Friday, November 20, 2009

Leather Life: A Valedictory, of sorts

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #378, November 20, 2009)

Back on June 9, 1995, one of the features of the first issue of Lavender Magazine (then called Lavender Lifestyles) was the first edition of this Leather Life column. Since then, for almost fifteen years, the Leather Life column has appeared in all but a few issues of Lavender.

The magazine recently decided to change the editorial direction of the column appearing in their Bar Scene section. So the column you now are reading will be the last every-issue installment of the Leather Life column. Henceforth, the Leather Life column will appear quarterly.

With so many items still on my “future columns” list, I am surprised, and somewhat saddened, to see the column’s frequency being reduced. But there’s much for which I am thankful. Because of this column I have met many fine people and had many great experiences, the memories of which I will always cherish.

I am very grateful to Lavender for giving me the freedom to write what I wanted to write, and for not editing me too much. I have enjoyed having the support of everyone who has been a part of Lavender over the years, including editors, art directors, office staff, ad sales reps and fellow contributors.

Special thanks to George Holdgrafer, who has been with the magazine from its beginning. My deep gratitude to Lavender’s publisher, Stephen Rocheford, who always has had the good sense to know that a publication, if it is to survive, must be run as a self-sustaining business, not a social cause. That, I think, is one reason why Lavender is the longest-running GLBT publication in the Upper Midwest. I always have been proud to have my column appear in its pages.

Thanks to everyone at for linking to Lavender’s website, thereby including me in their fine slate of leather writers. Thanks to my partner, Bill, for reading each column moments after it’s been written and offering helpful critiques.

Thank you to everyone in the leather/BDSM/fetish community—individually for being who you are, and collectively for creating such a vibrant community and culture that has given me so much to write about for all these years. Leather Life has always been your column—I’ve just been the one who happened to be writing it.

And finally, thanks to you, the person reading this column. Whether you’re leather, BDSM, fetish or none of the above; whether you’re G, L, B, T, heterosexual, pansexual or refuse to be labeled; and whether you picked up the magazine and flipped to this column, or pointed your browser to Lavender’s website and found the column there—thanks for reading. I’ll be back with another edition of Leather Life sometime next spring.

Friday, November 6, 2009

You are under my power . . . Erotic Hypnosis and BDSM

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #377, November 6, 2009)

Focus your attention on the swinging pocket watch. You are getting very sleepy . . . you are under my power . . . you will now quack like a duck . . .

That’s what most people think when they hear the word “hypnosis.” But some folks in the leather/BDSM/fetish community are discovering different, and more interesting, uses for hypnosis and trance.

The eleventh annual Hypnocon gathering was held in Minneapolis Oct. 9-11. Focusing on recreational hypnosis by men and for men, it attracted recreational hypnosis enthusiasts from across the U.S. (It was held the same weekend, and in the same host hotel, as Gaylaxicon 2009, a GLBT science-fiction/fantasy/horror convention.) There’s also a Hypocon event in the UK.

One of the organizers of this year’s Hypnocon was a gentleman named Mark Warner (not the senator from Virginia), who told me how recreational hypnosis differs from stage hypnosis or therapeutic hypnosis: “It’s personal and private. It often has a sexual edge. It places emphasis on trust and connection, and it creates an exchange that challenges and reveals.”

The focus of this year’s Hypnocon was education about hypnosis and opportunities to experience trance in a safe and sane environment. According to Warner, “The event wasn’t a hypnosis performance. It was a learning event for guys who were curious and it was a social event for guys who let trance enhance their lives.” (Warner emphasized that clinical hypnosis, also called hypnotherapy—which people might use to quit smoking or lose weight—“is a serious field of practice. That ain’t us.”)

Hypnosis is a natural addition to a BDSM tool box because it adds a whole new dimension to the concept of power exchange. Under hypnosis a person can vicariously yet convincingly experience scenes and fulfill fantasies that either would not be possible or would not be safe if attempted in reality. In Warner’s opinion, “Recreational hypnosis transcends BDSM. It’s limited only by imagination and the resources of memory and emotion.”

Warner also points out that recreational hypnosis can add spice and depth to fantasy and fetish roleplaying for people interested in vampires and werewolves, for men who want to explore being feminized, for masters wanting to reinforce a submissive mindset in their slaves, for those interested in transforming into a robotic (“bot”) state, for devotees of puppy or pony play, or for those exploring many other leather/BDSM/fetish interests: “For all these areas, recreational hypnosis is an outlet. And that’s important because we all have strange desires from time to time.”

Next year’s Hypnocon #12 will be held in Seattle.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Legendary San Francisco Leather Columnist Marcus Hernandez, 1938-2009

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #376, October 23, 2009)


Sad news from San Francisco: a leather legend has left us.

Longtime San Francisco leather columnist Marcus Hernandez, also known as Mr. Marcus and Marcus the Merciless, died Thursday, October 8 in Pacifica, California. His weekly column of “leather and dish” in the Bay Area Reporter started in 1971 and ran for 38 years.

The column was filled with news of the leather community in the Bay area, across the United States and around the world, both what had happened that week and what events were coming up. If San Francisco has some well-known leather institutions and personalities, Marcus’ column is one of the reasons.

Over the years Marcus attended, and often judged, more local, regional and national leather contests and events than anyone else. He was about as omnipresent as anyone in leather could be, pretty much right up to the end, even at the age of 77.

For many years he was a judge (later judge emeritus) at the International Mr. Leather (IML) contest in Chicago, and every year he had the honor of announcing IML’s “Top 20” semifinalists. It was only fitting, because he knew so many of them—in many instances he had been there when they won the local or regional contest that sent them to IML.

In addition to his leather activities, in 1972 Marcus also was the first Emperor of the Imperial Court of San Francisco. He used both his leather column and his Imperial Court involvement to help many charitable organizations of all kinds.

Marcus’ brand of journalism was personal. If he liked you, or something you did, he would sing your praises. But if someone got out of line, Marcus was “merciless” at calling them out in print. He could be bitchy and biting, but it was always clear how much he cared about leather and the leather community.

