This article was found in a 1996 issue of Frontiers. It was part of their annual "leather" issue and it is about the best analysis of what it is to be Old Guard. The power of what Joseph Bean writes here moves me every time I read it. He strikes a chord that deep in me and it is why I have featured it here.
"Old Guard Avant-garde: Getting Real About What is - and what isn't - 'the real thing.'" Joseph Bean. Frontiers, October 4, 1996.
The fuss about the Old Guard of leather and the new forms leathersex has taken in recent years is not going to go away any time soon, I'm sure. Nor do I think there is much I could say that would settle many of the disagreements about what the Old Guard is or isn't and how it relates to the younger community and those who are newer to S&M. I took a run at explaining my point of view in "Leathersex: A Guide...," and undertook a few related questions in "Leathersex Q&A," but I doubt I've made any inroads there. So, rather than attempt a complete explanation of anything and rather than attempt to settle disputes, I'd like to just put a few thoughts in a familiar order, and leave others to determine whether I've given them anything useful. Here then, in my hand, from the home office buried in my past and located somewhere in Southern California are two Top 10 Lists, offered with apologies only to David Letterman.
Top 10 Reasons a Man Might Claim to be a Member of Leather's Old Guard
10.) He imagines that wrinkles, rigidity, discomfort with modern music and the absence of a tan are all excused in Old Guard leathermen.
9.) He doesn't have the gumption to say, "I'd like to beat you 'til we both come," and he believes that giving his sex-style a fancy name like Old Guard is a higher road (but, of course, hopes the effect will be much the same no matter what he says.)
8.) He doesn't want to have to negotiate a safe scene and, as a bottom, imagines that Old Guard means "without limits," so no negotiation will be expected or required.
7.) He doesn't want his authority as a Top questioned, and imagines that the moniker Old Guard will deflect any questioning of authority (not to mention any doubts about his skill, etc.,.)
6.) He confuses Old Guard with old hand, and believes that others will not require that he demonstrate caring, understanding or trustworthiness if he can pass of his experienced skill as Old Guard (by which he means something more than mere skill.)
5.) He confuses Old Guard with serious and like to think of himself as a serious leatherman, often actually meaning that he is looking for severe or extreme scenes, even to the point of getting into unnecessarily risky situations.
4.) He's no longer young or no longer sees himself as attractive and believes that his claim to be Old Guard makes him attractive in some other way.
3.) He has heard one or more highly-respected leathermen accept reference to themselves as Old Guard and wants to appear to be like them.
2.) He figures he can get away with anything if you believe he's Old Guard. You'll blame any confusion, discomfort, apparently unsafe situation or even complete failure of the scene on your own lack of Old Guard training.
1.) He wants to seem to have been in the leathersex life as long as his bought used leather jacket might have been even if he just discovered S&M last weekend.
Now, see how you can tell if you've really seen a Member of the "Old Guard".
Top 10 Signs You've Actually Met an Old Guard Leatherman
10.) He'll readily admit his age, even if he's old, but is unlikely to volunteer a self-appraisal that involves the words "Old Guard."
9.) He would rather be himself than be your fantasy man, no matter how much he wants you.
8.) He has spent all of the time and effort necessary (money too, if any) to be fully trained, fully equipped and fully prepared for a scene before he undertakes to do it.
7.) He is more likely to speak of the men in his circle in terms of the debt he owes them for his position in leather society, for his skills and for his toys than to speak of his exalted (or not) position, his developed (or wished for) skills and his great (or small) toy collection.
6.) He assumes nothing until conditions are such that he knows no assumptions are required for him to step into his earned and maintained position among his peers, those who aspire to be his peers, and those he accepts as his superiors.
5.) He is a gentleman in the simplest and truest sense of the word so that courtesy is a habit, not a weakness; grace is a strength, not an effeminacy; power is a fact, not a claim; dominance and submission are acts of will, not role-plays; and, while self-assertion is a given, self-aggrandizement is never intended.
4.) He is careful to develop a functioning dynamic based on trust/ trustworthiness, submission/ dominance and the famous power exchange before threatening anyone with the storming of his limits or the opportunity to enter an ecstatic state.
3.) Top or bottom, he falls in love with every play partner, if only for an hour or two, and is unashamed to share that love openly even when speaking of it might undermine the nature of the interplay.
2.) His body, his knowledge, conversational skills and courtesy are nothing compared with what it is that actually compels your interest in him.
1.) He values his reputation above his orgasm and his integrity above his reputation.
If I seem to idealize Old Guard leathermen it is only because - if they are understood to be the military-style, semi-secret society of my novitiate in leather, circa 1964 - then that is truly my view of who they were and are, as well as what I learned to aspire to. Maybe no one ever achieved perfection in all of this, but we dreamed (and still do) that a brotherhood based on shared values and earned honor was worthwhile because it gave us a clear sense of ourselves and provided a social context that we found lacking elsewhere. We could just as well have been Elks or Oddfellows but for the fact that an important part of what we shared was sexual. We certainly could have been accused of separatism, but that was based as much on our being rejected as on our wish to close anyone out. In fact, the older and more respected leathermen in my coming-out circle seemed eager to have me succeed in every way. They wanted me to achieve full membership in their structured fraternity, and did everything reasonable to help me. The driving idea was that I should achieve it, not expect it to be given me.
Things are different today, but I am not sure I could say better, only different.
Sorry for the interruption. Let the war resume.