Preface: First of all, I’d like to start this post with a disclaimer. This disclaimer will be reported again and again during the post because I already can feel all the waffling of people who love these contests saying “booh, you’re envious / booh, you’re judging / booh, party pooper” or whatever. I don’t mean to be mean, and I don’t personally know most of the actual title holders, neither the clubs organizers. Though I know many ex Mr.Leathers and several Old Guard Leathermen. And I have something to say about this whole situation. So here’s the disclaimer:
What I’m going to say and what I’m saying is not intended at all as an insult or any kind of judgment agains people running, who ran or who are holding the title of Mr Leather. I have nothing against you, and this is nothing personal.
What is the Mr. Leather Title?
So what it is, Mr Leather, Mr Leather Europe, International Mr Leather…? Well quite easily, it is a contest. A contest, by definition, is about running for a prize or a recognition, and recognition as a “Title holder” for something. Now, my post would like to revolve around “what is this something”?. Before writing down my thoughts I’ve been searching a bit trough the web in order to find more precise informations about the first editions of this contest and how it evolved to what we all can see now. I was not so lucky, as I found many details about who where the Leathermen, but almost nothing about the entitlement criteria. Again, it’s always about finding the WHY behind the WHAT. So months ago I’ve been sharing a couple of beers with a former Mr. Bavarian Leather, and he confirmed what my sensations where about the reason (or at least, what the reason should be) for this title. We both agreed it should have been something revolving around a certain degree of activism for the community, and I will try to summarize it down here:
- Representing your country’s, or a continent’s, or the whole international community
- Being a role model about the values and ideals of this community, both for its peers and both for external people
- Spreading BDSM and Leather culture, preventing it from being forgotten and empowering it into nowadays culture
- Empowering and protecting young gay people, teaching them our values and protocols and trying to guide them towards each own’s path
- Having your own personal agenda to present about HOW you want to achieve these goals.
So, holding this very important title is a lot about how can we be better for ourself, our community and to spread Leather and BDSM culture. It is no secret that from the 70’s to the 80’s to the 90’s to now, it has been quite fading down. It’s like if before the Hiv / Aids outbreak and its dramatic, tragic and forever changing death toll, this community was reaching its golden age. After those tremendous years, of which I’m speaking with enormous sense of respect and pain, Leather and BDSM community which was highly decimated begun to shrink down. So the need of a Title Holder, someone who can revive our Culture, show everyone how it’s still actual as it’s very nature is linked to human nature in a everlasting bond, is higher than ever.
Now, let’s not focus on the actual Mr Leathers, and let’s make a step higher in the hierarchy on how it works: CLUBS.
Leather clubs (as associations and societies, not as mere clubbing) have been spreading all around, and they are all referring, in Europe, to the ECMC (European Confederations of Motorcycle Clubs). So what is the purpose of all these clubs (most of the time you have more than one in a single country, or even one for each region) and of their main organizer? Well, as stated in a previous article, during pre HIV times when the living by a certain behavioral code and values was just starting to romp and spread around the world after WWII, coordination, protection and a sense of gathering was highly needed. People were actually really fighting for their rights (where fighting involves dying, suffering, losing jobs, losing families, losing friends, risking to be assaulted just because you’re wearing your Leathers or if you even thought about looking at another man in a funny way), and creating strong groups with a leading guideline about how to act, where to gather all together etc, was really a need.
But what is left of that today? It’s true, I’ve been only at maybe 10 or 12 Leather meetings / BDSM gatherings, so I am no expert. I do talk to experts though; and they all seem to confirm in the majority of the cases the feeling I get. Today the fight is not being brought on with the needed passion, where it is being brought on at all. What do most clubs actually do, at least to the knowledge of the vaste public? Organize parties.
Is it all about Parties?
Now what are exactly these parties good for, to our community? I hope the reader won’t misunderstand me. I love partying. And I do party hard. I don’t do chems since I really don’t feel the need (and especially as a Master I should always be as sober as possible), but I do love to have fun. So this is not a puritan post against parties, not at all. I like having fun, just like we all do. And I also think that partying is good for the soul and good to tell those homophobes to go fuck themselves in their little frustrated lives.
But again, we cannot just party. There is a brutal, horrible world out there, and in many, many many countries just saying that you are homosexual will get you into jail, if not under the ground (like what is happening in Chechnya at the time of this writing?). So why all we seem to care about is partying? Well of course because party generate money income to the clubs and to the hosts, and most of all, partying means sponsors. The commercialization of everything (read _ capitalism) have been hitting our community real hard, and all we seem to care about is having new Leather, the most expensive Leather, or even the cheap one in other cases, the important thing is to get the look. Get the London look. Get the Folsom look.
