Friday, August 4, 2006

International Ms Leather Celebrates 20 Years

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


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 <>.)

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 <>.

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

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