(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #206, April 18, 2003)
Of all the many and varied leather titles out there, one has been quietly distinguishing itself since 1991—or was it 1992? Whichever—one of those two years saw the birth of the International Mr. Saliva contest as part of the Pantheon of Leather community service awards. It was started by a group of international titleholders as a spoof of leather contests and titles; Pantheon of Leather founder (and Leather Journal publisher) Dave Rhodes was its first honoree/victim. In the ensuing years it has taken on a life of its own, successfully resisting all efforts to kill it.
There are several things about International Mr. Saliva (or “the Saliva contest” for short, since the initials IMS are already in use by International Market Square in Minneapolis) that make it unique among contests and titles. It is one of the few titles, if not the only one, named after a bodily fluid, although the organizers had the good taste to choose a bodily fluid that is both pansexual and at least somewhat acceptable to mention in polite society.
For the past several years the contest has been co-emceed by Kay Hallanger and Frank Nowicki, both former Saliva titleholders. Hallanger notes that “The Saliva contest is a true international title, although it has never been won by anyone outside the United States. It has, however, been won by someone from California.”
Also noteworthy is the fact that in its comparatively short history the Saliva contest has evolved faster in its breadth of contestants than any other contest. Today it is the first, and still the only, pan-species event. According to Hallanger, “Our contestants have been various animals, including but not limited to homo sapiens, and plants. This contest is open to any gender as well as the genderless and the polygendered. We are open to organic and inorganic forms. We are even open to new guard and old guard, as long as the latter has a sense of humor.”
This is not just window dressing, allowing different species and forms to compete but offering them no real chance of winning. The Saliva contest’s inclusiveness is genuine, as evidenced by the fact that several non-human contestants have won the competition or at least come close. The first runner-up of the 1995 contest in Houston was The Doberman, and Hallanger says he lost “only because when we tried to put the sash on him he kept biting, and that just wasn’t what we were into.”
Actually, only one plant has ever competed, but Plant (a stage name only—no one knows what its real name was) competed gamely for two years before finally capturing the title during its third competition in 2001. Plant appeared on stage decked in Christmas-tree lights and occasionally sprayed water (at least we think it was water) on other unsuspecting contestants. (Your humble columnist was a contestant against Plant in 2000 and was cautioned not to bring my camera onstage unless it was waterproof.) The first year Plant competed it received stiff competition from the inorganic contestant Chair.
Some people have stated on numerous occasions, always incorrectly, that the Saliva contest has no rules. This myth has started because the rules are changed each year so contestants can’t prepare for the contest. Actually, according to Hallanger, “We prefer not to use the word ‘rule’ for the contest, because rules are very harsh and arbitrary, and we kind of change them as we go. So we only have one rule but we have several guidelines.” Here are some of those guidelines:
• Contestants are drawn from a small pool of living things who either detest this title and all it represents, or from others who are willing to suck up to the judges for any title whatsoever.
• To save time, the winner is selected prior to the contest, and then other contestants are selected to fill out the evening. Contestant selection is generally non-consensual and without prior notice. Contestants need not be present in order to compete.
• The winner need not be a contestant. “In fact,” says Hallanger, “we have found that it saves the winner’s energy if they don’t have to compete—we just let the others wear themselves out.”
• There are always two judges, both former International Mr. Saliva winners. Olympic scoring is used, in which the high and low scores are thrown out, which makes things easier for the tallymaster.
Those are some of the contest’s guidelines. The one firm rule is called the Nowicki rule, and it was introduced after Nowicki’s one-year reign: “If the winner takes the title seriously, and attempts to do fundraisers or appearances, the winner shall be relieved of the title and their name stricken forever from all future mention.”
The Saliva contest continues to be part of the Pantheon of Leather/Olympus Leather Contest weekend. At this year’s event, after the above guidelines and rule were read as an introduction to the contest, members of the audience were rolling in the aisles with laughter —until several of them were summoned to the stage to compete. (Those who didn’t want to compete had left the auditorium by then.) The one and only judging event was the “lick event,” in which contestants had to lick co-emcee Nowicki’s armpits and were graded on how well they licked them.
When all the licking and judging was done, this year’s lucky winner was Mr. Southeast Drummer 1991 Vance Reger, who created this year’s rubber-chicken sash not knowing that he himself would be wearing it. Reger’s response: “I am totally underwhelmed.”
PHOTO: International Mr. Saliva 2003 Vance Reger, who crafted this year’s lovely rubber-chicken sash never suspecting that he, as the winner, would be forced to wear it.