Friday, August 29, 2008

Welcome, Leather Republicans!

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #346, August 29, 2008)

One of the traditions of this column is to welcome large groups of out-of-towners who come to the Twin Cities for leather-related events. Well, a large group of out-of-towners soon will be descending on the Twin Cities metropolitan area. While they’re not coming to town for a leather-related event, some of them will probably be visiting The Minneapolis Eagle while they’re here. So I’m going to extend them this column’s traditional welcome.

The Republican Party convention will be held in St. Paul Sept. 1-4, and area bars and restaurants are gearing up for the onslaught of hungry and thirsty convention delegates. I have heard from several sources that convention advance teams checked out The Minneapolis Eagle and were impressed, so predictions are that The Minneapolis Eagle will be one of the Twin Towns’ after-hours hot spots during the convention (and perhaps the weekends before and after the convention, as well). Conventions delegates and other visitors to our fair cities will be joining the locals at the Eagle in creating a different kind of Grand Old Party.

There are several things you might be thinking right about now. Republican delegates at The Minneapolis Eagle? Would good, God-fearing Republicans stoop to be seen there? The answer to that is, “We Are Everywhere,” including in the ranks of the Republican Party (depending on whom you read and what you believe, perhaps even the very highest ranks of the Republican Party).

But will the Republican delegates feel comfortable once they get to The Eagle? Sure—it’s a pretty welcoming place. You might think that political differences among bar patrons could become the, umm, elephant in the room that nobody talks about. But The Minneapolis Eagle, like most bars, is non-partisan. And leather, when you think about, is non-partisan, too, or perhaps pan-partisan—open to all kinds of different political beliefs.

Leather is inherently conservative. This is not surprising when you consider that founders of the original gay leather community were former military men, and the military generally is not regarded as a bastion of liberalism. Even today, leather community ideals and values that were bequeathed to us by those former military men (trust, honor, integrity, keeping your word, respect for self and others) are conservative in the best and truest sense of that word.

Leather is also inherently libertarian. The founders of the early leather community had a live-and-let-live attitude. They made a decision to live their lives in their own way and on their own terms, and for many of them it wasn’t important if other people approved of their choices or not. In the same way, they realized that they had to offer that same consideration to everyone else, and they did. If something about the way they lived resonated with you, you could ask to join them. If not, no problem.

And yet, leather became progressive in spite of itself. As time went on, it became more difficult for many people in leather not to care about what other people thought of them. Some members of the leather community moved from a live-and-let-live attitude to political and social activism when they were among those taking a lead in the Stonewall Riots in 1969 and the early gay-liberation movement of the 1970s.

The leather community was among those hit hardest by the AIDS crisis, and leather, of necessity, became more progressive. Leather community members were among those in the forefront of dealing with the epidemic, both by taking care of infected and dying comrades and by teaching changes in behavior and attitude to help stop the spread of the virus.

Today, some aspects of leather often seem to be trending again to the conservative. We watch as leather and BDSM imagery becomes more mainstream and is appropriated by rock stars and advertising agencies, many of whom care only for shock value and have no idea of the culture, community, history and values behind the images.

And even as those images move into the mainstream, the culture that spawned them is changing as younger people bring new ideas and expand the concept of leather to include other fetishes and fetish gear. Some are worried that between mass acceptance and generational transition, the values that the leather community once prized, and around which that community revolved, will be lost. Some community members have lately been calling for a “return to basics” or a “leather renaissance” to ensure that leather values and traditions will be maintained as the community evolves. Sounds conservative to me—again, in the best sense of the word.

So, to Republican convention delegates from across the nation, as well as all the media personnel who are here to cover the event: welcome to Minnesota, to the Twin Cities, and to our little corner of the Leather Nation. Conservative, progressive or libertarian, there’s room in the leather tent for people of all political persuasions.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Leather Contests and Titles: Every Color of the Rainbow

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #345, August 15, 2008)

In the world of leather contests and titles, International Mr. Leather (IML) is the most well known. Having just celebrated its thirtieth anniversary, IML is the oldest surviving international leather contest and title, and also the largest.

But IML is just one of a whole spectrum of national and international leather contests and titles that represent just about every subgroup in the leather/BDSM/fetish community. Although not as large as IML, these events, and the titles associated with them, represent important and diverse parts of leather culture.

