Friday, June 4, 1999

Leatherwomen Speak Out

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #105, June 4, 1999)

What Leathermen Need To Know About Leatherwomen

The Knights of Leather, a local women’s leather group, recently presented their eleventh annual Tournament run. It was attended by a diverse crowd, half women and half men. (Historically, men outnumber women at Tournament, even though it’s presented by a women’s leather group.)

I spent a good part of the weekend asking this question of the women in attendance: What do leathermen need to know about leatherwomen? I got a broad spectrum of responses which ranged from “I never thought about wishing that the guys knew anything about us” and “I don’t define myself by what men think of me” to “I’ve been waiting years for someone to ask me that question!” Presented here is a very small sampling of the opinions voiced during the weekend. We’ll start with one leatherwoman’s laundry list of things she wants leathermen to know:

“I’m tired of leathermen being afraid of leatherwomen. I’m tired of walking into a dungeon and having the dungeon clear out. I’m tired of not being included in men’s events. I’m tired of not having equality between men and women. I’m tired of having Mr. Eagle contests and not Ms. Eagle contests. I’m tired of being an afterthought. I would like to be included on a more regular basis.

“A lot of women don’t even think of going to men’s leather events because we don’t feel welcome. I’ve been to men’s leather events where there were only two women there. And we’re always asked, ‘Where are the women?’ Well, all the advertising is geared toward men. There’s nothing there to make women feel welcome, so why would we go to your event? I don’t want people to ask ‘Where are the women?’ anymore. We’re here, we’re loud and we’re proud—we’re just over here, as segregated as you want us to be.”

Many leatherwomen don’t feel terribly welcome in leather bars, either. “I remember I was at the Eagle when they started Wednesday night women’s space. There were guys at the bar who said, ‘What are they doing here? This is our bar.’ I said, ‘This is women’s night.’ And they said, ‘We’re out of here. This is a men’s bar, this is a leather bar, and we don’t want women around us.’ What I’d like to ask leathermen who don’t want women around is ‘Why not?’ I don’t get it.” Another woman chimed in: “It’s like the Little Rascals, the He-Man Woman-Haters Club.”

Some leatherwomen have problems with leather contests: “Some contests should be open to either sex. I identify as a boy. I would love to enter a Drummerboy contest, but just because I’m anatomically female, I can’t do it. I don’t have a dick—my dick is in the drawer at home, but I don’t have one physically attached to me. So I can’t enter the contest. And I know some guys who identify as girls, and we don’t even have a contest for them.” Another woman said, with a devilish gleam in her eye: “I know we’re going to have some woman run for Mr. Minnesota Leather one of these days, and it’s going to cause a big stir. And I’ll be glad.”

Many women wanted more mixed play spaces: “We don’t have as much money as men do, so we can’t set up a dungeon. Especially in a town like this, where there aren’t public play spaces, we end up with not as many places to play.” The woman standing next to her agreed: “The gender-division thing kinda sucks. I like watching men play. You need to let women come and watch you. We’re voyeurs too.” While we’re on the subject of play: “One thing that pisses me off is that guys think women can’t play as hard or as raw as they can. I have a pussy, but I’m not a pussy.”

On sharing play spaces: “The problem I have is that I want to respect men’s choices, but I also don’t want to be excluded. And balancing those two is really difficult. I think that it’s not a bad thing to have a Tuesday night men’s night in a bar, and a Wednesday night women’s night. It’s a level-of-comfort thing—that’s what we’re used to, it’s what we accept—but I think we should strive to have a Thursday night ‘together’ night. It’s valid to have men-only play space and women-only play space, but have a common play space, too. That way you have the opportunity to watch both genders play. You have the feeling of camaraderie that comes with the mix, and it’s a hell of an education. That’s part of the way to knock the barriers down.”

Another way to knock the barriers down is to learn to trust each other and to focus on what leatherwomen and leathermen have in common: “We both want to embrace who we are, and to be okay with being different. But it’s hard to cross those bridges and break down those walls because they’ve been there for so long. As a young dyke I didn’t trust men because at that time, in the seventies, women were jealous because men had more power, more freedom, more privileges. But after feeling that way for a certain amount of time, you get tired of it. As I became more secure with myself it didn’t matter so much what other people had. I felt free to be myself and to let others be themselves.”

Leatherwomen don’t want to be patronized: “Don’t give me the line about ‘brotherhood’ and ‘sisterhood.’ Don’t feed me the line—show me that you are actually practicing what you preach.”

Leathermen aren’t the only group that leatherwomen would like to talk with: “The question about what dialogue we would have with gay leathermen is not as pressing to me as, maybe, what dialogue do we want to have with vanilla dykes? Not to say this isn’t something we need to talk about, but when we start talking we have more in common with leathermen than we do with vanilla queer women.”

A postscript: In other areas of the country this topic might not be as relevant as it is here. A visitor from the eastern U.S. said, “I find this whole conversation odd. When I first came into the community I had a mistress in Washington, D.C. and the first place she took me was The Playhouse in Baltimore, which is generally pansexual. So that’s my norm.”

New! Kink-Friendly AA/Al-Anon Group

The “Twisted Twelve,” a kink-friendly AA/Al-Anon Twelve Step Recovery group, has recently formed and is meeting at 7 PM Wednesdays at the Walker Community Library, 2880 Hennepin Ave. in Minneapolis. All genders and orientations are welcome.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Sunday, June 6

Black Guard Social
6-9 PM, Brass Rail
No cover charge, free food, socializing and fun. Call for more information.

Saturday, June 12

Leather/Levi Dinner
Location and time to be announced
Presented by the Atons, open to all. For information and reservations call the Atons Hotline.

Saturday, June 12

North Star Gay Rodeo Association Road Trip
The Main Club, Superior, Wisconsin
Beer bust, guest bartenders, silent auction, NSGRA royalty will perform. For more information call.

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