Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Eulogy to my mother, Erika Langmuir, 1931-2015

December 8, 2015: My mother, Dr Erika Hedwig Blumenfeld Langmuir McKeown OBE, and yes, that's a bit of a mouthful, passed away this morning, aged 84.

Erika Hedwig Blumenfeld was born in Warsaw May 15, 1931, her mother a bourgeois Polish Jew with a university degree and a flair for languages, and her (also Jewish) father among many other things a soldier in the Czech army. Erika and her parents escaped Poland scant weeks ahead of the Nazi invasion in 1939, taking what they could, but leaving behind much, most sadly her beloved dog "Stobi", and made their way by train to Bucharest. (Some of her relatives also escaped, ending up in such diverse places as Rhodesia/now Zimbabwe, Israel, and Canada, but some did not and perished in the Holocaust.) From Romania, Erika's family boarded ship on the Black Sea for Alexandria, where they stayed for a while and Erika remembered watching the "dog-fights" overhead, then on to the south of France, where they lived for around two years and Erika went by her middle name, in French pronounced, if not spelled, "Edwige". Then, with the all-important affidavit in hand, the three set sail from the choppy Gulf of Lyon to Casablanca, where they boarded the Portuguese-flag ship Serpa Pinto, which had been running the blockade and risking torpedoes ferrying mainly Jewish refugees to the USA and other places. (This ship is perhaps best known, at least among Jews, for bringing Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), seventh leader of Chabad-Lubavitch, and his wife, Chaya Mushka, to America in 1941.) Erika and her family reached New York in June 1942, where at Ellis Island Erika saw saw the "No Smoking" sign, and with her limited but refined English wondered why tuxes / dinner jackets ("smoking jackets") were prohibited.

Erika grew up in New York City, where she went to high school and worked. She was awarded  a scholarship to Sarah Lawrence, where she earned her Bachelor's degree. She met my father, Gavin Ince Langmuir, a Canadian veteran of WWII and doctoral student at Harvard, at a "mixer" party. When Gavin was offered a professorship at Stanford University, he and Erika married before they moved to California, where they adopted me at birth in 1961. While caring for me and being a faculty wife, Erika earned her Master's degree in Art History at Stanford. In 1968, Erika was offered a Kress fellowship to study for her doctorate under the eminent Professor Sir Ernst Gombrich at the Warburg Institute in London. She accepted this prestigious offer and went with me to London, believing Gavin would join us after a year. Things did not go as originally planned - Gavin and Erika had grown apart. Divorce proceedings were started and Erika and I remained alone in London, where I went to primary (elementary) school and was taught by the eccentric, gifted and (sadly for little me) anti-American poet Ivor Cutler, as well as many more congenial teachers.

While living as a single mom, in 1969 Erika met Charles McKeown, a young actor, they became involved, and we all moved in together. Erika completed her doctorate, and was hired in 1971 as a professor of art history by the University of Sussex. We moved to Brighton a year later - we stayed an extra year in London, and Erika endured a long commute, so that I (then 10 years old) would not have to change schools again for just one year. About ten years later, after Erika was hired by the Open University to chair their Art History department, Erika and Charles moved back to London. Then in 1988, Erika was appointed head of education at the National Gallery in London under then Gallery director Neil MacGregor, where, among other accomplishments, she wrote the Companion Guide to the Gallery and was instrumental in the creation of the Micro-Gallery, an early implementation of information technology for studying the gallery's works.

In 1995 Erika retired from the Gallery, and the same year was awarded the Order of the British Empire for "services to art". Queen Elizabeth II put the medal on Erika with her own hands, and I got to see it happen. I think I was way more impressed by this than was Erika. Erika continued to work as a consultant for the Gallery, and also reviewed exhibitions and wrote articles and an art history book called "Imagining Childhood" (Yale University Press, 2006). Meanwhile Charles continued his interesting career as an actor and screenwriter. You may have seen some of his work, including Terry Gilliam's "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen", in which Charles has credits as both actor and screenwriter.

In 2007, Erika and Charles moved full-time to Umbria, a region of Italy that they loved and had visited with increasing frequency and ever lengthening duration for more than 20 years, since buying a vacation apartment in a medieval hill town. Then in spring 2009, Erika was diagnosed with stomach cancer, which necessitated having 2/3 of her stomach removed. She survived that cancer, then breast cancer, and later Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Then, in September of 2015, after complaining of back pain, Erika was diagnosed with a (probably metastatic) spinal cancer. After an illness that was both mercifully short and way too long for her liking, Erika passed away in the hospice in Terni on the morning of December 8, 2015.

This essay may imply, but hasn't said outright, that Erika was a great teacher - she was, by many accounts, including my own. I didn't yet mention that Erika was a wonderful chef, a patron of artists and craftspeople, and a cat-lover, but all those things she was too. And so much more.