Marcus was my mentor, my colleague in leather journalism and my friend. I will greatly miss seeing him at leather events and sharing information and photos for our columns. He leaves behind a grieving biological family, a close-knit leather family that took care of him during his last days, and a leather community that starts in San Francisco and extends throughout the rest of the world—the community that he did so much to help build for so long, and that will now have to get along without him.

(To read an 1996 interview of Mr. Marcus conducted by Chicago leather columnist Jack Rinella, visit <>.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Kink in the Mainstream Media

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #375, October 9, 2009)

Some places, it’s just another part of the conversation

Not too long ago, on those rare occasions when mainstream media outlets mentioned kink, it was talked about with a mixture of shock and disgust. Now, at least for some media outlets, it has become just another part of the conversation. Two examples of this phenomenon are radio’s The Stephanie Miller Show and a blog named The Rude Pundit.

How does one describe the “crunchy audio goodness” (her term) that is The Stephanie Miller Show? It’s a morning drive-time talk-radio show originating in Los Angeles and heard in the Twin Cities 8-11 A.M. weekdays on KTNF (AM 950). The show is an irreverently manic mix of progressive politics and low but sophisticated humor.

Worked into that humor are occasional references to items and situations with which readers of this column might be familiar: ball gags, Astroglide, golden showers (albeit inadvertent), and insinuations about someone tied to a bed, to name just a few. For awhile there was even a running gag about conservative media personalities Bill O’Reilly’s and Geraldo Rivera’s (fictional) sex dungeon (complete with whip-crack sound effect), where the safeword is “Mizrahi.”

This is remarkable for two reasons:

1) This is not niche-media satellite, cable or Internet-radio programming. This is mainstream media—a syndicated broadcast radio show appearing on over 60 stations across the U.S.

2) These kink references are simply part of the on-air banter. No special attention is called to them and no explanations or definitions are given. Miller, her producer Chris Lavoie, and “voice deity” (impressionist) Jim Ward simply assume that the show’s audience already knows about such things and will therefore get the joke.

One of The Stephanie Miller Show’s occasional guests is Lee Papa, who has been blogging for six years as The Rude Pundit <>. Because the blogosphere is not yet subject to anything like traditional broadcasting’s “standards and practices” rules, leather and kink imagery has become common in many bloggers’ postings.

The Rude Pundit attracted quite a bit of notice and comment for posting a series of blog entries telling the (fictional) story of a gay leather dungeon in the basement of the Bush White House populated by figures from that former administration. It was gay leather/SM porn imagery used as metaphor and commentary on then-current politics. And, again, the assumption was made that the reader knew enough about gay leathersex to get the point of the article. More recently, The Rude Pundit compared the Bush and Obama administrations using the concept of scrotal infusions.

I will leave it to the reader to decide if the image of Karl Rove topping his leather slave represents progress for our community. Or not.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Christianity and Sexuality: It’s Not 1970 Anymore

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #374, September 25, 2009)

This summer several branches of Christianity have been trying to determine policy concerning gay and lesbian people, either as church members wishing to have their unions blessed or as church members in partnered same-gender relationships wishing to serve as clergy. But I think there’s a flaw in how the issue is being addressed.

Episcopalians, Lutherans, Moravians, and other denominations seem to be approaching this issue from a binary perspective. There are the gays and lesbians over there, and there’s everyone else over here. What do we, the everyone else, do with them, the gays and lesbians?

I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but that’s so quaint. It’s so 1970. That was the “gay liberation” political mindset in the immediate aftermath of Stonewall.

That mindset, that 1970-style conception of the issue, no longer works.

An example: this column recently featured an interview with Buck Angel, a transsexual porn star. Buck was born female but always felt he was a man. After years of substance abuse and three suicide attempts, Buck got sober and got a counselor who recognized that Buck was a female-to-male transsexual. With the help of testosterone and years at the gym, Buck is very much the man he knows he was born to be.

If church governing bodies can’t agree on how to treat garden-variety gays and lesbians, what would they do when faced with someone like Buck Angel? What would they have said to him when he was a self-destructive teenager in a body of the wrong gender? What would they say to him now?

By the 1990s the gay and lesbian community had expanded its self-concept to GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender). And then to the mix can be added the leather/BDSM/fetish community with all its leather-family relationships, including Daddy/boy, Master/slave, Dominant/submissive, and so on.

What emerges is not an issue that can be addressed in binary terms of straight/gay or even in terms of a linear scale like Dr. Kinsey’s. I doubt it could even be expressed with x, y and z coordinates where the z coordinate leaps off the page.

Human sexuality truly is a rainbow with millions of possible hues and shadings. It’s not an issue that can be reduced to x versus y, and all attempts to reduce it to x versus y will lead nowhere.

If people’s horizons can be widened, however, perhaps our human sexual diversity will cease to be viewed as a problem, and instead will be seen as a rich and wonderful asset. Then people, and churches, can begin to deal effectively with things as they are today, rather than as they were in 1970.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Leather Life Interview/Andy Mangels: Leather & Sci-Fi

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #373, September 11, 2009)

Andy Mangels, a long-time leather activist, gay activist, and science-fiction writer and producer, will be one of the featured guests at Gaylaxicon 2009, a GLBT science-fiction convention, Oct. 9-11 at the Doubletree Hotel Minneapolis-Park Place.

You are a very busy, multitalented guy.

At the moment I’m working on a book, two magazine articles, and I’ve been working as a bartender at the local leather bar. It’s a way to keep my mind fresh and not get burnt out on any one thing.

Do you try to tie all your different projects together, or do you keep them separate?

There’s an incredible amount of crossover between the world of the fantastic, i.e. science fiction, fantasy and horror, and the world of fetish. People in the fetish world use their imagination in a way that enhances their sex life and their social life, whereas people who are fans of science fiction, fantasy or horror use their imagination to enhance their intellectual life. So when you get somebody who crosses over from one area to the other, they tend to be very interesting people.

What’s the attraction of leather for you?

