Renee Beckman of Alaska won this year’s Women’s International Leather Legacy title last month in Dallas. She’s become the latest Alaskan to take home an international title, one of a distinguished line.
“I’m actually the fifth,” Renee said in a phone interview with the Great Lakes Den. “We now have more international titleholders than anywhere else in the United States.”
Renee said she was actually shocked to win with the class of contestants she competed with. This year had five women competing, the largest number yet. She was taken aback by the bios of the other women and all they had done. When she was announced as the winner, she knew she had done enough.
“I was very happy and honored to be a part of that class of amazing leatherwomen, representing all walks of leather and all races,” she said. “We covered the spectrum. I think any of us, any of the four women, would have been amazing and it would have been well represented regardless who was chosen.”
Though the Anchorage area is now her home, Renee is originally from the Pittsburgh, Penn., area. She grew up in a military family, with the repeated moves that requires, and was in the military herself. After discharge, she went back to Pittsburgh. However, after a visit to a friend in Fairbanks, she wound up breaking her lease to head to the north. “This is the longest I’ve stayed in one state in my life,” she said. After a relationship ended, she moved to Anchorage, the state’s largest city and epicenter of the state’s kink community. It was also the home of her chosen family.
“I am dually sashed at the moment,” Renee said. “I’m Ms. Alaska Leather until March of next year, which is our step aside.” Titles in Alaska are for two years, to give the titleholders time to prepare for other titles since it is so far from the rest of the U.S. She is one of two titleholders still in the state for this year. “RJ is Mr. Alaska Bear,” she said. “We’re the ones still in Alaska. Our bear cub was rebased out of Portland (for his work with an airline). My sash husband got an opportunity in Kansas so they just left us right after Northern Exposure in July. It’s RJ and me, and that’s enough.”
All of the titles are sponsored by the Last Frontier Men’s Club, the country’s northern most gay male leather club. Started in 1993, the club started the local contest because they felt there was a need for leather representation in Alaska.
“They host different events all year long,” Renee explained. “We do a big fundraiser for Identity, which is supportive of the trans community here. It’s for people who love differently and don’t fit the typical gay mainstream stereotype.”
Renee says she’s honored to be chosen for the title and to be a witness for women’s leather history.
“In order for history to happen, there must first be a witness” she stated. “From the beginning, I wanted to be that witness.”
WILL’s core mission of recognizing women’s leather history is one close to Renee’s heart. She’s been a student of both state and national women’s leather history and runs a local leather history archive with the Leather Evidence Archive Project (LEAP).
“[Researching and preserving the history] is what I set out to do when I dropped off my application and what I will continue after the title,” she said. “To be able to get the story of these women and the women we have lost because there wasn’t a witness is very sad to me.” She’s already faced that with her local title. She said there have been fourteen Ms. Alaska Leathers, but she has only been able to find and interview three, so far. “When I won I did my research, I found my brothers, but not my sisters. There wasn’t even a list so I set out to find them.” She’s still continuing her search.
LEAP grew out of that effort and a leather lending library established by one of her title sisters. People can email requests to Theleatherleapbox@gmail.com and they’ll be sent instructions on submitting materials to an online searchable database. Those submitting can add the materials to the LEAP database or get instructions on creating their own, along with links to resources like the Carter Johnson Leather Library and the Leather Archives and Museum. “It’s a safe space for items to be digital preserved” Renee said. “The next WILL could be born out of these projects.”
Her presentation for WILL was about the women who have been lost and those that couldn’t be found. She has reached out to people even when it’s been difficult, saying she has felt like a “graverobber” for digging into the history of people who sometimes shied away from the limelight. But that hasn’t stopped the self-admitted history geek.
“Hopefully as I travel in my year, researching these superheroes of leather, as I conduct these interviews, I hope to share LEAP with them and show people you can do this,” Renee said. She hopes to interview the leatherwomen of history and their partners as much as possible.
“I was issued a challenge by Mama Vi [Johnson, founder of the Carter Johnson Leather Library],” Renee said. “She challenged me to do 60 interviews. The title requires 32. I’m gonna try. I did one before I left Dallas. I’m very excited about what it is I can do to represent WILL and give another voice to women’s leather and bring a little of it home. And have fun while I’m doing it.”