Archive for the ‘Titleholding’ Category

Back In My Leathers

Posted: October 22, 2012 in bootblacking, general, Titleholding

This weekend, I went to a small group to present. As I packed, I pulled my title vest out of the closet. I hadn’t worn it in months, since April to be more exact. The year before, it was rare a weekend went by that I didn’t wear it. I ran my hands over the leather and lifted it to my face, inhaling the scent of it, feeling the texture of it. My mind flooded with memories, so many memories of so many people and places and intense experiences. I placed the vest in my suitcase and I packed my bootblacking kit.

As I chose what to take and what to leave home, the scent of all my favorite products filled the air. I remembered specific people and their boots and leathers and what they liked used on them. I remembered boot scenes that left me breathing hard and I remembered long days of bootblacking that left me sore. I looked at the tool box I carry my kit in, that served as a carryon on countless flights. It is dinged up and one of the clasps is bent from a particularly rough flight.

On Saturday, I put on my leathers again and felt them fit me like a glove. The chaps were broken in by me and the leather has been cleaned and conditioned countless times, by me or, when I’m lucky, by other bootblacks who gave me a wonderful scene doing it. It is like a second skin. I put on my title vest and remembered who I am. I stood in front of a class and talked about my travels and what I’d learned on them and I did an erotic bootblacking demo and felt that old spark re-ignite the same as it always has.

My Leather had receded back into a deeper part of me, but it never left me. It sustained me through everything I needed to go through this past year. It was a hidden inner strength, but there is something wrong if that inner strength must always be hidden from view. There is something wrong if the parts of me that feel the most natural and the most alive must be buried in order for me to be accepted. There is something wrong if I have to dumb myself down and dull myself down in order to fit in. This weekend was proof of who and what I am and where I belong and that is in my leathers that fit me so well.

I am not a housecat or a tame creature and those who love me best wouldn’t want me to be. I was made to stalk my prey in the dim, smoky light of a leatherbar. I was made to growl and snarl and devour when I make love. I was made to be a wanderer, always seeking the outer edges of what I can feel and experience. Anything else and I’m simply restricting the whole of what I am to fit into a tight little mold that wasn’t made for me.

I am not going back to those restrictions. I am going back to my Leather, where I belong.

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Woman of the Year?

Posted: August 7, 2011 in general, Titleholding

pan the on

1. A temple dedicated to all the gods.
2.  The gods of a people;  especially: the officially recognized gods
3.  A group of illustrious or notable persons or things

Friday night, while I recovered from ILSb/ICBB at home, nursing a sunburn and blissfully out of touch with the world, I was given the great honor of being named Pantheon of Leather Woman of the Year.  Given the names nominated and the list of previous years’ award winners, this has definitely caused me some cognitive dissonance.  Even if we follow the third definition of pantheon, that of a group of illustrious or notable persons, I still can’t help but feel some kind of “twilight zone”-like feeling at my name being on that list.  Let’s go back to Miriam Webster for a moment…

il lus tri ous

1.  notably or brilliantly outstanding because of dignity or achievements or actions : Eminent
2.  archaic
a.  shining brightly with light
b.  clearly evident

Ok, here we find something that I think I can live with, tying me to the Pantheon…shining brightly with light.  Throughout this year, I honestly feel like I have done what any other Leatherperson in my place would have done.  I took the opportunities and responsibilities given to me and I did the best I could with them.  Even better, I spent a lot of this year smiling and laughing and sharing the things I am passionate about with others.  I was given a chance to shine by people who took a chance on me and I did my best to do so.

When I look around myself, to those who have stood by me in the shadows, supporting me while I was in the spotlight, I see so many more deserving of honors and recognition.  I see people who every day make the choice to do what is right over the choice to do what is easy.  I see people who stick to their own moral code even when everyone else around them disagrees.  I see people who quietly do the work that gets events put on and people fed and money raised.  I see slaves and boys who serve with a quiet dignity, without expectation of reward.  I see Leathermen and women who don’t need their names called out or a back patch to be who they are and who don’t need a title or a label to tell them how they should behave.

And then I wonder, thinking of all of them, picturing their faces in my own mind, why, with all of them, am I honored?

