What To Expect At Your First Leather Event

People attending their first Leather event… and especially people who are also new to the Leather/BDSM scene… have a lot of questions about what will happen, what they will see, how they should behave, and what in general they should expect.

I’ve been to a number of Leather events around the country, and while each one has its own flavor, here (in no particular order) are some things that you can expect to experience at Colorado Leather Fest… and at other Leather events.

  1. Lots of friendly Leatherfolk from your local community, from around the country, and maybe from around the world (depending on the size of the event). Leather events such as CLF offer a great way to meet people, to interact and learn, and to get new ideas and perspectives.
  2. Seminars given by great presenters on a variety of topics. Sometimes it seems that all the sessions you want to see are scheduled at the same time, so be prepared for “Seminar Selection Stress”.
  3. A vendor area with lot of toys, fetish clothing, and other gear. Bring credit cards and money! If you see something you like and are unable to purchase it immediately, be sure to ask the vendor how many they have in stock. If there are only a few… and especially if there’s only one… you should consider buying it now! If you decide to come back later to get it, it may not be there.
  4. Bring enough cash! Some vendors don’t take credit cards, although most vendors have Square or PayPal or other credit cards readers on their phones these days. It’s always good to have cash in case you want that one piece of equipment from a vendor who accepts only cash. Hotel ATMs have been known to run out of money during these events (although that is rare as well), and since the event occurs over the weekend, they don’t get re-stocked until the event is over. So make sure you have enough to get that special toy, tip the hotel staff, etc.
  5. Many events have on-site play parties. CLF does not, because our focus is on Master/slave Dynamics, Lifestyle Relationships, Leather History, and Traditions, and Service Skills. And there’s another event in Colorado, Thunder in the Mountains, that covers play and technique extremely well and has awesome play parties!) If the event you’re attending has a play party, you’re in luck! The energy level at events is usually pretty high, and you get to see how different people play. (Maybe even with you!) People tend to “dress up” for the parties, and although a dress code is not enforced it is recommended that everyone attempt to maintain a Leather/BSDM “style”. Dark clothes, leather, and black shoes or boots are usually safe. If you show up in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and white tennis shoes or sandals, people will probably think you don’t have much of a clue about the lifestyle.
  6. Not much sleep. Up early for breakfast before the seminars and back to bed late after the parties or other evening events. Bring vitamins or 5-Hour Energy Drink!
  7. Tired feet and sore backs. Dress comfortably during the day as you will be sitting in seminars and cruising the vendor area. (The chairs in the seminar rooms aren’t always extremely comfortable.) You will also be walking a lot and maybe standing. Bring some foot lotion. Even if you don’t have a slave to massage your feet, it will make your feet feel better. Most hotels have pools and hot tubs (pack your swimsuit!), workout rooms, massage services, or spas. Use them! (Some Leather events provide massage service for attendees.)
  8. Be prepared for an incredible high during the event, and for culture shock when you get back to the “real world” after the event. (We call this “event drop”.)
  9. Come with a very open mind. You will see lots of different kinds of people, hear lots of different viewpoints and opinions, and see lots of different kinds of relationships and different kinds of play. People tend to “pull out the stops” at these events, and some of the action can be very unusual. It’s all good, and it’s all a learning experience. (Even just thinking about why you reacted in a certain way to something can be a valuable learning process.)
  10. Be respectful, courteous, and tolerant of others. If you’re new to the lifestyle, watch a lot and try to pick up the dynamics of relationships or protocols. If you don’t know how to address someone, or you make a mistake or find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, tell the other person that you’re new to the scene and you’re not quite sure what’s going on. They will very likely understand and explain things to you. We were all new at one time, and we remember what it was like.
  11. Be polite to the hotel staff. It’s difficult to handle a weekend with a crowd the size of a typical Leather event. You may run into delays getting room services or dealing with problems with your room. Be prepared for long waits for the elevators between events. The hotel staff is doing the best they can, so please be patient. Be respectful of the housekeeping staff; don’t leave toys and explicit materials lying around the room. It’s not easy to find a hotel that will host this kind of event, so we need to make a good impression so that we will be invited back. Thank the hotel staff any time you talk to them, and tip well!
  12. Don’t scare non-attendees! Some events fill the entire hotel, so pretty much everyone is kinky. But even then some areas of the hotel… the registration desk, lobby, and restaurants… are still open to the public. And before and after the event, people will be checking out and checking in when the Leatherfolk are checking in and checking out. You may get some surprised looks, and you may even get some questions about what’s going on. Also, if the hotel is not fully booked by the event, be aware that if you’re going to play in your room that there may be non-attendees on the other side of the wall, so try to keep the noise level down.
  13. READ THE RULES for the event and play parties! Don’t just browse them quickly and sign them at the registration desk. The rules are important, and the CLF staff enforces them very strictly for the protection of the event, the attendees, and the hotel. Look for the rules on the event website, study them, read them again at registration, and make sure you understand them. At Leather events, as in the legal system, ignorance of the law is no defense!
