Friday, June 18, 1999

International Mr. Leather 1999: Big Weekend—Small World

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #106, June 18, 1999)

PHOTO: Left to right: IML ’99 first runner-up Sean Reilly; International Mr. Leather 1999 Bruce Chopnik; and IML ’99 second runner-up Mike Hargiss.

According to the City of Chicago, the International Mr. Leather (IML) Contest attracts 7,500 people to Chicago every year and pumps $20 million into the city’s economy. Every year I contribute a small share of that $20 million, and every year I feel like I get my money’s worth and then some. This year was no different. The lobby of the Congress Hotel, headquarters for the weekend, became the world’s biggest and best leather (and cigar) bar, and the rest of the hotel was also quite active.

The action started Friday night when the audience and judges saw all 52 contestants for the first time. They were introduced by the weekend’s emcees, Frank Nowicki and Queen Cougar. Saturday night was the physique pre-judging, in which the contestants wore as little as possible as creatively as possible—two contestants came out brandishing cans of Crisco, and one hopped out on stage mummified in a leather pride flag made of Saran Wrap.

The main event, Sunday night’s contest, saw all 52 contestants parade proudly across the stage before the twenty semi-finalists were announced. (Congratulations to Mr. Minnesota Leather Joshua Smith for being one of them!) These twenty semi-finalists each presented a 90-second speech and went through another round of physique judging (also known as the “jock walk”). Then IML 1998 Tony Mills took the stage for one last time before passing the sash to his successor.

While the judges’ scores were being tallied the crowd was entertained by Erin Hamilton, a talented singer whose mother is actress/comedienne Carol Burnett. Ms. Hamilton, appropriately dressed in a skin-tight latex dress, started with her new high-energy dance single, “Satisfied,” and also performed her first hit, “Dream Weaver.” The crowd loved her and was very definitely “satisfied.”

When Tony Mills won the IML title in 1998 it hearkened back to the 1997 IML contest when Minnesota’s own Kevin Cwayna won the title—both Cwayna and Mills are medical doctors. This year’s contest also hearkened back to 1997 in two ways. That year the first runner-up, Mark Malan, was sponsored by Piston’s Bar in Long Beach, California. This year’s first runner up, Sean Reilly, was sponsored by the same bar. (This year’s second runner-up, Mike Hargiss, is from San Diego.)

Another coincidence: in 1997, Cwayna’s speech ran long and his microphone was turned off in mid-sentence, which in prior years would have ruined his chances of winning. Cwayna won the IML title anyway. This year Mr. Rocky Mountain Leather Bruce Chopnik told an enthralled audience where he was the day of the Columbine school shootings—he was working with the mayor of Denver and 475 other people at a conference of mayors from around the nation. In mid-speech, just as he was getting to the good part, he ran over 90 seconds and the microphone went dead. But, again, it didn’t matter—Bruce Chopnik is the new International Mr. Leather.

More coincidences: Second runner-up Hargiss previously lived in Denver and therefore knew winner Chopnik prior to the contest weekend. And Chopnik previously lived in Long Beach, where he was friends with first runner-up Reilly (they both enjoyed country dancing at a bar in Long Beach called Floyd’s). Small world, isn’t it?

And it gets even smaller. If you live in the Twin Cities and think this guy Chopnik looks familiar, it might be because he lived here in 1994 and 1995. He was director of operations for RSVP Cruises and was fond of two-stepping at The Town House. (He sends his regards to “Charlie Rounds and the boys at RSVP.”)

This year’s judges were Chief Judge Thom Dombkowski; outgoing IML Tony Mills; leather writer and titleholder Don Bastian; legendary whipmaster Fred Katz; International Mr. Drummer 1993 Graylin Thornton; International slave 1995 Tom Stice; award-winning leather columnist “Mr. Marcus” Hernandez; Seattle attorney Spencer Bergstedt (who in a past life won the title of International Ms. Leather 1994); and noted writer and publisher Tony DeBlase, who ten years ago created the leather pride flag. As part of Sunday night’s contest proceedings DeBlase donated the original prototype leather pride flag to the Leather Archives & Museum (all together now: “located in Chicago and serving the world.”)

Actually, the Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M) had a pretty good weekend, raising over $60,000 from donations at the contest, and from a silent auction and a sale of pre-viewed porn videos. Just in time, too, because at Sunday night’s contest an announcement was made regarding the possibility of purchasing a building to give the LA&M proper display space. (Interesting sidenote, presented without comment: Somebody told me the building they’re considering has been previously used as a church.)

The International Mr. Leather contest was not the only contest of the weekend. Ariq Robinson, who was International Mr. Fantasy 1997, won the title of Mr. Ebony in Leather 1999. This year’s International Mr. Bootblack competition was won by Robert Ehrlich Jr.; first runner-up was Fred Michmershuizen and second runner-up was Paul Eugen Frazier III.

