Diary of a Darklady
Losing Faith & Finding Freedom
I was all of four years old when I woke up in the middle of the night to learn that there was no Santa Claus. There were my parents stashing gifts under the tree – and Sergeant Wynn drunk and obnoxious in the living room. The myth of Santa proved to be nothing more than a pleasant fiction thinly coated in sugar to reassure me that life was fair and kind.
I was maybe six years old when I sat at the dinner table and watched as television cameras showed men killing one another over a difference in political opinion. My sergeant first class father was safe behind a desk, but since I was a child and he was in Vietnam, I looked for him in the battlefield footage. Uncle Sam pointed at me from the wall of my bedroom and in his hand was a flag that dripped blood.
I was probably freshly seven when my father returned from war and moved me far from the rest of my biological family. Having just completed first grade, I learned the important lesson that some women not only don’t want to live with their husbands, they don’t want to live with all of their children, either. I was eight when my parents reconciled and I began to realize that an “intact” family can be just as traumatic as a “broken” home. The American Dream that I’d read so much about was just another grim fairy tale with no happy ending in sight.
I was 14 and in love with Jesus when I asked my priest about the occupancy requirements of Heaven. I wasn’t altar boy material, so my questions went unanswered. The god of my mother was demanding but indifferent. The god of my father was a banished and brilliant alien life form. Taking my first real steps as a young woman, I decided to think my own thoughts and follow my own path.
I was 16 when I spread my legs for a strange fellow hitchhiker underneath the stop sign next to my parents’ house, thus relieving myself of the burden of my virginity. Although I saw a shooting star streak across the night sky, nothing truly magical happened, and no one who saw me afterwards could tell the difference. As I’d suspected, the thin layer of tissue that I’d been assured had kept me on the right side of salvation hadn’t been very special at all.
Through it all, through all the bleeding layers of peeled unreality, through all the sad realizations, through all the disillusionment, through all the shocks and bumps and surprises and lies and misrepresentations, indifference, abuse, neglect, and confusion, I have remained firmly convinced that there are still some things that really matter. They aren’t religion, or battles, or virginity, or blood ties. They’re the ideals that provide these things with value; that contribute meaning to the lives of people willing to be awake and alive; that make the hard times worth enduring and thus make the ideals worth living and standing behind.
Although I have cast aside the literal translations of what I was taught during my childhood within Church and State, my passion for the things I was told were their foundations still burn within and motivate me, perhaps at times to fool-hearty degrees. Truth, love, honesty, hard work, self-reliance, self-sacrifice, integrity, respect and compassion for self and others; I hold these things to be self-evident and do my best to integrate them into my activities of daily living. Without them, I can’t imagine living a life I could call honorable or respectable.
Because I am an imperfect (but not “sinful”) creature, I make mistakes. It’s one of the means by which I learn. That is why I believe that compassion may be one of the most life-saving values available to us, particularly if combined with rational thought.
My sometimes mad passion for the aforementioned ideals has taken me on some amazing adventures. Marriage. Divorce. Cohabitation. Co-parenting. Politics. Ms. World Leather. All of these experiences have enriched and empowered me while simultaneously leaving me with a few new bruises. In every case I have had to give my core beliefs a serious appraisal. In every case I have had to decide whether to take the high road or the low one. In every case I have had to survive the struggle between the monkey that wants to return shit thrown with shit thrown and the human being who remembers that some ideals are worth squaring the shoulders and enduring a shit storm for.
When I decided to take on the challenge of the Ms. World Leather contest, I knew that my experience having running for public office and serving on a variety of boards would come in handy. I was not so naïve as to think that I was entering this contest as a total unknown without a spot of controversy attached to her name. I was not so naïve as to think that everyone who heard my ideas would like them, allow me to fully explain them, or want to be part of them. But I was naïve enough to think that everyone would be on their best behavior and that any misunderstanding or conflict that might arise would be resolved in a respectful, peaceful, professional manner between equals who shared the same basic ideals, motivations, and ultimate goals. That was certainly the promotional buzz.
I expected competition to be stiff and judging to be exacting. Although deadlines and commitments constantly tugged at my metaphorical sleeve, I filled my mind with information about the subtle, complex, and nuanced issues that made up my ambitious platform of “coalition building” within the leather community. I researched the impact of the Communications Decency Act, 2257 regulations, and .XXX domains. I become familiar with the missions of the Free Speech Coalition, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, and the Woodhull Freedom Foundation – three organizations I hoped to work with in some capacity while attending and participating in leadership and activist focused workshops, as well as creating materials to help educate and inspire others. In order to illustrate the fact that I am capable of presenting information in an informative and compelling way, I enlisted the able assistance of Oceania as my goddess of graphic miracles and together we created a 16-page magazine, complete with original and reprinted articles that I had written about the subjects and organizations in question, photos, and a centuries-old German protest song that I had heard at a friend’s funeral.