It’s often said that our largest sex organ is our brain. In the science fiction field, I’m exercising my brain all the time in a way that makes me enjoy people with fantastic names, and interesting costumes, often who are battling each other or have feuds or are working for greater peace in the galaxy. There’s good and evil, there are all the same tropes that any kind of fiction, or even history, has. It’s just that they’re dressed up and put into a more exciting realm, whether that realm is a superhero setting or an outer-space galaxy or a world of fantasy—

Or a bunch of Tom of Finland guys.

Yeah. The leather realm is not far off from that. I can certainly say that in the leather community there are lots of fantastic costumes, and sometimes people battling each other. There’s a lot of political activism, so there are people who fight for the greater good.

What will you be doing at Gaylaxicon?

I expect I will be doing some panel presentations, perhaps a reading, autograph sessions. I’ll be available to meet and talk with people, and in the evenings hopefully I’ll get to go out and see some of the area’s night life, and leathermen and leatherwomen, and get to mix and mingle as much as I can.

(For Gaylaxicon 2009 information and online registration, visit <>. And check out Mangels’ site at <>.)

PHOTO: Andy Mangels

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Leather Life Interview/Buck Angel, “The Man with a Pussy”

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #372, August 28, 2009)

Pioneering transsexual man and award-winning porn star Buck Angel, who bills himself as “The Man with a Pussy,” was recently brought to Minneapolis by adult toy boutique The Smitten Kitten as part of the store’s sixth birthday celebration.

You’re controversial. A lot of people have problems with what you do. Some people say porn is violence against women. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, obviously. By the way, I’ve also won a feminist porn award for my work. I think what I do empowers women as well as men, as well as everyone who’s never fit into a box.

You have a wife. Yes, I have a wife. You’re legally married? I’m legally a man. I had my birth certificate changed. If it’s just a matter of changing a birth certificate, why can’t two men or two women . . . Thank you! I get so pissed off! I have a vagina. My wife has a vagina. When I went to get married they didn’t ask me to drop my pants. I would like to do a huge campaign showing that I’m married, to a woman, legally in the United States of America. How is it possible that I’m married to a woman, and you’re not letting any of these people [same-sex couples] get married because you’re basing it on what’s between their legs?

How long do you see yourself continuing to do porn? I see myself doing porn, honestly, forever. But I don’t see myself in front of the camera after another couple of years. I’m looking to bring other guys into my production company and produce more porn with transsexual men.

Do you have other projects in the works? A book, and I’m trying to put together a reality TV show. Maybe people are ready for me, maybe not. And I’m working on an iPhone app!

Do you pack [i.e., wear a prosthetic phallus]? No way! Why would I pack? I’m “the man with a pussy.” I’m super proud of my pussy, so there’s no reason for me to pack. Though it’s okay for other guys to pack, it’s not an issue for me. Other transmen have told me they pack because of body geometry—a woman’s center of gravity is higher, and a man’s is lower. I’ve never heard of that. That’s interesting! Because my male center of gravity is up here in my head, in my brain. That’s my whole point of what I’m trying to get across to the world—it has nothing to do with what’s between your legs, it has everything to do with what’s in your head.

PHOTO: Buck Angel

Thursday, August 13, 2009

IML says Bye Bye Barebacking

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #371, August 13, 2009)

In his speech at this year’s International Mr. Leather (IML) contest and show, executive producer Chuck Renslow pointed to the rise in new AIDS infections (in the United States alone, someone becomes infected with HIV every 9-1/2 minutes) and decried the increasing popularity of barebacking (unprotected anal sex, which has long been known to be a primary method of spreading HIV infection).

It was an effective and affecting speech, but along with the applause came some puzzlement—because this year’s IML leather market, as in years past, was full of vendors promoting porn that showcased and glorified barebacking.

Renslow and the IML organization now have done the right thing, followed through and, quite literally, put their money where their mouth is. In a letter to vendors, IML recently announced that the promoting of bareback porn will not be allowed at future IML leather markets.

This announcement has set off a firestorm of discussion. Is this censorship? (No.) Will it drive barebacking underground, thereby making it more attractive because it’s forbidden? (I hope not.) Who is Renslow, anyway, to make this kind of pronouncement? (Continue reading.)

Renslow is a community leader who is saying what needs to be said. Barebacking is dangerous. It’s like riding a motorcycle (or a bicycle) without a helmet or driving a car without seatbelts—you may be okay for awhile, but then something happens without warning that’s serious and possibly lethal because proper protective measures weren’t used.

The situation with barebacking is the same as with smoking, obesity, drug abuse and other public-health problems. People must be encouraged to make good choices that are ultimately life-affirming and life-enhancing, as opposed to bad choices that might feel good or exciting in the short run but that ultimately destroy and degrade life. Role models matter here—showing hot men having hot sex while using condoms sends one kind of message (condoms are a part of hot, healthy sex). Showing hot men having sex without condoms sends another, more dangerous message (condoms aren’t necessary—or worse, sex is hotter without protection).

I, like many other people, have been saying for years that barebacking, except for seroconcordant, monogamous couples, is unsafe, insane, and a slow kind of suicide. Yet barebacking has continued. Maybe, when someone of Renslow’s stature takes this kind of stand, more people will listen and the message will finally get through to many of them.

This is exactly what community leaders ought to be doing, and I applaud Renslow and IML for having the courage and the willingness to take such a public stand, even when it could seriously and negatively impact the IML organization’s finances. This is what leadership looks like, folks.

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Masseur Tells All

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #370, July 31, 2009)

Do You Work in the Nude? Confessions of a Masseur & Bodyworker by R.D. Cain; published by Third Millennium Publishing, Tempe, AZ (<>)

Massage and bodywork can be, you should pardon the pun, touchy subjects. Considering the hang-ups, expectations and fantasies many people in our society have about touch and nudity, communication between massage therapist and client (or prospective client) can be fraught with mixed messages, subliminal contexts and speaking in code that may or may not be understood by the other party.

Over the years I have read many books on massage, but until now I’ve never encountered one that approaches the topic from the angle taken by author R.D. Cain. In Do You Work in the Nude? Confessions of a Masseur & Bodyworker, Cain discusses his profession in a charming, disarmingly honest and straightforward manner that tries to cut through uneasiness, embarrassment and taboos.

