A leather elder on the way it should be
By Morgan M. Hurley | Editor
When first meeting Anthony Jerome Lindsey — “Papa Tony” to those who know him in the local community — it’s a bit startling at first.
The self-described “leather daddy master” is usually decked out from head-to-toe in leather gear and is everything you’d imagine of the stereotypical hyper-masculine man. He’s a very tall man, to boot — towering above at 6-foot 5-inches. What is even more surprising, is that more often than not at that first meeting, he will grab your hand warmly and not let go until you’ve finished introductions.
This is a case where what you see (or think you see) is not what you get — at least when Papa Tony is out and about in the public sphere; catch him in a leather realm and you would definitely see another side of him — and what is unique about him is the way he has chosen to live his public life: in a very cordial, loving and unassuming way.
It is safe to say that he’s put a different face on the traditional leather community. While he’s been promoting this mindset as an active member of San Diego’s leather community for nearly 41 years, today he embraces being an elder and often defines that role for others. He revels in sharing his wisdom with those his age but mostly, the younger gay men coming up the ranks.
Tony grew up Catholic in the San Fernando Valley and joined the Navy as soon as he graduated in 1975. Calling himself a “pollution refugee” — he said he escaped the thick, choking haze that used to overtake the Los Angeles basin until cleaner air policies came about.
He went to boot camp and technical school in San Diego and was detailed to the USS Samuel Gompers, a destroyer tender that spent a lot of time at sea. It was while on this ship that his life began to make sense.
Up until then, while he thought he might be gay, Tony never identified with any of the effeminate gay men he’d met or seen represented in the media. But once another sailor showed him the “Tom of Finland” books, a light bulb went on.
“I was boggled,” Tony said. “It was the first time I had ever seen the concept that men could have sex with each other without one of them pretending to be a girl. I knew this was for me.”
He photocopied some of the pages and had a Tom of Finland-inspired leather outfit custom made in Hong Kong. He said for the last two years of his four-year Navy career, he came and left the ship in that gear with no questions asked.
But Tony said it wasn’t until he left the Navy that his life would truly transform. He began meeting and hanging out with a bevy of older gay men in the leather community and at 22 years old, soaked up as much knowledge he could.
“I wanted mentoring,” Tony said. “After 12 years of Catholic school, I was terribly ignorant about life. I’d ask them, ‘How could I have done that better?’ or ‘How do I deal with this issue?’ I did this over and over.
“I had 30–40 men who were my ‘loving uncles’ and they made sure I got my needs handled, not just financially, but in making sure my questions were answered; because I had a lot of questions.”
Then AIDS hit and it took a toll on his circle of friends.
“I’m the only survivor,” he said. “I went from a very abusive father, up to the heights with these wonderful men and then down into the depths when they all died. It wounded me horribly.”
He said despite the survivor guilt, he turned all of his anguish into a “power source” in an attempt to deal with what he called “the holocaust period” the community was stuck in.
“I saw myself as an egg, a fetus compared to all these men I knew that were so kind and wise and so worthy of living and I just couldn’t understand how out of all those people, I never even became HIV positive,” Tony said. “And I was doing everything side-by-side with them. Luck of the draw, I guess.”
Since those dark days, which still visibly impact him, Tony has made it his life’s work to reach out to other men his age who also lost so many, and give them the opportunity to shed some of that weight, through both kindness and community.
The first thing he did was start documenting the leather community.
“I was desperate to photograph and did well over 300 title holder ceremonies alone,” he said. “I have 140,000 kink, leather community-oriented photos on my computer.”
So much had been lost — thrown away by the unaccepting families of those who had died; he felt compelled to fill the gap.
In the early days of technology, Tony created email discussion lists, where topics could be shared and discussed by hundreds of people on the same email thread. Then he started a group where attendees could be present with each other, flirt, work on social skills and through any trauma or pain they have been carrying. He called it the San Diego League of Gentlemen.
“I wanted it to be open and sweet and affectionate and hugging, because gentlemen are that way,” he said. “It’s not something that most people think of in terms of a gay leathermen’s group, but I find it to be crucial, because men who are wounded and damaged by loss and fear of intimacy — all these things that are crippling us — what we need more than anything else is to drop the threshold down to the ground; how nice are you? That’s all we care about.”
He said he often reminds those who have not yet embraced their position as an elder — and might be caught up in thinking they need to compete with the 23-year olds — that they need to start “owning their age” and mentor them, too.
It’s the job of the elders, he said, to become those “loving uncles,” and stand on the sidelines with the “pom poms” to cheer on and support the younger men who are now the ones working hard to make this community a better place.
“What I tell these young people is, nobody does anything for free and my payoff is that some day when you’re old and you’ve got gray in your hair and beard, you turn around and help the next one,” Tony said. “That’s what I want. The worst thing that happened when everybody died, is that the cycle of mentoring between the generations closed and I want it back.”
While the League of Gentlemen is no more, Papa Tony’s commitment to the community and outreach continues. A monthly event happens on the first Saturday of every month at Redwing Bar & Grill in North Park, from 4–7 p.m. on the back patio.
“It’s peaceful and mellow and kind,” he said. “And it’s like everyone has known each other for decades even though technically they haven’t — everyone drops their shields and are just nice. We all know how to be evil, angry, people and I don’t want to be. I just want to be sweet. I want to be affectionate, I want to be joyful and playful.”
— Morgan M. Hurley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.