The leather life

New Texas Leather titleholders plan a year of raising visibility, mentoring others and giving back to the community


Ms. Texas Leather Mera Tucker, left, and Mr. Texas Leather Eddie Sherbert.
(Photo courtesy Texas Leather Productions)

Tammye Nash  |  Managing Editor

Mera Tucker has been an out, proud leather woman for many years. Eddie Sherbert, although an out, proud gay man many years, has only been in the leather community for the last couple of years. Now the two of them are teaming up to represent the Dallas/Fort Worth leather community and spread their message of love and support.

Tucker and Sherbert won the titles of Ms. Texas Leather and Mr. Texas Leather on Saturday, Jan. 30, at Dallas Eagle. It was the fifth annual contest for the women, and the 20th annual content for the men, and both contests are presented by Texas Leather Productions, owned by Jeffrey Payne, and by Dallas Eagle.

This is not the first leather title for either Tucker or Sherbert. Tucker won the Ms. South Plains Leather regional contest in 2004, just before moving from Oklahoma to D-FW. Sherbert earned his first leather sash last fall when he won the title Mr. Hidden Door, the first leather contest he entered.

The Hidden Door win qualified Sherbert to compete in the International Mr. Leather contest slated for Memorial Day Weekend in Chicago this year. By winning the Texas Leather title, Sherbert is qualified to compete in IML in 2017, too.

The Ms. Texas Leather title qualifies Tucker to compete in the 2017 International Ms. Leather Contest held each spring in San Jose and in the American Leatherwoman contest in Chicago in October.

It’s the timing of the Texas Leather contest that means the 2016 winners are qualified to compete for the 2017 international titles, Tucker explained. By the time the Texas Leather contest is held, the slate of contestants for IML and IMsL are already set for that year.

But the Texas Leather titles for both Tucker and Sherbert are about much more than just getting to wear a studded leather sash and travel to other competitions. Both said they want to use their visibility first and foremost to help their communities — the leather community, the larger LGBT community, and the DFW community in general.

Mera Tucker
Tucker and her wife, Jimmie, have long been active in the DFW leather community. Mera Tucker, especially, is famous for her homemade cookies that she donates to just about every fundraising effort in town.

“In the last 12 years, I have donated enough cookies to sink a battleship, and we have raised thousands of dollars with those cookies,” she laughed. Tucker said she started the bake sale held each year during Texas Bear Round-Up, and she and Jimmie host a pool party each year at their home, lovingly dubbed

The Tucker Inn, for all the women attending the annual Leather Sir/Boy contest.

She said she and Jimmie “have both been raising money for this community for a long time. That’s my passion. Ok, actually, cookies are my passion. But I can use the cookies to raise money.”

Tucker, who has been involved in organizing the Ms. Texas Leather contest since it started five years ago, thought her days as a leather contestant were long past. But, she said, “the main thing this contest has always needed is contestants.” So as the deadline to register approached and she realized only one woman had signed up to compete, “I knew it was time to put up or shut up. So I signed up to compete.”

A third woman also registered, giving the fifth annual Ms. Texas Leather the most contestants so far.

While she wasn’t looking for the title, Tucker said that now that she has it, she intends to put it to good use.

“I want to work with the other women in this community to make sure we are visible,” she said. “I want the other women out there, especially the young women, who are looking for the leather community to know that we are here. I want them to know they have someone to go to, someone to help show them the way.”

And she doesn’t plan to just be out and visible in the leather community, or even just in the LGBT community.  “I have been out at work as a lesbian and as a leather lesbian since day one,” she said, noting that she works for Neiman Marcus as office manager in the facilities department.

“I told my boss that if I won, I’d be at work Monday, but if I lost, I’d probably spend the week laying in bed crying,” she said. “I won. And I wore my [black, white and red leather studded] sash to work on Monday.”

Eddie Sherbert
Although he has only gotten involved in the leather community over the past two years or so, Sherbert said he has been fascinated by leather since he was young. But it wasn’t until he went to the International Mr. Leather contest last year in May that he decided he want to compete for a leather title.

