Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Leather Life Interview: Tyler McCormick, International Mr. Leather 2010

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #406, December 16, 2010)

Tyler McCormick, International Mr. Leather 2010.
Tyler McCormick competed in the 2010 International Mr. Leather (IML) contest as Mr. Rio Grande Leather. When he won, he made history three ways: first transgender IML, first IML to use a wheelchair, and first IML from New Mexico.

You are a transman. Do you also consider yourself gay? The trans thing is sort of thrown in there, but if I have an identity it’s as a gay man.

So you are both a G and a T in the GLBT equation. At one time I thought I was a lesbian. It was short-lived. I took a year out in the middle of college because I was not understanding whether I was a boy or a girl, and I was trying to figure out who to be. I contemplated it for a year and finally decided I’m really a guy. By the end of college I was on hormones and had had some surgery, and I was good.

When did leather and kink enter the picture? At 12 and 13 I remember fantasizing about things that were non-vanilla. And even younger than that I remember watching cartoons going, woo-hoo, the cowboy’s tying up the Indian. I entered into my first contract when I was 19.

What is your disability? I have cerebral palsy. There’s a disconnect between my brain and muscles, primarily in my legs. The muscles in my legs don’t know when to turn themselves off, so they like to just stay on all the time, fighting with each other.

And is “disability” the word you prefer? As long as you’re not intending malice, I don’t really care what words you end up using. I personally choose the words “gimp” and “cripple.” I find that if I use those words with people, they get over it a lot faster.

What did you think when they called your name as the new International Mr. Leather? As soon as my brain clicked over that it was me, this whole process went through my head—my partner would like to become a minister, and right before my contestant interview I had asked him if he’d like to say a prayer. And his prayer was not let him win, let him lose—it was, let Tyler be the man that he is and put him on the path that he needs to be on. So now I was like, wait a second, this is the path the universe thinks I should be on. I was just so humbled.

I hang onto three moments in that weekend—the prayer that Aaron said over me, and then all my classmates piling on top of me after my name was announced. And then, less than 24 hours after that, my husband gets down on one knee and proposes to me. He had said he was going to marry me after I stepped down from Mr. Rio Grande Leather in October. So when I won IML I was like, oh, no, he said he wasn’t gonna marry me until after I stepped down. I was a little freaked out. So when he proposed I knew everything was gonna be okay.

When are you getting married? On New Year’s Day.

What’s your title year been like so far? Are people accommodating of the wheelchair? It’s been amazing. People have made accessibility better because they knew I was going to be there, and I hope they continue to keep the accessibility after I roll away.

What about the trans angle? I hear from other people that people have issues, but I haven’t run into any problems because of it. I figure if I show up and I’m genuinely and authentically Tyler, then that gets people to genuinely and authentically be themselves, and we’ll all get along just fine.

I have never written a column on disabilities—when I write that column, what should I include? Everybody’s got some sort of limitation—takes some medication, wears glasses—and if we go from the perspective that some of these limitations are just more obvious than others, then everyone gets a lot less afraid.

Anybody who walks up to me and is genuine and honest and has questions, I am more than willing to answer. I would much rather have them come up and ask me than assume that I can or can’t do something.

(McCormick will be in Minneapolis next February for the Creating Change conference, presented by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Visit his website at

Friday, September 24, 2010

Leather Generations: Dialectic or Debate?

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #400, September 24, 2010)

Over the years, this column has dealt several times with issues of intergeneration and intercommunity conflict. This conflict often is characterized as between the “Old Guard” (those who value, and try to preserve, the community hierarchy and other traditions that leather culture inherited from its military beginnings) and the “New Guard” (those who either don’t care about, or who outright reject, these traditions). But sometimes conflict also surfaces between other community groups: those who identify as “leather” and those who identify as “BDSM” or “fetish,” for example, or between various combinations of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered people and heterosexuals.

When conflict happens, communication between the groups in conflict can take several forms. One is debate, in which each group tries to convince the other group that its way is correct and the other group’s way is incorrect. Sometimes one side is convinced; sometimes each side just digs in its heels.

