I was working this morning on a public presentation I’ll be giving soon about how conflicts around homosexuality have played out in different American Christian groups. I was reading online, brushing up on the history of Dignity, the Catholic LGBT advocacy organization, when I discovered Defenders, which Dignity describes as a “ministry” that does “outreach to the leather/levi community.” Defenders describes itself a bit more prosaically as “a leather club with a focus on Christian spirituality in the Catholic tradition.”
I confess that my personal reaction is to find this mildly, laughably scandalous. (“OMG, you are not going to believe this…”) This, of course, is precisely the reaction the group wants to counteract.
Responding more analytically, I suppose the existence of a group like Defenders is predictable given that sexuality and spirituality are both regarded in modern culture as fundamental seats of identity. It follows that some individuals who have organized their sexual identity in ways promoted by the leather subculture would be interested in integrating that identity with whatever spiritual identity they’ve claimed for themselves.
I wonder if it’s significant that this is a development within the world of Catholic spirituality, specifically. That is, could you draw continuities between the Defenders and Catholic traditions like the Flagellants? (Yes, I know, “leather” isn’t necessarily synonymous with BDSM–please don’t, um, castigate me.) I haven’t seen Defenders’ literature, but I’d be curious to know if they draw such historical continuities for legitimacy–or if their discourse is more about the gift of sexual pleasure, etc. I’d also be curious to know what other (i.e., non-Catholic) varieties of “leather spirituality” may be out there.