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 <>.

Friday, August 8, 2003

2003 International Ms Leather/Bootblack Chosen in Omaha

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #214, August 8, 2003)

Leatherwomen and leathermen from everywhere recently converged on Omaha, Neb. for the combined 2003 International Ms Leather/International Ms Bootblack weekend. Producers Amy Marie and Megan Meek-DeJarlais, assisted by their very talented Bare Images Productions staff, crammed a lot into the weekend. Besides the two contests there were nine workshops, a weekend-long vendor fair, a video premiere on Sunday evening (featuring our own Miss Richfield 1981), and parties, receptions and gatherings galore. Host hotel was the Redick Plaza in downtown Omaha.

Each contestant for both International Ms Leather (IMsL) and International Ms Bootblack (IMsBB) brought a basket of leather-related merchandise that was donated by, and reflective of, their local leather community. On Friday evening, July 18, these baskets were auctioned off in an orgy of fun and fundraising. $1900 was raised for the IMsL travel fund and $2200 for the IMsBB travel fund.

On Saturday, July 19, the bootblack contestants set up shop at the vendor fair and did as many bootshines as they could, knowing that the bootblack who shined the greatest number of boots would be declared the winner. Saturday evening the IMsL contest and show was held at Club Joy in downtown Omaha. In addition to the IMsL contest’s speech and leather fantasy judging segments, the audience also heard from representatives of many other leather organizations such as the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, the Leather Archives and Museum, and the LA boys of Leather.

After moving step-aside speeches from IMsL 2002 Russ Cosgrove and IMsBB 2002 Kari LaVecchia, the new titleholders were announced: IMsBB 2003 is slaveboi eddie, with runner-up honors going to Katie Whelp. IMsL 2003 is Tammie Nelson, with Ruby as first runner-up and Jennifer Morgan as second runner-up.

New IMsL Tammie Nelson is from a Greenwood, Ind. and is a technical sales representative for an automotive-finishes company; new IMsBB slaveboi eddie is a school teacher and mathematician who, in her own words, “specializes in hyperbolic and non-Euclidian geometry.” eddie is from Culver City, Calif.

For more information visit the IMsL website at <>.

PHOTO: P7181002 or P7181003 (choose one)

IMsL contestant introduction, Friday night: Left to right: Ruby, from Cincinnati, Ohio, sponsored by Tri-State Leather Contest; Jennifer Morgan, from Philadelphia, Pa., sponsored by The Bike Stop; Jae Januze, from Lakewood, Colo., sponsored by Thunder in the Mountains; Tammie Nelson, from Greenwood (Indianapolis), Ind., sponsored by Kendra McClain/Great Lakes Leather Alliance; and Flower, Ms Leather Nebraska 2002.

PHOTO: P7181007

IMsBB contestant introduction, Friday night: Left to right: Katie Whelp, from Philadelphia, Pa., sponsored by The Bike Stop; slaveboi eddie, from Culver City, Calif., sponsored by LA boys of Leather and Bill Mitchell, American Leatherman 2003; ember, from Plano, Tex., sponsored by NLA Dallas; and boi joe (aka Kathryn Hunter), from Toronto, Ont., Canada, sponsored by Mr. Leatherman Toronto Competition, Inc.

PHOTO: P7181043

Basket auction, Friday night: Some very talented “Vannas” helped display the merchandise in the baskets as they were being auctioned off. Here Steve LaViolette, Mr. Atlantic Canada Leather 2002, displays some of the merchandise from one of the baskets: leather wrist restraints, a beer stein and some wicked-looking knives.

PHOTO: P7194023 The new titleholders, Saturday night: Left, IMsL 2003 Tammie Nelson; right, IMsBB 2003 slaveboi eddie.

GLBT Bikers: Twin City Riders Is Looking For You!

The Twin City Riders, the GLBT motorcycle club that started up at the end of last season, is still in the process of formation and reminds you that they are still looking for members. All interested bikers, whether sport or cruiser bike owners, can visit the group’s website at <> and join the group there. The club suggests that when you join you choose to “receive all group e-mails,” which will facilitate group communication. Interested bikers without internet access can call for more information. Once the group has a significant number of interested members, a meeting will be planned to discuss a formal group name, goals, and plans for future rides.

A similar group, the Minnesota Gay Sportbike Riders, already exists specifically for sport bike (crotch rocket) owners. That group’s web site is <>.