“When that curtain went up and I saw those 52 men standing on that stage, waving — goosebumps just washed over my whole body. I knew right then I wanted to do that. I wanted to be on that stage.”

So far, Sherbert is two for two, having won both contests he has entered. He said he wants to use the platform those titles give him to, like Tucker, be a mentor and an example to others in his community, and for those just finding their way into the world of leather.

“I would really like to be able to establish a mentoring program. We have people who are coming out now in their teens, and we still have people in their 30s and 40s and 50s and beyond who are just coming out,” Sherbert said. “Sometimes they need some with some real-life experiences to be there for them, to basically hold their hand and talk them through whatever they are dealing with.

“The mission of the Texas Leather contest is sharing, educating about and honoring the leather community and its history,” he added. “I plan to spend the next year promoting that mission. We need to work to move forward, always, but I want people to remember that we also need to respect where we’ve been.”

Sherbert is a flight attendant for American Airlines, working on international flights. While he isn’t likely to get to wear his Texas Leather sash to work the way Tucker did, his job does give him the chance to travel, around the states and abroad. And as he travels, Sherbert said, he gets the chance to learn about the leather communities in other cities and countries, and to tell them about the DFW community.

He and Tucker agreed that, at the core of things, their job as Texas Leather titleholders is to just “be as visible as possible.”

Tucker added, “We’ll just keep trying whatever works to be visible, to help our community. For both of us, mentoring others and giving back to our community is everything. If you aren’t doing something to give back, then you’re just taking up space.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 5, 2016.

—  Tammye Nash

And your new leather leaders are …

Summer Banks and Jim Benton

Summer Banks and Jim Benton

On Saturday at the Dallas Eagle, Mr. and Ms. Texas Leather contests were held, and your 2014 Ms. Texas Leather is Dallas’ Summer Banks, and 2014 Mr. Texas Leather is Houston’s Jim Benton. Banks scored the first time out in running for a title, and Benton is the 2013-14 Mr. Prime Choice. Both will compete in the spring for the respective national titles. Banks will head to San Francisco in April for the International Ms. Leather contest, and Benton to Chicago over Memorial Day for International Mr. Leather. Congrats to both!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

And the winner of IML is….

not Mr. Texas Leather.

Gabe Sims — whom we profiled this week on his run-up to the Chicago leatherfest, the 34th annual International Mr. Leather competition — came in 24th out of 48 contestants … a more than respectable showing. So, Sims must be disappointed. Not in the least, he told me.

“Don’t be sorry [I didn’t win,” he said. He got to meet IML founder Chuck Renslow in a “very solemn and emotional” ceremony. After what Sims felt was a successful interview and before the “pecs and personality” event, he went shopping. “A friend of mine fusses because I wear Wranglers, so I purchased some Nasty Pig jeans,” he said. Only fitting. Even though he lost, Sims calls his first IML appearance “an awesome experience. Not bad for a 55-year-old.” True, that.

Oh, and Mr. Michigan Leather Woody Woodruff took the title. Congrats to him.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Ms. Texas Leather Synn Evans wins International Ms. Leather over the weekend

The leather title tradition continued this weekend when Synn Evans, from Dallas, brought home the International Ms. Leather title. This matches the International Mr. Leather title won by Jeffrey Payne in 2009. This was the 26th annual event for the title, which was held in San Francisco.

She was tagged in this photo soon after she won the contest. Read our profile on Evans when she won Ms. Texas Leather 2011.



—  Rich Lopez

And the new Mr. Texas Leather is …

… Gabe Sims! It was a busy few days for the leather community as Texas Leather Weekend got under way, with the naming of Sims as the new Mr. Texas Leather. The Shreveport, La., native, who now resides in Irving, came into the competition with the title Mr. Hidden Door, and bested six other entrants from around the state to take the title. This automatically qualifies Sims to compete in International Mr. Leather in Chicago over the Memorial Day weekend this spring.

Sims has some big jackboots to fill. Two of the past three Mr. Texas Leather winners — Jeffrey Payne and Jack Duke (who served as head judge this weekend) — have done well at IML, with Duke coming in third in 2010 and Payne winning the who schmere in 2009.

