Leather Series — Leather Contests
Coming off the heels (literally) of Mr. Los Angeles Leather (LAL, I was able to attend two very different international leather contests: International Ms. Leather/International Ms. Bootblack and International Olympus Leather. Between LAL and the two contests I traveled to, I had a number of conversations with local leathermen wherein we processed different things that happened before, during and after the LAL contest. These things have been discussed publicly by many more qualified than I, this post is not about that. This post is reflecting on my thoughts as to how leather contests can be better and more impactful in two specific areas. This post is about two things that stood out to me at both international contests. 1. How fun they both were and 2. how meaningful the speeches were.
Contests should be fun:
The second night of IMsL/IMsBB opened with the outgoing IMsL in a burlesque outfit singing “Cabaret” while the IMsL/IMsBB contestants were also in burlesque outfits, dancing to a choreographed number. During the number, each contestant stepped up to the microphone to state their name and their kinks. Let me tell you, there is nothing better than someone in a burlesque outfit saying “I’m ____ and I’m into fisting, punching and blood play” then giggling and going back to dancing. I leaned over to my friend next to me and said “this is the gayest thing I’ve ever seen at a contest and I am LIVING for it”. There was so much joy and happiness in the room during that opening number. The contestants were having fun, the judges, the emcee, and every single person in the audience was having the time of their lives.
This didn’t stop at just the opening number, all weekend long during and in between the contest, it was quite clear that the contestants were having a blast. I asked one of the contestant handlers “are they having fun backstage?” He said “100%, they are having a great time”. How special is it to have a contest where not only the audience is having a great time but so are the contestants. The energy was unlike anything I’ve seen before at a contest.
The first night of IOL kicked off with a woman serenading the crowd with a few musical numbers. Ending the night with the whole audience singing along to “When You’re Good to Mama” from the musical Chicago. This was the second gayest thing I’ve seen at a leather contest after the Cabaret number from IMsL/IMsBB. Seeing a room full of leather folk in gear singing along to the song brought me so much joy and the joy was shared with everyone in the room.
Contests should be FUN. These two contests absolutely were and the credit goes to the producers and the emcees for creating a fun, playful environment for the contestants and the audiences.
Speeches should be meaningful:
I didn’t hear every speech at IMsL/IMsBB, but the ones I did hear were impactful and moving. Most of us have heard of Leather contest bingo right? 9 out of 10 speeches will rattle off words like “community, tribe, code, honor, integrity, respect, I finally found my people” etc. I didn’t hear a single leather buzzword the entire contest. All I heard were speeches from the heart, talking about issues in the community that matter. During her interview presentation, Girl Complex presented a topic entitled “thank a black woman for intersectionality”. This is the level of the speeches I heard. Talking about gender, talking about race, talking about the need for space in the leather community.
It occurred to me listening to the speeches that the persons position in the community informed the content of their speech. When you hear people of color giving speeches at leather contests, you’ll find they often talk about representation or creating space. When women are giving speeches, you’ll find they often talk about fighting misogyny in the leather and gay communities or addressing gender spectrum representation. It’s almost as if marginalized communities have a lot more at stake….hmmm…..
Ok, stop. I know some of you reading this are gonna skip the rest of this and go immediately to type up a strongly worded comment about “not all white gays”. Sure, minorities and women aren’t the only ones that talk about important issues during their speeches. But the issues that minorities and women talk about, aren’t being discussed as widely in other corners of the leather community, that’s why it is so important that their/our voices are heard by ALL in the community.
There is a time for speeches that make us laugh, there’s a time for speeches that get us hard, there’s a time for speeches that call us to action. But until people of color, women, trans folk, GNC (Gender Non Conforming) and femme folk are fully represented in the leather community, then the time for our voices to be heard is NOW.
Are contests just a Tom of Finland beauty pageant?
One of my favorite local leather contests in Los Angeles is Mr. Sister Leather. It started out as a way to mock leather contests. Its a contest run by the Sister’s of Perpetual Indulgence, so you know it’s going to be off the rails. It’s one big farce and it’s fun as hell. Every year I go I know I’m going to laugh my ass off, have a great time with my brothers and sisters and see the contestants find their niche in the community. Besides the fun, this contest provides a platform for the non-traditional leatherman. The leatherman who is every bit as leather as Tom of Finland, even if he doesn’t have Tom’s physique. This contest manages to be fun and it provides a platform for contestants who aren’t always heard from in this community to share their voice and to be heard.
IMsL/IMsBB and Mr. Sister Leather shouldn’t be the only contests that are fun and provide platforms for voices to be heard, every contest should be this way. Contests shouldn’t be about who can say the word “tribe” the most in a speech. Contests shouldn’t be about who looks the most like Tom of Finland. Contests should be a time for our community to have a shit ton of fun and provide a platform for everyone in our community to share their voice, because everyone’s voice deserves to be heard and we all need to take a seat and listen.