New Ms. Texas Leather sets out on new adventures in work, community service
“I’m in a funny position right now.” And Dawn Knowlton isn’t talking about just one aspect of her life when she says that.
It was almost four months ago now that Knowlton won the Ms. Texas Leather 2017 sash, shouldering the responsibilities that go along with that title.
Being front and center of all the attention is one of the new and “funny” positions she finds herself in.
“I’ve been in the leather community since early 2000s, and I’ve always taken background roles, doing what needed to be done,” but not in the spotlight, Knowlton explained. “I’m a worker bee. But I guess along the way, you just sort of naturally move up in the ranks. And last year, the night Mera [Tucker, Ms. Texas Leather 2016] won the title, she cornered me and said, ‘You’re next. Start getting ready.’”
She’s still getting used to the being in the spotlight instead of behind it, but, Knowlton said with a grin, “I’m having a ball so far.”
And while she’s getting used to the spotlight, Knowlton will also be getting used to a new job — one she hopes will give her more free time to devote to her Ms. Texas Leather duties.
“My [previous] job as a chef on a food truck — it’s called The Dock and it specializes in seafood, coastal dishes — has been a bit limiting,” Knowlton said. “But I love it. I am going to miss it when I start my new job.”
That new job is being head chef for AIDS Interfaith Network, a nonprofit that provides, among other things, a nutrition program for people with HIV/AIDS that includes breakfasts and lunches prepared and serve daily for clients that need nutrition assistance.
“I’m not sure what all it details,” Knowlton said of her new job, a few days before she was set to begin. “There are a lot of things about it I’m not familiar with yet. But they are willing to let me learn on the job. And I like the regular hours that come with it. That will let me get back to the bars, back to going to events and getting my face back out there.”
Knowlton also plans to put her chef skills to good use in fulfilling her Ms.Texas Leather duties as well as in her “daytime job.” But even that is a relatively new part of who she is.
Knowlton said she used to “work in finance, on a municipal bond trading desk. I loved it when I was doing it, but at the end of it, I was ready to move on to something else.”
That “something else” was cooking, thanks in part to Mera Tucker.
It started, Tucker said, “about 10 to 12 years ago, when we all went to a party at Johnny Grey’s house. I bequeathed her my old KitchenAid, then she quit her job and went to culinary school. And now, she’s a chef.”
As Ms. Texas Leather, Knowlton has to do three primary fundraisers — two for community nonprofits and a third for the Texas Leather Productions travel fund. Knowlton plans to do one fundraiser to benefit Team Friendly DFW, a local HIV awareness organization. For the travel fund benefit, she wants to put together a cookbook. But first, she’s staging Divas and Desserts.
“I have been fortunate to have Chef Sharon Van Meter as a mentor through the years,” Knowlton said, explaining that Van Meter, a world class chef, is the manager and producer at 3015 at Trinity Groves, an event venue at the Trinity Groves, the trendy enclave of restaurants and shops at the western foot of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge.
“I’ve worked with her off and on since 2009, and I’ve gotten a lot of backbone and drive and chutzpah because of her,” Knowlton said of Van Meter.
“And now, she’s opening up her venue to me, and she and her chefs will provide us with a variety of sweets and treats and signature cocktails” for the Divas and Desserts event.
That takes care of the desserts for the fundraiser. The United Court of the Lone Star Empire will be providing the divas, Knowlton said, explaining that in addition to the sweets, treats and cocktails, those attending the event will be treated to a drag show featuring entertainers such as Donna Dumae, Patti Le Plae Safe, Lips Larue, Kourtney Wells, Fort Worth drag king Justin Kredible and more.
Some of the divas will be providing desserts, too, Knowlton said. Tucker will be there with some of her famous Tucker Inn Cookies — and plans to have a special announcement to make, too. Former UCLE Emperor Ricky Matlock will be providing cake balls, and current UCLSE Empress Danielle Starr will be bringing cakes.
All of the proceeds, Knowlton said, will go to the United Court, which will in turn donate to its chosen charities.
Tickets for Divas and Desserts are $75, available online at EventBrite — Voice readers can get a discount by using the promo code VOICE — and Knowlton acknowledged that seems a bit steep. “But it will totally be worth it,” she declared.
Knowlton also hopes that Divas and Desserts will bring in a new audience for local drag performers. Van Meter’s participation and her willingness to let Knowlton use 3015 at Trinity Groves should help with that.
“I’m not saying this is the break-through event, but I am hoping to bring the court and what they do in our community out to more of the general community,” Knowlton said. “We want to get more funding in for the court and the things they do for the community. I think the straight crowds are looking for something different to do. I think we need to bring the drag shows out to the public. The LGBTA communities have such deep pockets, but it would be nice to spread that cost out to new pockets, too.”
Knowlton said she hopes that this event heralds a broader acceptance by the community overall, just like she’s beginning to see in the leather community itself as she continues her journey and explores her changing identity.
For most of her life, she said, “I was for the most part straight/bisexual. Then menopause hit and, well, I don’t know what I am now.” She has a girl, and she has a husband, she said, adding that she sees herself as “genderfluid right now. I’m not a label person. I’m Dawn. I am just so casual that way.
“I think our community has never been more open,” Knowlton continued. “But I also think, as with anything, we have factions that don’t want that interaction to happen. Still, we’re becoming a little more accepting. It’s not so much how you identify now as how you act. If you do the work, you’ll be accepted.”
Knowlton, for her part, knows she has been, and still is “doing the work.” And while she’s not necessarily sure just where she’s headed, she knows where she’s been and she knows how she got here: “I wouldn’t be where I am if not for my community,” she said. “The day I walked into the leather community, I was not this person you see today, that’s for sure. The community has molded me. It is still molding me.”
Divas & Desserts
Ms. Texas Leather 2017 Dawn Knowlton presents Divas and Desserts, an event benefitting the charities of the United Court of the Lone Star Empire, Sunday, June 25, 6:30-9 p.m. at 3015 at Trinity Groves, 3015 Gulden Lane.
The event will include confections, candies, cakes and signature cocktails crafted by the award-winning chefs for Chef Sharon Van Meter’s 3015 at Trinity Groves event venue and a drag show featuring members and friends of the Court.
Tickets are $75 per person, available online at DivasAndDesserts.Eventbrite.com or at the door. Dallas Voice readers can get a discount on online tickets by using the promo code VOICE.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 16, 2017.