Friday, January 30, 1998

Look, Ma, I’m Fashionable! Leather/SM Goes Mainstream?

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #70, January 30, 1998)

Do you remember, a few years back, when only gay people went to drag shows? Then came Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and To Wong Fu, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, and suddenly drag shows were the hip, happening destination for straights as well. Drag has now gotten so ubiquitous that RuPaul’s hit talk show on the VH1 cable network doesn’t even raise eyebrows—Ru is just Sally Jesse Raphael with bigger hair.

Well, dear readers, we’re next. According to The Village Voice and Newsweek, your lifestyle of choice is either going mainstream or already there.

In an article titled “The Mainstreaming of Kink” in the November 4, 1997 issue of The Village Voice, Guy Trebay examines the increasing appearances of SM/BD imagery in mass culture. Among his examples: Janet Jackson’s nipple ring and proclamations of her high threshold of pain, and the poster for the movie Sick, featuring a portrait of the film’s “Supermasochist” subject, Bob Flanagan, “seminaked, collared, shackled, and with a 10-pound chrome weight suspended from his testicles. Is the image shocking? Not too shocking to post outside Manhattan theaters.” (As of this writing, the full text of this thought-provoking article is still available on the Web at

Newsweek offered a slightly more irreverent take on the subject in their December 29, 1997 issue on page 85. An article titled “Lick Me, Flog Me, Buy Me!” by Rick Marin is illustrated with the recent Bass Ale boot-licking ad and a photo of a waiter at La Nouvelle Justine, Manhattan’s currently-trendy SM-themed restaurant where, along with food, the menu includes such things as Verbal Abuse and Spanking for $20.

Long-time community members may say, “So what’s new?” Wasn’t it just a few years ago that Exit to Eden appeared in movie theaters (and very quickly disappeared)? Wasn’t it about the same time that Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke posed as Rob and Laura Petrie in bondage gear? Hasn’t Madonna already taken mass culture through this territory? Well, yes, and there have been many other instances in recent history where SM imagery has been appropriated to hype something or sell something.

But recently there’s been a change. SM/BD imagery used to be viewed by the general public as a shocking outrage (or at least titillating naughtiness). Now, instead of inspiring outrage, it provokes responses ranging from curiosity to a jaded yawn. SM imagery has become so non-threatening that even Pat Boone isn’t afraid of it.

This is the general public we’re speaking about, of course. How are we in the leather/SM community, for whom this is more than a fashion statement, supposed to react? What are we to think of this turn of events? Yes, Madison Avenue and Hollywood are appropriating our imagery and our heritage for commercial purposes, but it also raises the visibility and acceptance of the real thing. It makes us less threatening and more accessible. Some people who react to the imagery with curiosity may be moved to explore further and may find a home. Others will try to get into leather spaces and dungeons for gawking purposes only. As I’ve said in this column before, I don’t relish being part of the floor show; I’m sure there will be the times I’ll wish mass culture had found some other imagery to appropriate.

And you know what? That’s exactly what will happen. After our moment in the spotlight, mass culture will move on and find something else scandalous to glom onto, and we’ll be left to ourselves again. It may already be happening—Kate Betts, a top editor at Vogue, is quoted in Newsweek dismissing SM as “last year’s trend. You can buy leather pants at the Gap.” So there!

Upcoming Leather Events

Atons present Lights Out
Friday, January 30, 9 pm-1 am, Club Metro Underground, St. Paul
The Atons invite you to the first Thrust party of the year. I may have misspoken last issue when I said there’d be “lots of dancing,” but there will be music by DJ Wade Ellars; what that music accompanies is anybody’s guess. It’s safe to say there will be lots of leather and not much light. $5 at the door gets you free beer and non-alcoholic beverages from 9 pm to midnight.

Black Guard Pre-Run Party
Thursday, February 12, 9 pm-1 am, Club Metro Underground, St. Paul
Mingling among the Black Guard and other locals will be out-of-towners who’ve arrived early for . . .

