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Black Roses and Pink Flamingoes

The BR10 Anniversary Event and how it changed our Club

Published here with the author's permission.

Long, long ago, over the weekend of November of 14th through 16th, 1997, twelve hundred kinky SM practitioners gathered at the New Carrollton Ramada to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Black Rose, the DC area's oldest BDSM educational group. Two cochairs, eleven event captains, and over 150 volunteers worked together to make it happen: fifty different educational presentations spread across a three-day party with a dungeon so immense that no one could remember another one they knew to have been larger. It may well be the largest SM party ever staged up to that time.

It was a festival ten years in the making, and the first of a dozen or so annual Black Rose SM/Fetish/ Kink events in all. It was also the predecessor event and model for many of the national level kink events still being held today like Dark Odyssey, and Camp Crucible, contributing staff, management and the basic formula of education, special events, and a shit hot play space.

This is the story of how it all came together and how it changed our club.

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Part I: The First Ten Years of Black Rose

Black Rose grew out of PEP (People Exchanging Power) a weekly kink discussion and support group, founded by Nancy Ava Miller in 1987. For many years, almost a decade, it had provided weekly Tuesday night presentations on SM theory and practice, periodic socials, and starting in the early nineties semi-monthly play events. It was a smallish group, weekly attendance ranged between thirty and fifty with a total membership that numbered around three hundred. And it stayed that way for pretty much all of its first decade. Our presenters were almost entirely local, and we never had more than a few thousand dollars in the bank at any given moment.

But outreach became a thing as the nineties bore on, and our two de facto leaders at the time, Rose and Jack led the way. Rose was a raven-haired beauty, an attorney with her own practice who dressed like Stevie Nicks's goth sister. Many people who came to our meetings assumed Black Rose was named after her. Jack was ex Marines, ex Secret Service, a man who ran his own defense firm, and was a frequent guest on CNN as an expert on nuclear-bio-chemical warfare. That's right. Sometimes while watching CNN as I fixed dinner at home, the guy whose lectures I had attended on Metal Bondage and Slave contracts would appear on my screen as an international weapon's expert, opining on the state of the Soviet nuclear arsenal.

From the early nineties onward Jack and Rose started reaching out beyond our small, local community inside the DC beltway to the greater world of kink. In 1991 and 1992, they chartered buses to drive a bunch of us up to New York so we could hit the decidedly raunchy sex clubs like Paddles, the Vault and the Hellfire club. Jack and Rose both signed up for the big SM conference called Living in Leather (LIL) hosted by the National Leather Association, (I think it was their tenth anniversary) in Portland Oregon, in 1995. Upwards of four hundred people attended and Rose and Jack both persuaded other DC locals to join them for the trip out West. Both of them opened their homes to board meetings, and play parties at a time when real estate was a real problem.

I don't know if this counts as outreach, too, but Jack paid upward of five grand to construct an opulent medieval themed dungeon in his home basement and began hosting SM parties there with invite lists mixing locals with out-of-town SM luminaries like writer Tony DeBlase (publisher of Drummer Magazine), or Harold Cox (Owner of The Mountain, an SM training academy in rural Pennsylvania). This forged friendships that would never have happened otherwise (for dyke-only events -which Jack hosted regularly - he would leave the premises and go see a movie). Jack also had a host of women who shared his home, creating his own micro- kink-community in the sleepy suburbs of Woodbridge, VA.

Jack also took the step of reaching out to the gay leather community, which was older and far more established than the heterosexual scene. He also started hanging out at the DC Eagle, the only leatherbar in town, where he met and befriended the locals and quickly learned of Sigma, a local men's club with a strong emphasis on SM play. After joining Sigma, he learned of Inferno, the big annual run in Chicago, and finagled an invitation to attend, becoming one of its first heterosexual guests. At Inferno, Jack learned of the newly forming Delta Brotherhood International and joined that organization too. As soon as he became a brother of Delta in 1996, he began a sort of annual tradition of inviting along three guests from Black Rose to the Delta Brotherhood run in rural Pennsylvania (Ken, Fraiser and I were the first slate of Jack's guests. Boomer, Marc, and Greg were, I believe, the second group, a year later, in 1997). Also In 1996, Rose and Jack led a contingent of BR members to attend the twenty fifth anniversary of the Til Eulenspiegal Society, or TES, America's first public SM/kink organization, founded in New York City in 1971.

Our attendance of TES 25 led to many of us returning to NYC for the first Leather Leadership Conference in April, 1997. A full seventeen of the forty-five registrants at the first Leather Leadership hailed from the DC area. This was also where Rose and Jack unveiled Black Rose's home-grown publication "How to Start a Leather Group." Assembled jointly by the Black Rose leadership team, this was the first document ever drafted to address the challenges of standing up and maintaining a weekly kink discussion/play/support group. A hundred copies were printed and most of them were handed out during the conference, leading directly to a boom of leather/kink clubs (like Capex, and Talon in NC) created in Black Rose's image.

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Black Rose Five

Attendees of the annual Black Rose conferences that came later might be surprised to know that our first attempt at a large-scale gathering was a comparative flop. Staged two years late (1994), in the hall that is now DC's 9:30 club, Black Rose's 5th anniversary celebration was a one-night play party, attended by some 200 guests with a small collection of dungeon equipment, some of which we had hammered together that afternoon in Rose's backyard. Some guests remember having a fun evening. My own memory was that enormity of the space kind of dwarfed our modest turnout. We did get a number of visits from the law: more out of curiosity than anything else: patrol cops first, then their desk sergeants, then over the course of the evening, increasingly senior brass who came by to gawk.

Black Rose X, in Nov 1997 was a whole different story. We conceived it as our answer to TES 25, which many of us DCers had attended with envy and awe. By now, we had garnered some collective experience attending many of the key leather events of the previous decade: not only TES25 but events staged by GMSMA, Living in Leather, International Mr. Leather, International Ms. Leather, Delta, Inferno, and LeatherFest. We were also starting to know a lot of smart, capable, experienced leaders in the greater kink community who would serve as mentors as planning moved forward. And we had also learned some solid lessons from our own, less than stellar, fifth anniversary celebration.

The planning for BR10, led by Jack and Rose, was ambitious and smart. Two main criteria emerged for the eventual host location. First, we wanted a smallish hotel so we could sell it out and (in hospitality industry parlance) "own it" for the weekend. "Owning the hotel" would allow us to wear fetish outfits throughout the complex, possibly really skimpy ones, without terrifying innocent guests unaffiliated with our event. Secondly, we wanted a really BIG conference space to serve as a dungeon for SM play. Rose and Jack went through 12 different hotels in the DC area before deciding on the Ramada Inn, in New Carrolton, MD, tucked just inside the DC beltway off Highway 450.

It was an old, slightly dumpy hotel, far from any tourist destinations, definitely "smallish" with 238 rooms. Over the previous decade it had changed at least five times, calling itself "the New Carrollton Sheraton", "The Sheraton Inn", "The Sheraton Washington Northeast" (even though it was in Maryland, not DC), "The Howard Johnson New Carrolton", "The Sheraton Greenbelt", and finally "The Ramada Conference and Exhibition Center". It had hosted swing parties, drag galas, gun shows, and six consecutive stagings of Disclave, a local Sci-Fi convention that had been held in the DC area, annually since 1950. But the thing that made it ideal was the "Exhibition Center" (or "EC"): actually a massive 22,000 square foot parking garage with a ten foot ceiling of exposed steel girders and a thin carpet over damp concrete with the faint, omnipresent scent of mold. Disclave attendees referred to it as "The Bunker." Jack's son, Alex, fifteen years old at the time, recalls visiting the hotel with his dad, Jack's girlfriend Lolita, Jack's "boy" Lisa, and Erik, a family friend, and remembers the EC sealing the deal for all present. Moldy or not, it was perfect for what we had in mind.

Jonathan K is one of the few guys still around who attended the very first meeting of PEP, the group that would soon change its name to Black Rose. He also attended both LIL and TES25 and had this to say about BR10 as a stage in the evolution of SM events: "TES25 made a lot of small improvements over the LIL model, which was hosted in a convention center you had to walk to. For TES25, the classes were taught in the same hotel where people were staying (which was a big step forward), but there were also a lot of vanillas there as well. The dungeon spaces you needed to take a cab to." According to Jonathan, what made the BR10 plan unique was that: 1) the dungeon, the classrooms and guest rooms were all in the same facilities; and 2) we had the hotel all to ourselves.

To assure we "owned" the Ramada over our anniversary weekend, we negotiated a refundable deposit so that any rooms not booked by attendees, as of 30 days before the event, would be paid for by the club. The Ramada had done swing parties, drag events, and gun shows, but never a weekend long SM event and they didn't know what that entailed. Frankly neither did we. But we had friends who had worked TES 25, who helped us plan. Black Rose didn't even have the five grand deposit required by the hotel, so Frazier, a relative newbie at the time, serving his third term on the board, wrote a check for the whole balance. He had recently come into a small inheritance and felt like sharing the love.

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Our Inside Man

And here I must raise a glass to one particular unsung hero in Black Rose history, without whom the Tenth Anniversary bash might not have happened at all. Marli was twenty, working for Amtrak, curious about SM but completely inexperienced. She found her entrance to the kink community through an ad in the Baltimore City Paper, which gave a number you could call. This led Marli to meetings of the DC Lesbarados, a woman's only group who met in the Dupont Circle basement apartment of Peg and Jackie, a lesbian couple central to the emerging Mid-Atlantic leatherdyke scene. They hosted discussions, demos, and dungeon parties. Glenda was there. So was Rose, already a Black Rose board member. "I was the only black female dominant in the area who wasn't a pro," said Marli. "I was used to being the only chip in the cookie". Marli got her apprentice training as a dominant among the Lesbarados and attended the meetings for several years, commuting on free Amtrak travel vouchers.

Fast forward to 1996. Marli was now working the front desk of the New Carrollton Ramada when Rose walked in, flanked by Jack McG and Greg L, for a meeting with the general manager. Marli didn't know Jack or Greg, but had gotten to know Rose very well, years earlier. Grabbing a quiet moment alone, the two women quickly discussed what Black Rose was trying to do, and what Marli could do to help.

After the meeting, Marli went back to her thoroughly perplexed GM, held his hand, calmed him down, and persuaded him that this extremely bizarre event idea, might make tons of business sense for the hotel. Leave them to me, Marli reassured her boss. And so, Marli proceeded to draft the event contract and serve as the hotel liaison throughout the event and its preparation. Her boss never suspected that his Right-Hand-Woman was actually Our-Inside-Man.

