Martin Matthews is 46 and lives on the outskirts of Manchester. He works in an office and would appear to be an ordinary gay man. However, Martin is anything but ordinary. He has taken a fascination in leather clothing and used it to immerse himself in the Manchester Leather Scene , becoming a key figure on the scene both in terms of organising but also as a role model. Martin is not your classic Tom of Finland leather clone, quite the opposite. This has not stopped him from embracing the looks he has and owning them. He has great body confidence and a real sense of his own style. He is out and proud and through his love of leather has used his passion to help assert his identity in the world.
Can you tell us a bit about your background? And what was your childhood like?
I had a happy childhood. I was brought up the youngest of two brothers. I don’t if I’m honest remember a great deal about my childhood. I don’t have you know, particularly fond or unfond memories of it. We lived in South London and it was pretty uneventful. In hindsight, I’ve never really felt like I belonged, but I wasn’t an unhappy child. I didn’t want for anything. We had lots of holidays and great experiences. My parents are still together. My mom didn’t work. So yeah, overall, it was it was nice.
How did you first come out and what was the experience like?
I first came out quite late, in my mid-twenties, and I would be lying if I said it was an easy experience. I don’t think for anybody it ever is. I had met somebody and was living with him prior to coming out to my parents. I’d come out to several friends first. I never had any great kind of speeches planned or any kind of big gestures. It just sort, of happened and on the whole, it was very well received by my friends my family. I had one really negative response from someone who at the time was a very close friend whose mother reacted very badly and told me that I was not welcome anywhere near her family or house, she spat at me in the street and told me that I was akin to pigeons, which she classed as vermin. That was the only really negative experience. Everybody else was quite positive. I think people have always and will always accept me for who and what I am.
You had a bad experience with your first relationship. Do you think this is shaped how you’ve been in future relationships?
Yes, possibly but not something that I would say, I’d ever really thought about or considered. I did have a very bad first relationship. I lived with somebody who was abusive and who ultimately hospitalized me twice. He was very controlling and tried to isolate me from my friends and family. It was a very hard time. It had a huge effect on my confidence and led to trust issues. But I also recognize that not everybody is like him and the there’s still a lot of good in the world and there’s a lot of good people out there and so I don’t let that negative experience taint my views on anybody else. So, I moved on for it from it. It took a long time. I still harbour some very dark feelings towards him and towards that period, but I ultimately survived it. I’m very proud of surviving it and I rebuilt my life, things could have been very different is and I don’t regret the relationship, it wasn’t all bad. He just wasn’t the person for me, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t bear him any malice because I do. But you know what, it’s in the past and that’s where it stays.
You are a former prison officer. Can you tell us about how it was in working in an alpha male atmosphere as a gay man? Did it maybe, change how you felt towards straight men?
This was never a conscious decision. I needed a job. So, I took a job. Like all jobs there was times I enjoyed it and times I hated it. It did present a unique set of challenges because I am and always have been an openly gay man, and I make no apologies for my sexuality. There were some officers who didn’t think that females should be doing the job let alone a gay man. It didn’t deter me from doing the job to the best of my ability. I wasn’t making any kind of statement. It was just a job. I made some very good friends during that time. I suppose I possibly challenged some perceptions, which can only be a good thing. It was it wasn’t the stuff of erotic fantasies that many people think of, and yes, people still ask me now when I refer to it if I still got my handcuffs and as I always say ‘knowing who’s been inside them you really wouldn’t want to kind of go there’. It was a really valuable experience for me.
You survived an IRA bomb and have also beaten illness. Can you tell us about that and how these experiences affected you?
Yes, I was the age of 21 in an IRA bomb in London at the time. There was a bombing campaign in mainland England, and it was kind of commonplace. I came very close to a number of the big attacks such as Victoria Station, on this particular day, it was an uneventful day and all of a sudden there was an almighty bang. Windows blew in. We found out later that the building next door to us had had a bomb activated in it and the second device was activated as we were trying to be evacuated from our building. So that was pretty scary.
