Friday, September 22, 2000

Baby On Board: Leather Lesbians on the Mommy Track

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #139, September 22, 2000)


On Sunday afternoon, August 13, 2000, leather history was made when a baby shower was held at The Minneapolis Eagle—quite possibly the first baby shower ever held at any leather bar anywhere. The entire Twin Cities leather community had managed to keep the upcoming shower a secret from the two moms-to-be, PJ and Vicki Knight, and many leathermen and leatherwomen had braved the terra incognita of Target’s baby department and lived to tell about it. Ed Hopkins, the owner of The Minneapolis Eagle, was at the shower and was clearly excited and pleased about the event. PJ and Vicki were completely surprised, and totally delighted as well.

This may be the start of a trend. Vicki is due to deliver a baby boy at the end of September. Another leather lesbian couple, Kay and Shelley, are the proud parents of a beautiful daughter born in 1999. Shelley is the birth mother and Kay is a legal guardian of the child. According to Kay, “she is still on the petite side at only 22 lbs. but her vocabulary and understanding of concepts and conversation are growing at a phenomenal rate. She is quite the interesting person.” (At Kay and Shelley’s request, their last names do not appear in this article, and neither does their daughter’s name.)

While certainly there are folks in the leather community with kids, up to now most of them had their children in their “previous” lives, when they were still married to someone of the opposite sex. A relative few have become parents through adoption. What’s new and noteworthy is that lesbians are coming out in both a GLBT and a leather sense, pairing up, and then deciding they want to raise kids, and to—ahem—make them “from scratch,” even.

While it’s revolutionary in one sense that leatherwomen are having babies, in another sense it’s a non-issue. All these mothers agree that they are not raising “leather babies.” Nor are they necessarily raising future leather daddies or leather dykes. “I don’t know who this new little person is,” says Vicki. “People come up to me and joke about the future leather daddy. I don’t know if he’s a future leather daddy or not. This kid is not waving any flags for the leather community, unless he chooses to do so when he’s an adult. And that will be HIS choice—I don’t have any control over it.”

Kay says her daughter HAS waved a flag: “Our daughter rode the trolley at the head of the gay pride parade in Chicago, waving her little rainbow flag, and she went to the Pantheon of Leather this year and to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival last year. But she doesn’t really understand any of those things yet. I think our daughter will grow up more as the child of a lesbian couple than as a ‘leather baby,’ because in many respects we live a pretty dull, vanilla life, and she leads a pretty sheltered life, too.”

Shelley isn’t sure what she and Kay will tell their daughter about their sexuality and their leather/SM leanings—“That’s the big unknown for us, both philosophically and practically. There’s not much that she sees, of course: we keep our play and equipment well out of her consciousness. But for us, leather/SM doesn’t begin and end at the dungeon door. The baby sees me in my collar at home, and hears me call Sir ‘Sir’—I feel like now she’s too young to understand, but soon that won’t be true. I’m not interested in recruiting her for the International Ms. Leather contest in 2025, yet I don’t want to imply that there’s anything shameful or wrong about her parents’ dominant-submissive relationship. I honestly don’t know how we’ll handle this one. I’m just glad I don’t have to do it perfectly.”

Like the rest of these women, Vicki feels that leather is for consenting adults and not for a child’s consumption. “Leather/SM and child-rearing are apples and oranges to me—they’re two completely different worlds. I don’t personally want this kid to know anything about my sex life, or any lifestyle in that respect that I choose to follow. While we’re raising our child, that part is in the background.”

PJ believes it’s possible to enjoy leather while keeping it separate from child rearing. “When I was young, my parents would allow me to go to a friend’s house for a sleep-over. Well, I know full well NOW what they did the nights that I was gone—they were making babies. So while our child is sleeping over at a friend’s, we’ll be playing in the sling—what’s the difference there? The point is that all the toys are taken out when the child is gone, and are all packed away nice and neat before the child returns home.”

