All Rights reserved
20 Black Leatherwomen by Carmelle La Sirena
Carmelle La Sirena continues her photographic series of Leatherwomen focusing on the powerful images of Black women.
As a photographer in the leather lifestyle and leather community, I am blessed with also getting to have in-depth conversations with a wide variety of individuals. I hear the stories about their life, their favorite fetishes, how they love to play, and more. But often, this also includes stories of difficulties they have faced, and deeply personal moments that have changed their lives. There are times I learn new things about various aspects of leather history that are often overlooked. In the '70s and '80s, there was a large group of people of color that had their own leather/BDSM/kink "world" in Queens, New York. They decided to take their knowledge, personal and sexual power into their own hands, and create their own community and families without involving themselves in the predominantly white gay leather scene.
Scroll down for more, and see the rest of the series here:  
I recognize and respect the fact that although many of us have a shared common lifestyle interest, I cannot speak for Black Leatherwomen, and their experiences in the leather community. As someone who has a small platform in the media world, it's important to also understand how to use that visibility, and give a voice to a part of the leather community that is often overlooked.
I decided to ask a number of black Leatherwomen that I have photographed, to summarize their view of being part of the leather community. I talked with and asked long standing leather community member, Issa Arden, who has frequently taken part in documenting leather history for the Leather Archives & Museum, to write a small summary. I also included a few statements from Black Leatherwomen, ranging from long standing community members, to a young bisexual woman who joined Onyx Pearls two years ago.
Issa Arden: "Before I entered the scene, I didn't see anyone that looked like me (a black woman). After I became more involved I met some amazing women of color and they made the community a better place for me. So maybe that is why, when people come into the leather or rubber communities, I often reach out and welcome them. I don't feel a responsibility per se I just like to help people feel more comfortable when they are entering something that can be overwhelming in so many other ways. I personally feel welcome in many spaces now but there are certainly, events, bars, or other places where I am made very aware I am not wanted or expected to be there. It is more often a matter of gender, but I think that just keeps them from getting around to race. I am most often made aware a space being unwelcoming racially through micro-aggressions, things like racist jokes being made and/or defended, especially if there is an expectation that I won't say anything (I will and I do). Also when people reinforce a desire to see spaces only for white, gay (cis) men. I feel that visibility is key to letting people know the intentions of a space. How will people know they are welcome at an event if all of the media uses the same picture of the same type of man? I think things are changing in some spaces and I love that more spaces by and for people of color exclusively are coming into being."
Master Kaddan: "There are still not a lot of people of color at many of the big events, especially presenting classes. A lot of times we see the same people (presenting) over and over. Because I have often felt like I am the only person of color presenting at an event, or there is only one other person of color presenting at an event, I try to put myself out there. It's really important to feel comfortable at these types of events. If someone of color sees me at a big event, they are more likely to stay and learn because they have someone that they can relate to."
Caddy Compson: "There can be a fine line at times between the kink and the leather community, although I live a leather lifestyle, I have either felt very judged or most often, invisible. Attending leather events could be hard, it seemed as though the women were either judging me or the men would not even see or address me. I really didn't see anyone who looked like me, it's still rare, and because I was a pro (in the porn industry) often people would just make assumptions about me and who I am, although men, who are were as hardcore in the industry as I was, were and are easily accepted. It took a long time, but I am now surrounded by people who see and understand me."
Liquid: "My role as a Leatherwoman of color is to educate, empower and explore. The leather/BDSM community is more than a Tom of Finland portrayal. There should be more visibility of women of color. My hope is that people see me not just as a beautiful face, but also recognize the work that I have done and continue to do in the leather community, as well as the work of the many Leatherwomen of color who came before me."
Phixate: "I've felt very welcomed, it's been the only place where I could identify as a bisexual woman and express my individuality without fear of judgement."
This photo gallery is just a small glimpse of a few longstanding Leatherwomen of color, including Jill Carter, who raised the money to purchase the current building the Leather Archives & Museum occupies. These images also include a few members of the ONYX Pearls, a vast sisterhood that extends from the East Coast to the West. Many of the Leatherwomen in this photo series have not only volunteered countless hours of their time, but have also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for many leather community related organizations. I hope you find the time to not only reach out, but to make room in your own community to give people of color more opportunities to attend and teach at events.
CARMELLE LA SIRENA is a conceptual artist, painter and photographer whose wandering heart has her living in both New York and Los Angeles. She began photographing "Leatherwomen" over 20 years ago as a way to explore and understand her own sexuality. What started out as a hobby turned into a fetish, and that somehow turned into an actual documentary affectionately known as We are Leather Women.
See more of Carmelle's work and life on Facebook and Instagram.