Black Frost ’98
Friday-Sunday, February 13-15, various locations
The Black Guard present their 21st annual run. The host hotel is the Midway Days Inn, where run registration starts Friday at 7 pm. The run offers 16 sponsored events and parties with an “around the world” theme. Banquet and show on Saturday evening is at Tropix/Rear Entry; banquet-and-show-only tickets are available by phone (see below) and will also be available at the Thursday Pre-Run Party (see above.) On Saturday night after the banquet and show is a Leather Night at Tropix/Rear Entry ($5 cover—the Black Guard promises it will be worth it!) with some not-to-be-missed “super surprises.” Awards and Wind-Down Party are Sunday afternoon at the Brass Rail, followed by a Post-Wind-Down party at the Saloon from 6-10 pm.

All run registrations and requests for information are being handled by phone through The Travel Company. (Ask for the "Black Frost Desk.") Those dates are coming up fast so register now. Rates for the run package go up after February 1.

Friday, January 16, 1998

Minnesota Mr./Ms. Olympus of Leather Contest—Why Leather Contests Matter

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #69, January 16, 1998)

The first-ever Minnesota Mr. and Ms. Olympus of Leather Contest will be happening January 23-24, 1998. If your first thought at this news is a sarcastic “Just what we need—another leather contest,” please continue reading as I examine where all these contests came from, why they all exist, and why they’re important. Then mark your calendar and be there.

Both International Mr. Leather and International Mr. Drummer started in 1979. International Mr. Leather (IML) was started by Chuck Renslow, who thought that the leather community would enjoy the contest and would benefit from the leadership and positive role models such a contest would bring forward. International Mr. Drummer was started by Drummer Magazine for the same reasons, but also as a way of providing men for the cover and pages of the magazine. These two major men’s leather titles co-existed quite nicely for years, with International Mr. Leather more political and International Mr. Drummer more sensual. In 1987 the women’s leather community added the International Ms. Leather (IMsL) title.

Then, a few years ago, rumors began to circulate that the Drummer title was going to end due to the financial problems that Drummer Magazine was experiencing at the time. Perhaps coincidentally, or perhaps in response to these rumors, the International Mr. Fantasy title was created in 1995 by Dustin Logan and Bob Ewing. They had been producers of an annual event called “Fantasy” at which titleholders presented fantasies and other entertainment to raise money for charity. It has always been my personal feeling that this event became the International Mr. Fantasy contest to carry on the tradition of the International Mr. Drummer title. It turned out that both Drummer Magazine and the Drummer title are still alive, however, and it is very much to the credit of International Mr. Fantasy’s producers and titleholders that International Mr. Fantasy has become a credible title in its own right.

At about the same time that International Mr. Fantasy was being created Dave Rhodes, publisher of The Leather Journal, created the Mr. and Ms. Olympus Leather contest in conjunction with his “Pantheon of Leather” community-service awards held each year in New Orleans. The OIympus Leather contests differ from the other titles mentioned above by awarding both female and male titles and holding both competitions in the same event. In this way, neither sex is a “guest” at a contest for the other sex. (By the way, there is no connection between the Mr. and Ms. Olympus Leather contests and similar-sounding men’s bodybuilding titles.)

Minnesota has seen local and regional contests in the IML, IMsL, Drummer, and Fantasy circuits. Now Alan Stangler, of Back in Black Leather Productions, has invested a large amount of time (and money) in establishing the Minnesota Mr. and Ms. Olympus of Leather titles.

Why do all these leather contests exist? Certainly not because they’re fantastic money-making opportunities. Winning a leather contest and holding a title is a difficult way to get rich and an easy way to become impoverished. The same generally goes for producing leather contests; they almost always have a raising-money-for-charity component, and any proceeds left over are generally kept as seed money for next year’s contest. Cash cows they ain’t.