Cain has been a massage and bodywork therapist since 1991. With that many years experience he has built up a supply of entertaining stories and practical advice that will be interesting to anyone who either does massage/bodywork professionally, or who enjoys the services of someone who does.

This is a fun, breezy confection of a book. Cain covers many facets of the subject of massage and bodywork starting, as all good writers do, with a definition of terms. He then describes how he got into the business and how he has developed his practice over the years. He discusses the many different schools of massage and bodywork (according to the author, over 80 at last count).

Cain also shares advice and philosophy on advertising and running a massage business. And, as a way of illustrating massage and bodywork etiquette, he describes his favorite (and least favorite) client types. He ends the book with a few quotes from notable people on the subject of massage. Adding to the fun are witty, and sometimes snarky, illustrations by Revo Yanson and Ethan Young.

If you are a massage therapist or bodyworker, you will enjoy reading a compatriot’s thoughts. If you are considering becoming a massage therapist or bodyworker, this book offers pointers on what to do, as well as some warnings about pitfalls along the way.

If, on the other hand, you are a client looking for a massage or bodywork professional, this book will tell you what (and what not) to do, and what questions to ask (and not ask). Working with a massage professional is like any other professional relationship: you’ll get better results if you act appropriately.

And if you already have a favorite massage professional, buy them a copy. It will make their day.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Pride, 40 Years After Stonewall

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #369, July 17, 2009)

I’m writing this during the afterglow of both the 2009 Minnesota Leather Pride celebration and the 2009 Twin Cities GLBT Pride Festival. This year marked the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising that was the beginning of the modern gay-liberation movement, and it was the 37th Pride Festival in Minneapolis. In 1972, the Twin Cities’ first “Pride Festival” consisted of approximately 50 people walking down the Nicollet Mall with handmade signs and then hanging out in Loring Park with a cooler of sodas.

Thirty-seven years later, the Twin Cities Pride Festival is the third-largest pride celebration in the country. And, interestingly, this year’s festival didn’t seem to be attended only by GLBT folks. Everywhere I went this year I saw more mixed-gender groups, and I especially noticed more male-female couples. They might have been just friends, but their body language—or their wedding rings—said “couple.”

If all these people were heterosexual, what were they doing at a GLBT Pride celebration? They were being supportive and accepting, that’s what. Maybe they were there with gay friends. Maybe they heard the radio ads for the Festival on AM950. Maybe they just know we throw a good party and came to check it out. Whatever—the point is, they were there, enjoying a beautiful day in the park with us. And they didn’t seem either threatened or threatening.

But, if all these non-GLBT people are here, is it still GLBT Pride? Are we losing our turf? Are we being corporatized, assimilated and co-opted? What would the pioneers at the first Gay Pride gathering in Loring Park have thought of this? Did they know in 1972 that this would be the scene 37 years later? Is this what they were fighting for?

Both the protesters at Stonewall in 1969 and the pioneers in Loring Park in 1972 were fighting for the right to be themselves—to no longer have to hide parts of themselves from a hostile world. It’s 2009, and we’re not there yet, but we’ve made major strides. At least some non-GLBT people, who seemed a threat in 1972, have become our friends and allies who celebrate with us and don’t ask us to hide. How many years have we, as a community, been trying to make this happen?

And just in time, too. Another March on Washington, demanding “FULL equality NOW!”, is being planned for National Coming-Out Day on Oct. 11, 2009. The last time the GLBT community marched on Washington was in 2000. Will it be said of the 2009 march that there were more allies present than in 2000?

I hope so. We haven’t reached the full-equality stage yet, but the more allies we have working alongside us, the sooner we’ll get there.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Leather Agenda 2009

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #368, July 3, 2009)

Contestant Speeches at International Mr. Leather

Every year at the International Mr. Leather contest, each of the top 20 semifinalists presents a 90-second speech on a topic of their choosing. The topics of these speeches can be viewed as a statement of the leather community’s current agenda.

This year’s topics included activism, safe sex and HIV, and uniting Old Guard/New Guard and other factions of the leather/BDSM/fetish community. Several contestants spoke about being proud and visible. Donal Heath (Mr. Eagle London 2008/2009) quoted a line from Star Trek character Captain Jean-Luc Picard: “If we are to be damned, let us be damned for who we really are.”

Appropriate for an international contest, Ken Hearst (Mr. Los Angeles Leather 2009) called out to “our brothers and sisters” in Egypt, Iran, Russia, and other places where sexual freedom and diversity are not celebrated: ”Their day of sexual freedom is coming, and they are not alone in this journey.”

Mike Lunter (Mr. Missouri Leather 2009) spoke of his own aging process and encouraged the crowd to “celebrate every age.” Brendon McGovern (Mr. Leather Ottawa 2009), one of this year’s younger contestants who went on to be named first runner-up, thanked those who “have been fighting for years, for decades, for the rights of our community. And I want you to teach me and others how we can be better fighters” for those rights.

But the most talked-about issue this year was the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Brandon Clark (Mr. San Francisco Leather 2009), whose military career was affected by the policy, said that since the policy’s implementation “over 12,000 gays and lesbians have been discharged, making it the only law in the United States that mandates firing based solely on sexual orientation.” Ammar Houssamo (Mr. Chicago Leather 2009), who served in the army in his native Syria, is now partnered with a man who was discharged from the U.S. Army for being gay. Rick Russell (Mr. Bolt Leather 2009), a 20-year military man, ended his speech by saying, “President Barack Obama, we must, today, repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”

Jeffrey Payne (Mr. Texas Leather 2009), who became the new International Mr. Leather, told how important leather-community support had been as he survived Hurricane Katrina four years ago; as he discovered he was HIV-positive one year ago; and, three weeks before the IML contest, as he was told that his ability to hear the spoken word would cease to exist in a few years. “This news has only reaffirmed my understanding of our leather culture—because we do not listen to our journeys with our ears. We listen to our journey with our hearts, and I will always be able to hear you.”

