I recently ran for a Women’s Leather Contest and title and I want to record my experiences and thoughts. I want everyone to think about that simple sentence. How many of you are recording your experiences? It is upon each of us to do our due diligence and preserve our personal histories. I hope you will think about embarking on saving your mementos, images, and stories that have been part of your leather journey.
My running for this title was all a happy coincidence… I smile when I say that as I reflect on Ms. Diana telling me as I interviewed her,
“How I got involved in BDSM was all a happy coincidence.”
Sometimes, because I have held a title and now because I have run for second title, people ask me about what titles and contests are all about and how do they work? There are many ways to answer that. Each title has its own purpose and reason. It could be a bar or club title and the reason is to have a fun event or to promote a bar/club. It could be a dynamic/relationship style title and the purpose is to travel and spread understanding about how a specific dynamic works. It could be about a specific identification within the BDSM & Leather community, such as pups, Bears, little, rubber, bootblack, transgender, etc. Maybe it’s about getting leather/kink/BDSM folks out there in our series of communities to promote a “cause” and fundraise. In WILL’s case it is about educating, preserving and collecting our female leather history. I want to share what this girl from the city knows and learned from her weekend in Dallas, Texas running for the Women’s International Leather Legacy (WILL) 2015 title contest.
Know why you’re running
The question I was asked most frequently this weekend when I was running for the Women’s International Leather Legacy 2015 title was, “Why did you decide to run”?
I believed in what the purpose of this title is and stood for. I’ve had a series of pivotal moments in my recent history. One was when a women I looked up to, admired, and thought of as a Leather Daddy told me to do something that put me out of my comfort zone. She told me to pose for a Leather Women’s Photographic Documentary. So as not to digress, I will say this experience of posing for this documentary rooted me. The woman who is doing this documentary inspired me. I felt an intense passion and connection to my leather sisters and culture. This title called to me. I felt compelled to run. I wanted to educate, promote, collect, preserve our history and help tell our stories. And I knew I had the skills to do it. I am an English Major, graduated with High Honors, and English Honors. Throughout my adult life I fancied, dabbled, and daydreamed of photojournalism as a hobby. I want to go further and to contribute and make a difference with my skills.
Honestly, I wanted to win, but I didn’t think I could. Not because I don’t think I am good enough, but because I am a realist and I knew I had too little time to properly prepare and come with an “A game”. My discovery of this contest was a happy coincidence. I had plans to visit my mother, who I love with all my heart, but she had to cancel my visit to take care of personal business in Paraguay, South America. I had to do something, because my company was telling me, “take your vacation time or you risk losing it.” So, I logged onto that social media site that I have a love/hate relationship with called Fetlife and looked for something to do. I saw Jayson Daboi IMsBB 2010 (International Ms Bootblack) posted a call for bootblacks for an event called WILL. I went to the event’s webpage to learn more about the event, the presenters, classes, location, and cost. I saw there was a contest and I was absolutely shocked when I read about the title contest and its purpose/intentions. I looked at the judges panel, the class presenters, the RSVP attendance list, the keynote speaker and I knew, “This is where I need to be.” My mind raced as I knew this event was going to be something incredible. That I would make it incredible, because I knew I had a purpose and the courage to act on my vision.
Here is what my mind processes in seconds:
“This is a win-win situation. The result do not matter, because I will have myself out there in a way to make connections, contacts, resources in our women’s leather community that I may never get again. I don’t need a title to do this work, but making these connections and networking will be an invaluable resource to doing this work I have been wanting to do already for a year. If I win I will have the backing and support to do this work with an additional funding source from the travel fund.”
There were women at this event I have only known of, but they do not know me. And here is what I knew to be true about large events, when you are 1 attendee out of 191 (or up to 500+) and attend a class by X presenter, even though you spent 90 minutes or more with that person, chances are likely they won’t remember you. And I also know this, when you are 1 of 3 women in a large event with hundreds of people, and you stand on a stage, risking putting yourself out there as a title contestant, people remember you. This was my second reason for running. I knew I could do this without a sash, but I knew that I could meet, connect, and create resources to continue forward doing this work. I would get to meet and have one-on-one interactions with women who can open doors for me to do this.