Thinking like that, though, is about as useful as wondering why one person is spared hardship over another.  What is useful, though, is instead focusing on what use I can be to those who weren’t honored, but still are more than worthy.  I’ll admit, I’m not the best at service that fades into the background.  I can continue what I’ve begun, albeit with less traveling across the country.  I can continue to shine as brightly as I can in whatever corner of the world I am in.  I can continue to try to focus on what positive I can bring to those around me, rather than simply joining the chorus of criticism that all too often drowns out hope.

Mostly, though…I can try to learn from those I admire and just…be, simply being me, without a title, without a label, but with a heart and a will to serve others.  I see this honor as a challenge to keep learning and growing and to continue to give back to the community that has given me so much.

And I’m always up for a new challenge.  😉

I’m packing my mantel tonight, to prepare for the flight to ICBB/ILSb in San Francisco where I will hand it to one unsuspecting bootblack Saturday night.  Anyone who’s worn it can attest that it is a frightfully heavy thing.  It’s beautifully crafted and bears the weight of significance, but it’s also physically…a lot of dead cow to carry on your shoulders.  I will admit that it’s not quite as heavy as the huge sashes the rest of my title family, the International Leather Sir and Leather boy wear, but it’s heft has accompanied on my travels this year, a constant physical reminder of the weight of the title I have borne since last July.

When Sir Evan, ICBB 2009, first laid the mantel around my shoulders last year, it didn’t seem that heavy.  It seemed a comfortable weight, like a hug from the Leathermen and women who stood smiling around me.  It was only as the months wore on that I began to appreciate the weight that it, and an International Leather title inherently have.  They are not light things to carry with you, but a responsibility.  It was one that I was proud at times to carry and at others humbled.  It was one that taught me lessons I never could have learned any other way.  It was a weight that challenged me to grow stronger so that I could carry it the distance.  As the months grew on, I became more and more aware of the weight, feeling it more and more as my own endurance wore down, but at the same time, I was grateful that I had been chosen to carry it.  Each time I carefully folded it into my toolbox to carry on the plane, I touched the leather with a lingering caress, remembering those who had judged me worthy of carrying it and hoping that they still felt the same.  Each time I had to take it out for TSA to inspect, I did so without blushing and with my chin held defiantly high, glad to be able to show them a Leatherwoman unashamed to carry a symbol of her people, her tribe.

That mantle gave me special powers.  It gave me the power to kiss my Master goodbye yet another time and leave my home, barely having unpacked from the last trip.  It gave me energy when I thought I had none left.  It gave me inspiration when I felt like my spirit had been crushed, when there just weren’t enough tears for the pain.  It gave me the determination to see things through and to travel more than I ever have in a year and it gave me the courage to step up onto countless stages and to look countless Leathermen in the eye…and try to give to them some of the magic that had been given to me, some of that inspiration and determination.  That mantle has been my magic feather for the last year and now it is time to see if I can fly alone.

I pack my mantle for the last time, but I have to honestly say that I do not regret giving it up.  It’s time.  I have done all that I can do as ICBB and it is time for someone else, someone new to shape this title and to put their mark on it.  I look forward to seeing all the wonders they will accomplish wearing this mantle.  I hope that it brings them the strength they need when they feel weak and that they feel the weight of it compelling them to be their best just as I did.  Most of all, though, I hope it takes them to as many wonderful adventures as it did me.  For me, my path leads onward in it’s own direction, mostly back to my Master.  Just as I was never meant to keep the mantle, it was on loan to me, the mantle was never meant to keep me or define me as a person, a bootblack, a slave, or a Leatherperson.  I was on loan to it as well and it is time for me to be returned back to my rightful owner and to resume my place at his feet.

I am grateful for the chance to reach out to bootblacks across the country and to show people my passion for bootblacking.  I don’t see myself being able to stay away from the bootblack stands for long, even though I likey will take a short break to resupply my poor kit!  However, from now on, I’m happy to encourage others to stand out and I’m very much looking forward to fading into the background a bit.  We have a wonderful ICBB 2011 class and I’m certain that whomever is chosen to wear this mantle will wear it proudly and will use it in their own way to benefit their fellow bootblacks and to promote this artform we all love.