Friday, June 19, 2009

International Mr. Leather 2009

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #367, June 19, 2009)

First, the statistics: Over 15,000 people partied in Chicago at the 31st annual International Mr. Leather (IML) contest Memorial Day weekend (Thursday, May 22-Monday, May 26). The competition included 54 contestants from 26 states and six countries (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, United Kingdom and United States). Contestants ranged in age from 20-something to 60-something. The IML Leather Market featured 120 vendors.

Now, the photos:

(1) Thursday’s contestant introduction ceremony opened with a procession of contestants’ national and state flags. Shown here is David Gevaert, Mr. Fetish Boots Belgium, waving the Belgian flag.

(2) Some of this year’s IML contestants during the introduction ceremonies.

(3) Host hotel for the weekend was The Chicago Hilton, which for the weekend became the world’s largest leather bar.

(4) Also part of the weekend was the 17th annual International Mr. Bootblack competition. Six bootblacks competed for the title. Shown here shining boots is Greg McDowell (aka “McG”), who competed as Bootblack Toronto. McDowell went on to win the International Mr. Bootblack 2009 title.

(5) This year, for the first time, the Pantheon of Leather Community Service Awards were presented during IML weekend. 34 awards were presented to winners chosen from 343 nominees.

(6) A group of contestants wearing as little as possible during Saturday evening’s “Pecs & Personality” Physique Prejudging event.

(7) Entertainment at Sunday night’s Contest and Show was provided by legendary singer/songwriter/diva Linda Clifford. Also featured was “Madame with an E,” another legendary diva.

(8, 9, 10) The top 20 IML semifinalists strutted their stuff. Shown here: Ken Hearst, Mr. L.A. Leather 2009; Mike Lunter, Mr. Missouri Leather 2009; and Alan Penrod, Mr. Atlanta Eagle 2009.

(11) And the winners are: from left, IML second runner-up, Alan Penrod, Mr. Atlanta Eagle 2009; the new International Mr. Leather 2009 Jeffrey Payne, who competed as Mr. Texas Leather 2009; and IML first runner-up Brendan McGovern, Mr. Leather Ottawa (Canada) 2009.

(For many more photos of IML 2009 visit <>.)


Photos 1, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10: Marric Photography

Photos 2, 3(vert), 3alt(horiz), 5, 6, 11: Steve Lenius

Friday, June 5, 2009

Minnesota Leather Pride 2009: “United Colors of Leather”

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #366, June 5, 2009)

GRAPHIC: “United Colors of Leather” dogtag

“United Colors of Leather” is the theme of Minnesota Leather Pride 2009. A full schedule of Minnesota Leather Pride events starts June 13 and continues up to the Twin Cities GLBT Pride Festival on June 27 and 28.

The 2009 collectible “United Colors of Leather” Leather Pride dog tag gets you discounts at some of this year’s Minnesota Leather Pride events. Get yours for $5 (until June 26) at participating businesses (listed at <>). Or buy your dog tag from members of the Minnesota Leather Pride committee at upcoming club meetings and munches and at all 2009 Minnesota Leather Pride events. After June 26, dog tags will be available for $7 at the Minnesota Leather Pride booth in Loring Park during the Pride Festival—if they haven’t sold out by then.

Organizational sponsors for this year’s Minnesota Leather Pride celebration are Atons of Minneapolis, Confidential Croquet Club, D/s Minnesota, Knights of Leather, Masters And slaves Together (MAsT)-Twin Cities, MinKY (Minnesota Kinky Youth), Minnesota Storm Patrol, MPX (Minnesota Power Exchange), MSDB (Minnesota Stocks, Debentures & Bonds), PEPRMNT (People Exchanging Power Respectfully in Minnesota Together) and TIES (Tremendously Intense Erotic Situations).

Information listed below is subject to change (and at my early deadline some of the details were still pending). For complete and updated event information visit <>.

Saturday, June 13

• Minnesota Storm Patrol Beer Bust at The Minneapolis Eagle, 5-8 P.M. Free admission, $5 for beer/soda bust.

• Atons Leather/Levi Dinner at The Strip Club, 378 Maria Ave., St. Paul. 6:30 P.M. Reservations strongly encouraged—reserve online at <> (search for “Atons”—or find a link at <>).

Thursday, June 18

• PEPRMNT Munch/Discussion. Grumpy’s Bar & Grill, 2801 N. Snelling Ave., Roseville. Dinner 6:30 P.M. (order off the menu), followed by a spirited discussion 8-9 P.M. (topic to be announced).

Friday, June 19

• Leather Titles Workshop. Are you interested in competing for the soon-to-be-revived Mr. or Ms Minnesota Leather title, or another leather/fetish title? Or maybe you’re just curious about the world of leather contests, titles and sashes. Several current and former titleholders, and even a few contest judges, will be there to explain what’s involved in competing in a leather contest and holding a leather title. (Location and time still pending.)

Sunday, June 21

• Workshop: “Black and Blue and Red all over” (spanking and impact play). Patrick’s Cabaret, 3010 Minnehaha Ave. S., Minneapolis. 1-3 P.M. Admission charge at door, discount with 2009 MN Leather Pride dog tag.

Monday, June 23

• BDSM Creative Collective 2009 (2nd annual) Anthology of Poetry, Art and Short Fiction. A reading and art show at Smitten Kitten, 3010 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis. 7 P.M. Free admission.

Thursday, June 25

• Smoke Out. Cigar/pipe social on the patio of The Minneapolis Eagle, Bolt and Bolt Underground. 9 P.M.-midnight. Free admission.

Friday, June 26

• Floggapalooza. It’s become a tradition. Minneapolis Eagle, Bolt and Bolt Underground, 8 P.M. Free admission.

Saturday, June 27

• GLBT Pride Festival in Loring Park. Visit, or hang out at, the Leather Pride booth. 10 A.M.-6 P.M. Free admission. Buy your dog tag at the booth if you don’t have one yet ($7).

Sunday, June 28

• Rainbow Flag Decommissioning/Initiation Ceremony. Not strictly a leather event—but if you saw (or participated in) last year’s Leather Pride flag decommissioning/initiation ceremony, you’ll want to see this year’s ceremony for the old and new rainbow flags. Parade Grandstand, 8th and Hennepin (time still pending).

