By Sarah Humble
Women’s International Leather Legacy (WILL)

I was sitting with Vi Johnson the night she gave a keynote speech to Colorado Leatherfest last April. As the emcee started reading her bio she looked at me, a touch embarrassed, and told me to remind her she needed to shorten that bio before her IMsL keynote the following Sunday. To which I replied no, she should be proud of her accomplishments and the life she has lived. She needed to be proud of and share all of her legacy.

Women’s International Leather Legacy Legacy. Isn’t that why we are all here? To celebrate not only the women that have come before us but those that have walked with us? And to learn how to include ourselves in that legacy. It’s funny, in my opinion men think they need a title to do something and women think they must do so much before they deserve one. I believe the same could be said about our legacies.

While preparing for this speech I contacted several people I love and respect to ask them what they thought their legacy would be. After several responded with questions back to me, I began asking myself if were they discounting the importance of their legacy? If so why? And what did it really mean to leave a legacy?

Webster defines legacy as: money or property handed down through a will
Something handed down or received from an ancestor or predecessor.

Our legacy is our heritage, our birthright, it’s a gift, or an offering

A legacy isn’t about what’s left behind after you pass, it’s about sharing what you have learned, its about offering yourself and making a meaningful and energizing contribution to our humanity. I believe we have a responsibility to leave our world better than we found it. It’s our job to make the journey of leather women coming behind us easier. Maybe more fulfilling.

There are different types of legacies that you can leave:

1. Financial.. You can put your name on a building, a project or a school, sponsor a child from abroad.

2.Children are our legacy.
Some of us have biological children, Judy has 6. Others have chosen children..
How many does Mama Sandy have now? 2244 a last count.

To be called Mama Vi is a testament to the orphans who found unconditional love and acceptance in the space she and Jill provided time and again.

3. Art can be your legacy. Janet Ryan’s body of work for example. Her tens of thousands of slides, photographs and other works document the history and legacy of our community. From the now iconic photo of Judy wearing the IMsL 1987 sash at the March on Washington to the photo that made Penelope Jones see herself as beautiful. They are a testament to not only our legacy as leather women. They are a testament to Janet’s life work.

-We have the written word…. How many of us found our way due to Laura Antoniou’s The Marketplace or through the blogs that are written on fetlife today? Or comp u serve boards?

There is music…. Who cheered at Joan Jett’s leather flag proudly displayed on her guitar?

4. Being a Mentor is another way to pass on your legacy. A mentor is, be definition, a person with more experience or knowledge. It involves areas of support. I think most of us are at least accidental mentors. Many, have more formal mentoring relationships. For me, Mr. Marcus was a mentor. His writings in the Bay Area Reporter convinced the editor of the Baltimore Gay Paper that Baltimore needed and deserved a leather column. At the time, he had no idea that his musings on Baltimore in a San Francisco paper would create such growth in both me personally and Baltimore as a whole.

5. Your passion can be your legacy. Passion is an intense emotion. It comes from an outpouring of the interests and ideas that make a difference in your life. When you are passionate about something its easier to do,to follow through on. Finding and pursuing your passion can help you see your destiny, your legacy more clearly.

I asked Amy Marie Meek what she wanted her legacy to be. She mentioned being Imsl 1993, being the GEN 2 owner of IMsL, founding IMsBB contest, and working with IML, What’s also important to this bad ass leather woman? Her work rescuing guinea pigs. They have become her passion.

And Glenda Rider, she was the first Ms Baltimore Eagle, co-founded a still thriving women’s back patch club, created and operated a public space –
and was the GEN 3 owner of IMsL. Her legacy… “She Made Play Happen”. That legacy is testament not only to Glenda but to Raelyn Gallina, fore bearer of the modern piercing craft, who coined Make Play Happen for Play House Studios in Baltimore.

7. Being an activist is a way to leave a legacy. The bar patrons who were just “plain tired “at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 had no idea that standing up to the NYPD that night in June would begin the gay rights movement. Ian Coleman is leaving a legacy in activism. Ian transitioned while was working with the DOD. He briefed generals as part of his work with the Department of Defense. He is the first trans man to be a full member of the Tradesmen of North Carolina.

