All in the Family

All in the Family

May 12, 2016 Off By Tycho Aurora

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Written By Race Bannon at


PJ Shields (pup name Midnight – left) and Phil Hammack (pup name Turbo – right), the leaders of Fog City Pack. photo: Turbo

Mention the word family and all sorts of images come to mind – biological and chosen families of various stripes and permutations. Those of us in the leather and kink world often embrace a chosen kind of family usually referred to as a leather family.

While there are certainly family-like configurations that relate more to the word kink as an identifier, rather than leather, here I will use the term leather family to refer to them all since that’s the phrase most often used. Just know I’m including kink generally when I say leather.

The idea of a leather family is not new. It’s a concept I’ve heard referenced many times as far back as the early 70s when I walked into my first leather bar and knew I was home. But lately the concept seems to have taken off and been blessed by a wider cross-section of our scene. When I chat with fellow kinksters, I hear them increasingly reference their leather family.

So, what is a leather family?

Well, there’s the rub. Ask a dozen leather and kink folks what their version of family means to them and you’re likely to get a dozen answers. To a great extent it’s in the eye of the beholder. It’s an amorphous descriptor that people use to define any familial structure, from specifically defined to broad and generalized.

I did what I often do when I’m pondering an idea. I asked lots of friends what ideas, images and configurations came to mind when they hear the phrase “leather family.” I was also clear when I asked that I was including the entire kink realm when saying leather, not just leather specifically. Their answers told me that while leather family is something many people consider a part of their lives, they don’t all see it the same way.

Some see leather family as just few close people in their kink lives, those people they’ve met through leather or some aspect of the kink scene. They see their family as a close-knit group of people with whom they may or may not be sexually active.

The incredible closeness of these families were clearly evident with many saying that their leather family sometimes knows them better than their biological family because they are able to be incredibly open both personally and sexually.

Gay men were the largest demographic I discussed this topic with. In the gay men’s community many felt the lines demarcating family often get blurred. A family is likely to include: men who’ve had sex but no longer do; men who still have sex occasionally; men in committed multiple-partner arrangements; men with tight non-sexual bonds to men who are partnered with their fuck buddies; and many other possibilities. Any of those and more might be considered leather family.

A number of respondents gave answers that pointed out the many layers of family they see with many acknowledging the family-like nature of their arrangement or the arrangements of their friends’ families, but not using the word leather to describe them even though they are formed around leather and kink commonalities.

Often I was told that they consider their leather or kink inner circle family, but they don’t really think of it a leather family. They might have their inner circle family, then close friends or scene mentors, then casual friends and the entire leather and kink community itself, all components of what they view as a whole as their family. Non-kinky people might be part of such a family also if they have close intimate ties with other members of the family.

The leather and kink community itself was mentioned quite often as a larger, all encompassing family of sorts. Even in a room of people one might now know well, let’s say at a leather event, many feel that the entire community serves a family function for them. They expect to generically welcome them, be welcomed by them, and expect that most of what they do sexually isn’t unfamiliar or judged harshly.

In short, most felt that a leather family was a self-defined collection of individuals who understand, welcome and trust each other while sharing the commonalities of the leather and kink scene. There are few rules except that the familial arrangement works for everyone.

Members of the San Francisco based pup family, Fog City Pack. photo: Turb

Pack Pups

While leather families have existed since I entered the scene and likely long before, what prompted me to write this column was observing a local group of young gay men called the Fog City Pack. Fog City Pack is a family of San Francisco pups who hang out together and also host social and educational events.

Whether I saw these guys gathered together, all of them or a few at a time, at the SF Eagle during a beer bust, walking down the street, or at an event, I was always struck by how much of a family they seemed to me. Closely bonded. Common interests and lifestyle. Shared identity. Mutual support. Having lots of fun together. All wearing symbolic chain collars. They even sometimes dress similarly.

This pack is led by two men, PJ Shields (pup name Midnight) and Phil Hammack (pup name Turbo). I asked them in what way their pack is a family.

Turbo answered, but Midnight concurred with everything Turbo said. I think their answer gives some insight into how such erotic identity families form, but of course this is but one of many ways they might come together.

“Our Pack originated in part out of our relationship with one another (Turbo and Midnight),” said Hammack. “We originally referred to one another as ‘cousin ‘ pups, since my Handler lived in Toronto with his partner, and Midnight was from Toronto and knew them both well. This mentality between us translated into how we decided to construct the Pack. Rather than as a membership organization, we decided to view it as a family of pups, all of us connected to one another through some kind of family-like relationship. For example, each of us with our Betas (Fawks and Shadow), Turbo with his two ‘brother ‘ pups (Jumper and Amp), and other roles that followed. The Pack itself emerged out of a network of intimate relationships, as we were all exploring our pup identities and seeking community at the same time.

“We also run our Pack like a family,” Hammack continued. “We view our Pack as a safe base from which our pups can explore. And we provide nurturance and guidance along the way; not just in terms of exploring their kinks and fetishes, but also in terms of their lives more generally (school, work, relationships). Our monthly Pack meetings always begin with dinner, and we engage in other rituals intended to promote the idea of family gatherings.”

Pretty nice arrangement, isn’t it? I know many other leather families defined as two primary partners, multiple polyamorous partners in the same household or not, leather clubs who describe themselves as a type of family, titleholders who form familial units, sexual players who coalesce around certain erotic interests, and many more.

Defining leather family is truly open to interpretation, but the rise in referencing and labeling as leather family, at least to me, means that our leather and kink scene requires exactly the same closely connected and extended relationships that everyone needs.

Think about it. Do you have a leather family you feel a part of, or is that something you might want to seek out? You might be a highly independent kinkster who doesn’t enjoy such affiliations. But if you do, it’s important for you to know there are lots of people doing it, and you can learn from them.

Writer Richard Bach once said, “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.” I agree.