Working with Marli and the Ramada management staff taught us how to stage an event like BR10. They asked us to buy insurance and we figured out how to do it. Lucky for us, we already had the actuarial expertise of a brilliant insurance executive and Black Rose club member I will call Craig. Craig is the first actuarial to figure out how to insure alternative sexuality events. Part of it was being honest with the insurance company about what we were up to, without going into embarrassing detail. Craig claims he described BR10 to underwriters as "alt-sex", and when they asked what that actually meant, he said "Think gay" and the questions pretty much stopped. Later, underwriters told him that based on his descriptions, SM seemed less risky than sky-diving, scuba or big game hunting. Another big part of it was maintaining a deliberately low profile. It was Craig who insisted we call the event BR10, a nice anonymous corporate-sounding acronym, certainly when compared to the far more suggestive "Black Rose" that could prompt unwanted questions. "The first thing underwriters do", said Craig, "is go to your website. And I didn't want them punching Black Rose into a search engine." We followed all of Craig's suggestions, and the policy went through.

Marli also suggested we hire real officers from the Prince George's County Police Department as a security detail. They were friends of friends and this was her pitch: "You will get to see white people naked doing freaky sex stuff". We followed Marli's suggestions and hired one officer for the daytime, and three for both Friday and Saturday nights. Befriending the police was smart, and great outreach too - not only for our event - but to train up a cadre of officers who now had some practical field knowledge of what SM was and wasn't. One policewoman admitted, after the training session, to having believed that SM was just partner abuse with better press, until she got a guided tour of the dungeon and our custom designed sensitivity training course.

That's right! We developed sensitivity training for the police officers and Ramada staff working the event. Marli, Greg, and Rose put together a thirty-minute talk to prepare them for the idea of nudity, people walking each other on leashes, consensual floggings, happy masochism and all sorts of unknown unknowns. A question was raised about what housekeeping should do if they entered a room and found…oh let's say a hotel guest tied to the bed. "Clean around them", was the consensus decision after some discussion took place. We also covered vendors and what the items they might see being sold like dildos and whips. And the effort paid off - the Ramada staff came to see us as a responsible, well-behaved bunch, of folks, even if we did have peculiar personal tastes.

Next thing, Rose and Jack decided was to incorporate a new business entity, "BR10" as a non-profit educational events organization. The intention was to provide legal protection for individual BR board members and event managers should the event run into trouble.

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The Team

Rose and Jack were chosen as co-chairs pretty much unanimously. Each of them had more than eight years' experience on the board of coordinators, and as I have shown already, were seen by most as informal co-presidents of the club.

The cochairs were assisted by a cadre of so called "Event Captains". Here is a run through of the senior staff:

Chris F, who was already Treasurer for Black Rose, was to handle finances for the big event as well. A tough looking lesbian with a peroxide blond crewcut, and a black leather run vest, she was usually the first-person Black Rose newcomers met when they walked through our door on Tuesday nights.

Boomer, a fit, forty-year-old with thick glasses and a thicker mustache was Captain of Registration. He had been in the DC kink scene for a while, but was a newcomer to Black Rose leadership.

Greg and Lori, co-owners of the Toybag ("erotic toys from exotic wood") were Co-Captains of Vending. A good-looking couple in their mid-thirties, it was their job to select the vendors, arrange the vendor floor, and oversee it during the weekend.

Big Mark came by his nickname honestly. A fifty-year-old Navy Veteran, he was six four and wide to match. He was Chief of Security, a role he had been performing informally for the club for years as a dungeon monitor, doorman, bouncer, and guy-who-clearly-could--impose-order-if-he-had-to.

Nurse Kristen (yes, an actual RN) was Chief of Medicine. She was a lovely person, a hardcore masochist, and Chris F's girlfriend, and submissive partner.

Vendela Zane was Chief Dungeon Monitor, a role she had been playing at a regular party in Southeast DC called The Crypt. She was 5-2, mid-twenties, bombshell beautiful, who dressed like a high-end dominatrix (which she was also). She was also a student at American University pursuing an MFA in printmaking.

Frazier was "Dungeon Master", a title of his own choosing (the program called him Captain of Dungeon Design and Construction). Frazier was a freelance building contractor who had attended his first Black Rose meeting a few weeks before his fiftieth birthday. Some say he modeled his breezy appearance, dress, and manner on the casual style of Magnum PI's Tom Selleck. By 1997, he had been building rock solid dungeon equipment for at least two years in support of the Crypt Parties, and was not only a member of Delta but the man in charge of their equipment inventory.

The program listed Dorson as "Transportation and Site Maintenance Captain" but according to him, his duties were pretty much the same as Frazier's. "Make it happen" was how Dorson summed up his official tasking.

Elizabeth S was "Editrix", producer of the BR10 program book, and other printed matter.

Kenneth Zane was double hatted as Food and Beverage Captain and Publicity and Advertising (the program lists him, erroneously, as head of "Publications and Advertising" presumably a glitch) Neither Ken or I could remember just why he was double hatted, but it may have been that he got roped in at the last second to fill in for a staff departure).

Lolita, Captain of Programming, was no teenage waif out of Nabokov. She was, to quote a fellow staffer "a raven haired, buxom woman with a thick but delightful New York accent and a perpetually amused smile." She was a leader in the New York scene - former board member of TES, and outreach officer of the Lesbian Sex Mafia. Lolita's "Predictions and Predilections" was a free weekly cyber newsletter that covered current events in the kink community. She knew everyone and had the fattest rolodex of anyone involved in BR10. Lolita, the only event captain from out of town, wore even more hats than Ken. She was Captain of Programming, the person responsible for assembling the slate of educators. She was also ringmaster/emcee for many of the special events, making my own job an easy one. And, being the owner of Exemplar Printing, in New York City she jumped in to help Elizabeth in getting the program book completed.

Nancy H, a charming brunette with the faintest Long Island accent, was Captain of Volunteering and ultimately wrangled more than 150 volunteers. Volunteers who gave over 15 hours of time were comped 100% of their registration. Those who gave 10-12 hours were given half-off. 6-8 hours of work earned a free t-shirt. An after event "thank you" party was held for all who had volunteered.

The program lists Bill R as Food Manager and his is the only name on the leadership team I can no longer put a face to. It was Ken, who got stuck doing food and beverage service all weekend, and he doesn't remember a Bill R. either. It's possible that he had to quit sometime after the program had been printed, but before the event itself.

I had the comparatively easy role of Captain of Special events. I was thirty-six, had been in the SM community for seven years and was in the middle of my second term on the board. I am neither a "joiner" not a "leadership team type", but after Chris F and Kristen lost their very expensive toybag in a car break in, I decided - pretty much on the spot - to hold a series of fundraisers to help them replace their inventory. This initiative drew the board's notice, and Jack, who had never paid me much attention before, approached me with a suggestion that I run for the board in the next election. I did and won a seat, beginning my brief career in leather leadership.

While the event production process was grinding its way forward, Rose was documenting everything. Later she would organize these notes and support documents into a second official Black Rose publication: The Black Rose Guide to Hosting a Leather Event. Published during the year after BR10 this handbook captured many of the lessons learned in staging the big event. Rose estimates she spent upward of 40 hours of effort getting it into shape. I relied heavily on my personal copy in putting together this piece.

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The Houghton Affair

About two years before BR10 was scheduled, the once infamous, now largely forgotten Houghton affair spring into being. Here's the story as it was relayed to us at the time. Steve and Selena Houghton (not their real names) were a couple from upstate New York who emerged into the national fetish scene in the spring of 1995 with the assertion that their children had been taken from them due to their involvement in SM. Championed by various prominent leatherfolk of the time, including Robert and Mary Dante, the Houghtons quickly became scene celebrities, traveling from SM club to SM club telling their convoluted tale, holding fundraisers and raising thousands for their supposed legal defense fund, while stubbornly refusing to answer any detailed questions about their case.

Despite the vagueness of their story, virtually all of the organized scene lined up behind the Houghton cause. "This will be our Stonewall!" declared one pillar of the SM community who really should have known better. "FREE THE HOUGHTON CHILDREN!" screamed ridiculous full-page ads in Sandmutopia Guardian, a previously solid journal of SM theory and practice (The illustrations showed Victorian-era images of saintly, sad eyed children in manacles and chains). In the Summer of 1996, my first task as a new board member was to draft the memo clarifying that Black Rose would be declining participation in fundraising for the Houghton cause until we could better corroborate their story. Here is the piece (edited for brevity) that ran in our nationally distributed newsletter, Petal and Thorn.

In a recent net posting, Robert Dante of "Boudoir Noir" detailed a shocking incident of concern to all in the leather community: A couple in upstate New York relieved of custody of their children because of their SM interests. A strong grassroots effort has emerged in the SM community to raise money to defray their court costs and living expenses. The current issue of Prometheus includes an impassioned call to arms to rally behind this couple. The Black Rose board of directors has elected to decline participation in this effort for now, and this article is an attempt to explain why.

The story goes like this. The Steve and Selena Houghton (both pseudonyms) are private SM practitioners with no previous contact with the SM community. A former roommate, with an unspecified axe to grind, breaks into their house, into their locked SM stash, steals a videotape of them playing and leaves. Inviting the Houghton's daughter to join him, he takes the tape to a nearby Radio Shack and plays it for her. The Houghtons are then arrested , stripped of custody and now face court charges, for being unfit parents. They have lost their home, jobs, and in an effort to defray court costs they turned to Robert Dante of Boudoir Noir, who has spearheaded the drive to raise money in the SM community. Fearing social stigmatization, the "Houghtons" have elected to keep their identities private. Even their attorneys have chosen to remain anonymous.

A number of peculiarities in this story emerge at once. Illegally obtained evidence being used in court? A star witness guilty of burglary, trespassing, and exposing a minor to obscene materials? The editorial tone of Dante's posts slant sharply in the favor of the Houghtons, while remaining strangely vague on many details…. These questions could be easily be put to rest, by the Houghtons, but strangely they have continued to refuse any independent corroboration. While Black Rose fully understands the desire for privacy, after being arrested, charged, losing their house and kids, one questions what privacy they feel they have left to protect…. Other questions exist: Why have the Houghtons elected to be tried separately? Do their charges stem from the video, or from other, yet unspecified acts. And since when did defense attorneys demand anonymity, out of fear of being associated with the clients they defend? (Anyone remember OJ?) If the Houghtons are law abiding citizens and good parents being unfairly persecuted by a rogue cop, well that's the Spanner scenario. But what if they are guilty of something serious and their SM interests are incidental to their legal and financial situation?

Twenty thousand dollars have already been raised for a couple about whom we know next to nothing. Prior to their arrest they were unaffiliated with our community. They now face criminal charges involving children whose circumstances remain vague and troubling. In spite of their stated financial difficulties, they have been enthusiastic and wildly successful fund-raisers, convincing many well-meaning members of our community that they deserve patronage, while remaining ominously stubborn in withholding the documentation that would prove the validity of their cause. Why?

