I expected someone else would be accepting this honor on my behalf sometime after my demise, if ever. Then, poof, I get notified that I am to be inducted into the Leather Hall of Fame in the class of 2017. What an honor!
I am the Everyman in Leather. I have never held a major title (but I am SF Leather Daddy XXI 2003) or owned a leather business or worked in the leather scene, but if you look at leather history since 1964, I have had the honor of being near the center of it for over 50 years. I have lived, loved, mourned, fought, laughed and played through most of our leather history. Occasionally, I have helped make it. The story of my life and loves is the Everyman story of a leather life lived at the vortex.
I started playing in 1958 at the age of 13, with my boyhood friend Barry Silver. We were both excited by any whipping or bondage scene we saw on TV or in movies, which were quite common then. We began tying each other up and giving each other beatings.
By 1960 we had collected riding crops and quirts and belts, had several secret places to play unobserved and were having great play when we were caught and separated by our parents. I guess this is the genesis of my infamous whip collection. I now have over 1000 whips and they are all used regularly. I have more whips than the Smithsonian; however mine aren’t just for display!
In 1962 I joined the US Air Force just after high school graduation at age 17 years 10 days old. I came out as a gay man and had a torrid affair with my Sergeant, Woody Woodward, great name, and was discharged in December 1963 for being queer.
Close Up: March 29th 1964 Easter Sunday; the Empire Theater, 42nd Street, New York City. I am 18 years old. Bored out of my skull, I decide to go to the movies and behold, I discover a hot leather scene on the 3rd balcony. Guys sucking cock and licking boots and getting their asses beaten. Most of the crowd in leather. It was hot.
For two years I hung out there and re met my old friend from the Air Force, Andre Adams, right there sucking cock with the best of them. Then in 1966 I moved to San Francisco. Why, you might ask? The front page of Life magazine’s June 26th 1964 cover article “A new kind of homosexual.” I decided that day to move to San Francisco, but it took me 18 months to get a job offer there. This was 5 years before Stonewall.
I arrived in San Francisco on March 17th 1966, aged twenty. It is impossible to adequately describe the world I entered there. The Tool Box, Fe-Be’s and the Ramrod were all part of the Miracle Mile on Folsom Street, and with the bike clubs and most of all leather sex they were my world. The Chuck Arnett murals at the Tool Box were real people for me, and I got to play with some of them. I was new in town, fresh meat and popular. My main squeeze was Billy Lytton who rode with Warlocks Motorcycle Club.
In 1966 I joined Koalas MC. We were called Koalas because like Koalas we rode on the back of the bikes of other clubs. I knew men in the other gay bike clubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles and went to Satyrs Motorcycle Club’s Badger Flat’s run in 1966 and 1967. What a life it was! Gay leather outlaws is what we were. At last call the bartender would announce a private after hour’s party for $3 or a six pack (which cost $2), and if he knew you or you were hot he would give you the address. They were simply leather orgies. The parties were in garages or lofts, and once even the Fox Plaza’s 29th floor. Leather sex meant just that—leather and sex.
These events were full of life. At Doyel’s after hours in August 1968, I met my first real love, Don Folkers, who after 49 years, is still my best and oldest friend and who now lives across the street from me in Palm Springs. At that time I worked during the week, but on weekends I was both leather man and hippie, just not both at the same time. In December 1968 that life ended for me. It is possible to have too much sex . . . and too many drugs! I returned to New York with my dear friend Andre and two others, the mijos Bob and Bobby. We lived in East Orange NJ in the basement apartment of Andre’s Mom’s house. Every weekend and many work nights we went out to party at Danny’s and the Stud and then we always ended up at Stonewall after a visit to the trucks along the Hudson River. New York had a vibrant leather scene by early 1969.
Stonewall was my favorite place. Yes, there was leather at Stonewall and not just mine. Stonewall was a big, diverse, young, low class bar that was looked down on by “the reputable.” It was our place and we were home and felt safe there. All of us. Drag, transgenders, leather, hustlers, suburbanites, homeless, dykes, all races, all together and we all got along. In a fi t of bad timing I left New York on June 24th 1969 to return to San Francisco. The biggest event of my life and I missed it by three days, but had I been there I too would have been a part of that now famous rebellion. I am today the proud West Coast representative for the Stonewall Veterans Association (SVA). Stonewall changed me forever and helped make me the activist I have become.
When I got home to San Francisco I did the hippie scene with a bit of leather. In 1970 I moved to Maui with Don Folkers and lived the hippie life on Makena beach. This lasted six months until we all got sick of paradise with no bathrooms. On our return to San Francisco, Don and I moved in together at 244A Capp Street across the street from what was to become one of the best 15 Association club dungeons.
