Let's play let's pretend!

Two women are having lesbian sex in a hotel room. I stroll in—let's say their door was open—and I stand at the foot of the bed, quietly observing the action. The women realize I'm standing there and ask me to leave. I inform both women that, although I am an otherwise shy and reserved person, I am standing in their room at the foot of their bed watching them have sex because I am interested in both lesbian sex and the lesbian community. Very sincerely so. The women angrily insist that I leave. Their behavior makes me feel so uncomfortable and unwelcome that I do leave—but then I stand outside the door to their room loudly complaining to anyone who will listen about how rude these women were to me.

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Was I the victim? Is this incident—the refusal of these women to let me watch them have sex—evidence that the lesbian community has a problem with exclusion? Is this incident damning evidence of lesbian misandry? Or am I a stupid, clueless, entitled jerk?

Would your answer change if we were talking about four lesbians having sex in a hotel room? Or eight? Or sixteen? Or more?

Eric Barry, writer, comedian, and creator of the "Full Disclosure" sex podcast, has written the dumbest thing I've ever read about sex at Huffington Post—and that's saying something. (I mean, there's some absolutely mindblowing competition for that honor.) I've met Barry, he's written some great stuff in the past, and I've been a guest on his podcast. But Barry attended the International Mr. Leather Contest in Chicago over Memorial Day Weekend and wasn't happy with what he thought he saw:

[The] amount of women I encountered at the event could more or less be counted on two hands, as compared to the thousands of men I saw. But the more time that I spent at the event, the more I had to question whether or not the ratio of men to women I saw was truly representative of those within the leather community, or whether or not there was some sort of institutionalized segregation of women.

You know why the ratio of men to women at IML wasn't representative of the leather community? Because IML is a gay leather/fetish event. Complaining that gay men made up the majority of attendees at your first IML—and insisting that this is evidence of the exclusionary, misogynist rot at the heart of the leather/fetish community—is like going to the Dinah Shore Weekend in Palm Springs and complaining about how few gay men you saw there. Or going to Bear Week in Provincetown and complaining that hairless twinks must have been kept away by the forces of "institutionalized segregation."

IML is a gay leather/fetish contest and convention. All are welcome to attend. Anyone can stroll into the host hotel (although security guards give a heads up to people who 1. look like they might not be kinksters and 2. might be distressed by what they're going to see in the lobby), anyone can go shopping in the Leather Market (where else can you get dolphin-dong dildos?), or buy a ticket and attend the open-to-all IML parties at various nightclubs (they're basically circuit parties and most IML attendees skip them and party at the hotel instead, which essentially becomes the world's biggest leather bar for four days). But, yes, most IML attendees are fags. Because IML is not "one of the biggest leather and fetish events in the world," it's one of the biggest gay leather and fetish events in the world. IML got its start in a gay leather bar and it continues to be a gay contest for a gay leather title. (Although Seattle—always ahead of the curve—sent a bisexual leatherman to compete for the title nearly 20 years ago.)

Women are, however, more than welcome to attend IML. There were women working the doors at IML this year, there were women selling merchandise in the Leather Mart, there were leatherdykes hanging out in the lobby, and there were scores of (sometimes very annoying) straight women at IML tittering in corners with their gay besties from work. But women were outnumbered at IML. And you know what? Just as women are outnumbered at the annual International Mr. Leather Contest, men are outnumbered at the annual Ms. International Leather Contest. Go figure.

Terry and I go to IML every year. We go so we can see old friends, Terry can swan around looking amazing in leather, and I can personally thank people who've been guest experts in "Savage Love" and on the "Savage Lovecast" over the years and line up guest experts for future columns and shows. (Thanks to Jonathan and Skeeter from Mr. S, Tynan from Twin Cities Leather, and Stephan from Oxballs!) We have cocktail parties in our suite and while our parties are mostly gay—just like IML itself—there are always women at our parties. Because women are a part of IML and they've always been a part of our IML.