  14. A SPECIAL NOTE ON PHONES: This is probably in the event rules, but it deserves special mention. Almost everyone has a smartphone these days, and every smartphone has a camera. Please do not use your phone camera in the public areas of the event! The privacy of everyone at Leather events is extremely important, and is taken very seriously be event organizers. Some events (like CLF) have designated media representatives, and provide attendees with visual indicators that they are willing to have their photos taken only by the media reps. Some events also have special areas where you can get photos taken of you in your Leather finery. If you want to do a private photo shoot, do it in your hotel room. If you violate the photography rules, depending on the event you might have your phone confiscated, be ejected from the event, and/or be banned from future events. And you don’t want that to happen, right? So be careful with your camera.
  15. Expect to be amazed, surprised, delighted, shocked, startled, amused, and expect to experience a whole range of intense emotions. Sensory overload and unexpected emotional reactions are a common side effect of Leather events. If it gets to be a bit too much, find a quiet corner to sit in and just watch for a while, or find someone to talk to about how you’re feeling. You can also go back to your room to relax a bit, read, or watch TV. Then go back to the event and jump back into the pool!
  16. If your schedule and finances permit, check into the hotel the day before the event (Thursday) and check out the morning after (Monday). This has a number of benefits.
    • You can get in, get settled in the hotel, have dinner, and chill out before the event starts. Some Leather events have “pre-event” activities like bar meet-ups for early arrivals.
    • The day of the event you can get up, have breakfast, sit in the lobby watching people check in, and look for your friends.
    • You can register early, check out the schedule, and hit the vendor area. (Get those neat shiny toys before anyone else has a chance!!)
    • The last day of the event, you don’t have to worry about checking out on time and figuring out what to do with your luggage before getting to those last seminars on Sunday afternoon.
    • After the event closes, you can go back to the room and relax instead of rushing off to the airport. You can “decompress” before returning to reality.
    • You can avoid the challenge of trying to find a luggage cart and waiting for an empty elevator when checking in and out! It’s a lot easier than when hundreds of Leatherfolk with lots of leather and toys are looking for carts and filling the elevators at the same time.
  17. Food. Food is important. Food is part of a balanced diet, and provides the energy necessary to socialize, play, and shop. Nine out of ten Dominants surveyed recommend Food. (The tenth was too busy eating to respond.) Food service at Leather events can be an adventure. Imagine… the last seminar of the day is over, and everyone goes to their room to drop things off and freshen up… and then a few hundred starving Leatherfolk hit the hotel restaurant at the same time! Staff can get overwhelmed, service can be delayed, and people can get grouchy. Here are some possible solutions:
    • If the hotel offers buffets, use them rather than ordering from the menu.
    • Eat early if you can, and avoid the rush.
    • Keep some food in the room. Many hotels have a mini-fridge in the room these days. Have a light snack after the seminars and eat later after the rush.
    • Leave the hotel to eat. The hotel will usually have a list of nearby restaurants at the desk, or there may even be one in your conference packet. Some hotels have shuttles that will drop you off or pick you up at nearby restaurants. Or you can find some friends with cars and carpool to a restaurant.
  18. If you’re new to the lifestyle, it’s important to know that you do not have to play at Leather events… at the parties (if your event has them) or anywhere else! Everything that happens at these events is consensual. You are free to just watch, and you are free to play if you want to. If someone asks you to play and you’re not quite ready, just say something like, “No, thanks, I’m new to the scene and I’m just watching and learning.” If you are interested, don’t be afraid to ask for references, and be sure to negotiate the limits of the play session. (If you don’t know how to do that, ask one of the event volunteers, they’ll be able to find someone to help!)
  19. The CLF volunteers put in a lot of time and effort to help the event run smoothly. Show them that you appreciate it by saying “Thanks!” or “Good job!” And especially, be respectful of the Security staff. Yes, they will ask to see your event badge and id every time you go into the private event areas, even if you just left and turned around because you forgot something. And they will not let you in without it. They are doing their job, and the rules are there to protect you, the event and the hotel. It only takes a second to show your id, so just smile, show them your badge, and thank them!
  20. Speaking of badges, most events will give you a badge holder on a lanyard. That’s a great place to store other badge-sized things! Like your hotel room access card, meal tickets, a couple of $20 bills for emergencies, or a credit card. You may also need to show the Security staff your driver’s license or other government id when entering the event areas. Put it at the back of your badge holder, upside down. When they ask to see your id, show them your badge then flip the badge holder up and your driver’s license will be right side up. (Some events, like CLF and Thunder, will let you use a photocopy of your driver’s license. Make a copy before you leave for the event!)
  21. Got all that? Sure you do. But other than people wearing unusual clothing, talking about kinky stuff, and doing horrible, wonderful things to each other, a Leather event isn’t much different than other events like science fiction or technology conventions. So relax, and have lots and lots of fun!

Master Grey, Denver, CO

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