Walter Houston loves listening to Motown music just like anyone who was born and raised in Detroit would. But when he’s ready to play, you’ll find him cranking up some Judas Priest, Kiss and Alice Cooper.
“When I’m playing, I have heavy meal or hard rock playing in the background,” Houston says via phone to Pride Source. “It puts me in the head space, the adrenaline rush.” It’s a fitting soundtrack for a man known as Sir Apocalypse.
Sir Apocalypse is returning to Detroit, virtually at least, as a host of LGBT Detroit’s annual Cold As Hell, which the organization describes as "Detroit’s winter Pride event” and “a one-of-a-kind, sex-positive digital experience” that will provide “education on Black leather and kink culture.”
“In the leather culture I am a Sir,” Houston explains. “In the culture there is a hierarchy of roles that we have. For example, the roles of Master/Slave, Sir/Boy, Trainer/Pup, Dominatrix/Servant, whatever the case may be. We all have [titles].”
Houston goes on to clarify that the terms most people are familiar with when it comes to BDSM, “dom and sub” or "dominant and submissive,” are “just sexual roles. Those are not titles. Anyone can be a dominant in any type of play they choose or you could be a submissive in that play. That’s just a role.”
One thing Houston wants to make clear: the culture is not a free-for-all, anything goes, no-rules kind of thing. While titles like “Sir/Boy” may seem foreign to those outside of the leather world, they are anything but arbitrary.
As a Sir, Houston teaches the core values of trust, honor and respect in the leather culture, which includes BDSM, fetish and kink. There exists a tradition of etiquette and protocol to follow.
“That is what the culture is,” Houston says. “There are a lot of strict rules, and that’s about safety, physical and emotional safety. Knowing what the culture is, what roles you are, where you fit, finding safe and secure spaces to enjoy yourself and having people you can go to if needed.”
As a Sir, Houston trains “men in the culture, and they are my own leather family.” And family looks out for each other. This is a primary tenant of Onyx, “a leather, kink, and fetish organization that is geared around men of color: Black Latino, Asian, Arabic, Native, what have you.” Members identify as gay, bi or trans men. There are chapters across the country including Onyx Great Lakes, which includes Detroit, and Onyx Lonestar, which includes Houston’s current home of Dallas, Texas.
“My role as ‘Leather Dad’ is to mentor and to guide men who are in the culture,” he says. “To guide them, to mentor them, to answer questions, to make sure they are correct in how they live in this culture. The difference in my organization [Onyx], outside of other leather and fetish and kink organizations, is that we teach the culture and we make sure that people aren’t out here alone and that they have people around them to mentor them and not put them in an unsafe environment.”
Houston’s desire to foster a safe environment for his leather family stems from his own less than ideal introduction into the culture at the age of 19 at the behest of an older man, a situation he called “unfortunate.”
Houston was “of adult age, but still too young,” he says. Especially since the man was a person of authority. “A former teacher, as a matter of fact.” At 18 or 19 years old, Houston says, “Your intentions for me is not to be a boyfriend. I’m not your equal. I’m not your contemporary.”
He points out that a teenager doesn’t have the same things as an older man. “They don't have money, especially a poor kid from Detroit,” he says. A teenager also doesn’t have the experience of travel, a career, or other important life experiences.
“As a grown man, I know the difference,” he says now. “I know what that is, and I use the word ‘unfortunate’ because that is not correct.” That said, even though his experience with that older man wasn’t positive, “the enjoyment I kept,” he says, and he wants to make sure that others can experience that enjoyment, too — safely.
Houston says his job “is to not let people be out here alone like I was.” He wants to weed out predators or people engaged in something inappropriate or dangerous. “I believe in making sure that anyone that I associate with…understands that there are rules behind this,” he says. For example, if someone is into spanking and wants someone to spank them, it’s important to not go into that situation blindly.
“What I would advise someone who is a newbie is to make sure they almost interview that person, that they are who they say they are,” Houston says. “And that they know what they’re doing and make sure that there’s an out. That if you say no, that means no. [That] you’re not being blindfolded and gagged and you don’t know who you’re with.”
Houston doesn’t want to see people get hurt and wants to foster an environment where people feel safe to explore their kinks and desires.
“People like me who‘ve experienced [the culture] for many years understand the danger of what you can walk into,” he says, explaining that in the past “it was a free for all, and it was madness” with “drugs, alcohol and sex.”
It was an especially perilous environment for a person of color as many of the spaces were populated mainly by white men. “Being a person of color in those spaces, we’re already fetishized for being every hue of black and brown and olive,” he says. “People don’t respect us automatically.” He recalls going to spaces where, as a younger Black man, “older white men would target me.”
He now teaches those in his charge to prevent themselves from becoming targets. “You be the person in charge instead of them,” he advises. “Especially the smaller boys or the younger boys who are new to the culture and know nothing about it. We want to make sure they have power when they walk into those spaces.”
Houston also encourages readers to support LGBT Detroit. He’s known LGBT Detroit’s Executive Director Curtis Lipscomb for many years. “I know that they service the community that they live in,” he says, “making sure that there’s a voice for the [Black LGBTQ] community,” who are often marginalized in other LGBTQ+ organizations, even those that strive to be inclusive.
And Houston doesn’t care if someone is offended by an organization for people of color.
“We make our own table. Instead of going to the table, we make our own table,” he continues, explaining that LGBTQ+ people of color deserve to be more than just diversity in marketing images. “I represent myself and I represent our culture and I don’t need anyone to put me in a space to make sure they have diversity in the room.”
In case it wasn’t clear, Houston is not afraid to say what he means in any facet of his life. “I hold this today: When I say no, I mean no, when I say yes, I mean yes. I’m blunt. I mean what I say.”
What he hopes people will take away from Cold As Hell is knowledge that transforms into power. Houston wants people to know that “the leather fetish culture is not the boogeyman. It is not about taking advantage of anyone. It is not about getting someone to do something that they’re not interested in. It’s not about coercion. It’s about people with similar interests playing together and we make sure that we protect those people and that they are safe, sane and secure in our environments.”For more information about Cold As Hell and to learn more about the event's other hosts, visit https://www.lgbtdetroit.org .