For decades, New Yorker Cheryl Stewart has been working to make the leather community what it is today. A long-time Lesbian Sex Mafia member, Steward has, through ups and downs and thick and thin, helped weave the fabric that binds us and supports us. Without her efforts, I wouldn’t be writing Mid-Atlantic Mondays or wearing the sash I wear. Thank you, Cheryl, for your blood, sweat, tears, and willingness to weather the storms and create space for all of us time and again!

Alex “Bear” Conley: Where did you grow up?

Cheryl Stewart: There are those who would legitimately argue that I might not have grown up at all. I’ll say that I grew taller on Long Island and in New York City.

AC: How did you discover the leather community and how long have you been involved?

CS: I discovered what we used to call “the scene” when I was still quite young. I don’t think anyone was calling it a community back then. I went to the Hellfire Club for the first time when I was still a teenager. It was so long ago that I actually didn’t imagine that I might find women who wanted to do to me exactly what I wished they would. I just assumed at that time that I would have to get my needs met with men. LSM had yet to be formed. My forays into SM were furtive back then. I found some leather women in the Sirens Women’s Motorcycle Club in the mid-1980s. LSM was formed in 1981, of course, but I didn’t even know it existed for a while. The women’s leather community in NYC became far more robust through the 1990s, which is when I finally became an LSM member. I sure wish I could remember what year that was. I re-emerged into what had become a thriving community in the late 1990s after leaving a stifling relationship. It was really important to me to have a community to re-emerge into at that time, and that’s one of the reasons I won’t allow our NYC women’s leather community to atrophy again.

AC: What is your dream job?

CS: I would ride motorcycles and pontificate on political affairs while making art, and someone would slip a check under the door.

AC: What is the accomplishment that has made you the proudest of the leather community? What about outside leather?

CS: Within our community I’m most proud of doing my part to revive LSM twice. Outside of our community I have many things about which I can be proud, and I don’t think I can name just one. I’m proud to make my living as a professional artist in NYC. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been riding motorcycles since 1981. I love to drag my knees around the racetrack, and I’m proud to be a track day instructor. I’m extremely proud to be a founding member of the Sirens Women’s Motorcycle Club, and that I’ve been part of the contingent which has led NYC Pride down Fifth Avenue every year since we formed in 1986.

AC: What is your favorite thing about the leather community?

CS: I can’t say this unequivocally about the leather community in general, but I love that my women’s leather community is a relatively safe place for people of all body types. Besides the fact that we can be our freaky selves and expect to be valued and not judged for it, my most favorite thing about our community members is that we’re way more focused on what kind of person you are than on the way you look. The relative safety that affords me is invaluable.

AC: Free-form time! What is a message you would really like to share with all the people reading this?

CS: Women’s BDSM communities are precious and increasingly rare. If you value them, please support them. Come out to our events. Show up even if you’re a little tired and you don’t have the perfect outfit. If you want a vibrant, healthy community you really do have to do your part.