Book Review: The Leatherman’s Handbook

The Leatherman’s Handbook (Silver Jubilee Edition, 2nd Printing)

Larry Townsend

The Leatherman’s Handbook was Number 46 on Lambda Book Report’s end-of-the-millenium list of 100 Gay & Lesbian Books that changed our lives.

“…Leatherman’s Handbook was an immediate cult classic when it first came out in 1972. Its publication was the first step in bringing leather sex into the open in the gay world. Its instant popularity proved just how interested men were in this previously taboo subject.” – John Preston, 1993

“What L.T. offers in the Handbook are principles learned through years of experience in the SM playing field, and he invites you to agree or disagree with his ideas and conclusions…a pioneering work in gay SM.” – Victor Terry, 1997

“The groundbreaking 1972 publication of Larry Townsend’s Leatherman’s Handbook is as remarkable a construct as Stonewall itself, because it was a declaration of independence for ‘anatomically Correct’ homomasculinity.” – Jack Fritscher, 1996

NB: The author states in ‘Epilogue for a New Millenium’ (p. 275) that the first printing of the Silver Jubilee Edition in 1997 was “handled very badly” by his publisher and that the books were nearly all remaindered.

The Leatherman’s Handbook is an attempt of mine to read something completely outside of my comfort zone and outside of my norm.  Not really knowing what to expect when I picked this up, I was intrigued to find that it was a manual, of sorts, to leather sex and BDSM.

I’m not really involved in the writing or reading of leather or BDSM, though I know some of the general ideas behind them.  This book is a fantastic primer to the subject to someone who is new to it (whether they are personally interested in pursuing it or not).

The handbook is divided into chapters that cover different aspects of the lifestyle.  Townsend debunks the myths and untruths, informs the reader of reality, and ends chapters with vignettes that he or his friends have experienced.

This book is also interesting from a historical context.  So much has changed in the gay scene over the years — especially in the acceptance of the leather and BDSM scene — and so much has changed in terms of the need for safer sex.  A lot of Townsend’s original text is dated, but thankfully he keeps it largely untouched, which offers a glimpse into a different time, a different place, and a different life.  When things are outdated, Townsend inserts annotations to address how things have changed.

I’ve never felt that BDSM is a deviant lifestyle, though I know many straight-laced folk do, but I never quite understood it.  This book introduced me to a lot of different things, not the least of which is the understanding and reasoning behind why a lot of people like BDSM and leather sex.  While BDSM and leather sex are still not my thing, I feel I understand it a lot more now.  Townsend removes a lot of the fog of mystery from this lifestyle and, if anything, makes it all the more provocative and sexual now that it’s seen in its fullest.

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2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Reading

2 responses to “Book Review: The Leatherman’s Handbook

  1. Thanks for taking on a subject outside your comfort zone by reviewing this classic. Thoughts from well-spoken “outsiders” are especially valuable.

  2. Pingback: Book Reviews for August 2015 | Cameron D James

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