The Black Rose exists to illuminate, entertain and protect its contributors. We have a nine-year history of fiscal contribution to worthy causes (annual contributions to Whitman Walker, sponsorship of candidates for leather pageants, assistance for local leather groups in need, etc.). We too, share a dream for a society free of sex-based persecution, but our current doubts about this particular case prevent us from joining in, just yet. This is not meant to disparage those already supporting the Houghton cause, nor does it mean that future support is impossible, but the secrecy shrouding this affair leaves open the possibility that the defendants have more to hide than they are letting on, or we as donors would find acceptable. If it should turn out that the Houghtons are less deserving and less innocent than their defenders believe, a terrible, possible national scale embarrassment to leather communities everywhere could be the result. The Houghtons themselves should clear this up, if only to provide long overdue proof that their cause is indeed a valid one. If they are as innocent as they claim, they have nothing to fear, and greater support to look forward to. While we feel empathy for anyone in hardship, that empathy alone is not enough for us to provide support blindly, regardless of what generosity others have chosen to show. We hope no one will come to regret it. For our part, we feel it is the "Houghtons," not us, who must extend trust when asking for our financial support.

In the years since, it has become clear that the "Houghtons" had been garden-variety, all-American, grifters raking in anything they could get, any way they could get it. Sandmutopia eventually published a grudgingly worded acknowledgement that the mystery couple had broken off contact with them, and had vanished without so much as a howdy-doo. Their final take in charity is estimated at around 24 thousand dollars. But during the year leading up to BR10 the passion for the Houghtons in the leather community had been white hot. We even earned a harsh editorial in the NLA newsletter from Titleholder Mary Dante. And we were worried that the leather community might punish us for our intransigence by boycotting our event and staying home.

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The Great Disclave Flood

And then there was the Disclave incident. Disclave was an annual Science Fiction Conference that had been hosted in the DC area every year since 1950, and over Memorial Day Weekend, 1997, it was staged in the New Carrollton Ramada, for its sixth consecutive time. This time it ended in calamity, and SM had played a role in the meltdown.

Shortly after 5 a.m. on Sunday morning, some of the Disclave guests on the fourth-floor, trying to get their SM freak on, tied someone's hands overhead using the ceiling fire sprinkler as a hardpoint. Sure enough, the sprinkler head broke, alarms sounded, and a deluge of water poured down upon the whole fourth floor, forcing a temporary evacuation of the hotel (Mistress Mikey who was herself in the middle of a long-term bondage scene, had to roll her partner out of the hotel on a gurney). Many guest rooms, the lobby, and the general manager's office were drenched.

The flooding of Disclave 41 became something of a local legend in the sci-fi community, and is joked about to this day. Someone even wrote a commemorative poem about it.

Don't hoist folks to the sprinkler head
It isn't built to hold them
You need a good strong frame instead
To tie them up and scold them
You'll tear it loose from its supports
And change the game to water sports
Don't be desperate, don't be dumb
 while looking for anchorpoint
To hang your baby from.
mind your manners - Whatever rings your bell
But PLEASE don't flood
the Con hotel

The flood of '97 brought the whole Disclave convention to a watery end. (Wikipedia lists its status as "defunct.") And, it took Rose and Jack a great many words to assure the Ramada hotel manager that nothing like that would happen on their watch during BR10.

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The Leatheratti

There would be two big draws to the event: The dungeon and the educational opportunities. Well talk about the dungeon in a moment, but for now I want to discuss the educational offerings of the event. This was Lolita's area. She knew everyone and had the fattest rolodex of anyone on BR10 staff.

The educators were a mix of local talent, and rock stars in the world of kinky sex. Of the 99 names slotted as presenters (this, including emcees of the SM games) I counted 44 DC/Baltimore locals, and 55 out of owners. The 67 presentations to be staged over the weekend were a nice mix of basic and advanced scenes. Hands-on workshops included Vaginal Fisting, Anal Play, and Beating Ass. Single-tails were a comparatively new thing in 1997; but there was so much interest that Lolita scheduled two different classes at different times to make sure everyone who wanted to could fit a least one of them in. Rope bondage was so popular that Lolita scheduled four separate workshops. Niche scenes like "Feet! Feet! Feet!", "SM Spirituality", "Cock and Ball Torture" and a two-part class on feminizing makeup for men "Creating the Perfect Face" taught by Lady Arial, a prodomme/activist and Black Rose leader from the early days of the club. Lolita got not one, but two different proposals for presentations on corseting, so Lolita tasked the two of them, Autumn and Sharian L, to collaborate on a single workshop with both of them presenting together.

There was a track on relationships: ("How to find an SM Partner", "Long Term Relationships", "Polly Relationships", "Turning a Cyber Relationship into Real time", and "Myths and realities of the 24/7 Relationship") and a track emphasizing Leather Leadership Skills (The first LLC had taken place just a few months before and leadership issues were on everybody's mind: Classes included "Lobbying", "Current Issues in Our Community", "SM and the Law", "Leadership Skills", "Building Coalitions", "Effective Activism", and "Organizing a Presentation.")

There was even a so-called "Cyber Track" dedicated to the something that in 1997 was still brand new: the internet. An IT center would be open all weekend. "Come meet our Cyber Wizards…", read a blurb in the Program Book, "…and check out our setup: A Power Mac, A Pentium, and a PC Laptop accompanied by projectors and screens. We will be online and have X rated CDs" A "Cyber Women's Dinner" was scheduled for Friday night allowing women who had met online to connect in real life. There were also several classes of the internet-for-idiots fare ("Learn how to get online and what to expect from an Internet Service Provider" promised one). Big Mark had the temerity to call his presentation "How to be Erotic Online."

Lolita had also contacted member of the then current leatheratti and invited some of her partners in crime to attend. Midori was a prodomme out of San Francisco, who was also a writer and prominent teacher of SM arts. Vi Johnson was a writer I had grown to love in the pages of Some Women, an anthology of writings by women involved in SM and kink. She was also an actual practicing vampire and reigning queen of the Vampire community (yes there is such a thing). Erotic photographer Mark Chester was another SM rockstar, who I had tracked down the last time I was in San Fransisco and from whom I had bought a pricey (but gorgeous!) photograph. He was coming too.

In "The Program Directors Final Report", an Appendix in Rose's Leather Event Primer, Lolita describes how she assembled her program of presenters and presentations "with no real budget." When Lolita learned that Raelyn Gallina, master of body piercing, branding and scarification, was planning an East coast tour, she got her to juggle the dates to overlap with BR10 and present a workshop on branding. When Michael Horowitz agreed to attend, Lolita knew to suggest he present on Mummification, one of his signature scenes. When she learned from the dungeon crew that Delta would be providing equipment, she got Harold Cox to teach "Interrogation" and Bob Reite for "Electricity." Review of the vendor list alerted her that Sarah Lashes (an expert flogger) and Hilton Flax (a caning expert) would both be in attendance, and Lolita put them both to work as presenters.

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The Registrations

The March/April 1997 Issue of our newsletter, The Petal and Thorn, announced the event. Contributors who registered by July 31, paid sixty-five bucks (ten dollars more for non-contributors). After October 15, the price bumped up to a hundred. Hotel rooms varied by size but averaged around ninety dollars. This meant that the BR10 weekend in the host hotel could be enjoyed for under four hundred dollars.

When the internal discussions began, I recall us estimating 300 guests would come (Marli remembers initial talks assuming only 200). The first people to sign up were Black Rose members who actually attended our meetings, and folks from the Phoenix Society, Black Rose's sort-of-sister-club in nearby Baltimore. Since Lolita was one of the event organizers, and there were a number of us who had attended TESFEST and Leather Leadership in New York, we had a lot of New Yorkers returning the favor, and arranging to head south to join us. There were also folks from Philly (many of us had ventured north to visit SM venues like The Tannery and Behind the Scenes) and points south like Richmond, and Raleigh. There were also a surprising number of folks from West Virginia because there were several groups (I recall WHIP being one of them) whose members frequently attended Black Rose.

Event Cochair Rose V, remembers the moment we hit 500 registrants as a watershed, but the registrations just kept coming in. When the Ramada sold out, we turned to the nearby Best Western as an overflow hotel. When the Best Western manager heard that we wanted to expand our room block, he quickly boosted the rate. We sold that one out too. In future festivals we would include the nearby Days Inn and Red Roof Inn in the event planning, but for that first year it wasn't necessary. A full eight hundred ended up registering before the weekend arrived.

During the week prior to BR10, we had a registration packet stuffing party in the Ramada ballroom, probably on Tuesday instead of the usual lecture/presentation. There was a massive assembly line with something like 20 individual stations, each one with a thingy that had to go in the packet. At one end was a huge stack of manila envelopes with printed labels bearing the names of registrants (another herculean effort, presumably handled by Boomer and his staff earlier that week) A single empty manilla envelope would get handed down the line, and at each station a new item was inserted before it was handed to the next station, then the next, until the envelope contained everything it was supposed to. We did twelve hundred packets over two hours, eight hundred for those already registered and another four hundred for potential day pass recipients.

The crown jewel of the reg packet was the gorgeous 36-page program booklet providing a guide to the entire event. It gave the event schedule, descriptions for each of the classes and special events, bios for the staff and educational presenters, the dungeon rules and a map of the dungeon, and a ten-year history of the club itself penned by Jonathan who had attended Nancy Millers very first meeting. Elizabeth, our Editrix, and the principal author was generous with praise for the help she received from Lolita and from my good friend David Z, who had publishing experience and "showed up out of nowhere" to help.

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Part II "There is hope for this city and for me": The Big Weekend

Thursday, Nov 13, 1997

Hilde remembers the weekend happening during a "cold November." Guests started arriving Thursday night and it felt like a family reunion. Lots of hugs, lots of kisses, even a few tears.

Earlier that day, two sets of drivers set out to gather dungeon equipment, each in a sixteen-foot U haul truck (the largest you could drive without a CDL license). Marc and Phillip drove one truck; Dorson and Pat piloted the other. Together they crisscrossed the DMV visiting friends who had agreed to lend equipment. They visited Jack's house in Woodbridge, The TPE dungeon, and Robert's private dungeon, both in Frederick Maryland, and Judy's dungeonized home in South Arlington VA (she closed up her prodomme business for the BR10 weekend so she could lend her equipment to the effort, and teach). They visited Phoenix Society and Playhouse Studios in Baltimore ("Carrying those two medical tables down the stairs from the third floor of Playhouse was a Thing," reported Marc). Our friends from Delta provided their own muscle in bringing 25 pieces from their storage unit in Oxford, PA. A dozen other individuals, including Rose, Jack, Big Mark and Thomas all brought their own privately owned pieces. The final count was 110 pieces which may well have made the BR10 dungeon the largest SM ever assembled to date.

