Friday, April 16, 2004

Interview: Carl Byrd, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2004

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #232, April 16, 2004)

It is six days after Carl Byrd became the new Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2004. I’m sitting in his living room with him and his dog, Gus. (His partner, Chris, is at the gym.) I catch him slightly off-guard with my first question:

Tell me your life story up to this point in twenty-five words or less.

My life story. Okay—

Just kidding. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Gainesville, Florida and went to high school and college there. I was actually born in Landstuhl, Germany. I was an Army brat—my dad was in the Army so we moved around a lot—but basically I grew up in Florida and the south.

Which college did you attend?

I graduated from the University of Florida in 1989 with a degree in fine arts and graphic design. I moved to San Francisco in 1992, and lived there for eight years working in advertising, and then lived in L.A. for a couple years, working in the entertainment industry, and then moved to Minneapolis, where I do fashion and retail advertising, in 2001.

Have you given any thought to how your professional credentials could add to your title experience?

Well, you know, I’ve thought a lot about it. If it’s trying to get a message out, or trying to be a face that can raise the profile of the leather community, or talk about the issues that are important to the leather or gay communities—being a marketer and an advertiser, that’s what I do every day. I problem-solve when it comes to getting people’s attention or making people understand your message. If I can harness that talent that I have for marketing and advertising, and use it for the leather community, that would be cool.

What prompted you to enter the Mr. Minneapolis Eagle contest this year?

Chris had competed last year and was first runner-up to Gregg White, and that was a great experience for him. This year we talked about it, and I asked him if he wanted to do it again—if he had wanted to, I wouldn’t have competed. But he said he thought maybe I should do it.

I wanted to do it because I wanted to show how much the Eagle and this community, the leather community that embraced me, how much they meant to me. My relationship with Chris blossomed out of this community, and I’ve made some really amazing close friends because of the leather community here. And the Minneapolis Eagle is my favorite bar of my gay life as a gay man. Chris and I like having a good time there. We love Ed, and all the people who work there are great, great guys.

How did you prepare for the Mr. Eagle contest?

I thought about what I wanted to communicate—the epitome of a leather man, what they look like. Again, as a marketer, I wanted to communicate that for the visual part of it. I did reading on leather protocol and leather history. A lot of things I had known—you kind of learn things over the years—but I wanted to start being able to articulate and speak with conviction about those things. And I’m still growing and learning as a person who’s involved in the leather community. So I’m by no means the veteran, but I wanted to be able to communicate what I do know and what I do understand.

What did you think when you won the contest?

I wasn’t prepared. Obviously, I had hoped. But part of me didn’t think it would happen. I was overwhelmed, and very excited.

And, honestly, you go back to when you were 15, growing up in Florida, and you were skinny, and you’re half-white and half-Japanese, and didn’t know who you were. You might have questions about your ethnic identity, your sexual identity, you’re doubting your masculinity and your validity as a man.

And to flash forward to being a 37-year-old man, and be in a contest where you’re supposed to exhibit all those things—exhibit masculinity and the qualities of a leather top, or someone who’s supposed to be an example or a role model. And that was overwhelming. Because even though you know you’re an intelligent person, you know you’re supposed to validate yourself, you don’t need external people or sources to really validate you—don’t we all, on some level, want to be validated by our peers? And I mean peers, you know. That was an honor, and it was very humbling. I wasn’t prepared for how much it really meant to me.

Next year, when you step down, what do you want to be able to say you accomplished during your title year?

First of all, I hope to make everyone proud at IML, that’s my first immediate goal. And with the momentum of that, regardless of the outcome there, I basically want to be a servant to the leather community in Minneapolis this next year. At the end of the year I want everyone in the leather community and the judges to feel like they made the right decision, and that I contributed, and that I had a positive impact on this community.

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