Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Spirit of Giving: Atons Holiday Fundraiser 2006

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #302, December 23, 2006)

BYLINE: by Steve Lenius (Photos by Paul Nixdorf and Steve Lenius)

’Tis the season. The Atons of Minneapolis held their annual Holiday Fundraiser Sunday, December 3 at the Bolt Underground in Minneapolis. A food drive collected about 1,600 pounds of food for the Aliveness Project’s Holiday Basket Program, and silent and live auctions benefited Open Arms of Minnesota.

Auction merchandise included leather vests, pants, chaps, harnesses, several pairs of boots, a handmade bootshine cabinet, books, videos, posters and framed art—and a 2006 Santa Bear. Also auctioned off were several baskets of (really yummy) holiday cookies from the annual Kinky Cookie Bake.

My thanks to photographer extraordinaire Paul Nixdorf for allowing me to share some of his photos of the event with you. Whatever you celebrate, however you celebrate it—Happy Holidays from Leather Life!

PHOTOS:

PHOTO: Tim and John, chefs for the evening’s meal.

PHOTOS:

PC039333.JPG Tim and John with food (credit to Steve Lenius)

DSC-9764 Tim and John with food (credit to Paul Nixdorf)

DSC-9765 Tim and John, no food shown (credit to Paul Nixdorf)

PHOTO: PC039329 Some of the auction merchandise at the Atons Holiday Fundraiser.

PHOTO: DSC-9768 Auction merchandise: a leather harness awaits its new owner.

PHOTO: DSC-9813 A 2006 Santa Bear and an iron candleholder were among the auction items.

PHOTO: DSC-9856 Auction bidders inspecting the merchandise.

PHOTO: DSC-9898 Bruce, the auctioneer for the evening.

PHOTO: DSC-9906 Bruce, the auctioneer for the evening, assisted by Atons pledge Bobbie.

PHOTOS: DSC-9871, DSC-9872, DSC-9873, DSC-9874 Some of the food collected for The Aliveness Project’s Holiday Basket Program.

PHOTOS: PC039354, PC039356 Atons associate Roger with some of the food collected for The Aliveness Project’s Holiday Basket Program.

PHOTO SUBJECT: The evening’s visiting bootblack (Pup from Madison) gave John’s boots a nice shine.

PHOTOS: DSC-9885, DSC-9886 Mark Beckler, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2006, as Leather Santa.

PHOTOS: DSC-9891, DSC-9892, DSC-9893 Craig telling Leather Santa (Mark Beckler, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2006) what he wants for Christmas.

PHOTOS: DSC-9894, DSC-9895, DSC-9896 Craig giving Leather Santa (Mark Beckler, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2006) a Christmas card. (The sentiment inside the card: “just shut up and be merry, dammit.”)

PHOTO: DSC-9844 The back of Sam’s vest showing club patches (credit to Paul Nixdorf)

Friday, December 8, 2006

Sexual Freedom . . . and other human rights

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #301, December 8, 2006)

It was a busy weekend (Nov. 8-12—a long weekend) in Kansas City. I was there for the 19th annual Creating Change Conference, a GLBT leadership gathering presented annually by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF).

It was a weekend to talk about sexual freedom, and the fact that sexual freedom is a basic human right. The concept of sexual freedom as a basic human right is the message of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation (named for Victoria Woodhull, a pioneering nineteenth-century activist who was an advocate for sexual freedom and women’s equality during America’s repressive Victorian era). The Woodhull Freedom Foundation, as part of the Creating Change Conference, put together a weekend-long, mind-expanding and thought-provoking series of workshops on sexuality and sexual freedom.

It was a weekend to be visible in leather. For many years leatherfolk have been seen by many mainstream GLBT activist groups as something of an embarrassment. Recently NGLTF has taken steps to acknowledge that members of the leather community have played, and still play, a major part in the struggle for GLBT rights and equality. This year, for the first time, there was an organized leather presence at Creating Change.

In addition to talking about sexual freedom as a basic human right, Creating Change also was a weekend to talk about other human rights—and not only in a gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender context.

Sunday’s closing keynote speaker was Loretta J. Ross, national coordinator and co-founder of SisterSong Reproductive Health Collective (<www.sistersong.net>). Ross described eight kinds of basic human rights:

• civil rights, the rights guaranteed and protected by the Constitution, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion.

• political rights, such as the right to vote or to run for elective office.

• economic rights, including the right to a job with a living wage and freedom from unfair competition and monopolies.

• social rights having to do with human needs such as the right to work, to an education, or to healthcare. Ross stressed that social rights are not about charity or welfare. They are about services that are government obligations—services that are one of the reasons governments are created.

• cultural rights, the rights to be proud of, enjoy, express and live out one’s heritage and culture, be it GLBT, African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American—or Italian, Irish or Norwegian. Or leather.

• environmental rights, such as the rights to clean air and water, sustainable agriculture and wise use of natural resources.

• developmental rights, such as the rights of developing countries to control their own resources and destinies.

And finally—

• sexual rights, such as the rights to sexual pleasure and fulfillment. Yes, these sexual rights are as basic, integral and necessary as the other rights listed here.

Ross noted that it doesn’t work to fight for one set of rights by squashing other rights. It also doesn’t work to fight for only one set of rights while ignoring the others—and she then presented a cautionary tale. Ross mentioned a book, Eyes Off the Prize by Carol Anderson (published by Cambridge University Press) that puts a rarely-told spin on what most people think is a well-known story.

At the end of World War II, with the world horrified at the atrocities of Nazi Germany, the NAACP saw an opportunity to push for full human rights for African-Americans. Unfortunately, the rising tide of anti-communism in the early 1950s allowed white southern politicians to successfully paint those human rights as a communist threat to the traditional American way of life. (Sound familiar? If the Soviet Union were still in existence, marriage equality for gays and lesbians undoubtedly would be the latest communist plot.)

