Bishopsgate Institute that houses the Leather Archive is grand, a Victorian building close to Liverpool Street Station. Inside it is all wood panelled walls, glassed shelving, housing row upon row of books, under a domed stained glass ceiling. As volunteers helping out on the day arrive, they ask ‘Is it here?? Are we in here??’ In my experience as an SM Dyke/ a queer, I’m more used to basements that stink of piss (and we had to fight for that!) or barely affordable dungeons. It’s amazing to see kink culture in this setting.
The chief archivist has been up early hauling out material and setting it out across the tables in both rooms of the archives inner sanctum. Spread across four tables are layers of club posters, some one comments that a particular aesthetic has endured across the years: the ‘Tom of Finland’/ Leather Clone, look. You think you are looking at something from the ’70’s but then realise it’s quite recent. The material does range across many years, later talking with some one who brings in a box of beautiful original drawings and early ’60s photographs to the collection, he exclaims over some of the posters: ‘Oh, there I am, and that’s so and so…’ pointing out friends and people famous on the scene at the time.
The feeling of the event is social and intimate. People pour over the books, pamphlets, photographs, drawings, boxes of memorabilia, club patches and badges. People read things aloud to each other, for a while I join three people who are reading out the gay ’personals’ from a small magazine printed in Leytonstone in the 1970s. Sweet, pervey, queer, full of desire and longing, these adds are pre Internet, no instant hook ups, no apps! ‘Sorry the material here is all mostly men’, whispers the archivist, it’s what we’ve got.’ That was partly the point of the event: for Resilient and Resisting to collaborate with the Leather and Fetish archive and hopefully draw in a new audience and new contributions.
At 2pm we gather for the readings. Surrounded by all the antique beauty of the Library, the stained glass dome overhead, a large scale recreation of ‘The last supper’ staged with Leather Men seated at a table draped with the Leather Pride flag hangs behind us. I’m nervous. I worked hard to get to this point, to win space for the stories of people who have trusted me to write these extremely personal narratives. Stories that are so fierce and vulnerable at the same time. What if people don’t like or understand the work?! The archivist reads first, the editorial from the 1977 copy of MSC Leather Men’s newsletter… ‘not for your Maiden Aunts of Grandmothers…’ I chose the article as while it is sweetly nostalgic it also provides a great counterpoint to the stories that follow. 3 pieces, three readers, all of the pieces included kink material, but range across topics of gender, mental health, disability, access of spaces, access to services, peer support and communities of resistance….from those who are NOT currently well represented in the archive. You can read them here: https://resilientandresisting.org/project/boudica/ , https://resilientandresisting.org/project/out-and-about/ , https://resilientandresisting.org/project/there-is-no-why/
The audience are great, they laugh at the parts that are supposed to be funny. I watch peoples faces as they listen. My huge lasting impression of the day is peoples openness to each other: kinky, non kinky, curious, new on the scene, old on the scene, different generations, Gay, Pan, Dykes, WLTI. Somehow there is a feeling of sharing this space together, feeling what kink community can be: an ability to be open and discuss, to listen to each other and explore: sexuality, kink in all of its forms, and to know we have our own histories.
For more Info on the Bishopsgate Institute Leather and Fetish Archive: