From Issue 4.2 - Summer 1998
In the traditional parlance, a journeyman is one who is at the early stages of mastering a trade. The term can also be understood to mean a person who undertakes a journey. Both senses are applicable to the Journeyman II Academy (JIIA), a training program designed to perpetuate values and skills in the tradition that is often referred to as "Old Guard."
In order to understand the Academy, it is necessary to give a brief background on a tribal group that its members call "the Family." The Family was a closed group of men and women living a full-time lifestyle based on many of the traditions and protocols that today are called "Old Guard." New members entered the Family as novices and underwent a rigorous and lengthy training.
Sadly, as is the case with much of the older leather community, a majority of the younger male members of the Family were lost -- most due to AIDS -- at a time when they otherwise would have been transferring their acquired knowledge, skills, and values to their successors.
The surviving senior members of the Family believed that there was a need to teach the foundations of the leather/SM lifestyle, and they understood that in order to keep their traditions alive, a new mechanism must be put into place. The Family's highest-ranking member, GrandMaster Keith Edward E -- or Master KEE -- as he is called, asked permission to set up a program to teach these foundations. Master KEE became a member of the Family when he was 13 years old, underwent training as a Master's Boy, completed his Master's and Trainer's apprenticeships, and became a GrandMaster Trainer in 1995.
Master KEE had initially considered setting up an advanced training for his own trainees, but was persuaded by former International Ms. Leather Pat Baille to open the program to others -- thus the Journeyman II Academy was born. However, the members also realized that the birth of the Academy would mean the death of the Family as they had known it. The Family was formally dissolved at midnight on January 1, 1998.
The Journeyman II Academy was a nearly two year long program with a full and varied curriculum. Students, referred to as cadets, received instruction from some of the most well known members of the San Francisco Bay Area leather/SM community (and a few from out of state), including Mistress Ann, Daddy Bob Allen, Guy Baldwin, Master Joseph Bean, Mistress Cassandra, Wendy Dalton, Sir Lou Duff, Dr. William Henkin, Sybil Holiday a.k.a. M. Cybelle, Mistress Kassandra Kane, Dr. Robert Lawrence, Serena Lumiere, Carol Queen, and Dr. Gayle Rubin.
The JIIA cadets were selected on the basis of their potential and commitment, without regard to their age, gender, or existing level of experience. Classes ran for two full days one or two weekends each month from December 1995 through September 1997.
According to Master KEE, the three goals of the Academy classes were "to teach the basic tools and skills needed for each cadet to become the best, most emotionally empowered leatherperson they could be, to learn the skills as if every person they would play with in the future would be HIV positive, and to have the ability to handle any SM partner as if they were a member of the 'walking wounded.' " Cadets were expected to leave every class owning their new knowledge from both a top and a bottom perspective.
Although one might think that a program like JIIA would focus primarily on skills such as rope bondage and whipping technique -- and it did indeed involve plenty of that -- an equal or greater amount of time was spent on the basic foundations of the leather/SM lifestyle.
The cadets often put in 14-16 hour days in classes, with additional time spent on homework. Cadets read some 5,571 pages of text by a wide range of authors. The dictionary was an important tool, in keeping with Master KEE's emphasis on the importance of "knowing what you mean when you say it." Two other frequently consulted tomes were Emily Post's and Amy Vanderbilt's guides to basic etiquette. A typical class day included a hot lunch prepared and served by the cadets, and the cadets presented a full buffet banquet at the graduation ceremony -- hospitality was among the many skills they were expected to master.
William Henkin, a Bay Area author and therapist, and Sybil Holiday, a sex educator and professional dominant, taught a class on Submission, Service, and Slavery. Henkin says, "every SM club has courses that involve 'doingness' and the hardware -- how to whip, tie, spank, cane, and the like. And lately, some people have been talking about the spiritual aspects of erotic power exchange. But almost no one speaks about the emotional and psychological stuff that drives dominance and submission.
"When most people talk about SM as a lifestyle, dominance and submission is what they're really talking about -- not whether I hit you or you hit me with which implement, but who leads in the dance and who follows, who commands and who obeys. Learning to think about the process of surrender and the different aspects and degrees of submission, and learning what is important to oneself in such an exchange, underlies the very ability to engage in these kinds of relationships."
The Journeyman II Academy graduation ceremony was held at the San Francisco Eagle on October 4th. The graduating class consisted of eight cadets -- the small number that remained out of the over 70 who were initially interviewed and the 35 who actually started the program. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the cadets donned studded leather belts that they had made from scratch at the end of their training, symbolizing their first pieces of earned leather.
The term "Old Guard" is most often applied to the gay men's leather community that developed in large coastal cities in the wake of World War II in the late 1940s and early 1950s (see Old Guard, New Guard, by Gayle Rubin, this issue). The Family also began in the early 1950s, but differed from most "Old Guard" entities in that it included both men and women and people of various sexual orientations.
Although it evolved from old traditions, the Academy is a hybrid of old and new. JIIA was taught in a classroom format rather than as a one-on-one apprenticeship. Many of the JIIA instructors were not themselves part of the Old Guard, having often come into the leather/SM community in the 1970s.
Holiday says that she was, in fact, somewhat jealous of the cadets. "Rather than a teacher, I would have liked to be a student," she said. "I was trained by a woman, who was trained by another woman, but they made it up as they went along. I hope to pass along what I learned from them and to add something of my own."
As we near the turn of the millennium, why would anyone care about a tradition that is nearly half a century old? Henkin says, "Both as an activity and as a community, SM has a history. Its traditions and values had reasons for evolving. It's easy to argue that the values of our predecessors do or do not have relevance to our lives and activities today, but none of those arguments makes any sense if we don't know what we're talking about.
"The greatest radical and free-style artists of the 20th century -- Picasso, Appolinaire, Joyce, Thelonius Monk, and others -- were master craftspersons before they developed their own stylistic specialties; they knew what there was to use from the past and also what was no longer germane for them. I think Old Guard values are like that. They had purpose, they may have value to us now, and before we talk about keeping them or throwing them away, we should be very clear about what they are."
What would motivate a young leatherperson today to devote so much time and energy to acquiring values and skills that many of their contemporaries might consider passe'?
Cadet Luke Owen explains, "It is a major part of the traditions and history of the leather tribe. I don't want to be just like anyone else, but I do want a thorough grounding in the things that have helped make my heroes who they are today. Since these people without exception are Old Guard, it behooves me to undergo similar experiences and training to understand how they became the people I admire."
The Academy was an intensive and comprehensive training experience modeled on -- but necessarily in some ways different from -- the training of a newcomer to the Family. JIIA did not attempt to match the depth and breadth of a several year long apprenticeship. The real value of the program is the foundation it provides for future learning and development.
In the words of Rubin, "No educational process can teach everything or give any individual all that he or she needs to know. But successful education gives a person the tools to continue to learn, and a baseline from which to evaluate new information and perspectives. Leather isn't about a set of hard and fast rules as much as an openness to growth, a willingness to learn, and a willingness to take responsibility for one's actions." Owen says that the most important thing he got from the Academy is "mastery of self." He says, "This is the cornerstone for anyone, no matter what role they play in life."
The Journeyman III Academy, the "next generation" of JIIA, recently began with a new class of cadets. JIIIA is based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is under the direction of Master Michael Aylette.
Holiday noted at the JIIA graduation ceremony that, "Solid training
will carry you through almost anything. For the cadets, their training
has just begun. They are still involved in a training called life."
With a firm foundation underneath them, JIIA graduates can be expected
to keep the traditions and values of that enigma called the "Old
Guard" alive for another generation.