The NAACP was forced to narrow the focus of its efforts from full human rights to a narrow civil rights agenda that was more politically acceptable. The result: a generation later, many African-American citizens in America still do not have their full complement of human rights.

Likewise, today we as a community can agitate for marriage (or civil unions, or whatever) for gay and lesbian couples. But if we do so in a vacuum, we won’t produce our desired outcome. NGLTF director Matt Foreman spoke about this in his “State of the Movement” speech, calling for “a vision and an agenda where equality is the floor and a transformed America is the ceiling.” (Read the entire speech at <www.thetaskforce.org>.)

Transforming America, Foreman said, will require working with and for “other” (i.e. not exclusively GLBT) causes—including the allied areas of reproductive justice, social justice, racial equity, environmental concerns and sexual freedom issues—as never before. If we do this, the ultimate payoff will be a society in which basic human rights apply to members of the GLBT community, the leather/BDSM/fetish community, and everyone else.

NGLTF, SisterSong and Ipas (<ipas.org>) have collaborated on “Mapping Our Rights,” a website that documents the vast state-to-state differences in sexual and reproductive rights. Go to the website, click on any state and you’ll find a numerical rank (Minnesota’s rank is a middle-of-the-pack 22) and the positive or negative factors that determined that rank. Check it out at <www.mappingourrights.org>.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Leather Life’s Holiday Gift Guide: Steve’s Stocking Stuffers

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #300, November 24, 2006)

It’s that time again. Your humble columnist has been searching and researching all year to bring you these leather holiday gift-shopping suggestions. Here are a few distinctive items that could bring pleasure to the right recipient, followed by some local merchants where you can find many more gift suggestions.

PHOTO

Leather “Housegear” from MindFetish.com

Quincy Russell is the designer behind MindFetish Bedding Company. He has created the first and only fetish-based masculine collection of home furnishing and apparel for the bed, bath and body.

For the bedroom MindFetish offers erotic-print cotton bed linens as well as leather duvet covers, pillow shams, pillow cases, throw pillows, rugs, blankets and throws. There’s even a leather bed skirt incorporating bondage rings, and a bed mat that’s easy-clean leather on one side and non-skid rubber on the other.

For the bath Russell has created (very) graphic-print shower curtains and a line of erotically scented candles, soap and more.

MindFetish apparel includes bathrobes and boxer shorts in leather or erotic cotton prints, as well as a distinctive line of leather jocks.

See the whole collection at <www.mindfetish.com>. (Try not to drool on your keyboard.)

PHOTO: Gear Essentials ball weights

PHOTO BY: Gear Essentials

Erotic Weights from Gear Essentials

Twin Cities-based Gear Essentials has for several years offered a very popular collection of premium stainless steel cockrings. Now the company has introduced premium erotic weights for men in three different hefts (heavy, heavier, and heaviest).

The two-piece, doughnut-shaped weights are simply yet elegantly sculpted, meticulously crafted from stainless steel and given the Gear Essentials jewelry-quality finish. The precision with which the two halves fit together is stunning. Men who are fond of playing with parachutes (the kind that have nothing to do with jumping out of airplanes) will definitely appreciate these. Order from the manufacturer or find a retailer near you at <www.gearessentials.com>.

PHOTO: Pig of the Run card game

“Pig of the Run” card game

At last—a game that gives new meaning to the phrase “having the gang over for a game of cards.”

The game’s concept: You’re at a leather run. There’s a guy you’d like to play with—and there’s another one. You invite them to play (in this instance, using the cards in your hand). You negotiate. Other players might join a scene already in progress. You make new friends. And maybe you wind up as “Pig of the Run.”

When it’s your turn, you invite another player to play using a combination of a role card (Top, Bottom or Switch) and an activity card (bondage, domination/submission, fisting, flogging, torture or watersports—all with varying point values).

If the player you invited can play a compatible role card it’s a successful scene, and you get the points on the activity card. The player with the highest score at the end of the game is “Pig of the Run.”

Players can modify the game’s action with special cards including “Aggressive Top,” “Pushy Bottom,” “Novice,” “Gangbang,” and “Pig Pile.” There are even “Safeword” and “Safety Monitor” cards. Order from <www.toyboygames.com>.

Where to Shop

Here are two special events, and six local stores, where you can find more great leather/fetish gift ideas.

MSDB’s Bizarre Bazaar—Saturday, Dec. 2, 11 A.M.-7 P.M. at Trikkx (490 N. Robert St., St. Paul) Vendors include Dreamhaven Books, D’Sensual Products, Wolfhold Productions, Boundesign, Queen of Rods Tarot, MiN-KY and massage practitioners. Silent auction benefits National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. Bring your camera and have your picture taken with Kinky Santa 1-5 P.M. See <www.msdb-mn.org> for more info. (Drinks and food available at the bar throughout the event.) No admission charge.

Atons Holiday Fundraiser—Sunday, Dec. 3, 5 P.M. at The Bolt Underground (501 Washington Ave. S., Mpls.) The silent auction always offers interesting shopping possibilities, and the proceeds go to a good cause (the event benefits The Aliveness Project and Open Arms of Minnesota).

Cockpit Project (3015 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.) Great selection of leather, gear and toys.

Smitten Kitten (3010 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.) Large stock of vibrators, massagers and sex toys (all safe and non-toxic) as well as lubes, personal-care products and books. Guys, check out the Aneros prostate massager.

Gray’s Leather (3401 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls.) In addition to leather garments, Gray’s sells hides, hardware, and other supplies for leather-crafting projects.

Query Booksellers (514 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls.) The quintessential GLBT book store. Books, CDs, DVDs, magazines, greeting cards.

Dreamhaven Books (912 W. Lake St., Mpls.) Nice stock of fetish-related books as well as science fiction, fantasy, horror, film and media books. Comic books, too.