8. Sometimes a random act of kindness is a way to leave a legacy. In 1988 my then girlfriend and I found an ad in the Washington Blade talking about an event called Mid Atlantic Leather. We went to Tracks on a Saturday afternoon and met Jim Raymond. When he could have turned us away, we had no tickets after all, he let us into Leather Cocktails for free and encouraged us to come to the contest the next day. That random act of kindness was my venture into the organized leather community. I believe Jim Raymond’s legacy lives on through me.

9. When you document your personal or family history you are leaving a legacy. The WILL titleholders spend their title year doing just that. Collecting histories. Documenting legacies. Penelope, Angel (2 dot), Angel Propps and Traci Wollf spent their title years gathering oral histories of women in our community.

One of the reasons we ask you to tell your story is because you are the only one that can really tell it. You alone know your true victories and struggles. The funny stories and the ones that make us cry.

One of my favorite singer/song writers, Mary Chapin Carpenter, in her song The Middle Ages, writes “we used to dread lives rendered ordinary. We always said we’d own a grander story.The only kind worth telling somehow.”

I want to call bullshit on these lyrics! I know that the journey of every leather woman is important. To someone. You never know who will be impacted or when it will happen. I can guarantee it will make a difference.

There are no lives rendendered ordinary. Every story we collect is worth telling somehow.

Anyone remember Artemis Silverowl? She was Ms NLA-I 1994. She judged WILL the first year and was contestant wrangler as well. Artemis was as fierce supporter of WILL as any woman I have ever met.

When I asked Artemis to grant me an interview in 2010 she said her story wasn’t important. That there were many other women I should interview. When I heard that she had passed in 2013 I was grateful she agreed to do the interview. I had HER story in HER words. She talked about being an out leatherdyke in 1976.
She spoke about surviving the vanilla sex wars lead by women against violence proponents.

I remember her passion when she spoke about NLA-Dallas. The video camera captured part of her legacy and generations to come can get a glimpse into her struggles and victories. No one could have told her stories with more passion or purpose.

I think most legacies are accidental.

Did Jody know that starting Leather and Lace in 1981 in LA 
would be part of her legacy? I imagine she and Liza didn’t know, on that first date, that they would become International Master/slave 2011. Having 2 women represent the Master/slave community was Huge! For women in M/s relationships and women in general.

Last September my life was amazing. I was in the middle of building a new house, someone had agreed to be my girlfriend, I was strong in my sobriety, had a job I loved. Then I got sick. At first they thought it was a UTI, maybe bruised ribs. Give it a few weeks they said. It was actually an abscess on a kidney which became very serious— very fast. In between 7 surgeries including a kidney removal, 8 weeks with a pic line and 9 months out of work, I had time to ask myself if I was really living my values and making a contribution I thought important to the planet.

Could my legacy, which to date had been accidental, be more deliberate?

Vi Johnson is an example of a woman whose legacy started accidentally. And is now very purposeful. She and Jill moved 6 boxes of books and papers and such around the country. It wasn’t until her kids told her it was important, that it was their future, did she see it. Now we have the Carter/Johnson Library.

This is what I’ve done to begin to leave my deliberate legacy. I’ve had a complete and thorough will drawn up.

I’ve named a place and a person that will get my important belongings, the belongings that are part of my legacy.

I now write a personal mission statement every year. The mission statement is not only my goals and dreams but a picture of how I want to live my life. The values I want to guide my decisions and behaviors. The projects I want to focus on, the work I want to do.

I have an life insurance policy that will help leather non-profits grow
and service a larger and more diverse community after my death.

Part of a deliberate legacy is how you live your life. Where meaning is found beyond the pursuit. Where you begin to measure your value beyond accomplishments, wealth, power or position.

I encourage each of you to begin thinking about YOUR legacy.

Think about how you want to be remembered.

Think about those people and projects that you find passion in.

Think about how You can leave this planet a better place.

Think about how You can make the journey of leather women coming after you an easier, more rosy road.

First and foremost YOU need to tell YOUR story. You need to OWN your story.

The legacy we leave becomes the patchwork of life, intersecting and building for our future generations. We live in a world left by those
who came before us. And those who will come after us will only have what we leave them.