Another way to deal with conflict is through dialectic, in which the two sides engage in discussion that eventually produces a third viewpoint that is superior to either of the original viewpoints. I recently heard the concept of dialectic described in a sermon preached by the Rev. Keith Hohly, pastor of First Lutheran Church, Mission Hills, Kansas. (Sometimes the universe speaks to us when we least expect it.)

Dialectic goes all the way back to ancient Greece, and discussions of it have filled many books throughout the centuries. In his sermon, however, Rev. Hohly discussed dialectic as a style of communication between parents and children, and I recognized right away that what he was saying applied also to intergenerational and other struggles within the leather/BDSM/fetish community.

Here’s how Rev. Hohly explained it: Parents have values which they wish to impart to their children. This part of the dialectic is called the “thesis.” Children rebel against these values—“antithesis.” Ideally, out of the combination of thesis and antithesis comes “synthesis,” something that is different from but better than either the original thesis or the antithesis. The synthesis becomes the new thesis, and the process starts over again. This is how people and communities evolve and progress is made.

It’s not that children should not rebel—on the contrary, it’s part of their job to rebel as a way of declaring their independence from their parents. It’s healthy for them to rebel. Parents sometimes might wish it were otherwise, but good parents know that part of raising the next generation is enduring the process of having that next generation assert its independence.

But sometimes parents or their offspring refuse to be part of the process, as in “My way or the highway.” With no willingness to try to understand the other side’s position, the discussion then often turns into a debate that convinces no one and solves nothing. In a debate there is no middle ground and no synthesis.

Now let’s apply all of this to ourselves. Consider how leather arose in the first place. Our community took the rebel role against then-mainstream society’s vanilla values and practices. There was no attempt at dialectic then, and history shows what happened: leather culture was underground, and divorced from mainstream culture, for many years. It is only relatively recently that mainstream society has seen any value in our culture, and then often only as a way to shock people and sell things. But it’s at least some kind of dialogue.

Within our then-underground community, however, the early history of leather seemed to be free of intergenerational conflict, in that the community’s values and traditions were passed from one generation to the next through a very effective system of mentorship.

But that system was torn asunder by the AIDS epidemic. Today we have traditionalists, most of whom are older, and we have rebels, most of whom are younger. Too often, the two groups seem to be arguing in endless debate, when what would be more constructive would be dialectic between the two groups—between every group, actually, that has a stake in this community and in its future.

The next time you hear an argument in leather circles, listen closely. Do you hear debate or do you hear dialectic? Which would you rather hear? Which would you rather contribute to?


Shameless commercial message: Life, Leather and the Pursuit of Happiness, the new book by your humble columnist, is now available locally at Cockpit Project, Gray’s Leather, Rainbow Road, Smitten Kitten and True Colors Bookstore (the former Amazon Bookstore), or from your favorite bookseller.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Leather Pride: In Our Hides . . . or In Hiding?

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #392, June 4, 2010)

“I am who I am. I am not ashamed of who I am—not one bit.”

These are the words of the late Harvey “Jack” McGeorge, weapons inspector with the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC)—and a longtime leather/BDSM/fetish community activist and leader. In 2002, at the height of the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, McGeorge was “outed” as a BDSM practitioner by The Washington Post. To be able to make the above statement in the midst of a media firestorm—that’s leather pride.

In the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and elsewhere across the nation, June is Pride Month for both the GLBT and leather/BDSM/fetish communities. We spend much of the month of June proclaiming our pride in ourselves and our community. Minnesota Leather Pride again has planned a full schedule of Leather Pride events, details of which can be found at <>.

Some would ask why Pride celebrations are important or even necessary. What is there about being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender that deserves a parade? What is there about being a member of the leather/BDSM/fetish community that calls for participation in the GLBT Pride parade?

Others wonder why leatherfolk should be proud at all, of anything. They note that members of the leather/BDSM/fetish community are classified by other parts of our society as sick and/or criminal. The American Psychiatric Association, in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV, describes as “sexual disorders” many of the activities enjoyed by leatherfolk. Many of those same activities are illegal in all fifty U.S. states and in the U.K. as well. How can anyone be proud of that?