Rainbow Road (109 W. Grant St., Mpls.) The GLBT general store. Apparel, jewelry, toys, housewares, greeting cards, books, magazines, videos.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Leather Leadership Conference XI: The Recipe (and a Progress Report to the Community)

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #299, November 10, 2006)

GRAPHIC: LLC logo

The eleventh annual Leather Leadership Conference (hereinafter known as LLC XI) will be held in Minneapolis at the Hyatt Regency April 20-22, 2007. That’s now just five months away.

We will be ready. We will be so ready.

In my role as Chief Instigator of the Local Organizing Committee that is planning this conference, I want to tell the community what we’ve accomplished and what we’re planning—and how you can participate. Here’s the recipe we’re following to make this conference happen:

1. August, 2004 (two years and eight months in advance of the conference): Call first meeting to discuss feasibility of having a Leather Leadership Conference in Minnesota. Wonder if anyone will show up. Express delight that about 25 people show up, and they all bring talent, expertise and enthusiasm to the project.

2. Spend next five months researching and preparing a bid to the LLC National Board to convince them to award the 2007 conference to Minnesota. Submit bid in January, 2005.

3. April, 2005 (two years in advance): Meet with LLC National Board at LLC 9 in Phoenix to discuss Minnesota’s bid. Shortly thereafter, receive notification that Minnesota has been awarded the 2007 conference. Do happy dance, then get down to work.

4. Start putting together a conference budget, projecting income and expenses. Also start putting together a comprehensive project plan that lists all the steps and tasks necessary to present the best LLC yet.

5. Secure Hyatt Regency Minneapolis as host hotel. Negotiate special room rate of $129/night. Start planning logistics for hotel, air travel, ground transportation, catering, conference rooms, etc.

6. Determine conference theme, “The Art of Sharing Power . . . a work in progress,” that both addresses a need in the leather/BDSM/fetish community and draws on the rich art and cultural resources of the Twin Cities.

7. Determine graphic/branding treatment of conference theme. Design advertisements, postcards, posters, buttons, t-shirts, pins, and other promotional materials. Order 5,000 postcards. Distribute advertisements and postcards at leather events everywhere.

8. Set up conference website and Buzz Network (Yahoo! group/e-mail list) to keep people informed about LLC XI.

9. Book keynote speakers (quickly, before their schedules fill up). Choose speakers who will generate excitement and draw people to the conference: New York photographer/activist Barbara Nitke and International Mr. Leather 2003 John Pendal. Later add a third speaker, author Laura Antoniou.

10. Plan a Thursday-night pre-conference welcome reception featuring gourmet desserts. Plan three pre-conference workshops for Friday afternoon. Plan a Friday-night opening cabaret hosted by Patrick Scully.

11. Determine programming “tracks” or categories for presentations, tying them to the overall conference “The Art of Sharing Power” theme. Publicize tracks on e-mail lists, website and Buzz Network.

12. April, 2006 (twelve months in advance): At the conclusion of LLC X in New York City, announce that LLC XI will be held in Minneapolis. Pass out Minnesota stuff, including packages of Spam, to audience. Have LLC XI website go live the following day.

13. Set up registration procedures and make plans to integrate them into the website.

14. Order another 5,000 postcards.

15. August, 2006 (eight months in advance): Host weekend-long LLC National Board meeting at Hyatt Regency Minneapolis. Update them on our progress and show them a typical Minnesota event by having them be guests at the Dark Ages Faire Saturday evening.

16. Order yet another 5,000 postcards.

17. Send out Call for Presenters. Send e-mails to presenters at past LLCs, post announcements on various e-mail lists and groups including the LLCXI Buzz Network, and have presenter application available on the Buzz Network.

18. Open conference registration and publicize it. Encourage people to take advantage of the $90 early-bird rate.

19. Start raising money. Keep conference registration costs low and affordable by asking individuals, clubs, groups, organizations, events and businesses to become conference sponsors. Develop sponsorship packages in various amounts to facilitate this process.

20. Issue a call for volunteers for both before and during the conference.

That brings us to the present. This is where you become an invaluable part of this recipe. Here’s how you can participate in LLC XI:

21. Get in the know about LLC XI by visiting the LLC XI website (<www.leatherleadership.org/llc11>) and by joining the LLC Buzz Network (<groups.yahoo.com/subscribe/LLC_Buzz_Network>).

22. Register to attend the conference (< www.regonline.com/llcelevenregistration>). LLC is for you if you’re interested in community service, leadership, group dynamics or the history of the leather/BDSM/fetish community. If you’re a member of a club or organization, be sure your group has representatives attending the conference (perhaps you?).

23. Submit a proposal to be a presenter. The Call for Presentations is open until Nov. 15, so there’s still time. We’re especially looking for presenters from the Twin Cities and the midwest. (Start by taking a look at the programming tracks at <www.leatherleadership.org/llc11/news_060900.html>.)

24. Become a conference sponsor. Individual and group/organization/business sponsorships are available at various levels. Contact <info@leatherleadership.org> for more information.

25. Become a conference volunteer. Help us present a great conference as we welcome visitors from across the country and around the world. A variety of volunteer positions are available, both before and during the conference. Contact <info@leatherleadership.org> for more information.

Friday, October 27, 2006

On Nov. 7, Your Safeword is “Vote!”

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #298, October 27, 2006)

My involvement in preparing for next year’s Leather Leadership Conference XI in Minneapolis (April 20-22, 2007—registration is now open at <www.leatherleadership.org/llc11>) has made me see leadership—and our nation’s current lack of it—in a whole new light.

The goals of the Leather Leadership Conference (LLC) are a) to strengthen the SM/Leather/Fetish community by developing the leadership skills of community members, and b) to foster a greater sense of connection between and within community groups, and a greater sense of unity and understanding within the community as a whole.

That seems to me too good to keep to ourselves. Maybe LLC 2008 should be in Washington, D.C. And maybe we should invite a few congressmen, senators and White House types to sit in on some lessons in effective leadership—because there certainly seems to be a dearth of it in Washington right now.