As for me…I’ll have more room in my return suitcase…and I’m sure San Francisco will help me fill that up.  😉

In Praise of Producers

Posted: May 19, 2011 in Titleholding

I’ve spent a lot of time this year with Leather contest producers.  I’ve had quite a few producers myself given that I’ve held a regional and international concurrently, each with a set of producers.  Then there are the contest producers I’ve met in my travels, often staying in their homes and working closely with them as I’ve traveled from region to region.  Even after that, you have the contest producers I’ve rubbed shoulders with or worked for when I’ve ventured to events for the M/s, IMsL, and IML title tracks.  There are a lot of contest producers, but until I actually held a title, I couldn’t have said exactly what any of them really did.  In particular, I had no idea exactly how much work begins after the contest is over and the winners are announced and the pictures are all taken, with flushed faces and big smiles.  I didn’t know that this is when the real work begins.

The relationship between contest producers and titleholders is a challenging one by nature.  Once the titleholder is given a sash, they essentially work for the producer, but they are a volunteer.  There is so much good a titleholder can do to enhance a title, but they can also do an equal amount to harm.  In essence, these relationships, to me, seem a lot like an extension of the D/s relationships most of us are more familiar with.  After the crowds leave and the hugs finish, there is a contract which is signed.  Expectations are given.  Each side begins to get to know the other, to learn how they will work together.  For producers, the stakes are high.  For most producers, they have invested their reputation, blood, sweat, tears, and their own hard earned money in the contest.  Often they are former titleholders themselves that didn’t want to see that contest die, so they stepped up to do the work of putting it on.  That work starts the moment the contest ends and continues until it all starts over again with the next contest.  It involves an incredible balancing act between handling the sometimes huge egos of titleholders, the expectations of producers of other events their titleholders attend, the business work of balance sheets and travel funds and event budgets, the PR of schmoozing and promoting the contests and titles, and mountains of communication in the forms of emails, phone calls, and more.  I’m betting if you asked most contest producers how many hours they put in, they would have no clue.  I’m betting if you asked most of their partners, they would say far too many.  While title widows only give up their partners for the length of the title, a producer’s widow carries on year after year, with even less recognition for their sacrifice.

Even with all this work and investment, producers are often painted as the villain.  After all, they are the ones who have to rein in titleholders, telling them when they’ve gone astray or when what they’re doing isn’t working.  No one likes being called on the carpet.  They also have to tell titleholders, “no.”  Travel funds aren’t bottomless and often the priorities of the producers and those of the titleholder clash.  They also have to push their titleholders, even when it means pushing them to make personal sacrifices themselves.  In the Community, there are always questions about finances or their motivations, no matter what the region or contest.  They constantly have to defend their integrity…even while working late nights and paying out of their own pockets.  Are there bad producers who do take advantage of the Community?  I’m sure there are.  I would say, though, that from what I’ve seen in my travels, they would have to be in the vast minority, yet all contest producers pay the price for their villainy.

Yet, producers are also often the greatest source of support a titleholder has.  They are in a unique position to understand what a titleholder is going through.  While they may be open with criticism in private, they are also often just as open with praise both in public and in private.  They stand, often behind the scenes, and work to lift others up for their time in the spotlight and their cheers are deafening when they see their titleholders work hard and reach for the high standards they set.  Like any good Dominant, they are often strict and exacting, but only to push those in their care to be the very best they can be and like any good Dominant, they are overwhelmingly proud when those in their care step up to the challenge they have given and they see the growth that has been made.