• Pride Parade. Help carry the giant Leather Pride flag up Hennepin Avenue and to Loring Park. Gather at 3rd St. and Hennepin Ave. starting at 10:30 A.M. (or after the Rainbow Flag ceremony)—parade steps off at 11 A.M. Then spend the day in Loring Park, and be sure to drop by the Leather Pride booth (10 A.M.-6 P.M.).

MinKY (Minnesota Kinky Youth) Munch (details still pending).

Also during Pride Weekend, The Minneapolis Eagle will be presenting Scorch Fireball X. (For more information about the events below, visit <>.)

• Ignition (Friday): The parking lot opens Friday afternoon and stays open all weekend until closing time Sunday night. Friday evening, experience Floggapalooza in the Bolt Underground (see above).

• Blaze (Saturday): Colt models, live and in person Saturday evening, turn up the heat.

• Afterburn (Sunday): Live music by Boogie Wonderland in the Bolt Underground.

2009 Minnesota Leather Pride dog tag (front)

2009 Minnesota Leather Pride dog tag (back)

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Leather Life Interview:/Rick Burgess, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2009

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #365, May 22, 2009)


Rick Burgess has made several appearances in this column recently. He was mentioned as first runner-up in my coverage of the Mr. Minneapolis Eagle contest in 2007. More recently, as a guest “Leather Life” columnist, he wrote about his experiences as a pledge, or provisional member, of The Atons of Minneapolis.

Now, after competing for the title a second time, Burgess is Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2009. That means he will be competing in this year’s International Mr. Leather contest, Memorial Day weekend in Chicago (the same weekend this edition of Lavender hits the streets.) In order to get this interview into the magazine before this year’s IML contest, I had to interview Burgess by telephone from Connecticut:

What are you doing in Connecticut? I work for a medical device company, and we have a facility here in New England.

What do you do for the medical device company? I’m a microbiologist. That sounds impressive. How and why did you become a microbiologist? Purely by accident. I went to college and got a degree in poultry science, and worked in the poultry industry for a number of years. Then I decided I absolutely hated chickens, I hated chicken farms, and I wanted out. I had an opportunity to go to work for a medical device company in Texas, and that was my leap into the private medical device sector. Since then I’ve worked for medical device companies as a microbiologist in Indiana and Minnesota.

Where did you get your degree in chicken farming? Texas A&M University. What were you doing in Texas? I was born and raised in the Corpus Christi area. I moved away for college and somehow never quite made it back there, and have definitely learned to appreciate the beach a lot more now that I don’t live there.

Tell me about coming out, first as GLBT and then as leather. I came out to basically everyone except for my family in about 2000. It was one of those situations where being from a small town in Texas was not necessarily easy, and once I moved away from my hometown it got much easier to recreate an identity—to actually be myself and not worry too much about suddenly losing every friend I ever had.

I came out to my family in about 2002, and it was a very odd situation. I told my mother, and she said, “Well, do you think your brother and I are stupid?” From there, if you get the PFLAG handbook of all the different stages of grieving, she went through every stage. Then, after not a horribly long time, she came to accept it. My father’s response was, “Don’t guess you’ll ever get married.”

Coming out as leather was a little later. It was after I’d moved to Minnesota, so it probably would have been about 2006. That was a little bit more precarious, I thought—hearing the horror stories of the past, of people having lost their job as a result of coming out as leather and leading a kinky lifestyle. And then in 2007 I just finally said, “You know what? This is who I am, I don’t really care who knows, and if someone has an issue with it, then they can take that up with me.” So I kinda completely kicked the door down at that point.

How long have you and your partner Mark been together? Almost two years. How do you two define your relationship? Fill in the blank: Mark is your—what? Mark is my—a lot of things. I think, first and foremost, he’s my partner. He’s my best friend. And beyond that, he’s my boy.

You were in the Mr. Minneapolis Eagle contest two years ago before competing again this year. What was different the second time around? Probably the biggest thing was the self-confidence that came with having been out as a leatherman for a few years, and really having gotten to know myself as a leatherman, and getting to know more of the community as well.

Are you ready for IML? Is there anything you still feel you need to do, or could you go tomorrow? I think if I went tomorrow I would be fairly well prepared. I still have a few things to do, such as doing some more research on the judges. It’s a very diverse panel of judges, many of whom have experiences and interests that are different from mine. I’m just trying to figure out a little bit more about them, and trying to do that second-guessing of what kinds of questions they’re going to be asking.

Other than researching the judges, how else have you been preparing? I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading. There are facets of the lifestyle that, for me, are still waiting to be discovered—and, you know, there’s always something new to try.

What do you expect to gain from IML as a contestant? I think the IML experience is more than just going there to win. It’s about getting to know members of the leather family from across the globe and, hopefully, making some lasting friendships out of it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Cockpit Project, Version 2.0

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #364, May 8, 2009)

The Cockpit Project, the Minneapolis retailer of “luxury leather & latex” goods, has new ownership. Opened in June, 2001, ownership was transferred on March 1, 2009, to a company (Minneapolis Hardware Company, LLC) of which Scott Larson is the CEO.

In addition to new ownership, The Cockpit Project has a new address: 2321 Hennepin Ave. S., not too far away from the store’s previous location. (A grand opening party in the new space was held April 30.) Your humble columnist always thought the store’s previous space had a sleek European atmosphere. The new store is different—ceilings are higher, lighting is more dramatic, music is playing (not too loudly), store fixtures are taller and hold more merchandise, and several video screens are visible from anywhere in the store.

And yet, you still know you’re in The Cockpit Project.

I recently spoke with Larson about the changes going on at The Cockpit Project. He told me he wanted the new space to have an approachable, relaxed, fun vibe that encourages shoppers to take their time and feel comfortable: “We’ve put park benches out in front of the windows, so people can actually mingle, hang out and enjoy the summer. There’s lots of traffic on Hennepin Avenue, lots of people going by on bikes and skateboards, getting stopped at the stoplight and they kinda cruise. My staff loves it.” The dressing rooms resemble jail cells, and Larson says people have come in and had their pictures taken in them.

