An Introduction to Leather
When Deb finally mustered the gumption to saunter through the doors of The Eagle in December of ’94, Gail was elated, and kept her word about showing the younger woman around. Gail put aside the attraction between them, due to the age difference, and began fixing her up with everyone she knew. Over the next year, they developed a deep friendship, spending hours on the phone going over the plots of their favorite novels, reading their favorite scenes to one another and laughing. Bit by bit, Gail’s calm reassurance and constant challenging encouragement allowed Deb to fully express herself. For Gail’s part, she learned the intelligence and sweetness she detected in the young woman when they first met was integral to Deb’s being. Despite the prodigiousness of her social activity, Gail describes experiencing an emotional stopping point with most people at that time in her life, a wall. Relationships would only get so far with her before she shut herself off emotionally. Perhaps this was a leftover from her days of finding love with women on the side while being under the thumb of the abusive farmer, but with Deb all of that was different. Over the year of 1995, they revealed themselves to one another gradually, layer by layer, on a foundation of mutual trust and respect.
From the menagerie of women Gail introduced her to, Deb fell in love with a trans firefighter, who eventually suggested that Gail become her mentor in the leather scene. Gail had been active in the leather lifestyle for over 20 years, having been inducted by a college professor in the early 70s.
She taught Deb about the different types of floggers, how to negotiate a scene to ensure her safety, and when and how to address people in the leather community. But more than that, she helped Deb use leather play to process the pain and isolation she had experienced growing up. While she was no longer suicidal, the years of solitude, bullying, and repression built up an emphatic need for release. Gail helped her examine those feelings, learn how to process them, and how to deal with them. “I think the darkness is always there,” Deb says. “It’s whether or not you give it its own space to work itself out or not. Try to push it down and jar it or bury it, that’s when it gets scary, because then you’re not in control of it. But if you give it room to play, or give it room to do its job, which is to take care of all the primal stuff, you know, I think then it’s not a problem. Some people are just really not comfortable with it.”
The relationship with the firefighter fizzled, but the mentorship and connection she felt with Gail grew. Gail held herself back for fear of hurting Deb, whom she had worked so hard to get to open up. The abusive relationships of her past and the struggle of raising three daughters, among other things, had given Gail her own bit of darkness, and she was uncertain that it was her place as mentor to share that with Deb, or how she would respond if she did take their relationship to a level of more emotionally balanced intimacy.
On December 6, 1995, in the basement of The Eagle, the two of them negotiated a scene that would change both their lives. Gail was anxious, with pent up energy driving her to distraction. She communicated this to Deb at length. Seeing a chance to prove her toughness and just how much she had learned, Deb pressed Gail to let it out in the scene. They agreed on which instrument was to be used, and how many lashes would be doled out. “50 of your best, Ma’am,” Deb requested, much to Gail’s incredulity. As they got into the scene, Deb counted each stroke, and when she got to 50, the two looked into one another’s eyes, Gail unusually tentative at the torrent of emotion she felt, feeling the possibility that the emotional wall she was so familiar with could spring up at any moment. Deb was full of hope that she hadn’t misread the signals and that Gail would give her a chance. The two of them exchanged a kiss that was as tender as it was passionate. In that moment, they moved “from a mentorship to a lovership,” as Gail put it. They spent the rest of the weekend in bed.
From that moment on, they were an item. Their first date was at Don’s Fish House, where Gail fed Deb jumbo shrimp, much to the consternation of the other patrons. Shortly after, Deb invited Gail over to her small apartment for a romantic dinner. When Gail arrived, Deb had scoured the place clean and strategically placed candles about. For their meal, she made a clam sauce with linguini, that, to this day, causes strings of silvery laughter to burst uncontrollably from Gail. No thickening agent was used, so the word sauce might be a stretch, according to Deb. Nonetheless, Gail was deeply impressed by the thoughtfulness that went into the preparation, and as the candle flames danced and leapt, they both realized that neither of them had ever experienced what was building between them. For the first time in a long time, they were at peace.