Check out our slideshow from the event here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

“The Advocate” lists 15 gayest cities in America, leaves off Houston

The Advocate has come out with a list of the 15 “Gayest Cities in America” using a set of criteria that is… (what’s the best way to say this?) …”unique.” The list uses a point system based on nine criteria, assigns points for each and then divides the total points by the population living inside the city limits:

The Advocate's criteria

The winning cities range from Denver, CO at 15th (with 9 points and a score of 0.00001499) to Salt Lake City, UT in 1st place (with 6 points and  a score of 0.00003218). With a population of 2,099,451 (according to the 2010 census) Houston would have to score 32 points to make the list. Clearly the criteria are designed to favor smaller cities (Austin’s the only Texas city to make the list, coming in at 13th (with 12 points and a score of 0.00001518)), but part of the joy in making up meaningless lists for the internet is that you get to make up the criteria. So, based on the Advocates own criteria, how does Houston fair?

—  admin

And the new IML is … NOT from Texas

The run couldn’t last forever. In 2009, Dallas’ Jeffrey Payne won the overall title at International Mr. Leather. Last year, Dallas’ Jack Duke came in third overall. This year, Mr. Texas, Roger Triche, was from Houston and represented Texas at IML. Roger unfortunately finished out of the money, and the winner for 2011 ended up being Frenchman Eric Gutierrez, the reigning Mr. Leather Europe.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones


Three deaf gay North Texans refuse to let what some would see as a disability stand in the way of a fulfilling life

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer

Noise. There are layers of it every day. The bustle of traffic, dogs barking, someone stomping down the hall, the whirring of a desk fan and the blare of digital music from computer speakers.

These can all register with most people all at once — even if they don’t know it. For some others, they may be fading aural glimpses — or nothing at all.

When deaf culture and gay culture collide, it’s not an unusual thing. Although one has nothing to do with the other, there is an interestingly significant proportion of gay people who are deaf. The Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf states that the percentage of the LGBT population is “approximately 10 percent of the deaf population.”

But is there an added pressure to being deaf or hard of hearing and gay?

Three gentlemen would say no.

“The deaf community is a very welcoming one and doesn’t discriminate,” Jeffrey Payne says. “It’s a non-issue.”

Payne may be most recognizable as the winner of International Mr. Leather in 2009 and more recently as a new co-owner of the Dallas Eagle club — but more on him later.

Andy Will

Born this way

Speaking of non-issues, Andy Will was born completely deaf 36 years ago. He seems perplexed at times talking about it, because for him it’s a fact of life. And knowing he was gay at a very young age didn’t hurt Will in discovering who he is.

“I knew I was gay when I was 8,” he said.

For the record, the majority of his quotes here are via Facebook chat and text messages.

Will didn’t come out until later, and before doing so he got married and had a daughter, Sarah. The gay thing didn’t go over too well with his wife, and the two were only married for eight months. Will didn’t see Sarah for quite some time.

But something in Will is so optimistic about life and what it offers that it would seem patience paid off for him. Or maybe it’s optimism mistaken for proud parent considering the exclamation he has when talking about his girl.

“I wanted to be honest to my family and my ex-wife that I’m gay,” he said. “I didn’t see my daughter for 11 years but she came to see me on her 12th birthday and we’re happily back together. Father and daughter! And she knows and has kindly accepted me as being her gay dad!”

In the meantime, Will met Joseph and they were together for five years. But Joseph passed away after losing a battle to cancer. Will met Dwane online and then officially at JR.’s Bar & Grill. They are celebrating 10 years together.

Dwane is not deaf.

“I’m not sure how I did that. Life is pretty happy here,” Will said.

Some of Will’s hobbies may seem unexpected to the hearing population. Once a week he drives more than 50 miles from his home in Krugerville, north of Denton, to the Oak Lawn Boxing Gym off of Riverfront Boulevard. He’s been taking lessons from gym owner Travis Glenn for “about four or five months,” and according to the coach, it’s been a learning experience for both men.

