The iconic image of the Leatherman and biker was viewed and imbued by much of society as caricature of hyper masculine homosexual or the opposite of caricature effeminate man. Yet, for the first part of the twentieth century, society did not know of the term “homosexual’ or what was an accepted homosexual displayed characteristic.
Up through the turn of the century, the effeminate man was often seen as an intellect, wistful, or enlightened in art and culture. The homosexual man was a cosmopolitan man and accepted in society without regard to sexuality. Society up through about 1914 did not know of the term “homosexual” and up until that time only considered same-sex sexuality as sexual inversion, more to do with cross-gender identification as opposed to the association of same-sex sexuality.
When leather arrived as a gay sub-culture in post-war United States, it was again an extension of the military all-males society developed under hyperbolic conditions of war. Men in World War II wore leather bomber jackets in their fighter planes and bombers. The men who flew these fighter missions were between the ages of 18 and 22, because of their lack of fear, feeling of invincibility and virility. The military considered men beginning at age 23 were too old to fly fighter missions. This in turn only strengthens the imagery of the strong, virile man who wore leather.
Because the United States was a massive war machine during World War II, little focus was given to the effeminate man either in entertainment, culture, arts, fashion and the aristocratic society. After all, even women worked in factories churning out the tanks, guns and planes used during the war. The strength of the nation was the solidarity of men and women to fight the Nazis and Hitler. But post-war that all changed.
The hyper masculinity associated with leather, captured in the art work Touko Laaksonen (Tom of Finland) showed Tom’s view of beautiful naked man, made even more sexy and beautiful by dressing him in leather.
Tom grew up in Europe, served in military during World War II and impressed with images of masculinity. His previous views of homosexuality were that men were well dressed in fancy clothes and effeminate, reinforced by his meeting of such men in Helsinki. This was to change later in his artwork though the well dressed man would then become ‘targets” of sexual derision than that of the provocateur.
In the late 40’s Berlin’s leather underground scene was burgeoning after years of repression by Hitler. Dresden and Munich were still extremely repressive, whereas Berlin and Hamburg’s lax stance on the homosexual movement, social gatherings and sexual display in direct violation of penal codes in place were a result of agreements with the police and various gay organizations. Leather was associated with the working blue collar class, military or a tradesman.
The leather clad muscular biker men of the 1950 have emerged as the personification of freedom, rebellion and masculinity in Western Pop Culture. The sub-culture world of the gay motorcycle community was complete with its own code of honor, hazing and rituals much of which was developed from the communal enclosed societies that military service often provided.
Since Marlon Brando’s portrayal of a rebellious youth in the movie, The Wild One, the biker became one of American most powerful iconic image of twentieth century. Though the fashion varied slightly over the decades from Brando’s character, the essence of masculinity remained much the same. Even such portrayals in modern movies including, Easy Rider and The Terminator, the decades provided an imagery of independence, unattached and unhindered by social stigma.
A group of gay men in Los Angeles, young, handsome men, most of who previously served in the military often gathered for the usually youthful night of hanging at a local beer hall or someone’s home. Sometimes the night of camaraderie and drunkenness lead to an evening of sexual group activities. In November of 1954, after a night of drinking, the men sat around the pool the next morning nursing their hangovers and discussing their common link. Motorcycles it was said was their common link. The brotherhood of men began the formation of the Satyrs Motorcycle Club that day.
But understand why these men formed the group; we have to go back in time to see what life was like in those days. So let’s go back in time to early Los Angeles history to see how we got to the formation of the brotherhood…