We were at the center of the San Francisco leather scene. The Slot and Barracks hotels, the Stud, Ramrod, Fe-Be’s and Bootcamp were just some of the bars and clubs on the Folsom Street Miracle Mile. By 1974, Don and I lived at 39 Washburn Alley between 9th and 10th Streets and between Mission and Howard. After the bars closed it was the South of The Slot or the Barracks for the night or Ringold Alley for hot street sex.
By then my whip collection had grown to 80 items and took up an entire wall of my bedroom. One morning we came home from the Slot to a break-in and all of my whips were gone! I cried for three days and then said “I’ll get more whips!” and, as you may have heard, I did. Within a year I had twice as many as I had lost. At that time I was primarily a bottom. I remember the CMC Carnival from the early ‘70s. CMC stood for California Motor Club and they like the Koalas did not require owning a motorcycle to join. They rented a pier or union hall for their prime yearly event. Seamen’s Hall was a favorite venue and they even had a leather contest, Mr. CMC Carnival, which was judged purely on beauty and sex appeal by the crowd. But really, the CMC carnival was mostly a great big leather orgy.
I developed a close relationship with George Benedict and also with Hank Diethelm, who owned The Brig bar. Guy Baldwin, Alan Selby, still in London, and Felix Jones were friends as were Jim Kane and Ike Barnes, Bill Bliss, and Bill Meyer. These were the Golden Years of Leather in San Francisco. But by the late 1970s the scene was changing. Bike clubs were declining as bath houses and sex clubs and leather hotels like the Slot and Barracks became popular. In 1974 Society of Janus was born and shortly after that the Catacombs opened for fi sting parties. Bondage and hot fi sting sex on 21st Street in the Mission. The whole San Francisco scene exploded with vibrant life.
The 15 Association was founded in February 1980 by six men who I knew, including Alexis Sorrel who, along with Jerry Jansen, had been with the Society of Janus but wanted a gay men’s BDSM club. I was the first Associate Member after the founders of the 15. I would have been a founding member except the rules at that time disqualified bottoms from being accepted into the Fraternal Committee (that was soon changed). 37 years later I am still a member, now a Chairman Emeritus of the club. Alexis asked if I wanted to join so I went to the now defunct 527 Bar on Bryant Street for the first public call for interviews. I was the first applicant to be called in and Alexis, who was my sponsor, asked the interview committee if everyone knew me. They all did, and Alexis said “You’re in. Send in the next man.” By 1994 I had served as The 15 Association Chairman for three years. The club now has over 200 members and a popular annual club run which I founded in 1989 named “Bootcamp.”
Our lives changed in the summer of 1981 with the arrival of gay cancer and pneumonia. The first man to die that I knew (in summer of 1981) was Tony Tavarossi from the Ambush who I had known since the Toolbox days. Lovers and friends died in a few short weeks. Those of us who were well helped those who were dying. Even those who were sick helped.
Somehow in the midst of incredible loss we survived. I began volunteering with Alan Selby and Rick Booth who founded the AIDS Emergency Fund (AEF) in 1982. Alan had moved to San Francisco in 1979 with Mr S, and he came up with many fundraising ideas, contests and events to raise money. He was an endlessly creative man when it came to ideas for raising money to help in this dire effort to save our friends and community.
It was at the first San Francisco Leather Daddy’s boy contest on September 5th 1983 that I met the love of my life, IML 1983 Coulter “Colt” Thomas. It was love at first sight. Colt and Al Parker were judges and I hung out with them and Alan and his partner Peter and Colt’s partner Charlie all day in a daze of love and with a pounding heart. Coulter and Charlie moved to Detroit and I assumed it would never go anywhere. His loss of Charlie to HIV/AIDS in 1987 brought Coulter back to me and then took him away again five years later.
In 1984 I attended my fi rst Inferno and I joined Chicago Hellfire Club that year. The 15 Association had our first runs in Petaluma, California in 1983 and then again in 1984 at Abel’s Chicken Ranch. The 15 had monthly parties which continue all these years later. In the midst of death and sorrow there was life and love and what we did in San Francisco became a model for other cities. The leather community grew up. My years with Hellfire Club were some of the best and hottest times I have ever had. As I evolved, I became primarily a top and my whip collection had room to expand in my newly purchased condominium at 631 O’Farrell Street, where I lived for thirty years. I was still bottoming occasionally and my favorite play partner was a man named Dick Carlson who was then an officer with the San Francisco Police (SFPD). We still play now, but I am more likely to top Dick the Cop.
I became proficient in whip use and collected and used David Morgan bullwhips and quirts. Fred Katz brought long whips to Inferno, and I helped popularize them there and at the 15 Association. I also introduced single tail whips to Delta’s annual run in the 90s. I became a member of The 15 Fraternal Committee in 1986 and continued with volunteering with AEF. I also went on some actions with Act Up SF including the 1983 Aids Conference and the 1984 Democratic National Convention, where I was among those who shut down rush hour traffic on Market Street and helped take over a cable car.