Here’s a quick review of why leather contests and titles exist: They offer entertainment to the audience, a challenge to the contestants, a service opportunity to those who win the contests and hold the titles, and a source of representatives, positive role models and leaders for the community. Leather contests may have started as “beauty pageants,” but over the years they have become much more.

Hobbit, International Ms. Leather 2008.
(Credit: Marcus Hernandez)
Let’s begin our survey of contests and titles with IML’s female counterpart, International Ms Leather (IMsL). Billed as a weekend for “leatherwomen and those who love them,” in the last two years this contest has seen amazing growth since moving back to San Francisco, Calif. where it started in 1987.

The 2008 IMsL weekend was May 1-4 and was attended by a crowd of over 600(?). More than 40 educational classes were offered during the weekend as well as a dozen hospitality receptions, a Uniform Party, a Boots and Cigars party, a vendor mart and three different play areas (women only, men only and pansexual) available the entire weekend.

The IMsL contest was won by Hobbit, who hails from Seattle (and who also was awarded the “congeniality” prize by the other contestants). Check out her blog at

IMsL weekend also includes the International Ms Bootblack contest, which was won this year by Miss “Q” of Atlanta. That makes her the female counterpart (also called “sash wife”) to Bootdog, who won this year’s International Mr. Bootblack 2008 competition held as part of the International Mr. Leather weekend.

The American Leather Family for 2008.
Back: Randy Carmenaty, Joan Norry. Front: Chris Scherrer.
(Credit: Marcus Hernandez)
The American Brotherhood Weekend (ABW), whose motto is “Celebrating the American Leather Family,” awards a whole family of leather titles at one event. The American Leatherman title started the family in 1989 and was joined by American Leatherwoman in 1994, American Leatherboy in 1995 and American Leathergirl in 2004.

After a one-year hiatus in 2007, ABW has enthusiastically rejoined the landscape of national leather events. This year’s contest weekend was held July 10-14 in New Orleans and produced the following new titleholders: Randy Carmenaty (from North Hollywood, Calif.) became American Leatherman 2008; Joan Norry (from San Leandro, Calif.) became American Leatherwoman 2008; and Chris Scherrer (from Denver, Co.) became American Leatherboy 2008. (Sadly, there were no contestants for American Leathergirl. Next year, perhaps?) The weekend itself was reportedly filled with food, camaraderie and the wonderful hospitality for which New Orleans is justly famous.

Andrew, Mr. Olympus Leather 2008 and
Mistress Sabrae, Ms Olympus Leather 2008.
One weekend after ABW, and 926 miles to the north, the Mr./Ms Olympus Leather contest was held July 18-20 in Chicago in conjunction with the Pantheon of Leather Community Service Awards. (Both the Pantheon awards and the Olympus Leather titles were created by Dave Rhodes, publisher of The Leather Journal.) Olympus Leather titleholders represent the pansexual branch of the leather/BDSM/fetish community. Noteworthy in leather contest circles is the fact that the Olympus Leather titles are very transgender-friendly.

This year’s Mr./Ms Olympus Leather contest was held in the auditorium at The Chicago Eagle/Man’s Country. Nine contestants (three men and six women) each had a private interview with the judges, went through a question-and-answer session in front of the audience and presented a “fantasy” (erotic skit). When the scores were added up, the new Mr. and Ms Olympus Leather titleholders were Andrew (from Salt Lake City, Utah) and Mistress Sabrae (from Hoover, Ala.) You can see Olympus Leather contest photos at

International Deaf leatherboy 2008,
boy taz (kneeling) and International
Deaf Leatherman 2008, Sir Y.
The same weekend the new Olympus Leather titleholders were being chosen in Chicago, the International Deaf Leather (IDL) contest weekend was being held in Philadelphia, Pa. (July 17-19). Gary Iriza, the current International Mr. Leather, was one of the contest’s judges (which explains why I didn’t see him in Chicago at the Pantheon/OIympus Leather weekend). The new titleholders: International Mr. Deaf Leather 2008 is Marc “Sir Y” Burton, and International Deaf leatherboy 2008 is Alan “boy taz” Arble.

Next up is the International LeatherSIR/Leatherboy contest, which is the direct descendant of the legendary International Mr. Drummer and Drummerboy contests started in San Francisco in 1979 (the same year as the first International Mr. Leather contest). This year’s contest weekend, which also includes the International Community Bootblack contest, returns to San Francisco, Oct. 9-12.