In my own experience, I’ve had some incredible producers.  I have had producers that make my heart beat faster every time I opened an email from them, anxious about what it might contain and already feeling a knot in my stomach, but yet that only pushed me to hold myself to a higher standard and made their praise all the more sweet…because I knew it was not easily earned.  I’ve had producers I could call at any hour to talk about a flight canceled or to help me figure out how to handle a sticky situation, who would always listen to me and offer the best advice…even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.  I’ve had producers who worked tirelessly to raise money for my travel funds before they had even met me or knew who I was.  I’ve had producers who frustrated me, made me laugh, made me cry, but above all else, none of them ever gave up on me and all of them were committed to my success, even if we disagreed on what path would lead to it.  When I competed at ICBB, it was my regional directors, chris and Triskelan along with my Master, who were there to support me, forcing me to drink, calming my nerves, grabbing me food and working as hard as I was.  When I returned home with the title, I was embraced by both groups of producers, all of them supporting me, even if it was to tell me to stay home from an event when I had a fever and helping me not feel guilty about taking care of myself or worrying over me when my schedule became insane.  Every step of the way, they pushed and supported and cared for me.

Looking back, a simple thank you during a step down speech just isn’t enough thanks for people like this.  We often may begrudge them their moments on stage, but without them, there would be no contests and no titles.  Each one of my producers stood with me through this year, taking whatever those around them dished out, often sheltering me from the arrows.  Each one of them has given of their time, their energy, their finances, and their hearts just so that I could do what I have done.  I wouldn’t be here without all of them and it’s unlikely you would be reading this blog if it wasn’t for them.  Part of the great anxiety of producing a title contest is that you don’t get to choose who gets the title, the judges do that, but afterward, that person and all they are and do reflects back on your reputation, the same as a submissive or slave’s actions reflect back on their Owner.  In that light, it’s pretty clear why producers sometimes have to be tough on titleholders.

For my part, I hope that I have been a good reflection on all those who have done so much behind the scenes.  There is no way to adequately thank them for all that they do and all that they put up with, but a simple thank you, I guess, is a start.

In my world, there are two types of Masters.  There is the Master whom I belong to, who does not bear the title of Master and is only called that by me and others like him who pursue M/s relationships.  Then there are those who are so highly respected by their communities that their long years of service are acknowledged by giving them the title of Master.  For me, it is often difficult to call someone else “Master X.”  That word, Master is infused with so much weight for me.  To me, it is often a bit like calling someone a god.  A Master is someone in my world who has some power to them that I can’t quite describe or put my finger on.  Words, for once, escape me when I try.  Whatever it is, though, it inspires me to my knees.  I feel it and I bow to it, almost intoxicated by the feeling of just being near it.

I’m conscious of the place the title has in Leather and I use it where it is appropriate.  Usually, though, there is an awkward moment mentally for me, where I have to consciously shift gears from my perception of Master to a more Leather perception of Master.  This awkwardness has everything to do with my own hang-ups and nothing to do with the honorable people who have been recognized with that title.  I understand this, so I make the mental adjustment and then call them as they are.  “Master X, Master Y.”

With Master Barry, there was no awkwardness, no moment of having to shift my perceptions.  He was, simply, Master Barry from the moment I met him and in my mind he fit easily into both of my definitions of Master.

What I know of Master Barry, I know less from personal experience or his own words, than from those who respected and loved him.  I began to come to know him even before I boarded my flight to Calgary this past November.  I remember that people who barely knew me asked me to bring him their regards.  They spoke with a mixture of fondness and respect and these were men who don’t give either out to just anyone.  I was already intrigued as to what sort of man would inspire this.  We flew up to Calgary just after a snowstorm, from Florida and I was embraced by a Community there that was warm enough to even warm us up in the Canadian winter.  Almost the moment we got off the plane, though, it became clear, though, that this was a Community with a broken heart.

Over the weekend, I only briefly saw Master Barry until the contest itself.  Still, from each person I spoke to, I got a slightly different picture of him.  I learned of his great care for his Community from one, I learned of his soft heartedness and loyalty as a Sir to his boy from another.  Each story was like a puzzle piece of this man, this man who was very, very sick and who’s illness had struck at the heart of the strong Community he was a cornerstone for.  As the pieces combined, they did so against the backdrop of a Leather contest where I judged an incredible Sir contestant.  The two storylines fed off of each other, as often happens, each of them giving me a glimpse into the hearts of these two men as well as the men who loved them.  Both, I learned were men strong enough to feel and strong enough to open their hearts to the men around them.

