Friday, May 23, 2008

Joanne Gaddy: The Leather Life Interview

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #339, May 23, 2008)


Joanne Gaddy has been a visible member of Chicago’s leather community for many years. She served as Mistress of IML for about ten years and founded The Slater Society, a pansexual fisting group. She was in the Twin Cities recently to give two leather-related presentations: “Laugh ’til it hurts” at a PEPRMNT munch, and a fisting demonstration for MSDB’s THE LAB.

How did you get started at all this?

I came into it sideways. I left my ex-husband a little over 20 years ago and met a gay man, and he and I became friends. One day he was going to an early fundraising meeting for Chicago House, which was a residence for people living with AIDS. I told him I’d be happy to go with him if they didn’t mind a straight female. Well, I was, of course, welcomed with beyond-open arms. It was at Thom Dombkowski’s house [former Chief Judge of the International Mr. Leather contest].

We were working at a table with two of the Chicago House board members, and one of them called me the next day and said, “Would you consider doing minutes of board meetings?” So I started doing that, which led me to meeting a couple more leathermen. I’m also a member of MENSA, and I joined the MENSA gay special interest group and met another bunch of leathermen there.

One year one of the guys I met at Chicago House, Bill Eskelson, told me, “You’re volunteering at IML.” And I said, “Okay.” This was the first year they had an office, and they had a sweet little bottom girl in the office that somebody had recommended. Well, that office didn’t need a sweet little bottom girl—who had no office experience, either. Wednesday night before IML, the first thing they used to do was photo badges. I was in the orientation and Bill came to me and said, “Can you turn on a typewriter?” I went into the office, turned on the typewriter for the girl, and then I did all the badges. Well, within a day I was told, “By the way, you’re running the office next year.” I said “Oh. Okay.”

Another friend who was involved with IML had one of those electronic BBS things, and he kept telling me I had to log into it. Finally one night I did, and I discovered a posting from a straight man about the Chicagoland Discussion Group (CDG). And I remember sitting in front of the computer, going “Straight people do this? You mean there’s a chance I might, like, get laid, too, and get to play?” So the leather community has changed my life.

Why did you give up being Mistress of IML?

I went out on medical disability, and I did IML a little bit after that, but my health was such that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I have scleroderma, an autoimmune disease in the same family as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. The body produces too much collagen. It’s mostly attacked my digestive system. During the last surgery a couple years ago they took out my esophagus entirely. As my gastroenterologist said, “Your esophagus will give you a lot less trouble on the pathologist’s table.”

How did you get your start in fisting?

Chicago Hellfire Club used to do SMU, or SM University. At one of the SMUs I saw two very experienced fisters do a demo and I was like, “I want that.” It was just so amazing. And then along the way I had a female partner, and she taught me about vaginal fisting, and I fell in love with that. It’s truly one of the most intimate and intense things you can do. You know, feeling someone’s heartbeat inside their body is just fucking awesome.

How does MENSA interplay with leather?

Somewhere in the late ’80s or early ’90s I started doing programs at MENSA gatherings called “Intelligent SM.” So I’m kinda single-handedly responsible for bringing a lot of kinky MENSAns out of the closet. There really is a very significant crossover between intelligence and kink. I’m frequently telling people in the kinky world to join MENSA and vice versa.

You’re now doing weddings as an ordained clergyperson with the Church of Spiritual Humanism.

A girlfriend from the kinky community and her fiance wanted to get married at Sinsations a year ago, and they asked if I would get an online ordination and marry them. After doing that wedding I wound up with two more kinky couples and then I got an e-mail from somebody who found me on the Spiritual Humanism site. I decided I was making this a business and started advertising on wedding sites and in run programs.

A friend designed my vanilla website, and as soon as we get a chance he’ll be doing my kinky website. It’s going to be Power Exchange Weddings. For the vanilla site I’ve got a clergy robe and stole, which of course makes me look totally angelic—which is just hysterical. For the kinky site we took a picture of me in the clergy robe and stole, but it’s open, and you can see the corset and I’m dangling handcuffs and a whip. “Let the mistress marry you.”

Friday, May 9, 2008

No Minnesota Contestant at IML XXX

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #338, May 9, 2008)

Consider the noble leather contest—alive and thriving in some places, moribund in others.

