Friday, December 23, 2005

Atons host Holiday Fundraiser

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #276, December 23, 2005)

BYLINE: photos by Paul Nixdorf and Steve Lenius

Leather holiday cheer and goodwill was in abundant supply at The Saloon on Sunday evening, Dec. 11, when The Atons of Minneapolis hosted their annual Holiday Fundraiser.

Over 600 pounds of food and other items were collected for The Aliveness Project’s Holiday Basket program, and door proceeds of over $850 also benefited The Aliveness Project (<>). A live and silent auction raised over $2700 for Open Arms of Minnesota (<>).

Although the event was hosted by the Atons, attendees included members of several other local clubs and organizations including the Black Guard of Minneapolis, Knights of Leather, Minnesota Storm Patrol, MSDB and North Star Gay Rodeo Association. In support of the event the Knights of Leather presented a check for $250 and Minnesota Storm Patrol presented a check for $100.

1. FEATURED PHOTO: ATONS GROUP SHOT. Choose one: DSC_8246, DSC_8247 or DSC_8248. Photo Credit to Paul Nixdorf.




Full, associate and honorary members of The Atons of Minneapolis.




Leather barber Brian Preston makes sure Andrew Bertke looks his best for the holidays.


The evening’s bootblack, David Page.



Some of the 600+ pounds of food and other supplies collected for The Aliveness Project’s Holiday Basket Program.


“Going twice! Sold!” Atons president Bruce Chambers conducts the live auction.



Atons president Bruce Chambers displays one of the items to be sold during the live auction.





The Knights of Leather and Minnesota Storm Patrol each presented The Atons with a check in support of the fundraiser. Top, Atons president Bruce Chambers (left) accepts a check for $250 from David Coral (right) of the Knights of Leather. Bottom, Minnesota Storm Patrol president Joe Siedschlag (left) presents a check for $100 to Chambers (right).


Kevin Winge, Executive Director, Open Arms of Minnesota (left) and David Page, Atons Associate Member and the evening’s bootblack (right), inspect the auction merchandise.


Tom Genty (left) and Scott Schlaffman (right) representing The Aliveness Project.




Tom Genty (left) and Scott Schlaffman (right), representing The Aliveness Project, talk to Leather Santa (Angel Rodriguez, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2005).


Representing The Aliveness Project, left to right, are Tom Genty, Scott Schlaffman and Bill Schlichting.




Members of the Knights of Leather.



Members of Minnesota Storm Patrol.



Bruce Gohr, of the Black Guard of Minneapolis, and Sam McLean flank Dot Trevis of North Star Gay Rodeo Association.


Leather Santa (Angel Rodriguez, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2005) shows Black Guard member Bruce Gohr what happens to bad boys.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Fundraiser for Eli

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #273, November 11, 2005)

PHOTO: Eli Knight

PHOTO CREDIT: Cynthia Dickinson

A family needs your help.

When the AIDS crisis first hit our community, we took care of our own. (We had to—the Reagan-era government wouldn’t.) Our community raised money to help people living with AIDS. Or they raised money for kids with AIDS or other life-threatening illnesses. We raised money for someone else’s kids—not our own.

How times have changed. Allow me to introduce you to Eli Knight.

Eli just turned 5 years old (his birthday was in September). He’s in preschool this year. He loves books and cars and riding his bike. He is an avid movie watcher who likes to learn the lines and repeat them later.

Eli Knight has cancer. While performing emergency surgery to remove his appendix, doctors discovered a massive tumor on Eli’s right kidney. The surgery to remove tumor, kidney and appendix took 8-1/2 hours. Eli will be in the hospital, recovering from the surgery, for two to four weeks.

At this writing, tests are still being done to determine what kind of cancer Eli has and what future treatment he will need. Up to six months of chemotherapy might be necessary.

Rumor has it that if Eli’s chemotherapy involves hair loss, a lot of people are going to be shaving their heads. That’s because Eli is part of a big family—a very big family. Eli’s parents are finding out just how big, and how caring, that family is.

In addition to his younger brother, Wyatt, Eli has two mommies (P.J. and Vicki Knight) and two daddies (David Coral and Bobbie Smith). Longtime readers of this column may remember P.J. and Vicki from “Baby on Board: Leather Lesbians on the Mommy Track,” in the Sept. 22, 2000 edition of Lavender.

All four parents are charter members of The Knights of Leather, so Eli’s extended family, in addition to grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, includes the rest of the members of the Knights and a lot of their friends as well. There are a lot of visitors to Eli’s room at St. Paul Children’s Hospital.

Eli’s younger brother, Wyatt, is 1-1/2 years old, and he recently needed some emergency medical attention when the tip of his thumb was almost completely severed. Fortunately, Wyatt’s doctors were able to reattach it, and it should be totally healed in about a year.

