Durk Dehner
(b. 1949)

Contemplating the idea of laying down a road trip of my life’s journey, I felt a strong desire to make sure that the realizations discovered along the way would be fruitful for me and just maybe for others also. There has been a shift back and forth of being uniquely special, to being somewhat of a misfit. I have come to a position, as of late, that this kid was born awake and was raring to go from the get-go. It took a few opportunities for my parents to witness, before they felt a bit relieved that I was street smart at the early age of six years old. See, they thought they lost me in the downtown center on a Saturday afternoon. The truth about that was, I lost myself so to have a chance to show my parents that I already knew my way home. Follow those trolley wires. I arrived home just as my parents were about to bring in the city police.

At the same time that I was affirming independence, I was being really shy around people and felt best when I was on my own. In having just said that, it did not seem to be the case when I was around eight and paid all the kids on the block (with cookies and lemonade) to watch me do trapeze acts from the rafters in our garage. To everyone’s surprise, my outfit was a pair of my sister’s silk panties that she had discarded and I retrieved from the garbage. It was these formable happenings that were framing my life to be; at least it seemed so at the time.

My folks put us on our aunt’s farm for the summers, getting us out of their hair for a bit and making sure we stayed linked to nature. Something happened to me down by the pond on one of those warm and lazy afternoons. It, for sure, could have been a day dream, or an altered experience, but after that I was ready to get going. I can say it involved a seductive beast who attempted to drown me, in order to save me, and his mouth-to-mouth was his mouth over both my nose and mouth, and he did not disengage until he had his way with me. He lay on me with his weight perfectly distributed; a firm presence, yet so strangely level everywhere. His breath took me almost to unconsciousness, yet I started to sense feelings and traits of personality within his breath. This would be one of those developing desires where this was the ignition. I experienced way more than I had words to describe; he did not go away, which I was glad. He then took on the role of protector, teacher, and he became rather fatherly in a selfish sort of manner. There was this evergrowing desire within me, a craving to be close with men. As my years here multiplied, so did with my understanding of such things, and in turn I grew into the man that I desired myself.

This keen sense of self was mobilizing in me and soon, by the age of nine, I was watching men get it on in public bathrooms. My favorite was this busy department store on Saturday afternoons. I never did anything; I just watched them from the safety of a stall. It pleasured me to watch them being so nervous and uncontrolled. Well, I stopped going there once I became a breeding farm. I apparently picked them up from one of the toilet seats. I was itchy, “just ignore it and it will go away.” I screamed bloody murder when I pulled a grandfather sized one off of me, its claws were just gnashing at me. My entire family got involved in assisting with the remedy. My dad took me to the pharmacy, my sister got to comb the dead eggs out of my developing pubic region. My first crabs....but not my last.

I would have to say that I was so fortunate to have the family I had. I was taught from the earliest age that every member had responsibilities for the operation of the house. We were educated on how to take care of ourselves so after we had left home all would be fi ne, at least knowing how to clean, wash, cook and to behave in social situations. Certainly there was no Miss Manners book on etiquette in our home – this all was picked up through the simple act of performing the job.

Now somewhere in this caravan of lessons came the following: I was in grade four which would make me nine years of age. The school gave us our first social which was based on boys on one side, girls on the other. When given the command to go and ask another to dance, I was absolutely sure that I would be one of the last boys, too scared to venture across the gymnasium. It was so drastically painful being shy that I knew if I did not push myself out of the line and in the direction of the girls I would never have what I desired. I had to push myself far enough out from the line so it would be more difficult to retreat than to go forward. I was second out from the line and did not even focus on which girl; any of them would do, just so I would not have to endure this embarrassment. So I was thinking about asking the girl who was right in front of me, feeling relieved I had reached that distant shore. I asked her, “Would you dance with me?” I never even considered the possibility that she would say “no”. So now what do I do? I so wanted to run back across that hall and hide my face or something. But all of this was so agonizing to think of, that it had to be a quicker fix just to ask the next girl. And guess what? She laughed and said “no” also. They were best friends, of course they would stand together, and who knows those little bitches could have been Lesbos themselves.

I did notice that this second “no” did not penetrate me as deeply as the first, so I might as well just keep going. Well, girl number three said “yes,” and immediately I became a Prince Charming, or some variation of that theme with fairies. I rallied in feeling strong: Powerful, noble and graceful in all my movements.

What I experienced, and realized, was that if I would be willing to seek out and follow my fears they would resolve themselves (or dissolve) and I would get to where I wanted to go in this life. So then I became like a dog trained to seek out fear and watch it magically disappear as I confronted it in all its demeaning presentations.