The new space holds a renewed and expanded merchandise mix with more options. The amount of leather and fetishwear has been expanded, and the new store also carries jeans, t-shirts, and other clothing items. New labels, brands and merchandise lines have been added, including Tom of Finland clothing (check out their zip-up-the-back jeans), OxBallsUSA, Colt, Doc Martens, and a line of underwear called Dirty Fukker. Items that aren’t in the store can be special-ordered and received quickly.

Larson is always on the lookout for new items to add to the store’s offerings. “There’s no limit to where the store could go, but I don’t intend to become a fashion store. So you’re not going to see me carrying Tommy Hilfiger or Polo, unless they get into leather, unless they come up with something really unique and fun that fits the image—then we’ll think about it.”

The Cockpit Project is expanding its own line of signature merchandise, including t-shirts, tank tops and vests, and is creating its own line of watches, jewelry, accessories and sunglasses. A new line of Cockpit Project jocks and underwear will be manufactured in New York. According to Larson, “The manufacturing is done by people with disabilities, namely HIV/AIDS. So it may be a little bit more pricey, but you’ll know the money is going where it needs to go, giving an opportunity to people who need it.”

The store plans to start offering custom work in the form of a three-hour “Build Your Own Harness” program: First, choose from many different styles of straps, rings, snaps, buckles and other hardware. Come back an hour later for a fitting and rough assembly, then come back two hours later and the harness will be ready to go. Major alterations on other merchandise will be handled by Shoe-A-New, conveniently located in the same block of Hennepin Avenue.

Larson was born and raised in Minnesota and is no stranger to retailing, having worked at Dayton’s “many, many years ago.” He has been involved with the leather scene in Houston, Atlanta and San Francisco, working as a bartender, bar manager and restaurant manager.

Does Larson have plans for expanding The Cockpit Project to other locations, perhaps to other cities? Although he didn’t want to say too much about this, he did mention a few expansion possibilities, including Phoenix, San Diego, Chicago and Denver.

One thing Larson has expanded right away is The Cockpit Project’s hours. The store now is open 10 A.M. to 10 P.M. Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 5 P.M. on Sunday. While the store technically is closed on Monday, it offers by-appointment shopping—reserve a time and pay a deposit toward your purchases, and for 90 minutes you will have the complete devotion of The Cockpit Project’s friendly and helpful staff.

PHOTO: Scott Larson, standing in The Cockpit Project’s new store on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Tenth Edition: Mr. Minneapolis Eagle Contest

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #363, April 24, 2009)

Old, stereotypical joke: What do big, butch, tough leathermen talk about at the leather bar? They exchange recipes.

In that spirit, here’s a recipe for a particularly tasty concoction: the tenth edition of the Mr. Minneapolis Eagle contest, held Saturday night, April 11, in the Bolt Underground.

1. Take six diverse contestants (Robert Ashpole, Bradley Gavin, Bill Devine, Jon Plemons, Rick Burgess, and Jay Kurvers). Place in front of four judges (Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2007 Dan Beach, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2003 Gregg White, Sam Carlisle, and your humble columnist). Grill mercilessly.

2. Add a large, enthusiastic audience and a well-seasoned master of ceremonies (Brian Anderson—this was his fifth time emceeing the contest). Turn heat to high as contestants compete onstage in Keg Walk, Speech/Q&A and Truth-or-Dare contest segments.

3. Finish by adding one combination contest producer/tallymaster (Minneapolis Eagle owner Ed Hopkins) to add up the judges’ scores.

Yield: One second runner-up (Plemons); one first runner-up (Ashpole); one new Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2009 (Burgess); and one hot, entertaining evening for all present.

(Burgess now goes on to compete at the 2009 International Mr. Leather contest, Memorial Day weekend in Chicago—details at <>.)

7 photos

DSC_3700 / Credit: Marric Photography / Robert Ashpole

DSC_3704 / Credit: Marric Photography / Bradley Gavin

P4112426 / Credit: Steve Lenius / Bill Devine

DSC_3711 / Credit: Marric Photography / Jon Plemons

DSC_3715 / Credit: Marric Photography / Rick Burgess

DSC_3723 / Credit: Marric Photography / Jay Kurvers

DSC_3854 / Credit: Marric Photography

DSC_3858 / Credit: Marric Photography

P4122531 / Credit: Steve Lenius

Rick Burgess, the new Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2009.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Leather Life Interview, Part 2: Gary Iriza, International Mr. Leather 2008

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #362, April 10, 2009)

(The interview continues from the previous issue of Lavender.)

So you won the Mr. Palm Springs Leather competition and made it to Chicago. What are your memories of the IML competition? We don’t have time—I could tell you every minute of it. Thursday night, at the contestant introduction, I saw Guy Baldwin [International Mr. Leather 1989], who is my idol, I learned so much from his books. I just had to introduce myself—I’m Gary, Mr. Palm Springs, you’ve been my inspiration. And he saw that I was so moved that the friend who was with him came back later and said, you know, you made Guy cry.

Then, during the contestant number draw I picked number 47. I go backstage and there’s Guy Baldwin. And he goes, “Um, kid, I just wanted to mention something to you that you might not know—I was number 47.” That, for me, set the record straight, and I said, I am winning this. I’m not letting down Guy, I’m not letting down myself, and I’m going for it.

And then, when Chuck Renslow was saying my name as the winner, I couldn’t understand him—my last name is so difficult to pronounce—so it was like, “And the new International Mr. Leather is, Gary—whatever.” I just stood there. And CJ, he’s right next to me, he goes, “Bitch, you won!” I started crying.

Current leather community politics—what do you feel strongly about? I’m concerned that the leather community has become a preachy church that nobody wants to go to anymore. Put a dollar in the box, we have to raise money for the community, for kids, for breast cancer, for AIDS—money money money. Where is the fun?

I wanna see the leather community where it was in the beginning. People used to get together in bars. They’d socialize. Yes, they worked for the community, but they took time outside of our Friday and Saturday nights, or whenever we got together, outside that time frame, to do the social work. But when you bring the social work to the bar, when there’s somebody selling raffles all night, and pushing “Give me your money”—what happens? The real players, the ones who want to go out and have fun, have built an underground culture, and they don’t leave the dungeons because they don’t wanna go to a bar to keep putting money in a box. Nothing against helping the community—nothing against helping charity.