P.J. also is having some medical challenges. She, too, recently needed emergency surgery, also for a burst appendix. It was a very serious situation—according to her doctors, in another twelve hours the infection would have gotten into her bloodstream and she would have died. She spent six days in the hospital. She got out just ten days before Eli went into the hospital for his appendectomy.

While preparing her for surgery, P.J.’s doctors discovered the start of an artery blockage that eventually would lead to a heart attack. By the time you read this she will have undergone either an angioplasty or a stent placement.

Fundraisers for charitable causes long have been a part of our community’s traditions and culture. The tradition is still strong today—a recent community event raised over $8,400 for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The Knights of Leather are planning a fundraiser to help cover Eli’s and his family’s considerable medical bills. The event will be held at the Bolt (next door to the Minneapolis Eagle) on Saturday, Nov. 26 starting at 7 P.M. It will include a beer/soda bust, auction and other things that are still being planned.

Requested donation at the door will be $20 but no donation will be refused. Donations may also be sent to The Knights of Leather, Minneapolis, MN.

Through St. Paul Children’s Hospital, Eli now has his own website at <>. There you’ll find the latest news on how Eli is doing, and you can sign Eli’s guestbook and leave a message for the family.

More Fundraisers Coming Up

• Saturday, Nov. 19: Join the Black Guard of Minneapolis for their 29th annual Chili Feed. Beer bust, chili, silent auction, balloon bust, raffles, and the Black Guard’s famous jail. Black Frost 29 run applications will be available. Minneapolis Eagle, 5-9 P.M. $8 at the door.

• Early December: Join the Atons of Minneapolis for their annual Holiday Fundraiser. The Atons will again be collecting food for The Aliveness Project’s Holiday Basket Program, and a Silent Auction will benefit Open Arms of Minnesota. At this writing date, time and place are still being determined, so watch for further details.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Leather and “Social Capital”

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #272, October 28, 2005)

Go to a munch—you’ll live longer.

The above oversimplification points to a truth that goes beyond the leather/BDSM community to society in general: in the words of Dr. Robert Putnam, “Our communities don’t work as well, and our bodies don’t work as well, when we’re not connected.”

Dr. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard, spoke in Minneapolis last May at a Town Hall Forum presented by Westminster Presbyterian Church. He has spent years studying “social capital.”

Dr. Putnam defines social capital as “features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.” (Note that word “trust”—an integral component of leather/BDSM relationships.)

Social coordination and cooperation are produced by face-to-face encounters leading to trust, shared values, a sense of belonging and a sense of commitment or connection to others. These qualities allow people to build communities and to weave a social fabric. Strong communities and high connectedness lead to better health, less crime, more economic prosperity and higher educational achievement.

According to Dr. Putnam, connection and commitment are social tools that allow us to get more done in less time, and a social network has benefits and value both for those within the network and for bystanders. Part of the benefit of social networks is reciprocity—as Yogi Berra put it, “If you don’t go to other people’s funerals, they won’t go to yours.”

The picture Dr. Putnam paints of the current state of social capital in America is sobering. For the first two-thirds of the last century Americans were becoming more connected, creating new organizations, new networks, new social capital.

But from the 1960s through the 1980s connectedness leveled, declined—and then plunged. Putnam, citing data from the Roper polling organization, concluded that one-half of our civic infrastructure evaporated in the last quarter of the 20th century. He also cited a more specific piece of data leading to the same conclusion: DDB/Needham, an advertising agency in Chicago, documented a 45% decline in “frequency of entertaining”—we simply don’t invite people over as often as we used to.

In leather/BDSM circles, a frequent topic of conversation is “What’s happening to our community?” Why are traditional gay leather clubs graying, with few younger members in sight? Why is it harder to find contestants for leather contests? Why does it seem as if people don’t go out as often as they used to?

Every other community is asking these same types of questions. What’s happening to our schools? Are parents too busy to be involved in the PTA? Is there still a place for labor unions? Who will be the next generation of members for the American Legion and VFW? Why do fewer people seem to be involved in political parties?

What has caused this situation? Putnam cited multiple culprits, one of which is suburbanization—10 more minutes of commuting time equals a 10% reduction in socializing. The rise of two-career families didn’t help matters, either.

But high on Putnam’s list of culprits: television. In Putnam’s words, “Most Americans watch ‘Friends’ rather than having them.”

The internet, Putnam notes, is not a large factor in the decline of connectedness because the years of massive decline predate the internet in its current form. The internet will either evolve into a Super Television, which will be very isolating, or a Super Telephone, which will be very connecting.

Although some readers of this magazine might not agree, Putnam notes that “You don’t make new friends on the telephone”—it’s part of our network for maintaining connections we already have. Likewise, with the internet there is room for creativity. Society needs to figure out ways to use the internet to strengthen real community instead of fostering further disconnectedness.