Initially, I think it was a huge shock but we were all thankful that it was classed as a minor bomb and something that you know, we survived and we just got on with it. It makes me incredibly thankful to be alive and even more kind of committed to living my life fully.
As for illness, about eight years ago. I was diagnosed with skin cancer. The very mention of the word cancer tends to kind of tend to freak everybody out, me included. Thankfully it was dealt with, it was treated, it’s gone. It was that wasn’t a very nice experience as you can imagine, but I’m proud to have beaten it. I can I wear the scarf with pride. Most people can’t even see it’s on my face, but it’s very small. In fact, I’m just back from the hospital having had another scare recently, which has proved to be a false alarm. It’s just another of these events and these things that are sent to try us. You just deal with it and get on with it and I suppose afterwards you stop and think about things, and again, it’s made me appreciate what I have and to a degree the fragility of life. Things can change very quickly, but it also made me very mindful of getting things checked and going to the doctor’s and looking after myself and listening to my body.
The leather scene is a big part of your life. Can you tell us how this started?
My fascination with leather stems back as about as far as I can remember as a child growing up in the in the 80s. I was fascinated by pop stars television bad boys and motorbikers have always held a special fascination for me. I used to pour over my mother’s catalogues, looking at the pictures of men in leather. I think I was 16 when I bought my first leather jacket and 19 when I first bought my first pair of leather pants. Gloves have always been a huge fetish for me and I currently own about 20 pairs including my first pair that I’ve had for about 25 years or so. I have always worn leather, casually, I’ve always been incredibly turned on by it.
I would say in the last 10 years. It became much more of an important part of me and kind of came out of the bedroom and I started wearing it more often. It’s just kind of how I dress, people are used to seeing me, you know in leather jeans, a T-shirt and either boots or trainers. So that’s kind of where it started and then from there, I got more involved in the leather scene, I threw myself into it and became part of the Manchester Leatherman and ultimately part of the committee that organizes Manchester Leatherman and Manchester Leather weekend and their events.
Why do you think leather holds such a fascination?
That’s a really interesting question for me. It’s the look, the smell, the sound, the feel, the taste – kind of everything about it. I mean, it’s a very kind of animalistic sort of attraction, it’s a very potent and powerful thing. Guys look incredible in leather. It’s very sexy. It’s very kind of primal. Yeah, it’s the connotations to bad boys and bikers and stuff. I can’t really give you a definitive answer because I don’t know. But yeah, I’m kind of obsessed with leather. It’s a huge part of me and who I am, and I love it simple as that.
Can you explain how your use of leather is more than just a sexual fetish. Do you think other gay men treat your certain way because they see the leather first and Martin second?
I very specifically don’t reserve leather just for the bedroom. It’s how I dress. It’s what I wear most days. I wear a leather jacket and boots whenever I go out. I always go out in leather jeans and obviously if it’s a leather event I’m wearing more leather. I’ve done some modelling associated with leather. I’ve been in a film and I’ve been in the music video as a leather man. I’m a very proud leather man. I’m a very proud member of Manchester Leathermen. I also got involved to kind of breakdown stereotypes and just stop people thinking that leather men are all Tom of Finland clones or dress in one specific way. I have lots of leather. I wear it lots of different ways. I usually wear just a t-shirt and leather jeans, I’ve always had a kind of slightly alternative look, so I suppose I wanted to be you know, that different person, that different voice. I could show you don’t have to wear a Muir Cap, leather shirt and tie. You can be much more flexible with it.
Do I think that other gay men treat me a certain way because they see the love of leather first? Yes. I think people have a perception certainly directly as a result social media. I think people look at me and think that I’m one thing. Leather is a big part of me, but it’s not all of me. It’s a huge interest. It’s something that I get off on, something I find very exciting, but there is more to Martin.
I think people kind of assume that all leather men are just into kinky stuff and that’s not necessarily the case. I choose to present a very one dimensional version of me as a leather man, but there’s more to me than that and I think of anybody who spends any time getting to know me, then they would see that. You can also see from the photographs I have submitted with this interview, mean and moody etc but the reality is I smile a lot and am a big softy.
Does living in Manchester make a difference to you being able to express your identity?