Leather contests exist because they offer something to the leather/SM community. They’re entertaining to watch. They’re stimulating to enter. And they can be rewarding to produce. The  leather impresario who gives time, effort and money to put on a contest knows that she or he is engaged in a very special form of community leadership and mentorship. The producer is a mentor to the contestants, who will learn and grow by being in the contest and who will reap benefits long after the contest is over. The contestants in turn become mentors to the people in the audience by standing onstage with pride before the community. Entertainment, growth, personal development, leadership, mentorship . . . all this and hot men and women on stage in leather, too. That’s why leather contests exist. And that’s what you can see at the Minnesota Olympus of Leather contest. (See details in shaded box.)

Upcoming Leather Events

Leather/Levi Dinner
Saturday, January 17, 7:30 pm, Minnesota Bar & Grill (1501 S. 6th St., Mpls.)
A few years back the Atons used to host occasional leather/levi dinners; now they’re reviving the tradition at a new locale. If you haven’t done so already, this is a great excuse to check out the menu and atmosphere at the new Minnesota Bar & Grill.

First Annual Minnesota Mr. & Ms. Olympus of Leather Contest
All events happen at Club Metro Underground, St. Paul.

Friday, January 23: Meet & Greet 9 pm-1 am. Judges include current International Ms. Leather Genelle Moore, Mr. World Rubber 1998 Keith Martel, International Ms. Leather 1991 Kay Hallanger, current Mr. Minnesota Leather Roger Gregg, and current Mr. Minnesota Fantasy (and first-runner-up to International Mr. Fantasy) Michael deLeon (other judges are still to be announced). SM-themed dancers in cages will set the mood for the evening (music both nights by DJ Pat Ryan from West Hollywood’s The Rage nightclub).

Saturday, January 24: Doors for the Contest open at 8 pm; contest runs until 1 am. Contestants will be judged in the following events: Private interview with judges; leather presence; onstage Q&A; and fantasy presentation. In future years attention will be focused on contestants’ prior community involvement; this year the emphasis is on contestants’ vision for the title and the community. Contest entertainment will include a Back in Black leather show.

For advance ticket sales and hotel information call (612) 870-2968. Advance tickets, good for admission both Friday and Saturday nights, are $10 at the Back in Black shop in Club Metro; admission at the door is $5 Friday and $10 Saturday.

Contestants: Prizes have been added. First-place Mr. and Ms. winners receive airfare and hotel in New Orleans Feb. 13-16, 1998 while competing in the Finals contest. First-place winners also receive $250 worth of leather from Back in Black and $100 cash; second-place winners receive $100 worth of leather and $50 cash; third-place winners receive $50 worth of leather and $25 cash. Call for contestant information.

Atons present Lights Out
Friday, January 30, 9 pm-1 am, Club Metro Underground, St. Paul
The Atons invite you to the first Thrust party of the year. Lots of leather, lots of loud music, lots of dancing, not much light. $5 at the door gets you free beer and non-alcoholic beverages from 9 pm to midnight.

Mark Your Calendar . . .

February 13-15, 1998: The Black Guard present Black Frost ’98, their 21st annual run, at the Midway Days Inn. All run registrations and requests for information are being handled by phone through The Travel Company. (Ask for the "Black Frost Desk.") Those dates are coming up fast so register now. Rates for the run package go up after February 1.

Friday, January 2, 1998

A Leather Review of 1997 . . . and a Preview of ’98

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #68, January 2, 1998)

Goodbye, 1997. For the Twin Cities leather community it has certainly been an interesting year that has provided me with more than enough material to fill this column each issue.

CLUBS: Several Twin Cities leather clubs celebrated milestone events. The Black Guard held their twentieth Black Frost run in February, and the Knights of Leather held their ninth Knights Tournament May 30-June 1. The grand-Daddy of them all, however, was the Atons twenty-fifth-anniversary run in September. 1997 saw the formation of new clubs in the area. Sober Leather made its debut in the Pride Parade and later at a “Welcome to the Community” party in September. You’ll hear more about another new club, Unleashed, in early 1998.

