Leather Family

Posted: April 19, 2011 in bootblacking, general, Titleholding

This past weekend at International Ms Leather was a very meaningful one for me.  It left me thinking a lot about family.  For one, I was honored to judge 4 members of the bootblack family in the IMsBB contest.  For another, this really was my first major interaction with the women’s Leather community.  Finally, I was brought into my first Leather family this weekend, when Mama herself pinned me.  It was a lot to process and I’m still feeling it all settle in.

I have often, even during this year, felt much like a Leather orphan.  I come from a community that is rebuilding itself in the shadows of the bible belt.  I come from a place where Leathermen still have to be careful about wearing their leathers during Gay Pride…lest we not even be allowed to have a Gay Pride at all.  I come from a place where there are only a handful of active Leatherwomen to look up to and mentors are few and far between.  I drove 5 hours down south to Ft. Lauderdale to be mentored myself.  I have often felt like I missed out on something by not finding a Leather family when I was brand new to kink and learning at the feet of elders, but instead going searching on my own.  When I heard others talk about Leather families, I listened with envy, imagining what it would feel like to be loved and accepted and taught and guided.  There just weren’t those kinds of opportunites nearby me.

So, I went out and I found them.

I pieced together family out of the Leathermen I met as I traveled, primarily within the men’s community.  I found older brothers and father figures all across North America and I learned at their feet, albeit by doing their boots.  I found mentors and teachers in every city I visited and I hungrily listened to their stories.  I pledged my local Leather club, even though there were few women there, and I was welcomed with open arms, finding more hugs and brothers.  My path has not been the traditional one that I always pictured, but I can’t complain considering how many wonderful Leathermen have been patient enough to teach me and help me along my way, even if just in the time it takes to do their leathers.  In my title family, I was even given a taste of what it might feel like to have a Leather family, with Sir Hugh and boy Ian embracing me as their own.  I learned what it felt like to have people who had my back and who would give advice and take care of me.  I learned to trust and form bonds that had nothing to do with our genders or orientation, but went deeper than that.

All this, I did almost completely within the men’s community, which to me was remarkable in itself and completely busted the myth that a woman, particularly a woman like me, would never be accepted there.  I was accepted at a level that was so much deeper than my surface appearance by my brothers there.

And yet, I still felt envy when people talked about their Leather families and I also began to feel envy when people talked about the women’s community.  My closest women’s groups for Leatherwomen are in Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale, hours away.  I have enjoyed my visits with them and formed bonds with them, but I’d never really experienced the women’s community on a broader scale.  I’d heard about it, in bits and pieces, from the women I met on my travels.  Every now and then I got a small glimpse of it.  This past weekend at IMsL, I was immersed in it.  I felt it all around me.  At first, ironically, I even felt like an outsider, as if I were an interloper from the men’s community.  By the end of the weekend, though, I found myself embraced by it, wide-eyed learning the history of it at the brunch keynote by Gayle Rubin.  I got to know 4 amazing women bootblacks and I got to talk, play, and laugh with so many incredible Leatherwomen.  This was a healing weekend in which I fully realized that I do fit in both worlds, something I was unsure of starting out.

This all kind of culminated in being received into Mama’s family on Saturday, before the contest.  I was silent, something which is actually rather remarkable for me.  Honestly, I didn’t have the words for it and I was just trying hard not to cry.  When I told a few people, “This is the first Leather family I’ve ever been in,” I think I got a few odd looks.  It’s probably not usual for someone’s first Leather family to be arguably the largest, spanning over 1,000 members.  Yet, considering how unconventional my Leather journey has been up to now, it seemed perfectly fitting.  I looked around me at the faces of my new family, most of which I already knew from my travels.  As they congratulated me, I tried just to remain composed, fearful that if I let go of any bit of control, I would be a tearful mess.

Me…a Leather orphan, adopted by Mama’s Family.

I marveled at what this all meant, both finding the women’s community and a Leather family at the same event, being hugged by Sir Hugh who had shepherded me safely through the men’s community all year and taught me so much and surrounded by so many people.  It was all just too much to process at once, the CPU in my geeky little brain smoking from the effort.  So…I set it aside for a while, concentrating on the contest and my title work.  I let it all sink in and settle.  As I did, I came to realize that, maybe, that picture I had of the standard path in Leather was just that…a picture and that maybe my own path was exactly the right one for me.  Given that I’ve always lived surrounded by men, working in male dominated fields, and growing up with brothers, not sisters, it seems fitting for me as an individual to be bonded with my Leather brothers.  Given that I’ve become so close to so many people as I’ve traveled far and wide, it makes sense that my Leather family would be composed of those same people, spread across distance and gathered back together when we meet, as the nomads we are, at Leather events.  This might not be every Leathergirl’s perfect path, but for me, it makes perfect sense.

I come away from IMsL and I look at my calendar with a smile.  I have always been unique and I will continue to be.  I will always feel my roots within the men’s and player’s and bootblack communities even as I sometimes ache for more time with other Leatherwomen.  I will always be a searcher, seeking out knowledge where I can find it.  Still, in my own way, I do belong and I am complete and content right where I am.  It may look different from the outside, but there is no contradiction.  It took getting to know IMsBB and appreciate and respect it to know that I am right where I belong.  It took getting to know the women’s community to know that I don’t have to choose between them.  It took becoming part of a Leather family to realize that I had unofficially been a part of several all along, made up of bootblacks and players.

Thank you to all of you who have been a part of this, no matter which community you consider yourself a part of…you have all been a part of mine.

  1. Miss CandiAnne says:

    IMsL can indeed be an awakening, especially if you’ve never been around other Leatherwomen. It warms me to the depths of my being that you’ve realized the path you’ve been on is the path that was meant for you. There are never any right or wrong ways when it comes to the paths we take in Leather. So long as we realize and hold to what it means to be Leather and live our lives in that light then we are doing it right. You’re a phenomenal woman with so much to offer and it is my belief that path you’ve taken will wind up helping another woman down the road who’s on the same path and feeling out of sorts being surrounded by men.

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