Well, for some reason I am not interested in sharing my first, successful penetration, but we knew each other; he knew I waited on his every word and rather than abuse that, he cared for it and oh, how I was glad I had done my exercises in stretching my A-hole... I was 11; he was 18.

I picked fruit in the orchards during my summers aged 14 and 15. Then my dad got me a real job for the summer when I was 16: Assistant to the Hungarian grave diggers in the local cemetery. Well, you know they initiated me in all aspects of dealing with the human corpse. That toughened me up for the future.

I was 16 and dating a girl who was the neighbor of my cousin, and she got me into the sack and doing it. I was able to brag to my male buds about getting it. See, we had this pact that we would all try and sort of dare each other. Well, that brought me to pregnancy, staying with her, and this is where my parents really showed their character. They never once shamed me; “just pick yourself up and put it together the best you can.” We stayed together, her living with her folks, and me with mine. I was able to keep it together for one year and then we both knew it was not going to work. I had always been open about my interest in boys and where this goes is really amazing. I would not permit myself to become attached to my son. His name is Todd, because I was very clear that I would not be around him for his development. She married another fellow who adopted my son, and the deal was that I would no longer be any part of their lives. I felt that was fair. The problem was Todd was never informed and found out, not a good way, when he was 19. Well, I got to have a son and assist in helping get him a post high school education, and giving him pointers on how to be outgoing. Yes, he inherited the shy gene. By the way. I was of the persuasion that we were products of our environment, and we are. But those genetics were strong enough for me to have a son, who has many traits and mannerisms like his biological dad. We are good friends, and I have a charming family of three Netherlanders—his wife and two beautiful granddaughters.

I was part of the love generation, so my best friend from Actors Studio and I flowered up his VW bug and left home for territories further east – namely, Montreal. I was only there a few months before I was off to Europe with a return airplane ticket to Newfoundland and $250 in my pocket. I worked in markets and learned how to receive the generosity of men, with nothing in return. Well, yes there was that – once I started practicing the dance on my terms, it all was a lot more fun. Many months later I had made it down through Europe, across North Africa, and back through Europe. Then home to Canada with a twenty-five hundred mile hitchhiking track ahead once I landed in Gander, Newfoundland. I slept in a lot of RCMP jails, which were always known for their hospitality.

I had a restless spirit and I passed through multiple experiences from living in the woods, to working in Singapore, to being put in detention in Uruguay, South America during a civil unrest. It was brutal, and challenging; it taught me that I could endure a lot more than I had previously thought I could.

I had self-taught myself methods of massage therapy whilst in the woods with my Uruguayan partner. He enticed me to Los Angeles with promises of road trips to Mexico, but we got a house in Laurel Canyon just up the hill from the country store. We got to listen to Carol King and James Taylor pumping out new tunes on the piano. I had been meditating since 14 with Maharishi Yogi, and a vegetarian since 18 when I left home, so LA made sense. I made a pact with myself that I would do a “check in” on me every six months, as I did not want to become superficial and affected as we know LA people can be, right? Well, I want to state here and now: You can know everything frontwards and backwards, but if you do not fend off mediocrity, it will find its way into your life no matter how conscious of a being you have been prior. All I can say is every day do everything to reach, and see if you can surpass your previous abilities. And that seems where the adrenaline is, where the satisfaction is, and striving for this is where one finds the indulgences in desire, urges and cravings. The pleasures of being here.