CONTESTS AND TITLEHOLDERS: 1997 gave Minnesota new visibility in the national and international leather scene. Minnesota sent a record three contestants to the International Mr. Leather Contest in Chicago over Memorial Day weekend (Kevin Cwayna, Thomas Smith, and Colin Spriestersbach), as well as sending Twin Cities-based band Savage Aural Hotbed as contest entertainment. Cwayna went on to win the contest and bring home Minnesota’s first-ever international leather title.

In April, Michael deLeon became Mr. Minnesota Fantasy 1997, and he went on to win First Runner-Up at the International Mr. Fantasy contest in Omaha in August. Philip Oakes, the 1997 Mr. Minnesota Fantasy Runner-Up, has lately been making a splash as a very popular erotic-video star.

In July, Jack Maynard became Mr. Minnesota Drummer 1997 and Stephen Zeller became Mr. Minnesota Drummerboy 1997.

Roger Gregg won the title of Mr. Minnesota Leather 1998 in October. He will be competing this coming Memorial Day weekend in Chicago at the twentieth-anniversary International Mr. Leather contest.

While Minnesota sent three contestants to the International Mr. Leather contest, it went unrepresented at this year’s International Ms. Leather contest. Ms. Minnesota Leather 1997 Amazon resigned the title for personal reasons (now it can be told—Amazon has become Nick). The title passed to Aalan Cameron, who for health reasons was unable to compete at the International.

NIGHTLIFE: 1997 saw a proliferation of leather nights at local bars: Hard Monday at The Saloon; Wednesday at The Town House; Thursday at Club Metro Underground; and The Tank on Sundays at The Saloon. which seems to have been the most consistently popular. These establishments and Tropix have also served as new venues for contests, fundraisers, and other community events. Old standby The Men’s Room at the Gay 90’s revamped its entry this year, which now is through the (actual) men’s room. In the Duluth/Superior area, the Main Club’s famous “garage” was no more; the old Main Club burned to the ground at the end of 1996. Owner Bob Jansen was able to open a new Main Club in June of this year, with a grand opening in July.

CELEBRITY VISITS: Besides having International Mr. Leather as our very own home-town international titleholder,  the Twin Cities has become a destination for other international titleholders and leather luminaries. This year has seen visits by International Mr. Fantasy Kevin Watson, International Mr. Drummer Kyle Brandon, and International Ms. Leather Genelle Moore. The Tank featured ubiquitous porn star Donnie Russo at its grand opening in March and brought in “domestic goddess” Judy Tenuta for a performance during Pride Weekend. The Town House again hosted male erotic superstar Steve Kelso in October. The Gay 90’s presented a  show by the Tom of Finland Foundation in November.

PASSINGS: Milo Smith (April 13) and Peter Semotink (December 4).

So that’s some of what happened in 1997. Here’s a look ahead at what’s in store for us in the first part of 1998:

Jan. 23-24, 1998: Mr. and Ms. Olympus Leather Contest at the Metro Underground. Call for contestant, hotel and ticket information. Produced by Back in Black Leather Productions. (Winners represent Minnesota in the Mr./Ms. Olympus Leather Contest in New Orleans at Pantheon of Leather February 13-16, 1998.)

February 13-15, 1998: The Black Guard present Black Frost ’98, their 21st annual run, at the Midway Days Inn. All run registrations and requests for information are being handled by phone through The Travel Company. (Ask for the "Black Frost Desk.") VISA and MasterCard accepted! Those dates are coming up fast, so pick up the phone and register now, and encourage your far-flung friends to do likewise—airfare discounts are 5% until January 10. Rates for the run package itself go up after February 1.

March or April:  W.I.L.L.O.W. Productions Inc. is accepting applications for the 1998 Ms. Minnesota Leather Competition (planned for this spring.) Contact W.I.L.L.O.W. Productions Inc., Brooklyn Center MN. (W.I.L.L.O.W. Productions Inc. is the Official Representative for the 1998 Ms. Minnesota Leather Competition.)

May 29-31, 1998: The Knights of Leather present Knights Tournament 10. Bring a new participant and receive a 10% discount on your application fee. Or get early sign-up prices if you register before March 23, 1998. For more information or an application form call or write Knights of Leather, Minneapolis, MN.