This is a too-short summary of the days on this earth of a person who changed the lives of many, including mine. May her memory be for a blessing.

Erika in 1995, after receiving the OBE, with me, Charles and a family friend, Barbara

Erika and Charles in Italy in 2010

Erika and me in about 1963. I look about 2, right?

Erika and me in a photo-booth in the mid-1960s. When exactly is anyone's guess

Friday, January 30, 2015

Title activities report - September 2014

September was a busy month. My step-aside looming, I was determined to get as much out of my last month in the title as possible. I began to realize I would miss my sash. I even slept in it for a few nights....

But I am getting ahead of myself.

  • September 7. I had a photo shoot with Morgan from nakedeyephotography.com. I wanted more pictures of myself in the aforementioned sash, and Morgan took some great ones. Here's one of my favorites.
  • September 12-14. I went with my wife Marilyn to Seattle, for the 25th anniversary of some good friends of ours. The party was fantastic, and we got to celebrate with our friends, meet new people, and reconnect with folks we hadn't seen for ages. We got dressed up and took selfies. And in between the chatting and eating and drinking, we made an appearance at the Cuff for a puppy event. Look at this adorable dog!

  •  September 16. I went to Joe's Barbershop to get my hair cut, as I do every six weeks or so. Joe's just celebrated its tenth anniversary. My barber, and the proprietor, Joe Gallagher, is a really great guy, and also happens to be International Mr. Leather 1996. He has given me some useful advice, as well as making me look good. Thanks, Joe!
  • September 18. Folsom Street Fair weekend is upon us! It may be only Thursday but that never stopped anyone from throwing a fabulous event. We got to see a lot of SD Holman's photos from the book Butch: Not Like the Other Girls, at a book launch party. Thanks to the Austin Law Group for hosting these beautiful pictures - and the party.
  • September 19. I attended and demoed at The Exiles' meet and greet. In the past we had held our meet and greets for people other than men (our usual demographic), or all women and transpeople, a bit more inclusive. This time we threw caution to the winds and included everyone. Hurrah! Some great guys showed up. The demos were off the hook. Mine was a blast, for sure. Sorry for lack of pictures, but this is a work safe blog. Then I went along to the Queer Leather Happy Hour's 5-year anniversary event at the Armory club. Packed! Amazing crowd of great people. I couldn't stay long because I had a long day on Saturday ...
  • September 20. Joined the Golden Gate Guards for their annual Leather Cruise on the bay. Hung out with my wife, my contest producers, and lots of hot leathermen. Then we went to a great party at Alchemy. I didn't have particular plans when I arrived, and ended up involved in some impromptu hijinks. Then I went home to bed because I had a long day on Sunday ...
  • September 21. The day of the big fair! We started out going to Donna Sachet's famous annual brunch. It was fabulous. Many titleholders and scene celebrities from near and far were in attendance.Here's my favorite iphone picture from the event.
    You can see a lot more pictures from this event at Richtrove.com. Rich Stadtmiller takes tons of great pictures of our community, and his pictures from many, many community events can be found on his site.He is doing a great service to the community. Thanks Rich! 
  • Still not even noon yet... After the brunch, we went to the fair. Along with Scott BigRed Farrell, Mr. San Francisco Leather 2014, I got to announce all the titleholders on the main stage. It was awesome fun, and I found out that someone videoed the whole thing and put it on YouTube! Which means you can watch it here if you like.
  • Then it was the whole afternoon at the fair. We had a Mama's Family photo by Rich Stadtmiller,
    and I stopped in to Mark Chester's studio for a quick snap in the sash.
    pic: Mark Chester
    That evening I went to the Crave! event at the SF Citadel. And some very interesting things transpired. But that, dear reader, is a whole other tale best saved for another time.
  • September 22. I completed the work on my new tattoo. Here is a front view of it. I love it! Suzanne at Modern Electric Studio is a genius.
My title year was almost complete. I did some fun stuff in those last few days. I'll post about it soon. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Title activities report - August 2014

I can't believe it's already a new year. I got so very behind on my blog! I'm afraid I was too busy having an absolutely amazing time to tell you about it. I apologize for the delay. Without further ado, here's another episode of my adventures.