As the equipment was arriving, Frazier's dungeon crew began assembly and set-up of the massive play area. Lolita, exaggerating ever so slightly, observed that most of the dungeon set-up crew were crossdressers. "Including Frazier!" It was one hell of a dungeon. Frazier and his crew had designed the playspace to include the following specialty areas:

  • an entire waxing area stocked with tables, candles and a plastic drop cloth floor.
  • a scaffolding section, all borrowed from Delta, for overhead suspension bondage.
  • A whip range dedicated to the usage of longer, single tail whips.
  • An age play area complete with a school room, crayon wall art, and children's toys
  • a stunning medical area with three OB/GYN tables, bright lighting, and a white linoleum floor.
  • A display of Jack's personal metal bondage collection: 250 labelled pieces from the 1800's to the present.

The rest of the dungeon was filled with more general-purpose pieces of dungeon - spanking benches, St. Andrews crosses, and overhead beams. In addition, spread throughout the dungeon, there were six different safe-sex/cleaning supply stations, each equipped with drinking water, condoms, latex gloves, and antiseptic sprays for cleaning dungeon equipment between uses, chux, and paper towels.

The smaller room (4000 sq ft) was walled off from the larger play area, and outfitted as a social area with tables and chairs and a cold cuts and cookies buffet. The social area also contained displays of the Kinky Craft Show, the BR-Women's Silent Auction and the sado-erotic art show. Several vendors were located in the social area as well. It was a nice place to take a break from the play dungeon, relax with a drink or snack from the midnight buffet and chat with friends. And yes, the entire dungeon was non-smoking.

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Friday, Nov 14, 1997

Marli remembers giving a dungeon tour to the Ramada staff on Friday afternoon ("everyone's eyes were popping out") while Frazier's sonorous voice echoed throughout the EC as he oversaw the assembly efforts.

On Friday around lunchtime, Vendela, head dungeon monitor of the Edge parties in SE DC, gave a training session to the twenty or thirty volunteers who would patrol the dungeon as safety monitors. This was the first dungeon monitoring training that Black Rose ever held, and no documentation seems to have survived. However, Rose's "Leather Event Guide" does include a Dungeon Safety after-report that reads suspiciously like a DM instructional handout. Marc B who was a BR10 Dungeon Monitor and remembers Vendela's class covering the basics: Don't intrude in a scene unless there seems to be a genuine consent or safety issue, keep people from busting into scenes they are not a part of, and be civil if and when you need to intervene.

Registration opened at 3pm, and proceeded without a hitch. Each attendee, upon entering the lobby was directed to the registration desk where they signed in and picked up a legal size manilla envelope packed full of schwag: Your nametag on a lanyard; one coupon for a metal BR10 pin and another for a commemorative t-shirt; condoms; lube; promotional materials for other leather events; discount coupons for some of the vendor; and a stash of "BR Bucks": funny money to be used in the "Top and Bottom auction" later that night (BR Bucks were also given out with any purchase from the vendor floor, and could also be purchased with real money). And last but not least, each reg-packet included Elizabeth's beautiful program.

The Vendor floor opened a half hour later and was stunning - a high end department store for kinky consumer goods. There were artisanal whips and floggers (and the fragrance was like a tannery in heaven), gleaming rubber hoods with breathing tubes, tit clamps with little weights, cherry red ball gags, chain-mail tank tops, lacquered rattan canes, spools of rope in a rainbow of colors, fur-lined handcuffs, vinyl chaps, steel enforced corsets and bustiers. The thirty odd vendors were a mix of local and out of town businesses: Paul C Leathers; JT's Stockroom; Stormy Leather Corsets; Purple Passion (an SM shop in New York, owned by our friend Hilton Flax); According to Marli, the House of Harlot had come all the way from London, England with their super high end fetish clothing ($300 for a skirt).

Local vendors included Richard S, a former Black Rose board-member who had a table for 'Girdlebound" his business selling fashion undergarments. The Toybag was Greg and Lori's business selling beautiful, handmade lacquered paddles and floggers with hardwood handles (their motto was "erotic toys from exotic woods"). "Night Dreams" was a sexshop near Tyson's Cornerr in Virginia, that sold "Marital aids" including cuffs, strap-ons, and rather expensive floggers. Montague, a local toymaker who would later serve on the Black Rose board of directors, had a table selling his affordably priced flaggers, canes and impact toys. And directly across from Montague was Vendela, our head safety monitor, who was selling her SM themed prints.

The bar near the back of the hotel was full for pretty much the entire weekend. I remember BJ the pretty, blonde bartender that everybody had a crush on, gamely making banter with hundreds of kinky-dressed kinky-acting folks, the first fetish event she had ever worked.

At six thirty, a full seventy women trooped across the street for the "Cyber-Women's Dinner" at the Hunan Feast where they had the restaurant and its all-you-can-eat buffet to themselves. Many of them were meeting in person for the first time.

A big canvas banner bearing the Tenth Anniversary logo had been fabricated by Debbie and Michael Goodman and hung at the bottom of the steps leading down into the dungeon, so it was the first thing people saw as they entered.

Seeing the dungeon Friday afternoon: still being assembled and empty of guests had been an enormous jolt. Seeing it later, thronged with people was an even bigger one. It was an almost hallucinatory experience; like walking onto the set of an S&M themed movie like Cruising or Exit to Eden, but much, MUCH bigger. I remember specifically, that if you stood at one end of the long dungeon, you could not see clear to the other side. Submissives of all genders were being walked on leash, women with their breasts out, dudes with their junk exposed. Dominant women were dressed in their spectacular best, boots, high heels, bustiers and perfect make up. Glenda and her leatherdyke sisters in FIST were there too, dressed for comfort in Jeans, Boots and Leather Vests: butch as all hell. Every once in a while, I saw a clutch of Vampires with their porcelain tooth caps (prior to BR10 I didn't know they existed.) There must have been around twenty, 'cause they kept appearing all weekend long.

One of those present was Abby. No wide eyed newbie, she had spent years in the Boston and New York scenes and came to know many of the key players in the world of kink. Later she married Robert L, and moved to his ranch in Frederick Maryland, where they constructed an opulent home dungeon (virtually all of which they had loaned to the BR10 effort). She and Robert started throwing weekend long “immersion” parties with guests not only from the local scene but also from Abby’s old haunts of New York and Boston, thus bringing together different networks of friends who might never have met otherwise, and the sharing of knowledge and expertise. Without these friendships that were born at Robert and Abby’s events, and the circles of influence and experience they produced, it’s possible that BR10 might never have happened at all.

But Abby was unprepared for the emotional wallop the BR dungeon would hit her with. When I talked to her about it recently, she described it as an immediate, gut impulse to fall to her knees and give thanks. She used words like "lifechanging," "cosmic," and "epiphany" and a realization of her fellow kinksters that "We are a people..

It's hard to imagine anyone less like Abby than Rudy, who was also attended on Friday night. Rudy had been harboring kink fantasies his whole life, but he had never so much as attended an SM munch before walking up to the BR10 registration desk, cash in hand. He had seen the ad in the Washington City Paper, and decided "what the hell". And the experience of being surrounded by kinky folk hit him like a Mack truck. "I had always assumed the things I wanted to do were illegal" sez Rudy. To find hundreds of people attending classes, teaching classes, and actually doing this kind of stuff took him to an altered state. To my own personal amusement, the ginormous dungeon left Rudy completely unimpressed, he had never seen even a tiny dungeon so the Herculean scale of the playspace barely registered. What did blow him sideways was the expressions on people's faces: "ordinary looking people, looking so happy…and that many people looking that happy could only be a good thing." Nurse Kristen remembers him attending her fisting demo and coming up to her afterwards, his eyes brimming with tears "I didn't even know that fisting was possible" Rudy marveled almost thirty years after the fact. "And the connection between Chris and Kristen….It was just so beautiful."

The big kick starter on Friday night was the Top and Bottom auction hosted by Frazier and Lolita (Marli remembers this as Lolita's first and last BR appearance in a corset). Frazier, had been hosting similar auction/ice breakers at the Edge, a popular dance club that hosted monthly SM play parties. Frazier used a similar application to the one he had developed at the Edge: fields for the name of the auctionee, their likes, dislikes, limits, and things they'd like to try. When filled out, each one served as an informal contract to play. About thirty guests submitted their papers to be auctioned off as tops or bottoms in exchange for the "BR Bucks" that had been circulated in the registration packets, and distributed to shoppers of the vendor floor. With Lolita and Frazier as auctioneer/emcees, the sales went briskly, connections were made, and scenes were made to happen that wouldn't have happened otherwise. Only one guy attracted no bidders at all, and he was a dominant whose application stipulated that he would only play with skinny girls. "I got lucky" wrote Wendy in a message she posted later online, "Len and Michele bought Ken W for me. If I lived closer, I would be his total whip slut." Jonathan remembers getting sold as part of a parcel with Dungeon Equipment U-Hauler Phillip. First time they ever met.

Of all the things to impress me on Friday night, I remember the toybags. In SM porn, you see people in fetishy outfits, brandishing fetishy toys, doing fetishy things. In real SM there is luggage. At any party, there is always a bedroom or hallway piled high with gym bags and carry-ons packed with X rated stuff. I was outside the dungeon when it opened Friday night, and it looked like a boarding gate in the world's kinkiest airport. And ALL of it had to get trundled down that staircase - some of it by guests in really, really high heels. So, yeah, on all three nights, the load-in was a real schlep.

But here are some things I do remember:

  • There was a pair of lovely ladies suspended from one of the overhead beams from Delta, their collars linked with a double snap-hook, and they were making out while each of them was being flogged from behind by someone else.
  • I remember watching a suspension bondage scene where Mindy, a slender blonde woman who loved bondage, had a panic attack and her top cut her out of her confinement, the only time I've seen that done.
  • Something else I had never seen and have never seen since was a top in full fencing uniform complete with mask and regulation foil slicing away at the back of a tall brunette bound to an x frame cross.
  • And I remember the wide-eyed-deer-in-the-headlights gaze of our poor DMs, trying to monitor a hundred and ten scenes at once. Cos how exactly do you monitor a top in full fencing gear carving up his sweetie with a regulation foil?
  • All kinds of bodies, all kinds of outfits, in all kinds of combinations, doing all kinds of things. And happy screams echoing through the night.

Scott M had memories of his own to share. Like whipmaster Bob Deegan in the dungeon handing out whippings like candy, with a line of people waiting for their turn, Bob, stood on his right leg, left foot tucked behind his right knee like the guy in Jethro Tull, grinning from ear to ear, as he executed the same side-to-side figure-eight whipping upon one person, and the next, and the next. Scott remembers specifically a large, tan spanking bench, where each recipient bent over to receive their lashes while the others waited.

There was another scene Scott remembers getting a lot of talk over the weekend. It was a couple he didn't know. She was tall, medium build, pretty, and wearing what Scott described as a "slave-dress like in Story of O". He doesn't remember much about the guy, aside from the fact that he removed the woman's clothing, handcuffed her wrists to an X frame cross, then had a nice long scene with her: flogged her, spanked her, engaged in some nipple play. Her facial expressions were amazing and the scene was white hot. But what happened next had people talking all weekend. The guy unlocked the woman's hands, handed her a pair of glasses, which she put on as she got herself dressed. And then they started really, really making out. Hands everywhere and the woman taking more and more control until she was stripping him naked, locking his hands into restraints, locking him onto the cross. And before you could say "Venus in Furs" she was spanking him, cracking the whip, making him say "yes ma'am no ma'am". People were freaking out. Switching was not yet a commonly acknowledged thing, at least not switching in two back-to-back scenes, and people were genuinely upset and talked about it all weekend.

