Friday, February 17, 2012

Barrier to Entry (leather bar attendance)

There are factors that keep people coming and keep people away from Leather Bars. This break out will explore the reasons for both. At the end of the day, some patience is necessary from the regulars and some adventurousness is necessary from the newbies.

Geography and parking is the biggest barrier keeping people away from bars. The simple fact is their can't be a bar in every town, and traveling to the city isn't an option for everyone. I'm working on a guide for those who are looking for a sense of community without having geographic access to a Leather or Leather friendly bar. There are ways to develop a sense of community without traveling, sometimes it simply means opening up your mind.

I've organized some of the most common factors keeping people coming and keeping people away in the lists below. I've paired reasons by disconnect.

Keeps People Coming
Keeps People Away
not too loud
bartenders are friendly
tag along with kinky partner
relaxed atmosphere
sense of belonging
HIV accepting
see same faces
meet likeminded people

comfortable wearing gear
know what others are into by look
scuttlebutt (gossup)
smoking areas
too loud
rude staff
partner is vanilla


sub groups

grose bathrooms
no one dresses up

being  judged
smoking areas

The takeaway from this list is that there are no simple solutions. I've broken my advice into three categories; advice for bars, advice for bar regulars, and advice for newbies. I'm not an expert here, but this advice is based on what people want. Everyone needs to put a little work in to make things better.

  1. Cleanliness: I know for a fact that my local bar cleans regularly, but basic facilities are a problem. People want clean bathrooms with closing stall doors. keeping the bath facilities well lit and sterile looking may take away from the ambiance, but it also sends a message that bathrooms arn't sex dens. Some patrons want a place to hook up, but many new ones are intimidated by not having a comfortable place to piss.
  2. Smoking Areas: Not everyone is into cigar smoke. Enough people are that it should be available, but make sure the smoking area is separate from the rest of the bar so non-smoking patrons won't get turned off.
  3. Websites: I went to a lot of web sites, and none were good sources of information about leather bars or leather bar culture. Guides about etiquette, basic dress do's and don'ts, and well kept calendars are key. People are regularly upset about parking, so if you are mass transit accessible let people know that on the site.
  4. Changing Areas: Many bars have lockers available to remove layers once you get there. If you're bar has such facilities advertise that fact.
  5. Welcome Feedback: Tradition is an important part of leather bar culture, but that doesn't mean things shouldn't change when they aren't working. You shouldn't ignore valuable feedback simply because "You can't please everyone."

  1. Be Less Judgmental: You were new once too. The young man or woman dressed inappropriately or behaving disrespectfully may not know any better. If you want bars to thrive into the future then you have to help bring new people into the fold. It's also important to let them put their generation's spin on the community.
  2. Wear Gear: Instead of bitching about no one wearing gear, gear up yourself. There is no reason for anyone else to dress up if you aren't willing to first.
  3. Be Friendly: You don't have to want to have sex with someone to be polite to them. You also don't need to take every person under your wing to be friendly. New people regularly see members of the community as rude to outsiders. We know how supportive the community can be, don't turn someone off before they can discover that for themselves. Remember that the "twinks" who came out in a group may be uncomfortable coming alone. They may just need a mentor or a friendly face to keep them coming out.
  4. Come Out More: If you're sick of bars being empty then come out more.
  5. Check the Drama at the Door: Club, bar, and title politics are a constant source of gossip and drama at the bar. To an outsider it can sound like leather men are a bunch of backstabbing jerks.
  6. Speak Up: Leather bar managers and owners have to walk a type rope to keep as many people happy as possible. Support their efforts to try new things, but also don't be afraid to respectfully express your point of view.
  1. Evaluate Your Priorities: Do you want a D/s relationship, or do you want a community? There is absolutely no reason you can't have both, but sometimes searching for a Sir or a slave can prevent you from seeing possible friendships that could support you in your journey. Making friends in the community also helps you network in a way that online personal sites never could.
  2. Be Outgoing: Regulars see leather bars as a welcoming place that creates a sense of family and community. This atmosphere doesn't need to be hard to break into. If you feel unwelcome, try to remember that you are the new one. People should be more friendly, but so should you. It's your job to try and introduce yourself. Although they may seem clicky from the outside try to look for club nights at bars, clubs often want new members. Even thought you may not want to join, it's a good way to meet people and no one will mind if you remain a GDI (God Damn Independent). 
  3. Its about Sex & Community: Although people do hook up at leather bars, it's not the only reason people go. You don't have to want to have sex to go. Many are there to talk and have fun too. Often those looking for sex are in different areas of the bar than those who are there to socialize. If you want to meet people go to where people are talking, not making out. Also consider that you don't only have to talk to people you are attracted to. That "old man" on a bar stool could be an invaluable source of information and friendship.
We often hear about reaching out to "young people" when talking about keeping the community alive. We can see below that those born between 1981 and 1990 are as likely to attend leather bars monthly as those born a decade earlier. In all likelihood their attendance is growing. Those born between 1961 and 1970 are the most likely to attend regularly, but those older drop off quickly.

One regular anomaly is the dip in those born between 1971 and 1980. This absence is present in nearly every survey. Because these individuals would have been in their 20's during the 1990's one could assume their absence is a continuing legacy of the AIDS epidemic. The positive outcome of those terrible years is that the Leather community is largely accepting of those who are HIV positive. This acceptance is strength of leather bars and the leather community at large. Although some choose not to play safer, the leather bars are a place where being positive doesn't need to be a secret shame.

Monthly attendees of leather bars tend to be mixed by role, but the "regulars" tend to be subs and Doms. Being able to express protocol in an accepting environment was a common reason that keeps people coming out. Switches consistently have the highest participation in LIP surveys, but we can see here that they may frequent leather bars, but don't necessarily make them their home.

My final take away is that leather bars are still attracting people. Attendance may be down, but as homosexuality becomes more mainstream we can expect a smaller counter culture community. That means that those of us that remain need to be more tolerant of each other. Specializing your identity is empowering, but also chops up community resources. Be yourself, but work together and respect differences.