  • August 2. With my wife Marilyn, I attended the Santa Clara County Leather Association formal leather/uniform dinner. SCCLA is a social and educational leather club serving the San Jose and South Bay area. This was a well-attended and fun evening, with good food, entertainment and a silent auction. It was lovely to see many of the Golden Gate Guards in attendance in their beautiful uniforms. We got to feel virtuous while enjoying ourselves too, because the event was a fundraiser to benefit the St Jude Children's Research Hospital
  • August 3. First of three tattoo sessions with Suzanne Shifflett at Modern Electric Studio. Suzanne has done some amazing work on me. This was just the first session. It looks great here, but wait until you see the shading and color! Keep reading and I will show you more.
  • August 8-9. I attended the Oregon State Leather contest, produced in Portland, OR by Blackout Leather Productions. I had already planned to go, to attend the step-downs of Mr Oregon State Leather 2013 Bill, Ms Oregon State Leather 2013 Stormy, and Oregon State Bootblack 2013 (also International Ms Bootblack) Dara, but then I was fortunate to be selected to serve as one of the judges for the 2014 contest. I had a great weekend. It was a lot of fun judging alongside Mr. LA Leather 2014 Eric Paul Leue, our head judge American Leatherman 2013 Aaron Duke, and the three outgoing titleholders.
    There were no contestants for the Bootblack contest this year, but we had excellent contestants for Mr. and Ms. Oregon State Leather. I am sure the 2014 titleholders, Mr. Sir Steven and Shawna, will do a great job representing Oregon State, Blackout Leather Productions, and their local community.
    I was graciously hosted by my new friend Norah, who was my glamorous date for the contest, 
    afterward took me to a really fun party, about which I shall say no more (it's a bit like Vegas: what happens there ... stays there), and later taught me a useful new skill. After which, we went geocaching!
  • August 22. I had my second tattoo session with Suzanne. We got most of the shading done.
  • August 23. Attended and co-hosted the joint Ms SF Leather / Exiles beer bust at the SF Eagle,which was an amazing success, in great part thanks to a big turnout from the men's leather community,
    and then went on to the Mr. and Ms. Alameda County Leather cont
    est. The Alameda County Leather Corps (ACLC) is a a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization serving the East Bay community. Their stated primary mission is to provide education, fund-raising and fellowship. I have seen the new titleholders, Mr. Alameda County Leather Al Parso and Ms. Alameda County Leather Luna Bear, all over the Bay Area, so I know they are doing a good job of visibly representing their club and community.
  • Labor Day weekend. The month ended with a bang! With my wife Marilyn, I attended Camp Queer, a long weekend summer-camp-style kinky mountain playground in the hills above Guerneville on the Russian River. Perfect weather, full board accommodation, clothing optional pool, indoor and outdoor play space, and a great variety of lovely people attending. It was so fun! This was not a "sash function" for me by any means, but I did want to give the organizers a shout out here. It was so fun!
August was indeed a busy and fun month. My blog entry for September will include some pictures from the fantastic time I had the whole weekend of Folsom Street Fair. I'll get to that soon... I promise.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Title activities report - July 2014, including Dore Alley

Well, June was a whirlwind! In comparison, July seems quite a bit quieter. I still got up to lots of fun, I promise. Here's what I did...
  • July 11. I was recently elected to the board of my synagogue. Our board president, who also does the synagogue's website, asked me for a short bio and a picture to post. I included "holds the title of Ms San Francisco Leather 2013" as the last phrase in the bio. I told the synagogue's web manager that if he wanted to remove that last phrase, I wouldn't mind. The answer came back: "We are proud of our leather queens at B'nai Emunah!" Now you all see one reason why I am so glad to be part of this congregation, who accept me for who I am. See the bio here. (Or just look at the cute pic I submitted! Grin.)
  • July 12. I went to Black Saturday at the Powerhouse with my sash husband Scott "Big Red" Farrell. This was the last time I would be able to attend this monthly event during my title year, because for the Black Saturdays in August and September I was already committed to events out of town (to be reported on in future postings). Since it was going to be my last time at Black Saturday with Big Red, I managed to convince my sash husband to flog me as a demo. Here's a great picture of Mr. San Francisco Leather beating his (sash) wife! 
  • July 18-20. HOWL! This is the annual campout for the Bad Girls of Portland. I went up with my buddy Ray. It's a long drive from the bay area to Sandy, OR, especially when the radiator goes out near Medford, OR. On the plus side, Medford has car repair shops and car rental outlets, the car was not going to be too hard to fix, and we made it to the campsite only a few hours behind schedule on Friday evening. Once there, I had the most fabulous time with great hospitality, the fire pit, food, company, and three play dates in one day. It rained a bit - it's Oregon! - but nothing that could spoil our fun. No photos from this event, sorry - what happens at HOWL must stay at HOWL! I  hope I can go back next year. This event was awesome, and I can't say enough about the warm welcome I received from this kickass club!
  • July 21. WESCO boots! My friend Melissa took me to the West Coast Shoe Company (Wesco) factory store, and helped me pick out some great custom boots. Now I only have to wait for them! They *might* be ready in time for my step-down in October. Let's hope - fingers crossed! Once I get them, I'll post a picture here...
  • July 26. Ravage! party at Alchemy. This is a new series of parties that I have so far really enjoyed. My thanks to the party hosts - and to the venue for providing such a welcoming and well-equipped space.
  • July 27. Dore Alley street fair. I really enjoyed Dore Alley this year. I bought something from the Frugal Domme, said hi to the fabulous bootblacks, spun the wheel of fortune at the TASHRA booth, and ended up at the Center for Sex and Culture for the end of the exhibition of Daddy Alan Selby memorabilia. Here's a picture of me with my predecessor Nerine Mechanique, and one with other friends at the fair.