So, in a spiral without end we started something really good (where sponsors and the opportunity to buy leather easily actually was a good thing too), and we apparently completely lost the goal of our actions, and got tangled inside the only thing that counts, it seems: fuck, party, buy, get high. Though I think my reader will share the idea that this is not being a Leatherman, and this is not being a community. This is, to me, interiorized homophobia, and behaving like society wants us all to be: mere walking sex acts and consumers. But we are far more than this. And we must do something about it. Yes, I know most of the clubs devolve part of their incomes to many good associations trying to fight HIV and other STDs spreading, to help the elderly gay people, and to many other good causes. Is this enough though? In my opinion, no, because only a handful of clubs behave this way.
What I was taught about all this
I was raised and taught that living by the Old Guard protocols and values was something to be deeply proud of. I grew up developing an image of myself and of the Man I want to become which is strictly linked to a strong sense of moral, ethics and protocol:
Some of the key elements to become a Leathermen were:
- Find Pride in being yourself, without having fear of being judged by others
- Respect others
- Empower yours and other peoples diverse fetishes, don’t stick to your comfort zone: learn more.
- Do not judge a book by its cover
- Don’t gossip
- Care about your brothers and offer your help at all times to the Community
- Be in the first line when defending your people from homophobes and any abusive behavior
- Have a sense of hierarchy and respect the Elderly
- Don’t gloat and show off your economical, social or Title status
- Be human and kind
- Don’t slutshame, roleshame or be abusive at any time
- Welcome masculinity and embrace it as much as you welcome non-gender association, femininity, or any other kind of human nature
- Wear your Uniform as a statement of your Pride of living by these rules
So these points are not set in stone, it is a summary of the Values that were taught to me by my Mentors I am not asserting that these must be the only ones in a Leatherman’s sense of ethics. But are at least these concepts looked for in into a Title Holder? Should they? Do you feel deep in your guts and in your heart that you want to be a Role Model and a leader or at least representing us all as a community? What is your plan, your agenda? Or all you want is to feel validated by your popularity?
So now, jumping on the other side of the track, some of my friends whom I really have high respect of (Sir Ernie and Sir John, as an example) have told me many times: “well, you should run for Mr Leather Italy then”. I was like “Hell no, I wouldn’t”. They asked me why. Now, those who know me know that I don’t like cheap fake humbleness, I don’t hunt for compliments, I always speak my mind, which often brings people to think I’m full of myself and arrogant. I am far from being perfect, and I’m working on myself, so maybe I also am a bit of all these things. So, trying to be honest my answer was: “From an idealistic point of view, so pretending that to me this kind of contest has a good meaning, it’s because I’m too young. Plain and simple. You may say I am a good and true Leatherman, but part of me trying to be that, is because I know my limits, I have respect of the Older Brothers, and I know my place. I am 27 years old, and god forbid I see a 27 years old Mr Leather carrying a Title (by the time of reviewing this article I am 30 and I am more than certain that we had even younger title holders by now, n.d.r.). That would truly prove that I’m right about the second reason why I don’t want to run for it. The second reason is hard and cold as grave, so you’ll better be all clutching your pearls because I’m going to go there. The reason is I think I may win. And why I think I may win? Is it because I have a good agenda? Is it because I give people the sensation I can be a Role Model whatsoever or a true Leatherman? Nothing like that. It’s because I look hot in my Leathers, and because all that it would additionally take would have been playing the nice friendly fake friend with all the heads of the Leather Clubs in Italy. That’s how you get the title. Political interests between clubs and sponsor, and you need to look good naked.”
So a Leatherman who really looks like he came right off Tom of Finland’s drawings is more likely to win. Clubs need money, so they need people to come and see the competition, to go online and generate traffic to their website so they can sell more advertising. There’s the need of a hot guy. Not saying that I am one, but people often say this to me. And I have not the slightest interest in being this for my community.
Disclaimer again: What I’m going to say and what I’m saying is not intended at all as an insult or any kind of judgment agains people running, who ran or who are holding the title of Mr Leather. I have absolutely nothing against you, and this is nothing personal.
