Friday, May 2, 2003

My Ideal IML

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #207, May 2, 2003)

Last year at about this time I was contemplating my duties and responsibilities as a judge at the 2002 International Mr. Leather (IML) contest. I had the idea that it might be easier to make an informed and sound choice of the next IML if I had a very clear understanding and image of the qualities I felt an IML titleholder must possess. After careful consideration I made a list of those qualities. Then I tried to distill them all down into one word.

As a warm-up act for IML 2003 (the 25th anniversary! <> for details), here’s my list from last year presented as a thought-provoker and discussion-starter. This list is mine—yours might be different, so feel free to agree or disagree.

Profile of My Perfect IML*

1. Physical/Material Attributes

A. Looks: Attractive is a must. Beauty is nice, and built and buffed is nice, but sometimes those qualities can actually work against attractiveness. Attractive means approachable, not intimidating, so attitude is not what we’re looking for here. Nice eyes, good grooming and a winning, genuine smile contribute to attractiveness.

B. Age: Immaterial. IML can be 25 or 65. While age is immaterial, maturity is very definitely a necessity. IML should be old enough to be mature and young enough to have the stamina to do the job.

C. Education: A plus. But intelligence is more important. (See #2 below.)

D. Money: At the very least IML must possess the Basic 5 to which Guy Baldwin alluded in his speech at last year’s Leather Leadership Conference: job, home, car, telephone and enough disposable income. Looking at the reality of holding a title, the amount of disposable income needed is a significant consideration, along with the willingness to spend it on being IML. Holding a title should not be an honor that bankrupts the titleholder.

E. Status/Prestige/Social Position: Nice as long as they don’t interfere with attractiveness and approachability, but not essential.

2. Intellect

A. Level: My preference is higher as opposed to lower. More intellectual horsepower means a better representative for the community, one who is more able to deal appropriately with people, situations and ideas.

B. Use: There’s book-learning and there’s street-smarts. IML probably needs more of the latter than the former.

C. Wisdom: This is really what we’re looking for. Wisdom is intelligence used in the service of spirit or principles; this makes ideas a means to an end. The opposite of wisdom is intelligence used in the service of the ego, in which case ideas are used to measure self-worth and to impress others; the ideas become an end in themselves.

3. Interests

A. Hobbies: IML should be someone who is really into leather. That should go without saying, but some IML contestants are still new to the scene and inexperienced. While they probably won’t win the IML title, the experience of competing in IML can still be a priceless learning and growth opportunity for these contestants.

B. Work: IML needs an adequately paying job (see #1D above). But to be able to fulfill his obligations he also needs schedule flexibility and enough time off. IML should be “out” at work and have an employer who supports his holding the title.

C. Leisure time: IML should have lots, and be willing to give it up for a year. He should really enjoy being IML and thrive on it.

4. Values/Way of Life

A. Religion: Open to any or none.

B. Spirituality: An understanding of and interest in the spiritual aspects of leather would be an asset (see #7, below).

C. Ethics/Morals: An understanding of, respect for, and commitment to the leather community’s code of ethics and sense of morality is essential. Again, this should go without saying, but unfortunately the judges can’t necessarily count on it being present in every contestant.

D. Way of Life: Respect for the leather way of life is essential—except how do we define it? Who gets to define it? For example, does IML have to be a heavy player? Not necessarily, but he must be comfortable with and knowledgeable about that scene, since he will be a spokesmen for its devotees. IML must be able to represent all aspects of our way of life effectively and believably, even though he may not partake of all of them.

5. Psychological/Emotional Attributes

A. Capacity for intimacy: Essential. He must have the ability to be open and to share himself with others.

B. Emotional maturity and balance: The counterpart of the above. IML must have a well-developed sense of decorum, appropriateness and boundaries, so as neither to take advantage of others nor to be taken advantage of by them. In other words, for just one example, the position shouldn’t go to his head—he shouldn’t become a sex addict just because he can have his pick of the bar, and he shouldn’t feel he must sleep with everyone out of titular obligation. He must be comfortable with himself, self-assured, honest, and kind.

6. Creativity/Passion

These would be definite assets, obviously. IML must be able to be new, interesting, fresh, exciting, and novel.

A. Playfulness: IML must have the ability to laugh at himself and not take either himself or the title too seriously, at least not all the time. He will be the butt of many jokes during his title year and must be able to accept ribbing graciously.

B. Talents: He must be outgoing, able to meet people and schmooze comfortably, able to be “on” when necessary, comfortable on stage and in front of large and small groups, able to be the center of attention, to work a room, to command and hold a crowd’s attention.

C. Level of energy and joy: Must be high and boundless.

7. Spirituality

The man suited to be IML must possess a commitment to leather ethics and principles as well as to a path of truth, integrity and service. He should treat the title and the community with gratitude, realizing he has been given an extraordinary opportunity to play an important role in the community’s life.

8. Essence

IML doesn’t have to try too hard. He makes it look easy to be IML—and for him, it is. Former IML chief judge Thom Dombkowski has spoken about the King Arthur legend, the one knight who easily pulls the sword from the rock after all others have been unable to do so no matter how hard they tug. The selection of the new IML may seem similarly preordained, perhaps because on some level it is. It’s just up to the judges to recognize him when he shows up.

One word to describe My Perfect IML

Actually, I have two. As I made my list last year I decided the one word to describe IML was “Ambassador.” After last year’s IML judging process was over I decided that I needed to add another one-word description that I learned from my fellow judges: “Leader.”

Here’s hoping the judges at this year’s International Mr. Leather contest find their perfect IML.

(*The eight categories are taken from a list of the ways in which people relate contained in If the Buddha Dated by Charlotte Kasl—one of the best books on human relationships I have ever come across. Highly recommended.)

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