Still, parenthood brings inevitable changes. Kay describes a few: “We can’t hop on the motorcycle or go to a movie or do any of the spontaneous things we used to do. Weekend visits to see friends are logistically more demanding because children are equipment-intensive. And we don’t swear anymore because our daughter picks up on words so easily. We now live a child-focused life, but we were ready to make that commitment.”

Shelley says, with a sigh, “Becoming a parent has meant giving up a lot of the things I most enjoyed about being a leather dyke. We rarely travel to leather events anymore; it’s hard to find the time and space for intense play; and I’m 15 lbs. too big for my hottest outfits.” But she accepts the changes and says, “I’ve found I can’t have everything, but I’m happy and blessed with what I have.”

With the birth of their child getting closer and closer, PJ sounds like she’s ready for parenthood. “Right now everything seems to be like it is for every other pregnant couple getting ready for childbirth. We’ve done birthing classes and I feel like all the rest of the fathers in the room—the anticipation, the extra work, the preparations, all of it.” PJ says she needs to get a workbench together—just like her father had—so she can fix things like bikes and skateboards and rollerblades.

Vicki has had a difficult pregnancy and says it will be a relief when the pregnancy is over and her child is finally born. But more than that, she is excitedly looking forward to being a parent. She sounds refreshingly enthusiastic when she says, “I want to be involved with the PTA. I want to do bake sales and all that kind of stuff—I do! This is not a mistake. This is a choice—I’m choosing this person to be in my life, so I’m going for it!”

Wouldn’t it be great if every child could be born into such welcoming circumstances?

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Second Annual Drag-Challenged Wig Party
Saturday evening, Sept. 23, The Saloon
Walter, The Saloon’s manager, says, “I believe even some of the butchest butches have secretly wanted an excuse to put on a wig. Now here’s your chance.” No dress, no makeup—just grab a wig and throw it on. (The Ragstock store on Lake Street in Uptown will give a discount to anyone who whispers the magic words, “Saloon Wig Party.”) The event is hosted by the fabulous Tinea’. If you’re really good you may share in $500 of prize money.

Thursday, September 21, 2000

Dispatches from the Future: The Leather Summer of ’28

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #165, September 21, 2001)

With autumn fast approaching it’s time for a look back at some of this summer’s leather activities. And what a summer it’s been! But with a kick-off event like the 50th International Mr. Leather (IML) contest, how could it not be? The event was held over Memorial Day weekend, as always. And for that weekend, Chicago’s McCormick Place became the world’s largest leather bar—filled to capacity with leatherfolk of all genders, ages and descriptions.

A capacity crowd jammed the McCormick Place auditorium to watch the contest, and estimates placed the number of viewers who watched the contest via the internet in the millions. The evening’s most unforgettable moment: first-ever IML titleholder David Kloss (all these years and he still looks good!) received a standing ovation from the crowd after reading the list of next year’s judges. New IML Lik Tinghe (from Antarctica—it’s only the second year they’ve sent a contestant) won’t be spending much time at home this year as he fulfills his titleholder duties.

In contrast to IML, which is firmly rooted in Chicago, the International Ms. Leather (IMsL) contest in recent years has never been in the same city twice in a row. This year they returned to Las Vegas, Nevada, where Mary Kay Khali, Ms. Leather Dakota, was chosen from a field of 64 contestants as the new International Ms. Leather. The last time they were there was back in 1999, and what a difference the intervening years have made! This year’s host resort was Las Vegas’ newest and kinkiest showplace, The Charenton. Named for the insane asylum where the Marquis de Sade spent his last years, it was a perfect backdrop for the weekend’s activities. Imagine—a hotel where every one of the 5,000 rooms is a fully-equipped dungeon. Only in Vegas, folks.

The excitement of IMsL had barely subsided when it was time for another competition of a different sort: the Summer Olympics, this year returning to Greece. Several new competitive events have been added this year; after much campaigning and lobbying by members of the leather community we will finally get to witness both Tag Team Fisting and Competitive Bullwhip. (Tag Team Fisting was first proposed as an Olympic event by a contestant in International Mr. Leather 2001—that’s how long it has taken to get that event added to the Olympic lineup.)

