I realized sometime in the last year or two that I value loyalty, both in myself and others, more than any other character trait or quality. In my opinion, true loyalty embodies almost all other positive traits: to be loyal, I must keep my word and do what I say I’m going to do (responsibility), I must be treat those that I am loyal to with respect, and I must be honest to those with whom I feel loyal. Loyalty can be towards a friend or lover, or it can be towards something bigger, such as an institution. My loyalty to my club includes, yet also in some way also supersedes, loyalty to my club brothers. Loyalty is even more important to me than love, which I find often to be a word that has so many meanings, it is meaningless. Love is a feeling, but loyalty is the realization of that feeling in action. Commitment in a relationship isn’t about love, really; it’s about being there to change their dirty diapers or help them through rehab, ie. loyalty.
Loyalty also provides a way of organizing our lives and priorities. If we have a hierarchy of loyalty, such as I am first loyal to my Daddy, then to my club, then to my chosen family, then to my job, etc., it helps us stick to our value system and make hard decisions. Obviously, such a hierarchy can be deviated from, but I know that my personal hierarchy helps me to structure my life and make decisions, from with whom should I spend my free time to on whom should I spend my extra money for Christmas.
Even though this has been a recent realization, the primacy of loyalty as a value has existed throughout my whole life. I remember in fourth grade, I stuck with my best friend who all of my other friends had accused of cheating on a test, and I lost, for a week or so (a long time to a ten year old!), all of my other friends. I felt little to no conflict about this because I knew I was doing what was right according to my values.
Loyalty has its downsides. I have had my heart broken many times, not by lovers, but by friends and family to whom I felt more loyalty than they returned to me. Loyalty is supposed to be a two-way street. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you would take a bullet for someone, only to realize that they won’t even give you a ride to the airport. My poor Daddy has had to deal with an upset boi many times due to broken or unequal loyalty.
Loyalty is also, by definition, exclusive. You cannot be equally loyal to everyone; otherwise, it would have no value. Also, loyalty sometimes means compromising your other values, such as being dishonest to protect a friend, or even, as is often joked about, helping someone hide the body; true loyalty is not given lightly. I often joke that I am a commitment-phobe. Some people laugh at me when I say that because I am currently in what is now a 5-year plus relationship, I am extremely committed to many of my friends and chosen family, and I make commitments to institutions, such as school or sports teams. However, none of these commitments were entered into carelessly or without deliberate consideration. There is nothing wrong with exclusivity. We live in a world of grey, of conflict. Loyalty is one way (and to me, the best way) of dealing with a situation wherein conflict arises. Accepting the exclusive nature of loyalty without feeling guilty can be very difficult.
I have also realized lately that not everyone feels this way about loyalty, and that that is very difficult for me to understand. It is such an intrinsic part of who I am and how I view myself that realizing this is not standard has been quite a revelation. I’m not saying that other people are selfish or disloyal, but that loyalty is not the prime focus of their value system. It may be something else, like honesty or work ethic. I don’t give two shits about being honest to everyone, just to those who have earned my honesty and to whom I continue to strive to earn theirs.
Obviously (or maybe not so obvious as it should be), loyalty is a key characteristic of Leather culture. I truly believe that this is one of the most important traits that spoke to me, and why I continue to want to be part of it. I’ve only been gone for a month, but I miss my club so much. I miss my chosen family. I miss, most of all, the feelings of belonging, of order, of purpose, that come with having something or someone to be loyal to. I have found that for me, moving seems especially hard because building the trust and understanding that deep, loyal relationships require takes time, and without those relationships, I feel unequivocally lonely.