Friday, September 27, 1996

Leather Contests Explained

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #35, September 27, 1996)

The new International Mr. Fantasy was recently chosen in Omaha . In San Francisco this weekend the International Mr. Drummer contest takes place. Next weekend brings the Mr. Minnesota Leather ’97 contest here in Minneapolis (details in the gray box), the winner of which goes on to the International Mr. Leather (IML) contest in Chicago next May.

Where did all these contests (and all these titleholders) come from? What purpose do they serve for the leather community? And what difference do they make for anyone who’s not into the leather scene?

Where’d they come from? The same impulse that in straight society finds expression in the Miss America pageant find expression among members of the leather community in leather contests and titleholders. Interestingly, the drag/transgender community has evolved the Imperial Court system of royalty in response to the same impulses. As a psychologist would say: gay,straight or whatever, we’re all socialized the same. If the Imperial Court system produces emperors, empresses, and ladies-in-waiting, perhaps leather contests produce the leather community’s “knights.”

Both IML and Drummer started in 1979. “Beauty pageants” at first, the job of titleholder was transformed by the AIDS crisis — leather titleholders were among the first people to raise funds both for research and to benefit people living with AIDS, simply because they saw the need and were in a position to do something about it.

What purpose do they serve? A good leather contest is a challenge for the contestants and entertainment for the community. Watching a parade of beautiful bodies parading in full (or skimpy) leather and performing leather fantasies (erotic skits) makes for a pleasant evening for the audience. For the contestants and judges, of course, much more is involved.

The judges are as interested in the minds of the contestants as in their physical presence, which is why most contests include a private interview with the judges and a public speech before the audience. The judges are looking for the contestant who will be the community’s best representative, both at local functions and in more advanced levels of competition.

Why would someone want to compete? There are many reasons. Some contestants don’t care if they win or not; they compete for the chance to be in the spotlight for a few minutes. Others compete because they have something to prove, either to themselves or to others. At least a few international titleholders have entered a local contest on a dare. Then there are those contestants who earnestly want to win the contest and to have the experience of holding a leather title.

What’s involved in being a leather titleholder? A certain amount of glamour and a lot of work — and the good feeling that comes from being able to give something back to the community. Besides going on to further levels of competition, titleholders raise funds for charities, educate, entertain, raise consciousness, and are community ambassadors — all things that make the leather community stronger.

How do leather contests and titleholders benefit the non-leather/SM community? The most obvious benefit is fundraising: children’s charities are a favorite benefactor, as are AIDS charities (such as AmFAR, who sponsored Joe Gallagher, IML ‘96, and Andy Borden, 3rd runner-up for IML ‘95). But leather contests and titleholders serve another, perhaps less-obvious, purpose both for the leather community and for the GLBT community at large. The contests, and especially the fantasies, are positive, affirming celebrations of alternative sexuality. Leather titleholders promote that same sex-positive message to society at large — the idea that enjoyable, life-affirming, healthy sexuality isn’t limited to the heterosexual missionary-position flavor. They are sexual freedom-fighters working not just for the rights of the leather/SM community but for all sexual minorities.

Upcoming Leather Events

PHOTO: Mr. Minnesota Leather 1996 Michael deLeon

Mr. Minnesota Leather 1997 Reception
Friday, October 4, 9 pm-1 am, Gay 90’s Men’s Room Bar
This reception honors Michael deLeon, Mr. Minnesota Leather 1996; it’s also your chance to meet this year’s contestants and judges, including Joe Gallagher, IML ’96.Dress code will be in effect for the evening. Admission is $5 and there will be free beer, soft drinks and food for those attending.

Mr. Minnesota Leather 1997 Contest and Show
Saturday, October 5, 4-9 pm, Gay 90’s Dance Annex
Entertainment by The Portfolio Men, Borderline, Rainbow Cloggers and featuring the music of Savage Aural Hotbed (if you missed them at Michael deLeon’s IML send-off this spring, you’ll want to hear them now!) Contestants, having been interviewed earlier by the judges, will be judged on their speeches, leather image, fantasy presentation and on their stage and physical presence. Be there when IML ’96 deLeon sashes his successor. $10 admission. (Individuals wishing to enter the contest should call Colin Spriestersbach for additional information and contest application forms.)

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