Actually, we need pride in ourselves and our community all the more in the face of these societal attitudes and prejudices.

Recall that at one time members of the GLBT community were regarded in pretty much the same way. Homosexuality was considered by the American Psychiatric Association to be a mental illness until 1986. And there was a time when law enforcement officials raided gay bars, and arrested their patrons, on the flimsiest of justifications.

Eventually gay men and lesbians got tired of being told they were mentally ill criminals, and the Stonewall riots in 1969 were the result. Forty-one years have passed since Stonewall, and in those years the GLBT community has made great progress toward full civil rights (although there is still work to be done and progress to be made).

When will members of the leather/BDSM/fetish community get tired of being told they are mentally ill criminals?

Many of us already are, and have been for awhile. Thanks to some community members’ efforts, the American Psychiatric Association doesn’t consider us as sick today as they once considered us. Work continues at reducing even further the psychiatric stigma of our proclivities.

Another community movement called “Consent Counts,” which started in 2006, is working to decriminalize BDSM activities. It won’t happen overnight—it might take ten or fifteen years or even longer—but the groundwork has been laid and the process has been started.

But, quite apart from psychiatrists and law enforcement, the perception of our community, our interests and our activities needs to shift among the general public. A recent survey of college students demonstrated that people who had a friend who was an SM practitioner had a more positive attitude and less prejudice toward the concept of SM than was found among people who did not know anyone who was into SM. This is similar to the trajectory of acceptance for members of the GLBT community—it’s easier to be judgmental and discriminatory against “those people.” It’s harder to be judgmental and discriminatory when you are friends with someone in the reviled group.

So, if you’re interested, put your pride into action. Get involved in the movement to remove our community completely from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Get involved with Consent Counts and help decriminalize BDSM.

Even more important, be proud and come out as a kinky person to the best of your ability. No, it’s not yet safe for everyone to be open about their interests. Jobs, spouses and children all can be lost if one comes out—or if, like Jack McGeorge, one is outed against their will.

But the more visible our community is, the more public opinion will change for the better. And that will make it easier and less threatening for even more of us to come out, be visible, and be who we really are.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Your Humble Columnist publishes a book: Life, Leather and the Pursuit of Happiness

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #386, March 12, 2010)

After fifteen years, Your Humble Columnist is finally about to become Your Humble Author. With this edition of the Leather Life column I am pleased to officially announce my first book: Life, Leather and the Pursuit of Happiness.

The book, to be published later this spring by Nelson Borhek Press, contains selections from 15 years of Leather Life columns and other writings—112 columns in all, updated and annotated.

It has been a rather daunting task to wade through a large accumulation of columns and other writings and try to assemble some of them into a book that flows in some kind of logical order. As I put the book together I tried to pick the columns and other writings that have the most universal appeal, and I grouped columns into chapters around certain themes.

Even though the columns were written as eclectic parts and pieces over a 15-year period, I have been pleasantly surprised at how well the pieces, when put together, present a coherent portrayal of the book’s subtitle: “Life, History and Culture in the Leather/BDSM/Fetish community.”

The book is divided into two sections. One shorter section is about the leather, i.e. the things that have drawn the community together. The second and more substantial section is about the life of the community and its members as I have observed them over the last fifteen years.

As a companion to the book I also am pleased to present the book’s website: <> (which eventually will replace the existing website for this column, <>). I invite you to visit <> right now—you can find out more about the book, see the Table of Contents, read a few excerpts and even sign up to be among the first to be notified when the book is available later this spring.

After the book has been published it will be available at <> or directly from the <> website.

One last thing: On Wednesday, May 26, the Queer Voices GLBT Reading Series will present an erotica reading at the Form + Content Gallery (210 N. 2nd St., Minneapolis). I’ll be one of the authors reading. It should be quite an evening. Maybe I’ll see you there. (For more information about the reading, visit <>.)