But you know when Terry and I don't have women in our room? When we're fucking. Which brings us back to Barry's piece:

I was with my female friend at the time when we were invited to one such party on the 46th floor (the top floor) in a massive suite. Upon entering we found encompassed in near complete darkness, illuminated only by the glow of the city night's lights which the room overlooked. It was also exceptionally humid—I'd estimate there were about 150 bodies crammed into the suite, doing pretty much everything your imagination will let you. But despite the relative anonymity that darkness afforded, it only took five minutes before my friend was asked to leave.

"You can't be here. You're a woman," she was told.

My friend is a naturally shy and reserved person who's recently expressed an interest in the kink and BDSM community. While IML seemed like an opportune time to explore these interests, she was nervous about doing so—intimidation, internal struggle and fear of rejection are frequent barriers when it comes to people openly exploring their own sexuality.

I stepped in, approaching the man who was kicking her out. It was unclear whether this man was the actual tenant of the suite or one of the hundred-plus strangers who had entered into the room and felt threatened by the presence of a woman.

"She's not causing any trouble. She's with me," I said.

"This is a party for men. Women aren't allowed," he retorted.

Here's a coincidence for you: the party Barry's friend was asked to leave was directly across the hall from our suite. This is a picture of Terry and a friend waiting for the elevator—which is how you spend most of your time at IML—and look! We're on Level 46, bitches, top floor, top drawer:

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That party on 46 (and everyone at it) was going down while we were having a fully-clothed cocktail party in our room across the hall—a cocktail party with several women in attendance—and if Barry's friend had come to our party I would've made her drink and introduced her to a few people. But I don't care how curious Barry's friend is about gay sex or BDSM or kink or leather. We wouldn't want a women in our hotel room watching us have sex. And our refusal to allow Barry's friend to stay after the party and watch us have sex isn't proof that we hate women or are "threatened" by them. Each of us gets to decide who we want in our room when we're having sex—whether we're having sex with one person or 149 people.

Which brings me to the gist/j'accuse of Barry's piece: A guy takes a female friend to a gay orgy—because a gay orgy is absolutely the best place for a "shy and reserved" woman to begin exploring her sexuality—and she was asked to leave and this, in addition to how few women Barry spotted in the Leather Market earlier that day, is proof that "misogyny [is] exemplified within the gay leather community."

Puh-leeze.

For the record: I don't go to parties like the one Barry dragged his shy and reserved friend to. They're not my scene. But a gay orgy is the last place on earth I would take someone—male or female—who was "naturally shy and reserved." And I have to call bullshit on Barry. (Whom I've met! And liked!) He says his friend is curious about leather and BDSM and that's why she wanted to attend the orgy on the 46th floor. I promise you that there was no BDSM going on in the suite across the hall from us. People don't have BDSM sex in rooms packed with 150 guys. All Barry's lady friend was going to see in that suite was a Hieronymus-Bosch-esque tableaux of guys sucking each other's cocks and jacking each other off. No one would be getting expertly flogged or elaborately mummified or doing an e-stim demo in a crowd like that. All you see at those kind of parties at IML—all you see at the orgies at IML—are vanilla types in tennis shoes having vanilla sex wearing the harnesses they bought earlier that day at the Leather Market.

My rant is now longer than the piece I'm ranting about. Just two more quick points and then I'll shut up: Barry doesn't just hold up the "men only" rule at that gay orgy as proof that the gay leather scene, as exemplified by IML, is misogynistic. It's also proof that the gay leather scene, according to Barry, is deeply transphobic as well.

Barry? I'd like you to meet Tyler McCormick, Mr. International Leather 2010. Tyler just so happens to be... a trans man:

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Are there transphobes in the gay leather/fetish community? Of course there are, just as there are homophobes in the straight leather/fetish community. But the the gay leather/fetish community is less transphobic than the wider culture—wake me when a trans woman wins the Miss American pageant—just as the straight leather/fetish community is less homophobic than the wider culture.

Final point: I don't know how Barry identifies. But I've been reading him for a while and he seems to date women exclusively. So I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that Barry is a straight guy. Which would make his IML piece another example of a purported LGBT ally barging into a queer space (a queer space he knows nothing about), encountering the limits of his straight privilege in that queer space ("What do you mean I can't bring a woman to this gay orgy?!?"), and then spending the rest of the night self-righteously lecturing queer people about what bad queers we are.

It tells us more about him than it does about us.

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