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The "Old Guard" is a term which usually connotes the (mostly queer) leather community as it existed in the post-WWII era. As we understand the history, men returning to the US from the war began to create the early motorcycle clubs which practiced a masculine form of gay sexuality. It would be fair to say that modern leather culture began in the era of the late 1940's - '50s, and that like any community there were changes and adjustments through the more modern era which mostly begins in the early '70's.

To the extent that old guard existed it did so as many small communities in various areas of the US. From what little I know personally of individuals who were in different areas, they had different ways of doing things. This squares with the statements of those who have had to dispel the myths of these communities (e.g. assertions that there are universal old guard protocols or rules of behavior).

Leather itself is a core part of this tradition simply because of the roots of the early groups as motorcycle clubs. They wore leather for protection and the butch (masculine) image has become a core element of modern BDSM. (This is in stark contrast to the "outlaw" bike clubs such as the Hell's Angels which are well known for eschewing any sort of protective gear.)

Today (2002) of course the uniforms of leathersex have transmuted into something very different and has been noticed by the fashion industry. Fetish leather (or rubber, Vinyl or PVC) is now featured in prominent fashion store fronts and media. What remains true is that leather and similar materials are used in ways that can both cover and reveal, which carry their own sensuality and create at least the illusion of raw sexuality.

Fortunately there are some individuals who have written about this era, and I have had the good fortune to get to know others who either were a part of that era or who learned from that generation and in those traditions. Many of these traditions were adopted from military life, and reflect a respect for form and camaraderie that one would expect from ex-military people.

One of the traditions which most old guard communities held to was the requirement that newcomers must "earn their leathers". This ethic (principally associated with topmen) held that new people would learn their craft in an apprentice manner and when the senior top had decided that he was ready he would give the new top his first article of leather (perhaps a bar vest or a cap).

Most observers would agree that the old guard era began to end in the late 1960's and early 1970's. This was the time when a more visible community became prominent, particularly in San Francisco. Most most of the old guard held the view that S&M was best kept relatively private and that teaching and learning the arts and mind-set is best done in individual apprenticeship.

This era on both coasts saw the formation of leather groups, such as TES in New York City and the Society of Janus (http://www.soj.org) in San Francisco. These organizations were and are pansexual and provide classes, roundtables, social settings and play events for members. Today (2002) there are hundreds of leather groups throughout the US and indeed thousands around the world.

This is in distinct contrast to the approach of the older "patch clubs" where admission typically involves a vote of current membership.

The old guard was a community which valued privacy, and not without reason; there are numerous instances where people who practiced S&M were jailed or committed to psychiatric hospitals for their choices and actions. As late as 1990, police busted a private group in Dorchester (Boston) Ma. While it is not even certain that there were any prosecutions, all of the participant's names were published in the local press and most of the men involved lost their jobs, one suicided.

The people of the old guard were sexually active at the early outbreak of the AIDS epidemic, as a direct result many of the elders of the leather community have died. One direct result is that as teachers those who survived were often overloaded; some have needed to close ranks, which has probably made a community which was already hard to find moreso.

My personal experience of people who have learned in the old guard traditions is that they uniformly exhibit both high degrees of skill and caring for their partner(s).

References: Leathersex and Leathersex Q&A by Joseph Bean, Leatherfolk by Mark Thompson, Urban Aboriginals by Geoffrey Mains.
Two of Joseph Bean's articles relating to "old guard":
Please note: This writeup focuses only on the US community of leathermen. I cannot and do not claim that all the details are correct, I believe the flavor of this era is fairly captured, and welcome corrections and additions. I will gladly work to incorporate any new material, and would prefer a group - crafted node to a series of un-integrated writeups.

Because far less is written about the women who practiced leathersex, I cannot commit any words to that side of the picture. I feel certain that there were comparable communities of leatherwomen, just as there are FTM transexual women who were invisible during the early decades of highly visible MTF's.

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