I live just outside Manchester but yes it’s already a gay friendly City apart from one incident recently. I have never had any issues as I go about my business. I am me, I make no excuses. No apologies. No allowances and I dress how I want to and yeah, never had any problems. I love Manchester. It’s a great City. It’s very friendly and has a great gay scene.
What difference does the Manchester gay community / leather community make to how you feel?
The leather community is like family. It’s been very welcoming. I love being involved. I enjoy it. I get a lot from it and it’s a really positive thing to be involved with. I love seeing it grow. For example, I’ve watched the Manchester Leatherman social events go from poorly attended with about sort of 15 -20 guys to upwards of 60 for a really big event. And it’s nice to kind of to go into bars and stuff and people know who I am. I made a lot of friends through it, some really good friends. So yes, I love the gay community, the leather Community.
How do your family and non-gay friends feel about your life in leather?
Well, I suppose they don’t really have much of a choice. It’s just who I am, and people accept it. I think probably the best example of that was my 40th birthday party where I chose to wear a black leather kilt and majority of the guests were straight friends, from all different walks of life. Nobody batted an eyelid. I don’t differentiate. I don’t split my social media presence. I don’t have a separate Facebook identity for me and the leather me. It’s all just kind of one. So, people see it. I mean, I’m incredibly proud of some of the some of the photographs that I’ve had taken. I have worked with some really great photographers and I’m very proud of those. I’m very proud to share them. My friends and family kind of just accept it as who I am. They don’t necessarily understand it. I’m sure some of them probably think that I’m some depraved kinky bugger. I have a huge Matt Spike photograph of myself which hangs in my bedroom above the bed and when my parents come and stay they sleep underneath it.
You are single but at the same time at the heart and soul of the Manchester leather scene – do you deliberately avoid relationships? or do you think being on the scene make it harder to form relationships?
Yes. I am single. I’ve been single for a while now, not through choice, bad luck, bad judgment, wrong time, wrong place, all kinds of things. You know, maybe it’s my destiny to stay single. I don’t know. I haven’t given up looking for Mr. Right. I’m still deep down a hopeless romantic and there’s nothing I’d like more than to meet somebody, fall head over heels in love and get married.
Do I deliberately avoid relationships? That’s an interesting question? I had a conversation with a friend recently, when he saw the question, actually said that yes you do, you deliberately hunt out difficult relationships or long-distance relationships or complex situations where it makes it harder for a relationship to survive. I don’t know if that’s true. But it’s an interesting viewpoint on it. Do I think being on the scene makes it harder to form relationships? Yes, to a degree because I think there’s a there’s a certain kind of view, it’s all about sex or it’s promiscuous. I want to meet somebody I can share my fetish with. I’ve had relationships with people that aren’t into leather at all and that didn’t work for me. So yes, I would like to meet somebody that was into it and gets it and can enjoy it with me. And unfortunately, I think in this day and age I think you know, there’s a slight cursing so much as that, maybe people are always looking for the next best thing. So people are never satisfied. I’ve met some really nice guys. Just not ever the right guy. I’ve loved, I’ve lost, and I’ve had my heart broken. I’ve probably broken a couple of hearts, not intentionally. Certainly, but yeah, I haven’t given up completely.
You are amazingly confident in your body image in the photos, which you post particular on Instagram. Where does this come from? Or is it a front?
You’ve kind of rumbled me there to a degree. It’s a little bit of front. I have struggled with body confidence issues for a number of years for a long time. I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. I’ve had issues with fluctuating weight. I have learnt to accept myself for who I am what I am. I’d love to be, you know, a ripped Adonis of a man, but I hate going to the gym. I like all the wrong food, I drink too much.
Particularly and certainly this year in particular I have grown much more confident in my skin and I care much less what other people think. I had an experience and I met somebody who was very influential in shaping that and taught me a lot about love and it’s taught me a lot about loving myself and this has empowered me. I am not averse to flashing a bit of flesh on Instagram. I you know anybody that follows me will be used to seeing my bottom. It is arguably one of my best features. I’m a 46 year old man. I have the body of a 46 year old man, but you know, it’s a little bit hairy. I’m a little bit overweight. Fuck it. I don’t really care. But the flip side of that is, you know, I still do have body confidence issues.
