Friday, September 16, 2005

The Leather Agenda: 2005 Edition

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #269, September 16, 2005)

PHOTO: Michael Egdes, International Mr. Leather 2005

What is the current state of the leather nation, and what’s our agenda for the coming year? Many people look upon IML Executive Producer Chuck Renslow’s annual speeches at the International Mr. Leather contest as the leather community’s “state of the union” address. But every International Mr. Leather titleholder develops an agenda for his title year, and that agenda is based on the state of the leather community at the time.

Last issue I introduced you to International Mr. Leather 2005 Michael Egdes. Here is how Egdes described to me his agenda for his title year. It’s a good snapshot of the issues and politics that are front-and-center for the leather community right now.

What do you want to accomplish during your title year?

Issues such as HIV/AIDS, the fight for equality, the fight for freedom of speech, and the repeal of a lot of archaic laws both here and in other parts of the world, are all very important.

I truly believe that this is a nation founded on the principle of freedom, and that’s one of the reasons I chose to move here, particularly from a country and a society [South Africa, where Egdes was born and raised] where oppression was the order of the day. To me it’s really important to fight for those freedoms.

We need to fight for the rights that come automatically with marriage. I don’t care if they’re called civil unions or life partnerships or marriage or whatever—the name is not important, but the rights that go with them are extremely important.

I also think it’s important that the nation and the courts and the government recognize that we make parents as fitting as heterosexual parents.

I’m very alarmed at the passage of the recent bill restricting freedom of speech on the internet. Books are being removed from shelves—anything that portrays homosexuality in a positive light is seen as evil and decadent and is being yanked from school libraries. There are small incremental steps taking place which, if one looks at what happened in Nazi Germany, follow a very similar pattern.

As the radical right becomes more vocal, more powerful and more organized, it terrifies me to think where they might go with this. I think we’re living in very dangerous times right now, and we don’t have time on our side.

It’s really vital that everybody in the community take a role and do what they can to try to bring about change. It might be as simple as making a donation to a cause fighting for freedom, or making a call to a senator or congressman, or writing a letter to an editor. Everybody that does a little something will be helping to stem the tide of oppression that is enveloping us at the moment.

It’s important to acknowledge the progressive changes that are being made. It’s wonderful that Canada has had the third reading of its bill that will legalize gay marriage. There are many European nations that are following suit. I think the address given by the Spanish prime minister at the end of June was a wonderful address, and I think our government would be well advised to read it and consider it.

There is a very important issue that needs to be addressed within the community—in addition to respecting each other, we need to respect ourselves. That involves eliminating or reducing the number of self-destructive behaviors that are unfortunately far too prevalent in our community—for example, sex without regard to safety, or the abuse of chemical substances, particularly crystal meth.

But people must know by now that unprotected sex is like Russian roulette with five of the six chambers loaded, and that crystal meth is very addictive and very destructive. Why do people keep doing these self-destructive things?

I would say when it comes to HIV/AIDS, the advances in treatment and pharmaceuticals have changed the way people perceive the disease. Rather than seeing it as a death sentence they’re seeing it as a disease that is manageable, and therefore the alarm factor is reduced. But it still puzzles me why people would expose themselves to a lifetime of treatment and care of a chronic condition.

I think people in many cases start using crystal meth recreationally and don’t believe it’s going to become an issue for them. But it’s a highly addictive drug and many people are addicted from the first use. Statistics available to us have shown that only 8% of those people that have become addicted to crystal meth have been able to eliminate their dependency on it.

Another issue—there are voices in the leather community asserting that we need to put sex back into politics after downplaying it prior to the last election.

I don’t think what we do behind closed doors is really relevant to anybody else as long as it’s between consenting adults. Focusing on that makes it easier for the radical right to tear us down and criticize us.

Which is not to say that I don’t believe that oppressive laws that are still on the books shouldn’t be removed. I think freedom is a very broad concept, and you can’t pick and choose your freedoms—you’re either free or you’re not. If that means we have to take a more aggressive approach to achieving those freedoms, then that’s what we’ll have to do.

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