And Friday drew to a close, everything seemed to have gone fine. The dungeon never felt crowded, even when thronging with close to a thousand guests (Frazier and his crew did move things around after the first night to improve the flow of foot traffic.) People would later report that cleaning supplies, water, snacks and soda had been available and in full supply. The DMs were visible, friendly, glad to answer questions, help with equipment, anything else that was needed. Only minor glitches surfaced over the weekend. Like parking. There was a car lot on roof of the EC, and a loop of road surrounding the hotel, but nowhere near enough to handle the demand. So, people parked in the Foodway store lot across 83rd Street, or street parked in the surrounding residential neighborhood.

Other issues were related to the aging hotel itself. I've already mentioned the musty smell of the EC, but some complained that the odor of mildew pervaded the entire hotel, possibly thanks to the Disclave downpour of a few months back. And one of the elevators tended to go offline, but even this served to stimulate conversation among strangers as they waited to get back up to their rooms, or to make it down to the lobby.

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Saturday, Nov 15, 1997

Breakfast in the cafeteria may be my fondest memory of the whole weekend. The entire place was filled with spectacular looking people noshing on perfectly ordinary breakfast fare: watery scrambled eggs, sausage links, and bad coffee. Yellow sunlight streamed in upon table after table of kinky folk happily chatting about God-knows-what with other kink-folk about stuff they could never ever have discussed in a real diner out there in the real world. Sissy girls were already in full drag. Pro-dommes were in full dungeon attire. There was also the opposite: people who usually looked amazing going plain in sweats and no makeup cos it was too damn early to get gussied up.

Apparently, news of our successful Friday night had spread throughout the local kink community. People who had been on the fence, decided by Saturday morning that they wanted in. I seem to remember eight hundred as the number of people who had registered as of Friday night. But because we offered cheaper day passes for just Saturday, we cracked the 1000 barrier on Saturday, finally topping out at 1241 attendees total.

When I wasn't needed elsewhere, I took classes. There were two different hands-on single-tail classes Ken taught one and Bob Degan taught the other. I missed Ken's talk but attended Deegan's and remember about 30 students at his single tail class. (The next year at BR98 there were about three times as many and Bob couldn't keep the grin off his face.) Marli who had to be strategic about her choice of classes to attend, and finally could make only room for one of them: the same Bob Deegan whip class I attended.

Melia, a "broke college student" who had shared a room in the Ramada with three other people (two of whom were total strangers) was instrumental in getting the Age Play section added to the dungeon, despite the fact that she does not consider herself "a little" per se (her own "age play persona: feels around 12). The Age Play corner was on the far side of the dungeon from the entrance next to the medical area but just adjacent to a classroom which they occasionally annexed for school scenes. They held court there through the weekend. Her partner in crime was Steven, not a little himself, but someone who enjoyed playing with them. Here's Melia on the BR10 weekend: "We had a Tea Party, a parade, a costume show… a whole program that went through the weekend" When I asked how many age players actually attended these activities, she answered, "Six or seven."

Special events, my appointed responsibility, were interspersed throughout the weekend. One of the biggest hits was the All Gender TransBeauty Contest which felt like a cross between Miss America and International Mr. Leather. The title of "Mr. BR10" was claimed by Leo (aka Kim) proving that a luscious femme could indeed be the baddest man. The "Ms. BR10 " title was given to Margaret (aka Charles) who was equally fabulous. Vendela named the winners and presented ribbons and beautiful shoulder sashes lovingly sewed by Nurse Kristen.

Also included under the Special Events umbrella, were the following:

  • A Metal Bondage Exploratorium (a carefully labeled exhibition of Jack's handcuff and shackle collection),
  • A Silent Auction conducted by the Black Rose Women for charity,
  • A Juried Show for the Crafters Guild (Greg's Special Interest Group for people who made or wanted to make SM toys), and
  • The BR Kennel Club Show, a human dog contest where Frazier spontaneously created his Junk Yard Dog persona by picking a noisy dogfight with the pooch to his right and thoroughly disrupting the proceedings for several hilarious minutes.

The BDSM games were also a hoot. We had a singletail contest in which contestants armed with whips must pop as many balloons as possible within a minute's time. We had a Bondage-in-a-bag contest: in which pairs of contestants were each given sack of miscellaneous stuff and one was had to use it to tie up his or her partner. The Ball Weight contest was particularly bonkers: each contestant snaps a tight leather thong around his junk, and then hooked it to a bucket which was filled incrementally with ballast. I don't remember exactly what we used - golf balls perhaps - but the image of weighted buckets swaying gently below severely extended scrotums remains etched upon my mind. As Captain of Special Events, I got to announce the winners.

Marli who was on the clock for most of the weekend, has a funny story about getting her clitoral hood pierced in between her two Saturday shifts. She had already told Rose that she wanted to get it done and asked for a recommendation. "Well if you wanted the BEST you need Raelyn," said Rose. "SEEEEEEEE???", she purred while tugging down her blouse down so Marli could see the scarified pattern Raelynn had left on her breast. When Marli heard that Raelyn was ACTUALLY IN THE HOTEL she begged Rose for an introduction. Rose took Marli by the hand and marched her straight to Raelyn's room. Marli volunteered to be pierced right there and then, but alas Raelyn had no Friday spots left, so they scheduled it for Saturday.

Raelyn was a Tantra practitioner and knew exactly what to do. Marli actually climaxed as the needle cut through and she shot a jet of hot cum all over Raelyn, and her own work uniform. She wriggled back into her panties and work skirt, and headed off to her second shift. But not before she showed it to two coworkers. "Can we touch it?" one of them asked. "NOOOO!" Said Marli, suddenly shy.

At 8pm Saturday Night, we gathered in the Ballroom for the Black Rose Tenth Anniversary Celebration. We started with a Parade of Colors honoring the other groups in attendance. Representatives in run vests, bearing club patches and carrying club banners filed in and announced themselves. A huge roar of approval went up from the crowd when the TES banner was carried in. We then recognized Nancy Ava Miller, founder of PEP DC (People Exchanging Power) - the club which would later become Black Rose, as well as some of the volunteers who helped out in the early days of the club. Michael Horowitz of GMSMA took the stage to thank Black Rose for its $500 contribution to the their Legal Defense (An intraclub pissing contest had developed between a member of the club and the board over photo rights. The wounds inflicted by this conflict would eventually prove fatal to the organization.)

Greg and Lori announced that Craft Show winners would receive their ribbons, cash awards, and trophies (exquisite, lacquered wooden dildos handcrafted by Greg) in the dungeon at midnight. Everyone entering the dungeon got a People's Choice award ballot so they could vote. (Laura Goodwin's slave/husband, Bruce, won both First Prize as well AND the People's Choice First Prize for his gorgeous, handcrafted leather toy chest.) Wendy named the Kennel Club Winners and presented ribbons. "Buttons" (AKA Missy) won Best-Of-Show.

As full disclosure I did not get laid at BR10. I don't even remember playing. Frazier, my roommate for the event, was far savvier than me and actually arranged a date and kicked me out on Saturday night so I ended up unsure of where I would spend the night. At some point in the evening, Jack sought me out and gave me a sort of apology. He said that all event captains were supposed to have rooms of our own, and that Frazier and I being bunked together was a mistake. He offered me the couch in his spacious multi-room suite where he, Lolita, and other members of his family were staying. And that is in fact where I slept. But here are a few memories I do have about Saturday night, in no particular order:

  • Femcar and Phantom, headed together towards the dungeon, Phantom walking, Femcar beside him, but on the ground, rolling along on the carpeted floor. I don't remember if her hand and legs were tied but her long, black hair was flop, flop, flopping everywhere with each roll.
  • A whole crowd of folks, mostly from TES, each of them stripped to the waist, each of them happily whipping the person in front of them in a great, big ring. "Topless tops topping Topless tops!" people were shouting, amid much laughter.
  • Vampires: Sometimes there were three or four walking by in a clutch with their goth clothing, androgynous makeup, and sharpened porcelain capped teeth.
  • At one point I saw five uniformed cops and at least one policewoman strolling leisurely through the dungeon. Uniforms perfect. Shoes polished to a gleam. Taking it all in while grinning from ear to ear. And please note, we had a maximum of three officers patrolling the entire hotel at any time, so clutches of five cops in one place meant that our security officers were inviting their buddies-in-blue to come by for a peak at the action.

And, as one of the guests pointed out in an email sent later to the organizers: "at 1:00 am on Saturday night with 110 play stations to choose from - YOU *DID* INDEED HAVE TO WAIT for an open one!!!"

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Sunday, Nov 16, 1997

Sunday Morning came way too fast. Rodney, Food and Beverage Director for the Ramada commented to Marli as they traversed the lobby together: "You sure seem to know a lot of these people." Marli played dumb, and later snuck away to the vending floor, where she bought a deep purple corset with black piping from Stormy Leather.

At Ten AM (Way, way too early after a late Saturday night), I gave the first of my two talks: Eros, Fetish and SM in the Arts. It was an old school slideshow of Sad-erotic art, covering everything from Hieronymus Bosch, to John Willie, to Mapplethorpe, to Thom of Finland, to Barbara Nitke who actually attended herself. Lots of laughter and good questions from the crowd. My second and final class (SM-Spirituality given with Harry Stock of the Metropolitan Church) was at 2:00 PM and drew a surprisingly large turnout in one of big, downstairs rooms.

When I ask people what they remember most about BR Ten, many of them bring up the Equestrian Extravaganza given by "TEC at TES" which stood for The Equestrian Club at The Eulenspiegel Society. This was the first demonstration of Pony Play that I ever saw. Nine handlers and their human horses participated in the games. Susan, who would later become Frazer's girlfriend (and a co-owner of Camp Crucible) had come to BR10 solely to watch the pony show. She had always had an almost mystical connection with horses, and in college had directed a production of Peter Schaffer's "Equus."

Lolita did a dazzling job of emceeing the event, and sometime afterwards, wrote a genuinely funny piece about it. Here's an excerpt:

A late entry (written on the back of the Humiliation presentation handout) was Wendy of Elmwood Stables owned by Phantom. He described her as about the most useless breed of horse known, but good for breeding; her best uses "as if it could" are "pulling a plow and keeping space occupied." Wendy won a shiny new metal bucket for "Most Dung Left on The Race Track.

