The debate about marriage equality is dominating the national consciousness in Australia at the moment. Talk of BDSM, leather worship and, anything even remotely sexual, is non-existent. With the clear focus being on equality, it seems the ‘sex’ part of our sexuality, has been shoved to the side.
Which is precisely why I wanted to write this article. I don’t understand why there seems to be this unspoken divide between what’s seen to be socially acceptable (fighting for equal rights) and anything remotely (or explicitly) sexual. Why can’t these currently competing interests coexist with each other? We’re all sexual creatures, and how we choose to express that side of ourselves shouldn’t be shrouded in shame or secrecy. After all, married people still have sex too….right?….oh… :-)
Jokes aside, what struck me most about Army of Men was the way they were presenting themselves, as well as the leather gear (which they hand make themselves in Byron Bay!) While the mainstream media might be overlooking gay sex entirely, within the gay community, we have a number of perhaps outdated, or at the very least, not overly positive perceptions about the leather/kink/fetish scene.
It’s only for old guys
It’s gross and dirty
“Those” guys are just perverts
There’s something wrong with them
Negative stereotypes and perceptions abound. Which is unfortunate because a) as we all know, stereotypes are hardly ever correct and b) maybe it’s keeping us from missing out on seeing something in a new way? Army of Men takes away a lot of the stigma away by positioning itself, and the products it makes, in a new light. It’s a young, fresh company aiming to reach a new generation of gay men.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Army of Men Founder Derrick Yong. I was curious to discuss some of these issues with him to get his take on things. Here’s what we talked about:
Little Gay Blog – Derrick, thanks for your time. The Army of Men motto seems to be “Don’t judge. Live and let live.” Why do you think that in 2015, there still remains a degree of judgement and negative attitude towards the leather/kink/fetish community within the gay community?
Derrick – To be honest, I don’t really see much of the judgement myself. I’m quite approachable, so I find that people are usually quite curious to ask me about things.
I actually think that any negative attitude has more to do with either feeling excluded or feeling that it isn’t relevant to them. I think it’s less to do with misinformation. There’s kind of no excuse these days, when the Internet is at everyone’s’ fingertips.
With the exception of ‘50 Shades of Grey’, there is a lot of good information about BDSM out there. The leather kink scene did used to have a much more structured framework for entry and acceptance, but it’s more open now, and I think it will continue to be.
Little Gay Blog – Without breaching your customer’s privacy, can you give us an insight into the profile of a ‘typical’ Army of Men customer?
Derrick – A typical customer is between the age of 20-45 and male, but after that, they’re fairly diverse. Some are full leathermen while others are after my gear for fashion accessories. Some are a lot kinkier than others and they are of all sexual orientations as well.
The one thing I would say about them all is they are all after something special or that they haven’t seen before. I do find my customers want to look a bit different.
Little Gay Blog – You got your start making clothes for strippers as a teenager. What did that experience teach you both on a personal, as well as professional, level?
Derrick – To be non-judgemental. I had a natural tendency towards that anyway. I never avoided people who were marginalised, or deemed to be weird. I often found they had stories that were most interesting to me. It was that attitude that led me to being very comfortable working with strippers, and later working at sex shops in my late teens.
So from a very early age, there wasn’t much, in terms of obscure sexual practices and desires, that I found remotely shocking. Its important that someone like me who makes this kind of gear can listen well, and is free of judgement. People need to be able to come to me and feel comfortable opening up about their private lives so they can get what they need.
Little Gay Blog – Alrighty, time for a business question! (Yes, I’m a geek!) Everyone laments the decline of manufacturing, of actually physically making things, in this country. Yet here you are, making clothes in Australia without outsourcing it overseas. How are you able to do this, and why do you think it’s important to still make things in this country?
Derrick – How I’m able to do it is more an indication of my stubbornness than anything else.
I think the question is more about why I’ve decided to not outsource. The reason being my love for my work is centred around the production process as opposed to the creative process. Outsourcing the manufacturing would be like getting rid of the component of the business I most enjoy. The factory floor is my favourite place to be.
I think it’s still important to at least make some things in this country just so we don’t lose all of the accumulated knowledge. There are fewer viable options now, but there are still opportunities to make manufacturing within Australia work. The products just need to be special.
Leather fetish gear for men is a very niche market, with a product that requires precise sizing and often involves customisation. It’s not the type of product that scales very well in mass production, especially if every customer wants something a bit different. So far, that seems to be enough for us to keep making our gear here.
Little Gay Blog – What’s in store for Army of Men? Where would you like to see it in say, 5 or 10 years time?
Derrick – Definitely expand our product range past leather and into neoprene, rubber and some clothing. Hopefully by then I will have manifested my dream factory.
But most of all that I continue to build a base of loyal customers. The size of my business matters less to me than the satisfaction of my fans and customers.
Little Gay Blog – Lastly, what would you say to someone reading this who has never bought leather gear before, but is curious about it? What’s the best way to get started with it?
Derrick – There’s no need to throw yourself in the deep end. What constitutes kinky is so incredibly broad. Just start by getting the things you like, whether they be leather garments or toys, that you think will either turn you on or make you feel hot. The rest comes down to being open to exploring and explicitly communicating your desires without fear.
The full kit and equipment can come later, when you explore more and know what it is you want to experience.
Little Gay Blog – Thanks for your time Derrick!