The leather/SM community also continued to influence the world of entertainment. Last year’s Broadway smash “Fantasy: The Musical,” an all-singing, all-dancing revue of breathtaking leather fantasy performances, is still packing them in (you’ll be lucky if you can get tickets for 2031). Building on the success of the musical, “Fantasy On Ice” has been touring major metropolitan ice arenas this summer, and from the crowds lining up at box offices across the land it looks like Disney has another winner. (But how they can skate and flog at the same time is beyond me—after the show in Minneapolis one of the cast members got me on the ice and I tried it, but even with his coaching I just couldn’t make it work.) By the way, plans are in the works to make “Fantasy: The Musical” the permanent show at The Charenton in Las Vegas.

And now, a look ahead: The Leather Summer of ’28 will officially close with another milestone, the 50th annual International Mr. Drummer contest. This year it finally returns to San Francisco (as the song says, right back where it started from) to be held in conjunction with the Folsom Street Fair—which outgrew Folsom Street years ago and now stretches along Market Street from downtown to the reclaimed and revitalized Castro. Drummer and Folsom in the same city on the same weekend—all’s right with the world again.

Romano-Blas takes Ms. World Leather title

PHOTO: Annie Romano-Blas and Mindy Chateauvert

PHOTO CREDIT: Marcus Hernandez

From a field of nine leatherwomen/activists Annie Romano-Blas was chosen the first-ever Ms. World Leather on September 2. Romano-Blas is a health advocate and is the domestic partner of former International Ms. Leather Jo Blas.

Runner-up honors went to Mindy Chateauvert, a college professor from the Washington D.C. area. The contest weekend was held in Dallas, TX. (Thanks to Marcus Hernandez, leather columnist for San Francisco’s Bay Area Reporter, for contest details and photograph.)

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Leather Fashion Show
Sunday, September 23 (doors open at 7PM, show starts at 8PM), Quest Nightclub
Featuring the work of designer Sean Doyle in his first-ever solo fashion show. Eye-popping leather fantasywear for women and the unveiling of the designer’s line for men. He also has some fun accessories that might appeal to anyone who’s into leather. General admission $10 at the door, VIP admission $25. For a preview visit

Friday, September 8, 2000

What The Leather Archives & Museum Can Do For You

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #138, September 8, 2000)

PHOTO: Joseph Bean, Executive Director, Leather Archives & Museum


PHOTO: The Leather Archives & Museum: “Located In Chicago, Serving The World”


I’ve written before about the Leather Archives & Museum. (All together now: “Located In Chicago, Serving The World!” That’s what a leather crowd always yells at the first mention of the words “Leather Archives & Museum.”) But every previous time I’ve written about it I’ve written in the spirit of “What a great concept, let’s all make it happen.” Well, it’s happening, and it’s happening bigger and faster than anyone dared hope. The Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M) has become a multi-faceted, vibrant organization working in many ways to collect, preserve, display and perpetuate the leather community’s unique heritage. The LA&M serves up a feast of leather culture, and you don’t even have to go to Chicago to indulge.

In a speech to the audience at the International Mr. Leather (IML) 2000 contest in Chicago, Executive Director Joseph W. Bean was clearly and happily overwhelmed at how quickly the community has embraced the LA&M. In November, 1995 the archives occupied its first public space, a rented storefront on North Clark Street in Chicago. By 1997 it had already outgrown the space. Bean told the IML audience, “I first dreamed of us owning a building in December, 1997. That was yesterday, barely. I announced the Capital Campaign to buy a building in January, 1998, imagining that it would take you guys ten years to buy us a building. Well, it took you less than a year and a half. You’d think that the geniuses of finance would live on Wall Street. Instead we live on Leather Street, U.S.A.

“Last year [at the 1999 IML contest] I showed you a picture of a building that could be a home for the Archives—this year it’s a reality.”

Bean went on to say that his hope was that the LA&M would be able to make the transition from leather community charity to leather community resource, and this appears to be happening as the LA&M finds news ways to reach out to the worldwide leather community. In addition to the exhibits in the improved display space afforded by the new building, the archives has put together a traveling exhibition of leather community history and memorabilia which has been ricocheting from city to city for some time now. (It was supposed to be in Minneapolis this summer for the Twin Cities Festival of Pride and Minnesota Leather Pride 2000, but the exhibit was lost in transit. It was subsequently found and is now slated for next year’s Pride festival.)