Then again, why wait until 2008? Let’s invite our national (and, while we’re at it, world) leaders to LLC in Minneapolis next April. Image what a different place the world would be if its leaders learned a thing or two about the theme of next year’s conference, “The Art of Sharing Power.”

I am not necessarily being facetious here. One contestant at this year’s International Mr. Leather contest (I wish I could remember which one) said something to the effect of, “If world peace is ever going to be achieved, it has to come from somewhere. Why not the leather community?”

Why not, indeed. The way we live our lives in this community means we have to think deeply about many things that people living their lives in more conventional fashion don’t have to think about at all. That breeds an unconventional and rare sort of wisdom.

It behooves us to share that wisdom by being in positions of leadership—not just in the leather community, but in other communities and in the wider community as well. We share our wisdom by serving on community and non-profit boards, by participating in civic and political activities, and by making our voices heard. We share our wisdom by leading, and by demonstrating and exercising good leadership.

And, at the most basic level of leadership, if there is currently a lack of leadership in Congress and the White House, it is up to all of us to deal with that leadership vacuum by voting, and voting intelligently.

An analogy has just occurred to me. Think of our current national nightmare—the quagmire in Iraq, the ineffective response to Katrina, civil liberties trampled, scandal upon scandal, etc.—as a BDSM scene gone horribly bad.

In 2000, the people of the United States voted to allow themselves to be led, or topped, by George Bush and his administration. (Of course, it was a nonconsensual scene for just over 50% of the electorate, but that’s politics.) It could also be said that we elected a Republican majority in both houses of Congress to act as overseers, i.e. dungeon masters. And the scene began.

Well, the scene hasn’t turned out either as promised or as hoped for. Who knew that we as a nation would be bottoming to such incompetent, arrogant, selfish, dishonest, hypocritical, unprincipled tops? (Well, slightly more than 50% of the electorate had an idea what was coming. But, again, that’s politics.)

For the last several years I have watched things continually worsen to the point where since 2004 I have personally questioned whether our nation and our world, to say nothing of the leather and GLBT communities, can survive this administration’s (poor) leadership until 2008. We have seen scandal, incompetence, and corruption on a massive scale. It doesn’t look like good leadership to me.

In BDSM parlance, a “safeword” is a predetermined word which, when uttered by anyone involved, modifies the action of a scene. One popular series of safewords is “green” (everything’s fine, keep going), “yellow” (slow down), and “red” (stop immediately).

In 2004 the American electorate had a chance to safeword out of what was even then a nightmare scene. But we didn’t. The two safewords were “blue” and “red,” and very slightly more than 50% of the electorate said “red”—which in this case meant “more of the same.”

As the 2006 mid-term elections approach, however, it appears the tide might be turning. Many leaders find themselves with a dwindling following as poll numbers and approval ratings drop to new lows.

So consider the mid-term elections on Nov. 7 as your chance to safeword out of this national/international nightmare scene, at least partially. Your ballot/safeword might not bring things to an immediate halt. But it might at least act as a “yellow” that will slow things down until 2008, when—assuming the republic has not morphed into a dictatorship—we will have a chance to choose leadership that is more honest, more caring and more effective.

On Nov. 7, vote for change. Vote for sanity. Vote for clarity. Vote for honesty. Vote for accountability. These are all things that leather culture prizes. We demand them in our fellow community members. We should demand them in our community leaders and in our national leaders as well.

It’s your ballot. It’s your safeword. On Nov. 7, use it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Devilish and Divine

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #297, October 13, 2006)

PHOTO: Deborah Addington

The devilish and the divine—both will be part of a pre-Halloween weekend of workshops and other events in Minneapolis.

MSDB (Minnesota Stocks, Debentures and Bonds) periodically brings noted leather/BDSM/fetish authors, presenters and educators to the Twin Cities. Their latest featured presenter will be Deborah Addington (<www.fistandfangs.com>), assisted by Lawrence Alvarado (aka L’Varado) of Fetish Temple (<www.fetishtemple.com>).

Addington describes herself as a practitioner of “mind and body modification.” As a body modification artist she does piercing, ritual scarification and blood tattooing (also called skin etching). Her mind modification work takes the form of the books and articles she writes and the classes she teaches.

Some of Addington’s books are A Hand in the Bush: The Fine Art of Vaginal Fisting and the forthcoming Cunning Torments: A Loving Guide to Female Genital Manipulation. Addington’s writings have appeared in On Our Backs, where she has covered topics ranging from fireplay to lesbians in the sex industry. She has contributed to Sex Tricks for Women by Jay Wiseman and Sex Disasters and How to Avoid Them by Dr. Charles Moser and Janet Hardy.

The weekend starts Friday evening, Oct. 27, with a class patterned after Addington’s book, “Fantasy Made Flesh: The Essential Guide to Erotic Roleplay.” The class, which will include a book signing, will be held at The Smitten Kitten (3010 Lyndale Ave. S.). RSVP by visiting the Kitten Calendar at <www.smittenkittenonline.com>. Space for the class is limited.

On October 28, MSDB presents “Blood Lust,” a combination of two workshops: “Temporary and Permanent Ritual Scarification” and “Kink and the Unitive Experience.”

Addington says of the first workshop on ritual scarification: “I regard all forms of bloodplay—cutting, scarification, play piercing—as a physiospiritual way of accessing incredible intensity; I teach those subjects from a technical perspective within the framework of sacred sexuality.”

This ties in nicely with the second workshop, as Addington believes the BDSM experience “lends itself beautifully to the creation of Sacred Space.” Addington will demonstrate how the unique experiences of kink “permit access to the Divine, to Source energies, and how those energies can be used to enhance our lives.”

The weekend concludes with a community brunch on Sunday morning, Oct. 29. At this writing the planned location is Famous Dave’s at Calhoun Square in uptown Minneapolis.