“Creativity” is a ray of hope, not just for the internet, but for the entire problem of rebuilding social capital. At the turn of the last century, the situation was much the same as it is today. America was undergoing a transition from an agrarian society to an urban one; many of the old ways of relating and connecting didn’t fit anymore. The problem was fixed in a very short time, however, and new organizations were invented quickly to fit people’s new needs and situations.

That’s our challenge now, according to Dr. Putnam: “We need to invent new ways of connecting that fit the way we live—we need to reinvent the Kiwanis or the Y.”

Hmm. “Creativity”—now who are some of the most creative people you know?

That’s right: us. Who is better than the members of the leather/BDSM community at figuring out new and delightful ways to please each other? Who has more fun finding new uses for things from the hardware store? What other group takes such pleasure in pushing envelopes and blazing new trails?

Instead of worrying about where the leather/BDSM community is going, let’s use our creativity and imagination to strengthen what works and reinvent what doesn’t. In this era of social upheaval and rebuilding, the leather/BDSM community might one day find itself even more relevant, to more people, than ever.

For further reading: Dr. Robert Putnam is the author of a dozen books, including Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community and Better Together: Restoring the American Community. (Those with long memories will recall that the theme of IML 1994 Jeff Tucker’s title year was “Better Together.” They will also recall that IML 1996 Joe Gallagher’s theme was “Get Linked.”)

Friday, October 14, 2005

What’s your LPT (Leather Personality Type)?

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #271, October 14, 2005)

In an effort to understand the world and its inhabitants, psychologists have come up with systems for classifying human behaviors and personality types. Two of the most notable (and currently fashionable) are the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Enneagram.

Both of these systems can profitably be applied to the world of leather. However, after intense observation and analysis, your humble columnist has created a more leather-specific system. The Leather Personality Type (LPT) classification system contains, at last count, twelve types.

Before describing the system, a brief disclaimer: These are archetypes. Almost no single living, breathing human represents one type exclusively. Your personality, and the personality of everyone around you, most likely incorporates elements from several of these types.

Nonetheless, I find it’s good to understand the various types and what makes them tick (and what doesn’t). It helps explain why we don’t necessarily all see things the same way, and why we don’t always have the same likes and dislikes.

In other words, what flips our switch may not flip someone else’s, and vice versa. And that’s okay.

With that said, here are the twelve Leather Personality Types:

LPT1. Leather Club Member: Team players all, LPT1s are committed to strengthening their community by working with other like-minded club members. LPT1s enjoy the camaraderie and family feeling of belonging to a group. Leather clubs were, to a very great extent, where today’s leather community started, which is why they have the honor of being the first Leather Personality Type.

LPT2. The GDI (God-damned independent): An independent member of the community but a solid member nonetheless, free-spirited LPT2s don’t feel the need to join a leather club, although they are often supportive of the clubs and their LPT1 members. Perhaps LPT2s can’t make the significant time commitment demanded by club membership. Perhaps meeting agendas and Robert’s Rules of Order bore them to tears. LPT2s find many other ways to enjoy, be involved with, and contribute to the leather community.

LPT3. The Titleholder: The leather community’s rock stars, LPT3s enjoy the spotlight. They are passionate about their community and their issues and work tirelessly to raise awareness. Sometimes seen by other LPTs as living a glamorous, jet-set life, LPT3s know that under that thin veneer of glamour is a lot of work and a lot of inconvenience. (How glamorous is it to live out of a suitcase 48 weekends of the year?) But for LPT3s, the rewards of contributing are worth it.

LPT4. The Master or Mistress: Resolutely self-assured, strong and confident, LPT4s find gratification and fulfillment in dominating and controlling others. Other LPTs may be envious when they see a Master or Mistress being waited on hand and foot (often literally), and might see LPT4s as somewhat selfish. But the emotionally healthy LPT4 understands that with the pampering comes total responsibility for the subs or slaves doing the pampering, which most people couldn’t handle. Fortunately, the LPT4 can.

LPT5. The Super Sub or Super Slave: Often seen as the polar opposite of the LPT4, LPT5s are surprisingly similar in many ways. LPT5s are often wrongly perceived as weak and lacking self-confidence. In reality, healthy LPT5s are every bit as self-assured, strong and confident as the LPT4s they serve—they simply choose a different way of expressing it.

LPT6. The Professional: LPT6s are so dedicated to leather that they make it their livelihood, and thank goodness they do. The leather community could not function without the merchandise and services provided by LPT6s. If you didn’t personally make that leather vest you’re wearing, thank the LPT6 who made it and the LPT6 who sold it to you. Ditto for other leather-related apparel, toys, dungeon supplies, videos and reading material, and so on. Some might unfairly criticize LPT6s for “taking advantage” of the community or “getting rich” at the community’s expense. This is balderdash—if LPT6s were motivated solely by money, they could find many easier and more secure ways to earn a living.