“Many people have suggested that I just need to learn a few basic American Sign Language signs, but that doesn’t work when you have on boxing gloves,” Glenn said. “It took a few lessons, but Andy and I have found a working rhythm for his training. When he does something that needs adjustment, I point to him, mimic what he did, and shake my head ‘no.’ Then I point to myself, do the movement correctly, and shake my head ‘yes.’

“I’m sure it looks odd to bystanders, but it seems to work for us,” Glenn said.

Will mentions that sometimes they have to work with a pen and pad or that he can read Glenn’s lips as he speaks, but he’s at the point now where he can almost tell what Glenn is thinking.

“I can read his movements and body language but sometimes I can read what he means in my mind and get the movement right,” he said.

Out of simple ignorance, people may incorrectly assume that deaf people can’t do as much as hearing people. But Will has never bought into that.

“I’ve been playing sports since I was a kid,” he said. “I used to play basketball and football in school and I currently play on softball and rugby teams. And now boxing.”

Again, for Will, this is nothing, but he knows what people may think. He isn’t trying to shatter any images. He’s just living his life. But if he changes someone’s perception along the way, he’s fine with that, too.

Above all the labels that people could place on Will, he’s shooting for one.

“I’m the proud gay dad of Sarah,” he said, “And sometimes I can surprise people that a deaf person can do the things that I like doing.”

Ronnie Fanshier

Normal fears

Ronnie Fanshier used to be a male dancer. He once was Mr. Texas Leather. Now he lives a comfortable life in the suburbs and is one step away from being completely deaf.

“I am classified as profoundly deaf,” he said.

He also just turned 50 and isn’t worrying so much about his deafness as much as just accepting the landmark birthday — like anyone does.

“Fifty is a milestone if you’re gay, straight or whatever. I have mixed feelings about it, but I appreciate what I’ve learned about life up to this point,” he said. “I certainly would not want to go back and live all over again. There would be so many friendships and loves I’d miss out on and that’s not a chance I would take.”

For someone who is so close to having 100 percent hearing loss, Fanshier doesn’t sound like he’s letting that be an albatross. Born with nerve deafness — meaning that the nerves transmitting sound to the brain don’t function properly — Fanshier always knew what the ultimate result would be with his hearing. Acceptance wasn’t so much an issue, but socially, it did have an impact — good and bad.

“Looking back to school, I adapted quite well to most social situations I was exposed to. I knew I was gay at an early age, but I played the boyfriend/girlfriend game until I graduated. Back then, if you were even suspected of being gay, you were pretty much ostracized,” he said.

As a youth, Fanshier seemed to use his deafness as a way to glide by students prone to bullying anyone who was gay, although he remembers it with some delight.

“Being hard of hearing/deaf helped immensely in that respect, since I was already a little different in an accepted way,” he recalled. “What’s funny is I remember some classmates saying I was a ‘fag’ and other classmates would say, ‘No he’s deaf, and that’s why he talks different.’ Isn’t that a hoot?”

As adulthood came, Fanshier says he kicked the closet door down and hit the gay bars. Everything he had learned socially in school to communicate and even get by worked wonders for him in the community. And he developed his own tricks to party it up on the dance floor.

“I loved dancing,” he said. “I would turn my hearing aids off and dance to the beat. If the bass got soft, I would watch others on the dance floor and use their rhythmic movements to create a sort of metronome to dance to until the bass got strong again.”

He loved it so much that he took it to the pedestals. As a college student, he danced his way through gay bars in Dallas, Houston, Oklahoma City and Tulsa. His confidence brimmed.

“I was young, athletic-looking and very personable,” he said. “I would intentionally wear one hearing aid up there on the box and it was a good ice breaker for tippers. This was another way of making myself more memorable. I was very social and outgoing and my handicap never stopped me.”

What Fanshier does instead is own his deafness. He didn’t apply fear to it and instead worried about what he says every gay man probably worries about: Health, finding Mr. Right (he did), family acceptance — oh, and one more thing:

“Will I be able to get the clothes, car and home that any self-respecting queen should have,” he joked.

What’s curious about Fanshier is that he never learned sign language. He was actually discouraged by his parents and teachers who feared that society would single him out. And he’s glad for that.