Mark your calendar: other upcoming events

Friday, October 20: Atons’ Fetish Friday @ The Minneapolis Eagle. This month’s theme is Denim Gear: Ripped/tight jeans. The Atons say, “Got some jeans that show us your religion? How about easy access? Wear your favorite pair of well-worn jeans, and not much else!” 10 P.M.-midnight.

Wednesday, November 1: Crossdressing and Genderfuck workshop presented by Erotic Deviance. To RSVP or for more information: jayne@eroticedeviance.com.

Saturday, November 11: Minnesota Storm Patrol’s Monthly Beer/Pop Bust, Minneapolis Eagle, 5-8 P.M. $5.

Saturday, November 11: Atons’ Leather/Levi Dinner at Surabhi Indian Cuisine, 9818 Aldrich Ave., Bloomington. RSVP to <activities@atons.net> or call the Atons HotLine.

Friday, November 17: Atons’ Fetish Friday @ The Minneapolis Eagle. This month’s theme is Muscle Gear—wear something Tom of Finland-y. 10 P.M.-midnight.

Saturday, December 2: Bizarre Bazaar, presented by MSDB. Location: Trikkz, 490 N. Robert St., St Paul, noon-7 P.M. This is where you’ll find those unusual items on your holiday shopping list. (MSDB is currently looking for people and businesses interested in displaying at the bazaar. See vendor information at <www.msdb-mn.org>.)

Sunday, December 3: Atons Holiday Fundraiser to benefit The Aliveness Project and Open Arms of Minnesota. At this writing location and time are still being determined. However, donations (both leather- and non-leather-related items) are now being accepted for the silent auction. To donate, or for more information, contact <president@atons.net> or call the Atons HotLine.

Wednesday, December 6: Holiday electrical play workshop presented by Erotic Deviance. To RSVP or for more information: jayne@eroticedeviance.com.

Saturday, December 9: Minnesota Storm Patrol’s Monthly Beer/Pop Bust, Minneapolis Eagle, 5-8 P.M. $5.

Friday, December 17: Atons’ Fetish Friday @ The Minneapolis Eagle. This month’s theme is Santa Gear: red underwear/jocks/chaps. 10 P.M.-midnight.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Wedding Pictures

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #296, September 29, 2006)

PHOTO:

The Corn Haulers, a leather/levi club in Des Moines, Iowa, recently became the latest leather club to reach thirty years of age. To celebrate, the theme of this year’s Corn Ball 2006 run was “The XXX Wedding” (“After thirty years together, we might as well make it legal”). The banquet, the show, the games and the cocktail parties all played off the wedding theme.

Representatives of over twenty other leather clubs attended the festivities, which also incorporated the Fall meeting of MACC (Mid-America Conference of Clubs).

Following are excerpts from the journal of Andrew Bertke, an Atons member who made the trek to Des Moines for the run.

We arrived Friday just in time for the first cocktail party. This was followed by a buffet lunch and then more cocktail parties sponsored by various clubs. The Atons cocktail party had a Hawaiian wedding theme: “tropical” punch (with umbrellas), Spam on crackers, and wedding mints, served by the lovely Atons in coconut bras and grass skirts.

After the Atons party, we headed out to two local bars, The Blazing Saddle and its neighbor , Buddy’s Corral. Then back to the hotel for one final post-bar late-night cocktail party, then to bed.

Saturday started early for run attendees who were club delegates for MACC. Not being a delegate, I woke up at about 11 A.M. and went to the lunch, games and show at The Garden, another sponsoring bar/nightclub.

The games included a wedding bouquet toss, “count how many votive candles are in the jar,” poker draw, and others. The show started with several love and marriage songs performed by hag drag stars. A roller-skating Madonna performing “Like A Virgin” while wearing her wedding miniskirt was precious. Another charmer was the sad little forlorn “girl” who lip-synced to a Carol Burnett ditty about fairy-tale lovers from the Broadway show “Once Upon a Mattress.”

My real favorite was the bride in the tight punk-rock wedding dress and bright pink shoulder-length wig lip-syncing to “Cherry Bomb” while maintaining a snear on his mustached face.

Then the “Cherry Bomb” bride and the groom got up on the stage for the mock wedding. The service was led by the run MC, playing a southern-Baptist-style preacher complete with plenty of amens, hallelujahs, and praise jeebuses.

Saturday night started with yet more cocktail parties, soon followed by the official run banquet. This is the one event where we are expected to dress up and club members don their club uniforms.

The run banquet began, as usual, with a parade of colors. (“Colors” are club patches or flags.) This was an especially long parade of colors in honor of the Corn Haulers’ thirtieth anniverary.

Several times during the evening the “groom” (played by MACC president Threasa) responded to our clinking glasses and kissed the “bride” (played by one of the male Corn Haulers). Each time she was called up, the groom would slip mystery food items into the bride’s mouth: an olive, a piece of fruit, and finally a glob of whipped cream.

After the banquet we headed to another cocktail party and then back to the Blazing Saddle and Buddy’s. The bars were packed with a mix of locals and run attendees. The only annoying moment of the night was when a lesbian, who will go unnamed, decided she needed to bite my “cute” ass. I wasn’t expecting it, so it sent me jumping halfway across the room. Damn teeth left marks!

After I recovered from that, we hung out at The Saddle until 12:30, then headed back to the hotel for the post-bar party. This was really nice. They had sandwich fixings and cookies. The MN Storm Patrol was serving their vodka/fruit punch/fruit cocktail drink.

Sunday morning we headed down for breakfast. Traditionally, Sunday breakfasts at runs includes awards and speeches. Awards are typically given to game winners and for things like who had to travel the farthest to attend the run. There are also thank-you awards for the participating clubs.

It was fitting that all the awards were packaged as wedding gifts. Surprisingly, the Atons won the Best Cocktail Party award— a toaster oven!