LPT7. The 24/7: At any moment they could meet the dress code at any Eagle in the world. They are leather and leather is them, and they wouldn’t want it any other way. Or maybe they can’t always look the part, but even in a business suit they’re still leather and proud of it.

LPT8. The Hobbyist: Sometimes derisively considered “Weekend Warriors,” leather is one aspect but not the totality of an LPT8’s life. Perhaps they’re new to the scene, or perhaps they’ve been around awhile and incorporated into their lives the aspects of leather that work for them. By their participation they strengthen the community, so they’re always welcome at a bar, an event or a party.

LPT9. The Specialist: Their interests are narrow but deep. LPT9s may or may not be involved in other aspects of the community (and may or may not be criticized for it). But they are passionate experts at their chosen interest or fetish, be it flogging, single-tails, motorcycles, or anything else. If you want to explore a new leather interest, the proper LPT9 can be an invaluable resource.

LPT10. The Exotic: Puppies. Ponies. Goth. Babies. Not everyone can understand why LPT10s get off on getting into an alternate headspace. But LPT10s enjoy it—and that’s what matters, as long as they’re not hurting anyone else.

LPT11. The Exhibitionist: You might see their image in a magazine or video, or you might see them live on a stage, at a party or in a dungeon. In addition to whatever else they get their kicks from, LPT11s get their kicks from being watched. For LPT11s, leather is a celebration—and they want to share the experience.

LPT12. The “Leatherati”: Carefully observing everything going on around them, LPT12s savor it all, remember it, and write it all down. They do this to preserve the culture for future generations as well as to mirror it back to the rest of the community. Along with mirroring it back, LPT12s often try to analyze and explain things. Sometimes they even attempt to classify and categorize them.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Missing New Orleans

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #270, September 30, 2005)

PHOTO: New Orleans in happier times: Decatur Street in the French Quarter

“Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?” I do—now more than ever.

Over the years both leather culture and gay culture have been among the many that have benefited from the spicy influence of New Orleans. That influence sends the despair and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina far beyond the Gulf Coast region.

For me, amid the shock and horror of the news, it was memories that came flooding. The first time I visited New Orleans was in the mid-1980s at Christmas. My partner and I stayed at a hotel on Canal St. at the edge of the French Quarter. The holiday atmosphere was charming. They even had some snow for us Northerners.

For several years New Orleans hosted Pantheon of Leather, and the New Orleans leather/fetish community showed Pantheon visitors the most gracious kind of southern hospitality. The event was always the first weekend of Mardi Gras, when things were festive but still manageable. The Barkus parade (dogs and their owners in costume) became a Pantheon and Mardi Gras tradition for me.

I remember the food—beignets at the Cafe Du Monde, country French comfort food at La Madeleine, grand dinners with other Minnesota leatherfolks at the Palace CafĂ© on Canal St., Paul Prudhomme’s Cajun specialties at K-Paul’s Restaurant, burgers cooked under a (real) hubcap at the Clover Grill, and pralines from Aunt Sally’s to take home. My midwestern palate always appreciated the way New Orleans chefs are able to make food spicy yet flavorful (as opposed to just burning hot).

I remember the fascinating architecture—the iron lace balconies in the French Quarter; the floor-to-ceiling shutters on the houses in the Faubourg-Marigny district; the old-South quaintness of the Garden District; the new-South suburban tract homes on the drive into town from the airport. Those homes, I was told, were built on slabs—the water table was too high for basements.

I have taken Amtrak—yes, the train is still called “The City of New Orleans,” made famous by the Arlo Guthrie song—to New Orleans several times. The ride on the train across Lake Ponchartrain was breathtaking. Those tracks are gone now, and it could be months before they’re restored.

On one trip I remember the porter serving freshly-made lemonade, “like we make it in N’awlins.” If that wasn’t the best lemonade I’ve ever tasted, it was mighty close.

Another New Orleans train trip, that was supposed to continue to Florida, was interrupted because our connecting train was eight hours late. We wound up overnighting in the lounge at the New Orleans Union Station, which is now the site of a makeshift temporary New Orleans jail.

When the delayed train (the Sunset Limited) arrived the next morning, our trip continued eastward from New Orleans through Gulfport, Biloxi, Pascagoula—places that bore the direct impact of Katrina and, for all intents and purposes, are no longer there.

I have stayed in big hotels, small hotels and many B&Bs. One room I stayed in was the former slave quarters for the house (there was only room for one twin bed and no bathtub). Probably the strangest was a B&B in the Garden District run by, I swear, Blanche Dubois come tremblingly, neurotically to life. I wonder if that particular B&B is still standing.

