Friday, July 23, 2004

Leather Lens: Minnesota Leather Pride 2004

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #239, July 23, 2004)

With presentations spread over a ten-day period, this year’s Minnesota Leather Pride celebration was the most ambitious ever. Months of planning paid off with a series of well organized and well attended events. Here are a few scenes from the celebration.

Friday evening, June 18: The official kick-off to Minnesota Leather Pride 2004 was a trampling demonstration, featuring the trampling talents of Sharina Nicole and slave michael, at the Minneapolis Eagle. (Sharina and michael also gave a trampling workshop on Tuesday, June 22 during which this photo/these photos were taken.)

Saturday evening, June 19: A Floggapalooza, featuring four simultaneous flogging scenes, was held at the Minneapolis Eagle.

Sunday afternoon, June 20: It was Father’s Day, so it was appropriate that the ever-amazing Amanda Wildefyre, right, presented a “CBT for Daddy’s Day” workshop. (“CBT” stands for cock-and-ball torture.) To Amanda’s left is one of her two willing victims, David Coral (aka Jazz Thomas)—who, that afternoon, also learned how to mount and dismount a trapeze.

Tuesday evening, June 22: Trampling isn’t just for spike heels. Here, at the aforementioned trampling workshop, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2004 Carl Byrd tries trampling David Coral (aka Jazz Thomas).

Tuesday evening, June 22: David Coral (aka Jazz Thomas), who was having a busy week, presented a body-punching workshop using International Mr. Leather 2003 John Pendal as the punching bag. (Pendal later returned the favor.)

Sunday morning, June 27: A gentle rain did not stop the Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade—or the 75-foot leather pride flag—from making its annual trek up Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis.

Sunday morning, June 27: Cleo Dubois, left, and Fakir Musafar, right, are shown here watching the Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride parade. The duo had a busy week as presenters and participants in this year’s Minnesota Leather Pride. On Wednesday evening, June 23, they were part of a “Leather Spirituality” roundtable discussion at The Town House in St. Paul. On Thursday, June 24 they presented a workshop on “The Magic of Temporary Piercing” and followed it up with “Spirit+Flesh,” an all-day workshop/body ritual on Saturday, June 26

Sunday afternoon, June 27: This year Minnesota Leather Pride had an official booth, complete with cage, at the Pride Festival in Loring Park.

Friday, July 9, 2004

Life After the Leather Contest

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #238, July 9, 2004)

It happens every year about this time. There are over 50 contestants for the International Mr. Leather (IML) contest on Memorial Day weekend in Chicago. One of those contestants is chosen as the new IML. Many of the other contestants go home from the weekend asking themselves varying versions of the same questions: Why didn’t I win? What did I do wrong? What could I have done better? What could I do better next time?

Actually, these questions are part of the aftermath of every leather contest everywhere, all through the year. The person asking them could be either the winner of a local or regional contest who is considering what is necessary to get ready for the next level of competition, or one of the contestants who didn’t win.

There are many who are only too willing to step into the void created by these questions and dispense advice either to someone who has lost a leather contest or to someone who just won one and is advancing to the next level of competition. Usually the advice they dispense is on the order of “You’re perfect, now just change everything about yourself and you’ll be even more perfect.” They then proceed to tell the person to “go on a diet, change your hairstyle, buy all new leather, spend 60 hours a week at the gym, take steroids, get plastic surgery, and get rid of your partner because you’ll be more tempting if it’s known you are single, and therefore available.” Incredible as it may sound, I am not exaggerating here.

The point of leather contests is not to find a Henry Higgins top so that one can play an Eliza Doolittle bottom. A contest can be the occasion for “Extreme Leather Makeover,” but only if that’s what the contestant wants to do. On the other hand, I have known people (including myself) who have felt they wanted to make some more moderate changes, and entering a contest or winning a contest and advancing in competition was as good an excuse as any to make them. With motivation like that, there’s a good chance that positive changes will occur, and that the changes will last even after the competition is over.

If you absolutely insist on asking someone for a critique of your performance during a contest and suggestions for possible improvements—ask the judges. For two reasons, they are in the best position to give you realistic feedback about how you did: They’re the ones who scored you, and they were there during the whole contest including any private interviews. Anyone who was not a judge and was therefore not present during all segments of the contest can only guess at the thought processes the judges went through to arrive at their scores. Be aware that the judges aren’t obligated to provide this service, but if you ask nicely they may. Be grateful for any feedback they offer, and thank them for taking the time to offer it.

Instead of, or in addition to, asking someone else what improvements could be made to become a stronger competitor, I challenge people to spend some time looking back at their contest experience and think about questions like these: When during the contest weekend did I feel most comfortable? What during the weekend made me feel uncomfortable or unsure of myself? What do I think I did really well? What do I think I could have done better? Which of the other contestants impressed me—made me think to myself, “That was really good. I wish I could do that. I want what they have”?

Don’t just think about these questions—write them down, and then write down your answers to them. Those answers will point out to you both your strengths and the areas in which you want to improve. Take pride in your strengths, make plans for making the improvements you want to make, and then follow those plans.

Perhaps you know you will be advancing in competition, perhaps you’re just thinking about entering another contest sometime, or perhaps you’ll never compete again. It doesn’t matter—you can still benefit from the insight gained by the above exercise.

Now, about that issue of competing in the future: IML competitors have already won titles in other contests; now that the IML competition is over they can turn their attentions to serving their communities until it’s time for them to step aside and turn the title over to their successors.

But what about people who, although they have competed, have never won a contest and therefore have no title? Well, during your contest preparation you probably did some thinking about what you would do with a title if you won. Would you have volunteered for a cause you believe is important? Would you have raised money for charity, helped to plan leather events, started a leather-related web page? Whatever it might have been, you are hereby cordially invited to do it anyway.

If you want to, you can find ways to contribute to your community whether you have a title or not. Don’t wait for a title to supposedly confer legitimacy and credibility on your efforts—get involved now. Your community will be a better place, and you’ll feel good because you’re helping to make it that way.

As a bonus: if you compete in some future leather contest, anything you do now will certainly look good on your application. Or you might find, as did your humble columnist, that you become so involved in serving the community that you never get around to entering another contest.