To summarize... July went by really quickly, and makes for a rather short blog post. Thanks for reading it. And please check back soon for my report on August!

Friday, September 12, 2014

June 2014: British Discipline West Coast Tour, Orange is the New Black Hanky, and SF Pride Festival

June was a busy month for me, really fun, and actually life-changing. No joke.

I got back from Europe in the first week of June, worked for ten days, and then took off again for another week +, for the British Discipline West Coast Tour and the SF Pride Festival. I am very lucky indeed to get so much paid time off!

In early June, I had just a couple of events:
  • June 6th: co-facilitated The Exiles New Member Orientation at the SF LGBT Center. This was my last time as Orientation Officer. New folks have taken over, but they had a conflict for this evening, so I jumped in to do it one more time. Exiles members (and friends of mine) Allison and Skittles did the majority of the acting, and I got to do a short demo as part of the class. Such fun! Ten people attended, most had never been to an Exiles program before, we got several new members, and I made a new friend.
  • June 14th: Black Saturday at the Powerhouse. Another fantastic evening with my gorgeous sash husband. A picture is worth a thousand words, so here's the flyer for it.

The second half of the month was when I got really busy.  Here's the story you've been promised!

The British Discipline West Coast Tour

The British Discipline Tour was a long time in planning. Several months ago, I had talked to my friend Josephine, who was brought up in the UK, and lives in Stockholm, Sweden. She is a fantastic presenter and performance artist, and for reasons best known to herself she had offered to come here for a week to teach and perform with me.

I really wanted to teach on British Discipline. I believe that there is a "British way" of doing BDSM that is different from the North American way and is informed by the British cultural heritage of corporal punishment in virtually every walk of life, and I felt we could teach about this with talk and demos. Now Josephine had taught a workshop on caning back in Europe, and she kindly allowed me to look over her workshop notes. From those notes, she and I developed the class we called British Discipline and Punishment.

We had a structure for the workshop, and plenty to talk about, but we wanted to include demos. In fact we wanted to open with a demo. Since Josephine and I both wanted to be the demo bottoms for this class, since we are both so fond of canes, we needed to recruit a demo top for the workshops. I am very lucky to have a good friend, Karen, who is a sadistic genius, and who I thought might be willing to be our demo top. She and Josephine and I discussed the workshop via Skype, and Josephine and I promised her that if she came on tour with us we would provide ourselves as a salt and pepper set of matched bottoms to serve her. This may have clinched it - I am not sure - but anyway, now we had a demo top to assist with (and, let's admit it, design) the scenes. Oops, I mean the demos!

Meanwhile I had negotiated with various groups to let us teach. The Exiles San Francisco, The Foundation for Sex Positive Culture in Seattle, the Bad Girls of Portland, and the Society of Janus (SOJ) in San Francisco all agreed to host us in June, over a period of a week.

As if all this wasn't enough, I had got a bee in my bonnet that I wanted to host a sort of BDSM cabaret night. Beth Bicoastal, my first runner up and the host of the Kink Salon at the Powerhouse, and her co-host Jason Husted, agreed to let me co-host their event for June. Since my idea was an "anything goes" cabaret, and in honor of the popular Netflix TV show of a similar name, I named the event "Orange is the New Black Hanky".

