Lady of leather

Dallas chef Synn Evans took off her chef’s coat and put on a cowhide vest on her way to being crowned Ms. Texas Leather

LEATHER MAMA | Synn Evans is a long-standing member of the leather community, but won the first event she ever entered last week: Ms. Texas Leather. (Photo courtesy Oblivion Images)

JENNY BLOCK  | Contributing Writer
lifestyle@dallasvoice.com

I want this.”

That’s how Synn Evans felt about the Ms. Texas Leather title from the minute she decided to compete. As of Saturday night, that desire became a reality.

She’s in full regalia for our interview, including black leather vest, chaps and her medal. She sports a jet black Mohawk, devilish grin and blue eyes with a gaze as intent as it is kind. Ms. Texas Leather is not a beauty contest, but it’s hard to imagine her looks didn’t help her case.

Evans has been a member of the leather community since 1996, when her best friend introduced her to the scene at a party.

“I was introduced to good people and taken by the hand because of connections. It’s a huge networking system,” she says. “No matter where you travel, you have a place to walk into and fit in, and whatever turns you on is all right. I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s like you just know something you just belong with.”

Still, her entry last week marked her first leather competition — surprising, considering how she lights up when she talks about leather:

“I love the way it looks. I love the way it smells. I love the way people dress in it. It’s not for everyone and I get that. But I think that if people were introduced to it in a proper way, it would be hard to walk away from. It’s exciting.”

Her love of leather is in no way hampered by the fact that many see the scene as the domain of gay men. “The leather scene is dominated by men,” she acknowledges. “It was started by men. Women were there, but it was a separate entity. Throughout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, it started to take off and the feminist movement was really intertwined in it.”

Despite its male roots, Evans says she doesn’t feel any disrespect from her brothers in leather. “I don’t think there’s a problem for women in the community. Men appreciate having their own space just like I appreciate having the women’s space. I’ve never had any trouble. I get along very well with the gay male community. I’ve never had anyone be negative in any way, which is one of the reasons I love the leather community so much. It’s really just a matter of visibility.”

It’s that very issue that helped Evans to win the title. “Visibility is part of my platform, for women in the community to be seen and heard,” she says. Evans also hopes to improve access to the community for those who are hearing impaired, an issue close to her own heart as her last partner was hearing impaired and her current partner, Lillith Grey, is a sign language interpreter and instructor, as well as Gulf Coast Leather Woman of the Year.

“When I announced I was running for this title, [Former IML champ] Jeffrey Payne said to me, ‘It’s going to be a title family now.’ Next I’m going for International Ms. Leather.”

Evans says prepping for the competition was no easy task, between writing a speech, preparing for the interview, researching the judges and preparing a fantasy scene (a four-minute-long performance). Of these, it was the interview, Evans says, that really had her nervous.

“What was so stressful was that they could ask anything — personal, professional, family, anything — like, ‘What does leather mean to you,’ or ‘How do you plan on raising money for the title [for travel]’ or ‘How will your students feel about this?’” She stops and smiles. “They would think it was cool.”

In her vanilla life, Evans is a chef instructor at a community college and a private chef for various events (including for Glory Hole, her partner’s fetish production company; see sidebar). When Evans goes off to her professional gigs, her Mohawk gets collapsed and her jewelry comes off  as her chef’s coat goes on. “In my professional life, I try to be neutral,” she says, although some things, like her tattoos, she keeps on display “because they’re me.”

“Transitioning back and forth between the worlds really isn’t that hard. Like everyone else, you have a time and place for everything in your life. You always find a time and place for things that are important to you and I would never give up the leather community for anything in the world. It’s incredibly liberating to be with people who don’t care if you want to be pierced or don’t want to wear clothes or whatever.”

She laughs. “It’s all about pleasing yourself, realizing what you like and what you want and doing it … as long as it’s safe.”

It’s clear that the win means far more to Evans than just bragging rights.

“This title is a huge opportunity for women in the leather community here in Dallas and across the state. Part of my job as titleholder is to get people to come out. This title has the opportunity to really give the issues and the community the visibility it needs.”

Then she leans back, takes in the moment with a slow breath, and smiles. “It’s pretty cool.”

Indeed.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Judy Shepard statement on gay-bullying suicides

There’s a national conference call under way as we write this to coordinate vigils in honor of the four gay-bullying suicides of the last three weeks. Since we’re not taking part in the call, we figured we’d share this statement that just came across from Judy Shepard. We’ll update you on any plans for local vigils as soon as they’re announced. Shepard is, of course, the mother of hate crime victim Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in Wyoming in 1998. Here’s her statement:

Judy Shepard: We Must All Protect Youth from Suicide

Our family, and the staff and board at the Matthew Shepard Foundation, are all deeply saddened by the devastating report of at least the fourth gay or gay-perceived teen to commit suicide in this country in the last month.

Reports say that Tyler Clementi, 18, leapt to his death from the George Washington Bridge near his New Jersey college campus after a roommate allegedly broadcast him in a same-sex encounter behind closed doors in his dorm room, and apparently invited others, via Twitter, to view it online. Regardless of his roommate’s alleged tweet, Tyler had apparently made no statement about his own sexual orientation. I’m sure we will all learn more about this terrible tragedy as legal proceedings unfold, but the contempt and disregard behind such an invasion of privacy seems clear. In the meantime, we send our thoughts and prayers to Tyler’s family as they mourn their loss.

In the last month there has been a shocking series of teen suicides linked to bullying, taunting, and general disrespect regarding sexual orientation, in every corner of America. Just a few days ago, Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old in Tehachapi, Calif., passed away after 10 days on life support after he hanged himself. Police say he had been mercilessly taunted by fellow students over his perceived sexual orientation.

Billy Lucas, 15, hanged himself a few weeks ago at his Indiana home after years of reported harassment by students who judged him to be gay. Asher Brown, a 13-year-old in Harris, TX, who had recently come out, took his life with a gun after, his parents say, their efforts to alert school officials to ongoing bullying were not acted upon.

Many Americans also learned this week about Tyler Wilson, an 11-year-old boy in Ohio who decided to join a cheerleading squad that had been all-female. As a gymnast, he was interested in the athletic elements of cheering. He was taunted with homophobic remarks and had his arm broken by two schoolmates who apparently assumed him to be gay. He told “Good Morning America” that since returning to school, he’s been threatened with having his other arm broken, too.

Our young people deserve better than to go to schools where they are treated this way. We have to make schools a safe place for our youth to prepare for their futures, not be confronted with threats, intimidation or routine disrespect.

Quite simply, we are calling one more time for all Americans to stand up and speak out against taunting, invasion of privacy, violence and discrimination against these youth by their peers, and asking everyone in a position of authority in their schools and communities to step forward and provide safe spaces and support services for LGBT youth or those who are simply targeted for discrimination because others assume they are gay. There can never be enough love and acceptance for these young people as they seek to live openly as their true selves and find their role in society.

Suicide is a complicated problem and it is too easy to casually blame it on a single factor in a young person’s life, but it is clear that mistreatment by others has a tremendously negative effect on a young person’s sense of self worth and colors how he or she sees the world around them. Parents, educators and peers in the community need to be vigilant to the warning signs of suicide and other self-destructive behaviors in the young people in their lives, and help them find resources to be healthy and productive. We urge any LGBT youth contemplating suicide to immediately reach out to The Trevor Project, day or night, at (866) 4-U-TREVOR [866-488-7386].

Judy Shepard
President, Matthew Shepard Foundation Board of Directors
September 29, 2010

—  John Wright