Amongst all of this, you have a kid who experienced depression since 8 years of age. I had no one to confide in, as my mother too was depressed and she used up the sympathy card for the family. It was in the end for the best as I learned to cope without the debilitating effects of the drugs the medical profession pushes on us. It is my opinion that Gay men are creative way beyond any average man, and this is the down side of that: We are a package; some have it more severe than others. I would never want to trade my creative streak for a life that is even, so you just learn to deal with it like anything else. I‘m fairly sure I was, and am, ADD and maybe even bipolar, but that was all under my radar. On the subject of being Gay – I was over that rather easily. My hurdle was the area where the medical profession was still flaunting “sick personalities that need psychiatric help” to address the obsession with such things as leather and rubber. It was my ever increasing cravings for rubber, leather, boots, and man sperm that concerned me. This did not start at 20 nor puberty. I was rolling around in my dad’s rubber gear at six and stealing neighbors engineer boots from their back stoops at ten. I would inhale the smells of the inside of their boots, then bury them in the woods, and then dig them up and do it all over again. This brings me to the most important self- realization I have had: In my developing manhood I instinctively knew and practiced smelling, breathing the breath, consuming sweat, cum, piss, wearing gear – this all adds to the total package of who we are as Gay men, and that does not stop. I tell my boys, “seek out those whom you admire, from whom you would like to possess characteristics they possess”. At first it feels awkward, but as you get deeper into the territory it all starts to take place and manifest. This includes talents, knowledge, interests. I have made my living in multiple areas that commenced as areas of interest – like hobbies – such as gardening, massage therapy, and facilitator in the Homo human potential movement.
I have had my hand in The Advocate Experience, being at the forefront in bringing Gay pride to former eastern European countries like Latvia, erotic art, book publishing, art galleries, public relations, Gay history, curating exhibitions, and lecturing. I went to school for none of these, and what made them all work was my drive, my desire to know, and to do more. I have stayed at the helm and succeeded in several areas that I am really proud to have contributed to; and, importantly, preparing them to continue long after I have passed.

When I was 26, circumstances uprooted me from Hawaii and took me to the City of New York. Yes, I had been living in the US since 1970 illegally. I had been thrown out twice – back to Canada, but it did not faze me, because I knew I was going to do good things in America. I could see much better than the bureaucrats and I would find my way. Well, that ticket came with a price tag: Marriage and moving to NY. The City just opened up to, and for, me. I was mentored in the Leather scene by the best: Louie Weingarten, who was the originator of the boot store named Stompers; and Lou Thomas of Target Studios, which was formerly Colt Studios. Then there was Fred Katz, who gave me lots of room to grow. I hold one title and that is Mr. Eagle’s Nest and I deserved that title, for I took charge of that bar that night, I made it my own and gave everyone a damn good time, with them – not for them. I learned how to do parties, how to engage the attendees.

We did Tom of Finland parties through the ’90s and into the mid-2000s – from warehouse parties to sex throbbing dance events that grew all the way up to 5,000 partiers at Roseland in NYC. Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego. All the way to Prague in Europe. It’s not the bragging, it’s what made it work. Getting the attendees involved, socializing with each other, doing fun shit like butt contests, the best arm pit scents. Tom of Finland – he was the one who guided you. To let go and have fun, joke around. And to take care of each other. That is the essence of what a brotherhood, a tribe, exudes.

When you are in the moment you do not see how your life is directed. Is it our own design or is it from another? I am not sure even today, but I do know that when you are in harmony with yourself, when you are in beat with life, it has its own speed and self-propels you.

Commencing in the mid-’70s there were huge numbers of boys who had been reared in the activities of Homo manhood. And they were all arriving in the mid-’70s. So you have this magnificent stud, namely me, opening up, having loads of fun, reveling in the celebration that was out in the streets. Oh, just so we play this square, in 1972 I made a trip to San Francisco and stayed there a couple of months. The purpose? I wanted to fi nd my tribe, Leathermen, to experience that family. So, here I was, at a midweek night at the Eagle having a drink at the bar with a real tall drag queen standing next to me. She then abruptly turned to me and said, “So baby what’s your story being here?” I responded that I was in San Francisco to fi gure out who I was and where I belonged. Then, with a big flourish of her arm (and that gurl had enormously long arms), “Honey you can be anything you wanna be.” Something clicked, and from that point on I knew I was a Leatherman. No matter if I didn’t have even a black leather jacket. Which leads me into the perfect segue. I was then at one of the heaviest cruise bars on Folsom, where I came upon the sexiest, fully clad Leatherman. I somehow thought that he could see that in me. He looked at me and said, “Really, you expect me to want to go home with you?” I had a brown leather bomber jacket on. I did not make the grade that night, but I left with a clear understanding that if I wanted to be part of this, then I needed to do what it took to be part of it. Full gear starting with a jacket. It taught me that just because you want it doesn’t mean you get to partake. You have to do what it takes to become a Leatherman.

In this entire rooster crowing and cruising I experienced us creating our culture – that it was coming from a place of power, of manhood – of Gay manhood. It was so invigorating. We could, and did, explore new sexual practices, and so it played itself. While in NY, I came upon my fi rst Tom of Finland drawing. It was on the bulletin board of The Spike bar on 11th Avenue and it was advertising a bike run. It was the only flyer, but I just had to have it, it was so strong inside of me. So I did not grow up with his work, none the less it was perfect timing for me to engage. The next day I showed it to my newfound friend, an artist who was working for Target Studios. I had won a photo session with them as part of my prize from the contest at the Eagle’s Nest. My new friend happened to be Dom Orejudos, who was known as the artist Etienne. Dom and I went on to have a wonderful ten year, sex buddy, sexual brotherhood.