So, on the evening of Thursday June 19th, Josephine arrived at SFO. She only had one day to get over her jet lag, because on the Friday evening we and Karen had to show up to San Francisco venue Alchemy and teach The Exiles about British Discipline!
  • June 20. British Discipline and Punishment for The Exiles. Josephine and Karen met for the first time in person, only 45 minutes before class started. Luckily there was chemistry there! The class went well, and was attended by over 30 people, a good turnout. All four demos were great in my opinion. After class there was a party in the space, and Josephine and I stuck around and she did some practical one-on-one teaching. She's such a giver!
  • June 21. Orange is the New Black Hanky. Josephine, myself, my wife Marilyn, our talented friend Lo, and Lo's extensive collection of wigs performed "BDSM Improv". Think "Whose Line is it Anyway", with BDSM content. The audience got to choose the scenario and the props, and we enacted the scene. Also, Beth Bicoastal did some great readings; BC Cliver did a "special performance" which you just had to be there to appreciate; and Josephine got up and did a bit of stand-up, including a spiel about being dominated by her GPS.
  • June 22. I had rented a car to take us to Portland and Seattle. (Luckily I have a travel fund for such purposes. This trip used up what I had left of it.) We set off before 5 am and drove to Portland, where we arrived in the late afternoon.We got into the Discipline spirit at the Black Bear Diner in Yreka...
  • That night we went to a gig! Our British friend Rosie Garland (see my last blog post for more on her) is in a band called the March Violets, who were on a West Coast Tour as well. I was going to miss them in San Francisco, but we made it in time to see them in Portland! Yay! 
  • June 23. Day off in Portland. We had a great breakfast with Rosie in Multnomah Village, and then we hooked up with one of Rosie's band mates, and did a bit of sightseeing, assisted by my friend Melissa, who lives in Portland. We absolutely did go to Voodoo Doughnut, as can be seen here - and that evening, we spent some quality time with our hosts for the Northwest portion of our tour, my contest producers, Liza and Jody.
  • June 24. We enjoyed a delicious Portland breakfast, including excellent gluten free bread (which I had and enjoyed),  and then we drove up to Seattle for our next British Discipline workshop. The Foundation for Sex Positive Culture folks were great. The event was less well attended than The Exiles, but we still had a good and attentive crowd of about 15 people, including a couple of old friends of mine, whose presence truly delighted me. I thought the class went even better than it had for The Exiles. I still thought there was too much talking in that one part of the class, and I felt we could tighten it up considerably. Just as well, because the very next day we were going to teach for Bad Girls in Portland, and we only had 90 minutes instead of 2 hours! The demos, although fulfilling the same function in each part of the class, were different from the last time, thanks to Karen's design genius, and they kept Josephine and me on our toes! After class, we grabbed a late night rock-star meal at Dick's retro burger joint in the shadow of the Space Needle, before the long drive back to Portland.
  • June 25. We had another great breakfast, did a bit of shopping at the Portland branch of Oregon Leather, and Josephine and I updated our class outline. We desperately needed to cut it: not only did we have 30 minutes less for class, but we had an extra demo to fit in. I had asked my friend Melissa if she would do a guest spot as demo top, and she had agreed. Originally I had thought she could replace one of the other demos, but by now I was enjoying those demos way too much to give one up, so with Josephine's considerable help, and relying on our handout for some of the detail we were no longer going to discuss, we managed to shorten the talking parts of the class by at least 30 minutes, and so allow time for the additional demo.
June 25th's class had to be the highlight of the tour for me.The Portland Bad Girls had outdone themselves with both publicity and hospitality. Bad Girls is a women's group, however they had opened this event to all queers,and run it to dovetail with the monthly Queer Leather Dinner.  We got there to a hosted buffet of delicious food, including gluten free cookies as well as many other treats, and a room quickly filling up to the rafters. This was our best attended event so far with over 50 people. The atmosphere was electric. I'm sure this is why we all got so overexcited. Josephine's and my banter was I thought even funnier than usual (and a lot shorter!), and the demos were off the hook! The extra demo from Melissa added variety, humor, and extra stripes. The fact that the room was really full made the few moments when you could hear a pin drop even more exciting.  My last demo of the night, though only ten minutes long, may end up as one of my all-time favorite scenes. I forgot the audience was there for a while - until I heard them all breathe out at once.
After class, we went to the Queer Leather Dinner, where we got a chance to talk with a lot of folks who had been to the workshop, and a few who hadn't. I was so happy to connect or reconnect with some great Portland folks whom I had been wanting to get to know better, as well as to wind down with my co-presenters. It was a wonderful evening and we got to witness a special event - about which I didn't yet ask for permission to write, so it shall remain a mystery here. Also, we got our picture taken really beautifully by Kinky. Sexy. Geeky., who captured the mood of the evening perfectly from my point of view. I think this is a fabulous picture. Do you agree?
Photo by Kinky. Sexy. Geeky.
We took our leave, and went back to Liza and Jody's, packed up the car, and drove back all night and morning to the Bay Area.
  • June 26th. After getting back home, I hung out with Josephine and failed to get any sleep. Who needs sleep anyway? It's over-rated. That evening we went back to Alchemy for the SOJ program. The class was again well attended, with about 30 people. Although we had two hours, we kept the shorter format which had worked so well in Portland, and used the extra time for demo and Q&A. For the first demo we had a guest top: Rebecca Wilcox, with whom Josephine had originally presented the material in her caning workshop. The demo was different of course, and just as fun to watch. Josephine was a joy to work with, and my demos with Karen were excellent and - as they had been every time - educational for me as well as the audience. I enjoyed myself a lot, despite being a bit (?) tired. Afterwards, we all went for pizza. (Extreme Pizza does a gluten free crust that is really pretty good.) And when Josephine and I finally got home, we slept the sleep of the righteous.
 And that, dear reader, was the British Discipline West Coast Tour! And now for something completely different...