After the awards came the speeches. This is when each club gets up to congratulate the host club and to possibly promote their own runs and activities. To bring the run to a close, Threasa (the groom) announced that the wedding was annulled, and presented clean sheets as the reason why.

To see photos of the run, visit < http://public.fotki.com/drewan/travels/runs/conrn_haulers-2006/> for Bertke’s photos or <www.cornhaulers.com> for the club’s pictures.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Different Kind of Leather Contest

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #295, September 15, 2006)

PHOTO: Mr. World Leather 2006, Mufasa (left), and Ms World Leather 2006, Jae Januze

If you could change one thing about leather contests, what would it be?

In 2001 the Ms World Leather title (<www.msworldleather.com>) was founded as “a different kind of contest for a different kind of woman,” and the new contest represented a re-engineering of the traditional formula for a leather title competition. For 2006 the contest, held this year in Philadelphia at the Society Hill Sheraton, added a concurrent men’s competition and was billed as Ms/Mr. World Leather.

The leather contest and title system was not necessarily started with the purpose of choosing community leaders, but many titleholders assumed leadership roles during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. Nowadays it is assumed in the community that leather titleholders will be leaders and role models.

The first International Mr. Leather and International Mr. Drummer contests were held in 1979. They created the basic formula that has since been followed by local, regional and other international leather title contests: a private interview with a panel of judges, a short speech, judging categories for “leather image” (more clothing) and “physique” (less clothing), and sometimes a fantasy (erotic skit) performance.

The Ms/Mr. World Leather contest makes several major changes to this formula. The contest models itself to a great extent on the paradigm of contemporary television: talk shows, Sunday morning political shows, and reality shows such as “The Apprentice” (although at times the contestants might have felt more like they were participating in “Survivor”).

Unlike other leather contest weekends, there are no separate educational seminars at Ms/Mr. World Leather. The entire weekend is devoted to education, consciousness-raising and fundraising, with the contestants acting as the weekend’s educators and persuaders.

Each contestant chooses a cause, and one or more charities, that will be the focus of her or his title year should she or he win. Past winners have focused on lupus, AIDS and homelessness, breast cancer awareness, organ donation, and ASL communication and deaf culture.

This year’s contestants were introduced during “Ms/Mr. World Leather Glo,” the opening meet-and-greet talk show on Friday evening. It was presided over by Goddess Lakshimi, Ms World Leather 2003 and the weekend’s emcee.

This year there were two Ms World Leather contestants: Jae Januze of Colorado (platform: additional resources for “next-generation” kinky folks ages 18-35), and Sarah Hoffman of Philadelphia (platform: removing kinkiness from official diagnostic lists of mental illnesses in the same way homosexuality was removed in the mid-1970s).

Four men competed for the first-ever Mr. World Leather title. Scott Erickson, of Boston, chose Rape Awareness as his cause. Noted author and fellow leather columnist Cain Berlinger, of New York, spent the weekend promoting Diabetes Awareness. Matthew Cary, of Knoxville, Tenn., chose Leather History as his cause and the Leather Archives & Museum as his charity. Mufasa, a proud adoptive father living in Chicago, campaigned for the cause of GLBT adoption.

On Saturday morning, another feature unique to Ms/Mr. World Leather became apparent: Everything about this contest is open to the public, including the interview with the judging panel. During each interview, the contestant was given about ten minutes to present her or his platform. (Four of the six contestants used a PowerPoint slide show as part of their presentation.) The judges then spent about ten minutes questioning the contestant. By and large, the questions were not easy ones.

If the questions from the judges on Saturday morning were sometimes difficult, the questions from the assembled leather press corps (including your humble columnist) during Saturday evening’s “Crossfire” event were merciless. One by one, each contestant had to endure and respond to a relentless five-minute barrage of quick, challenging, no-holds-barred questions from the press, while the judges scored them on their press-handling ability.

Next, the judges were dismissed and it was time for the “Audience Choice” event. Before the event started, each audience member had been given two poker chips (and the opportunity to purchase up to five more if they felt like stuffing the ballot box). Each contestant had two minutes to convince members of the audience to vote for her or him and to make a contribution to her or his charity of choice. At the conclusion of the presentations, audience members voted by dropping poker chips (and contributions, if they chose) into locked boxes, one for each contestant, at the front of the auditorium.

The main contest event took place Sunday afternoon. Each contestant answered a question posed by the judges—again, no softball questions here—and made another 2-minute speech (no PowerPoint this time) recapping their platform.

With the competitive events complete, the scores were tallied while the audience heard from a plethora of titleholders and other dignitaries. As a prelude to announcing the winners of the contest, Audience Choice awards were presented to Sarah Hoffman and Mufasa.

Then came the high point of the weekend: the announcement of the winners and new titleholders. First runner-up honors went to Sarah Hoffman and Matthew Cary; Jae Januze was sashed as Ms World Leather 2006; and Mufasa became the first-ever Mr. World Leather 2006.

Friday, September 1, 2006

The IML Agenda, 2006

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #294, September 1, 2006)

Continuing the Conversation with IML 2006 Bo Ladashevska

PHOTOS: Photos have already been submitted

International Mr. Leather 2006 Bo Ladashevska speaks from his heart—and then worries about what he just said. Is what he says controversial, or is it common sense? Read on, then decide for yourself. (See Lavender Magazine, Issue 293 for the first part of this interview.)

I’m sure you’ve had some thoughts on what you want to accomplish during your title year.

I’m someone who believes in inclusivity. I think the leather community tends to be a community of male privilege, and we need to band together and be more supportive of subgroups—the women’s community, the deaf community, the disabled.

Are we just a smattering of groups that are linked together, or are we a real community? I know a lot of people don’t want to hear it, but I think we need to look within ourselves more often and see how we support each other.

I think it’s important to have our own spaces, but when we come together, we really have to come together. I was just thinking of a conversation I had with a woman in Montreal—she was saying, “Yes, we have our women’s events, men’s events, bootblack events—events where we can express our individuality.

