There are many fascinating materials housed at The ArQuives, and each of them holds a story about the history of the queer community. One often-overlooked section of that history in the wider world, though, is of the leather community and its participants. Luckily, Hannah Dickson and the rest of the Curatorial Committee of The ArQuives have produced a new exhibit, Meet Me In Leather, which is open to the public until the end of July.

Containing materials from within The ArQuives and submissions from the wider community, Meet Me In Leather explores the captivating world of the leather community and its ties to both 2SLGBTQIA+ activism throughout history and the importance of representation.

While leather has often been seen as just a kink or a sexual practice, Dickson wants the exhibit to show that it’s so much more than that. Members of the leather community have been fierce, vocal advocates for queer and trans rights, caretakers in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, and proud representatives of varying body types beyond the masculine cis white male image, dating back to the inception of a leather community many decades ago.

Unfortunately, many only see that hypermasculine muscular white male image when they think of leather fetishists. A big part of Meet Me In Leather is images and materials that show beyond that stereotypical representation. People of colour, women, trans individuals, and all types of bodies and intersecting identities are integral to the leather world, and Dickson hoped to represent as many as possible in the exhibit.

Self portrait by Dayna Danger, 2019

One of the most striking pieces in the gallery is a massive self-portrait by Indigiqueer and Two-Spirit artist Dayna Danger. Sporting a gorgeous handmade, hand-beaded leather mask, Danger’s portrait commands the room, offering a powerful rebuke of the exclusion of Indigenous people in kink communities and our larger society, simultaneously replacing that exclusion with a sense of command and dominance.

Another piece, this one of a meshing, mutant amalgamation of leather high-heeled boots, shows the powerful dynamic of femmes in leather — a fierce challenge from photographer Rachel Britton against the stereotypical boot-clad “leather daddy” image of the leather kink community.

These pieces, as well as the rest of the materials in the gallery, are meant to be seen by both those inside the leather community and outside of it. For those within, the exhibit seeks to be an affirming and celebratory space, while for outsiders, it’s meant to inform and, hopefully, pique curiosity and intrigue.

Dysmorphia No. 10 by Rachel Britton, 2020

While leather (and other fetishes) can be seen as “deviant” or “extreme” by the masses, Meet Me In Leather seeks to provide an entrance into the leather world. The images and materials are supposed to make you uncomfortable — and perhaps awaken something that you might not have known you were interested in. Dickson urges anyone to visit the exhibit, not just those who are already part of the leather world, and to view it through any lens, so long as you keep an open mind. Aside from its rich history of fundraising, demonstrating, and advocating for queer communities, the world of kink is just inherently an integral part of the queer mosaic, hence the inclusion of kink groups in Pride every year. Being queer has always been subversive, and kink has been a space to explore that identity and find solace in anonymity and reclamation of one’s power.

This is exactly what the pieces in Meet Me In Leather portray: a reclamation of power and the body from a world that seeks to other it, especially for marginalized identities. Next to pieces that show muscular white men in leather are pieces like Danger’s self portrait and Britton’s photographs, demonstrating the diverse and rich history of the leather community and its proponents.

These community-submitted pieces are set alongside materials from within The ArQuives’ collections. Dickson highlights, though, that representation of the leather world is often dominated by a certain body type because it is much more well-documented. More marginalized groups throughout history, such as trans women, often did not feel safe documenting this part of their lives, and now those representations have been lost from being archived and preserved. Dickson acknowledges that there are many gaps in The ArQuives’ collections when it comes to kink and fetish life, such as the leather community.

As such, Dickson urges any member of the leather communities, from any identity or body type, to consider donating or lending their art, materials, outfits, portraits, written works, or any other type of documentation to The ArQuives so that it may be preserved for our descendants. It is an important and vital part of the quilt making up the queer community, after all.

Meet Me In Leather is open until July 28. Anyone can visit for free at The ArQuives, 34 Isabella Street, Toronto, during opening hours: Fridays from 4pm to 8pm, Saturdays from 11am to 3pm, and Sundays from 11am to 3pm.

Those hoping to visit can also make an appointment outside these hours by emailing Be aware that the exhibit, by its nature, contains some mature themes of sex and sexuality.

Meet Me in Leather has been curated by Hannah Dickson and The ArQuives Curatorial Committee, in partnership with the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies

by Michael Ott