At the conclusion of the weekend, IML Executive Producer Chuck Renslow announced plans for upgraded IML host hotels in future years: in 2001 IML’s host hotel will be Chicago’s famous Palmer House, and the host hotel for 2002 is the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Next year’s IML 2000 weekend will therefore be the last (at least for awhile) to be headquartered at the Congress Hotel. Listen up: Right now is not too early to make room and contest package reservations for next year. You can see more coverage of this year’s weekend, as well as details about next year’s, at

Minnesota Leather Pride Booth at Twin Cities Festival of Pride

On Saturday and Sunday, June 26 and 27, be sure to visit the Leather Community booth while you’re at the Twin Cities Festival of Pride in Loring Park. You’ll find representatives from local leather organizations, and maybe even a titleholder or two, as well as informational literature. Check this issue’s Out & About Calendar for information on all the other 1999 Minnesota Leather Pride events.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Friday, June 18

Regional Drummer Contest Meet & Greet Party
8:30 PM-3 AM (no liquor after 1 AM), Club Metro, St. Paul
Tonight, in addition to the meet & greet, will be the opening comments and erotic-wear competition. $7 at the door. Call for more information call.

Saturday, June 19

Capitol City Pride Motorcycle Run
Arriving at Mears Park in St. Paul around 3 PM
If you’re at Capitol City Pride and you hear a sudden roar of motorcycle engines, you know the bikers have arrived. Come on over and say hello.

Saturday, June 19

Regional Drummer Contest & Show
Doors open 8 PM, Contest at 9 PM, Club Metro, St. Paul
Tonight: Contestant speeches and fantasy presentations. Entertainment by Mercury Records recording artists Men Out Loud and Gary Aldrich of the Metropolitan Opera Company. $10 at the door. Call for more information.

Friday, June 25

Minnesota Leather Pride/NSGRA Beer Bust
8-11 PM, The Town House, St. Paul
The kickoff event for Minnesota Leather Pride 1999. All proceeds benefit the North Star Gay Rodeo Association (NSGRA). Free beer and sodas, bootblacking available. $5 at the door. This is your first chance to get your 1999 Minnesota Leather Pride dogtag ($5, or $4 if you’re wearing a 1999 Twin Cities Festival of Pride button). Dogtags will be available at all Minnesota Leather Pride events and are good for reduced admission to other 1999 Minnesota Leather Pride events.

Friday, June 25

Minnesota Leather Pride DJ Dance Party
9 PM-closing, under the Big Top at The Minneapolis Eagle
The Big Top returns! Big Top cover $5 ($3 with 1999 Minnesota Leather Pride dogtag).

Saturday, June 26

Minnesota Leather Pride DJ Dance Party
9 PM-closing, under the Big Top at The Minneapolis Eagle
Haircuts by Vince, bootblack on duty. Big Top cover $7 ($5 with 1999 Minnesota Leather Pride dogtag).

Sunday, June 27

Twin Cities Festival of Pride Parade
Assemble at 3rd St. and Portland Ave., downtown Minneapolis, between 9:30 and 10 AM. Parade steps off at 11 AM.
All clubs, club members, titleholders past and present, and GDI’s in the Upper Midwest are invited (bring your club colors and regalia). Help carry the largest Leather Pride flag ever built in the U.S. (50’ x 75’).

Sunday, June 27

Minnesota Leather Pride Barbeque
4-9 PM, under the Big Top at The Minneapolis Eagle
All-you-can-eat barbeque ($7, or $5 with 1999 Minnesota Leather Pride dogtag). Optional beer bust ($7). Bullwhip demo and game—see a master crack the whip, then try it yourself. Titleholder dunk tank. Bootblack on duty. The place to be after marching in the Pride Parade.

Friday, June 4, 1999

Leatherwomen Speak Out

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #105, June 4, 1999)

What Leathermen Need To Know About Leatherwomen

The Knights of Leather, a local women’s leather group, recently presented their eleventh annual Tournament run. It was attended by a diverse crowd, half women and half men. (Historically, men outnumber women at Tournament, even though it’s presented by a women’s leather group.)

I spent a good part of the weekend asking this question of the women in attendance: What do leathermen need to know about leatherwomen? I got a broad spectrum of responses which ranged from “I never thought about wishing that the guys knew anything about us” and “I don’t define myself by what men think of me” to “I’ve been waiting years for someone to ask me that question!” Presented here is a very small sampling of the opinions voiced during the weekend. We’ll start with one leatherwoman’s laundry list of things she wants leathermen to know:

“I’m tired of leathermen being afraid of leatherwomen. I’m tired of walking into a dungeon and having the dungeon clear out. I’m tired of not being included in men’s events. I’m tired of not having equality between men and women. I’m tired of having Mr. Eagle contests and not Ms. Eagle contests. I’m tired of being an afterthought. I would like to be included on a more regular basis.

