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Monday, March 26, 2012

The Sweet Spot: A Death in the Family Unveils Massive BDSM Archive

Posted By on Mon, Mar 26, 2012 at 8:30 AM

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Not everyone likes to have their cock pierced by needles. But for those who do, they have Larry Townsend as a champion. Credited with having coined the term Leather Daddy, Townsend was an avid collector of the art of hot man pain.

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Back in 1972, he was the president of the Homophile Effort for Legal Protection, an organization dedicated to defending gays during and after arrests. A regular contributor to Drummer magazine, an artful early zine celebrating all things leather and bad daddy, ooh bad, he was also the author of The Leatherman's Handbook, the seminal leather daddy bible.

Not your average uncle, Larry Townsend -- as his niece Tracy Tingle discovered upon his death in 2008, when she was made executor of his estate.

"I had known for a long while that he had an extensive S&M erotic art collection," Tingle says. "But once he died and the work of going through all of his belongings began, the depth and amount of work he had was revealed."

Tingle said even though Townsend had stressed the potential financial gain that could be had in selling the work, "I quickly became much more interested in keeping everything that he had together as a complete archive."

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And that is what Tingle did.

She donated the collection to the Center for Sex Culture, which is exhibiting just a taste of the vast collection. Co-founder Carol Queen says, "We are so grateful to have been gifted Townsend's archives, and that he was a fortunate man to have a family member who understood the importance of his life and work."

Gratitude abounds on all sides, including Tingle's.

"Being the person handling anyone's estate is fascinating business," Tingle says. "You get to know parts of the person that you never knew, no matter how close you were. Of course, my Uncle Larry's world was a hell of a lot more intriguing than most people's."

Among the things that amazed her was Townsend's fan mail.

"There are letters from guys in the early '70s - resplendent with the vernacular of the day - letters from closeted guys in the Midwest, letters from people in enema clubs, and so on and so on."

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She said the letter-writers reflected the AIDS epidemic unfolding in what they wrote about and requested.

"It was really touching and beautiful to go through some of those," says Tingle.

The Folsom Street Fair is evidence that leather and BDSM culture enjoys a certain level of acceptance in San Francisco, but it's still hush-hush in many an area. However, because of the writings of Townsend, many devotees have felt far less isolated. Dusk Peterson on his blog True Tales tells a story about a conversation with his mother. As an attempt to tell her about his lifestyle, he told her he had recently been reading Townsend's book about a particular group of gay men, who were especially interested in masculinity.

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"Masculinity?" she replied. "What do you mean by masculinity?"

"Well," Peterson told her, "they like to wear clothes that are associated with masculinity. You know, jeans, leather jackets...."

"Oh, leathermen," she said.

"For conversations like this," writes Peterson, "the world owes quite a lot to Larry Townsend."

The exhibition runs through Match 30 at the Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission (at 10th St.), S.F.

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The Sweet Spot is a blog column about alternative sexuality by Ginger Murray, who is also the editor of Whore! magazine. Check back next week for more.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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Ginger Murray

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