The last time I was in New Orleans was for Leather Leadership Conference 8 in April, 2004. After the conference I had the great pleasure of acting as New Orleans tour guide for then-International Mr. Leather (and London, UK resident) John Pendal. As I was showing John around I was surprised at how much New Orleans lore I had absorbed over the years.

My partner and I were visiting Canada (Toronto) when the news, and the levee, broke. In shock, we followed the daily developments in both the Canadian and American newspapers. I kept remembering people I knew in New Orleans, and hoping they were okay.

When we arrived home I was touched to find a phone message from John Pendal, and his partner Dave, calling from London to express their concern for me because they knew how fond I was of New Orleans.

Checking e-mail, I heard from several New Orleans leathermen who had evacuated. I saw lists various New Orleans-area leather/BDSM clubs, businesses and organizations had put together to account for their members, employees, and friends. Even though people were listed only by first name and last initial, I was surprised how many last names I could fill in and how many faces I could put to names.

Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans just before Labor Day weekend, which is normally the time for Southern Decadence, an annual New Orleans gathering unofficially billed as “gay Mardi Gras” (as if the regular Mardi Gras wasn’t gay enough).

Southern Decadence was canceled for the most part (and I know several friends from the Twin Cities area who had planned to attend). There probably won’t be much Halloween celebrating on Bourbon Street, and even next year’s Mardi Gras is tentative.

The shout traditionally heard throughout New Orleans, especially around Mardi Gras, is “Laissez les bon temps roulez!”, which is the Cajun way of saying “Let the good times roll!” It will probably take a long time, but I hope and pray that les bon temps will eventually roulez again.

When you’re again ready to receive visitors, New Orleans, I’ll be there.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Leather Agenda: 2005 Edition

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #269, September 16, 2005)

PHOTO: Michael Egdes, International Mr. Leather 2005

What is the current state of the leather nation, and what’s our agenda for the coming year? Many people look upon IML Executive Producer Chuck Renslow’s annual speeches at the International Mr. Leather contest as the leather community’s “state of the union” address. But every International Mr. Leather titleholder develops an agenda for his title year, and that agenda is based on the state of the leather community at the time.

Last issue I introduced you to International Mr. Leather 2005 Michael Egdes. Here is how Egdes described to me his agenda for his title year. It’s a good snapshot of the issues and politics that are front-and-center for the leather community right now.

What do you want to accomplish during your title year?

Issues such as HIV/AIDS, the fight for equality, the fight for freedom of speech, and the repeal of a lot of archaic laws both here and in other parts of the world, are all very important.

I truly believe that this is a nation founded on the principle of freedom, and that’s one of the reasons I chose to move here, particularly from a country and a society [South Africa, where Egdes was born and raised] where oppression was the order of the day. To me it’s really important to fight for those freedoms.

We need to fight for the rights that come automatically with marriage. I don’t care if they’re called civil unions or life partnerships or marriage or whatever—the name is not important, but the rights that go with them are extremely important.

I also think it’s important that the nation and the courts and the government recognize that we make parents as fitting as heterosexual parents.

I’m very alarmed at the passage of the recent bill restricting freedom of speech on the internet. Books are being removed from shelves—anything that portrays homosexuality in a positive light is seen as evil and decadent and is being yanked from school libraries. There are small incremental steps taking place which, if one looks at what happened in Nazi Germany, follow a very similar pattern.

As the radical right becomes more vocal, more powerful and more organized, it terrifies me to think where they might go with this. I think we’re living in very dangerous times right now, and we don’t have time on our side.

It’s really vital that everybody in the community take a role and do what they can to try to bring about change. It might be as simple as making a donation to a cause fighting for freedom, or making a call to a senator or congressman, or writing a letter to an editor. Everybody that does a little something will be helping to stem the tide of oppression that is enveloping us at the moment.

It’s important to acknowledge the progressive changes that are being made. It’s wonderful that Canada has had the third reading of its bill that will legalize gay marriage. There are many European nations that are following suit. I think the address given by the Spanish prime minister at the end of June was a wonderful address, and I think our government would be well advised to read it and consider it.

There is a very important issue that needs to be addressed within the community—in addition to respecting each other, we need to respect ourselves. That involves eliminating or reducing the number of self-destructive behaviors that are unfortunately far too prevalent in our community—for example, sex without regard to safety, or the abuse of chemical substances, particularly crystal meth.

But people must know by now that unprotected sex is like Russian roulette with five of the six chambers loaded, and that crystal meth is very addictive and very destructive. Why do people keep doing these self-destructive things?

I would say when it comes to HIV/AIDS, the advances in treatment and pharmaceuticals have changed the way people perceive the disease. Rather than seeing it as a death sentence they’re seeing it as a disease that is manageable, and therefore the alarm factor is reduced. But it still puzzles me why people would expose themselves to a lifetime of treatment and care of a chronic condition.