“I thank them profusely for that,” he said. “I would not be the person I am today if that decision had not been made for me. I should learn ASL, but I tend to have a short-term memory and I probably wouldn’t retain it, and I have few hard-of-hearing friends to use it with. I also work in a mainstream environment, and sign language would have severely limited my job options.”

But Franshier’s made it work the way he knows how. He’s built a good life with a long tenure at the hospital he works for, a house by the lake and his partner of 14 years — all while taking what may easily be considered a detriment, and turning it to his advantage.

Jeffrey Payne

The emergence of a voice

Jeffrey Payne has not been silent about his experience. He told the Voice before about discovering his hearing loss at 40 years old and was initially told he would be completely deaf by Christmas 2010.

The timeline has been wrong so far, but Payne has taken his visibility in the Dallas LGBT community and is turning it into increasing the awareness of Dallas gay deaf denizens.

“I’ve come to know many individuals in Dallas who are hard of hearing and also gay,” he said. “What’s really wonderful about it is that it’s all part of same gay community.”

Payne himself could be looked upon as the spark that began an increased interest in Dallas. With such a high profile in the leather community that reached out beyond, people could identify with him in a way perhaps they couldn’t before.

“I believe some people saw the need for it when I went from hearing to hard of hearing,” he said.

He’s worked with several local gay organizations in increasing options for hard of hearing, but was ecstatic with the Texas Bear Round Up’s efforts this past March.

Organizers looked to Payne for directon on providing an enjoyable experience for hard-of-hearing and deaf bears attending.

“With TBRU, this huge event and largest bear event I believe, they were so proactive reaching out to me and the St. Cyr Fund to ensure interpreters at all functions,” he said. “I was thrilled, to be honest with you.”

The Sharon St. Cyr Fund was created by Payne — and named after his mother — to assist with purchasing hearing aids for those who can’t afford them and to increase the presence of ASL interpreters at events. Payne has taken his plight and turned it into opportunity — and doesn’t mind if he’s a little uncomfortable.

“Just with my story I’ve been given, I’ll talk to anyone on a microphone, even if it is out of my comfort zone,” he said. “ASL is really just a different language, but some people get frustrated if they can’t sign. [Hearing] people also want to learn so it’s nice knowing the awareness level is there now. Sign language is a very beautiful language.”

As for his personal struggle, Payne doesn’t dwell on it. He sounds repurposed for this new mission in life. He credits his husband, David, and his family for their support and understanding. He’s intent on not just dealing with deafness, but making the most of it.

Payne said before winning IML, he was a background kind of guy. That ended when his name was announced as the winner, but he was  encouraged by his partner not to waste the opportunity he had.

“I’ve always been a firm believer that things happen for a reason,” Payne said. “I was thrust out of the background with IML and now I can make a difference.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 15, 2011.

—  John Wright

Bellying up to the bar: Leatherman Payne and partner dive into club ownership with Eagle

MEN OF DENIM | Ostmeyer, Payne, Johnson, Frazier and Roy now all own the Dallas Eagle.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

Until about a month ago, everything Jeffrey Payne knew about a bar was how to order a Sprite in one (Payne doesn’t drink). Maybe how to cruise a guy during happy hour. That was it.

That’s changing. Fast.

At the end of January, Payne and his partner David Roy became shareholders in the Dallas Eagle.

“David and I have been speaking about it for a few years. We toyed with starting our own bar, had looked at other bars that had come up for sale in the meantime but never found what we were looking for,” Payne says.

Then last year Mark Frazier, one of the owners of the Eagle, approached them. “He heard we were looking,” Payne says, and asked if they would be interested in investing. Things progressed fairly quickly from there.

“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Payne says. ”Working with Mark and Cully Johnson and Jerry Ostmeyer, who are the other owners, we all bring something different to the table. We’re all active. There’s no silent partner, no one standing on the sidelines. Lot of changes have either happened or are about to happen. The DJ booth is now against the side; new countertops are being put in; and we have an updated draft [beer] system.”

Payne’s history with the Eagle is notable. He was named Mr. Dallas Eagle in 2008 — the first step on his way to Mr. Texas Leather and finally International Mr. Leather, a title he held from May 2009 to 2010 and for which he received widespread acclaim throughout the community for his leadership.

