14) Gayle Rubin became the second F. O. Matthiessen Visiting Professor of Gender and Sexuality in 2013. In making the appointment Harvard acknowledged her role as a pioneer in the study of sexuality and feminism as well as in the origins of the leather community in the USA. At the time of her appointment Gayle was (and still is) Associate Professor of Anthropology, Women’s Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
In 2015 I wrote this article about Gayle Rubin’s role in the formation of leather and sadomasochist (s/m) groups in San Francisco. In that article I didn’t really have adequate space to describe the vehement antagonism those pioneers of lesbian s/m received during that period. Gayle Rubin was one of the people specifically targeted by the Women Against Pornography (WAP) in what has been called the Feminist Sex Wars.
The growth of the feminist movement in the US in the 1970s brought out into the open the diversity of female sexual activity. From its origins as an equal rights movement one section of the feminist movement fought against what they considered as degrading and demeaning treatment of women by men in the field of entertainment. The porn industry was an obvious target for them to aim at, and they took no notice of those women inside the porn industry who opposed them.
In tandem with the anti-porn campaign was the anti-s/m campaign. As mentioned in that previous article there was a growing female s/m community in America in the 1970s who were beginning to find their united voice. Gayle Rubin and her Samois s/m group were at the forefront of the challenge to the WAP.
In 1982 Gayle also spoke at a pivotal meeting which is often credited as heralding the official start of the Feminist Sex Wars. Gayle was one of the organisers of the Conference on Sexuality held at Barnard College. As you can imagine the conference was picketed by the WAP and it began as serious debate on female sexuality and sexual practices.
Gayle’s research and involvement in the s/m leather community was integral to her contribution to the Feminist Sex Wars. Her involvement included being a co-founder of the first nation-wide female leather contest in 1987, the International Ms Leather Contest (IMsL). The first winner of that contest was also a feminist activist. Her name is 15) Judy Tallwing McCarthy (b.1945).
Judy Tallwing Mccarthy has been part of the leather community since 1959 when she was rescued off the streets by a Leather Master. From then on this free-spirited native American became a pioneer, co-founding in 1982 the first lesbian s/m group in Portland, Oregon, with her partner 16) Sashie Hyatt (d.1989). The group was called Portland Power and Trust. Judy and Sashie were leading figures in the Portland leather community, and it is something of a testament to their influence that the first three winners of the International Ms Leather contests were all members of Portland Power and Trust – Judy herself, Shan Carr in 1988, and Suzie Shepherd in 1989. It was Suzie Shepherd who took the newly-designed Leather Pride flag out into the wider leather community.
Upon winning the first IMsL contest Judy Tallwing McCarthy became a flag bearer herself for the community. From its humble origins as a one-off fundraiser the contest quickly became an all-year-round commitment for its winner and organisers. Judy already had the right credentials as an organiser with Portland Power and Trust to be able to begin a fundraising and awareness tour of the USA. This immediately raised the question of a travel fund, for there was no budget left from the first contest to support one. Sashie Hyatt campaigned hard for an adequate travel fund, and in 1988 one was established and named in her honour.
By this time, however, Sashie had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and she lost her battle with the disease in March 1989. Another fund was created in her memory by her partner Judy for the support of people with life-threatening diseases.
Sashie’s activism went beyond Portland and the leather community. She was present at the Stonewall Riots in New York on 28th June 1978. Her presence was immortalised in print in a comic book series based on the television series “Quantum Leap”. Issue 9 in February 1993 was called “Up Against a Stonewall” and was dedicated to Sashie. It was written by a friend from Portland called 17) Andy Mangels (b. 1966).
In the next 80 Gays article : No Molly-coddling – in which comic books and Victorian gay porn lead us to “Muscle Molls”.