A Brief History of the International Ms Bootblack Contest
By Christina K. Court, IMsL Historian and Archivist and edited by Pat Baillie, Board President, IMsL Foundation
* Generations for IMsL/IMsBB are based on new producers
In 1996, something monumental happened in Leatherwoman history, and, from the experience, an idea was born that would transform Leather culture. It was then that International Ms Leather (IMsL) 1993 and then-IMsL owner and producer Amy Marie Meek became the first woman-identified individual to judge International Mr Leather (IML).
During the IML 1996 judges’ down times, Amy Marie visited the bootblacking area and watched the IML Bootblack (IML BB) contestants work their stands and collect their ballots. At the time, the IML BB Contest was only three years old, and it was the only place where Bootblacks in the Leather community could compete at the national or international level. IML BB, a 100 percent ballot-based contest, was open to all sexes, and woman-identified individuals did compete. However, back in 1996, the IML Weekend and Contests were in the early years of attracting woman-identified attendees, let alone IML BB contestants. While all the IML BB Contestants had high skills and Leather hearts, Amy Marie observed that the overwhelming majority of the men attendees tended to gravitate toward the man-identified Bootblack contestants. It was then that she concluded that, so long as the contest was judged by ballot counts alone, it would be a long time before women would have enough visibility (regardless of skills) to actually win the contest.
An idea formed, but, in 1996, Amy Marie was only in her second year as IMsL owner, and she and her staff were only starting to grow accustomed to throwing a great IMsL Weekend and successful Leather contest…so she waited and made plans.
After the IMsL 1997 Weekend, Amy Marie felt ready to try and fill the gap she saw at IML BB and within the Leather community. Amy Marie’s first step was to talk with Chuck Renslow, creator and owner of IML. Prior to the IMsL 1998 Weekend, she proposed breaking the IML BB Contest into two separate international-level Bootblack contests: one for men and one for women. In this scenario, the International Bootblack contest for men would remain a part of the IML Weekend, and the International Bootblack contest for women would become part of the IMsL Weekend. Mr. Renslow agreed to this revision in the international contest system, and, at IMsL 1998, in Atlanta, Georgia, prior to the announcement of the 1998 IMsL winner, Amy Marie announced the creation of the International Ms Bootblack (IMsBB) contest and told woman-identified Bootblacks, “get your kits.”
In 1999, four Bootblacks submitted IMsBB contestant applications, and three competed. The contest fully-paralleled the Bootblack contest held at IML—it was a 100 percent balloted contest. Prior to the first IMsBB Winner’s Circle announcement, IML BB 1998 Matthew Duncan and IML BB 1996 Todd Nelson brought then-Leather Archive & Museum (LA&M) Board member Joanne Gaddy to the stage. Joanne received the honor of accepting for the LA&M the donation of the Bootblack kit of IML BB 1993 David Morgan—the first International Mr Leather Bootblack and first internationally-titled Bootblack ever. This simple act signaled the evolution from the first era of a singular international Bootblack contest (IML BB) to the start of a new era with the newly-branded International Mr Bootblack (IMBB) and the newly-created International Ms Bootblack (IMsBB) titles.
American Leatherwoman 1997, Leslie Anderson, became International Ms Bootblack 1999, the first IMsBB. During her title year, Leslie zig-zagged across the country doing boots and spreading the word to woman-identified individuals about the new IMsBB contest. National visibility of the Bootblack was also made clear with the creation of the Mid-Atlantic Bootblack contest in 1999, which was first won by Tracy Black (who’d previously competed at IML BB). Meanwhile, women heard the call and, in the IMsBB 2000 Winner’s Circle, Leslie’s butch identity was complimented by the next IMsBB winner, Michael Ann, a self-identified “straight femme” who received her bootblacking title in the now-infamous silver sequin gown. In Michael Ann’s 2001 step-down speech, she discussed the start of two new local titles, North Carolina Bootblack and Las Vegas Bootblack. The importance of feeder contest and local leadership in a community, which was so important to the IML and IMsL contests, had now become part of the IMsBB title. The visible presence of women as Bootblacks, titleholders and community leaders showed that more Leatherfolk were embracing the Bootblack within. In 2003, Boi Gwen Hardy became International Leather Sir/boy Bootblack, a title that, the following year, was renamed the International Community Bootblack (ICBB). This new international contest was open to men and women bootblacks to compete with one other. Also in 2003, the term “International” was the key to showing how the popularity of bootblacking for women had spread outside the United States: that year, the IMsBB Contest had its first international contestant, boi joe (aka Kathryn Hunter), who hailed from Toronto, Canada.
