Friday, May 28, 2004

International Leather Perspectives: An Interview with IML 2003, John Pendal

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #235, May 28, 2004)

John Pendal, International Mr. Leather (IML) 2003, will be sashing his successor this weekend in Chicago at the IML 2004 contest. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing him in front of an audience at Leather Leadership Conference 8 (LLC8) in New Orleans.

Pendal is a lifelong resident of England and currently resides in London. At the time of this interview he had traveled to 14 cities in the United States and 14 cities in Europe and Canada during his title year. He was therefore well qualified to present an international perspective on the leather community. He also talked about some of his experiences during his title year.

What are some of the differences in the leather scene on each side of the Atlantic?

The U.S. has a well-developed leather scene—you have lots of things away from a commercial environment. Whether they are in hotels or forests or are bike runs or BDSM education or the Leather Archives & Museum, it’s not all about commercial clubs with alcohol.

You have some freedoms in the U.S.—certainly when it comes to BDSM you can get away with a lot more than we can in the U.K. But you also have more restrictions. For instance, in San Francisco if you want to have a pint, a blow job and a cigarette you start off your evening in a bar and then go to a sex club. And then you go outside on the patio to have a cigarette. At The Hoist in London we do all three at the same place.

That’s convenient, but it makes the European leather scene very commercial, centered around bars and clubs, and that means it’s quite centered around alcohol.

There’s a higher standard of living in the U.S., which means a lot of people have dungeons and playrooms in their homes. Most of the apartments in Europe are so small you could never have a dedicated playroom—so your equipment is under the bed and you bring it out to play. And you have to “de-gay” the flat when your parents come ’round because there’s not a garage you can lock.

There’s a culture of giving to charity in America. American law encourages you, and it’s also a very philanthropic culture—perhaps because of your high standard of living.

On the other hand, the state provides a lot of health care in Europe that you have to do fundraising for in the U.S. If you have HIV in Europe it doesn’t matter if you have insurance or not—you’re going to get drugs from the state.

In Europe we’re a lot less concerned about status. In some of the cities I’ve been to in the U.S. people have told me things like, “Those are the tower blocks where the ‘A gays’ live.” In the U.S. you have in your newspapers roll calls of who’s given $500 to charity, who’s given $5,000. Even at some churches in the U.S., I’ve seen written up on the wall who’s given how much money—we don’t do that in Europe. We don’t brag about it because it’s not a big deal.

What about leather events and contests?

In the U.S. you’re very good at putting on big events like IML. Even Inferno [the Chicago Hellfire Club’s annual run, considered a “smaller” event by U.S. standards]—we don’t have anything on that scale in Europe.

There’s lots of travel within the U.S. to leather events because you don’t have to change money and you don’t have to learn a new language. But it’s rare to meet Americans who have traveled outside the U.S. In the U.K., 88% of our citizens have a passport—in the U.S. it’s more like 13%.

I think we in Europe have more diversity in terms of cultural experience, but that cultural diversity makes it harder to have big-scale events. You couldn’t get 15,000 people at an event in Europe without having eighty translators, while in the U.S. it’s enough just to have a sign-language interpreter.

The leather scene in Europe is a lot more relaxed. If you want to volunteer for something you don’t have to get a leather title first—you just do it. In the U.S. I hear people say, “Oh, he’s great in the leather scene, but nobody takes notice of him because he doesn’t have a title.” We only have ten leather titles in Europe because the only reason to have a title in Europe is to qualify to represent your country at IML.

In your title year so far, what have you enjoyed the most?

The place I was the most hedonistic was Kansas City. I call it the Axis of Evil: Kansas City, Tulsa, Dallas. They cook you big meals, they pour you big drinks, they play hard and evil, and there’s not a lot of attitude. I get on with the Midwest.

I think the event I enjoyed the most was Dungeon down in Fort Lauderdale. It’s an SM educational event, it’s nothing to do with titles, it’s just family. Some of the best tops in the world are there, and if you have passion and enthusiasm you can end up playing with them even if you’re the biggest novice ever. Not all events are like that. I think that of all the events I’ve been to, if I had to go further into debt to go back to one it would be Dungeon.

A question from the audience: During your travels so far what has touched your heart the most?

Say I go to a bar to do a fundraiser. Yes, I have to fly there—I get on the plane, someone else buys the ticket. That’s easy. And they want me to provide a few things to raffle, so I bring along a signed photo of myself. Maybe I also bring some free t-shirts from The Hoist—how hard is that?

Ten other people go around the bar on their hands and knees for the whole night doing crotch-to-floor raffle strips and working really hard to get money out of the crowd.

I’m told at the end of the evening, “We broke records for a fundraiser on a Friday night! And it’s all thanks to you!” And I think it was that team of people who worked so hard to sell the raffle tickets—they’re the ones who deserve the recognition.

