On Aug 20, Ottawa saw the launch of the first women’s leather competition since Sharman Potechin won the Ms Leather Ottawa title in 2005. The new title is called Ms National Capital Leather Pride, and it’s open to queer and queer-friendly women from the Ottawa-Gatineau area.
Ottawa has long had men’s titles: Mr Cellblock or Mr Leather Ottawa, for example. But Ms Anything competitions are uncommon even in larger Canadian cities. The enthusiasm of the four Ms contestants, who seemed genuinely excited at the chance to run for the title on Saturday night and doubled the number of male contestants, underlined a gap that had been there previous.
Xtra sat down for a chat with Potechin, co-producer and co-emcee of the National Capital Leather Pride competition and a born-and-bred Ottawa leatherdyke who now makes her home in Toronto.
Xtra: Can you tell me how the Ms National Capital Leather title came to be?
Sharman Potechin: The National Capital Leather Competition was the creation of Mike Tattersall – Mr Leather Ottawa 2010. He ran it last year with just the “Mr” title, and he thought it would be wonderful to have a “Ms” title this year, as well. He emailed me and asked if I would help produce and co-emcee. Of course I said yes. I love being involved in leather stuff – especially in Ottawa because I’m from Ottawa. I’m so proud of Ottawa, and I miss Ottawa. I just felt that it was so cool and so important to have a women’s leather title there. There isn’t a women’s title in Toronto, and I don’t even know if there ever was.
Xtra: Why do you think there are so few women’s leather competitions?
SP: I don’t think there’s a clear answer. It could be said that it’s due to a lack of community, but there are big cities with strong leatherdyke presence [that] don’t have contests so that theory may not be true. I do hear from time to time that the kinky/queer/leatherdyke community is cliquey and so women either don’t feel supported or are to afraid to be vulnerable in such a public way. As someone who has organized dances, coffee clubs and fundraisers, I know it takes a lot of encouragement to get people onboard. First you yourself have to show up and the rest will follow.
Xtra: What was the atmosphere of the National Capital Leather Pride competition focussed on?
SP: [This competition] was focussed on fun and spontaneity…and inclusivity. There’s no cover charge, and anyone can come to the event. I wanted tons of women to go and participate and be part of the community. [When I came out] in leather in Ottawa, I was welcomed with open arms – the Ottawa Knights are like my brothers – and I felt like it would be awesome for everyone to meet.
Xtra: ‘Everyone’ meaning the queer women’s and queer men’s leather communities?
SP: Yeah, absolutely. I won’t speak for Mike, but most of my contacts are in the queer world, and I think he and I brought a real queer flavour to the event. But hopefully it felt welcoming to everyone – however they identify.
Xtra: What do you think this new women’s leather title will bring to the queer women’s scene here?
SP: Definitely visibility, and being able to use the title to fundraise or bring about awareness. There’s something about a title…if it helps to get someone to listen for a second, then I think that’s very valuable. In terms of visibility…for years, I felt like I was the only kinky person in Ottawa. I thought the stuff that I was into only existed in Pat Califia novels – and thank god those were around! When I first became Ms Leather Ottawa, I went to [queer] community meetings and that’s who I said I was: Ms Leather Ottawa. It was great. It’s not that I liked the spotlight – that’s not what I mean. I liked that people said, “You’re leather, and you are a part of our community.”