There wasn’t a lot of that at the Mr. Iowa Leather contest last night, was there? And I loved it. How fun was that event last night? Who was asking for a penny? No one. Did you have fun? Everybody had fun. See the difference? You can contribute. You can have a special night—you know, we’re working tonight to help whatever, whoever you wanna help. And I’ll be the first one to strip down and sell my jock straps to help the community. But we need to turn it down, because we’re here to have fun with each other, and I don’t want that to be lost.

And if we’re gonna help somebody, we wanna help our own community. Let’s help a leather event to not die. Let’s help within. Once we’re strong, and we are helping each other, and we have all the structure that we need, and then we can go out and help others. I know this is gonna be touchy, but it is the truth.

Tell me about porn— What’s up with porn? You did some? Yes, before I won IML. I haven’t done it for a year. And I think that’s the end of the conversation. I was just wondering how it came about that you did the ones that you did? I think I am the first IML who has had a porn career before the title. It was like four years before I won IML. Did you look for it, or did somebody see you and say, hey, you’d be good onscreen? I needed to pay my bills, and I had a boyfriend at the time who was into it, so we started doing it together. And then the thing grew and grew and grew and everybody started calling me. Have there been people who have looked down on this? There’s been a few brothers who competed with me that kinda wrote in blogs and stuff—oh, he’s just a, you know, beauty queen, porn actor, personal trainer, probably doesn’t have anything in his brain, the only thing he knows is how to fuck. I don’t hold resentments—they’re always gonna find you as a target and they’re always gonna have bullets, and they’re gonna shoot. The bigger the titleholder, the thicker the skin.

Have you thought about what you’re going to do after you step aside in May? I wanna stick around. I’m the first Hispanic IML, and I think I can bring a lot to the Latino community. I’m gonna take a couple months off to, you know, breathe in, breathe out, and then come back.

(Check out Iriza’s blog at <>.)

PHOTO: P5251137.tif

Gary Iriza, International Mr. Leather 2008.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Leather Life Interview: Gary Iriza, International Mr. Leather 2008

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #361, March 27, 2009)

Gary Iriza came to Chicago last year as Mr. Palm Springs Leather and left as International Mr. Leather 2008. He’s Latin, he’s passionate, he’s energetic, and he has a great sense of humor. I interviewed him when he was visiting Des Moines, Iowa, to judge the Mr. Iowa Leather contest.

What has your year been like so far? Working, traveling, meeting new people everywhere. At times it becomes a blur. When I was flying here, the lady at LAX asked me, “Where are you going?” And for two seconds I just glazed. “Um, Iowa.” And she goes, “What city?” “Uh, you got me on that one.” But once you get there and get to know the people, there’s something particular in each city that makes you remember them.

You grew up in Venezuela? Yeah, in Caracas, Venezuela. Fancy part of town? Not-so-fancy part of town? I’m from a family where everybody is a professional. We were not wealthy, but we all went to school, so we can consider ourselves middle-class. However, there’s a fine line between what’s considered middle-class in a country like Venezuela—either you have too much money or you have no money at all. It’s a poor country. I mean, it’s a rich country, but there’s a lot of poor families.

You studied what? Systems engineering. Computer systems? I was more in the hardware part than the software. I never liked it, to be honest with you. I wanted to be a medical doctor.

What brought about your move to the U.S.? The fact that I’m HIV positive, and in my country medical care is very restricted, especially for HIV male homosexuals. They help children, they help women, but to homosexuals it’s very limited. It was like, okay, dead in Venezuela or alive in the United States.

What’s it like for gay people in Venezuela, in Caracas? It’s not easy. There’s a lot of persecution, especially from police. One time, leaving a gay bar, two police officers stopped me and asked me, where were you, and I said, in a bar, and they said, are you gay, and I said yes, and then they go, we have to search you. They handcuffed me on a light pole for, like, a half-hour. There’s stuff that people don’t know about that’s going on in Latin America.

So, you got to this country, and where did you first land? Miami, and I loved it. I was learning the culture, and I actually made an effort to learn the language—even though I was in South Beach, and everybody speaks Spanish. I had a rule, whoever’s gonna speak with me, you wanna speak in English, because I don’t wanna procrastinate my learning.

You live in Los Angeles now? I was in L.A. for three years and then moved to Palm Springs. And that’s when you won Mr. Palm Springs Leather? Yeah, that’s when I competed in Mr. Barracks, Mr. Palm Springs and then IML. Then I met somebody in San Francisco, I married him and lived there for two months, it didn’t work out, and I’m back in L.A.

Anything more you want to say about that? Getting married, it was a beautiful thing to do, it just didn’t work out. Probably it was too soon for us to jump into that, but we were under the pressure of the American elections and Prop 8, and I wanted to represent the community and say, I’m in love with somebody, and I think we wanted to marry because we wanted to support the cause. The only advice I will give anyone is, when you do something you have to mean it. I did mean it, it just didn’t work out for us. But he’s an extraordinary person, he was Mr. San Francisco Leather 2004, he’s an incredibly handsome man and he always will be in my heart.

How did you get into leather? When I was in Miami I went to a couple of parties and saw leather guys, and I thought they were attractive. When I got to L.A. I was very attracted to the Fault Line bar on Melrose. I met my ex-partner, James, at a leather bar in Palm Springs. He is very much into leather, and he took me under his wing and little by little he turned me into his boy, and I liked it, I liked it, I liked it.

I had asked him to take me to IML—he had been going to IML every year until he met me, right? And he was like, oh, no, you’re not ready for it. I told him, you know what, you don’t take me to IML, I’ll take you to IML. And he laughs, yeah, right, you don’t have the money, you don’t have the means. So I remember, right after I won Mr. Palm Springs, he jumped onto the stage, gave me a hug, and he was like, oh my God, I love you so much. And I said, “Pack your bags, we’re going to IML!”

(To be continued next issue. Until then, you might want to check out Iriza’s blog at <>.)

PHOTO: Gary Iriza, moments after being sashed as International Mr. Leather 2008.