Friday, May 21, 1999

From Revival Preacher to Leatherman

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #104, May 21, 1999)

Joshua Smith talks about his community, his kids and his faith

PHOTO: Mr. Minnesota Leather 1999 Joshua Smith

Mr. Minnesota Leather Joshua Smith will be representing Minnesota in the International Mr. Leather (IML) contest in Chicago May 27-30. We talked recently about some of the things he’s accomplished during his title year. We also talked about his experiences as a southern Pentecostal revival preacher; about telling his three daughters what leather means to him; and about his passion for God, for the leather lifestyle, and for his partner and fellow titleholder Thomas Smith (the current International Mr. Rubber, as well as Mr. Kentucky Leather 1996).

One of the most common goals expressed by those aspiring to a leather title is “to bring the community together.” At last year’s Mr. Minnesota Leather contest Joshua Smith did more than say it—his now-legendary contest speech graphically demonstrated the concept by bringing to the stage members of the various clubs and subcommunities comprising the Minnesota leather community. Smith had everyone stand in a circle, join hands, and sing a Sunday-school song he remembered from his childhood: “If we all pull together, how happy we will be.”

The mechanism Smith implemented to bring the community together was the Leather Roundtable. According to Smith, “The Roundtable is about two things. The first is setting a schedule, a simple calendar of what’s going on for the next twelve months, and maintaining and updating it every month. I want to know in advance what’s happening so I can plan to support as many people as I can—if I’m going to need their support one day, I need to be there first for them.” The second function of the Roundtable is to have an open forum for discussion about what help is needed for events and who is available to help.

Smith is proud of his creation. Later this summer he and his partner will be relocating to Palm Springs, California, but the Leather Roundtable will continue under the auspices of Ms. Minnesota Leather Mario and Mr. Minnesota Drummer Gary O’Neill.

Smith is also proud of the work he and Mario have done on behalf of Hope House, The Leather Archives & Museum and the Aliveness Project, and he’s proud of the example that he and Mario have jointly set in the past months. “I loved Mario’s column at the end of last year where she said that our joint New Year’s resolution was that it’s not going to be a men’s leather community or a women’s leather community, it’s going to be our community. And I do see a change. I see some events now that are almost 50-50 men and women, or at least 75-25, and to me that’s a big improvement as opposed to two women and 150 men.”

As he prepares both to represent Minnesota at IML and to relocate to Palm Springs, Smith makes this assessment of Minnesota’s leather community: ”When you’re not lying in a hammock it sits one way, and the threads are open wide. But when you lie down in it, it stretches, and all those threads go together. Sometimes I see the Minnesota leather community pulling apart, but I also see the elasticity or the bond among the community—because once somebody needs something, it goes right back together. The good thing about Minnesota for me has been that when the going has been tough, people have always been there for us, and we appreciate them very much.”

One of the first things you notice about Smith is the way he speaks—quickly, with the southern accent and rapid-fire intensity of the Pentecostal revival preacher he used to be. “I’d been Pentecostal all my life, and at 16 years old I felt like God had called me to be a preacher. There wasn’t any seminary training—you’re ordained, and you’re sent to work under a pastor for a year, and you get your license. So at age 17, I became assistant pastor for a Pentecostal church called the Ark of Safety in a small town in West Virginia.” Smith preached there for almost two years, then served a church in Brockton, New York for almost four years. By this time he and his wife were the proud parents of three girls: Audrea, Sarah Grace, and Megan.

While serving the church at Brockton, Smith “started feeling things, I didn’t know what they were. I talked to my wife and said, ‘I think we need to go home.’ She knew something was wrong but she didn’t know what, and I didn’t know what it was either. So we moved back to Kentucky, I was in the church about another year and a half, and then I went to my wife and said, ‘There’s some feelings that I have to deal with. I can’t fight this any longer, because when certain people come near me I get short of breath.’

I told my wife I was concerned that I could be gay. I wanted to be with a man. My wife and I divorced in 1988, and the separation was very, very difficult. And I didn’t go back to the church for a long time—I didn’t think I could. I’d get angry with God sometimes. Nobody in this world knows what it’s like to go into a bedroom, and there are three little girls side by side—one with blonde hair who looks just like Goldie Hawn, one with long auburn hair who looks just like her mother, and one who is me, who is just a total picture of me—and you reach down to kiss them, and you know that’s the last time you will ever kiss them in that room, in that bed, as their father. It’s heart wrenching.