“But large events—especially pride celebrations, for example—are supposed to be a celebration of everybody. But the big pride parties and events tend to be male, the shows are about males, they’re all male dancers.” She said, “I feel so invisible, at an event where I’m supposed to feel proud about myself.”

As men in our community we tend not to see the problem because we’re in the position of power. We don’t see how it’s affecting other people in our community. We think, everything’s great, everything’s fine, life’s just grand. Well, you know, it’s not grand for a lot of people, and we have to open our eyes and see how what we are doing is affecting those people around us, and how it’s making them feel.

Which is why I go to the International Ms Leather contest, for example—because it’s important to be in a place where I’m not on my own turf.

And sometimes that doesn’t feel comfortable. And that’s okay. Because you know what? They’re on our turf all the time. How many people go to International Deaf Leather? Not too many, because it’s a deaf event. I think people need to go there and see what it’s like to be a deaf leather person. It really opens your eyes. Until we do that, we can’t become a community.

Also, I think we’re focusing too much on the party. So many people spend so much time and energy now going from party to party to party. Yes, they’re fun—and it’s important that we have fun. But all our time, energy and money is going to these events, and it’s being taken away from causes that need to be dealt with.

I think we as a community are not getting involved in the political process. There are so many issues out there that need a mass of people to fight for them. Like in the seventies—everyone was out rallying, fighting for a cause, pushing an agenda. We need to go back to that mindset.

I think the title circuit puts pressure on our titleholders to go from event to event to event. Why is it important that we have to be seen everywhere? I don’t know where that came from, but for some reason it seems important to be seen, to be there for the photo op. And what happens is you spend your year traveling, and the work doesn’t get done.

Oh, man, I’m gonna regret saying that! But, you know, I’m here to stir up the pot sometimes, and maybe that’s my role.

And at the same time, you have to support events, too. It’s important to network with your community, but don’t overdo it. You have to find a balance.

What else do you feel strongly about?

Right now I feel strongly about community. I’m in a community that’s having problems like any other community. I’m fighting to bring people together. It drives me crazy when people are not working together. It makes me angry when we can’t look past our differences—some days I almost want to cry.

Why can’t we just work together? We can do so much, there are so many things we can do together. And we make so much misery. It costs nothing to be nice. It takes so much energy to be at each other’s throats.

There are communities that have gotten past that. I was in Edmonton, Alberta, about two months ago, and I was so surprised to see women and men, gays, pansexuals—everyone was working together, and they had a wonderful weekend. It’s doable. Communities are doing it, and there’s no reason why we as a wider community can’t do it.

That’s what next year’s Leather Leadership Conference in Minneapolis will be about: working together, “The Art of Sharing Power.” And we hope you’re there.

I’m planning on being there. It’s written in my calendar.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Leather Life Interview: Bo Ladashevska, International Mr. Leather 2006

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #293, August 18, 2006)

PHOTO:

International Mr. Leather 2006 Bo Ladashevska is in many respects his own creation. He chose his own name and has reconstructed his body. Yet he’s soft-spoken and says his image of himself is “petite.” Growing up in Winnipeg as a hearing child of deaf parents, he considers himself “culturally deaf.”

Ladashevska now lives in Montreal with his partner, Guy. Your humble columnist interviewed him when he was Omaha, Neb., attending this year’s International Ms Leather contest. I started by asking about his name.

Ladashevska is a beautiful, musical name. Is that Russian?

It’s actually Ukranian/Russian. My given name was Vernon Ladashusky. I made a few changes, just because it sounds nicer. It has a feminine ending, which is actually incorrect, but I like the sound of it. I think it’s a very interesting and powerful experience when people actually choose their name.

And your first name, Bohdan. Where does that come from?

It was a name I heard in my Ukranian class when I was very young. It was a name I loved, and I decided that’s who I wanted to be. At age 15 I took ownership of my life, and became Bohdan Ladashevska. [He pronounces “Bohdan” with a sound in the back of his throat, almost a “k” but not quite, before the “h”.] There are some cultures that have a problem pronouncing that sound, so I just go by “Bo.”

Height?

Six feet.

You seem bigger.

Interesting. I feel very small. You know how you have an inner sense of who you are? I tend to feel very petite and very small.

Weight?

Right now? Two-thirty.

Workout schedule?

Five times a week.

How long have you been working out?

About two years. I used to be more of a bear, actually. I went to the doctor one day a couple of years ago, and he said, you know what? With your cholesterol level and triglycerides that high, you’re probably going to be dead in a couple years. So I took it upon myself to get back in shape. I was close to three hundred pounds—not muscle. I reconstructed myself.

And you still think of yourself as petite?

Even when I was big I still thought of myself as small. I often look in the mirror and I go [gasping in surprise], “Who is that?”

Talk about growing up as a child of deaf parents.

My father comes from a very large genetically deaf clan, spreading over Canada and into the States as well. I think right now we have five generations of deafness, living. My mother actually was born hearing, and she became deaf—I think at about one year old. My brothers and sisters can all hear, but most of my family—aunts, uncles, cousins—are all deaf.

And this is what you do professionally?

American Sign Language English interpreter, yes.

That almost seems like it was foreordained.

It was not what I wanted to do. I just sort of fell into, and I love it.

What did you want to do?

Actually, I wanted to be an opera singer for awhile. I did some acting. When you’re young you try all kinds of things.

Do you sing now?

No, actually, I gave up singing. Becoming an opera star can be very expensive, and I come from a relatively poor family.

Are you still an opera fan?

I don’t have time for it. I don’t even watch TV much anymore.

What are you so busy with?

There’s so much to do in Montreal. I love Montreal—I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. I enjoy spending time with my partner. And with work and being involved with the community, it takes a lot of time. Over the years I’ve been involved in several AIDS organizations. And I’ve been very involved with the deaf community—the sports organizations, the political organizations, being there, volunteering with them—just because it’s a part of who I am, it’s a part of who my community is. I consider myself being deaf as you might consider yourself being Italian.

