Friday, September 29, 2006

Wedding Pictures

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #296, September 29, 2006)


The Corn Haulers, a leather/levi club in Des Moines, Iowa, recently became the latest leather club to reach thirty years of age. To celebrate, the theme of this year’s Corn Ball 2006 run was “The XXX Wedding” (“After thirty years together, we might as well make it legal”). The banquet, the show, the games and the cocktail parties all played off the wedding theme.

Representatives of over twenty other leather clubs attended the festivities, which also incorporated the Fall meeting of MACC (Mid-America Conference of Clubs).

Following are excerpts from the journal of Andrew Bertke, an Atons member who made the trek to Des Moines for the run.

We arrived Friday just in time for the first cocktail party. This was followed by a buffet lunch and then more cocktail parties sponsored by various clubs. The Atons cocktail party had a Hawaiian wedding theme: “tropical” punch (with umbrellas), Spam on crackers, and wedding mints, served by the lovely Atons in coconut bras and grass skirts.

After the Atons party, we headed out to two local bars, The Blazing Saddle and its neighbor , Buddy’s Corral. Then back to the hotel for one final post-bar late-night cocktail party, then to bed.

Saturday started early for run attendees who were club delegates for MACC. Not being a delegate, I woke up at about 11 A.M. and went to the lunch, games and show at The Garden, another sponsoring bar/nightclub.

The games included a wedding bouquet toss, “count how many votive candles are in the jar,” poker draw, and others. The show started with several love and marriage songs performed by hag drag stars. A roller-skating Madonna performing “Like A Virgin” while wearing her wedding miniskirt was precious. Another charmer was the sad little forlorn “girl” who lip-synced to a Carol Burnett ditty about fairy-tale lovers from the Broadway show “Once Upon a Mattress.”

My real favorite was the bride in the tight punk-rock wedding dress and bright pink shoulder-length wig lip-syncing to “Cherry Bomb” while maintaining a snear on his mustached face.

Then the “Cherry Bomb” bride and the groom got up on the stage for the mock wedding. The service was led by the run MC, playing a southern-Baptist-style preacher complete with plenty of amens, hallelujahs, and praise jeebuses.

Saturday night started with yet more cocktail parties, soon followed by the official run banquet. This is the one event where we are expected to dress up and club members don their club uniforms.

The run banquet began, as usual, with a parade of colors. (“Colors” are club patches or flags.) This was an especially long parade of colors in honor of the Corn Haulers’ thirtieth anniverary.

Several times during the evening the “groom” (played by MACC president Threasa) responded to our clinking glasses and kissed the “bride” (played by one of the male Corn Haulers). Each time she was called up, the groom would slip mystery food items into the bride’s mouth: an olive, a piece of fruit, and finally a glob of whipped cream.

After the banquet we headed to another cocktail party and then back to the Blazing Saddle and Buddy’s. The bars were packed with a mix of locals and run attendees. The only annoying moment of the night was when a lesbian, who will go unnamed, decided she needed to bite my “cute” ass. I wasn’t expecting it, so it sent me jumping halfway across the room. Damn teeth left marks!

After I recovered from that, we hung out at The Saddle until 12:30, then headed back to the hotel for the post-bar party. This was really nice. They had sandwich fixings and cookies. The MN Storm Patrol was serving their vodka/fruit punch/fruit cocktail drink.

Sunday morning we headed down for breakfast. Traditionally, Sunday breakfasts at runs includes awards and speeches. Awards are typically given to game winners and for things like who had to travel the farthest to attend the run. There are also thank-you awards for the participating clubs.

It was fitting that all the awards were packaged as wedding gifts. Surprisingly, the Atons won the Best Cocktail Party award— a toaster oven!

After the awards came the speeches. This is when each club gets up to congratulate the host club and to possibly promote their own runs and activities. To bring the run to a close, Threasa (the groom) announced that the wedding was annulled, and presented clean sheets as the reason why.

To see photos of the run, visit <> for Bertke’s photos or <> for the club’s pictures.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Different Kind of Leather Contest

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #295, September 15, 2006)

PHOTO: Mr. World Leather 2006, Mufasa (left), and Ms World Leather 2006, Jae Januze

If you could change one thing about leather contests, what would it be?

