Outside the Ramrod gay leather bar (1508 NE Fourth Ave., Fort Lauderdale), faces are obscured in shadow, even when you're waiting in line. There is energy from the anticipation of being initiated into something secret. There are lots of men. No women.
But, shit on a brick, the door man let my fat ass waddle in anyways.
The dark entryway passed into a greater darkness, peopled by monstrous, shirtless silhouettes of the musk-pitted sex. In fact, apart from the other female in my mixed crew of five people, I was the only fairer-sexed creature in the club. And this place was packed wall to wall. We dipped into the on-premise sex shop for elucidation of the leather scene and a bit of a belly-jiggling giggle. The first thing that caught my eye was a black rubber dildo the girth of my cranium that curved upward like the top of an s.
Behind the counter, a man who looked like a slight Woody Harrelson in the grip of some obscure fascination explained, "See, I have to keep it on a leash." And it was true. A leash fit for a hippopotamus was wrapped around the head of the fake penis.
"Do people really buy those things?" I asked him.
"Yes," he said, "I reorder that every couple of months."
"No, seriously," I followed. "I need a cock ring, a big one."
He pulled out a big metal one and put it on the counter. It was too brutal.
"Or," he said, "you could get one of these rubber ones." He fingered a group of cock rings hanging from the wall. "But there's not much point."
I asked him about leather wear and what different outfits imply to beholders. He handed me a little card that had something on it called "Hanky Code." Under this system, men wear colored hankies to advertise their preferences and fetishes. For example, wearing a gray hanky on your left arm means you're a "bondage top into light S&M" and the same color on your right arm means you're a bottom with the same interests. A beige hanky on the left arm means you're a "rimmer" and on the right arm a "rimmee." Yin and yang.
Such organized detail, and yet, cruising through the densely packed, extremely dark club, I didn't observe the hanky code in action. Plenty of leather-harness-wearing daddies sweating shoulder to shoulder who were -- if you ask me -- highly disorganized in expressing their preferences.
I spied a slim, blond figure at the bar. Despite the leather harness on his chest and the cocktail in his hand, he was looking dejected... even though it was the weekend of the White Party, one of the nation's premier anti-AIDS events, held on Miami Beach.
"I've had a tough week," he explained. "I thought that there would be more people coming here before going to the White Party at the Coliseum."
A leather strap extended from his harness down to his white briefs. I asked the purpose.
"This is a bottom harness," he said. "The strap is there for maneuvering."
Seemed functional. But, I thought, the coding is endless.
So I left harness man to his cocktail and headed out to the back area, where there was a Quiet Zone. It was a cruisy scene, and there seemed to be slight apprehension about a female's presence. I warily walked the hunk gauntlet until I heard a man say, "There she goes."
He pointed to his friend and said, "He wants to marry you."
Funny place to find a hubby. I turned to his friend and extended my paw, "Oh really. Give it up."
He balked, and we BS'd for a minute about amour.
But my crew was feeling the claustrophobic squeeze of the milling crowd, so we were out the door.
The next night, I was once again the solo fish at a gay leather bar, the Jackhammer (1725 N. Andrews Sq., Fort Lauderdale). At the Sunday Tea Dance, the dark, three-room saloon was like a dude flesh carnival. The main bar was loud from the new wave and disco that pumped on the dance floor, so I turned through a passageway that led into a room where porn played on the screens and it was quiet enough to converse.
A trim, harness-wearing hunk with Master Shredder spikes running down his right shoulder stood at the corner of the bar. I sidled up next to him, but he was engaged in conversation with another, slightly less buff man who was apologizing for his physique.
"There are a few things I could do," he explained.
"Squats. Squats. And more squats," Shredder told his new friend, who proceeded to put his mouth to Shred's hard, square pecs.
On the television screen above the bar, two men were standing face to face, one plunging his finger into the other's mouth, simulating oral good times.