Yes, Dom informed who the artist was: Tom of Finland (born Touko Valio Laaksonen), and if I so desired he had his address so I could write him. And that is what I did. I never had artwork affect me so strongly; Tom’s seemed to pull me right into the drawing. Well, we became pen pals of sorts and the following year, when I was back on the West Coast, living in LA LA Land, Tom informed me he was having two exhibitions in California – one in San Francisco and the other in Los Angeles. I offered to have him stay with me and my partner, and so he did. It was during this time that I saw the artist struggling to be a businessman, and I stepped in and just did whatever he was needing or desiring. Soon after this we set up partnerships. I needed to give this man everything he had yet to obtain. He put his own safety at risk many times, as I have, and as have many who read this that can nod their heads in agreement. Artists deserve to have us excuse them, if so desired, from engaging in the pain and agony with which commerce is rife. He was an artist but not that good at business. Well, not all types. Like bookings in galleries, dealing with slime who had ripped him off, and running a company – his own business of mail order and publishing. And distribution. Tom did not have to worry about many of those things. I could take them over and give him the pleasure and indulgence of being an artist. Those ten years in California produced a good body of work, and Tom became a valued Brother in the Dehner Leather brotherhood. He desired to have an archive, which manifested before us as an erotic art foundation, welcoming all artists whose work reflected male sexuality.

Before Tom passed, I did a very important thing, and that is I got him sleeping pills and brought him home from the hospital in Finland. When he was not able to draw anymore, because of his emphysema and the meds he took for it, he was ready to call it quits. Having experienced some years of the inhumanity of the dying process for friends, lovers and models, we agreed to aid each other, who ever came first. He got to come home from the hospital, to have his apartment to himself and to do it on his terms –when and where.

I was known in some circles during the worst years of the epidemic as the “black angel” because of assisting many in the transition. Well, I made a commitment to Tom before he left that I would do everything in my power to embed him in Finnish culture. And I am glad to state that it’s working its own energy there now. It took 25 years and now he is a Finnish national hero.

I could not have done all of this if the focus was just on me. It needed to be a bigger vision and that took place on its own. I just needed to look at what was right in front of me and do it.

I also want to state that there is now a place in the world where you can go and have a direct experience of being in a space that pays homage to who you are, where you’re in your own element. It’s important that we recognize that this is a place that belongs to you. There are few spots in the world that we can call our own. This is one of them, and I am very proud to see it flourishing. Now, if you have not yet been to TOM House, it calls. There is a book dedicated to this pleasure dome (TOM House: Tom of Finland in Los Angeles by Rizzoli ) and the City of Los Angeles has honored the artist Tom of Finland, and all of us, by making the House and site one of the City’s official Historic-Cultural Monuments. I think that says it so well. You have a date, not to just visit, but to make it your own, to add your mark to this place so it will always be yours to return to. It also means you are going to have to collectively care for it and all the treasures it houses. You will naturally nurture those who express us visually. Enable new generations of artists who come along and everyone will be fed from this. Place it as a marker for you to find your way into the future, to be empowered – and that is what art does – it represents us and allows us to be big, and magnificent, and to surge forward into unmarked territories. Let’s explore a brotherhood of proud Gays, Homos, Queers, Faggots, Fruits and Fairies. So many s’s…

I so want you to imagine some land where we all can live and develop into fully mature beings, something that HIV/AIDS abated, and now needs to be fully regenerated.

If I have pontificated, just fart me out sideways. Don’t believe anything others tell you, but have the willingness to check it out and truly test the waters.

In closing, I want to tell you that when I was 20, my dad was ill with cancer and I was in South America. He came to me in a dream – a vision – who knows what it was, but it was super clear, and is to this day. We communicated telepathically in full thoughts, and he gave me a parting gift. He manifested Durk action figures fanning out with different clothes and gear on, and each one represented a significant era of my life to come. I was amazed and pleased to receive his gift, and without resistance we said our partings. I very soon then came to a level of consciousness and I made a phone call back to Canada – it was confirmed that he passed there only minutes prior. I then totally freaked ’cause I was creating my life, new, and so I am. I have to this day issues with this experience, but I do confess that I’m in the next to the last one, and I’m sure that if everything is on course, I will be the Director of the Departure Lounge.

Urs,
Durk