Whether you’re interested in the Old Guard of leathersex, in consensual authority-imbalance relationships (Master/slave, Dominant/submissive), or in the history of sexuality — or just want some hot gay fiction to stimulate your libido — you can be sure that Thom Magister’s The Slave Journals and Other Tales of the Old Guard will repay your investment. As executive director of the Leather Archives & Museum since 2002 and a volunteer at the LA&M for several years before that, I’ve spent the past decade answering questions about sex history, many of them about the so-called “Old Guard.” There are as many definitions of this phrase as there are pairs of lips that speak it. Some people use it to refer to the traditions and customs of the generations that came before them. Some point to a set of rules and practices that help build community. Others look to the Old Guard for a particular style of both sex and erotic fashion. Still others see the Old Guard as nothing more than good manners and mutual respect.
Whatever the definition, there is a real fascination about this topic within the BDSM subculture. Many have written essays about the Old Guard, but this book conveys its essence in a new way, by showing rather than telling. While the stories here are works of imagination, they were written by a man who was steeped in the Old Guard way of doing things from the time he came out in leather in the 1950s. Initiated into an Old Guard leather family when he was only 19, Thom Magister has carried forward the values and concepts he learned then through six decades of living with and loving leathermen. All of these stories are infused with his memories and draw on his experiences as a Top, partner, Master, and friend. A natural storyteller, he enjoys tall tales and exaggerations for effect, but the bedrock is always the truth as he lived it.
The men in these stories demonstrate sexual activities and social attitudes commonly associated with the Old Guard. We see differences between West Coast and East Coast Leather. We see how values and implicit standards determined who was accepted and who was not — the Old Guard was not an egalitarian culture. Reading these stories gives a clear picture of how community can arise from personal relationships rather than from the organizations, events, and fundraising we‘re so familiar with today. We also see how guys learned about leathersex through sometimes awkward exploration rather than through classroom instruction or reading books. Magister brings Old Guard concepts to life through characters whose boots you can imagine yourself wearing.
There is fucking in this book. There is a lot of fucking in this book. Despite the many different relationships, the sexual activity doesn’t vary much from story to story. Without today’s profusion of leather crafters, sex toy shops, fetish conventions, and online auctions, Magister’s men explore leathersex with their bodies and a few basic accessories. Leathers are worn until they wear out, not just flaunted for special occasions. The very lack of highly intricate scenes and props allows the reader to appreciate the genuine creativity of the leathermen of these decades. Outside of motorcycles, one of the most expensive “toys” used in these stories is a check at a fine restaurant used to help recruit a potential clubmember.
For most people, sexual fantasy extends far beyond what is real and possible. Erotic artists use pencils, paper, paints, canvas, and sculpture to portray sexual athletics that may not be possible to execute in the flesh. The amplified thighs, sculpted muscles, and bulging crotches in the drawings of Tom of Finland and Etienne are examples of erotic fantasy. Especially in Etienne’s work, the figures may be performing acts that would result in death or dismemberment if actually carried out, but on paper they stoke our imagination. Erotic authors use words to convey sexuality that can exist only in our minds. Magister, however, never drifts far from what is real and possible. He begins with real-life experiences, embellishes them, and invites you to fantasize from there. In my opinion, some of the most erotic fantasies are those that find their beginnings in what is real and possible.
While the debate continues about who or what defines the Old Guard, and what its relevance may be to us today, Magister invites you to connect with the men he knew in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. When people seek information about the Old Guard, I believe that that kind of connection is what they really want. You’re likely to connect easily with the men in these stories. You’ll want to buy them a beer at the local leather bar — if one even exists in your hometown anymore.
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