When the contest ended, I set up to bootblack.  I was still flying high from the fantasies and I was eager to play, hoping to entice some there into some hot boot scenes, if I could.  When Master Barry came to my chair and asked me to do his boots, though, my pulse stilled and I became more meditative than playful.  I could sense the great honor this was, even though I didn’t know then that previously he would never have let a girl do his boots.  What began next was the greatest boot scene I’ve had all year and perhaps the most meaningful one I will ever have as a bootblack.

I breathed in deeply, centering myself.  His boy stood next to him and the men were all around us.  As I began cleaning his boots, I could feel his energy.  It was strong even though his body was already weakened by hisillness.  It was calm and strong even now and I knelt at his feet and began to clean his boots.  I quickly noticed something very wrong.  His boots were in terrible condition!  They were dry and cracked, in contrast with his neat leathers.  I wondered how they could have gotten in such a state, but I had a feeling there was a story there.  Gently, I asked him about his boots.  His eyes welled up with tears as he explained.

“These are my boy boots, ” he spoke with effort, “My feet are too swollen from the chemo to wear my regular boots.”

I felt the full weight of this settle quickly on me and I had to breathe deeply not to let my own tears fall.  These were his boy boots, the boots he wore at the beginning of his Leather journey, likely the first Leather he had earned or been given.  It was too much and I felt so small, there at his feet.  Somehow, though, I knew that I couldn’t cry and that this was one of those times to be strong.  I felt like the pain and tears of the men around me were held back by a dam and that if I cried it would poke a hole in that dam and they needed that to cling to.  So, I breathed deeply and explained to him that I would like to condition rather than shine them because they needed it.  He agreed.

I may be a hell-raising Buddhist Atheist now, but I was raised Catholic and the first image that came to my mind as I began to gently rub conditioner into Master Barry’s boy boots was that of Mary washing Jesus’s feet and drying them with her hair.  I put all the love I could into my hands, all the good things I had inside me, I tried to put into my touch.  I tried to channel all the devotion and love I had heard from the men around me about this man into that act…a simple act of caring for one man’s boots.  I don’t know if he felt it, but for me, that act was elevated in those moments into an act almost of worship.  I was attempting, in my own limited way to pay homage to all this man had walked and to his brave fight against a cowardly opponent.  We spoke as I worked.  His words were kind and his love for his boy and for his Community showed clearly in his eyes.  His voice broke when I gave him the regards of those who had sent word with me, tears held back but there for old friends that he missed.

It was one of the greatest honors of my life to kneel at the feet of such a great man and be allowed to serve him.  I think of him often when I come across people who just don’t seem to “get it,” who view Leather as just the wearing of cowhide or bootblacking as just caring for that cowhide.  I think of him when I see a 20-something give themselves a title of “Lord Master Beauregard of White Castle.”  I think of him when I hear the term “Old Guard” used simply as a way to justify one’s point or appropriated by people outside the Leather Community.  When I think of him, I remember that I know what Leather is.  I felt it in my hands when I touched his boots.  I saw it in his eyes when he spoke about others.  I felt it in the bonds of his Community and I feel it now when I speak to those in mourning.  When I think of him, I also remember that I know what a Master is from the way he never used that title when introducing himself to me, but everyone else always used it when speaking or referring to him and in the way he put others ahead of himself, caring for his Community like a father cares for his family.

I am so glad that I made a trip up from warm Florida into the midst of a Calgary winter.  I consider myself so fortunate to have been there in time to have met Master Barry and to, for even a short time, be a part of his world.  I only wish everyone could have experiences like these because, to me, that boot scene, while definitely not my wildest and the boots did not turn out looking perfect from all their cracks and dryness, that boot scene was to me what this is all about.  I have never felt more a bootblack.

Thank you, Master Barry.