The tradition continued and the IMsL and IMsBB became tied together as “sash wives.” When Glenda Rider became the owner and producer of IMsL and its titles post-IMsL Weekend 2006, the IMsBB Contest underwent a revision. Glenda recruited Jim Deuder (IMBB 2011) as the IMsBB Contest coordinator and shifted the Bootblack contest structure from 100 percent balloted to one judged by a four-person panel. Those first judges in 2007 were IMsBB 2006 Alex Bettencourt, MAL Bootblack 2003 Cristo, and 2004 Pacific West Mr. Bootblack Bootdog (IMBB 2008). A secret judge was also part of the IMsBB judging panel, and IMsL 1995 Pat Baillie was announced on the night of the contest as the first secret judge for the IMsBB Contest. Leather history was made at IMsL 2007 Weekend as Ms. V became the first IMsBB of the “Generation III” IMsL ownership. More significantly, Ms. V was the first woman-identified Person Of Color to win the IMsBB title.
In 2012, when Jim Deuder passed the IMsBB Contest coordinator position to Henry James (ICBB 2006), more Leather history was made: Tarna Scyanne, hailing from Toronto, Canada, became the first international woman to win the IMsBB title.
The International Ms Bootblack Contest continues to thrive. In the past 15 years of the IMsBB contest, woman-identified Bootblacks have increased in visibility and in numbers. Their presence at regional, national and international Bootblack contests and Leather bars is now something nearly commonplace rather than viewed as a novelty. The concept of shared bootblacking spaces is one of those places where Leatherfolk have been able to see the greatest and most progressive forms of “queering of Leather.”
During IMsL 2013 Weekend, celebrating the 15th Anniversary, had two women competing and bella was selected IMsBB 2013. She received the first ever IMsBB mantle that was created by Tarna that will be passed down to each subsequent bootblack. The 15th Anniversary also marked the start of the tradition of the bootblack coin which each IMsBB receives when they step down and are provide additional ones to pass on to those who support and love bootblacks. To learn more about these titleholders, see the website at http://imsl.org/imsl-foundation/historypast-titleholders/
In 2014, two contestants competed for the IMsBB title under the first Generation 4 with Executive Producer, Sharrin Spector and IMsL Foundation Board President, Pat Baillie (see the IMsL history for the details on the start of Generation 4). There have been a total of 36 bootblack contestants since 1999. In 2014, KD, IMsBB 2011, became the Bootblack Lounge Coordinator. The secret judge evolved was replaced by the addition of the IMsL judges to the IMsBB panel for the interview portion of the contest. The 7 IMsL judges could ask questions as a group and their composite score were averaged and added as one score for the interview portion. The IMsBB judges also joined the IMsL judges for the IMsL contestant interviews. Their 3 scores were added to the interview totals for the IMsL contestants.
Ballots were replaced by bootblack chips that every attendee at the weekend are given. After the tech boot competition on Friday, the boots were displayed in the Bootblack Lounge in a blind vote with the unrepaired matched pair. Attendees dropped their chip for the best restoration by dropping their chip into the boot. Over 250 attendees voted over the weekend and the totals were included as part of the Technical and Knowledge score for the IMsBB contest.
Saturday night started off with an excerpt from the video of shot during the 15th Annual Contest weekend called High Shine. You can view this video which highlights the IMsBB title –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxtVbXaFfGE&feature=youtu.be
One other goal for the Bootblacks in Generation 4 is make sure they are able to compete and perform with the best equipment and visibility during the weekend. We invested in the IMsBB future by a generous donation of transportable bootblack stands that belong to IMsL Productions, LLC. The stands were donated by the HJ Bootblack Foundation.
The winner of IMsBB 2014 was Dara Byant from Portland, Oregon.
Though the contest’s format may have changed between the generations of owners, one thing continues to be increasingly clear: woman-identified Bootblacks are here to stay within the Leather/kink/BDSM community. This dedicated group of women with their Leather brothers show up for events and, many times, donate all their tips to the event or local community needs. They take care of leathers in our local bars, support each other at regional events, and they are helping to shape, mold, mentor and nourish the next wave of Bootblacks…all while giving their hearts and hands to our whole Leather community.