I think people in many cases start using crystal meth recreationally and don’t believe it’s going to become an issue for them. But it’s a highly addictive drug and many people are addicted from the first use. Statistics available to us have shown that only 8% of those people that have become addicted to crystal meth have been able to eliminate their dependency on it.

Another issue—there are voices in the leather community asserting that we need to put sex back into politics after downplaying it prior to the last election.

I don’t think what we do behind closed doors is really relevant to anybody else as long as it’s between consenting adults. Focusing on that makes it easier for the radical right to tear us down and criticize us.

Which is not to say that I don’t believe that oppressive laws that are still on the books shouldn’t be removed. I think freedom is a very broad concept, and you can’t pick and choose your freedoms—you’re either free or you’re not. If that means we have to take a more aggressive approach to achieving those freedoms, then that’s what we’ll have to do.

Friday, September 2, 2005

The Leather Life Interview: Michael Egdes, International Mr. Leather 2005

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #268, September 2, 2005)

PHOTO: Michael Egdes

For Michael Egdes, serving as International Mr. Leather 2005 is just the latest chapter in a very intriguing life.

Born and raised in Santon, South Africa (just north of Johannesburg), he moved to New York in his mid-20s, where he worked in advertising and discovered leather bars.

In 1990 he moved to Ft. Lauderdale, where for five years he ran a five-star South African restaurant with his partner James. They now are both in the real estate business.

Egdes is now blessed with two partners—two years ago, he and James added Todd to their relationship.

What was it like growing up in South Africa?

I came out shortly after my eighteenth birthday. I was serving in the South African military at the time. The atmosphere in South Africa was very conservative, but even during my time in the military I was openly gay.

My leather journey has not been well defined in the sense that I can’t tell you really where it began. I can tell you I tied up a school friend when I was fourteen years old. I didn’t know that I was gay at the time, but he was staying over for the night, and it seemed like a fun thing to do.

I went through a very authoritarian type of school system. It was not uncommon, when homework wasn’t completed correctly or for any other minor infraction, to be sent to the headmaster’s office for caning. I’m not sure I particularly enjoyed it then, but looking back this might have been my true introduction to S&M.

Talk about your restaurant. What does a South African restaurant serve?

South African cuisine is truly a fusion cuisine. There are eleven or twelve indigenous tribes who cook tribal recipes. When the Dutch East India company settled in the country in the mid-1600s they brought with them their Dutch cuisine, and many of those ships had chefs from Indonesia or Malaysia. Subsequently the French Huguenots arrived in South Africa and brought with them the vineyards, and a very strong French influence in the cooking. When South Africa was under British Colonial rule, a lot of the traditional British dishes became integrated into South African cuisine. South Africa also has the largest population of Indians outside of India. So it’s a hybrid cuisine.

What kind of real estate do you sell?

Primarily residential real estate, single-family homes and condominiums. When I’m traveling I’m still involved with the business on an ongoing basis, either by phone or by laptop. My partner James is physically present to deal with the clients, and show the properties and get the signatures on the contracts.

Has your head stopped spinning yet since winning IML?

It’s still in a little bit of a fog. James, Todd and I live a very busy life—we work seven days a week. We try to get to the gym five days a week when we can. We’re involved in producing a weekly event, a leather tea-dance for the leather curious, on Sunday evenings at a bar called Elements in Ft. Lauderdale. And on top of that, to try to get up-to-date on all the e-mails I received since IML, and the invitations, and book the travel, and plan my calendar and get my web site up and running—it’s taken an extraordinary amount of time. Right now free time and sleep are rare commodities.

But I’m very blessed, you know. I have two partners, and they’re both exceptionally supportive. James has taken over a portion of my workload, and Todd has picked up some more of the household tasks and errands, and has worked on my web site [<>]. So, that affords me a little more time to focus on my IML duties.

Can you talk a little bit about your trio relationship?

I met James almost fourteen years ago. For the first eight or nine years of our relationship we were entirely exclusive and monogamous. We were very vanilla. Out of the blue one morning, an acquaintance called and asked if we had ever had a threesome. He said he had wanted to try one, but wanted to do it with somebody he knew. James and I discussed it and decided we would give it a try. We thought there would be jealousies, but in fact it was quite a turn-on for both of us. So, very slowly we began to open our relationship to a minor extent. But we certainly weren’t looking to add anyone to our relationship.

One day James was showing some properties at a new townhouse development. Todd arrived and wanted to see some units there, but he wasn’t with a realtor and he didn’t have an appointment. So James said, “Well, if you like, you’re welcome to tag along with us.” Todd was very newly out of the closet, so James said to him, “If you like we’ll introduce you to our group of friends, and we’ll show you around.” So he and Todd stayed in touch.