“It’s always been very, very difficult for my children because of their Pentecostal faith. They know Daddy is now gay and they don’t think Daddy can go to heaven, and that’s been very hard for them. For almost a year or more they would change the phone number or send my letters back, and say, ‘This is tough love, until you find God you can’t be a part of our lives.’ ” Audrea, Smith’s oldest daughter, is currently expecting a child, and Smith says, “It’s kind of like that right now—my daughter’s not sure if she wants her baby to know a gay grandpa.”

After the divorce Smith relocated to Atlanta and then to Florida. One day he heard that Troy Perry, the founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, was presenting a seminar/revival weekend in North Miami Beach. Says Smith, “I went there and found out about MCC, and for the past six years or so I’ve been as faithful as I can be to an MCC congregation wherever I live.”

At about the same time Smith discovered the Metropolitan Community Church, he also discovered the leather lifestyle, and he sees a connection. “The attraction to both was the intensity that is involved—the dedication, the honor, the respect, the love, the dignity, and the pride. This may sound crazy, but in many ways I felt just as ‘leather’ sitting in a church pew as I did in a leather bar, because the feelings were almost the same. Whether I see a man and I want him so bad I can taste that man, or whether I’m in church and I can feel the presence of the Lord and it’s so strong and so intense I don’t know what to do with myself—that’s leather to me, you know? I guess if I had to choose one word that would describe what leather means to me it would be intensity, because it makes me have a passion.”

While Smith’s daughters aren’t exactly happy about their father being gay, they seemed more accepting when he told them about being a leatherman. “I went home to my children about two weeks before I competed in the Mr. Minnesota Leather contest, and I said, ‘Girls, I want to share something with you that you don’t know about Daddy.’ And I went down into the bedroom and came back in my leather vest, a pair of chaps, and a pair of jeans. And they loved it, they said, ‘Oh, this is incredible, can we have this?’ Our family owned a couple of clothing stores, and because of the fashion world in which we have lived and the business I have worked in since leaving the ministry, they thought it was another fashion statement—‘What’s Daddy doing now?’ And I said, ‘You’ve got to understand what this is and what it represents. This represents a lifestyle, it’s not a fashion statement.’

“And then I told them I was competing for a title called Mr. Minnesota Leather, and they were very intrigued and asked what it meant. I told them you wear leather when you go to a leather bar. I said, ‘We’re leathermen, and this is how we identify ourselves. People know you girls are Pentecostal because you have a dress code—you wear long hair, a long dress, and you never wear jewelry or makeup or shorts, right?’ And they said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Well, when I’m getting ready to go to the bar, and I’ve got on my clothes—’ and my youngest daughter said, ‘That means you’re a leatherman!’ And I said, ‘Well, Megan, you can identify that because of the appearance, but the leather’s not what’s going to make me a leatherman. It’s how I conduct myself—with honor, respect, dignity and pride.’”

“They asked me what Mr. Minnesota Leather would do, and I told them about my idea for the Leather Roundtable as a place to coordinate scheduling for leather community events. They were intrigued by how many events we have, all these events and all these places. Then I explained that I wanted to help somebody, and I told them about Hope House and the Human Rights Campaign. They knew Thomas and I had gotten married in December, but I told them I don’t want to leave this world until the marriage is legal, and we can say ‘What God has joined together let no man put asunder.’ So I wanted to do something with the Human Rights Campaign for the cause of gay marriage.

“I told my girls, ‘What this title does is give me a voice. I’ll have an active part in making something happen. I’m not sure what it will be yet, but I want this to be positive so that I can do something good for somebody.’ And the children expressed to me later that learning that Thomas and I are leathermen, and that we’re married, is the only thing that helps them cope with their Daddy being gay.

I know that God has work for me to do. Whether it’s behind the pulpit, or whether it’s doing a fundraiser for people at Hope House who need ceiling fans in their rooms—you never know what it is, but he’s always got something for us to do.”

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Sunday, May 30

Atons present the IML Widow Party
The traditional gathering for those who don’t make the journey to Chicago for the International Mr. Leather contest. At my deadline the location and time were still to be determined; for information call the Atons Hotline.

Thursday, June 3

Leather Family Night: “Swan Lake . . . The Sequel” by Ballet of the Dolls
8 PM, Loring Playhouse, 1633 Hennepin Ave.
You loved Ballet of the Dolls at the recent Minnesota Fantasy weekend—here’s your chance to see them again. Special discount ticket pricing for leather community members. Call Wolf Productions for reservations and information. (Reservations must be made before Wednesday, May 26.)

