Guy Baldwin


2012 Leather Hall of Fame Inductee
Guy Baldwin


GUY BALDWIN was raised in little Brighton, Colorado, among working-class Italian Catholics.  Summers he wrangled horses on his uncle's guest ranch.  His older sister became the distinguished psychologist and pioneer in psychodrama, Dorothy Baldwin Satten, Ph.D., author of Real Is Better Than Perfect.  Guy never knew his father.  Days after his high-school graduation, his mother discovered he was gay and gave him a week to move out.  The year was 1965.

A week later, he rented a room at a boardinghouse in Denver, where he went to work as a brakeman/switchman for the Union Pacific Railroad, then later as a page for Colorado House of Representatives.  By chance he soon stumbled upon Denver's gay leather underground, and it was there he found the men and relationships he has described as his "surrogate family."  "Most of them felt like dads," he wrote.  "A few were downright motherly.  I remember two who most resembled a couple of really crazy aunts, too."

First-generation, Old Guard leathermen is what they were, about half of them World War II veterans.  Some of the same men formed Denver's first gay motorcycle club in 1968, the Rocky Mountaineers.  They encouraged Guy ("relentlessly") to get more schooling and rode miles on their bikes to witness his graduation from the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he studied anthropology and education.  Soon afterward, his biker family made him an associate member of their bike club.  

That same summer of 1972, he moved to San Francisco, "Sodom by the Bay," which was a West Coast ground zero for young leathermen delving into high-end SM sexuality.  He got a job as an EMT with an ambulance company, later working as a credit reporter for TRW.  Soon after Guy's arrival, he spotted a tiny classified ad in the back pages of The Berkeley Barb, the infamous underground newspaper, and decided to attend the advertised meeting for "fans of S and M and B and D."  The group, as it turned out, gathered in the living room of Cynthia Slater, who had begun to host a monthly "rap meeting" she called the "Society of Janus," after the Roman God of gates and doors.  

Cynthia's Society of Janus was only the second all-orientation SM political, educational, and support organization in the United States, and Guy Baldwin was the first gay man to walk through its doors.  Guy and Cynthia became fast friends, and soon he was teaching classes for Janus.  He introduced Cynthia to his gay leather buddies, some of whom were also eager to share their skills and knowledge.  It was from Guy's leather social network that the Society of Janus's first cadre of teachers emerged.  When Slater burned out from leadership stress and Janus created its first board of directors, Guy was on it.   Around the same time, in 1974, Guy and two friends created and facilitated the first-known weekly encounter/support/therapy group specifically and exclusively for kinky gay men.

In the seventies, Guy ping-ponged between San Francisco and Los Angeles, for love or opportunity or education, coming to know many of the trailblazing West Coast leatherfolk of the day:  Jim Kane, Ike Barnes, Samuel Steward, Gayle Rubin, Patrick Califia, and Tony DeBlase.  In 1979, while working as a night clerk at the south of Market El Dorado Hotel, he met David Stein, later of New York's GMSMA (Gay Male S/M Activists), the start of their longstanding friendship.  In L.A., bored with the career in banking he had half-heartedly pursued, he began retraining for a new career in psychotherapy.   While in graduate school at the American Institute for Family Relations, he met such important figures in the de-pathologizing of homosexuality as Evelyn Hooker and Judd Marmor, and was invited to attend The Gender Identity Research Group founded by Dr Robert Stoller at UCLA.  

Out as both gay and a leatherman, Guy argued that, in themselves, uncommon erotic desires and sexual behaviors are not proof of "mental illness," an opinion in strong opposition to accepted diagnostic policy at the time (as articulated in the "DSM," the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and to the standard practice of psychology and psychiatry.  While his position provoked intense debate at UCLA, it helped reframe the question for several influential figures in the field of sexuality, perhaps most significantly Robert Stoller, who went on to write the groundbreaking Pain and Passion, documenting the change in his own understanding of SM.  Guy received his Master's degree in 1981 and in 1983 was licensed as a psychotherapist in California.  

During the 1987 March on Washington, Guy and Race Bannon launched the "DSM Project" to stimulate review and new thinking among mental-health clinicians on the question of alternative sexuality.  Similar efforts had helped encourage changes to the DSM in 1973, regarding the categorization of homosexuality itself as a mental illness - thus curing millions of previously "sick" gay men overnight.  The DSM Project inspired and mobilized kink-aware mental-health professionals to supply a steady flow of supplemental information into the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the DSM.  When DSM IV was published in 1994, it included substantially revised diagnostic language and definitions, making it much more difficult for mental-health professionals to find kinky people mentally disordered.  