So prior to writing this article I’ve been speaking to a small group of Title Holders. I will keep their identity private as requested (…), but here I am referring to present or past Mr Leather Poland, Mr Bavarian Leather, Mr Leather Italy, Mr Leather Europe, and organizers of IML. I’ve been talking to them because even if this blog is just about my personal views, I don’t want to talk without being informed first, so I wanted some feedback from people who actually lived through being Mr Leather for one year. Leaving one of them aside, from whom the answer to all of my questions was “Look, I applied to the contest because I was drunk and high, I don’t give a shit about this title, and I hope I’ll be done with my year soon“, the summary I can get out there is the following:
- There is a huge lack of coordination between clubs around Europe. The most critical content that was put to light is that at the end of the day, each club, or for better saying, each country does what they want. There are political and financial fights going on between clubs in different countries, and all the possible political drama that you can imagine. So talking about community and the value of the Title of Mr Leather per se, is wrong. There are countries that try to do their best with activism and contents, and others that are merely promoting parties and trying to make money.
- Most of them agree that nowadays a Mr Leather is merely chosen because he’s hot and has a lot of friends in the right places, but not a lot of them think this is a new situation (well, nothing new under the sun then. Politics is the same inside the gay subcultures as it is a geopolitical macrocosm.)
- Germany seems to be one of the leading communities, and not because as Italian people say “ah, they have Berlin, they have Hamburg, they have the best clubs, they can go around in leather in the cities and they won’t get harassed), but because they have many circuits and programs to try and give young gay people a place to be, and instruct them about the kinky world and its nature.
- There is a political hierarchy that seems impossible to overstep on. Meaning that you can have the best plans in your mind on how to bring on your agenda, but then the very clubs that gave you the title don’t want you to make a fuss and noise. You must behave like a proper popstar, showing up at the right places, dressed up with the right gear, and wait for you year to be finished.
I got to learn also that while some clubs give the title to the Title Holder in an “old fashioned” way, which means that the person applies to the competition, the request gets examined by a commission, and then the jury (made by other Title Holders) will vote, some others will do something much more fun, interesting and honorable; such as the election of Mr Leather Spain, which seems to be all about a facebook based voting system, which will give the title to literally the guy who gets more followers, likes and kudos by other horny men. EDIT: I got to know that the online voting counted only as a 1/5 in the voting system. Anyway, is theres something wrong with being horny? Hell no. Is there something wrong in making random people voting a Title Holder which should speak for a whole community / country? Maybe yes?
And also then I learned something else, which is that there are also many other contests, like Mr. Rubber, Mr. XXX, Mr. Fetish, Mr. Puppy… etc. So maybe I got it all wrong? Maybe it started with something regarding the Leather Community and it got wider in all the fetish communities as a Title, but again, what does this title stand for exactly. That is what I’m trying to understand. Maybe it’s different to each one individual?
So, this article has been in the boiler for a very long time. I’ve been cold feet wether to publish it or not for almost one year, and the reason is very simple: I didn’t want it to feel like a deliberate aggressive judgement towards the New Guard Community. And given the situation, it is difficult for it not to sound this way. But the real reason behind this article is the following: I hope it generates discussion. I hope to get comments from Title Holders or ex Title Holders, or by Leather Clubs Managers that want to enlighten me about the informations that I didn’t find online or by the peers of my conversation. So please, share your comments with me, because at the end of the day, what I’m looking for is some light and hope. I am simply a younger member of this Community that feels that we can all do more, but we can do better if we do it together.
One of the comments on the facebook page reminded to me that I forgot one of my personal views on the issue, which is the following: big part of the issue here in my personal analysis is not against the Title Holders themselves, but against Clubs that should regulate and direct the whole system. At the same time though, I am raising a question about commitment and values, which unavoidably brings the focus back to the Title Holders.
Could it be that the comfortable tendency to leave all the work in the hands of the Role Models is part of the problem too? Maybe it’s right that it’s not all in their hands and on their backs. But they should inspire others, ignite their trust in them as Role Models, not as a universal troubleshooter, but as a safe harbor where to find direction, help and guidance in how to kickstart change. Maybe a Title Holder should start seeding this kind of concept, making everyone inside of the community feel important as they are, and not mere spectators of a horny carnival that maybe, at the end of the day, we can always enjoy in our wet dreams. Or on the floors of the best Leatherclubs.
EDIT 2: 19/08/2017
Today The Rolling Stone Magazine have published this article regarding International Mister Leather contest. I quote a line from the article itself, buckle up people, as now it’s out, wide in the open, and not on LeatherBigWolf’s personal website and blog. It’s on a Magazine. This is basically, officially, what IML and the winner are about to the outer Communities now:
a leatherman will be crowned Mr. International Leather for his appeal in a jockstrap.
Yet it’s out there. Are we still sure we’re doing everything in the right way and direction?