The San Francisco Pride Festival 

June 29th was the San Francisco Pride Festival. I drove to San Francisco with Josephine and Marilyn. We got parking near the festival! (We arrived early.) I got to see the Dykes on Bikes take off, and then walked to our assembly point, passing many friends on the way.

I haven't marched in the parade for years, and have never been on a float or truck before this year. Excitement! As a titleholder, I got to ride on the Leather Alliance truck with my sash husband and a lot of other titleholders, including newly crowned International Mr. Bootblack, Scout, and Mr. LA Leather, Eric Paul Leue.

Here's a fine picture of me and a bunch of the titleholders on the truck.
And here's me giving my sash husband bunny ears. Because leather people are always so serious.
After the parade, I spent a little time at Leather Alley at Pride, a project of the SF Bay Area Leather Alliance, dropped into my synagogue's booth (more about them in my next post), and went to the VIP party (my sash got me a free ticket!) where there was a photo booth sponsored by Whole Foods. Of course I took advantage of it...
Later that night I went to the last Eclipse! event at the SF Citadel, where I participated in a fun demo. And then, home. Pride was done!
And that was my title year experience of June 2014. I hope you enjoyed reading it!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

May 2014: Visit to the UK: shopping, Manchester Women's SM Conference, friends, and Bar Wotever

I am fortunate to have a great employer that offers its staff a paid 15-day sabbatical after 15 years of service. I took advantage of my sabbatical this year and made a trip to Europe, including a week in the UK, wheich was my home for 28 years. My wife Marilyn joined me on most of my trip. We visited friends and family, and attended the International Women's SM Conference in Manchester, England. Conference, as it is known to its alumni, is put on annually by the Manchester SM Dykes group. This year was the eleventh, and my third, Conference.

Whenever I think about attending any "women's" event, quotes used advisedly, my first question is usually "who does this event include?" - because it's almost never the same twice. Because I know you care too, here is SMDykes' gender policy: "We welcome all women who live full-time as women, and FTM, genderqueer and intersexed persons who feel that they still have links to the women’s community." This is one of the more inclusive "women's space" definitions, though it is not as fully inclusive as some. What do you think of it?

On to the travelogue! My wife Marilyn and I had a direct flight booked from San Francisco to London Heathrow on Monday May 19th. Sadly the flight was cancelled due to technical difficulties and we had to disembark and get rerouted by the airline. We finally made it to London very late at night on the Tuesday, and went direct to the Beigel Bake on Brick Lane for what are arguably the best bagels on the planet (and available 24/7).

It turns out that Marilyn didn't know that US-market Hitachi, um, massagers don't work on 220-240 volt power - in fact they go up in smoke! Somehow I had never informed her of this fact. Luckily, I did tell her before we landed at Heathrow. And this gave us a great reason to go to Sh! - London's woman-owned sex shop that celebrated 20 years in business in 2012. If you are ever in London, this is a great place to buy toys, safe sex supplies, books, and fashions. And you'll be glad to know that Marilyn came away happy with her USB-chargeable Cordless Wand Massager.

While we were in the neighborhood, I suggested we also go to Expectations, which is a great and long-established toy and clothing store mostly targeted to guys. I shopped there a lot when I lived in London, and like to check in whenever I visit. Here I am with their DIVINE front door artwork!
Expectations has a lot of gas masks for sale. And I mean a LOT. This was just a small part of the display. I was tempted, but I decided there was not enough room in the suitcase.
It was fun to look around. Also, the sales assistant was very helpful with the lengths of chain and all the other things you might want at a store like that. While we were chatting, he told us that this year's Mr UK Leather contest had been held right there in the shop. I was a little surprised, because it is quite a small space. I bet the atmosphere was fantastic. And I expect the contest may need to move to a new venue, if not next year then soon.

After shopping, and visiting with friends in London, and a long drive through rain showers, more visiting with friends along the way, picking up Staffordshire Oatcakes in Stoke on Trent, and a drive through the beautiful Peak District park, we arrived in Manchester on Friday afternoon, May 23, in plenty of time for the Main Event.

International Women's SM Conference, Manchester 2014

Many months earlier, I had announced to the conference organizers (some of whom are friends of mine) my intention of attending Conference this year as part of my sabbatical trip. When I got my title, the organizers thought it would be a great idea if I taught a workshop on the title system and American leather culture. With a little trepidation (what kind of expert am I on titles? I only just got one, etc), and maybe a bit of pride, I agreed, and was excited to have my proposal accepted, appear in the run book, and receive a discount on my already reasonable conference fee.

This was my third time at Conference, so I pretty much knew what to expect. And I am glad to inform you that I got what I expected, and more.