It will be a blowout year in Chicago as the International Mr. Leather (IML) contest celebrates 30 years this coming Memorial Day weekend. As in years past, many Minnesotans will be among the crush of leather aficionados cheering for competitors from across the nation and around the world—and turning the host hotel (Chicago’s Hyatt Regency on Wacker Drive) into the world’s largest leather bar for the weekend. (Details at <>. And hurry, because at this writing the host hotel is almost sold out.)

Unfortunately, no one representing Minnesota will be walking across the IML stage this year as a contestant. In recent years the only functioning Minnesota leather title, and the only source for an IML contestant representing Minnesota, has been Mr. Minneapolis Eagle. This year that contest has not yet been held. What gives?

Minnesota has a long history of sending contestants to each year’s IML. And in 1997 one of them—Mr. Minnesota Leather Kevin Cwayna—went on to become that year’s International Mr. Leather.

Now, eleven years later, Minneapolis Eagle owner Ed Hopkins hasn’t been able to find enough contestants to hold this year’s Mr. Minneapolis Eagle contest in time to send the winner to Chicago to compete in IML. It’s not for lack of trying—the first call for Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2008 contestants went out around the beginning of the year.

When I talked to him, Hopkins sounded a bit bewildered and frustrated by the lack of contestants. But at this point, he still wants to be able to present the contest. (He told me, “I always really enjoy that evening at the bar.”) He now plans to hold the contest sometime this fall.

Things are both better (nationally) and worse (locally) for the women’s leather community. The International Ms Leather (IMsL) contest has experienced an amazing rejuvenation in the last two years. But there hasn’t been a functioning women’s leather title based in Minnesota since the end of the last century.

But who cares, right? They’re just beauty contests anyway, aren’t they? Actually, no, they’re much more—although I have nothing against a nice beauty contest, either.

Leather contests have been around as long as they have because they serve several community functions. Whether in a bar in Minneapolis or in a theater in Chicago, San Francisco or Los Angeles, contests build community by being an out-of-the-ordinary shared community experience. For leather-related business owners and sponsors, leather contests can be good ways to build and strengthen their businesses.

Obviously, each leather contest can have only one winner. But, win or lose, everyone competing in a leather contest experiences a significant rite of passage. For contestants, the act of competing is a declaration both to themselves and to the community that they want to be involved and here’s what they have to offer.

Leather contests and leather titles are an important source of, and often a gateway to, community leadership. I have personally seen this happen over and over. Both locally and nationally, I can point to any number of people making things happen in their communities—and tell you in which contest I first saw them compete.

I recently participated in a dinner-table discussion sparked by the news that the Mr. Minneapolis Eagle contest had been postponed. Others who see the value in leather contests and titles wondered why Minnesota has so few of them, and what it would take to revive them here.

Reference was made to the Mr. Los Angeles Leather title (as shown in the 2004 documentary Mr. Leather), a citywide leather title competition featuring the winners of nine different leather-bar titles. Why couldn’t Minnesota set up the same kind of leather title network?

Of course, the Mr. Minneapolis Eagle title could be an integral part of such a network—but perhaps other Twin Cities bars would be interested in sponsoring a leather title. And what about bars or organizations in Duluth, Rochester, Mankato, or elsewhere in the state? Winners of those contests could then go on to compete for a statewide Minnesota leather title. And, while we’re at it, how about revitalizing a women’s Minnesota leather title as well?

Sounds great—almost like the way things used to be around here. The Mr. and Ms Minnesota Leather titles once were run by the community. (This was before my time, so I’ve only heard stories.) In my early years in the Twin Cities leather community there were many titles and many contests, and I have columns and photos documenting them. And then, for whatever reason or reasons, it all went away, and only the Mr. Minneapolis Eagle title was left. Now, after nine titleholders, it too is on hiatus—I hope only temporarily.

So I’ll still be at IML, and I’ll still be cheering, but I won’t be able to cheer for a contestant representing my state, let alone my hometown. I can only hope that someone from Minnesota who attends IML will be inspired, or will inspire someone else, to compete for the title of Mr. Minneapolis Eagle this fall.


In my column in Lavender issue 332 (Feb. 15, 2008) I incorrectly said the 2009 Leather Leadership Conference would be in Detroit. The 2009 conference will be in Atlanta, with Detroit hosting the conference in 2010.