Friday, May 7, 1999

Oh, The Places I’ve Been!

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #103, May 7, 1999)

MN Drummer, Leather/SM at BECAUSE, and scandal in New York City

PHOTO: Gary O’Neill and Doug Waalen (to be delivered Wednesday afternoon)

PHOTO CAPTION: Left: Mr. Minnesota Drummer 1999 Gary O’Neill. Right: First Runner-up Doug Waalen.

In the last two weeks I’ve found myself in some interesting places and seen some amazing sights; in this issue’s column I’ll tell you about them. I was recently in New York City and caught two huge and controversial exhibitions at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. Closer to home I participated in BECAUSE ’99, the recent bisexual conference at Metro State U in St. Paul. And I was at Club Metro when the new Mr. Minnesota Drummer was chosen. Let’s get started with that.

After a Friday-night Meet & Greet at The Minneapolis Eagle, this year’s Mr. Minnesota Drummer contest was held at Club Metro on April 24. The judges, all current or recent local titleholders, were Roger Gregg and David McKammon (visiting from San Francisco), Greg Hausler, Mario, Miss Jennifer, Joshua Smith, Thomas Smith, and outgoing Mr. Minnesota Drummer Steve Eue. There were two contestants for Mr. Minnesota Drummer: Doug Waalen and Gary O’Neill. (There were no contestants for Minnesota Drummerboy, so that competition was not held.) Co-emceed by contest organizer Colin Spriestersbach and Allison Brooks, the evening included entertainment by Brooks (who brought her Ernestine Tomlin character out of retirement for the evening), by “Barbie Girl” Eva Monet, and by comic Michelle Balan, the ultimate tough New York dyke. (For me, “West Side Story” will never be the same now that I’ve heard some of Balan’s rewritten lyrics.) The event drew a smaller-than-expected crowd, but the audience seemed to be having lots of fun.

The evening’s fantasy presentations followed the current trend of Industrial Macho. Waalen and former International Mr. Leather Kevin Cwayna did a construction-site scene, complete with a real jackhammer making real noise. O’Neill’s fantasy, which didn’t go quite as smoothly as it should have, featured lots of fog (LOTS of fog!) and lots of clothespins. Nevertheless, when the results were announced it was O’Neill who got the title and the sash, with Waalen taking first-runner-up honors. A postscript: While some folks might have wished for more competitors, I personally would rather see a contest with a few good contestants than a contest with many poor ones.

When I wasn’t attending Minnesota Drummer events that weekend, I was attending the eighth annual edition of BECAUSE, which stands for Bisexual Empowerment Conference: A Uniting, Supportive Experience. I was there because I was invited to be part of a panel of SM players presenting a workshop called “Getting Hurt Can Be Fun.” (I would be representing the “traditional” gay male leather/SM community.) I figured I’d attend, be on the panel, and that would be the extent of my participation. Once I got there, however, I discovered that there were over 30 workshops to be presented, and they sounded interesting. I discovered a good number of leather/SM folk attending. And I discovered that I felt welcome even though I don’t consider myself bisexual. I wound up staying for almost the entire conference; I learned a lot, met many great people, and consider the time very well spent. The organizers of the conference can be proud of the good job they did putting it together. Visit their website at, and then plan to be there next year for BECAUSE 2000. (There’s a lot of other good stuff at, too.)

One of the other workshops I attended at BECAUSE was the Minneapolis Safer Sex Sluts presenting “Martha Sexpert Living: Better Sex, It’s a Good Thing.” Greta Bauer as Martha Sexpert showed an uncanny, and almost scary, resemblance to another well-known Martha as she and her assistants discussed and demonstrated everything from making charming lube cozies to the proper way to clean toys. The Minneapolis Safer Sex Sluts will be performing in other venues in the weeks and months to come; whether you love that other Martha or hate her, you’ve got to see this.

Now, on to New York City, where I recently attended an exhibition called Erotica ’99 that outraged many New Yorkers, including mayor Rudy Giulani. He’s just devoted major effort to “cleaning up” Manhattan by closing or relocating sexually-oriented businesses. And now this kinky exhibition comes to the city-owned Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, effectively putting New York City in the porn business. Making matters even worse was a second exhibition at the Javits Center at the same time: the sixth annual International Gay & Lesbian Business Expo and Entertainment Festival, the largest event of its kind in the world. (A church group that had booked an event at the Javits Center pulled out rather than be surrounded by all these evil, twisted people.)