Those who know me well know that I am a bit puzzled as to why people seem to take notice of me.  I find it kind of fascinating in the way I puzzle over anything I can’t understand.  When I received emails in my inbox stating that I’d been nominated for several Pantheon of Leather awards, my honest first response was that, “We need to have higher standards.”  To be honest, I don’t think anything I have done or accomplished over this past year is above or beyond anything we should expect of our Leather titleholders.  To me, I have only done the job I was given, to the best of my ability, and even then I can point to many times I’ve felt like I fell short of the great responsibility I was given.  We should expect the very best our Leaders, titleholders or not have to offer.  When we give someone a sash and ask them to represent us, they should feel the weight of it, and even maybe fear it.  I feel like a title year should be a struggle, an ordeal which calls upon each titleholder to rise up and be more than they think they are capable of, straining to reach an ideal.  All our leaders should feel a great weight of responsibility to those who have given them their trust and a huge responsibility to live up to the great expectations we have of them.

Yet, I also believe in balance.  We should understand that our leaders are not gods and godesses descending from the pantheon on Mount Olympus to grace us with their presence, but rather mere mortals trying to be Atlas, holding the weight of the world on their shoulders.  They will stumble.  They will even fall.  It’s tough to fail when so many eyes are on you, but being too afraid to fail means that often we won’t be willing to take the risks necessary to make a bigger impact.  It’s even tougher to see those we look up to fall.  I’ve had to learn to separate moments of human weakness from the great contributions of my own heros, to allow them to be human as well as admire that which rises above in them.  I have often been afraid.  I have sat across from a contestant in a Leather contest, my own heart beating out of my chest, afraid as I pushed them, not wanting to push them too hard.  I’ve been afraid as I’ve stood up in front of classes and put myself out there as some sort of authority, for fear that I would offend, anger, or even just make a fool of myself.  There have been times I’ve thought I’ve done all three.  I have laid in my bathtub, trying to console myself as I felt I was the worst failure, just days after feeling I was on top of the world.  I’ve quickly learned that often those who are the most eager to push you up on a pedestal are doing so because they are hoping to knock you off it and watch you fall.  Yet, I have also had so many people who have been there when I did fall, to brush me off and send me back on the path.

Our Leaders are human.  They will say the wrong things.  They will burn out when we need them.  They will forget details and even forget to thank us.  They will sometimes be selfish or even cruel without meaning to.  Even the greatest among us will have days when we wonder what we were thinking when we put our trust in them.  Somehow, we need to learn to temper high standards with compassion for the humanity of those trying to reach those standards.  We need to encourage the best qualities among our leaders while still being forgiving of their faults.

I have been honored to share time with some of our Leather communities leaders this year.  Some of my favorite moments were the times when I saw behind the armor we all must put on when we go out to do battle with cameras.  I have seen great leaders wrestle with their humanity.  I’ve seen them tired, sad, unsure, even frustrated.  I’ve even seen great people when it seemed like life or even someone they trusted had just delivered a sucker punch to them.  It was in those moments when I really saw why they are great people and worthy leaders…by watching how they handled the tough moments.  I watched them put aside their own personal feelings to serve others and to make sure what needed to be done was done.  I watched tears swallowed and angry words held back for the good of others in moments that no one else would see or appreciate.  Those aren’t the moments we see on the front page of the Leather Journal or written about in Leatherati, but those are the moments that make these great men and women who they are.

As I think of their faces, as they covered the hurt and put on a smile to help someone else or make sure an event succeeded for others, I see a pantheon, not of Leather gods, but of something much more noble…regular human beings striving to overcome their own human frailties to help others in their humanness.  To me, that is so much more interesting and compelling than the idea of powerful gods and godesses descending from on high to rescue us.  The idea that we each, as humans could rise to higher standards and hold each other to them and that each one of us could be a part of this is truly inspiring and one of the reasons I try to stress to the people I meet that I’m just a bootblack, a slave, and someone who decided to run for a Leather contest and happened to win.  I am very much human as are the people I look up to and every other Leather titleholder and leader I know within our Community is just as human…and all the more inspiring for it.  We are the Rocky Balboa’s of our world, flawed, anxious, and unsure of ourselves, yet doing what must be done anyway simply because it is the right thing to do.

I see nothing remarkable about myself that deserves to be on a list with the amazing men and women nominated for the Pantheon of Leather nominations this year, but perhaps my name joining theirs might inspire someone else out there, to set their sights higher and maybe we all can collectively raise our standards while still caring for each other as the humans we are rather than pretending to be gods and punishing each other for our humanity.

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.