There were lotsa laughs to be sure, but Lolita's prose doesn't capture what I remember the most: the solemnity of it. The overwhelming otherness of the experience. By this point, I had been part of the community for about eight years I had never seen anything like it. And it wasn't just me. People were just plain gobsmacked. Sharrian L, who had presented earlier that day on corsetry, commented on the impact of the sheer number of people who were in pony/animal space at the same time. Sure, there were times when the crowd was roaring with laughter, but there were other moments when you could have heard a pin drop. The workmanship of the pony tack alone was enough to command awe, and the concentration of the ponies seemed total, almost a state of hypnosis. Jeni, who now shares my home, claims this was the first time the two of us ever locked eyes. She says she was watching with her mouth hanging open and noticed me watching her, and cracking up at her state of awe, which embarrassed the daylights out of her and set her laughing too. Here she is talking about the pony show: "There was one pony girl I kind of zeroed in on. She was wearing a fancy harness, her chin was up, and she had a bit in her mouth. And I remember how proud she looked…kind of objectified, but also kind of digging it. The audience was huge and it felt like she was showing off, for her Master and the Crowd." Jeni walked up to her at the break and started "getting a little toppy" talking to her, complimenting her Trainer about what a good ponygirl she was. The pony girl listened to all but did not respond.

The last item on the BR10 agenda was the afterglow party in the bar at four o'clock. I think that's when we took down the canvas banner with the BRX logo which had presided over the dungeon for the past three days and laid it flat for our guests, volunteers, and event staff to sign. Here is a sampling:

  • Happy Birthday, BR! - Connie from TES;
  • BR10 was the best - School Girl Missy;
  • Beats playing cards!! (Signature illegible);
  • Thanks for the memories. Terrific! - Frank and MaryAn, Chicago;
  • Y'all oughta have a tenth anniversary party more often! Very well done! - Amnesia 775, Don, Barbara and Bella;
  • What a party! - Glenda/Playhouse;
  • Onward to another 10 years - Leather Bob Grimes;
  • Roses are black, Honey is Sweet, But BR10, Can't be Beat - Honey;
  • BR10 Sucked (My highest compliment) - Vampire Guy;
  • Thanks for giving me a place to be who I am - Sharon;
  • A weekend to remember for a lifetime - Greg L;
  • There is hope for this city and for me - Rick P.

My contribution read "Chris M partied here".

Eventually the banner was folded up and shipped off to the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago where it had a wall to itself for many, many years.

Throughout Sunday, people were leaving, and large clutches of kinksters in airport attire with luggage filled the lobby commiserating with friends. Lots of hugs, lots of kisses, even a few tears.

Frazier's dungeon crew started the tear down Sunday afternoon and completed their work over the next 24 hours. Marc and Phillip completed their equipment drop-off by Tuesday late. From the BR10 weekend on forward the pair of them became known collectively as Team U-Haul. They had a really funny, informative, presentation on saran wrapping that they did together and which I saw many times.

If any photos survive of the BR10 dungeon, I haven't found them. It was not even clear, as I began wading into the event documentation, exactly who the staff photographer had been. Turns out it was Robin, an emeritus board member from the early nineties who would be staff photographer at future events. Robin recalled handing in her BR10 photographs to the board of directors after the event. I was on that board, and don't recall seeing any pictures being passed around. I would have imagined they went to the two cochairs, but Rose says she didn't receive them either. Perhaps Jack claimed them, but even after the sale of his house and the distribution of his estate they have not surfaced, and I presume them to be lost.

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By almost every measure, BR10 was a rousing success. According to a business report presented at the 22 July 1998 meeting of the Black Rose board, the event netted an income of $90,952.06, against expenses of $57,057.44 for a total profit of $33,894.62. For the first time in its history, the Black Rose treasury was flush.

The Black Rose Women's SIG raised over $2000 for three charities - The Mautner Project for breast cancer research, The House of Ruth, a shelter for abused women, and The David Weinbaum Memorial Foundation which funds leather projects.

Nurse Kristen, Head Medical Officer of the event, reports a net total of zero dungeon injuries reported over the BR10 weekend. In fact, the only medical assistance she had to provide was to a dungeon setup volunteer who accidentally whacked his head on a large metal air duct in the EC, and was briefly knocked out cold.

Dungeon Monitoring also appeared to have gone well. Asking one dungeon monitor about her shift, I was told that the only persistent problem was the occasional drunk, getting too fresh with strangers, or stumbling into scenes in progress. Edwin N, another volunteer DM who worked the dungeon at BR10 remembers a couple he didn't know - a male top who giving one hell of a hard beating to a female bottom, harder than Ed was used to seeing around Black Rose socials, and she was screaming in what sounded like genuine distress. Eventually, Ed stepped forward and interrupted the scene saying something to the effect of "why don't you cool it a bit". The top's response was not particularly polite. He told Ed that this is how he and his girlfriend always played, they were obeying the posted rules, and would appreciate Ed mind his own damn business. The couple resumed playing and as Ed watched and heard the ongoing screams, he decided the gentleman had been right, and monitored the rest of his DM shifts with a lighter touch. Marc B, who was also a DM, reported that a New-York-SM-scene-big-shot had started doing needle play at a non-bloodplay station and got belligerent when asked to move his scene to where it properly belonged. As SM dungeon incidents go, this is fairly minor stuff.

According to my written sources, Jack was told by the Prince George's County Police that BR10 was, and I quote "…the best organized event ever held at the hotel." The Ramada management let us know we were welcome back any time. We had given them a sellout in November, usually a slow month and this was a big deal. The only complaint came from the Food and Beverage department because we had consumed much less alcohol than a comparable vanilla crowd might have (the old adage of "Kink Don't Drink" is a true fact). To offset this perceived shortfall, the Ramada upped our rate when we returned to do it again in 1998. Once again Marli would write and administer our contract. She would do it again in 1999. And the year after that.

More importantly it had been an amazing weekend for the people who were there. BR10 attracted SM practitioners and community veterans from across North America - even Europe. Hundreds of people returned to their hometowns with lecture handouts, copies of our How-to-Start-a-Leatherclub guide, and set about organizing their own local scenes in our image. And they had also had a blast, all but begging us for an encore performance next year, and vowing to return if we ever did it again.

We got a bunch of emails in the days after the event, virtually all of it positive. Theresa, writing from an aol.com address, said: I just wanted to tell you that I had an absolutely fabulous time this weekend. BR-10 surpassed anything I had anticipated. I met new friends, bought new toys, learned new ideas, and experienced new thrills. Within the parameters I have been allowed, the weekend could not have been any better. Christ, you even had vampires!

Author John Warren, of the Boston Dungeon Society BBS, wrote A great event put on by some very good people. I was also glad that we got a chance to "educate" some cops who are probably going to pass on their new information to colleagues.

Aliza (a pillar of the local munch scene, also known as Buglady) gave us a similar rave review: Perhaps the best part of it was just having so many like-minded people together in the same place. There was a pervasive sense of kinship, no matter what people's kinks and orientations. Just mind-blowing.

During her flogging workshop, Sarah Lashes, no scene rookie, said that she had never seen anything like what you accomplished here.

Bob said BR10 was the best event I have attended. The hosts were wonderful… and the good nature and warmth of the BR members shone through all weekend.

Some of the comments were downright hilarious Never attend a branding demo on an empty stomach. The smell of burned flesh makes you hungry, which is a truly disturbing sensation.

Turns out there was at least one area that had gone very poorly indeed: volunteers who had been fairly casual about showing up for their shifts. Nancy, Captain of Volunteering, had upwards of 150 volunteers to keep track of, and, in our conversations about BR10, remembered spending much of the weekend stalking the hotel, hunting for shirkers who had for whatever reason failed to show up for their appointed rounds. "When the twelve-noon shift started, it started in nineteen different places" Nancie laughed, a quarter century after the fact, "and I couldn't be everywhere at once." Next year, each department would be responsible for arranging their own volunteer staffing.

The volunteer crunch meant that some of our more dutiful attendees were stuck working all weekend long. Like Ken. Not even he remembers how he wound up running food and beverage, but apparently that's what happened. Ken and his tiny staff moved sixty meat and cheese trays and twenty veggie trays over Friday and Saturday night (leftovers were donated to the Military Police at Forts Myer and McNair). One Hundred gallons of drinking water were purchased from the Andrews AFB Commissary because the price was right and there was no sales tax. Thirty-one tanks of Coke, Sprite and Pepsi were used and twenty-nine had to be returned, not because they were all guzzled down, but because we exhausted our inventory of four thousand 12 oz. cups before the weekend was over.

Joansie worked as assistant to both cochairs, Rose and Jack, and remembers running around the whole weekend too (among other tasks, it was she who carried the Black Rose banner for the Parade of Colors on Saturday night). But she found time for at least one memorable scene. She was in the elevator, heading down to the lobby, toybag in hand, dressed to the nines in dominant attire, when the elevator stopped to let of our security cops get on. After a few pleasantries, the officer admitted that Doing that kind of thing has always been a fantasy of mine. Joansie reached out and pulled the emergency stop and the elevator jolted to a halt. Ten minutes later, the officer was standing with his hands against the wall, his pants and undies around his ankles, newly initiated into SM, his service revolver still holstered on his hip.

So much about the BR10 weekend was about its Herculean scale: the size of the play space, the inventory of dungeon equipment, the unprecedented attendance numbers, and the walloping take at the gate, that it's easy to miss the personal stories, and little miracles, the places where individual lives were transformed in small intangible ways. Like David Z, a DC professional who had always felt the gnawing of kink in his bones. A regular traveler to Tokyo with long time fascination with the intricate Japanese bondage he had fallen in love with through Manga porn. But it wasn't until Black Rose Ten, and his attendance of Lochai's Shabari bondage workshop in particular, that David realized that with study, he might actually master the skills himself. "It changed my whole playstyle," said David.

I didn't know it at the time, but Cupid was working a machine gun during the Anniversary weekend. Libby had attended a kink party that spring where she met Dave (who has since transitioned and goes by Kensie today). Their first real "date" was BR10. They married soon after, and would stay together until Libby's passing 19 years later. When I asked Kensie what she remembered about their first weekend together, she kept it short: "We had a good time. smiley."

Peter and Joanna were also together at the Ramada, and they, too, went on to wed. When I asked what Peter thought of the dungeon, he confessed it wasn't his primary recollection. "We were very much in love and stayed in our room a lot." And Amira, with whom I would later serve on the Black Rose board, briefly met her future first husband Charlse who was delivering a heavy beating to Cecilia another Black Rose local. Cupid's arrow found its mark in Nurse Kristen as well. Remember the volunteer who's injured head, Kristen had treated during dungeon setup? That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and play relationship that survives to this very day, twenty-six years on.