A final reason emerged as I tried to decide the topic for my Historical Presentation. I chose to talk about a narrowly focused piece of history, Jayson Daboi’s vision to have a 15th Anniversary celebration for IMsBB in 2013. I wanted to use this public platform to bring attention to the unequal value our leather community places on bootblack title holders in comparison to the sash husbands and wives. Bootblacks, title or not, deserve better than how we often treat them and I wanted to make people think and talk about that. I did… and I did it well if I say so myself.
Know what is involved
What is involved to run for a title can vary from contest to contest as well, but there are some common categories. Personal interviews are extremely common, there might be a pop question, some type of fantasy or stage presentation, and overall impressions category that addresses ability to interact and connect with others. At WILL we had a Historical Presentation on stage, a second presentation on stage from an interview we conducted with a woman of historical interest at the event, a pop question phase on stage, personal interview, and a category for interpersonal dynamics that judges ability and comfort interacting with others through the course of the event.
When it comes to the personal interviews I want to share this information: You can prepare. I myself have often said, it’s a situation that you are not in control of and being your authentic self is the best route. In truth there are things you can do to prepare, even if you cannot know what judges will ask. You can at minimum know every judges name and a little something about each of them. I strongly encourage that you know more than a little about each judge. Judges have egos. Gasp! It’s true. Do your research on your judges and find out about their passion. A good chance that whatever is their passion they may bring it up in interviews in an indirect or direct way.
Know who you are
It’s good to know yourself. What drives and inspires you? Who do you love and why? What are your limits and what can you give? Know what your strengths are and know your weaknesses.
I’m going to share with you an example of a question I was asked in my personal interview. How I answer here is not going to be exactly what I answered in my interview, but I want to give you an idea of “knowing who you are…”
Q. “Do you do any fundraising?”
I thought a lot about this question over the weekend and since the contest. I told the judge the truth, that I have done fundraising. I did a panel during my title year, called “NYC BDSM & Leather History Panel” to raise funds for my travel expenses and I also participate in organizing another fund raiser for other title holders. I talked a little about my Little Scouts and how I am building “little ambassadors” to do volunteer work in our community. I knew going in I might be asked about fundraising. I am not a great fundraiser although I do try, it is not my strength.
When I got home to NY I had an epiphany and here is what I learned about myself. I am a great awareness raiser and that is a strength and a thing of great value. I am a girl who puts herself out there and is willing to take risks to follow my passions. I am loyal, fierce, determined. I persevere in the face of adversity. If I believe in you or your cause I am a great advocate, friend, and awareness raiser. I serve my community well as an awareness raiser.
Know what is expected
Each contestant will have expectations put on them whether they win the title or not. The title holder will likely have a clearly outlined set of expectations. It will often come in a set of signed contracts after you are awarded the title. Try to do what is good and right, then live up to, follow through, and try to go beyond those agreed requirements.
Then there are those that do not win a sash, a patch, a medallion or lights, cameras, photo ops., and glory. You are expected to have fun, enjoy your comraderies, and the good memories you’ve created. Your job is to be gracious, be kind, be supportive, and remember your own worth in the process.
Know that sometimes people will disappoint you
Being part of a leather community, does not protect us from feeling disappointment in the actions or inactions of others. Sometimes people do things or things happen that are wrong. Fear can cause people to make poor choices. At large events and after doing something that puts yourself wholly out there, you must accept that leather or not, people are human. Our Leather is flawed, imperfect, as it is in nature. Learn and grown from errors & transgressions; while you should take note and acknowledge these wrongs, do not let it weigh you down too long. Reach out for support, remember your roots, and find your center. When people let you down, take time to heal, and forgive.
Know it will affect you & you will affect others
During the WILL 2015 Weekend I experienced a female energy I have never felt that strongly in a public space ever. It reminds me of Women of Leather Florida, but exponentially magnified. I have so often tried to explain to people the energy of WOLF and its uniqueness. It was a happy surprise to find that at this conference. I met women I have always wanted to know better and I did what I came there to do. I brought forward a strong Historical Presentation on a topic I have a passion for. I raised awareness for the bubbas. I made a good enough impression to establish some allies willing to help as resources for future awareness raising I may pursue. You will find that you will be affected in powerful ways and that you may well have affected others strongly as well. Embrace that and continue to be authentically you!
Special note: Thank you Deborah Hoffman-Wade and Ms. Diana for being women who inspire me today. My life is fuller for each of you having crossed my path.
Dear Penny, I hope your year is full of travels that fill the LA&M with beautiful “Back Porch Conversations.”
A Heart of Leather & Steel,