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Why Old Guard?

Author: David Masterson

Filed in: old guard

In the late 1940s early 1950s it was reported that a group of WWII veterans came back to the united states to settle into their respective places in society. However, some of these veterans still wanted the regimentation of the armed forces and also preferred the company of men. Eventually, they integrated the structure of the military with the motorcycle culture. The sex that was preferred was rough. The community was very closed and exclusive and anyone who was interested in being a part of this had to start from the bottom up - meaning a man had to enter into this community as a bottom and work his way up to becoming a master or a top...

Every student of leather and BDSM history has heard this story or a variation of it. There has been some research on this topic (e.g. Bienvenue, Brame & Brame, Baldwin, Rinella). However, one thing that seems to be missing is primary sources. This story doesn’t have many diaries, club minutes or pictures that can be traced and verified to this time period. Many people seem to be able to obtain secondary sources through oral histories from people who were able to talk to people who were considered to be Old Guard. But when someone tries to reconstruct this story there seems to be too many pieces of this puzzle missing.

When history is reconstructed, it usually starts with anthropology and archeology. Specifically, cultural anthropology, or anthropology that deals with human culture especially with respect to social structure, language, law, politics, religion, magic, art, and technology. Archeology or the scientific study of material remains (as fossil relics, artifacts, and monuments) of past human life and activities is also initiated. These two disciplines are utilized to produce material evidence of a past that cannot be physically verified. If I were to reconstruct a history, I would start at the Leather Archives and Museum (located in Chicago and serving the world) or even Frank Puckett’s collection of memorabilia that he has amassed.

But before I begin to deconstruct a myth, it should be important to understand why this myth is important and address why this has continued. In order to do this, it will be essential to examine the notion of identity and how it plays a significant role in maintaining perceived order in our subculture or community.

Identity is significant as it allows the individual to justify their place in the community. As a dominant, submissive, etc... it seems to be important to know why these proclivities are desired. Some people explain that it is an innate need; others say it is an enjoyed activity. However, one thing that these two people have in common is the need to know why these needs are, as they are not a part of the social norm. When this quest for identity takes place, they sometimes begin to search the social sciences of history and psychology. The problem with this is that generally many people are not professional researchers and do not often verify their sources. The most common research methods used are: the Internet, and BDSM cook books. The result of this type of research is an incomplete knowledge base, yet an individual’s confidence in the sources they have accessed is virtually unshaken.

With the advent of the Internet, bdsm and leather was made accessible to a whole new group of people, but there was not a lot of historical evidence about it. Prior to the Internet there was little documentation about how this was all done and there were few organizations that existed. Clubs such as TES, Janus, PEP (1986) and NLA (1986) gave people a place to learn how to practice their desired fetishes in a safe environment, but it didn’t offer much documentation about Old Guard if any. People were able to become technically proficient and politically aware, yet the notion of what we know as Old Guard was pretty much vague.

During this time, there was a dramatic increase in heterosexual participation and with that came a new group of people who were curious about the history. Fetish history seemed to be over looked by the novice BDSM practitioner, until their search led them to the early 20th Century fetish advertisements and want ads of people looking for strict disciplinarians. Literary connections were also made through Masoch and DeSade. There is documentation that these activities were present well before the late 1940s and early 1950s, however that specific time period in the US remains illusive. Evidence of its existence can be seen in the artwork of Tom of Finland, Etienne, but the gay leather man is still shrouded in mystery because of the lack of concrete evidence.

So how does one reconstruct a history without much archeological and anthropological evidence? Speculation? Oral tradition? It is really hard to tell. But the one thing that holds true is that there is a mystique that exists and the both the gay and heterosexual novice espouse this notion partly because of a search for identity. By claiming Old Guard training, it gives an individual a sense of legitimacy. It also allows them to justify their practices, even if it isn’t safe, sane and consensual or risk aware consensual kink. It also gives them a means to attract other people to their practices and beliefs about how this lifestyle should be conducted. But more importantly, the heterosexual who adopts this notion doesn’t realize that this culture excluded them. I have personally yet to find any documentation (diaries, pictures and club minutes) that says otherwise.

History is an interesting discipline because people tend to read a book about the history of something and take it as gospel. The problem is, reading the history of something will never be absolutely factual based on the inability of any human being to document history objectively. Historiography or the writing of history itself is not an exact discipline such as certain types of math and science.

Etymology or the history of linguistic form (word origins) is also a major factor as the process, like historiography, is painstaking. It is more convenient to read the history of something and accept it as gospel.

I personally challenge an individual to try it, you will find that going to your local book store and purchasing a book about the history of something or other will be much more easier and enjoyable.

If an individual does not examine the history of the leather community, they may try examining the psychological aspects. By asking questions such as, "is what I am doing ok"; they begin to research the ideas of Ebbing, Freud, Masters and Johnson; the Kinsey Report and eventually the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders: 4th and eventually 5th edition which, by the way will contain a section on cyber disorders). They will look at the progression of psychological opinions about SM. They will come to the conclusion that SM behavior is not a disorder unless it disrupts your day-to-day life and livelihood.

Justifying sexual proclivities through psychological research seems to be less involved and convoluted than historical research as the information is compiled quantitatively or through random sampling of the general population. However, this only seems to explain or justify that SM is ok and it does not explain who you are. This consequently, seems to bring about a dichotomy in the individual’s identity. The best way I can describe this dichotomy of identity is to give it two labels - the historical identity and the psychological identity. The historical identity provides justification based on immediate and long-term past experiences while the psychological identity provides justification based on acceptable social behavior. Each of these co-exists with one another as they rely on past behavior both historical and psychological. For example, in Western civilization it is OK to shake an individual’s hand when greeting them, because it is socially acceptable and that greeting has been used throughout history. But, what if you couldn’t verify that shaking an individual’s hand was not done in the near or distant past? Just to put your worries at ease, "It started as a familiar greeting, a modern equivalent being "Hey, man, good to see you." The Oxford English Dictionary gives a quotation for this use from 1589. It must have been a common greeting earlier than that, though, because quotations for its derivative meanings have dates from 1580 on...’ He greeted him with the usual hail-fellow-well-met slap on the back and handshake." Finally, how do we give credence to what we do, when our past isn’t clear? Better yet, when we make allusions to our leather fore fathers, what do we mean if we don’t really know what their values actually were? Was there an oral tradition or any tradition at all? How do we verify it? What sources can we pull from? Will any of this information help me swing a flogger better or help my slave behave appropriately according to what we call protocol? I cannot provide answers to these questions, because I only have answers for myself. I simply do it because it makes my dick hard.

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