James (Jim) Kane (1929(?)-2004)

Jim Kane was a central and charismatic figure in the classic period of gay male leather. He was an icon of impeccable leather style, from the tip of his Muir cap to the toes of his immaculately polished Dehners. The home he shared in San Francisco with his slave, Ike Barnes, became a major nexus of the international social and sexual circuits of gay SM, welcoming a steady stream of visiting leather luminaries. Jim was not only a towering presence in the gay leather scene,- through his participation in the early Society of Janus, he was a bridge between gay leather and the mixed gender and mixed orientation SM scene as it was developing in the 1970's. Jim was widely admired for his finely honed skills as an SM practitioner, and he was generous in sharing his knowledge not only with friends and intimate partners, but also in public presentations to various SM organizations. As an educator, he helped infuse the erotic sensibilities and technical knowledge of gay male leather into the broader Bay Area SM population.

Guy Baldwin first encountered Jim Kane when both were living in Colorado in the 1960's. Jim was then a Roman Catholic priest, who edited a weekly Catholic newspaper called Dateline. He appears to have been introduced to the world of gay SM around 1962, in Colorado Springs. Guy remembers that Jim was the first man he ever saw in full leather, around 1967, in a Denver gay bar called the Pirate’s Den. He recalls: "All of a sudden a man walked in the door and leaned against the wall just inside the door of a long, narrow bar, and he was in full leather and dark glasses. And that was the moment... the instant the fulcrum moment at which my sexuality shifted.... That man was Jim Kane.... There was an aura that radiated around him for about 3-1/2 feet in all directions, and I moved so that I could be near him. As I got closer I began to encounter this force field that the man generated."

Jim was a dedicated biker, and in 1969, was a founding member of the Rocky Mountaineers Motorcycle Club. Kane served as the Road Captain for the club’s first "Peak-to-Peak" run, an invitational event that attracted gay bike enthusiasts from many of the Western states. Guy Baldwin went on that run, where he encountered Jim for the second time: "Behold, who turns up to be the road captain for the Peak-to-Peak run but Jim Kane. So all of a sudden here’s this Mister Full Leather guy, and he's on a motorcycle and he is as formidable by day as he is by night." Later that night, there was a party, and Guy found himself on the bottom of a pile of bodies, feeling claustrophobic and disoriented: "i remember kind of reaching out, trying to grab a hold of something, and this gloved hand took my hand... and I opened my eyes and realized that the gloved hand was connected to a man in full leather. And there was this leather leg, and I could see this leather leg and this hand and this black leather covered arm holding me, and I reached out for the leg and I kind of wrapped myself around the leg and drew the leg toward me on the edge of the bed so that I could hang on to it. It was Jim Kane's leg. And i remember looking up at one point and seeing that it was The Man Himself As soon as I saw him and he realized that l was oriented, he squeezed my hand twice in a gesture of friendly release, and withdrew into the mists. I did not see him again for many years." That would be in San Francisco, where both ended up in the early 1970's.

Kane had a mountain cabin near Manitou Springs, Colorado, where he hosted men for SM sessions, and also extended hospitality to many visitors. One such visitor was Sam Steward, who produced the manuscript for his memoir about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas while staying at the cabin in 1971, after Jim had moved to San Francisco.However, Kane was still living in Colorado when he began to regularly visit New York around 1970. Like most leathermen visiting New York at the time, Jim called Frank Olson to get connected with the local scene. Jim quickly became friendly with Olson and his partner, Don Morrison. Jim attended some of the legendary SM parties that Frank and Don held in their Manhattan apartment, and the three became lifelong friends. It was during this period of socializing in New York that Jim met Ike Barnes. Around 1971, Ike became Jim's slave, Jim left the priesthood, and they both decamped for San Francisco. The couple soon set up a household at 11 Pink Alley, a tiny cul-de-sac off Pearl Street. Upstairs, they entertained visitors at elegant dinners; downstairs, they constructed a gem-like dungeon.