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Part III Sons-of-BR10: BR98, Leather Retreat, Dark Odyssey, Camp Crucible and the Era of Festivals

Inner Circles

When I first visited Jack's manor in the early 90's Colleen was already living there, the third of the long list of women who would co-habitate under his roof. Colleen was a self-described "hippy": an out and proud lesbian who was active with FIST, a fraternal order of leatherdykes. She and Big Mark were like brother and sister. When Mark called up wanting to grab breakfast in Arlington on a Sunday, Colleen usually came along with him. When I went to hang out at Mark's place, Colleen was often there. She had a sunny personality and a lovely expressive voice. And she really loved her community of oddballs and outcasts.

But as the decade rolled into the mid-nineties, she felt the club was changing. New people were showing up in fancy fetish clothing and putting on airs: talking a lot at meetings about who they knew, who they stayed with when traveling, what parties they had attended - even though standard party etiquette forbade discussion of parties with people who hadn't been there. Suddenly we had a whole lot of boastful strangers in our midst, trying to outdo each other with their personal loudmouth expertise.

Colleen told me about one particular night when she was out with friends - some of whom were prominent members of the East Coast leather scene that stayed in her memory. At dinner, someone - never mind who - commented that those present constituted the "inner circle" of the local scene, the very best of the best. Instead of making Colleen flush with pride, it bugged the hell out of her. Colleen hated exclusivity. She grew up queer in Catholic schools, a chubby, poor kid among rich classmates who wore designer clothes, went on expensive vacations, and lived in houses considerably larger than hers. "Inner Circles? When the hell did the leather community pick up inner circles?" demanded Colleen, still pissed, almost thirty years later. At one particular Black Rose meeting, with particularly boastful chit chat, Colleen reached her limit, and decided to stop attending the club events. Big Mark tried to talk her out of it. He told her that a lot of these new people were really nice once you got to know them. But Colleen would not be moved.

Colleen only attended BR10 because Mark - still determined to pull her back into the fold - promised to get her in free. As security chief, he gave Colleen a time when he would be working the front door, and she drove the short hop over from her home in Takoma Park. Mark met her in the lobby, took her to the security desk and gave her a bracelet identifying her as a paid guest and set her loose (no nametag -that would have meant an awkward talk with the registration people). Colleen wandered through the hotel, visited the massive dungeon, saw a few friends, remembers talking to Lolita, and hung out at the bar for a while. But the opulence and scale was a turnoff for her and she left after a few hours.

Colleen noticed, before I did, that something was changing in the club's DNA, and not necessarily for the better. As successful as BR10 had been, it marked the end of Black Rose as the small, stable, circle of relationships that that had been in place for nearly a decade. In the next election of Black Rose coordinators, four out of seven incumbents declined to run, including both Rose and Jack. It was the biggest turnover in years. As the new board took its seats, over twenty years of board experience went right out the window. Four rookies took their places in the Spring of 1998 all of them BR10 staffers. Greg, Chris Fast and I were now the corporate memory of the club, with a combined total of seven years' experience, most of that Ms. Fast's. Despite the extremely junior leadership team, we did not "crash" the enterprise as some conjectured that we might.

But whatever sense of "family" had been evolving at the board level over the previous ten years was gone at a stroke.

BR98, and the first Leather Retreat

On a more public level, BR10 ushered in the era of Black Rose's peak influence in the world of kink. At the Seventh Annual Pantheon Leather Awards held in New Orleans, February, 1999, Black Rose was voted best club and Black Rose Ten was awarded event of the year.

In December 1997, following the advice of so many of our BR10 guests, we agreed to host a sequel. Black Rose '98 was like BR10, only bigger. Our tenth anniversary had mostly been East Coasters - kinksters who already knew us from DC, or Baltimore, or NYC, or Boston, or Richmond or the Carolinas. The next year the whole world wanted in: leatherfolk from California, and Chicago, and Florida, and Europe.

Rose returned for her second and last tour as event co-chair; and Greg L (Vendor Captain for BR10) stepped up for his first of many (he would go on to cochair five of them). Lolita returned as Program Director, this time, producing a full bondage track, along with new offerings like "Are We Crazy?" "Size Acceptance", "Sounds and Catheters", and "Erotic Wrestling". The cyber track was not repeated from the previous year. Celebrity guests included Midori, fetish photographer Eric Kroll and Author/Artist/Leatherman Joseph Bean. Playboy magazine sent a reporter to review the event (though I don't remember ever reading it) who basically went a little bonkers during Joseph Bean's brilliant talk on "SM Spirituality".

BR98 saw the debut of the Vaughan Keith service Awards, named after a Black Rose instructor who died of AIDS in 1990: The Elder Award went to Rose V. Jack won the National Service Award. Paul Bohli of Sigma won the Community Service Award. The Black Rose Contributor Awards were taken home by long-time, hard-working, volunteers Frank Purks and Pat Caul. Ken, returned to BR98, not as a volunteer, but as a fully paid guest so he could actually enjoy the show, rather than work his fingers to the bone like last year.

Most of the Special Events from BR10 were reprised at BR98: Parade of Colors. The Pony Show and of course the Kennel show. Hildegarde - humiliation slut extraordinaire - had a fun story about that. His date, Lady Monica ("a feisty Italianish dominant") decided to enter him into the dog competition as "Truffles the pig." Hilde wore a rubber pig snout, a pink tutu, a little floppy bow on his head, a curly pink tail mounted on a buttplug, and cute little "hoof socks" for Hilde's hands. "Truffles" didn't do tricks, he just made grunting sounds and ate the Hershey's chocolate kisses Monica laid down on the floor in a row, but that was enough to win "Best in Show", much to the irritation of some of the Canine contestants and their handlers. To this day, people still march up to Hilde and say "Hey! Its Truffles the pig." Here are the only pictures I have been able to find from BR98: Hilde and Monica, in their room, celebrating their big Dog Kennel win.

Truffles and his Trainer Truffles wearing the blue ribbon.

BR98 was also the first staging of the Black Rose Bootblack competition (SpitBoy who set up his fancy shine parlor at the dungeon entrance won with the most shines. I have conflicting attendance numbers for BR98: Lolita's Predictions and Predilections reports an attendance of 1,200; an internal BR memo says 1,400 (Rose says this higher figure is closer to what she remembers.)

The BR annual event continued to be a springboard to matrimony. Amira had met Charlse briefly at BR10, but it was at BR98 that they reconnected, although he had lost so much weight Amira didn't recognize him right away. I was going to go to sleep but decided I needed to make another round of the dungeon to get to know people. Leather Bob was taking a break from his vendor table and Charles was watching it for him. I had gone into the vendor room because someone told me I won a silent auction item, a brown Teddy bear holding a black rose. I had just picked it up and walked past Bob's table and Charles being a brat, had to play with my bear. We flirted for a bit, went out to a late dinner with a bunch of people. The rest is history.

In addition to reprising our Son-of-BR10 at the Ramada in 1998 we also decided, with very little forethought, to stage an additional big event that same year: Black Rose Leather Retreat. If BR10 had been a bigger, better TES25, then Black Rose Leather Retreat was a coed staging of Delta at the same Pennsylvania campground. ("Delta with Pussy" was Frazier's somewhat indelicate pitch line). Like Delta, Leather Retreat had classes, vendors, special events, and ample dungeon space. My contribution to the effort were limited to drafting the first Black Rose Dungeon Monitor Guide with some assistance from one David S (a nice guy I met at the club who was in and out of the scene within a single year) and Trish Amstrong (a New York prodomme I met through Jack. The program calls her "a real-life equestrian and an SM/Role Player extraordinaire"). Leather Retreat was also the debut of something new to Black Rose: a kidnap squad. If you had a kidnapping fantasy, of, let's say, being grabbed by four female tops and being flogged while tied naked to a pine tree, you could put it in writing, submit it to the kidnap committee and they would try to make it happen.

Black Rose Leather Retreat attracted 200 attendees and was enjoyed by everyone present. But it lost about five grand and was regarded, at the time, as an organizational misstep. And the club didn't try it again.

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Community Ties, Leather Retreat and its Descendants

But Greg and Frazier, both event captains at BR10 and BRLR, saw a business opportunity. Along with their respective girlfriends, Lori and Susan (who actually met Frazier at BR10), they formed a company called Community Ties whose purpose was to stage a second Leather Retreat in 1999 as a commercial venture. And they struck gold. Community Ties would go on to stage five profitable "camp events" before splitting into two competing outfits. Frazier and Susan founded Camp Crucible; while Greg opened Dark Odyssey. That's right, folks. Camp Crucible and Dark Odyssey are both spawn of Leather Retreat, and thus, spawn-of-spawn of BR10. Jonathan, in reviewing this story, argued that camp events are quantitatively different from hotel events. I understand his position, but I am mainly struck by how similar they are in particulars: playspaces where you can do SM, classes on kinky practices, fun special events, privacy from outsiders, and a warm welcome to shame free oddballs of all descriptions.

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The Ballad of Placido Flamingo

A brief side story before we leave the subject of Leather Retreat '98. Ever since she was a child, Nancy H had a thing for flamingoes. Flamingo toys as a girl, flamingo wallpaper as a homeowner, plastic flamingoes in the yard. She was sharing a ride to camp with Rose V and after packing her bags she grabbed a pink plastic flamingo from her front yard to join her on the trip. When they got to camp, she stuck it in the ground in front of the staff cabin and didn't give it another thought.

The next morning the flamingo was gone. At breakfast Nancy realized what the rest of the camp already knew: "Placido Flamingo" (yep, it already had a name) had been tied up, hung by the neck, and run up a flagpole to the amusement of all (witnesses described it as an autoerotic asphyxiation scene rather than an actual hanging). And that was only the beginning of the indignities inflicted on Placido. He was frozen into a block of ice. He was treated to a waxing scene (which gave him vitiligo-like blotches that repeat washings could not erase). And before the weekend was over, Placido was kidnapped, seemingly for good.

Then the polaroids started arriving in the mail. Placido getting a body piercing at the Gauntlet in San Fransisco. Placido in a leatherbar in LA. Placido here, Placido there, Placido everywhere. He even wrote letters home (Nancy suspects Greg for arranging the bird's travel correspondence). The penguin was returned to her in time for her to bring him back to Leather Retreat in 1999, and he became a perennial guest at future events. He had a staff bio in the BR98 program book identifying him as "BR Mascot." The slave auction money at future Leather Retreat's was emblazoned with Placido's image and flamingos became central to Leather Retreat's advertising. In short, Nancy's plastic yard penguin became a national kink celebrity. Camp guests of future Leather Retreats heard of his travels and sought him out for selfies at future stagings.

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The Rockstar Era

BR98 begat BR99, and the Black Rose Annual Bash quickly became the hot new festival. Each of the next four events would be bigger than the last. When Melia and Stephen had staged their Age Play Corner during BR10, only a handful of littles came by to join them. At BR99, only two years later, Melia led an age-play panel attended by seventy people, most of them in little's clothing and little's headspace.

As soon as we had announced BR98, our membership ballooned upwards by a factor of around three. The "contributor discount" on annual events given to Black Rose club membership made the decision a no-brainer for most folks. Attendance of our weekly meetings jumped as well. Tuesday night classes that had formerly commanded twenty to thirty attendees now grew to the fifty to sixty range, occasionally swelling upwards of a hundred.