The International Women's SM Conference (simply Conference to its attendees) is a unique and delightful event. The conference itself isn't held in a hotel, but in Manchester's LGBT Community Center. It's intimate, at a little over 80 attendees, this year including folks from the US, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, and the UK (and maybe more that I failed to record). And it has a bit of the "feel" of an old-school women's conference. In a really good way, trust me!

What follows is my blow-by-blow description of the weekend. I am trying to give a flavor of Conference. I can't possibly give you a flavor of the amazing camaraderie that developed between conference goers over the weekend. I have friends I only see at Conference: I may not have seen them since my last Conference four years ago, but we greet each other as if we saw each other last week.  Which we may have, on Facebook or "That Other Social Media". Anyway, here goes:
  • Friday evening. We arrive and register. We find seats in the main room. We peruse auction items on tables at the side of the room. We help ourselves to soda or water. And we sit back and enjoy the live auction, presided over by the inimitable Rosie Lugosi. Auction items were diverse, jam, signed artwork, clothes, toys, accessories, jewelry, shoes, and services ... all had been donated and were being auctioned to defray conference costs.The organizers are trying to keep it reasonably priced. And succeeding. Rosie is a great auctioneer, very entertaining; the items were often bargains; and we even get a set of stand-up comedy in the middle.
  • No party Friday night. We go back to the hotel - five minutes' walk away, along Canal Street in Manchester's gay village. (See nightclub G-A-Y on the left of the picture.)
  • Saturday mid-morning. Back to the LGBT Center. 11 am Workshops. Choices: warm up for the weekend (icebreaker), BDSM first aid, and role play. I pick role play and it's fun! 
  • Lunch on site. We sit in the main room and eat a delicious cold lunch. (The organizers cater lunch, as well as beverages and snacks all day, as part of the registration package.)
  • 1 pm Workshops. Choices: flirting and negotiation; pinchy stuff (clips, clamps, pegs); school role play. Wow, two role play classes in a row. I can not help myself. Miss Prim of the Muir Academy is teaching the school role play class, and I absolutely can't resist. Especially since my own workshop will be up against Miss Prim's Sunday workshop.
  • 3:30 pm (after a tea break) Workshops. Choices: flogging for beginners; we need to talk about c*nt; age play. I sit and talk in the social area instead. I actually would have liked at least one of these classes but I am having a nice chat!
  • Dinner - then by car to a play party. Play! Hurrah! (Play parties are not included in registration. But prices are reasonable.)
  • Sunday we are on about the same schedule as Saturday. Morning sessions: Yoga and BDSM; Warm Up (reprise), which I attend and have a blast; Internet Security. After lunch: Size diversity and acceptance in the kink community; Hoods, which I go to and enjoy a lot; Anal play. After tea: Muir Academy; Fisting; and my workshop, which is attended by a decent number of folks - some of whom are interested in setting up a women's title contest in the UK. Who knows, maybe we'll see a UK-sponsored contestant at IMsL soon...
  • Dinner - followed by another awesome play party, this time in the gay village: Lash for Lasses, an infrequently recurring event. Maybe it's only once a year now to coincide with Conference. Host: Rosie Lugosi. Here's a picture I snapped with very special permission before the party got going.
  • Monday morning: time to leave. But first we attend the (no-host) restaurant brunch, conveniently located just across the street from our hotel. Saying our farewells to new friends and old, we depart, missing the third play party, which will be that afternoon. We would have liked to carry on playing but we have Things to Do and Vacations to Enjoy, etc. 
Leaving Manchester, we drove to Bath, where we spent a wonderful evening with good friends. The next day, Tuesday May 27, we went with them to Avebury, which is the only village that is partly inside a stone circle, to see another friend and walk the stones, and then Marilyn and I drove back to London in time to go to Bar Wotever.

(Oh look! Here is a picture of Rosie Garland, AKA Rosie Lugosi, reading from her book The Palace of Curiosities at Wotever! This was a different day than when I was there - I decided to include it because I was talking about Rosie earlier.)

I have already sung the praises of Wotever here. But I can't stress enough what a warm and welcoming place it is for every type of queer or questioning person. It was great to see some of my friends there, and to catch part of that night's Open Mic, which featured the talented Cameryn Moore among many other great performers. Then we went back to our hotel and got a bit of sleep before flying off to Italy to see my parents. And since that is not a story for this blog, I will leave this entry here.