In 2001 the Ms World Leather title (<>) was founded as “a different kind of contest for a different kind of woman,” and the new contest represented a re-engineering of the traditional formula for a leather title competition. For 2006 the contest, held this year in Philadelphia at the Society Hill Sheraton, added a concurrent men’s competition and was billed as Ms/Mr. World Leather.

The leather contest and title system was not necessarily started with the purpose of choosing community leaders, but many titleholders assumed leadership roles during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. Nowadays it is assumed in the community that leather titleholders will be leaders and role models.

The first International Mr. Leather and International Mr. Drummer contests were held in 1979. They created the basic formula that has since been followed by local, regional and other international leather title contests: a private interview with a panel of judges, a short speech, judging categories for “leather image” (more clothing) and “physique” (less clothing), and sometimes a fantasy (erotic skit) performance.

The Ms/Mr. World Leather contest makes several major changes to this formula. The contest models itself to a great extent on the paradigm of contemporary television: talk shows, Sunday morning political shows, and reality shows such as “The Apprentice” (although at times the contestants might have felt more like they were participating in “Survivor”).

Unlike other leather contest weekends, there are no separate educational seminars at Ms/Mr. World Leather. The entire weekend is devoted to education, consciousness-raising and fundraising, with the contestants acting as the weekend’s educators and persuaders.

Each contestant chooses a cause, and one or more charities, that will be the focus of her or his title year should she or he win. Past winners have focused on lupus, AIDS and homelessness, breast cancer awareness, organ donation, and ASL communication and deaf culture.

This year’s contestants were introduced during “Ms/Mr. World Leather Glo,” the opening meet-and-greet talk show on Friday evening. It was presided over by Goddess Lakshimi, Ms World Leather 2003 and the weekend’s emcee.

This year there were two Ms World Leather contestants: Jae Januze of Colorado (platform: additional resources for “next-generation” kinky folks ages 18-35), and Sarah Hoffman of Philadelphia (platform: removing kinkiness from official diagnostic lists of mental illnesses in the same way homosexuality was removed in the mid-1970s).

Four men competed for the first-ever Mr. World Leather title. Scott Erickson, of Boston, chose Rape Awareness as his cause. Noted author and fellow leather columnist Cain Berlinger, of New York, spent the weekend promoting Diabetes Awareness. Matthew Cary, of Knoxville, Tenn., chose Leather History as his cause and the Leather Archives & Museum as his charity. Mufasa, a proud adoptive father living in Chicago, campaigned for the cause of GLBT adoption.

On Saturday morning, another feature unique to Ms/Mr. World Leather became apparent: Everything about this contest is open to the public, including the interview with the judging panel. During each interview, the contestant was given about ten minutes to present her or his platform. (Four of the six contestants used a PowerPoint slide show as part of their presentation.) The judges then spent about ten minutes questioning the contestant. By and large, the questions were not easy ones.

If the questions from the judges on Saturday morning were sometimes difficult, the questions from the assembled leather press corps (including your humble columnist) during Saturday evening’s “Crossfire” event were merciless. One by one, each contestant had to endure and respond to a relentless five-minute barrage of quick, challenging, no-holds-barred questions from the press, while the judges scored them on their press-handling ability.

Next, the judges were dismissed and it was time for the “Audience Choice” event. Before the event started, each audience member had been given two poker chips (and the opportunity to purchase up to five more if they felt like stuffing the ballot box). Each contestant had two minutes to convince members of the audience to vote for her or him and to make a contribution to her or his charity of choice. At the conclusion of the presentations, audience members voted by dropping poker chips (and contributions, if they chose) into locked boxes, one for each contestant, at the front of the auditorium.

The main contest event took place Sunday afternoon. Each contestant answered a question posed by the judges—again, no softball questions here—and made another 2-minute speech (no PowerPoint this time) recapping their platform.

With the competitive events complete, the scores were tallied while the audience heard from a plethora of titleholders and other dignitaries. As a prelude to announcing the winners of the contest, Audience Choice awards were presented to Sarah Hoffman and Mufasa.