The Special Interest Groups became big, healthy, microcommunities of their own. The Black Rose Women's SIG - with Rose as its monarch - was practically its own independent leather club. Same with the Dominance and Submission SIG run by Thomas and Marrianne which drew between twenty and thirty people every time they met. In 1999, Black Rose (working together with TES) actually invented the idea of a Special Interest Group restricted to people under the age of thirty-five (the purpose was to let younger kinksters mingle without the helpful meddling of older folks crashing the party). In a nerdy nod to the then-current-Star-Trek-reboot it was called "The Next Generation" or TNG, and they kept a busy schedule of weekly happy hours, overnights, play parties, and ski-trips. Over the next few years, the TNG concept would spread like a shockwave across the world of kink opening the legacy groups up to thousands of new people.

BR10 also kicked off the SM Rockstar era of Black Rose presenters. People, who had come from all over the country to attend our events and seen us teach, started inviting Black Rose instructors to come visit. Up until then only a few locals - Rose and Jack chief among them - had received regular invitations to present and teach at other clubs and events. But afterwards, the invitations came flooding in to an expanded class of SM celebrities. The new set included Ken, Thomas, Neal and Robyn, Judy G, Medium Marc and Phillip (AKA Team U-Haul), Chris and Kristen, and Joansie and yours truly, to name only those that come to mind. Each of us started receiving invitations to travel to other groups, other events, other cities to teach classes, lead workshops, or participate in discussion panels. I was invited personally to teach at WHIP in West Virginia, TES and GMSMA in New York City, FLAME, Escape, and ROPE in Richmond, VA, Beat Me in St. Louis in Missouri, CAPEX and Talon in North Carolina, PEER in Cincinnati, The New Orleans Power Exchange, The River City Dungeon Society, and JAPE, both in Jacksonville FLA, CUFFS in Charlottesville VA; Satyricon in Madison Wisconsin, The Phoenix Society and BESS, both in Baltimore MD, The Free Spirit Alliance in rural Maryland (which started offering Beltane workshops in SM practice, alongside drumming workshops and classes on energy work). I am ashamed to admit that I don't recall the name of the group in Montreal who paid to fly me up to teach the Black Rose Dungeon Monitoring course, but yeah, our fame went beyond the US borders. And most of these places I visited more than once. Presenters were typically granted travel costs and per diem and often received something like a red-carpet welcome. Some of us even got the opportunity to teach in academic settings like George Mason, Tulane University, or Pace University, in New York City. It was fun and very flattering for those of us who lucked into it. For me, this era lasted an astonishing eleven years, commencing right after BR10 in 1997 and drawing to a close around 2008 when I stopped accepting invitations to travel and turned my focus to grad school, fatherhood and a far more private lifestyle. Others have remained active in the national scene this entire time.

Along with the first Leather Retreat, Black Rose would go on to hold a total of 13 hotel events (15 counting the two "Chickenstock" TNG anniversary parties). Our biggest attendance seems to have peaked at BR2000, with over two thousand guests and a second dungeon at the nearby Red Roof Inn. My personal favorite was in 2002 when the legendary Fakir Musafar (one of the earliest and all-time greatest innovators of bodyplay) was our guest of honor with his wife Cleo Dubois. Together they performed a group piercing ritual that many of us remember as the all-time peak of the Black Rose era. By that time, we had done six killer weekend conventions in a row at the New Carolton Ramada. And that reminds me of something else I didn't notice at the time: What an incredibly long streak of success we enjoyed. Year after year after year.

After 2004, we said farewell to the New Carrolton Ramada; there seems to be some confusion as to just why. Some say the laws in PG County became more restrictive, making the Ramada a less attractive venue than it had been. Others claim the building was sold to a new management less amenable to our quirks and oddities. A third source told me the Concerned Women of America had caught wind of the festivals and were raising a stink. Perhaps all these factors played a role.

In 2006, we signed a four-year contract with the Hyatt Regency, on New Jersey Ave - with a stunning close-in view of the Capitol dome. It was a bigger, nicer, pricier hotel, but it made the event harder to run at a profit. And for a variety of reasons - a new leadership team, the departure of many one-time Black Rose volunteers, and an increasingly flooded marketplace for kinky mega-events - each of the four Hyatt events made less profit than the last. By the time we got to BR08 we were barely breaking even. The BR09 event suffered a substantial financial loss.

The annual events were suspended until 2012, when Black Rose tried to revive the annual event to celebrate "BR25": the twenty fifth anniversary of the club. Five years later, a smaller event was staged to celebrate BR30 in 2017.

It has not been attempted since then.

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On a Sunday morning in July, 23, 2023, after dropping K off at work in Dupont Circle, I decided, pretty much on a whim, to drive the extra 25 minutes over to New Carolton to see what had once been the old Ramada Inn, site of the first eight BR annual events. It would be my first visit in almost twenty years. I didn't have the old address and hadn't been able to find it on Google maps, so I wasn't even sure the hotel was still there, but as I drove up Route 450 and was about to duck under the DC Beltway, the old familiar neighborhood appeared to my left, pretty much unchanged. With a street address of 8500 Annapolis Road the Ramada was now an extended stay called the Metro Points Hotel. The dingy supermarket lot across 85th Street hadn't changed much either, although the infamous Hunan Feast was now a Starbucks.

I parked and took a look around. The reason I hadn't found the place using Google Maps was that a large office complex had been wrapped around the back of the hotel smack on top of where the pool used to be (with a bug sign announcing it as "New Carolton Town Center").

It was before 8:00 AM on a Sunday morning so the place was deserted, aside from a concierge behind a plexiglass shield, but the lobby, the lounge area below it, and the cafeteria area all seemed pretty much exactly how I remembered them. The floors, walls, even the chairs in the cafeteria. Everything.

Things got even weirder. I had remembered big windows in the cafeteria, so I did a little snooping around and walked through a few doors marked "DO NOT ENTER." It appears that when they plopped down the "New Carolton Town Center" smack where the pool used to be, they simply enclosed the backside of the hotel without changing so much as a doorknob. The exterior windows on the cafeteria were still there, but they had been walled over from the inside, Weirder still, the row of rooms that had once been poolside now looked out on an enclosed hallway that was pitch black until I flicked on a light switch. The rooms themselves were locked, and appeared to be unused, (unless the curtains were drawn, I could look right through the windows and see). It was absolutely bonkers. They hadn't even removed the poolside drinking fountain or its attendant sign, which was still bolted to what used to be an exterior poolside wall.

The door leading out to the so called "Executive Center" was now marked as an emergency exit with an alarm that would sound, so I left the hotel the way I came in. When I descended the steps into what I had remembered as the EC, it took me a minute or so to acknowledge that the dingy parking garage had, in fact, been the BR10 play space. It was smaller than I remembered, the ceiling lower, and exposed to the elements on three of its four sides, and quite unrecognizable as the structure that once held what may have been the biggest SM dungeon on earth.

A lot of time has passed since BR10: enough time for me to have grown from being a comparatively young man to a comparatively old one. Today, many of our one-time leaders, like Jack and Big Mark, no longer walk among us. Others have left the kink community behind them, probably never to return.

Likewise, the club calling itself Black Rose today, is little more than a ghost of its former self. Gone are the annual festivals, and the once healthy attendance of our regular meetings. Gone is the newsletter, the big robust greeters' program we once had, the fat bank balance and most of the vibrant communities that were based in our special interest groups (in fairness the Tickling and Hypnosis SIGs are still going strong). When I searched Fetlife for TNGs I found hundreds worldwide. But our once mighty TNG - the first of its kind in the world - petered out in 2015 due to fallen attendance and lack of volunteer coordinators. When, in 2022, I attended one of the monthly meetings of the Dominance and submission SIG, I found the audience consisted of me, my date, and one other person who was friends with the two hosts. And in the spring of 2023, I attended a Tuesday night lecture by Master Taino, who once gave three consecutive Black Rose talks on the intricacies of Master/slave relationships to a packed house each night. This time only eleven people showed up.

Hardly anyone I knew during my decades of Black Rose attendance is still active with today's Black Rose ("their retention policy is shit" was the blunt assessment of a former board member still involved in the local kink community.) Those who have had more recent dealings with the club, haven't been kind in their assessment, and they tell me that the current state of organizational brokenness has been in place for many years. I can confirm some of this by personal observation. In reaching out to club leadership to gather club data for my history project, I was surprised at how incurious, unhelpful, and openly unfriendly some of the leadership circle has been. Listen, I know from personal experience how hard and thankless Black Rose board work can be, but damn, people! Would it kill you to be a tad less impolite? Or to actually respond to good faith email enquiries?

And I don't think this decline needed to be our fate. Camp Crucible and Dark Odyssey - both of them direct offspring of BR10 - have flourished, over the years, and are still holding successful annual events. In New York City, TES manages to hold weekly meetings AND a big impressive TESFEST almost every year. That's the future I thought Black Rose had to look forward to. We are living a post "50 Shades of Gray" world, after all. Right? Where most of the stigma once associated with BDSM/kink has been erased? It should be easy for a five dollar, Tuesday night SM educational class to attract a weekly crowd, but Black Rose seems to have forgotten how. And how that happened, gentle reader, is a story for another time.

The decline of my once proud home club makes my memories of BR10 feel even weepier than they might have had I found Black Rose in perfect health. If for example the anniversary festivals were still a hot ticket. Or if the newsletter I once edited was still churning out copy. Or if I still had friends in the room, or at least friendly people, who smiled, as they once did, when they saw me wander in.

When I close my eyes and try to conjure up the essence of our big tenth anniversary bash, what comes back to me is the sense of sheer joy we all seemed to share at having worked together to achieve a really worthy and ambitious goal. Prior to BR10, Black Rose had seemed like a family - yes, a dysfunctional, bitchy family, but one that was close and largely supportive - with Rose and Jack sitting in as Mom and Pop. Afterwards, at least for a little while, we felt like a family business - a really successful one, with lots of happy, regular customers. Sure, BR10 boosted our fame, fortune, and prominence in the greater kink community but all that was just icing on the cake. We were building a home, a sanctuary for people just like us: a fun, safe, welcoming, intelligent place, where we could all learn from each other. A place where everyone really did know your name. And even if the faces of the people in charge started changing, we still had the recipe! For running a successful club. For staging the big event. For attracting and retaining volunteer talent and supporting vibrant subcommunities with our Special Interest Groups. Hell, we literally wrote the book on How to Run a Leathergroup. It did not feel crazy to assume that the big crowds, the solid volunteer base, the rock star reputations would just go on and on and on.

It felt like the new, bigger, better Black Rose had come to stay.

Chris M, Summer of 2023

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For further reading about the Black Rose and its conferences,
visit the Black Rose of Washington, DC page.

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