Friday, August 22, 2003

A Conversation With IML2003 John Pendal

(Full-length Leather Life column published on Lavender Magazine website, Issue #215, August 22, 2003; a shorter version appeared in print)

PHOTO: John Pendal, International Mr. Leather 2003

John Pendal, this year’s International Mr. Leather contestant from The Hoist Bar in London, England, started his contestant speech by saying, “Before I realised I was gay I spent seven years in a fundamentalist religion. Do you think I should send them a video of this contest?” Pendal, who went on to win the IML 2003 title, has a continually-updated website (<>) where you can read that IML speech as well as other things he’s written—including the story of how he got involved with Christian fundamentalism and what got him out of it, and a guide to London’s leather scene. He recently traveled all the way from London to Omaha, Neb. for the International Ms. Leather 2003 contest, which is where I caught up with him.

Is being IML what you expected? Or didn’t you really know what to expect?

No, I knew what to expect, in that for the last years I’ve had a very political job where I work, so I knew there would be politics involved. I’ve been in a theater company for eight years, traveling, so I know what it’s like living out of a suitcase. And I’ve been writing since age eight. So, writing and delivering speeches, traveling to events, being political—I was expecting a lot of that. I haven’t had any surprises yet.

How is it working trans-ocean? You know, being one of these European IMLs that we get every once in awhile, of whom some people say, “Well, we’ll never see him again until it’s time to give up the sash next year”?

Well, to anybody that says that about me, I would say: “If you won IML and you’re an American, how often would we see you in Europe?” I’m coming out to America every month for the next year. Would I see you in Europe every month for the next year?

That’s the proper rejoinder.

I’m going to Rome, Brussels, Amsterdam, Reykjavik—in Iceland, for anyone who doesn’t know—Canada, I’m trying to get to Ireland, and yes, I will be going to America at least once a month for the next year.

I try to go to as many countries as I can, and there’s only two caveats on that. One is that the travel fund won’t burn out completely, because I inherited a healthy fund from my predecessor. I’d like there to be something left for the next IML. And the second thing is I have to be careful on jet lag.

You said at the IML press conference that you wanted to turn some attention to the European leather community—

I’d like to cross-fertilize. I think there are things that Europe can learn from America. I think there’s a great deal that America can learn from Europe. My plan is to try to take things back and forth.

But there are things that Europeans don’t have to worry about that Americans do, and vice versa.

There are, but then some things are very much the same. The syphilis outbreak is huge in America, it’s huge in London, it’s huge in Amsterdam. And I think we need education everywhere. People are coming on the scene all the time and they’re joining in great numbers, and that’s fabulous. But boy, do we need to teach them quickly! Stuff about safewords, about HIV transmission routes—not just about HIV but gonorrhea, herpes, syphilis, chlamydia.

And people need to know the history of our community—otherwise you just put on a pair of leather chaps that you bought, go to a bar, buy a drink and think that’s the leather community? No, that’s not—that’s wearing a costume and buying a drink in a bar. The leather community is something very different, and we need to educate people on that. It’s not they don’t want to know—they just don’t have the opportunities. When you go to a bar and buy a pint, is there anything to tell you, in most places, “This is where we’ve come from”?

One thing I’m really curious about—and I know you’ve written about it on your website—is your time as a fundamentalist.

I wrote an essay about that a few years ago, and it was a very cathartic experience. I didn’t think I needed to do it until my partner said, “I think this could be closure for you.” I wrote it in an evening, but it then took awhile to strip out a lot of it—because I was writing it from pure emotion, and what I wanted to do was attack fundamentalism, not attack faith.

When I got into the fundamentalist group the ability to write was a gift they realized I had. That’s one of the reasons I was promoted within the group so quickly—I could write what was essentially propaganda for them in the form of comic sketches. After I got kicked out because I was gay, I created a more gay-friendly touring theatre company that did stuff all over England and Wales. Also, I was selling scripts to local radio and to theatre companies in Canada and Paris, and I wrote stuff for Metropolitan Community Church.

Professionally, what are you doing now?

Up until recently I was working at (Britain’s) Channel 4, the TV station that made the original series of “Queer As Folk.” It’s a very gay-friendly TV station. They’ve now given me a sabbatical—unpaid leave for a year—but I stay as an employee on the books, and I keep some of my benefits, and I have a job to go back to if I want it. But my life needed a kick up the ass and hopefully at the end of this year I’ll have a different direction to go in.

I think a lot of creativity comes from dissatisfaction in your life, or being angry at something, or having something to say. And the more content I’ve gotten over the last ten years, the less creative I’ve gotten. My outlet now is writing things like the story on my website of my journey into and out of fundamentalism, or keeping a guide to London’s leather scene on the web updated every week, and writing speeches for IML.

As for the comic sketches and the script-writing, that’s really on the back burner, probably until I have a lot more life experience. I could create characters, I could create plots, I could do the scene breakout very well—I had honed all those techniques. But when you write something there should always be something underneath that is your voice—that’s coming out as a subtext. And I didn’t really have the life experience to be saying anything of value. Everything I was saying was on the surface—be a fundamentalist, be gay, be this, be that. It was too obvious, and what I needed to do was go away and live a little. So, that’s what I’m currently doing. But you can bet after my year as IML I’ll have a lot of material.

Many people have been asking Pendal what his plans are for the Harley Davidson 100th-anniversary XLH Sportster 883 motorcycle that was part of his IML prize package. The answer is at <> (click on “Being IML”). There you’ll find details about two of Pendal’s favorite causes, The Leather Archives & Museum (<>) and The Spanner Trust (<>). Make a $20 donation to both of these organizations ($10 each) and Pendal will thank you by entering your name in a drawing, to be held at next year’s IML, to award that motorcycle to a lucky winner.

Leather By Boots Minnesota Merges With Leather Cellar

Leather Cellar and Leather By Boots Minnesota have merged (Leather By Boots Minnesota is now a division of Cellar Leather LLC). They’ve also moved, so they’re not in a cellar anymore. Inviting you to come check out their new store at the corner of 37th and Cedar in south Minneapolis are owners Jennifer Langland and Lars and Mark McCrary, general manager Bruce Gohr, and clerks Ron Daher and Philip Lowe Jr.

In addition to a wide variety of leather/fetish-related merchandise, custom work is available. Hours at the new store are Wed.-Sat. noon-8PM, Sunday noon-6PM. You’ll also find them out and about at a bar or event near you in the Twin Cities and throughout Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. For more information shop their website at <>.

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