Writing as Phil Andros, Sam Steward memorialized that dungeon in two stories that appeared in early issues of Drummer magazine. "Babysitter," was in Drummer number 5, in 1976. "Many Happy Returns," appeared in issue 8. An announcement in Drummer 7 highlighted the reputations of both the writer and the location of the upcoming story: "Phil Andros is back with another black and blue tale about Ike and Jim’s Pink Alley Playhouse."

The Pink Alley space was featured again in Drummer 17, in an article on "Famous Dungeons of San Francisco," where it is described as an "internationally famous basement playroom" and a source of "legendary tales." The article also described some of the inventive equipment that Jim had designed and made, and included three photos of Jim and Ike demonstrating some of the gear, although they are here called "Mel and Gary."

In 1972, Guy Baldwin also moved to San Francisco, where he again ran into Jim, now partnered with Ike. San Francisco leather in the early 1970's was concentrated around key locations. The Ramrod, at 1225 Folsom Street in the heart of the emerging South of Market leather district, was a major leather and SM bar. Another place favored by the leather crowd was a bar/restaurant at 527 Bryant Street, called the 527. Many men had dinner at the 527 before their weekend prowls, and would often end up back at the 527 for brunch on Sunday. It was at one of those brunches that Guy Baldwin ran into Jim Kane again: "I went to brunch at the 527 one Sunday morning and lo and behold I find myself sitting at a table of 8, and sitting directly across from me is none other than Jim Kane, with Ike...that was the moment at which I was formally introduced to Jim Kane."

Guy seeing Jim enter the Ramrod, sometime after that brunch: "The front door of the Ramrod bar opened and there was a silhouette of the quintessential leatherman outlined by the bright sunlight in the doorway. And all I saw was the silhouette. Talk about somebody who understood timing! He opened the door and just stood in the doorway for two seconds, ostensibly to allow his eyes to adjust to the light but no, no, no, it was to create an effect, because wherever this man went he created an effect... Not long thereafter my telephone rang and it was Jim Kane." Ike was going out of town for a few days, and Jim invited Guy over to Pink Alley: Guy recounts, "I received the 11 Pink Alley address both terrified and thrilled, because I realized that this was my first real big gig; this was the moment at which I get to turn pro I was finally going to get to swim with one of the big sharks that hunt the California waters, that I had come here to be hunted by." Guy recalls that the scene lasted for the entire weekend. Periodically, they would come upstairs for breaks, food, and cigarettes "I would smoke, and he began reading to me from The Memoirs of Hadrian and regale me with stories of Antinuous. I was captivated" by this literate and cosmopolitan "world class sadist."

Jim became a sort of leather father for Guy, functioning as a mentor and a teacher. Baldwin became Jim’s protege and apprentice Top. At one point, Jim "presented me... with a folded-up quarter-hide of Cabretta leather and said to me, when you‘ve learned all the ways there are to use this thing, you can call yourself a top, young man. And from time to time he would take me down into his dungeon and we would talk about the scene not about technique but about attitude and management... I mean I’m very much Jim Kane's son still." Baldwin’s collection of essays, Ties that Bind, is dedicated to Jim Kane.

Jim and Ike were central figures in the local leather scene, particularly at the nexus of the serious sadomasochists and the local gay motorcycle clubs. Jim joined the Warlocks, one of San Francisco’s oldest clubs, and one that, like the Satyrs, required that all members own and ride a motorcycle. Jim and Ike were also socially connected to the wider national and international networks of the earliest generation of gay male leather practitioners, many of whom were hosted at Pink Alley. Like Jim's Colorado cabin, Jim and Ike’s San Francisco home became known for its hospitality. They entertained the creme de la creme of US and European gay leather in the 1970's. Frank Olson and Don Morrison stayed there on a visit to the West Coast in 1974. Sam Steward, then living in Berkeley, was a frequent guest. Tom of Finland stayed with them when he came to San Francisco for his first West Coast gallery shows. Other visitors included Guy Baldwin, John Pfleiderer, Gene Weber, Peter Bromilow, Ron Johnson, Jack Fritscher, Skip Aiken, Skip Navarette, and Hank Deithelm. Jim also knew William Carney, the author of The Real Thing, as well as Chuck Renslow, Robert Mapplethorpe, Felix of London, Lou Thomas, and Chuck Arnett.

