On this day, 76 years ago, Soviet troops arrived at the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau and the world woke up to an unspeakable horror: the Holocaust, the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators. The infamous extermination camp still held some 7,000 prisoners, survivors who stood up to tell us what had happened, so it would never happen again. Since 2005, when the UN General Assembly proclaimed 27th January to be International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, today is a day to preserve their memory and keep the truth alive.
During the pandemic, over the last year we have see a huge rise in the amount of hate crime against minorities, including homophobia, transphobia antisemitism and racism. Against a global context of rising antisemitism and increasing levels of disinformation and hate speech, Holocaust education and remembrance is even more urgent, as is the development of an historical literacy to counter repeated attempts to deny and distort the history of the Holocaust.
What can we do to help from within our communities, as part of the European and global fetish community? Whenever you see antisemitism, fascist propoganda and symbolism, racism, homophobia and transphobia in our communities, call it out.
Be prepared to have difficult conversations with people. Especially if you’re an ally and not from within the minority group you’re defending. Don’t let minority groups shoulder all the emotional labour of educating. So be prepared to have conversations with people about these things. Find out the context and meaning they hold for that person, and be prepared to reflect and educate. You can do this compassionately. Sometimes people naively don’t realise the impact and are purely thinking of their own kink context.
And if you wear any symbols or uniform be prepared to examine closely what those symbols and uniforms mean in our communities and their historical context. If you indulge in uniform kink and race play, look at whether what you do is harmful, or whether public symbolism looks racist, antisemitic or fascist. Maybe those symbols mean something different to you. Perhaps they are empowering for you. Your mileage may vary depending on your life experiences, culture and privilege. But please consider what they may look like from the perspective of a Jewish person, or a Person of Colour, and the pain they may cause.
We know many ancient symbols have changed meanings over the centuries, as symbols get usurped and used for a different cause and their historical meaning changes in public perception. If you are in a place to argue semantics about this it’s likely you are not going to be hurt by the symbolism or it’s modern meaning. But to others, with a different lived experience and privilege it may be seen differently. So don’t let your kink love harm others. Think about consent from a bystander perspective, and how triggering those symbols, uniform or play might be to other people. I’m not decrying anyone’s right to indulge in race play or uniform play. I’m not kink shaming or yucking anyone’s yum. But for goodness sake, do the work on it to minimise the harm you could do to others by sharing fascist imagery or this sort of play publicly. And when you see it, call it out. Challenge it. Educate.
by Alistair LeatherHiraeth, European BootBlack 2020
So what is bootblacking? What does it mean to be a bootblack, and what should you know about the etiquette of sitting in the bootblack’s chair?
For me bootblacking represents the service heart of our leather and fetish community. By its nature, bootblacking is intimate. We choose our boots as part of our leather image and identity. We walk our leather path in them. Our leather is our armour, our second skin. And when those boots are polished, on your feet, it’s an act of service. It’s care for the boots, and care for the person wearing those boots. Nothing completes your image better than a well-polished and well cared for pair of boots. Bootblacks provide a service which improves your image and how you project yourself in your leathers. But for most of us, it’s more than that. Feet are one of the most personal parts of the body, and having your boots blacked on your feet can be an intensely intimate experience. We aren’t just cleaning footwear. We see and care for the whole person. Sometimes it can be erotic, sometimes it’s an intimate sharing. At other times it’s a connection and energy exchange.
Someone sits in the bootblack chair to get quality service and attention given to their boots. Often those boots cost you a lot of money. They are something of value that deserves to be cared for and represents who you are in the leather world. Sometimes those boots are more than just a fetish accessory or a projection of our leather selves. Sometimes they are worn most days and are old friends. Whether they are valuable in financial terms or in memories and years, they deserve the care we can give them. Bootblacks are also the keepers of stories. This is one of my favourite parts of bootblacking. I came back from Darklands with the best memories of people and the stories they told me of where their boots had taken them: From the guy who had climbed all the mountains in Iceland in his combat boots to the guys whose knee-high Wesco’s were a huge part of their leather identities. Whatever your relationship is with your boots, we hear your boot stories, where they’ve taken you, what they mean to you, and how they’ve carried you on good days and bad. We hear the stories of your leather journey and your lives. And we witness.
Bootblacking is a headspace – It’s a service, and a scene. And when you’re in that chair, you deserve to feel like a king. In charge. In control. Whether you’re top or bottom doesn’t matter. You get to negotiate what you want from that scene. Bootblacks come in all shapes, sizes, identities and genders. Not all are submissive or will act submissively. Not all see it as an erotic act. And many do. For most, there is at the very least, some form of energy exchange. But bootblacking is a skill, a craft. All bootblacks provide service, and you get to negotiate for what you want. So, let’s talk etiquette. What can you expect and how should you behave in the bootblack chair?