What I didn’t expect was a sad reminder that for some, nursing a wounded ego or a racial prejudice is easier than finding common ground and working toward a common goal. No matter how high the flag is raised, how white the bed sheets remain, how shiny the religious or otherwise inspirational symbol shines, eventually a human hand and heart are involved. Because humans are fallible, when confronted by someone or something that makes them uncomfortable, they do not always do what is in their ultimate best interest. Once tangled in the results of impulsive actions, graceful extraction can be problematic and messy for all involved.
Lyrical language aside, my wild and woolly adventures as a contestant at Ms. World Leather failed to result in the coveted titleholder shawl although they did see me bring home the trophy for most money raised via my various auction baskets. Additionally, I proved that as well as being fully capable of offending the narrowly defined traditional family values of the Far Right, I’m equally capable of offending the ultra sensitive neo-quo values of the Far Left. That, in my opinion, is quite an accomplishment – especially for someone who really just wanted to light the room on fire with a passion for liberty and a dedication to preserving the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and born naturally to all people, regardless of national origin, race, creed, sex, religion, or any other reason that we can use to keep from seeing the unifying humanity of our brothers and sisters. Even those on the Far Left. Even those on the Far Right.
Instead of discussing my 16-page magazine – which was chock-full-o-information about the three organizations that I had a particular interest in helping out and a history of having worked with, the free speech battles we are confronting, and some of my reasons for wanting to defend our rights while helping others to do likewise – we focused on split hairs belonging to an apparent chain-of-command miscommunication and an anonymous claim that smeared the history of the song I’d selected to introduce the publication. Unmentioned were the articles, the interview, or the photos from my personal library or contributed by Barbara Nitke. While I understand, if not agree, with the reasoning behind these decisions, I mourn the lost opportunity to address these important issues in a forum other than that provided by the on-stage live-action commercials and mini-speeches that took place during the contest weekend.
It takes a belly full of courage and conviction to stand up for a cause and it takes a little something more to stand up on a stage in front of friends and strangers as part of that.
Ms. World Leather is known to be a rough contest and rightfully so. Rough treatment doesn’t scare me, although it does get tedious after a while. What scares me is seeing a collection of powerful and effective activist-minded and bodied women treated with questionable courtesy. What scares me is hearing role-models and people in positions of authority whom I respect speak loudly and proudly about justice, freedom, liberty, family, sisterhood, community, common cause, diversity, the importance of free expression, and the responsibility of leadership – and then become silent in the face of internal conflict. What scares me is the thought that powerful and effective activist-minded and bodied women, be they contestants or spectators, might conclude that keeping a low profile is preferable to taking the initiative and running the risk of being noticed.
The surreal landscape of Las Vegas never ceases to twist the lens of my mind’s eye a few tics weirder. Nonetheless, even in a tilted universe, friends made, friendships deepened; commitments, values, and coalitions created and reaffirmed are all victories. In a world where so many stand for so little and where integrity, honor, respect, and fellowship are often just so many letters and sounds strung together for effect, it is a comfort to remember that however rocky the path, there are others upon it — and even those of us raised within the Church and State can remain passionate about the things that matter: truth, love, honesty, hard work, self-reliance, self-sacrifice, integrity – respect and compassion for ourselves and others, without need to ask permission or beg forgiveness. It may sometimes be a lonely path, but it is not a lone path. I look forward to walking it with others, including my friends in liberty at the Free Speech Coalition and the Woodhull Freedom Foundation.
Die Gedanken Sind Frei
(as found in Lieder der Brienzer Mädchen, circa 1810)
Die Gedanken Sind Frei,
My thoughts freely flower, Die gedanken sind frei,
My thoughts give me power. No scholar can map them,
no hunter can trap them, no man can deny:
Die gedanken sind frei!
So I think as I please, and this gives me pleasure,
My conscience decrees this right I must treasure;
My thoughts will not cater to duke or dictator,
No man can deny: Die gedanken sind frei!
And if tyrants take me and throw me in prison,
My thoughts will burst free like blossoms in season.
Foundations will crumble, the structure will tumble,
And free men will cry: Die gedanken sind frei!