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September 02, 1999, 04:42 p.m.

New forum celebrates singleness

Copyright 1999 Houston Chronicle

Regena English likes to describe herself as a leather spinster.

But don't get the wrong idea -- she's not into whips and chains.

Instead, English, the serious, soft-spoken founder of the Leather Spinsters newsletter and online magazine, defines the term "leather spinsters" as women younger than 55 who are happily unmarried.

They are women, she explained, who have chosen their unmarried status and wear it as a badge of honor. They may or may not have been married before. They might even have a boyfriend, but marriage is not their goal.

It's a term English, a Houston native, said she discovered while researching and writing a book on happy single women who were not in an intimate relationship.

"The term `leather spinster' kept coming up, and I was really curious about it," English said. "It's an '80s term, and leather signifies the radical approach of going beyond the expectations of your gender and what society thinks. A woman happily unmarried is still not something people want to accept."

English hopes to change that perception. Both the newsletter and Web site celebrate the single life and offer stories from that perspective. English, who, over the years, had discovered that many of her single friends had low self-esteem, was determined to provide a newsletter and e-zine (electronic magazine) offering information and support.

"Whenever I get together with my friends, they always seemed to be crying on each other's shoulders about not having a mate," English said. "It's like we are defined by a spouse, and I know that's not true."

A former financial consultant who once worked for a rental car agency, English, 34, is getting divorced after a long separation.

"I don't want to ever marry again," she said. "I'm not putting it down, but I like it just being me and my dog. And I like being free to do what I want instead of saying, `Let's sit down and discuss this.' "

When English began her newsletter last October, she wondered if she would find any readers.

By December she had 300 subscribers and by March, when Leather Spinsters went online, the number had jumped to 12,000. The newsletter is free -- she makes her money through advertising -- and subscriptions can be obtained through the Web site. It's also carried at a number of libraries including Harris County.

Her subscribers come from as far away as Italy, with about 30 from Canada. The lowest number comes from the Midwest.

Not surprisingly, one of the first questions people ask English is why she chose the title "Leather Spinsters." She is sometimes teased about her unusual choice.

"Because of the leather, some people have thought it's about lesbians," she said. "And I've actually had negative feedback from lesbians, because in order to explain what Leather Spinsters is, you have to explain that it's not about lesbians. But that doesn't mean we don't accept their lifestyle."

It's also not about male-bashing, she said, or a place for personal ads. Nor will readers find articles on dating, marriage or romance.

What readers of the newsletter or e-zine will find are stories about singleness as a positive lifestyle choice. Newsletter topics have ranged from single women and adoption to financial planning. Letters from single women discussing their experiences are also published.

In addition to stories on hormone replacement therapy and starting a business, this month's Leather Spinsters online includes a discussion of feminism. Included in "Do We Need Feminism Now?" are comments English collected from women around the city.

"I stopped women in the washateria, on the street, in the store, basically any public place, and asked them what they thought of feminism," English said. "I found that women over 30 and under 50 didn't credit their success to feminism. But under 30 they did feel a kinship to feminism."

English found that many women older than 50 believed different tactics are called for today. One 68-year-old told English that young women need to be sent into the world with more faith in themselves.

Another important component is the online bulletin board, where single women can express their thoughts and opinions "without guilt or pressure from others to conform to cultural expectations of women."

Subscriber Tina Horowitz, 34, who lives in Philadelphia, considers Leather Spinsters unique and was delighted to find it. Most magazines and Web sites for singles focus on becoming "unsingle," she said. Horowitz said she discovered Leather Spinsters one day while searching for articles on women who, like her, want to remain single -- to prove to friends there were others like her.

"It supports women like me who want to be on their own and have no desire for a romantic or sexual relationship," Horowitz said. "It seems like most people just find this unfathomable. They think we haven't `found the right one yet' or just don't believe it. But I feel that my life is complete on my own. People should learn that some women choose to be on their own and can be happy this way."

Horowitz said she enjoys reading about the lives of other Leather Spinsters and has corresponded with several "pen pals" via e-mail.

English explained that the pen pal section is not a dating service. Recently, she messaged a man who posted a poem on the bulletin board saying he was looking for a wife.

"I had to tell him that it was not a dating service but a place meant to uplift the spirits of single women," she said. "He thought it would be a good place to find an old-fashioned wife."

Publishing the Leather Spinster newsletter, online magazine and her book, Leather Spinsters and Their Degrees of Asexuality ($16.99) under the umbrella of her Houston company, St. Mary Publishing, has been an adventure for English.

"I have a desk and a computer, and that's my virtual Houston office," English said. "It's stressful at times, but I'm having fun, and creating this outlet to reach single women has made me more outgoing."

As for the term Leather Spinsters, English predicted that it will become increasingly popular.

"At first people made comments," she said. "But women really seem to like it. I think it's going to catch on."

Readers can visit the Leather Spinsters Web site at www.leatherspinsters.com/ezine.html.

See what Miss English had to say in the
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