“Having been around the world like I have been, getting to know the hugely supportive gay community — not just the leather community — I wanted to be more involved,” he says. “The Eagle was just the right thing we were looking for. It’s a Levi/leather bar, but it doesn’t stop there: The bears, the court, the drag queens, softball teams, the bowling league — it’s not limited to just one sector of the community. It’s a wide array of people. Even straight people who are involved in the gay community hold activities there.”

“Bar owner” joins Payne’s other job titles of late, which also include running a court reporting service and serving on his non-profit Sharon St. Cyr Foundation, which raises money for hearing aids and sign interpretation for the deaf community. Payne is going deaf, although it has not progressed as fast as his doctors had predicted.

“It has gradually gotten worse but I’ll hang on to every day I can,” he says. ”Understanding is escaping more and more. David said something to me this morning and what I heard and what he said were on two different planes. Mine was much funnier.”

His hearing impairment also figures into his work at the Eagle — in some not-to-predictable ways.

“Sunday was the first time I worked behind the bar,” he says. “When I’m at the Eagle I don’t wear my hearing aids so people were placing orders and I didn’t hear them.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.

—  John Wright


HELLBENT FOR LEATHER | Scott Moore has planned for a year to try and repeat the achievements of Dallas leathermen Jeffrey Payne and Jack Duke. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Dallas has become a player in the international leather scene, and Scott Moore hopes to keep streak alive

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

Scott Moore has some big boots to fill — and we don’t just mean size 13 triple Ds.

In 2008, Dallas’ Jeffrey Payne parlayed his Mr. Dallas Eagle leatherman title into Mr. Texas Leather 2009, then went on to score the top international prize: International Mr. Leather. His service was seen as a benchmark for the entire community, and an award was even named after him.

The next year, Dallas’ Jack Duke pulled off almost the same feat, going from Mr. Dallas Eagle to Mr. Texas Leather and coming in an impressive third overall at IML.

The Texas leather scene — and more impressively, Dallas’ — was on the map for its depth and seriousness.

And that’s where Moore has to follow.

He’ll slide on his jackboots and strap on his harness this weekend to compete in the 16th annual Texas Leather Weekend, as leatherman from across the state gather in Dallas to celebrate their brotherhood and crown the new Mr. Texas Leather.

Whoever wins will go on to Chicago and IML in the spring, but Moore would like for North Texas to represent for a third year in a row … and, of course, work its way onto the winners’ podium.

“It hit home for me after I won Mr. Dallas Eagle and [the Voice] started listing [in Instant Tea] the history of the event, which I knew, but seeing it in print … well, as you say, I have big boots to fill. Jeffrey was phenomenal and Jack has also done a lot. But for now my goal is not to trip when coming up the stairs or fall off the edge of the stage. The rest will work itself out.”

Moore is being modest — this isn’t his first time on the runway. A few years ago, he was entered by a friend in the Bear of the Month contest at the Eagle, and eventually went on to be named Mr. TBRU 2007. Still, Mr. Dallas Eagle was the first leather contest he’d ever entered.

It was the culmination of a long journey for him. Moore, 43, started in the leather community 14 years ago when he still lived in San Antonio. That’s when his lover gave him a gift: His first piece of leather.

“It was a harness — I still wear it,” he says. “I have been increasingly active ever since.”

In fact, it was watching Payne and Duke win — as well as attending IML and other events — that gave him the impetus to seek out the title for himself.

“I really wanted to get more involved and be part of this brotherhood. It was on my mind for a year. So I read extensively, and have gone to a lot of events. There’s quite a bit of preparation. And it’s not a cheap hobby,” he says.
When it comes down to it, though, he knows the competition will really just be an opportunity to enjoy the camaraderie of the leather community.

“I have met all of my competitors and have a really good group of people but there is no history or drama. Everyone’s advice is to be yourself and have fun. As a contestant, the have fun part is harder. I tend to be a little uptight — it’s in my nature. Paranoia helps as an attorney.”

Might not be had for a leatherman, either.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011. 

—  John Wright