Think of it this way: it's like Synn Evans just won Miss America, if Miss America contestants wore leather pants as formal wear and were required to describe a detailed sexual fantasy for a panel of judges.
"Oh my god," Evans said the other morning, calling from her Dallas home. She sounded hoarse and exhausted but exhilarated: the previous Saturday in San Francisco, she won the title of International Ms. Leather 2012, the biggest award the leather community can bestow. "For me it's the highest honor that I could receive. To earn that leather is incredible."
This summer, we ran a cover story about Dallas's huge, exuberant, gleefully kinky leather community. The city has a few thriving leather bars, chief among them the Dallas Eagle, at least 5,000 local members on the fetish website Fetlife, and a highly secretive, members-only dungeon, the Sanctuary for the Lifestyle Arts.
But if there's one thing the leather community loves as much as kink, it's contests: there's a dizzying array of awards leatherpeople can win every year, and blow-out celebrations where they're handed out. Synn Evans's partner, the burlesque artist, sex educator and ASL interpreter Lillith Grey, won the title of Gulf Coast Leatherwoman in 2008. Their friend Hardy Haberman, a prominent gay activist and a columnist for the Dallas Voice, won a lifetime achievement award from the National Leather Association International the year before. There's also Mr. and Ms. Texas Leather (which Evans won in 2011), the Pantheon of Leather Awards, International Ms. and Mr. Bootblack, which are handed out along with the International Mr. and Ms. Leather titles-- the list goes on and on.
International Mr. and Ms. Leather are the biggies, the Oscars of the leather world. But unlike a lot of mainstream pageants, it's not about finding someone who looks good in tight pants, Evans, a self-described "butch leather dyke," says.
"It's not a beauty pageant. It's a contest of heart. We truly are ambassadors to the world. We look at it in the view that we're representing our entire community."
To win her title, Evans had to model her best leather formal wear and answer questions from a panel of judges, both about leather history and culture, as well as some oddballs: Evans was asked what she would ask a custom sex-toy maker to design for her and why. A chef by trade, she replied that she'd have a dildo made in the shape of a butcher knife (um, ouch).
"I'd call it the Synnerator," she says, chuckling.
In the popular "fantasy" category, Evans also had to make up and describe a kinky scene to the judges, something she fulfilled with a story that involved a blow-up doll and an overly inquisitive TSA agent.
Evans will spend the next year traveling in the U.S. and abroad, educating the kink-minded and the vanilla alike about leather culture, as well as speaking at various events and fundraisers. Part of the title's responsibility, she says, is to "educate people who are interested or who don't know about leather. We'll show them we're pretty awesome."
Once someone becomes an International Ms. (or Mr.) Leather, Evans says, it's a permanent role: she'll be expected to travel, teach, fund-raise and judge on panels long after the year of her reign is over.
"That was something I committed to before I decided to run for it," she says. She doesn't sound like she minds: "I can't possibly think of anything higher than this. It's the gold medal for me."
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