Sometime later James called Todd to say that we would be going out dancing on Saturday night, and invited him to join us. Within five minutes of meeting him I knew he was going to be a very significant part of our lives—there was instantaneous chemistry between the three of us. I’m very cautious in what I say and who I say it to, but five minutes after I met him I said to him, “You know, if we were ever to expand our relationship and include another person, it would be someone just like you.”

He came home with us that night and has been with us ever since.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Knights of Leather Celebrate 20 Years

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #267, August 19, 2005)

GRAPHIC: Knights Colors (shield)

This year the Knights of Leather became the third Minnesota leather club to reach the 20-year mark. Founded as a club exclusively for leatherwomen, the Knights were reconstituted in 2000 as a pansexual leather club. I recently interviewed P.J. Knight, the most senior member of the Knights of Leather, who told me the fascinating history of the club.

The Knights of Leather was founded in January, 1985, by five leatherwomen. Shortly after starting the club, two of the founders moved to San Francisco. Another was with the Knights for two or three years. Another, nicknamed “Kooks,” was a member of the Knights for six or seven years and now lives in Florida.

The only founding Knights member still in the area is Red (now Russ) Helbig, who for many years was involved with Twin Cities Gay Pride, Leather Pride, and Minnesota Leather Encounter as well as the Knights of Leather. Helbig left the Knights about ten years ago.

For years I was under the mistaken assumption that Knight helped found the club and that it was called “Knights of Leather” because of her last name. Knight was not one of the five original members. She was, however, the club’s first pledge, or “squire,” in March, 1985. Three months later she became a full member and has been one ever since.

Although there were clubs for leatherwomen on both coasts, The Knights of Leather was the first club for leatherwomen in the midwest. According to Knight, initial relations between the Knights and the two men-only leather clubs at the time, the Atons and Black Guard, were on the cool side. The Knights wanted to attend The Black Guard’s Black Frost run but, in Knight’s words, were initially “allowed—and I use that word very deliberately,” to attend only the banquet and show portion of the run.

Relations warmed up somewhat when the Knights were invited to stay for the after-hours party following the banquet and show. The Knights next attended the Argonauts of Wisconsin run and, in Knight’s words, “That’s where the boundaries disappeared.” Word got out that the women were around and wanted to be involved.

Another factor that made boundaries between the men’s and women’s leather communities disappear was the AIDS crisis. As AIDS decimated the men’s leather community, the Knights showed their support for their brothers. The club’s five annual Bowlathons raised about $32,000 for AIDS organizations.

Knight remembers the Knights also helping on a personal level: “We’d go to some of the guys’ homes who were affected with AIDS and do what we could—just talk with them and their partners, straighten up a house, take somebody to the doctor—things like that.”

Still, the presence of leatherwomen in a dungeon made many leathermen uncomfortable. “Every time we went to a run we would be as polite as we could,” says Knight, “but yet step over a boundary and push envelopes and say, ‘Oh, no, I totally understand. When you’re done, let us know, because we would also like to use the dungeon.’” Knight says that the reaction from many men was “‘Really? Women do that, too?’ And we’d say, ‘Of course we do. And we’ve love to learn what you’re doing, also.’”

After attending many men’s leather club runs throughout the Midwest, the Knights held their first Tournament run in 1987. Tournament started as an every-other-year event, but quickly became an annual event due to popular demand. The run is modeled on medieval tournaments, a weekend of games, rituals, camaraderie, a formal banquet—and rustic, rough-hewn, candle-lit dungeons in the woods.

In 1989 the Knights, Atons and Black Guard jointly produced the first Minnesota Leather Encounter (MLE) weekend. The idea was to bring the men’s and women’s leather communities together and to hold two title contests, Mr. and Ms Minnesota Leather.

The event lasted three years before internal politics and highly visible power struggles tore it apart. Members of the Knights were publicly accused of stealing MLE funds, and those allegations were used as a justification for taking over ownership of the MLE event and titles.

An audit later proved the allegations totally unfounded, but by then the damage had been done. The Knights went into seclusion for about five years. The Mr. and Ms Minnesota Leather titles were separated and produced as separate contests, which took away the whole philosophy of bringing together the men’s and women’s leather communities to support each other’s titles. The leather contest scene in Minnesota subsequently dwindled to the point where currently there is no active women’s leather title.

The Knights’ membership dwindled to four women and then to only two: P.J. Knight and Vicki King (now Vicki Knight). The two spent a year trying to recruit more women, with no success. In 2000, with the support of five leathermen, the decision was made to transform the club into a pansexual leather club—open to all shades of both gender and orientation.