Next time, I will talk about the events of June, including the British Discipline West Coast Tour; the "Orange is the New Black Hanky" Cabaret; and maybe even the San Francisco Pride Festival. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Title activities report - May 2014: two SF leather bars, Northwest Leather Celebration, tribute to Ms. Margaret

If you read my last blog post, you'll know that I had a fantastic time at International Ms Leather (April 24-27). If you haven't, you can go here to see it. And the fun didn't stop when IMsL ended. Please read on to see what I got up to in May ...
  • May 3. Public meeting of the SF Pride Leather Contingent, on the patio at the Eagle bar.  Here the local community voted to select the Leather Marshals for the Pride parade. Many deserving folks were nominated, yet only two can be selected.  The most votes went to Scott Peterson and Deborah Hoffman-Wade, whose bios can be found here.
  • May 4.  I went back to the Eagle for a beer bust, where I saw a number of friends - here I am with Scout the bootblack, who is now International Mr. Bootblack - congratulations Scout! -
    and here I am with Jaco Lourens, who is Mr. South Africa Leather 2009/10 and one of the new friends I met at IMsL. Woof!
    After the beer bust, I went to the business meeting of The Exiles, and then on to the Center for Sex and Culture for a book launch party for the excellent Gender Book. A busy day!
  • May 10. I was back at the Eagle, where Deborah Hoffman-Wade and  Schon Wade were getting married - after 25 years together. Yay for love stories! Here's a cute picture of me with my contest producer Liza, and my predecessor, Ms SF Leather 2012 and first runner up to IMsL 2014, Nerine Mechanique.
    Later that evening, I went to the Powerhouse for Black Saturday to see my sash husband, Scott "Big Red" Farrell. Here I am with him at the event.
    There was a fun jockstrap auction to raise funds for Big Red to go to International Mr. Leather, where he competed later that month. (No, I did not bid on the used jockstraps - but I did find out that Big Red is a natural redhead!)
  • May 11. Mama's birthday at the Eagle. I look up to Sandy "Mama" Reinhardt as a community elder. Mama has for many years raised funds for community causes, including running the annual Leather Walk, which raises funds for the AIDS Emergency Fund and Breast Cancer Emergency Fund. Over the years, Mama has "pinned" thousands of community volunteers as members of her family, giving them a family name and a brass name tag. It's not just a name tag - it's a badge of honor to be included in Mama's Family.
  • May 16-18. Went to Northwest Leather Celebration.  NWLC, held annually since 2008 in the south bay (and since 2011 in San Jose, CA), is a weekend BDSM conference where the Northwest Master and slave are selected. Like IMsL (see my last blog post for more on that event), there are workshops, play spaces, vending, a contest of course, and a keynote address. NWLC has a somewhat different focus than IMsL. The demographic is a bit different: I'd call it queer-friendly pansexual; the contest chooses a titleholder couple, not an individual; and the event is focused on the M/s (Master/slave) dynamic, and on D/s (dominance and submission), and not so much on the S/M part of BDSM. In contrast to last month at IMsL, while I did go in the play space and look around, I didn't have any appointments there. But just like IMsL, I spent the weekend connecting with people, talking, getting to know them, and exchanging business cards, and I felt at home within my larger community. Here is a sampling of what I did during the weekend. (Photos were not allowed at the event, sorry.)
    • Friday - with my producers, hosted a hospitality suite; emceed the meet and greet; enjoyed the champagne and chocolate reception hosted by The Exiles.
    • Saturday - assisted my wife Marilyn with a class she was presenting; went to the hospitality suite; attended the contest.
    • Sunday - emceed the keynote address, and went shopping at the vendor mall (here is a pic of me in a beautifully made and possibly slightly creepy knitted pig mask that I bought from the excellent Kinky Knits). 
      Later that day, I was sad yet very privileged to attend a moving memorial service for Ms. Margaret, pictured here at a MS SF Leather contest a couple of years ago. 
      Ms. Margaret was the driving force behind NWLC since its inception. She passed away just a few weeks before this year's event, after being diagnosed a few months before with an aggressive cancer.  My thoughts are with her loved ones, especially her devoted slave and second-in-command, Erich. 
I didn't finish describing all of May's activities yet, but I will save the rest for another blog post. I'll leave this one with some thoughts about Ms. Margaret.

I was privileged to volunteer for Ms. Margaret at NWLC in the past, and I found her to be a wonderful leader. Like the stellar manager she was, she saw and nurtured in many of us skills that we did not recognize in ourselves, or did not know how to use. I include myself here: several years ago Ms. Margaret reached out and offered me the opportunity to emcee at NWLC, and encouraged me that I would be good at it.  I had wanted such an opportunity, and somehow Ms. Margaret had seen that I had some talent for public speaking and decided to offer me a chance. I accepted her offer, and had a fantastic time as one of her emcees for the weekend. Ms. Margaret was very supportive, made my work easy, and afterwards told me I had done a good job. And from that point, I was never afraid to volunteer for public speaking gigs again.  In fact, Ms. Margaret putting me on a stage may have directly led to my competing for Ms SF Leather, so I have a lot to thank her for - including all the fun you are reading about here in my blog.

Our world and our community was enriched by Ms. Margaret's life. May her memory be for a blessing.