So, what has touched my heart this year is seeing people who put out chairs for an event, or take tickets for coat checks and give all the money to charity, without any recognition. Who volunteer to sell raffle tickets, or drive me somewhere, or get me drinks from the bar because they can see I’m busy and can’t get away.

They do all of that and I’m the one who gets the glory. And I think that’s wrong, and I need to find a way to address that after the year is done because I have a lot of people who ought to be thanked, and they’re not the usual people who get thanked.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Married, With Leather

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #234, May 14, 2004)

David Kloss, International Mr. Leather 1979, is the first man to hold the International Mr. Leather (IML) title. Remi Collette, Mr. Leatherman Toronto 2004, will be competing in IML this year, 25 years after his husband competed.

When they first got together Kloss lived in San Francisco and Collette in Toronto. They divided their time between the two cities until Collette admitted to U.S. Immigration officials that he had a gay lover in San Francisco. Thereafter it became so troublesome for Collette to get into the United States that they decided it made more sense for Kloss to relocate to Toronto, where they were married on July 11, 2003.

Did either of you ever think that you would actually be married?

Remi Collette: Legally? No!

David Kloss: No!

Collette: We were as shocked as the rest of the world when it looked like marriage might become a possibility. And that’s why we didn’t have a big fancy wedding with all our friends. We knew that at any moment the opportunity might vanish because there was so much opposition.

This was not something we just ran and jumped into. We had been aware for some time that marriage for same-gender couples was being discussed in Ontario. We had already been registered as domestic partners in San Francisco, we had been living together for two years, we knew we were soulmates. When the opportunity was there, it just seemed like the perfect timing for the two of us, and we went for it.

Kloss: Same-gender couples can only be legally married in three Canadian provinces: Ontario first, British Columbia second, and now Quebec. There are other provinces that don’t want to legalize those marriages, just like there are states that don’t want to.

Collette: However, even in [dissenting] provinces the marriage is still recognized. For example, David and I are married in Ontario. When I go to New Brunswick, they still recognize our marriage—whereas in the States, if I get married in San Francisco and I go to Texas, they say, “Sorry, you ain’t married.”

Kloss: Now the federal government is working on making marriage for same-gender couples legal everywhere in Canada. Also, Canada passed a law on June 28, 2002, that basically said any relationship proven viable for over a year will be recognized, and the non-Canadian partner will be allowed to move to Canada.

In the United States the Permanent Partners Immigration Act (PPIA) has been in Congress for two years. This year it has approximately 121 co-sponsors in the House and about 11 in the Senate. What the PPIA would do is the same thing as the Canadian law—it would have allowed me to bring my partner, unmarried, into the United States by proving a viable relationship for a certain period of time.

Unfortunately, it’s not going far—even though it has the co-sponsors, it has not gotten out of committee.  To put it very bluntly, for most gay relationships between an American and a foreign national, the choice generally comes down to: you stay in your country and leave your love, or you follow your love and leave your country.

We know that in the United States there are 1,138 specific rights associated with the word marriage. One of those rights is the ability to bring a non-national partner into the country. Because same-gender couples can’t be married, we are denied that right.

Collette: And that’s pretty significant, when you think about it. You know, a lot of gay people are thinking, “Well, we’ve never had marriage, it’s never been important to us, we don’t buy into it, it’s a heterosexual institution.”

But what they don’t realize is that when we are denied a right that everyone else has, that makes two classes: them who have all the rights, and we who are not eligible for the rights. And that, as taxpayers, is unacceptable—or just as citizens, period. It’s not acceptable.

Kloss: As you can tell, we’ve become very politically motivated.

What are your lives like now, day to day? What does married life look like?

Collette: People may not realize it, but when you get married it does change things. When it is legal, when you’ve got it sanctioned by the rest of the world, it feels different. It sounds silly, I didn’t expect it, and it kind of threw me for a loop when I felt it. But it’s true.

David Kloss: Married life is wonderful! What we do, we do together—we do have other little parts of our lives that are separate, but for the most part we are a team. We also happen to be monogamous—monogamous in the leather world! And it works, and we’re happy with it.

What do you either of you see for the future? Now that you’re married, where do you go from here?

Collette: I see us growing old together—one of us a little bit faster than the other. (Kloss laughs) But it’s been three years now and I love him more and more every day, so I don’t see that ever being a problem.

We’ve faced a lot of hard times. He’s lost a relative. My mom has been very sick. We’ve dealt with health issues with David, we’ve dealt with the immigration issue.

When you think you can’t take any more, we hold each other, we support each other, and we get stronger.

I see our future very much continuing on that path of staying together, taking life one day at a time with each other, hand in hand.