Around 1975, Baldwin introduced Kane to the fledgling Society of Janus, where Jim's characteristic presence left an indelible imprint on the multi-gendered and mixed orientation SM population of the Bay Area. He was, above all, an educator. He disseminated his knowledge of SM technique and SM emotion to many generations, both privately and through public organizations such as Janus, and later, Samois, the lesbian SM organization that formed in the late 1970's. For Jim, SM was never only a matter of technique, despite his technical virtuosity. It was an art, a craft, and a kind of transubstantiation of bodies, equipment, sensation, and intimate observation into something more: an energy, a vibration, a state of being. Jim’s technical demonstrations communicated attitudes, psychology, insight, responsibilities, courtesies, ethics, and mutual respect. He valued bottoms, masochists, and slaves, and knew what made them tick. He was masterful - in all senses of the term - in managing bottoms, scenes, and pacing. He conveyed the alchemies of SM, and a reverence for its affective potencies.

Through the Society of Janus, Jim and Ike also developed relationships with a more varied assortment of kinky folks, including a number of women who participated in the soirees at Pink Alley. One was Cynthia Slater, the co-founder of Janus, whose own flat and dungeon were in a rental property Jim and Ike owned. Other women in Jim’s orbit included Dossie Easton, Amber Rae, Kaye Buckley, Pat (later Patrick) Califia, and Gayle Rubin. Rubin credits Jim Kane with having made her research project on gay male leather possible: "Jim opened so many doors for me, calling in favors from many people, some of whom would just as soon have not dealt with a female, but who could not say no to Jim. Once he understood my project, he gave it his blessing. And Jim's seal of approval was a passport that allowed me to go where few women were able to venture, especially at that time. He also provided me with a boatload of introductions to key people: Frank Olson and Don Morrison among them, and Bob Milne, Sam Steward, and Hank Deithelm."

Despite having left the priesthood, Jim never abandoned his priestly habits and demeanor. Social service was tightly woven into his personality, first as a priest, then as a social services field worker, and later in his contributions to the social worlds of leather. Jim retained a pastoral touch and an ecclesiastical presence. He possessed a rare ability to command attention, provide reassurance, and convey information. He facilitated interaction among his vast network of contacts in the US and European leather populations. He officiated at a number of weddings, although these were not yet legally recognized unions, and later conducted funeral services for men killed by the AIDS epidemic.

Jim and Ike eventually retired, sold Pink Alley, and moved up north to Sebastopol, CA. Ike predeceased Jim, who entered into another relationship that lasted until Jim’s own death in 2004. His surviving partner and Guy Baldwin assembled a collection of Jim's papers, leathers, and memorabilia, which were sent to the Leather Archives & Museum in Chicago.

Jim Kane occupied the center of a social hub that not only linked local Bay Area leather with national and international circuits, but also connected gay male practitioners with straight, bisexual and lesbian ones. His personal impact was incalculable: he influenced many individuals who would themselves help shape leather behavior and leather institutions. Jim was both integral to the gay male leather world and instrumental in the formation ofa mixed kink community in the Bay Area. He helped to create what was one of the earliest big city SM communities that really worked as a functional multi-gendered and mixed orientation scene, based on mutual cooperation and respect for the individual differences and integrity of the participating populations. This mixed "leather commons" attracted many others over the years, including figures such as Geoff Mains and Tony DeBlase. It lives on in the Bay Area in organizations such as the Leather Alliance, and in the cooperative relationships among the local gay male, lesbian, and heterosexual organizations. It is manifested in the relatively relaxed attitude toward many boundary issues, such as the acceptance of transfolk in their communities of choice. And this San Francisco model was brought into the nascent national organizing in the mid-19805. Jim Kane's generosity of spirit, unapologetic kinkiness, ability to bridge differences, pastoral gifts, and educational contributions all helped to create much of what we now can take for granted. He set an example for all those who want to make the world a better place for kinky people.

-Gayle Rubin
{With gratitude for the generous substantive and editorial/contributions of Guy Baldwin, Rostom Mesli, Jakob VonLammeren, and Rick Storer.}

106 Valley Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92264;  269-588-9100

© 2024 Leather Hall of Fame