Windbreaker-clad and comfort sneaker-wearing tourists at the Holiday Inn on Van Ness Avenue were overtaken Mar. 19-21 by the corseted, studded, bare-assed, booted, crop-toting and pasty-wearing kink congregants of International Ms. Leather and Ms. Bootblack 2009.
Leather encompasses a wide array of fetishes and kinks associated with BDSM: Bondage and Discipline (B/D), Dominance and Submission (D/S) and Sadism and Masochism (S/M). It includes all gender and sexual orientations, say its adherents. What unifies the community of “players” is the erotic exchange of power, as well as ideals of integrity and camaraderie.
Glenda Rider, the executive producer of what everyone calls IMsL (which stands for for International Ms. Leather and is pronounced “im-zuhl”), said the community “focuses on honor and respect, these really old-fashioned values, but expressed in edgy, kinky ways. We have a thing for ceremony and rituals.”
The centerpiece ceremony of the weekend was the competition for International Ms. Leather, in its 23rd year, and the 11th annual International Ms. Bootblack. Both serve as representatives of the leather community at events in the U.S. and abroad, educating outside groups about their community, and raising awareness and money for causes important to the community.
A person who goes by “Olga’s blu boi” said those who compete for the titles have proven themselves to be community service leaders and have raised money for services for all kinds of groups, including those advocating for children, AIDS and cancer patients and survivors of abuse.
“It’s not a kinky person doing something for kinky people, it’s a kinky person doing something for everybody,” said Olga’s blu boi.
Ms. Alameda County Leather 1998, Sir E, said IMsL contestants must already have a title from a city or regional competition. Before the public competition, contestants answer questions from the judges to determine how well they know leather history and how long they have been in the community. Their answers contribute to their score.
All the contestants performed a group burlesque dance routine and each prospective Ms. Leather read a prepared speech, answered a “pop question,” shared personal ads and acted out their individual fantasies. Lamalani, the Portland leatherwoman who won the title, surely snagged it with her Matrix-spoofing fantasy in which she, as Neo, battled three “bad guys” until they had stripped her down to her underwear and pasties.
Slave Tabitha, who competed for the bootblack title, explained bootblacking as the expert and devoted cleaning and care of leather boots as service, eroticism, or both. A bootblack can be a top (one who “does”) or a bottom (one who “is done to”) in sexual or BDSM play.
Boi Moe, who taught Slave Tabitha how to bootblack, said, “I want to connect with the person in the chair through their leather.”
The title went to Pony, who is also an ordained Christian minister.
Winning titles, and their accompanying studded Leather sashes, were certainly a focal point, but the weekend was also about learning through workshops on safety, recovery, play principles and techniques. Maybe more importantly, it is “a family reunion,” according to Mina De Sade-Fatale, a Ms. Leather competitor this year.
“We come from different countries, different states, to find people like ourselves,” she said. “It’s a family environment.”
“Family environment” may not bring to mind Holiday Inn conference rooms lit by a few blue and red lights, and filled wooden scaffolds, X-shaped flogging crosses, body slings and medical exam tables, for bondage, caning, paddling, whipping, kicking, punching, choking, smothering, and needle, knife and fire play.
But another common sight was players gathering to talk out their likes and “hard no’s” before a scene to keep it “safe, sane and consensual,” and intimately cuddling after play.
“All relationships are power relationships-this is just more overt and honest, and there’s lots of freedom in that honesty and transparency,” said Sheryl Dee, who taught a workshop called BDSM 101.
Rasa, who came out as a lesbian before exploring BDSM, agreed, appreciating the “ability to talk about sex and what you want openly and be accepting of all forms of expression. There’s a lot more honesty and communication in the leather community than in the lesbian community in general.”
“Plus people look cute in leather,” she added.
Alex Austin is a lawyer and kink aware professional, who represents people in the kink, queer, transgender and sex work communities. A “daddy,” she explained that Leather relationships are not based on giving or receiving pain-some don’t even involve it-but instead they are a “sweet, loving give-and-take.”
“It might involve lots of things that some people don’t understand as loving, but that’s S/M,” she said.
“It might involve roles, like boys, mommies, girls, daddies-age play-but the basic tenet is that everyone’s got their kink, and if you’re in touch with yours, you can find that person with the yin to your yang of kink.”