This is a compilation of three interviews we did on the International Power Exchange 2014 contest (for Leatherati, Kinky.com, and Fearless Press). 🙂
Congratulations on your title win! Can you tell us about the International Power Exchange contest?
Thank you, we’re thrilled and honored to have won the title and to represent such a diverse community! The International Power Exchange Contest is held annually at Beyond Leather in Florida. The contest is about celebrating the vast diversity of power exchange dynamics in the BDSM/kink/leather communities. It is open to couples or triads with any power exchange dynamic. So a couple/triad could enter as Master/slave, Dominant/submissive, a leather family, Daddy/girl, Trainer/pup, Mistress/boi, Rigger/rope bunny… and the list goes on! It is an educational title and is also not limited to those who identify as leather. There are multiple feeder contests across the US, including Great Lakes, New York Metro, and Rocky Mountain. There is much more information on their website: http://www.beyondleather.net/
You are both quite visible & well-known in the kink scene. Do you think that gave you an advantage going into the contest?
Quite the opposite, actually! When we first started talking about running for this title, one of the things that was on our minds was how “out-there” we are in the kink/BDSM community, and we didn’t feel it was an advantage at all. We anticipated that the judges would come from the leather and Master/slave communities, which in our experience are communities that tend to value a quieter, more self contained dynamic vs. the very public and out-there style we have. There can be a perception that things done in private are more “real” somehow than public play (Shay has written about this for Kinky.com in the past, and that article can be found here:
In the interview, the judges specifically asked about Stefanos’ work at kink.com, actually! The interview is a quite heavily weighted portion of the contest, accounting for 30% of the total score, and one of the questions we were asked (and we we only had time for about 10 questions) was about Kink.com and Stefanos’ job there. Stefanos spoke briefly about how real the on-camera experiences at kink.com are for the models and the directors. Often porn can be perceived as not being a “real” BDSM experience, but in fact they are very real and fundamentally mirror the interactions in our scene. Stefanos also spoke about how his first place in the company was to build a community on TheUpperFloor.com. Of course we very much believe in the work that Stefanos does at kink.com and the Upper Floor and we feel it nicely dovetails with the purposes of this title, which is what we discussed with the judges!
Who have you gotten the most support from during the process of running for the title of International Power Exchange?
The list of support and love is long and heavy; we owe so much to the local and larger communities for believing in us and what we do. We especially want to thank and acknowledge Stefanos’ partner tartelette, who came with us to the contest and acted as our handler and “service pup.” She was an invaluable support, we couldn’t have done it without her. We also really appreciate the local Pacific Coast Power Exchange producers, who trusted us to represent our region in the international contest. The producers of Beyond Leather, Sir Top & slave bonnie, did an amazing job, as did the IPE contest director chris. Finally, the other contestants were all such amazing people- we were honored to compete along side them and felt that we all really worked together and supported each other during the event. We wish them many successes and have been keeping in touch with them to see how we can all continue to support each other and work together.
What are you most looking forward to about your title year?
We do a ton of traveling and presenting anyway, so in that sense, not much is going to change for us. We are planning to focus our education more on power exchange during our title year, and we really look forward to increasing awareness of alternative power exchange dynamics! Also, while the contest is quite well established in other parts of the country, our region (the west coast) is really just learning about it, so we’re excited to increase awareness about the contest specifically in our area.
Is there anything you’re having trepidation about?
We already have our plates pretty full with local projects (the SF Citadel, Bondage-a-Go-Go, The Upper Floor, Legion of Sin, Consent Matters, etc), our own personal projects (like our bondage education site, remedialropes.com), and presenting (we presented 47 classes at 16 different venues/events across the US and in Canada in 2013). So it’s a bit intimidating to add anything to that already full list. We do feel that representing this title is an excellent and natural fit with all of those things, however, so we think it will all come together well!
You and Stefanos are devoted leaders in the San Francisco community and already do a lot of work in education and service. Did you do any special preparation to get ready to be a title holding couple?
We did a lot of preparation for the contest itself- the educational presentation and fantasy took a lot of time to write and rehearse. We feel very solid in our relationship and our dynamic, so while preparing for the contest did involve examining ourselves more than we normally would, we certainly didn’t change anything about ourselves or the way we interact.
