Leatherpediaan online bible of BDSMwas launched earlier this year by Patrick Smith, International Mr. Leather 2015, after an experience he had with curious kinksters in Trinidad and Tobago.
"One of the things I tried to do in my title year was to go around to places where it is still scary to be gay and learn about it, and then do some fundraising and raise awarenessand I went to Trinidad and Tobago for that reason," said Smith during a recent phone interview with the Windy City Times. "I scheduled meetings with all the big gay rights groups and I thought we would be talking about what life was like there for a gay person and how it is difficult to come out and be visibleso that is what I was ready to talk about. But what they came to talk about was very different they wanted to talk about Japanese rope bondage also known as Shibari," explained Smith with a hardy laugh.
Smith, a Canadian-American LGBT activist, said the experience caught him off guard, but that it was also a pleasant surprise because he realized LGBT life on the Caribbean islands was not only about survival and concealment.
"There was that light bulb moment where I went, okay, there are pockets of kinksters all over the world…and there should be that resource there for them to learn about the community."
Similar to Wikipedia, Leatherpedia.org relies on collaborative knowledge gathering supplied by registered users of the site. Content is organized into categoriespeople, city, knowledge, business, and titles.
"These are just the main broad buckets of where we thought the initial interest would lie," explained Smith. "For example, the city index is really powerful because if you are traveling somewhere, you are going to want to know who the key players are, what bars you should go to, and info about any businesses that are there. The beauty of the site is that this is how it exists right now, but that's not to say that we can't adapt to meet future demands. For example, I've thought of throwing up an event index, a calendar for the entire community."
As of mid-May, Leatherpedia had 570 registered users and more than 150 entries. The site receives a full audit every 24 hours by a small group of volunteer site monitors, all of whom Smith described as "good writers who are passionate about this project, have some background in leather history, and who are connected within the community."
Even with a core group of knowledgeable volunteers, verifying new content without censoring contributors can be challenging.
"It's a tough balancing act because we don't want to censor anybody especially in this beginning phase when we are really looking for content. We want to err more on the side of inclusion. Having said that, things need to be written well and they need to be formatted properly and they need to be accurate. We can't 100 percent stand by the accuracy of everything on Leatherpedia, just the same way as the people who run Wikipedia can't stand behind that. At the end of the day, this is a resource by the community and for the community."
Prior to launching Leatherpedia, Smith solicited feedback from stakeholders throughout the leather community.
"Before launching the site, I went on a big tour to reach out to all the notable people I know in the leather community. Getting their honest opinions and getting all of the criticism of this idea upfront was important and allowed us to properly handle some of the tougher issues that popped up. One example I will give you is that there are some people in the leather community who are very visible but they might not want their employers to know they are involved with the leather community, and as a result, might not want to be included in an entry on Leatherpedia. So, we built-in an opt-out mechanism where if an entry is written about someone and they don't like it, we can add them to our blacklist so that any references to them on the site go dark and the system prevents anyone writing about them going forward."
Publically documenting leather and kink people, traditions, and techniques may be viewed differently by members of the "old guard" versus "new guard," but Smith refuses to be bound and gagged by members of the kink community who oppose his leather lexicon.
"Leatherpedia is about honoring the traditions of the so-called old guard and documenting and chronicling them, but it's also about showing new traditions and where we are going," explained Smith. "In terms of some of the guard perhaps not being ready to have this information so easily accessible, I guess I would say, to be bluntit's 2017, it's time to come out of the shadows. Lets' face it, when a movie with BDSM content, 50 Shades of Gray, can become a major blockbuster, I really don't see the reason to hide anymore. Although, admittedly, it does require bravery and courage to say, 'This is what I like sexually.' I mean, I had to do it on stage at IML with my mom in the audience!"
Leatherpedia is a non-profit entity with any leftover ad revenue benefiting the Leather Archives & Museum in Chicago. Smith will be attending International Mr. Leather 2017 and is hoping to partner with the Archives to promote the site at the leather market.