Metal, Leather, and the LA&M
Amber R. Clifford-Napoleone, Ph.D.
This article was submitted to the Leather Archives and Museum for publication in their newsletter and on their Facebook page. You can also find it here: http://www.leatherarchives.org/resources/LAMSummary.pdf
We’re all familiar, even colloquially, with the popular image of heavy metal. The stereotypical young man in leather and studs, surrounded by other men in similar dress, hair flying and hands in the air, while the air is filled with screaming guitars. The problem with this stereotype, however, is the problem of all such images: they are practically myopic in their understanding of a subculture. As a lifelong metal fan and a lesbian, I’ve always found that stereotype of metal annoying and incredibly heterosexist. For the last few years, I have conducted research on queer fans of heavy metal, and the ways in which heavy metal fandom provides queer fans with a visual and visceral conduit for their marginalization.
When I arrived at LA&M in September, I was looking for all the hidden connections between the metal community and the leather community: two misunderstood and poorly characterized groups. During the week I spent in residence at the LA&M, I went through entire collections: t-shirts, jackets, posters and photographs, playlists and periodicals, trying to figure out how metal and leather were imbricated. I found many examples of the ways in which metal and leather collide. For example, Rob Halford introduced the leather and studs style identified with heavy metal in 1979 and “came out” in a 1996 interview where he stated that he borrowed the look from leather clubs in California. Interestingly, after Halford’s interview images in the leather community took a decidedly heavy metal turn. For example, the 1995 International Mr. Leather official branding closely resembled Halford, as seen in this image of Halford from 1980.
Another example is this image of Doro Pesch, one of the originators of women in heavy metal, compared here with a leather poster entitled “Black Magic.” The images have much in common: pose, clothing, even the fact that each woman holds a “weapon” of some kind. Doro’s album cover, however, is supposedly intended for a male audience, while the Black Magic poster is supposedly intended for leather women. The two images could just as easily be reversed, and for the queer female metal fan, both images communicate a similar message: women, leather, and pleasure.
One final example is a cartoon published in the spring 1994 of the women’s BDSM journal Venus Infers. In this edition cartoonist Terry Sapp portrayed the debate between leather dykes and the discriminatory politics of the Michigan Women’s Music Festival. In one frame, three leather dykes stand along the Michfest fences, lamenting the music played at the festival. For these three dykes, no rock and metal was one more reason the Michfest was not part of their community.
These are just a few examples of the wealth of information I gathered during my week in residence at the Leather Archives and Museum. I continue to research and write about the connections between metal and leather communities, and look forward to publishing that work next year. I welcome your thoughts and ideas as well, please email me via Clifford@ucmo.edu. An important part of my research is a survey of queer metal fans, so if you are a metal fan and identify as GLBTTQQIA+, please consider taking my survey online: http://www.ucmo.edu/surveys/?formID=4140. My thanks to Rick Storer and the staff at the Leather Archives and Museum for their kind assistance, and to the Board for the opportunity to work at LA&M as the 2012-13 Visiting Scholar.