Setting the Scene: Bootblacking is a headspace for the bootblack, and while you’re in their chair, you are an active participant in that. It’s not the sort of scene you’re used to probably, but the bootblack may begin by introducing themselves and asking what you want, and they will then create that energy and space. It can be easy and familiar – they may ask for the story of your boots. It can be light hearted with joking or erotically charged with flirting and overt undertones of power exchange. Or it can be an intense silence and energy exchange that you will both find intimate and the space around you will fade out. It depends very much on how you connect. You can guarantee though that you will form memories for both of you about that exchange.
Negotiation: First off, tell your bootblack what you want for your boots. It would be unfair to assume your bootblack knows how you want your shine if you never discussed it. What do you want in the scene? Some clients want an easy chat with their shine, some get more energy and want something intense. Not everyone gets the same treatment and you can’t just order what the last person had. Like in any scene there is implicit and explicit negotiation to navigate, and you should remember that consent is important. A bootblack is offering you a service. Having your boots blacked doesn’t automatically give you permission to grope, or make inappropriate remarks. If the energy is right, if it feels comfortable and the connection is right, then it could lead to some bootlicking/bootworship, but think of that as the exception rather than the rule. Be led by firstly the negotiation, and secondly, their interaction with you. Some may flirt or be overtly erotic, but be aware that if you grope them without negotiation, you may be groping without consent, or groping someone else’s property!
Scene etiquette: Observe but don’t interrupt. You wouldn’t interrupt someone flogging their sub, or in an intense Ds moment. So, don’t interrupt a bootblack who is focused on their craft. Wait until the scene is over to ask your question or to book your slot in the chair. Stand back and give them room. Don’t hover. They’ll let you know when they can talk. The same applies to the bootblack’s kit. You wouldn’t touch someone’s play kit in a dungeon, so please, leave their kit alone. As in everything, general politeness and mutual respect go a long way. And if you’re sat in my chair, as in any scene, I want you to be present with me. Interacting with other people or cruising the room is fine. But don’t pull your phone out and check facebook updates. Be present with the service and the energy you are being offered.
Tip: your bootblack! Bootblack supplies cost money, and bootblacking takes physical energy and mental focus. A bootblack will have studied and researched to develop their skills, and the knowledge to care for all sorts of leathers and boots in all sorts of condition. It’s a craft, and it doesn’t come cheap. A good guide for cost would be £15-20 for a pair of combat boots or cowboy boots, £20-25 for boots that are knee high or above, £25-30 for shirts, pants, corsets, skirts, jackets etc. If you have repairs that need extra attention or product, that should be considered. If you don’t know what to tip, ask your bootblack!
Self-Care: Let bootblacks do a little self-care between customers. Every play scene needs aftercare, and bootblacking is no different. Some scenes can be intense and take the bootblack in to a deep bootspace. It IS a fetish after all – Bootblacks connect also with your boots not only with you. It’s hard work and there is no aftercare from clients. Let them stretch, have a drink or sit quietly for a while before taking on another customer. They’ll let you know when they’re ready to carry on.
Other considerations: Do you have allergies? Some products regularly used by bootblacks contain nut, soy or lanolin. And just about all bootblack products contain beeswax. Let the bootblack know during the initial talk and negotiation. The bootblack community is gender diverse – if your bootblack introduces themselves with pronouns, make sure you respect those pronouns, regardless of your own gender perception of them.
First time: Do you tell the bootblack this is your first time? Oh, hell yes you do! Depending on the energy in the stands, be prepared for them to yell out that they’re about to pop a cherry, and for the other bootblacks to cheer! Your first time in a bootblack chair is an experience to remember, so let your bootblack know so they can spend a little time answering your questions and making sure you have a memorable first experience. And maybe you’ll fall in love with having your boots shined, in the same way that we bootblacks love making you shine!
So if I haven’t made you fall even just a little bit in love with bootblacks yet, I’m going to leave you with a slightly tongue in cheek quote from Laura Antoniou, person of leather, and author in NYC. Here’s Laura on bootblacks *“Nothing makes someone look as sharp as a clean, polished pair of boots. When we work, we’re improving not only their look, but how they project themselves. Plus, leather care is a forgotten side of the leather culture. People just go out and buy their stuff and put it on and when they take it off, they throw it in the corner like a pair of jeans. They don’t know how to take care of it, how to repair it, clean it, keep it looking good. We’re the ones who do that, teach it. We’re the real leather in the Global Leather title. Everyone else just…wears it.” 😉
Bootblacks: The service heart and sole of the leather community.