Friday, March 27, 2009

The Leather Life Interview: Gary Iriza, International Mr. Leather 2008

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #361, March 27, 2009)

Gary Iriza came to Chicago last year as Mr. Palm Springs Leather and left as International Mr. Leather 2008. He’s Latin, he’s passionate, he’s energetic, and he has a great sense of humor. I interviewed him when he was visiting Des Moines, Iowa, to judge the Mr. Iowa Leather contest.

What has your year been like so far? Working, traveling, meeting new people everywhere. At times it becomes a blur. When I was flying here, the lady at LAX asked me, “Where are you going?” And for two seconds I just glazed. “Um, Iowa.” And she goes, “What city?” “Uh, you got me on that one.” But once you get there and get to know the people, there’s something particular in each city that makes you remember them.

You grew up in Venezuela? Yeah, in Caracas, Venezuela. Fancy part of town? Not-so-fancy part of town? I’m from a family where everybody is a professional. We were not wealthy, but we all went to school, so we can consider ourselves middle-class. However, there’s a fine line between what’s considered middle-class in a country like Venezuela—either you have too much money or you have no money at all. It’s a poor country. I mean, it’s a rich country, but there’s a lot of poor families.

You studied what? Systems engineering. Computer systems? I was more in the hardware part than the software. I never liked it, to be honest with you. I wanted to be a medical doctor.

What brought about your move to the U.S.? The fact that I’m HIV positive, and in my country medical care is very restricted, especially for HIV male homosexuals. They help children, they help women, but to homosexuals it’s very limited. It was like, okay, dead in Venezuela or alive in the United States.

What’s it like for gay people in Venezuela, in Caracas? It’s not easy. There’s a lot of persecution, especially from police. One time, leaving a gay bar, two police officers stopped me and asked me, where were you, and I said, in a bar, and they said, are you gay, and I said yes, and then they go, we have to search you. They handcuffed me on a light pole for, like, a half-hour. There’s stuff that people don’t know about that’s going on in Latin America.

So, you got to this country, and where did you first land? Miami, and I loved it. I was learning the culture, and I actually made an effort to learn the language—even though I was in South Beach, and everybody speaks Spanish. I had a rule, whoever’s gonna speak with me, you wanna speak in English, because I don’t wanna procrastinate my learning.

You live in Los Angeles now? I was in L.A. for three years and then moved to Palm Springs. And that’s when you won Mr. Palm Springs Leather? Yeah, that’s when I competed in Mr. Barracks, Mr. Palm Springs and then IML. Then I met somebody in San Francisco, I married him and lived there for two months, it didn’t work out, and I’m back in L.A.

Anything more you want to say about that? Getting married, it was a beautiful thing to do, it just didn’t work out. Probably it was too soon for us to jump into that, but we were under the pressure of the American elections and Prop 8, and I wanted to represent the community and say, I’m in love with somebody, and I think we wanted to marry because we wanted to support the cause. The only advice I will give anyone is, when you do something you have to mean it. I did mean it, it just didn’t work out for us. But he’s an extraordinary person, he was Mr. San Francisco Leather 2004, he’s an incredibly handsome man and he always will be in my heart.

How did you get into leather? When I was in Miami I went to a couple of parties and saw leather guys, and I thought they were attractive. When I got to L.A. I was very attracted to the Fault Line bar on Melrose. I met my ex-partner, James, at a leather bar in Palm Springs. He is very much into leather, and he took me under his wing and little by little he turned me into his boy, and I liked it, I liked it, I liked it.

I had asked him to take me to IML—he had been going to IML every year until he met me, right? And he was like, oh, no, you’re not ready for it. I told him, you know what, you don’t take me to IML, I’ll take you to IML. And he laughs, yeah, right, you don’t have the money, you don’t have the means. So I remember, right after I won Mr. Palm Springs, he jumped onto the stage, gave me a hug, and he was like, oh my God, I love you so much. And I said, “Pack your bags, we’re going to IML!”

(To be continued next issue. Until then, you might want to check out Iriza’s blog at <>.)