“A lot of women don’t even think of going to men’s leather events because we don’t feel welcome. I’ve been to men’s leather events where there were only two women there. And we’re always asked, ‘Where are the women?’ Well, all the advertising is geared toward men. There’s nothing there to make women feel welcome, so why would we go to your event? I don’t want people to ask ‘Where are the women?’ anymore. We’re here, we’re loud and we’re proud—we’re just over here, as segregated as you want us to be.”

Many leatherwomen don’t feel terribly welcome in leather bars, either. “I remember I was at the Eagle when they started Wednesday night women’s space. There were guys at the bar who said, ‘What are they doing here? This is our bar.’ I said, ‘This is women’s night.’ And they said, ‘We’re out of here. This is a men’s bar, this is a leather bar, and we don’t want women around us.’ What I’d like to ask leathermen who don’t want women around is ‘Why not?’ I don’t get it.” Another woman chimed in: “It’s like the Little Rascals, the He-Man Woman-Haters Club.”

Some leatherwomen have problems with leather contests: “Some contests should be open to either sex. I identify as a boy. I would love to enter a Drummerboy contest, but just because I’m anatomically female, I can’t do it. I don’t have a dick—my dick is in the drawer at home, but I don’t have one physically attached to me. So I can’t enter the contest. And I know some guys who identify as girls, and we don’t even have a contest for them.” Another woman said, with a devilish gleam in her eye: “I know we’re going to have some woman run for Mr. Minnesota Leather one of these days, and it’s going to cause a big stir. And I’ll be glad.”

Many women wanted more mixed play spaces: “We don’t have as much money as men do, so we can’t set up a dungeon. Especially in a town like this, where there aren’t public play spaces, we end up with not as many places to play.” The woman standing next to her agreed: “The gender-division thing kinda sucks. I like watching men play. You need to let women come and watch you. We’re voyeurs too.” While we’re on the subject of play: “One thing that pisses me off is that guys think women can’t play as hard or as raw as they can. I have a pussy, but I’m not a pussy.”

On sharing play spaces: “The problem I have is that I want to respect men’s choices, but I also don’t want to be excluded. And balancing those two is really difficult. I think that it’s not a bad thing to have a Tuesday night men’s night in a bar, and a Wednesday night women’s night. It’s a level-of-comfort thing—that’s what we’re used to, it’s what we accept—but I think we should strive to have a Thursday night ‘together’ night. It’s valid to have men-only play space and women-only play space, but have a common play space, too. That way you have the opportunity to watch both genders play. You have the feeling of camaraderie that comes with the mix, and it’s a hell of an education. That’s part of the way to knock the barriers down.”

Another way to knock the barriers down is to learn to trust each other and to focus on what leatherwomen and leathermen have in common: “We both want to embrace who we are, and to be okay with being different. But it’s hard to cross those bridges and break down those walls because they’ve been there for so long. As a young dyke I didn’t trust men because at that time, in the seventies, women were jealous because men had more power, more freedom, more privileges. But after feeling that way for a certain amount of time, you get tired of it. As I became more secure with myself it didn’t matter so much what other people had. I felt free to be myself and to let others be themselves.”

Leatherwomen don’t want to be patronized: “Don’t give me the line about ‘brotherhood’ and ‘sisterhood.’ Don’t feed me the line—show me that you are actually practicing what you preach.”

Leathermen aren’t the only group that leatherwomen would like to talk with: “The question about what dialogue we would have with gay leathermen is not as pressing to me as, maybe, what dialogue do we want to have with vanilla dykes? Not to say this isn’t something we need to talk about, but when we start talking we have more in common with leathermen than we do with vanilla queer women.”

A postscript: In other areas of the country this topic might not be as relevant as it is here. A visitor from the eastern U.S. said, “I find this whole conversation odd. When I first came into the community I had a mistress in Washington, D.C. and the first place she took me was The Playhouse in Baltimore, which is generally pansexual. So that’s my norm.”

New! Kink-Friendly AA/Al-Anon Group

The “Twisted Twelve,” a kink-friendly AA/Al-Anon Twelve Step Recovery group, has recently formed and is meeting at 7 PM Wednesdays at the Walker Community Library, 2880 Hennepin Ave. in Minneapolis. All genders and orientations are welcome.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Sunday, June 6

Black Guard Social
6-9 PM, Brass Rail
No cover charge, free food, socializing and fun. Call for more information.

Saturday, June 12

Leather/Levi Dinner
Location and time to be announced
Presented by the Atons, open to all. For information and reservations call the Atons Hotline.

Saturday, June 12

North Star Gay Rodeo Association Road Trip
The Main Club, Superior, Wisconsin
Beer bust, guest bartenders, silent auction, NSGRA royalty will perform. For more information call.