Friday, November 12, 2004

Time Capsule: The Prescient Susie Shepherd

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #247, November 12, 2004)

Fifteen years ago, in October 1989, the men’s and women’s leather communities in Minnesota gathered together for the first Minnesota Leather Encounter (MLE) weekend. Part of the weekend was the first Mr. Minnesota Leather contest.

One of the judges of that contest was International Ms Leather 1989 Susie Shepherd. The following is an excerpt from the speech she gave that weekend. I present it here to show that fifteen years later, some things have changed but many have not. Shepherd’s message still resonates today.

Never when I won the International Ms Leather contest last year did I think I was going to the Twin Cities and have both my tits pierced and play bingo, all on the same day!” (Jim Ward, master piercer from The Gauntlet, was another judge for the weekend.)

I was real involved in politics for a long time, and because of that I kept myself in the leather closet.

I figured, if I’m busy lining up testimony—people to go over to the state legislature and people to come with me and talk to groups of psychiatrists and convince them that gay people are like everybody else— if I let them know I got all these kinky fantasies, they’re gonna think I’m really weird, and it’s gonna undo all the work I’m doing.

So I didn’t do that, and for a long time I found myself dying in this closet.

What I want to tell you is, if there’s anybody here who doesn’t know—and I think everybody does to some degree—closets kill!

And if there’s anybody here tonight who’s in any kind of a closet—take the fuckin’ knob off, kick the door out, and come out and be who you are!

I almost died in the leather closet even though I was the best little lesbian in the state of Oregon.

It doesn’t matter what kind of a closet it is, it’s gonna kill you. It’s gonna stifle you. It’s gonna suffocate you. It’s gonna be a long, slow, painful death.

We were trying to get a civil rights bill for gay people through the state of Oregon. I was behind a table with another lesbian at the University of Oregon in Eugene having people sign postcards to send to their state legislators.

This one man came up to us, and he had an umbrella in his hand, and he said, “You know what I think they ought to do with all those gay people? I think we ought to take them all, and line them up against a wall . . . .” and then he picks up his umbrella and uses it like a machine gun.

And I said, “Well, that really bothers me because I’m gay, and I don’t like that idea.”

And he said, “Well, I didn’t mean anything personal.”

There’s a Supreme Court out there that wants to tell low-income women what to do with their bodies. If those people want to tell heterosexual procreative women what to do with their bodies, imagine what they want to tell a bunch of kinky gay people!

Now, we’ve got the power to undo a lot of what they can do. Number one, organizing at the local level, we can get involved in judicial campaigns and we can help elect judges who are going to make the kinds of decisions that stand up when they go before the Supreme Court.

We also have the power in this room to hold fundraisers like what’s going on tonigh. so that if cases involving our people get to the court, we can hire good attorneys who can defend our people, so that if it does go to the Supreme Court we can be well represented, and have a much better chance of convincing the law of who’s right.

We are only as powerless as we let ourselves be. And as an SM leather dyke, I’m a botto, but the way that I do that is, I consensually exchange my power with whoever is topping me.

Out there in the political realm, that can be a real non-consensual exchange of power.

But if I get myself involved politically, then I’ve got the power to negotiate. And by doing that, I’m getting consensually involved in the exchange of power that guarantees me, as the American citizen, my right to be here on this earth.

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