PHOTO: Gary Iriza, moments after being sashed as International Mr. Leather 2008.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mr. Iowa Leather 2009

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #360, March 13, 2009)

And coming soon, Mr. Mpls. Eagle 2009

Every year the International Mr. Leather (contest draws over 50 contestants from across the U.S. and Canada and around the world. Where do all those contestants come from?

Most if not all contenders for International Mr. Leather come to Chicago as winners of local, state or regional contests. This year, as in years past, one of those contenders will come to Chicago from Iowa. The Mr. Iowa Leather contest is a co-production of The Blazing Saddle Bar, which has been serving Des Moines for 25 years, in cooperation with The Corn Haulers Leather and Levi Club of Iowa, which has been around for 32 years.

This year’s contest took place Friday through Sunday, Feb. 13-15, at The Blazing Saddle Bar. Your humble columnist was part of a group of Twin Cities leathermen who traveled south to Des Moines for Valentine’s weekend to attend the contest and to visit our leather brothers in Iowa.

The weekend got underway with Friday evening’s Judges & Contestant Mixer. The judged portion of the contest started on Saturday afternoon, when each contestant was privately interviewed by the weekend’s judges. Contestants were Frank Platt of Des Moines; Shawne Goodman of Ames, Iowa; and Greg Mace of Des Moines. They were queried by an impressive lineup of five judges, two of whom were local (Mike Ferry, Corn Haulers vice president, and Dan Bell, a Corn Haulers associate member). The other three judges were current or former international leather titleholders who traveled to Des Moines from one coast or the other: Mike Gerle, International Mr. Leather 2007; Mark “Sir Y” Burton, International Mr. Deaf Leather 2008; and Gary Iriza, the current International Mr. Leather.

Saturday evening’s contest and show played to a completely packed house at The Blazing Saddle. The fast-paced evening started with a fierce production number by three young leathermen. Following that, all three contestants were introduced, and then brought back on stage one by one for the Minimal Wear and Formal Leather/Speech categories.

Entertainment between competition segments was provided by drag performers Iris Aspire, Stinketta and Lana Caine, who also was the evening’s emcee. Stinketta enlisted Iriza’s presence onstage for two numbers, while Lana Caine was assisted in one of her numbers by a blindfolded member of the Minnesota contingent.

Finally, the contestants were brought back to the stage and the winners were announced: Greg Mace was sashed as Mr. Iowa Leather 2009, with Shawne Goodman taking runner-up honors. As the new Mr. Iowa Leather, Mace will be competing in the International Mr. Leather contest in Chicago this coming Memorial Day weekend (May 21-25).

During Sunday’s victory brunch at The Blazing Saddle (great food, delectable home-baked breads and pastries), I had the opportunity to talk to Mace and to get a close look at the Mr. Iowa Leather title sash, which has become a piece of local leather history that is passed from one year’s titleholder to the next. On it are recorded the names of many of the previous Mr. Iowa Leather titleholders, some of whom your humble columnist recognized and remembered. Kudos to Blazing Saddle owner Bob “Mongo” Eikleberry and manager Bryan Smith, as well as to all the Corn Haulers members who keep this contest going and who made this year’s edition such a great experience.

Mr. Minneapolis Eagle contest is back!

After having such a great time at the Mr. Iowa Leather contest, it was very good to hear the news that the Mr. Minneapolis Eagle contest is back after a year’s hiatus. Saturday, April 11 is the contest date.

There’s still room for more contestants, so if you’re interesting in competing, contact The Minneapolis Eagle for a contestant application. (If you win, you’ll travel to Chicago to compete alongside Mr. Iowa Leather 2009 Greg Mace, and about 50 other leathermen, in the International Mr. Leather contest.)

Even if you aren’t competing, be sure to be at The Minneapolis Eagle April 11 to cheer on your favorite contestant.

PHOTOS: Choose from these, which will be uploaded to Lavender’s website.

PHOTO CREDIT FOR ALL: Marric Photography


Greg Mace, Mr. Iowa Leather 2009


Gary Iriza, International Mr. Leather 2008 (left), congratulates Greg Mace, Mr. Iowa Leather 2009 (right).


Left to right: Gary Iriza, International Mr. Leather 2008; Greg Mace, Mr. Iowa Leather 2009; and Marc “Sir Y” Burton, International Mr. Deaf Leather 2008.