There is another contest held at Beyond Leather- the International Pony Play Championships (IPPC). Did you have a chance to watch that contest? What did you think of it?
We did watch the IPPC, and we absolutely loved it! It really was pure joy, and the three contestant pairs were so polished. Watching the handlers and ponies work together was remarkable. The championship is done in a dressage style that is incredibly different from the pony play we’ve seen in this area – we’re talking with their producers about trying to bring them to the west coast to share what they’re doing, because it’s really special. It certainly drew emotions from the crowd, even from those not familiar with pony play.
How many judges were there for the International Power Exchange Contest, and what criteria were they judging you on? How is it different from or similar to Master/slave contests?
There were 7 judges, including head judge Master Obsidian (International Master 2010). The contest uses Olympic style scoring, where the highest and lowest judges scores in each category are dropped.
The contest scoring will sound familiar to anyone who has been to a leather contest. There are four judging sections. First is the “educational presentation,” which is a 5-10 minute prepared presentation to offer an explanation of your power exchange dynamic. This is similar to the speeches that are part of more traditional leather contests, however whereas in the Master/slave contests each contestant delivers a separate 2 minute speech, in the Power Exchange contest this portion is delivered jointly, is longer than traditional contest speeches, and can involve the use of props/visual aids. For this portion, we did a presentation that used various collars we’ve had through the years as a way to frame a discussion of how our relationship has changed and grown, and how our dynamic works now.
Second, there is a “fantasy/demo” portion- this was an opportunity to show the judges and audience our connection. The Master/slave contests that we know of do not have a fantasy/demo portion, although individual leather titles like International Ms/Mr Leather and the like do. The fantasy was the part of the competition that we were both the most excited about, because we had a really personal performance we wanted to do. Shay comes from a background of domestic violence, and has experienced so much healing during and through her time in the BDSM community- for over a year we’ve had an idea for a fantasy piece exploring that journey. We were thrilled to have a chance to share that journey and performance. That was easily the highlight of the competition for us- we got a standing ovation and had the whole room (especially ourselves) in tears. There was a lot of raw emotion and it was overwhelming experience.
Both the educational presentation and fantasy took place during the stage portion of the contest. The last two judging sections were “overall impression” and the interview. So during the entire weekend, the 7 judges (and their friends) were watching all the contestant pairs, looking both at how they interact as a couple and how they interact with the other event attendees. It was pretty nerve-wracking to be under a microscope like that for an entire 3 day stretch. Yet, it was also liberating and validating to have all our dynamics explored so deeply. There were three other contestant pairs, and they were all AMAZING people- we loved having a chance to meet them all and wish we could have spent more time socializing together.
Why did you decide to compete?
As part of the effort to get the Pacific Coast Power Exchange (PCPE) feeder contest started up, we were asked by the local PCPE producers (in cooperation with the international contest producers) to represent the Pacific Coast region this year. We had already been invited to present at Beyond Leather, and the contest, with it’s goals of increasing awareness of “non-traditional” power exchange dynamics, really resonated with us. We don’t identify as Master/slave and therefore had never considered ourselves eligible to run in the Master/slave contests- our power exchange dynamic has many dimensions (including Dominant/submissive and Owner/kitty). I think people can perceive Master/slave as “the way” to do power exchange, and if that specific dynamic doesn’t work for them (as it didn’t for us) they may feel that they’ve “failed” at power exchange. Discovering the vast array of alternative power exchange dynamics out there was an epiphany for us, so we are passionate about increasing awareness of these dynamics!
Please give us a brief sketch of how you came into the Leather Community.
We came into the Leather Community together in 2003, while we were living in Minnesota. Prior to that, Stefanos had been involved in fetish event production, and we’d both done kinky bedroom play. We were also both Live Action Role Players (LARPers), which is how we met, and that’s pretty damned kinky in our books! When we started to go to the Minnesota munch and play events and met our mentor Koroban in 2003, and that was very much the beginning of our time in the Leather Community.
What is a Power Exchange relationship?