In early 1987, I heard that Charlie Smith, Coulter’s partner, had died, and that Coulter was returning to San Francisco to work for my friend Alan Selby at Mr. S Leather. Coulter and I started to see each other, and I told him I loved him in early 1988. Coulter was alone and afraid after Charlie’s death, and I just wanted to be with him and be his friend. He moved in with me in 1989 and those three years were the happiest of my life. Our life was good.
Our close friends circle included Sky Renfrew, Shadow Morton and Mike Hernandez—all still around and still close friends. Coulter and I traveled to Europe twice and to Australia. In 1991, we shared a large suite with Sky, Shadow, Mike and Jenny, at the sleazy Chicago Congress Hotel for IML. It was in and out sex and play, nonstop.
On September 6th 1992 Coulter Thomas left this world to be with his Charlie. I got busy and became an educator, Board member of AEF and Fraternal of the 15 and then Vice Chairman and then Chairman. In the late 80s Coulter introduced me to many men who were trans. I loved being with them and am still close with many including my chosen brother Billy Lane, who introduced me today at this induction. In 1996 I was presented the Caligula Award by Chicago Hellfire Club at Inferno XXV. 1996 was also the year Delta International had its first annual run.
I served on the Aids Emergency Fund Board of Directors from 1997 to 2002 and was elected its President in 2000. Along with Mama Sandy Reinhardt and others we cofounded the Breast Cancer Emergency Fund in 2001. I served on the SF LGBT Pride Board from 2002 to 2005 and in that year was given the 2005 Pride Heritage Award for my over 15 years of service to the San Francisco LGBT community. I was awarded two Pantheon of Leather Awards including Lifetime Achievement.
At that time from 1995 to 2010, my sub was Charles Beck and you can see his diary at LA&M and photos of his beatings. I was attending every Inferno, most Deltas, and all the 15 Association Bootcamp runs and playing and mentoring and teaching at many events.
Tony DeBlase was first to champion the inclusion of transmen at Inferno in 1996; however their acceptance to the club’s annual run or to any club events was refused. By 2003 I spoke with Billy Lane and we decided to try again. By then, Delta International had been open to transmen since 1998 and the 15 Association had voted 68 to 1 in 2002 to welcome men who are trans. In addition, Seattle Men in Leather also had an inclusive policy. Sadly after Billy attended Inferno once in 2004, CHC decided to close its doors to transmen. Thankfully the Men’s Leather Community including CHC and every other men’s BDSM group in the US has evolved over the last 15 years and all clubs now accept transmen as our brothers, with inclusive attendance and membership policies.
During this time from the 80s until now I became active as a presenter at leather events and clubs, now well over a hundred events. I love sharing my knowledge and craft and mentoring those who ask for or need help. My whip collection grew and grew and became known as the Peter Fiske Collection. I was given the honor of judging IML in the 25th anniversary year and then was asked to volunteer with the judges’ staff which I still do most years.
My infamous whip collection now has over 1000 whips and just keeping them greased up and ready to use is quite a job. I continue with Delta International as a member, and I served as a board member and as Chairman and run Coordinator in 2009 and 2010. I am also a member of Palm Springs Leather Order of the Desert (PSLOD) having moved to Palm Springs California in 2009 after living in San Francisco 43 years. I am also a former longtime member of the now defunct clubs GMSMA and SNC (Sixty Nine Club) London and was a member of Chicago Hellfire Club from 1984 to 2006.
As I write this on a warm sunny winter day in Palm Springs I can see all the faces of the men and women I have known in leather these past 53 years. The young rebellious faces of the outlaw 60s, the wild ones of the love generation 70s, the classic leather dressed faces of the 80s and 90s and the new faces of a more diverse community of the new millennium. Men and women, singles and couples, the old guard, the new guard and the no guard, Daddies and boys, Masters and slaves, Doms and subs, pups and handlers, fetishists, kinksters and all rich in life and love. This is the legacy we elders leave to you the next generations. We leave growth, strength, acceptance and change to you and a chance to be yourselves as we were. We have come a long way from Marlon Brando and The Wild One and the Satyrs in 1954 Los Angeles to now, 2017.
In the words of Agnes Gooch in the movie Auntie Mame: “I lived Mrs. Burnside, I lived.”
Leather and BDSM have been more than a scene for me. They are my life and have given my whole life focus and direction. I care about the future and men and women coming into the scene and what they will find or create. I have many wonderful memories of all the people who have been with me, and I will go on
playing and loving and teaching with gusto and joy for as long as I can.
I give my deepest thanks to the Board of the Leather Hall of Fame for this very great honor you have awarded me today. I will end with some advice from Daddy Peter...Live large. Play hard, Love with all your might, be the friend you want to have, always tip your bartenders well and support the Leather Archives and Museum. As Mr. Marcus used to say: “See you around the campus.”
- Peter Fiske