I spent an entire Sunday at the Javits Center attending both exhibits and drew some interesting comparisons and conclusions. Erotica was very kinky but very hetero, while the Gay & Lesbian Business Expo was very gay but not terribly kinky. A combination of the two would have been lovely.

I was glad I was able to get into Erotica before the show opened to the general public because it meant I could explore the booths, view the sizable art gallery, and talk to vendors without having to shout over huge crowds. I left just as the floodgates were about to open—I counted 1,500 people standing in line waiting to get in. Expected attendance for the four-day run of the exhibition was 50,000—the city had to bring in extra police for crowd control. When I went back later in the afternoon it was difficult to move through the crowds.

What was the attraction? I suspect for many attendees it was curiosity about all these things that have been forbidden for so long. The exhibits and vendors seemed to be targeted at people who are predominantly hetero and not “into the scene” at all. There seemed to be an air of “Oh, this is so naughty!” to many of the exhibits that didn’t work for me. Nonetheless, I found a few interesting displays to tell you about.

Healthy Life Resources had a sampling of cutting-edge sex toys for sale. For men there was the “Bonerman,” which can best be described as a milking machine’s evil child. (A Bonerman is custom-fit to each customer after that customer supplies five different measurements—four circumferences and an overall length.) For bottoms of all genders there was the “PoniRocR,” an upholstered hump containing mechanics which can vibrate and move your choice of over 160 different combinations of flexible attachments. If you’ve ever heard the limerick about the man who invented a screwing machine—this is what he would have invented. Neither of them is inexpensive, but alone or in combination they could be great fun. (Unfortunately, they weren’t set up to offer free trials at the show.) They were also showing a “Tantra Swing/Gym” for adults and some other fun stuff. Get all the delicious details at

And now that you’ve got your wonderful new sex toys, how about sharing the experience with a loved one who’s far, far away? Remember those “Reach Out and Touch Someone” long-distance ads? Now, with the emerging brave new world of “cyberdildonics,” you really can. Your computer’s mouse will give new meaning to the word “joystick” as you control your lover’s PoniRocR, Bonerman, vibrator or other “marital aid” from any Mac or PC with an internet connection and a web browser—while you watch their reaction via WebCam, of course. Best of all, according to a press release, it’s healthy: “You’ll never catch a sexually-transmitted disease at Nobody will die of AIDs [sic] through” To find out more, visit (you guessed it) The software is free and the service is free. You can also visit, the website of the originator of this technology. No, I’m not making this up.

Here’s another noteworthy event that I couldn’t attend but which was attended by several other members of the Twin Cities leather community: the third annual Leather Leadership Conference (LLC3) in San Francisco. For excellent coverage of this event, I refer you to Gary Virginia, Mr. San Francisco Leather 1996 and columnist for San Francisco-based Frontiers Magazine. You can read his article about LLC3 at

Mark Your Calendar

For events in the next two weeks, see the Out & About Calendar. Here are some other events planned for the weeks ahead:

May 21-23: Knights of Leather present Tournament 11, a pansexual run held at a private camp within a park. Workshops, demonstrations and fantasies will be presented. There’s still time to register—call The Knights or e-mail for more information.

May 28-31: International Mr. Leather contest weekend in Chicago. Joshua Smith will be representing Minnesota, and the tenth anniversary of the Leather Pride flag will also be celebrated. Visit or call 1-800-545-6753 for more information.

May 30: The Atons present their traditional gathering for those who don’t make the journey to Chicago.

June 3: You loved them at the recent Minnesota Fantasy weekend—here’s your chance to see them again. It’s Leather Family Night at the Ballet! Ballet of the Dolls, that is, performing “Swan Lake . . . The Sequel” at the Loring Playhouse, 8 pm. Special discount ticket pricing for leather community members. Call Wolf Productions for reservations and information. (Reservations must be made before Wednesday, May 26.)

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Saturday, May 8

Leather/Levi Dinner
Cocktails at 7 PM, dinner at 7:30 PM. McGovern’s Pub, 225 W. 7th St., St. Paul
Presented by the Atons, open to all. For reservations call the Atons Hotline.

Saturday, May 15

Black Guard Fundraiser
Scooters, 411 Galloway St., Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Meet your friends (or make a new one) in Eau Claire. Call for more information.