Involvement in BDSM/Leather
Rubin was part of a women’s discussion group called Cardea, which itself was part of the San Francisco-based BDSM organization called the Society of Janus. Cardea existed from 1977 to 1978 before discontinuing, and a group of lesbian members of Cardea, including Rubin, Pat Califia (who identified as a lesbian at the time), and sixteen others, were inspired to start Samois on June 13, 1978, as an exclusively lesbian BDSM group. Thus Rubin became a cofounder of Samois, a lesbian-feminist BDSM organization based in San Francisco that existed from 1978 to 1983 and was the first lesbian BDSM group in the United States.
In 1984 Rubin cofounded The Outcasts, a social and educational organization for women interested in BDSM with other women which grew partly from Samois and the Society of Janus, and was also based in San Francisco. The Outcasts was disbanded in the mid-1990s, although its successor organization The Exiles is still active. In 2012, The Exiles in San Francisco received the Small Club of the Year award as part of the Pantheon of Leather Awards.
In the 1980s Rubin was at the first planning meeting for the International Ms. Leather Contest.
In 1991 she became the first woman to judge a major national gay male leather title contest, when she judged the Mr. Drummer contest.
From 1992 to 2000 she served on the Board of Directors of the Leather Archives & Museum.
In 1994 she completed her Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Michigan with a dissertation entitled The valley of kings: Leathermen in San Francisco, 1960–1990.
She is currently on the Board of Governors of the Leather Hall of Fame.
- 1988: National Leather Association Jan Lyon Award for Regional or Local Work
- 1992: Pantheon of Leather Forebear Award
- 2000: Leather Archives & Museum “Centurion”
- 2000: National Leather Association Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2012: Her book Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader received the National Leather Association’s Geoff Mains Non-Fiction Book Award.
- 2017: The San Francisco South of Market Leather History Alley consists of four works of art along Ringold Alley honoring the leather subculture; it opened in 2017. One of the works of art is a black granite stone etched with, among other things, a narrative by Rubin.
- Unknown date: Induction into the Society of Janus Hall of Fame.
She is Jewish and lesbian.