For many years after its founding in 1975, Drummer magazine served as the only global information highway, bulletin board and personal-contact clearinghouse in the gay male BDSM/leather/fetish world.  In 1986, Guy ran a small classified ad in Drummer, asking for contact from other kink-fluent professional mental-health providers. He hoped to build a network of like-minded professionals like himself.   The pre-Internet effort began as a simple file folder of hard-copy letters, along with Guy's notes from phone calls with colleagues all over the world responding to his ad.  As the volume of responses became more than Baldwin could handle, Race Bannon, Guy's long-time friend, came forward to collate and computerize the information and assumed responsibility for the data.  Bannon eventually published it online, greatly expanding Guy's initial network of therapists to include other kink-friendly medical, dental, and legal professionals, giving birth to the vital international resource now known as the Kink-Aware Professionals List.  Today the list is managed by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom as a free service to all.

In demand for 35 years as an educator and writer, Guy has crisscrossed the U.S. and Canada to present lectures, workshops and seminars about leather and SM sexuality, in countless TV and radio broadcasts and periodicals.  He may still be best known to readers for his monthly Drummer column on leather relationship issues, "Ties That Bind," which appeared between 1986 and 1992.  Those essays and others were collected in his 1993 book, Ties That Bind, edited by Joseph Bean.  

In 1993, Guy published The Leather Contest Guide, now considered the seminal work on the leather contest phenomenon, and routinely consulted by thousands of contestants, judges, titleholders and promoters.  SlaveCraft appeared in 2002, Guy's most controversial and possibly most influential book, detailing one man's deeply personal and intimate discoveries on his journey into profound submission.   Many printings later, all of Guy's books continue to speak to readers, and are considered required reading for leatherfolk today.

Arguably, Guy Baldwin's greatest impact has been as a visible public figure in the leather, kink and M/s communities.  In 1999 the producers of the International Master/slave Conference in Atlanta asked Guy to design and manage the landmark first-ever two-day seminar track, comprising thirty-four classes and discussions, all focused solely on the Master/slave dynamic.  A compelling speaker, and never one to shy away from provocative issues, Guy delivered memorable keynote speeches for the Leather Leadership Conference, the International Master/slave Weekend, the National Leather Association's convention "Living in Leather," South Plains Leatherfest, the Austin Bash, L.A. Leather Weekend, Leather Traditions, and the Dominion Gathering, to name a few, with now-notorious titles like "Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburger" and "Rad-sex Rising Tide: Turbo-Pervo Tonic."  

His forty-five years of experience and service in the world of leathersex, M/s and SM have made Guy Baldwin possibly the most honored leatherman who ever lived.  In 1989, separate judging panels selected him first as Mr. National Leather Association and then as the 11th International Mr. Leather.  He is still the only man ever to have held the titles concurrently, and takes pride in his long relationship both with IML, the event, and with its producer, Chuck Renslow.  In 2000 the Leather Archives & Museum gave Guy the accolade "Centurion," naming him one of the twenty most important contributors to leather/BDSM in the 20th Century.  

In 2002, the Chicago Hellfire Club honored Guy with a special citation and medal for Outstanding Brotherhood and Leadership, in recognition of the emergency professional assistance he gave to so many at Hellfire's annual gathering known as "Inferno" in 2001, during the 9-11 attacks and the following "no-fly days," until the men attending could return to their homes across the U.S. and around the world.  In 2004, on the occasion of its thirtieth anniversary celebration, the Society of Janus established its Hall of Fame; Guy was one of the first three inducted.  

Guy has received both the Pantheon and Dominion Lifetime Achievement Awards, for service to erotically different people and communities.  In 2008, he was honored with the Pantheon Forebear Award and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force's third-ever Leather Leadership Award.  And in 2009, the Master/slave Conference held in Washington D.C. created the Guy Baldwin Master/slave Heritage Award:  Guy himself was the first recipient.  

What a précis of Guy's achievements will never include is the presidency or chairmanship or directorship of any club, organization or foundation.  His stature, his authority, his recognition as a leader and spokesman proceed from no association or elected position but solely from his personal qualities - his insight, eloquence, and courage.  For Guy Baldwin is that rarest, maybe most important kind of leader:  he's changed the world not by telling anyone what to do, but by telling us the truth. 

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