Then came the high point of the weekend: the announcement of the winners and new titleholders. First runner-up honors went to Sarah Hoffman and Matthew Cary; Jae Januze was sashed as Ms World Leather 2006; and Mufasa became the first-ever Mr. World Leather 2006.

Friday, September 1, 2006

The IML Agenda, 2006

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #294, September 1, 2006)

Continuing the Conversation with IML 2006 Bo Ladashevska

PHOTOS: Photos have already been submitted

International Mr. Leather 2006 Bo Ladashevska speaks from his heart—and then worries about what he just said. Is what he says controversial, or is it common sense? Read on, then decide for yourself. (See Lavender Magazine, Issue 293 for the first part of this interview.)

I’m sure you’ve had some thoughts on what you want to accomplish during your title year.

I’m someone who believes in inclusivity. I think the leather community tends to be a community of male privilege, and we need to band together and be more supportive of subgroups—the women’s community, the deaf community, the disabled.

Are we just a smattering of groups that are linked together, or are we a real community? I know a lot of people don’t want to hear it, but I think we need to look within ourselves more often and see how we support each other.

I think it’s important to have our own spaces, but when we come together, we really have to come together. I was just thinking of a conversation I had with a woman in Montreal—she was saying, “Yes, we have our women’s events, men’s events, bootblack events—events where we can express our individuality.

“But large events—especially pride celebrations, for example—are supposed to be a celebration of everybody. But the big pride parties and events tend to be male, the shows are about males, they’re all male dancers.” She said, “I feel so invisible, at an event where I’m supposed to feel proud about myself.”

As men in our community we tend not to see the problem because we’re in the position of power. We don’t see how it’s affecting other people in our community. We think, everything’s great, everything’s fine, life’s just grand. Well, you know, it’s not grand for a lot of people, and we have to open our eyes and see how what we are doing is affecting those people around us, and how it’s making them feel.

Which is why I go to the International Ms Leather contest, for example—because it’s important to be in a place where I’m not on my own turf.

And sometimes that doesn’t feel comfortable. And that’s okay. Because you know what? They’re on our turf all the time. How many people go to International Deaf Leather? Not too many, because it’s a deaf event. I think people need to go there and see what it’s like to be a deaf leather person. It really opens your eyes. Until we do that, we can’t become a community.

Also, I think we’re focusing too much on the party. So many people spend so much time and energy now going from party to party to party. Yes, they’re fun—and it’s important that we have fun. But all our time, energy and money is going to these events, and it’s being taken away from causes that need to be dealt with.

I think we as a community are not getting involved in the political process. There are so many issues out there that need a mass of people to fight for them. Like in the seventies—everyone was out rallying, fighting for a cause, pushing an agenda. We need to go back to that mindset.

I think the title circuit puts pressure on our titleholders to go from event to event to event. Why is it important that we have to be seen everywhere? I don’t know where that came from, but for some reason it seems important to be seen, to be there for the photo op. And what happens is you spend your year traveling, and the work doesn’t get done.

Oh, man, I’m gonna regret saying that! But, you know, I’m here to stir up the pot sometimes, and maybe that’s my role.

And at the same time, you have to support events, too. It’s important to network with your community, but don’t overdo it. You have to find a balance.

What else do you feel strongly about?

Right now I feel strongly about community. I’m in a community that’s having problems like any other community. I’m fighting to bring people together. It drives me crazy when people are not working together. It makes me angry when we can’t look past our differences—some days I almost want to cry.

Why can’t we just work together? We can do so much, there are so many things we can do together. And we make so much misery. It costs nothing to be nice. It takes so much energy to be at each other’s throats.

There are communities that have gotten past that. I was in Edmonton, Alberta, about two months ago, and I was so surprised to see women and men, gays, pansexuals—everyone was working together, and they had a wonderful weekend. It’s doable. Communities are doing it, and there’s no reason why we as a wider community can’t do it.

That’s what next year’s Leather Leadership Conference in Minneapolis will be about: working together, “The Art of Sharing Power.” And we hope you’re there.

I’m planning on being there. It’s written in my calendar.