Friday, April 1, 2005

The Leather Life Interview: Larry Patnoe, Mr. Minnesota Leather 1992

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #257, April 1, 2005)

PHOTO: Larry Patnoe

As Mr. Minnesota Leather 1992, Larry Patnoe represented Minnesota in the 1992 International Mr. Leather Contest. I first got to know him long before that—in the 1970s we both worked at Control Data Corporation. Patnoe was there to offer encouragement and support when your humble columnist, who then was a college student, came out as a gay man. (At the time Patnoe was married—he would come out of his own closet several years later.) It was a pleasure to sit down with him recently and reminisce about life back then and what’s happened to us since.

Leather Life: When you were watching me come out all those years ago, did you have any inkling that you were gay, or did that come later?

Patnoe: A short time later.

And when that inkling came, what did you do?

Well, I got a divorce and set about becoming who I felt I really was. My marriage was very good, though, and we’re still real close friends. Me and my kids and my ex-wife, we have great times together.

You are a long-term AIDS survivor. When did you find out that you had AIDS?

That would have been in ’85.

Tell me a little bit about life since ’85, your struggles with AIDS.

That was really a difficult time for a lot of us because at that point people didn’t know what caused AIDS—they didn’t know how it was passed. There were just rumors. I remember one that I heard was that poppers caused it. There was a lot of fear.

I was really sick the first seven, ten years. I remember people shoving trays of food into the hospital room because they were afraid to come in—stuff like that. And then when I wasn’t in the hospital I remember going to the hospital to take care of people who were on life-support systems. Nobody was cleaning them up or anything, so you went and you helped them out because somebody had to do it.

It was a whole different world then. I had a lover, Jim, and we got asked to move from where we were living because it wasn’t “suitable,” you know. Fortunately we managed to get out of there and have money enough to put down on a home of our own, where we lived together until he died. My relationship with Jim lasted thirteen years, and that was just marvelous—it was just like heaven. And then I went probably about fourteen years before I really hooked up with anybody again, and then I met Dave Olds, and that lasted until he died.

The last time your name was in Lavender was when you were mentioned in Dave’s obituary.

Dave and I met, oh, probably about seven years ago. We became very close companions. He died just a little over a year ago. He had a heart attack, and that was very difficult because that was the second partner I had lost. We were very, very supportive of each other. And he was into leather, too, and it was just a lot of fun.

Let’s talk about leather. How did you get into it?

I met a lot of people who were involved in it, and I really liked them, and it just became part of my scene. There was a lot of comradeship back then—the men, the women, we hung out together. It was a social set based on who we were as people, and how we behaved, and whose parties we went to.

You won the Mr. Minnesota Leather contest in 1991. What made you decide to enter?

It was just for the fun of it. They were having this contest, and I thought, well, hell, why not enter it and show my support for my friends? So I entered, and wound up winning, which really surprised me.

Can you describe the fantasy you performed?

Well, the one that I did when I won in 1991 was probably not nearly as spectacular as the one that I did when I turned it over to Jon Tudor, my successor, in 1992. I was really very proud of my Native American heritage, and in my mind there was some overlap between that and leather, so I used a Native American theme in my fantasy in ’91—I did a grass dance. Then in ’92, when it was time to do a farewell fantasy, I took a scalpel and cut slits in my chest and put stakes through them, sort of like the Sun Dance.

And what reaction did you get from the audience?

Well, afterward I heard that I got quite a reaction from the audience, but at the time I didn’t know, because you can’t see what’s going on when you’re onstage. But I could tell they were a bit interested in what I was doing.

Tell me about your experience at IML in 1992.

Well, I had a good time. We were kept very busy with rehearsals, and interviews, and picture-taking sessions. But I also had a marvelous opportunity to meet a lot of other people and carry on like trash, and I really did. I think when the rankings came out I came in fourth, which didn’t make me feel badly, it made me feel pretty good.

IML was my first time, I think, when I had ever seen that many people in leather at one spot. It was a real high, it really was. And they just loved everything you did—every time you were onstage there’d be this massive applause. That was a high, too—made me consider going into show biz! It was fun.

Have you ever been to IML since?

No, because at the time I had HIV, and shortly after that I started having some difficulties, so I never managed to make it back. I have thought it would be really fun to go again, and see how it’s changed.

How are things now? Do protease inhibitors make a difference for you?

Right now I’m doing okay as far as the AIDS stuff goes. I have some of the general sort of things that long-term survivors have—I’m really tired, I’m really weak, stuff like that. But about three years ago I started having strokes. I don’t know if you noticed or not, but my left side doesn’t work well. I’m dealing with that. I’ve had heart surgery, and all sorts of lovely little physical things that have gone on. I dehydrate easily—the slightest cold and I’m in the hospital because I’m dehydrated.

It’s a lot to deal with.

It really is. Right now I’m not very strong, so I really have to depend a lot on my friends for getting out and going around and doing things. Walking is hard—I could do it if I had the strength, but I can go about a block, block and a half, something like that, and that just about takes it all out of me. So I’m kinda stuck around here. I’ve become a homebody, whether I like it or not.

Let me tell you something that happened at Tournament last year. Around the campfire on opening night, someone brought some sage to do a smudging, and they tearfully remembered this was something that “Larry” used to do. I thought you were probably that “Larry” and that they assumed you were no longer with us. And they were very sad.

Well, it’s probably been about five or six years since I’ve been out and about, so I’m not surprised by stuff like that. Because so many people with HIV have crapped off.

But no, I’m still bouncin’ around.

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