Friday, October 18, 2002

Interview with Stephen Weber, International Mr. Leather 2002, Part 2

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #193, October 18, 2002)

(Continued from Lavender Issue 192)

International Mr. Leather 2002 Stephen Weber lost weight, got in shape—and then got angry. We talked about that anger and how it shaped his time as Mr. Texas Leather, and continues to influence his IML title year.

Shortly after I won Mr. Texas Leather 2002 I started getting invitations to things—sometimes they would be play parties, sometimes they would just be events in the gay and lesbian community—that [prior to losing the weight], I had even e-mailed people asking for admission, or asking what could I do to help, or simple things like that, and was turned away. I know that at least with some of those events I was turned away largely because of how I looked. So then I started to get very angry, and that gave me that burning platform that I really needed, I felt, to make a difference at IML. A lot of people don’t know, I grew up on the Navaho Indian reservation. So I had fought discrimination for a long time, because I was a white man on a Navajo Indian reservation and was a minority at my high school.

Are you comfortable with my asking what your racial mix is?

It’s interesting that you ask, because I did not know what race I really was until after I left high school. I’ll answer that in just a second. I do look like the proverbial white man. And my high school was 76% Navajo Native American Indian, so you can imagine on the reservation there’s a lot of prejudice that comes along with that.

So anyway, I went off to college, and then we learned of my family lineage—we found out that I’m actually Cherokee Indian and German, but really more Cherokee than I am German. So then I find out I’m Native American, and registered on the Bureau of Indian Affairs technically as minority. Well, word got out on that, and now I have some of my white friends discriminating against me, saying “Oh, you’re an Indian.” I had that going on, plus I was wrestling with the fact that I was a heavy guy. I just wanted to hide.

Anyway, I started getting very angry as I was mentioning before about the fact that I was getting invited to different events. Also, I would go out and guys would be interested in me that before wouldn’t give me a second look. Some of them I had even tried to talk to before, and they just wouldn’t give me the time of day. And it really started to make me angry. Yes, I was flattered, and I was like, well, this is really nice, now they’re interested in me. But then I would stop and think: I’m the same guy that I was last year when I was eighty pounds heavier—the only thing different is me physically. I have the same heart, I have the same mind.

So that became a message that I want to share with as many people as I possibly can, specifically in our own closed community. By that I mean GLBT community as well as the BDSM community—because as open as we say we are, what I’m finding is that we are the most critical of each other. We discriminate against each other all the time. Sometimes perceived heavy people or perceived very thin people don’t get opportunities that the good looking, in-shape person might get. And when you take an opportunity away from somebody because of that, it pisses me off, it makes me very angry.

Some people think you have to be this Adonis to be donning your leather, or to be a hit in a leather bar. It’s not a place for heavy people, it’s not a place for thin people, it’s not a place for women, it’s not a place for minorities. Or any other prejudice that people might have, whether it’s age or race or whatever it is.

As a community we strive so hard to gain acceptance and be noticed in the general public’s eye, in the vanilla crowd, but my feeling is that as long as we have this infection or this—it’s a strong word to use, but this disease within our own community, that we discriminate against each other, how are we ever going to present any kind of a unified front to anybody? We’re not believable. It’s so hypocritical.

We’re all different, and we should be different because it would be awfully boring if we were all the same. But there’s so much out there that each of us has to offer that people need to open their eyes and give other people a chance.

So I used that as my platform for IML, and that’s one of the main reasons I ran for IML. I said, if I can go out and win IML, and use that platform to put myself in a situation where I otherwise might not be able to be, and then I can use that opportunity to make a change in even one person’s life—then I’ve done my job. Then, in my own mind, I’ll have been a successful IML.

Friday, October 4, 2002

Interview with Stephen Weber, International Mr. Leather 2002, Part 1

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #192, October 4, 2002)

Stephen Weber’s speech at this year’s International Mr. Leather (IML) contest started with the words “Have you ever lost something?” In his case, it was 80 pounds. Even before winning the International Mr. Leather 2002 title, that dramatic physical transformation made him a role model for other folks who want to slim down (including your humble columnist). So when I had the chance to interview Weber recently, that was where the conversation started.

Let’s start at the beginning of your journey as a titleholder: Before winning the International Mr. Leather contest this year you were Mr. Texas Leather 2002—why did you enter that contest?

Well, I was about 280 pounds and had just tried to put on a pair of jeans and it was a 40 waist, and I decided that was unacceptable at 35 years old. So I decided to lose weight. I’d been out in the European leather community for several years, and one of the objectives that I wrote down when I started losing the weight was that I wanted to enter a leather contest. And the reason is, entering a contest would be an indication that I had enough confidence in myself to get up in front of a group of people without my shirt on. It was as simple as that. I had never been in front of a group of people—or never been in front of anyone—without my shirt, not even at the swimming pool or anything.

You wore your shirt at the swimming pool?

I would. I was that self-conscious about my weight.

Were you heavy as a kid too?

I felt that I was, and it’s one of those things that if you feel you are, you are—perception is reality. My whole family has a history of weight issues, which was something that my mother would always caution me about, and it got really out of hand. I tried to keep it in check for a long time, but then I got married. And during my marriage I stopped working out so I started to really gain weight, and it was after I was divorced that I found myself at 280 pounds.

Actually, there were a couple of reasons for losing the weight. I was starting to have some very severe lower-back problems, and I was also having a lot of other health problems. My mother had just recently had a stroke, which took a lot of her speech and the use of her right hand. I looked at my father, who had just retired and was in great health, and I thought about my parents having to survive on their own—if I didn’t keep myself healthy I was not going to be around to help them. And if something were to happen to me I knew they would be devastated.

When I told people that I was going to be losing weight, I wanted to make sure they knew the whole story. I told them I’m not doing this because I wanna be thin and I wanna be pretty—that wasn’t the point at all. The reason I was doing it was because I was so uncomfortable because I had gotten so heavy that I had health problems, and guess what, I wanted to be around to take care of my mom and dad.

So anyway, I started losing weight, getting physically fit, working with weights, that sort of thing. At the time I was living in Austin [Texas], and my goal was as simple as running for Mr. Chain Drive [an Austin-area leather bar]. Well, I had shared that goal of entering a leather contest with a lot of people, and as I was losing the weight people started to take notice and say things like, “Oh, we think you could probably do really well in one of the bigger leather contests.”

Then shortly after I lost all the weight I went to IML 2001 and got a lot of notice, a lot of comments. I had people pull me aside to do photo shoots. I did several photo shoots at IML—fully clothed—and that, to me, was another sign that, okay, I guess I’ve made enough progress that I can run for a bigger contest. So that’s why I decided to run for Mr. Texas Leather instead of Mr. Chain Drive.

What’s your image of your body now? Do you still think of yourself as fat? Are you surprised when you look in the mirror, or have you adjusted?

I still think of myself as a heavy person. I constantly strive to get better and to work on my body. A lot of it now is just—have you heard about the Adonis complex? Maybe I’m a victim of that, where now I just strive for that perfection of the body, and I don’t think I will ever achieve it, but I have to keep working at it.

And people come up to me very frequently now, and they just kinda go off on how I look, or they woof, stuff like that. And I just—

Do the woofs take you by surprise sometimes?

They do. Even now they do. I’m just not used to it yet.

(This interview will continue in the next issue of Lavender, when I’ll talk with Weber about how his experiences following his dramatic physical transformation shaped his time as Mr. Texas Leather, and continue to influence the themes of his IML title year.)