Last December, CNN projected that 2018 would be the Year of the Woman. Sarha Shaubach had been of a similar  mindset for months before that. Shaubach is the creator of Northern Exposure, the only Alaskan BDSM, leather, sex, and kink conference. She’s a leather titleholder, and the self-described “head lackey” at the Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles. For this year’s conference, Shaubach decided that she wanted to celebrate the strong women she has come to know in her life. So, she started inviting them up to Alaska to teach, present to, and experience her home community.

This is also the year that we gained the first Woman of Drummer. Within the planning of Northern Exposure, the Women of Drummer movement decided to also plan their Northwest regional meetup in the same location.

The Women of Drummer movement is full of fierce, sexy, playful, female sexual outlaws. This is not only a perfect description of someone like Shaubach, but it’s a movement that she fully supports. These women celebrate their love for their brothers in leather, but rightfully claim ownership and control of their movement. As Pam Payne – also known as MasterPam, a presenter at the conference – said, “I love to be surrounded by powerful, independent, successful women, who own themselves and share what they know, empowering other women. That’s what this weekend was all about.” Payne also appreciates the unique ability Alaskans have to all play nicely together. “I love Alaska,” she adds. “It’s so eclectic. When we travel in the lower 48, there are so many clubs that are specific to a niche of the LGBTQ community. In Alaska we find that the group is more eclectic, with all types, and all lifestyles getting along.”

While the ticketed portion of Northern Exposure is only from Friday morning to Sunday evening, the producers of the event make sure to pack an entire week of adventure and connection in for all those who attend. It all starts on Thursday night at the Raven Bar, the northernmost LGBTQ-owned-and-operated bar in the US, with a potlatch. For this year’s event, Shaubach and Woman of Drummer Voss co-hosted a play party specifically for those individuals that identify as women.

On Friday morning, following a keynote speech given for the first time ever by Shaubach, classes began. Over the almost 200 attendees were given the opportunity to further their knowledge of subjects like fire cupping, communication techniques, impact play, and wax play. A class from Glenda Rider focused on the many ways to play with female genitals. Rider thoroughly enjoyed her time visiting and said, “This is one of the best weekends I’ve had in a long time. All the right people were here. Northern Exposure is an amazing event. The Alaska community is so warm and welcoming. They bend over backwards for their guests. Some great educators were here, some wonderful hardworking titleholders were here. Women from all over the country gathered in Alaska – how awesome is that?” Each night the attendees were invited back to the location which had been turned into 12,000 square-feet of dungeon and play space, as well as a large social area, and for the first time ever, a radical self-care room for those needing a break. On Saturday night, in between classes and the play party, attendees were also given the option to attend The Show at ACAL (Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles), a weekly erotica and kink inspired variety show that happens at the center. The packed house watched 18 performances take place on the same stage where they had been attending classes earlier.

This was also the fourth year that the competition for the Alaska State Bootblack title would be taking place. All weekend long the three contestants for the title loved on leather, sold raffle tickets, and got to know the out-of-state visitors through service and education. On Sunday night, during the wrap- up dinner and awards show, each contestant gave a speech, performed a fantasy number, and was interviewed. All attendees of the contest were given a chance to influence the score with different ballots. In the end, the only female-identified contestant, Gretchen, emerged victorious.

By Monday night, friends began to say goodbye to each other, and some had already taken off to the airport or gone back to work. After the traditional brunch at Gwennie’s Alaskan Restaurant, some visitors had gone on trips to see more of the 49th state. As temperatures started to cool down, and rain subsided, a fire in Meadow Lakes, Alaska, was just getting to the point of being able to be raked down for a fire walk. Dozens of people lined up to face fears and walk across the burning coals. Tears were shed and secrets revealed as the crowd participated in what has become another Northern Exposure tradition. “To see the female body of leadership and all the women’s presence was powerful,” said Lamalani Sivert. “A lot of people said they didn’t realize their bodies could do such things.” The fire walk was one more way that people were learning what their bodies were capable of.

Spirits were high throughout the weekend among all attendees, no matter where they identified on the gender spectrum, while everyone also remained consciously present in the knowledge of the hashtags that have united a nation, and in many ways the world. #MeToo, #TimesUp, #LetHerDoHerJob, #OneWomanIsAllWomen. Throughout the weekend I asked attendees and others if they had a hashtag for what comes next, and their were some good answers. #PassTheMic, #PayHerWhatSheIsWorth, but my favorite came from Sivert, who laughingly said #WomenWillFuckShitUp. As a cisgnder, queer-identified male who was permitted to be witness and participant to this weekend of empowerment, I will say that I completely believe that they can, and they can also do any other thing that they choose.

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RJ Johnson
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