Bored and feeling out of place, I moved on to a short, crewcut man in a T-shirt. He broke the leather code down for me: "A strap on the left arm means top. A strap on the right arm means bottom. And both arms means you're versatile."
Hmm. "What's the benefit?" I asked.
"If you're exclusively top and you see a guy with an arm band on his left arm, you know not to waste your time. It's an advertisement. These are the basics."
"What about bears?" I asked. "Is that a leather thing?"
"Bears," he explained, "are big guys who don't groom. They won't shave. And cubs are small, short guys who don't shave and generally are into bears. And otters "are smooth guys who are into bears."
He baffled me with his many distinctions. Otters, I pondered, as I walked away to throw a couple of coins into an absolutely stellar Ms. PacMan machine with a disappointingly low high score (in the 50,000 range). Must be the porno.
Jackhammer's owner, Chris, came 'round and threw some sarcasm in my ear: "Oh, so you wanna come in here, and now you're playing games."
He pulled me over to the bar, and I asked him to clarify two contradictory concepts. "So, leather and a tea dance? What's that about?"
"Leather boys like to dance too. Hear this music?" he said of the tunes. "This is what we grew up on."
"So what's an otter?" I asked him.
"An otter..." he began to relay, then turned to a tall, amused man in a red Budweiser hat. "What's an otter?"
Suddenly, a voice called out from the dark, "I'm an otter."
And there he was, a thin blond man with a Dennis the Menace-like 'do. He wore a harness and faded jeans with two pancake-sized holes cut out for his ass cheeks.
"OK, Otter, do you have a bear?"
"My boyfriend is a bear," he said. "I like that big, hairy gut. Today at the bathhouse, he had his towel around his girth, and I told him to pull it down under his belly. I want to see it."
(Note: Hey ladies, forget Colin Farrell's chiseled torso. Just throw a leather harness across the marshmallow belly of that couch slob you're married to and drag the big bear top off to bed.)
"So," I asked Otter, "you like big, hairy men exclusively?"
"Well, I wouldn't kick a young guy out of bed. But shaving is not good at all. I don't like stubble."
The tall man in a Budweiser hat added, "No Epiladies," cutting on men who groom their body hair.
The two men seemed flirtatiously engaged, so I asked Otter if he and his bear had an open relationship.
"Yes. If we didn't, I never would have met [my] guy. He's a stud."
Otter said he generally hangs out at the Cubby Hole (823 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale). "They have the best burgers in town. But Bill's Filling Station [1243 NE 11th Ave., Fort Lauderdale] won't let me in with the ass cut out of my jeans."
I asked the Stud in Bud to compare Ramrod to Jackhammer, and he said, "Ramrod is cruisier. It's tense, and you have to wait in line."
Does Stud in Bud ever don leather?
"Yeah. If I came out in this, no one would pay attention to me. It is a costume, and you do have to pull it off. It's not always hunting for sex. Pursuit is fun. Attention is fun, and if you do hook up, it's wonderful. Leather is an acquired taste. It's a game, and you have to know how to play it, and some people play it better than others."
"I play it very well," Otter interjected.
What about women being in leather bars? Why am I one of the only females here?
Stud came back with, "If you're watching a porno and there's a woman standing next to you at the bar, it doesn't make you feel comfortable."
On that note, I headed out the door, where I was stopped by a short, young man in a basketball jersey.
"What are you doing here?" he asked. "It's all men in here."
I nodded and asked where he liked to cruise for men.
"I go to Georgie's Alibi, and I can pick up a guy like that," he said.
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"I don't like sweaty old men. I want a man who can handle me and toss me around. I like when they act straight. I don't know why."
"Why do you hang out at the leather bar?" I asked.
"I'm thinking about changing into leather like Olivia Newton John in Grease. "
Well, there's a hell of a lot more to it than that, I thought to tell him, but youngster that he was, he'll probably figure it out for himself. It is an acquired taste, after all.