From A Canceling To A Covering: What I Learned From Leather Culture About Belonging

The Muir Cap signifies one's stature as "Master" or "Sir".


If this were a news item, it would go something like this: On Friday, January 26th, Three members of the Leather Tribe “The Kink Collective” were honored in a covering ceremony. A covering ceremony is a traditional rite of passage in Leather culture,  in which a Master or Mistress presents their protegee with a Muir cap. This signifies their recognition of the recipient’s own stature as Master, Sir, Mistress or Ma’am. The Kink Collective expanded on this tradition by capping a person who identifies as a submissive, thus recognizing their contributions to the community, rather than their D/s orientation. The honorees were Miss Smitten, owner of the NYC playspace ‘Smitten’s Lair”; Pup Kenzo,  the 2022 title holder of Mr. Eagle NYC,  and Shveta-  Leathergirl, educator and facilitator. The ceremony was conducted by the Kink Collective’s co-founder, Master Joshua, and attended by several dignitaries, including…

SHVETA | Leathergirl,
Educator & Facilitator

Boring. Luckily, this story isn’t news.  It’s a monomyth. Its value is in the archetypal journey it embodies: from common man, to outcast, to hero, many times over, in a cycle spanning many lifetimes. 


My pen name is Karma Said. I’m a journalist, a happily married mother, and a sex slave. I’m the consensual, freelance sex slave of a man who is not my husband. He’s a pro-Dom — the male term for a Dominatrix — and the co-founder of my Leather tribe, the Kink Collective. He goes by ‘Master Joshua’ In the kink scene; I refer to him here as my “Maker,” because he was the one who initiated me into the kink and Leather lifestyles.  


When we first met, six years ago, I was researching a feature about the #Metoo movement in the kink scene, of which I knew nothing. Joshua was one of my  subjects: a professional Dominant, kink educator and event orgenizer, battling rumors of sexual abuse.  The rumors, which  originated with a Fetlife post by an ex-submissive, were now going viral on social media, with people Joshua had never even met calling for his “cancellation”. He wanted me to investigate his story so l he could clear his name. I didn’t: First, because my feature aimed to examine a broad social trend, not prove or disprove any specific claim. Second, because — and this was to my great dismay, as a then monogamous married woman — I was already getting too personally involved with Joshua to maintain my journalistic integrity. 

(That story was never published, btw. I wrote a book instead.)


Over the following year, as our relationship transformed from a professional to a romantic one, I watched Joshua slowly lose the battle. First, he lost his standing in the kink and Leather communities. Then he lost  business ties, followed by personal ones. Finally, he lost his partner, home, and confidence. 



Pup/Sir Kenzo

During this period, Joshua often railed against the injustice of it all. He had set out as a kink educator with noble intentions: to make the kink community a safer, friendlier, and more rewarding environment for both sexual exploration and personal growth. Instead, they canceled him. He dreamt of fostering a kink community of his own, one better aligned with his idea of what Leather was all about: integrity, transparency, loyalty, respect, and other such lofty words, which he seemed to be reciting off a leather-themed Hallmark card. I didn’t see it: not in this compelling but sullen man, incessantly beating the drum of Injustice, not in the community that so casually cast him out, and not in myself. An unfateful life, who strayed off the path and was now lost somewhere she really didn’t belong. 


“I want my own village”, I remember him saying, dreamily. “a village of heroes and monsters.”  


Joshua’s story exemplifies the same social cycle that gave rise to the kink and leather communities as a whole. “Kink” is a broad term for any non-normative sexual behavior; the “kink community” is composed of all those who feel excluded from whatever “normal” is,  and are seeking their own clan. “Leather” is a particular subculture within this group. It was formed in the late forties, by men who were cast out of the army for being gay, yet couldn’t affiliate with the effeminate gay culture of the times. So they created their own. In his “Leatherman’s Protocol Handbook”, Leatherman John D Weal describes this first incarnation of Leather as an ultra-masculine secret order, which regulated its often dangerous Sadomasochistic practices with military-style protocols, rituals, and an established hierarchy. Gaining popularity through the 60’s and 70s, the movement expanded to enfold various outsider groups and BDSM practitioners of different orientations and genders. It was practically wiped out in the 80s by the AIDS epidemic,  revived in the 90’s as the spiritual base of another, more diverse set of sexual outliers, shapeshifted again with the invention of the Internet, and again with 50 Shades, and again with Covid, and probably many times in between. With each new generation, groups that felt rejected or misunderstood by their predecessors would faction off to form their own sub-communities. If these survived, they eventually merged back into broader society, adding their own strand to the weave of kink history. 


Or so I believe. Most of what I wrote here I learned from books. The only history I can truly speak for is my own, and that of my own Leather tribe.

Mistress Smitten
Owner of the NYC play-space “Smitten’s Lair”

From the friends and lovers that stayed by his side, Joshua resurrected what he called his “Kink family”. In 2019, he and his new partner, Cat, expanded this family into our Leather tribe, “the Kink Collective.” I was quietly skeptical as to its sustainability.  My Maker likes to say  Leather culture is like any other spiritual path or religion, but I know of no other religion propelled by BDSM and dopamine rushes, or built on a hierarchy derived from erotic and romantic power exchanges. Those kinds of ties are structurally unsound. They turn on a dime.  How long before another scorned lover takes to the Internet, and burns the whole thing down again?


But life has actually improved, for all of us.  Joshua took me on as his submissive. We adopted a strict moral code, and it served me well as I negotiated my way honestly into non-monogamy. Joshua’s kink family became my tribe, and his tribe became my community. It is, indeed,  a volatile one: romantic relationships and power exchanges are endlessly shifting, tangling, dramatically ending and starting over again, with copious bouts of drama. But even when the relationship/s which brought them into the Kink Collective end, most people stay. 


I asked him, the week before the covering ceremony, how it was that most people stayed in the fold, regardless of the relationship that brought them into it. He looked at me like I was stupid. “Integrity, transparency, loyalty, respect. Remember?” he reiterated.  Normally I inwardly scoff when he talks like this, but with the covering on the horizon, these words suddenly carried more weight. They reminded me of all the times I told my husband the truth, when it sure as hell made more sense to lie. I didn’t do so out of love, but out of principle. In our efforts to restore our lives, hadn’t Joshua and I both come to embody these principles?  Haven’t we been following them every day since? And did I not count on all my friends, all members of my tribe, to adhere to the same values? 


“Those aren’t just pretty words,” Joshua continued, “It’s how I relate to my people, and how my people relate to each other. This way, even when relationships end, we remain their village, their tribe. We are where they belong.”


I felt the full significance of it only during the covering ceremony itself. When the co-founder of my tribe recognized his disciples — my friends —  for all they did for the community that once rejected him.  Representatives of that community now filled the room. At that moment, it seemed like all the outcasts who came before us and all the ones that would follow were all lined up, on the same path, the one leading home. 





A few weeks later, I told Joshua how all this subtly changed my view of life.  “From ‘immigrant’ to ‘unfaithful wife’ to ‘Freelance slave’, I always position myself outside of the culture I’m in, “ I said, “because ‘outsider’ is how I feel. But I can let go of that now. Now I realize ‘‘outsider’ is just a step on the way towards ‘Maker of my own culture’.”

He took a moment to think about this. 

“And me”? He finally asked. “What’s MY story? What is it that I need to let go of?’

‘The injustice,* I replied, and we both felt the narrative shift.


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