TLJ-VT: Tell me about your favorite charity.
IMsL Contestant Val: I have many favorite BDSM-focused charities, as so many of our organizations work on a non-profit basis. One that is especially close to my heart is The Exiles San Francisco, a 501(c)3 non-profit which has been providing BDSM education to women since 1997. For the last ten years, it has also been open to anyone whose gender self-identity is other than male, including people who identify as non-binary, genderqueer, and gender-fluid. I am passionate about BDSM education, and I love that the Exiles is there to provide it. I have volunteered my time to The Exiles on a regular basis since 2004.
TLJ-VT: Tell me in your own words how you feel about community service.
IMsL Contestant Val: I feel very strongly about community service. On a personal level, I enjoy volunteering at events for a lot of reasons. I like to feel useful, to help out, which is one reason why I have been volunteering for leather community organizations since entering the scene. For me, community service is a bit like doing service in submission. It’s rewarding in a similar way, and provides some of the same feelings of being useful and good. Furthermore, our community runs on volunteers, and without such service to our community, it would be very different, and perhaps simply not exist.
TLJ-VT: What makes you a Leather Woman and/or Bootblack?
IMsL Contestant Val: To start with, I’m a big pervert. What I mean is that I like having really kinky sex, involving the consensual exchange of power and pain. In order to have this kind of exchange, it’s tremendously important that the partners share trust and respect. Carrying those values of trust and respect outside the bedroom and the playroom, and being worthy of trust and respect; being honorable in all things; being a good boy, working hard, and doing my best: these things make me Leather.
5) TLJ-VT:Who is your favorite Leather Woman...Why?
How can I be expected to pick a favorite leather woman? I can’t even pick one favorite play partner! … In all seriousness, it’s hard to pick a favorite, because there are many leather women whom I greatly admire and respect. I have chosen to highlight a woman here who has had a big impact on me personally: Liza Sibley, executive producer of the Ms. San Francisco Leather contest, is my heroine.
IMsL Contestant Val: Why? Because, in her own words, she lives by the Girl Scout Law. (And what this means to me is that she is a woman of honor.) She brought back the Ms. SF Leather contest in 2009 after a 10-year hiatus. With her slave, Jody, she earned the title of International Master and Slave 2011. She will always tell the truth, and has an amazing heart. She lives her life authentically, with no apologies. She stands by her word, and there’s no nonsense about her. She is a great leader. She has maintained a successful long-term relationship with her slave. And of course, she is kind to her sister Girl Scouts.
TLJ-VT: What do you feel is the most dangerous mis-information passed through traditional & social media affecting our community today, and how would you combat it should the opportunity arise?
IMsL Contestant Val: The dangerous misinformation that immediately comes to mind is the mistaken belief that BDSM is abuse. There is more public awareness and dialogue on this subject, and perhaps we are on the cusp of dispelling this dangerous notion. At least, in more liberal places like San Francisco.
But even as popular culture seems to be coming around to the idea that BDSM might not be abuse, there are related, yet perhaps more subtle, misconceptions. For example, the notion that the only people who do kink are somehow damaged. We are so often portrayed in movies as "bad," our identities a product of a damaged personality or upbringing. This sensationalist image misrepresents us in a crucial and dangerous way. The dark side of human nature is what moviemakers want to show, and arguably what people want to see, but we know that all kinds of people are kinky, and most of us are healthy and happy.
One critical way I try to combat this misinformation is simply by going about my daily business mindfully and with integrity, fully out as a leather person. And this includes representing through traditional and social media. Being visible and out in these spaces goes a long way to offering an alternative perspective.
TLJ-VT: In 100 words or less what will you do as IMsL or IMsBB to promote your title?
IMsL Contestant Val: As IMsL my focus will be representation, education and community development, nationally and internationally.
I love to travel and connect with new people, and I look forward to traveling to various events and communities, including many new to me. Whether at home or away, and whether teaching, hosting, selling raffle tickets, judging, public speaking, or simply talking to folks one on one, my goal is to make meaningful connections, exhibiting humor and grace, educating about who and what we are, and making leatherwomen feel good about themselves; to dispel myths; and, of course, to play.
TLJ-VT: What do you say to those who feel that the Title system is outdated and no longer necessary?
IMsL Contestant Val: This is a great question for me, because I was brought up in the UK, where there were no title contests, and where BDSM community representatives were drawn from the rank and file of activist groups like Countdown on Spanner. When I moved to the US I didn’t understand the value of the title system as I do now, and I had to find answers to this question for myself.
Titleholders are some of kink’s “professional out people”. Titleholders must be willing to come out in ways that, because of work or family pressures, not everyone in our community can afford to do. Titleholding isn’t the only way to be a spokesperson for our community, but title contests are one of the ways we choose people to represent us. Now, with everyone able to see “Fifty Shades of Grey” on the big screen, I think it’s more important than ever that our community put forward articulate people to act as advocates for real consensual kink.
As a bonus, a contest, properly put on, makes a great stage show, whether it is a fantastic centerpiece for a weekend convention or a standalone evening event. From time to time, many of us like to get out there in our best leathers, cruise and schmooze, and see and be seen. Going to a leather title contest, as well as being a lot of fun, is a great way to help support our community members who want to step up to become representatives – and probably to raise money for charity at the same time!