Since then the club has grown to a dozen full members, three squires, and more than 20 associate members. The Knights activism and visibility has grown, too. The club hosts monthly parties, and Knights members play significant leadership roles in planning and organizing other leather/BDSM community events such as Minnesota Leather Pride.

The Knights of Leather 20th-anniversary celebration weekend will include a Fantasy and Demo Night on Friday, August 19 at the Bolt Underground in Minneapolis (7-9 P.M.). A formal celebration and dinner (open only to those with advance reservations) will take place Saturday evening, August 20 at the Lost Spur Golf Course Banquet Hall in Eagan.

Friday, August 5, 2005

International Ms Leather/Ms Bootblack Contest 2005

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #266, August 5, 2005)

PHOTO: International Ms Leather 2005, Jessi Holman Ahart (above), and International Ms Bootblack 2005, Suka.

Is it possible to have a good leather contest with only three contestants? How about with only one?

(Answer: It’s possible. Read on to see how.)

This year’s International Ms Leather (IMsL) contest, held in Omaha July 16-18, had three contestants. The accompanying International Ms Bootblack (IMsBB) contest had only one—which meant she had to single-handedly shine a whole bunch of boots during the weekend.

IMsL’s motto this year was “Quality, not quantity.” All the contestants were strong and distinctive competitors who gave a very good account of themselves. That, along with a seasoned production staff, made both competitions worthwhile.

And the new titleholders coming out of those contests certainly seem as if they have the requisite intelligence and passion to serve their titles well in the coming year.

The weekend’s action centered around the host hotel, Omaha’s Redick Plaza. Friday evening started with a meet-and-greet and basket auction. Each contestant had put together a “basket” of leatherwear, toys, videos, books, and other leather-related items. The baskets were auctioned off to benefit the new IMsL’s and IMsBB’s travel fund.

Following the basket auction, the Texans in attendance hosted a cigar-and-brandy party for those not attending the dungeon party a few blocks away.

There was plenty to do on Saturday. In addition to shopping at the leather/fetish vendor fair, Kansas City Leather University (<>) presented a total of nine workshops. Topics included knife play, spanking, and “ASL (American Sign Language) for Fun and Leather.” Best workshop title: “When Daddy Has Tits.”

The IMsL contest and show took place Saturday afternoon at The Max, a gay bar two blocks from the Redick. For those unfamiliar with The Max, it is one of the nicest, friendliest—and cleanest—gay bars anywhere.

After an opening phone-sex monologue (read in a hilarious deadpan by Stephanie Locke), the weekend’s judges were introduced. This year’s judging panel included a Minnesota representative: Vicki Knight of the Knights of Leather.

(The judges had already conducted private interviews with the contestants on Friday. Because there were only three contestants, the judges were able to spend a half-hour with each contestant. By comparison, the judging panel at recent International Mr. Leather contests has only had eight minutes for each contestant interview.)

The contestants presented their speeches and fantasy performances. All three women spoke so eloquently and from the heart that if there was supposed to be a time limit on the speeches, no one was interested in enforcing it.

The fantasies were as individual as the contestants who performed them. Eddy (sponsored by the Centurions of Columbus, Ohio) played a schoolmaster disciplining a student with a bad attitude.

Lady Faye (sponsored by Flesh & Fantasy and The Dallas Eagle) performed a surprising and disturbing fantasy that drew a strong reaction from many of the men in the audience (two words: Lorena Bobbitt).

Jessi Holman Ahart (sponsored by Baltimore Eagle, Black Rose, FIST and The Playhouse) performed a graceful yet passionate story about a gargoyle that comes to life when she sees an attractive woman walk by.

Entertainment while the tallymasters were tallying was provided by Dossie Easton, a San Francisco-based author, family therapist and leatherdyke. She performed a breathtaking recitation of her own poem, “Do Me.” This was followed by the traditional IMsL best-tattoo contest.

In one of the most memorable titleholder step-asides ever, outgoing International Ms Leather Lori Ellison made a brief but eloquent speech. At its conclusion she was surrounded by all the other female titleholders in the room—who then completely covered her by spraying her with cans of Silly String.

After the Silly String was cleaned up, artist and leatherman Ray Castro presented Ellison with her official title portrait.

International Ms Bootblack 2004 izzy passed the torch to the sole (no pun intended) 2005 competitor, Suka (sponsored by Cellblock Chicago and Lesbian Community Cancer Project). The fact that there was no suspense about the transition did not make it any less touching.

Finally came the announcement of the new International Ms Leather: Jessi Holman Ahart. She now joins a long and distinguished line of leatherwomen and activists who have held the IMsL title.

At the closing Victory Brunch on Sunday morning, contest producers Amy Marie and Megan Meek-deJarlais (IMsL ’93 and ’98, respectively) reminded the crowd that next year will be IMsL’s 20th anniversary. Planning is already in progress for this milestone celebration.