We have a little story about that question! During the International Power Exchange Meet & Greet, we talked with one of the contestants from the previous year about the interview portion of the contest. The conversation went like this:-Previous contestant: “We were asked in our interview to define Power Exchange in 8 words. How would you answer that?” -Stefanos: “Power exchange is the equality of expectations.” -Previous contestant, counting: “That’s 7 words.” -Stefanos, with a smile: “Power exchange is the equality of expectations, SIR.” We think this answer speaks to the idea that a power exchange needs to energetically nurture both/all people involved, and that it involves the ongoing will to give or take control.
How did you discover PE dynamics? Is this the same as a Master/slave relationship?
When we first came into the community, we’d already been doing bedroom play that put Shay in the submissive role. As the newbies we were, we figured that made her the “slave” and Stefanos the “Master.” It took us quite a bit of time (and help from several mentors) to understand M/s… and we never felt a good “fit” with a Master/slave identity. After taking a break from a formal D/s relationship, we started to branch out and discover other Power Exchange dynamics, and figured out that not fitting into what we perceived as the “Master/slave” mold didn’t mean that we’d failed at Power Exchange! We think this comes back to expectations, creating them and matching them with your partner(s). Tell us a little about your PE relationship(s). Our Power Exchange can look subtle and unconventional from the outside. We identify within a multi-faceted Dominant/submissive dynamic. Shay calls Stefanos her “Sanctuary,” as he acts as a shelter and home for her. Stefanos calls Shay his “Girasole,” which is Italian for Sunflower, because Shay experiences her submission to him as being like a sunflower turning towards the light- natural, without effort or thought, just desire, energy, and warmth. We also identify as Owner/kitty, and Rock Star/handler. A lot of the service Shay does has a secretarial or handler feel to it- answering e-mails, coordinating schedules, making dates, class prep, etc. Stefanos acts as a social leader and director for our actions.
If you could waive your International titleholder wand and change one thing about the Leather community, what would it be and why?
This question is begging for a phallic answer but on a more serious note. If such a wand existed, which by virtue of the diversity contained in the Leather Communities it cannot and should not, we would create a Rosetta Stone or Tower of Babel to facilitate those members of our communities’ discussions with each other. Often, disagreements on value appear to occur but are later to be discovered nothing more than a misunderstanding. Often our guarded and cherished traditions appear to be stepped on by “new” people and those of experience as well, but we think clearer communication, thus a tower or stone, would help us achieve more unification of goals while fostering and celebrating diversity in our communities. This is why new contests encouraging diversity are so integral to our growth and representation.
Every community has challenges – what do you see as the most critical challenges to the PE community?
We see consent as the biggest issue across the kink/Leather/PE communities, collectively. This applies especially the PE community, being that it is younger/newer and without many of the traditions/network that have historically helped create a safer space in the Leather community. This is a subject that we’ve been working on and plan to continue to address during our title year.
How do you explain PE to people who aren’t in our community such as friends and family?
As far as friends, well, when we moved to San Francisco together in 2005, we jumped heavily into the kink/Leather communities, and basically didn’t develop a friend group outside of those communities. So, all our friends are quite savvy about PE! Family is a bit of a different story. Shay has three younger sisters who have been to kink events with us and are supportive, but don’t know much about PE. After we won the IPE title, Shay messaged her sisters with the news, and then just about died laughing one of them messaged back: “I don’t really get what Power Exchange is? Way to be a thing, though!” This started quite a long conversation- we find that family tends to not want too many details, they’re just focused on whether we are in a relationship that is healthy and happy, so we make sure they know that this is working well for us.
Where are you planning to present and travel to during your title year?
We already are booked to present at Mischief in May (Iowa), Dark Odyssey: Fusion (Maryland), Thunder in the Mountains (Denver), Dark Odyssey: Surrender (San Francisco), the Center for Sex Positive Culture (Seattle), and the Destination (Sacramento), in addition to 15 local classes for the SF Citadel and Mission Control, just in the remainder of 2014. And of course we’ll be back at Beyond Leather in 2015 for our step-down! It’s going to be a whirlwind year!
In closing we would love to express our gratitude to be representatives of this title. We hope that we can bring more positive energy to this amazing exploration and celebration of power exchange dynamics. We also wish to say a public thank you to the many people who have sent us messages of encouragement, advice and support.