What is MDHL?
MDHL is an acronym that stands for Male Dominant Heterosexual Leather and is the shortened form of MDHL-fs which also recognizes the critical role of female submissives and slaves in this relationship based dynamic.
MDHL-fs is for anyone (top, bottom, Dominant, submissives, Master, slave, etc.) who identifies as being interested in (though not necessarily currently involved in) a Male Dominant/Female submissive power or authority exchange relationship.
The creation of MHDL has nothing to do with Male Het Dominants feeling beleaguered or oppressed, quite the opposite. The origins of MDHL are three fold: First, a desire to develop a sense of community among Dominant men and submissive/slave women to address concerns that are specific to their lifestyle dynamic. Second, to foster a sense of ethics, transparency and accountability among those who identify as MDHL-fs. Third, to work to better understand and define the dynamic we engage in through careful and thoughtful reflection and sharing of mutual experiences.
We recognize that the vast majority of members of the BDSM community are heterosexual and a significant portion of those are Male Dominant-led relationships. Even so, our dynamic is neither well understood nor the subject of workshops, classes, or conferences. Because we are presumed to be everywhere, we have found ourselves to be nowhere in particular.
The purpose of MDHL-fs is to begin doing the hard work of defining who we are, what we stand for, and how we can contribute to our own community and the BDSM and Leather communities at large. We can’t do that unless and until we understand what our contributions and unique characteristics are.
The purpose of MDHL-fs is a movement toward self definition, self reflection, and accountability. Until we have a solid understanding of who we are, accountability is a meaningless concept.
Why a Flag?
Like any act of self-definition, MDHL-fs uses symbols to express what we stand for. The MDHL flag, as constructed was designed by the BOLD programming committee to reflect what we see as the core principles of MDHL-fs.
The black background represents leather.
The two bars, traversing the black background and moving forward, represent two equal and essential components of the MDHL-fs dynamic. The red bar and silver bar were selected both for aesthetic reasons and for their connection to concepts on dominance and submission in heraldry. The two bars are equal and parallel, with the recognition that neither one is sufficient to traverse the background alone. Because MDHL-fs is a dynamic, not just an identity, we recognize our relationships as a fundamental part of our journey, mission, and sense of who we are. The flag symbolizes that by illustrating that only when united can the Dominant and slave/submissive form the complete bond that symbolizes the MDHL-fs dynamic.
MDHL and Leather History
MDHL is a movement that is creating its own history. Whether that is a part of “Leather History” or not, depends a bit on who you ask. In a recent keynote, Vince Andrews makes some compelling points about the connection between gay and het leather, which are worth reflecting on. He makes one point quite eloquently, which is worth summarizing here:
Heterosexuals as a collective must admit they truly will never be able to understand what Gay Leather culture is like. Truth is, we as Gay men and women should not blame them for their inability to understand. Heterosexuals are the majority and it’s impossible to truly sympathize with a minority. We as Gay Leather men and women should however admire their desire to identify with some of the challenges facing our community and take that into consideration before passing swift judgment.
There are many ways in which our gay brothers and sisters are our allies, especially in the larger struggle for equal rights for all and sexual freedom and liberation, but the fact of the matter is, Gay Leather opened the door for us, as it has for so many others. Much of what Vince Andrews laments is the unintended consequences of that action. When you open a door, you lose control of who gets to walk through it.
Those of us who identify as MDHL acknowledge, celebrate, and especially thank, the men and women who fought the battles before us and who have given us the freedom and space to create a place we can call our own. We are late to the game to be sure, but we say to those men who broke new ground and forged new paths, we are your children. And like all children it is time for us to grow up. We take your words seriously when you tell us to strike out on our own and make something for ourselves, to become independent. But like all children we take with us what we have learned from you, the lessons, the triumphs and the things that have worked to create a sense of community and brotherhood.
And while we can recognize and honor your history, we also understand that we now need to make our own.
As we do, there is no doubt we will make mistakes, we will stumble and we will occasionally fall. And when we do, it is our sincere and earnest hope that you will be there for us, to lend a helping hand until we can get back on our feet, and if not that, at least offer a kind word of support.
Our journey is, and must be, our own. And while we can respect and learn from your history, now is the time for us to write our own.
Within the BDSM community, leather itself has never been about leather itself. If you trace the origins of leather to the kink scene, there are two different points of emergence: one is the leather fetishism of the 1940s and 1950s, which occurs in a definitively heterosexual context (e.g. via people like Willie and Klaw and numerous others). The other conduit into kink was the post-war biker scene happening around the same time which was a decidedly gay context. Leather was taken up in gay culture as a symbol of community and as Guy Baldwin says as a euphemism for SM. Gay leather culture, as we understand it, was always much more about community than about fetish. But the essence of “leather” as a concept and ideal gave rise to both.
But if we think past these more recent incarnations or rather think of them as two examples of specific uses of leather and think back to a broader earlier history, the legacy of leather in the West is much richer than either of these particular instantiations would suggest.
Leather, in our culture, has a deep resonance with exploration (from the early days or skinning and trapping), with battle (as armor), with freedom and rebellion (symbolized by things like the black leather jacket), with defending ourselves (shielding, protective clothing, WWII bomber jackets). In a word, leather in Western culture is iconic. It does not belong to gay culture any more than it belongs to the fetishists of the 40s. It predates and transcends them both.
The value of leather is in looking back to our history, our past, and our grounding and hopefully having it do for us what it did for the fetishists of the 40s and the gay men of the 50s. That is to provide a cultural touchstone that is a part of our Western culture, identity, and system of beliefs that can serve as our euphemism for what we believe in and value in Male Dominant Heterosexual authority and power exchange. The things we value most deeply:–honor, integrity, ceremony, ritual–are a part of that.
So, in short, our “return to leather” is not about looking to other groups to define us, but more about recognizing that there is a broader history and cultural artifact that has given rise to and identity to many other groups.
There is a spirit to leather that gay culture was able to own and embrace in their way and that fetish culture was able to own and embrace in their way. Now it is time for us to think about what it means to us and how we might embrace and own its power to help us define our path and our relationships.
On a personal note, what leather speaks to me is the call to be honest with yourself and those around you and to be authentic in your desire to become exactly who and what you are. Learning to be fully present with others, learning to listen and truly hear them, and being willing to share yourself with honesty and transparency. Wearing a leather vest doesn’t make you believe those things. But what I would love to see is a group of people who wear a leather vest because they believe in those things. That is my euphemism for a kind of intimacy that I believe SM can uniquely provide for me and my partner.