Then, for latex lovers, there’s the Mr. International Rubber contest in Chicago, Nov. 7-9. And next year, Masters and slaves will gather for the International Master/slave Contest weekend, held in conjunction with South Plains Leatherfest in Dallas, Tx., Feb. 27-March 1, 2009.

And there you have it—for a rainbow tribe, a rainbow collection of contests and titles.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Leather Leadership Conference XI Wins Pantheon Award

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #344, August 1, 2008)

Steve Lenius (left) accepting award from Jon Krongaard.
(Credit: Bill Schlichting)
To paraphrase Sally Field: They liked us, they really liked us!

On the afternoon of Sunday, July 20, Leather Leadership Conference (LLC) XI, which took place April 20-22, 2007 in Minneapolis, was the winner in the “Large Event of the Year” category at Pantheon of Leather XVIII.

The Pantheon of Leather Community Service Awards, the leather/BDSM/fetish community’s equivalent of Hollywood’s Oscars®, were started in 1991 by Dave Rhodes, publisher of The Leather Journal.

This year’s Pantheon of Leather awards ceremony was held in the Etienne Auditorium of the Leather Archives & Museum in Chicago. Thirty-two awards were presented, honoring individuals, couples, clubs, events, businesses and non-profit organizations. In the “Large Event of the Year” category, Leather Leadership Conference XI was one of 24 nominated events from across the United States.

Your humble columnist attended the awards ceremony and was completely taken by surprise when LLC XI was announced as the winner. Having no prepared acceptance speech in my pocket, I walked in a daze to the lectern to accept the award and said something rambling and probably incoherent. (Moral of story: If you are nominated for an award, it is incumbent upon you to prepare an acceptance speech whether or not you think you will win, because you just never know.)

If I would have had the presence of mind to prepare an acceptance speech, it would have gone something like this:

Let me start by thanking Dave Rhodes and the Pantheon of Leather board, and this year’s selection panel, for choosing LLC XI to receive this award. The conference took three years of hard work on the part of many people. Receiving this award is the finishing touch, the cherry on top of the sundae.

As Chief Instigator of LLC XI, all I did was to come up with the crazy idea of bringing the Leather Leadership Conference to Minnesota. It was the efforts of the LLC XI Local Organizing Committee members and many, many other people that actually made the event happen.

If anyone wonders what it takes to create an award-winning Leather Leadership Conference, in the case of LLC XI here’s what, or rather who, it took—and I’d like to personally thank every one of them:

• All the local community members who got the ball rolling and helped put together the bid that brought the conference to Minneapolis.

• The members of the Local Organizing Committee: committee chairpersons Claudia Pauline (Programming), Sassy Tongue (Promotions), Ceilo and Vicki (Production co-chairs; Ceilo was also the Instigator’s Assistant), Charger (Procurement/Fundraising), Eliish (secretary), Jenn (registrar), Bill Schlichting (treasurer, also the Chief Instigator’s partner). Also Dave G. (hotel liaison), David Coral (advertising and graphic design and production), Andrew Bertke (webmaster) and Lady Carol (newsletter editor).

• Everyone who served on the various committees and subcommittees, and the many volunteers who helped before, during and after the conference.

• Our keynote speakers Barbara Nitke, Laura Antoniou and John Pendal; all our session presenters for the weekend; and everyone who attended the conference.

• Our special guest artist Morgan Monceaux/Sir Nagrom; all the other artists whose work was on exhibition in the LLC XI Gallery; and the artists and entertainers who performed during Friday’s opening cabaret.

• The staff at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis, our host hotel, and everyone involved in planning and presenting the two unofficial parties that just happened to take place the same weekend as the conference.

• All our event sponsors, including our largest sponsor NELA, the New England Leather Alliance. Our sponsors made it possible for us to present the caliber of conference we wanted to present.

• The Leather Leadership Conference, Inc. national board, especially Jack Rinella and Sheryl Dee, our board liaisons, and Larry Manion, who was Chairman at the time.

• And many more people I don’t have space to name. Without the efforts of all these people, LLC XI would not have been possible.

Even though LLC XI happened over a year ago, the conference lives on as a series of free audio podcasts. Fourteen podcasts are currently available with more still to be released. Find a link to them, as well as many other resources for leather leadership development, at <>.

Next year’s conference will be in Atlanta, Ga. April 3-5, 2009. I encourage everyone to attend, and I wish for the folks in Atlanta the same kind of success we had with LLC XI in Minneapolis.