I’m sure you won’t mind me saying you’re not classically beautiful in the way of say Tom Daley. So what advice would you give other men to be more confident in their skin?
I’m sure there’s a compliment hidden in that question somewhere. I don’t particularly think I’m especially good looking. I know that I take a decent photograph and I make the best of myself in the way I that dress and I know what suits me and I think I dress well. I don’t chase trends and I don’t chase fashions and stuff. So, it’s just what you see is what you get.
Somebody once said to me that they thought I was cool and I disputed that, as I said when you stop trying to be cool is when you become cool, so if I’m cool that’s by accident. My advice I would give to other people is really just try to love yourself first and to accept yourself as you are, warts and all. If somebody wants you to change, then they’re not the right person for you.
Are you equally confident outside of leather or do you feel another character emerges? Who is the real Martin?
Who is the real Martin? He’s probably a mixture of all of the things that I present and a massive bundle of contradictions. I feel more confident probably wearing leather because I love it. And I know what I think I look good in it and it gives me a sense of confidence. I can equally feel good dressed up in a suit for work. I’m not quite as confident naked but that depends on the person I am with. There is a leather Martin, who is a persona but anybody who knows me will tell you I’m quiet, thoughtful, sensitive, romantic. We are all loads of things, we’re all complex individuals and I’m as complex as the next person and as deep as the next person. So, for those that want to know the real me, I guess they just kind of have to get to know me and find out.
How do you feel about Pride?
I love Pride. I think it’s really important. It’s so important that we acknowledge our history. It is so important that we acknowledge the struggle of those that have gone before us and the fight that we still have on our hands. It’s a hugely significant event to me I’ve taken part in. Quite a few now. I’ve done some as a leather man. I’ve done some with the beard club that I run. I love I get such a such a huge buzz from it. But I think that there does need to be more education around where Pride came from and what it signifies. I especially love the smaller ones, Chester Pride is one of my favourites.
Do you think it’s easier for young gay people now than when you were a teenager.
Yes, very much so. Growing up I had very few gay role models. We were really just kind of subjected to the likes of John Inman. Larry Grayson, essentially objects of fun. I didn’t know any gay people. So, I had nobody to kind of base it around and I grew up quite confused. Whereas I think now, you know, there’s this there’s much more awareness and it is much more accepted. I think youngsters and teenagers do have an easier time of it but it also has its own challengesI think it’s just a constant thing that will evolve and I hope the next generation on will have it easier again. I’ve never regretted being gay. I love being gay. I love my life. It’s varied. It’s lacking in a couple of couple of parts. But you know, we can’t have everything. My experience of being gay has been relatively easy and hassle-free. I’ve had a couple of hate incidents but nothing major
I am asking everyone what their fancy versions of themselves would look like I guess you are already there or are you?
Well given that I recently undergone something of a rather dramatic transformation in so much as that I’ve gone from having shoulder length hair to a number one buzz crop all over which was something I’ve been planning to do for a while. I think I’ve grown into my looks. I’ve far happier with the way I look now. I love my beard which is of course award-winning. I’m more happy with my body than I’ve ever been. I like the way I dress. I know I don’t look 46. I don’t know what 46 looks like. For a fantasy version of myself I guess I’d probably make myself a little bit bigger, at least an inch taller, bit broader, bigger arms. bigger legs, a bigger bum as my arse is ridiculously small. I think I’m pretty much the Martin that I want to be, but life is a constant evolution. One of the reasons I like to do all the photographs that I do is to document things in that way is because it’s a constant evolution and it’s nice to be reminded and you know, that I won’t look like this for much longer.
And you know, I’ve been very lucky. I’ve worked with some incredible photographers who shot some really great images on me. I’m pretty close to the fantasy version of me as I’d like I suppose I’ve always wanted dark hair, I’ve always wanted thick hair, I’ve always wanted wavy hair but you know you deal with what you’ve got.