If you have internet access and a web browser, you don’t even need to leave home to enjoy an exhibit from the LA&M. For some time their website ( has presented an online Art Gallery with examples of “the many erotic works the Archives has access to.” Also on the web, The Colors Project has been an ongoing effort to collect and display the patches, banners and logos of the organizations, motorcycle clubs, discussion groups and social clubs that, as the website puts it, “are part of the foundation of the leather community, part of the proof that we ARE a community.”

Much more is on the way; a brand-new website now under construction will feature many more exhibits including a leather history timeline and Q&A, more art exhibits, regularly updated newsletters, online shipping at the Gift Shop, and an e-mail list server (to join the list server, send an e-mail to The new site should be available shortly, so keep checking that URL.

If you’re in Chicago, of course, you can visit the Archives (6418 N. Greenview Avenue, Chicago, IL 60626; 773/761-9200; and see the exhibits in person. The Archives requests that you please call or e-mail in advance to make an appointment; according to Bean, “We can almost always accommodate anyone’s schedule if we hear from them in advance.” The LA&M also occasionally presents classes, lectures and workshops—contact them for details.

The expanded space provided by the new LA&M building means that the Archive’s collection can continue to expand. Bean noted during his IML 2000 speech that the Archives has “gone from representing about nine countries when I spoke to you last year to more than 30 this year. We keep getting letters from people saying, ‘Someone from Ohio wrote to me, I’m here in Morocco, and I thought you’d like this.’ It happens, it happens all the time and it’s because of you. You guys are making them do it.” And, he told the IML audience, “Without you none of it would have ever happened. No government institution, no foundation, no public reservoir of money has been involved. Every penny that has made the Leather Archives & Museum happen has come out of the pockets of leatherfolk.”

Bean noted that while he might wish otherwise, the need for raising funds for the LA&M continues. “We have the building, but that means we have a mortgage. I’m dreaming of paying off the mortgage in 2004. . . . If we pay off the mortgage by the refinance date in August 2004 you, the leather community, will save $813,000 in interest.” He concluded by saying, “That’s worth the effort. Make the effort.”

What You Can Do for the Leather Archives & Museum (or What You Can Do for the LA&M)

There are many ways you can contribute to the LA&M:

• You can contribute financially by becoming a member or by making a donation to either the operating fund or Capital Campaign.

• You can contribute your time and talents by volunteering to work in the collections or to do administrative work. The Archive’s Vacationing Volunteer program gives you a chance to do this even if you don’t live in the Chicago area. In some cases you can even work from your home by computer or otherwise.

• You can expand the LA&M’s collection and knowledge base by helping to research the histories of local clubs and organizations or by collecting the colors (logos, patches, etc.) of those clubs.

• Be aware of the leather history around you. Help the LA&M properly record and preserve leather history by identifying individuals who should be interviewed and by discovering leather holdings and estates in your area that should be collected and preserved.

• By making a will or adding a codicil to your will, you can ensure that your leather-related items, perhaps some of your money from insurance or other holdings, and even saleable assets such as real estate are donated to the LA&M. According to LA&M Executive Director Joseph W. Bean, “People can name the LA&M [as a beneficiary] in their life insurance policies or pick up a separate, often very inexpensive, life insurance policy just to provide something for the LA&M that can be many times larger as a gift than it will ever be as premiums.” Donations to a 501.c.3 charity like the LA&M can be very useful in estate planning; contact the Archives for more information.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Atons Leather/Levi Night
Saturday evening, Sept. 9, 7 pm, It’s Greek to Me (626 W. Lake St., Minneapolis)
Presented by the Atons, open to all. Reservations are not necessary this month—just show up. Drinks at 7 pm in the bar, dinner at 7:30 pm in the downstairs banquet room. Visit the club’s website at or call the Atons HotLine for more information.