Every piece of leather is unique. Each was its own creature and thus each has its own imperfections and traits that tell a different tale. No matter what a tailor does, no two leather jackets can ever be identical. No two boots are the same. Just as every one of us is different and has their own tale to tell, so it is with leather. Each of us has a unique finger print, a unique life story, and so it is for leather. And though a leather crafter may strive towards perfection with the piece of art we have wrapped around our forms, they never truly succeed. Like the humans striving themselves towards perfection, the leather will always be flawed. Because it is unique. Because it lived.
In being flawed I realize that leather speaks to me of my quest towards perfection, and in that quest, my longing to find the only place that can find perfection. I hear the echo of the call to be bonded with the divine.
When you slip on a pair of boots, within minutes they begin conforming to the shape of our foot. Leather conforms to the demands we place on it. It transforms. It takes on a uniqueness not only through its origins but by its interactions with us its wearer. By its interactions with the world.
Leather is the only material that improves with our sweat. Our blood. Our tears. Our dedication to it. Leather stretches and morphs. It learns how to cling to our curves and to caress us in only the ways a lover can. Denim may stretch and come to fit us like a glove, but with each washing we strip away the fiber of its being until threadbare the cotton strives to hold on. In retaining our scent, leather keeps not only the memory alive of all of the places we have been, all that we are. It stretches, pulls, calls out to be ours. And once it learns our tale, that tale will always stand.
Even if leather finds a second home, a third, a fourth- each tale is retained in its shape and the way it has come to learn those tales. Passing down leather allows for the tales of those before us to live on, for tales to layer upon one another, for me to build upon what came before but never forget.
Leather is armor.
We all wear armor in the world. Under a constant barrage of attention, both positive and negative, we need armor to stay strong, stay resolute in our missions. We build shields against our fears and heartbreaks, and when we slip on leather, we slip into a physical representation of these layers. Each modern highwayman is a knight errant, on a quest of his own, and each of us that don a leather jacket picks up that archetypal impression of the modern hero. We quest, we vision, and we use our armor as a tool along that journey.
But any shield needs reinforced, and each set of armor needs care. Our emotional shields need to be rebuilt, buttressed, strengthened through our connections with other humans, through fulfilling our roles in this world, and through finding power in our passions. When we care for our physical armor, our boots and heels, our vests and jackets, we take a moment in meditation to care for our physical shield in a way that many humans never consciously do for their emotional and psychic shields. We scrub away the detritus and debris of our encounters with the world as the heavy brush loaded with saddle soap and water touches the black hide of our second skin. We wash away the pain of our world and stare at ourselves raw and exposed. We dip our fingers into the leather polish and make a commitment to strengthen our shields in a conscious manner. We build ourselves up to a high shine, exposing the possibilities of power we have buried in our beings. We wipe away the unneeded and unwanted remains, and find ourselves so much better than we were before, even if our core remains identical to what it was.
What happens then when we allow another to do our leathers for us? By receiving a bootblacking in its fullest message of soul, we are letting another human being scrub away the debris from our beings, wash away the pain, acknowledge our core, and build us back up to our full potential. I close my eyes as my lover massages my foot through the leather of my boot, and as I do so, I feel his skin touch my skin through the leather, penetrating not only my physical armor with this act of reverence and attention, but the armor of my being. My lover sees my core, and instead of leaving me as dusty as I came to him, instead he builds me up and makes me into the vision of what he knows I am able to be. He acknowledges my higher self. He builds up my highest shine and through constant reflection helps me stay at that level against all the pain of the world.
Leather is ritual.
Though leather is retooled and reinvented into different items with each generation, the icons live on through the remembering. We invoke through ritual our shared archetypes of James Dean, the Police Officer, the Biker Bar, the Leather Club, the Prada Fashion Model, the Footballer. We slip into the jacket and become the powerful characters living in the history of our culture.
We grant leather through capping ceremonies, gifts of vests, earning of boots. The charge of our kink forefathers is passed on through familial leather, generations of tales living in each hide as we cherish them, care for them. We slip on our club colors with the same reverence each time, polish our boots with the same detail to attention that we were taught by. When we find a piece of abandoned leather, through the rites we have been given we can caress messages out from our past as the conditioner slides over an abandoned hide and is found once more.
What if our messages in leather can be found over and over again, a message in a tanned bottle to the next set of hedonists down the line? In our leather rituals we have the power to awaken our dreams again and again. Our traditions. Our history and our future alike. For leather is not only used to make footwear and tight pants, it is the stuff of parchment and Torah scrolls. We inscribe our lives in our sweat and flesh, and pass it on through that which holds us tight.
Leather is sex.
Slings hang from dungeon ceilings and tongues press to chaps hungry for the taste of all that will come. Glove-clad hands slide over the body, given permission to touch and poke and prod. Bodies bulge and yearn, stretching leather pants into cartoon capacity. Needy groans escape from behind a leather hood, mouths gagged with leather, an association between the two built for life.
Though leather may seem to create a separation between bodies, it only accentuates that space, calls for the connection to be made. Lash to skin is an intimate act, a dance of desire. Leather cuffs are pulled against not out of a need to escape, but a need to be held. We need to be held. We need to be touched. We need to be needed.
In leather we are given this- for our lover’s hands can only be in so many places at once. By lacing us into a leather corset or a pair of boots or strapping us into a straight jacket our beloved holds us even when their hands have moved on. They continue to touch us even when they are gone.
By fucking us in leather, each time we stroke that piece of gear our senses become alive with that memory. Each time we smell our floggers, we can feel their writing body at the other end. We carry our memories in tangible form a gift that leather carries so well, is embodied so well by, by having carried memories of tribal cultures for thousands of years.
Leather is identity.
Strong, tough, durable, memorable. Capable, flexible, iconic, malleable. Unique, powerful, beautiful, tender. Rebellious, intelligent, raw, forgiving. Leather is the traits we long for, the traits that we create within ourselves, the traits we are.
By wearing leather, seeing it, remembering it, leather reminds us how we want to be in the world. Leather reminds us of the transformations in our lives- that which we have undergone, and that which we will undergo in the future. It reminds us of what we want to be when we fully manifest into our authentic selves.
Leather is spirit.
By having an awareness of the material of our beings, we become aware of the path we are undertaking in life. Just as a leather jacket conforms to the wearer, so does our spirit to the path of our lives. This is the truth of leather soul.
If our path does not call to us, as hard as it is to cast aside a comfortable piece of leather, we always have a choice. We can give away our trusty old boots, after debating long and hard about the choice. We can choose a new pair. We can be pushed and challenged as we break them in. Leather reminds us that we have choices.
Leather is love.
In all of this and more, it is love.
So yes, leather can be a fetish object. It can be about dressing up and having fun. And for years, that’s all I took it to be. But there can be more if you want something else. If you choose to live fully. If you choose to live consciously. If you undertake a journey towards the conscious art of leather.
And I have.
In Leather I have embraced that I am alive and unique. I have transformed and continue to transform the lead of my being into the gold of my potential. I am armored yet know how to set it aside. I embrace my rituals and my sex. I hear the calling of my identity and my spirit, and heed the call. And in all of this, I love.
I am a Leatherman. From Sole to Soul.