Let’s talk about sex. There are some very erotic pictures of you on the web.

I’m very comfortable in who I am and in what I do. I think we should all be proud of our bodies. You know, I’ve put a lot of work into this body—I’m not embarrassed to show it. And I live very openly about my sexuality—I always have, since I was thirteen when I came out.

What about coming out into the leather community?

It was twenty years ago this past summer, but there’s always been a fascination that probably goes back further. When I was five years old I was totally obsessed with my grandfather’s shaving strap on the bathroom door. When we used to be bad, we used to get “the strap”. Sometimes it was more pleasurable than it was supposed to be.

Friday, August 4, 2006

International Ms Leather Celebrates 20 Years

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #292, August 4, 2006)

PHOTO:

Leatherwomen, and the leathermen who support them, gathered in Omaha, Neb. July 14-16 for the twentieth-anniversary edition of the International Ms Leather (IMsL) contest. Held concurrently with IMsL was the eighth annual International Ms Bootblack (IMsBB) competition.

International Ms Leather (IMsL), the first international leather title for women, started in San Francisco in 1987. Originally run by a board as a non-profit organization, the IMsL title was almost discontinued after eight years. IMsL ’93 Amy Marie Meek (now Meek-DeJarlais) assumed production of the contest in 1995 and has kept it going ever since. (Her partner and co-producer is Megan Meek-DeJarlais, IMsL ’98.)

After being held in Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Diego, Las Vegas, Toronto, and Dallas, the contest has been held in Meek-DeJarlais’ hometown of Omaha since 2002. Both female and male members of Omaha’s leather/fetish community have pitched in every year to help produce the contest and the weekend’s other events.

IMsL contestants for 2006 were Beth Roberts of Indianapolis, Ind. and Lady Faye of Dallas, Texas. The sole IMsBB contestant was Alex Bettencourt of Medford, Mass. (A second bootblack contestant was forced to withdraw due to illness.)

It has become increasingly difficult to find contestants for IMsL (as it has for many other leather contests). Fewer local and regional women’s leather contests mean fewer winners to go onto to compete in the IMsL contest. In 1999, IMsL had fourteen contests; that number had fallen to five by 2002.

Nonetheless, IMsL 2006 was a rollicking weekend. It started the evening of Thursday, July 13, with a Contestants’ Night Out trip to Harrah’s Casino (across the Missouri river in Council Bluffs, Iowa). The casino junket was followed by dinner at Jazz, a New Orleans-themed restaurant across the street and down the block from the weekend’s host hotel, Omaha’s Redick Plaza.

The IMsL Press Party and Basket Auction happened Friday evening. Baskets of leather/fetish merchandise gathered by the weekend’s contestants were auctioned off to benefit the IMsL and IMsBB travel funds. Other activities on Friday evening were a roast for outgoing IMsL 2005 Jessie Holman-Ahart and a dungeon party at the hotel. A men’s party was held at The Max, Omaha’s GLBT mega-bar complex that for years has been one of the cleanest and most attractive GLBT clubs in the nation.

On Saturday morning it was down to business for the weekend’s judges, all IMsL titleholders from prior years, as they conducted private interviews with this year’s IMsL contestants. Everyone else was free to shop the leather market and get their boots shined (bootblack contestant Bettencourt was working furiously).

A series of educational workshops was presented Saturday morning and afternoon by Kansas City Leather University. Workshop topics included mummification, head shaving, electrical play, “Free Speech Under Fire,” and a fascinating look at the deaf leather community (about which you will hear more in a future Leather Life column).

The last of Saturday’s seminars was special—a twenty-year retrospective on IMsL’s history as told by eight IMsL titleholders. (You can hear audio of the retrospective at <www.LeatherLife.net>.)

The IMsL contest and show were Saturday evening in the Arena theater at The Max.

Each contestant made a short speech and performed a fantasy (erotic skit) presentation. Roberts was Mrs. Claus in a Christmas-themed fantasy, while Lady Faye interrupted her housecleaning chores for a sexy fling with a sudden visitor.

This year’s IMsL contest and show included the traditional IMsL tattoo contest, which drew nine people to the stage to show off their ink. Many present and past leather titleholders attended the weekend to welcome and support the new IMsL and IMsBB titleholders, and during the evening many of them were recognized and brought to the stage.

Also part of the show Saturday were three big-ticket auctions: the IMsL 20-year quilt donated by Lifestyle Sewing, sold for $700. (Shortly after winning the auction, the buyer came to the stage and presented the quilt to Amy Marie Meek-DeJarlais.) The IMsL Bootblack quilt, also donated by Lifestyle Sewing, sold for $1,300—a demonstration of the affection people feel for their bootblacks.

The third big-ticket auction item was an original leather flag signed by its creator, Tony DeBlase. One of only fourteen in existence, it sold for a breathtaking $2,850. All proceeds from these auctions were split between the IMsL and ImsBB travel funds.

Toward the end of the evening the International Ms Bootblack torch was passed from Suka, last year’s titleholder, to Bettencourt. Then, in a highly emotional moment, there was another torch-passing: Amy and Megan Meek-DeJarlais stepped aside as contest producers, turning the IMsL and IMsBB titles over to new producer Glenda Ryder.

The culmination of the evening was the announcement of the new IMsL 2006: Lady Faye. Cameras flashed and audience members rushed the stage to offer their congratulations.

Sunday morning’s Victory Brunch at the Redick Grill was again emotional. It was the close of IMsL’s Meek-DeJarlais era. Next year will mark the start of the next era of International Ms Leather, July 13-15, 2007, in San Francisco. For more details visit <www.imsl.org>.

Find more photos of the IMsL weekend, and audio of “20 years of IMsL—A Retrospective Roundtable,” at <www.LeatherLife.net>.