There's been a bit of debate recently in my Yahoo Group "IML" (a group specifically about attending the event in Chicago, IL and having fun while avoiding the beauty pageant and subsequent drama that accompanies it).
Me in the flurry of a debate?? Naw, it couldn't be! ;-)
Someone recently said: "...this year's contest had over 2,000 audience members. A record high!", so I crunched the numbers...
They claim the official statistics indicate that there were 2,000 people watching the leather drag pageant, while at the same time Chuck Renslow (the owner of IML, as quoted per on page 13 of "Leather Boi" magazine, the official IML programme guide) claims there are over 18,000 attending IML in 2008.
So, that works out to an 11% attendance. Which means, from the data provided, that 89% of IML event attendees didn't bother going to the beauty pageant.
I've been asked to compete in contests before and I've said clearly and plainly that I'll have nothing to do with it. I refuse to subject myself to that humiliation. Furthermore, it embarrasses me to watch someone else be subjected to it. There's just something inherently wrong with the "bend over and crack a smile routine" that all persons, top, bottom or whatever are expected to subject themselves to (see the photo of "Mr. L.A. Leather 2002" below). Not to mention the rest of the contest mentality. I get strange visions of a perverted "Ms. America" blended with the movie "Showgirls", envisioning some sash queen tripping his competition down the stairs with his bull whip.
"Mr. Leather's primary service is to pummel you with the self-importance of its subjects. The participants in the Mr. L.A. Leather 2003 pageant all hold lesser titles (Mr. Los Angeles Leather Bear, Faultline Mr. Leather, Mr. Regiment, etc.). 'I'm Mister Sister 2003. I can do a lot with that title,' says one of them. To that, I say: O RLY?
That guy's sentiment is echoed by virtually every other participant in the Mr. L.A. Leather 2003 pageant. As the guys talk about their collective aspiration to take home top prize, there's much ado about how the title would allow them to represent the leather community. But to whom? Each other? Certainly, last I checked my local leather ambassador wasn't doing shit but cruising in the shadows of the Eagle.
Guy Baldwin, who's identified as a 'leather expert' and whose speech is so haughtily affected that he might as well be flogging up and down my spine every time he opens his damn mouth, explains that "being public about diversity encourages growth in our general consciousness about human sexuality." The reasoning behind his point is that fetish-based sexuality gets a bum rap -- some people are into girls, some are into boys, some are into both, and some are into people in leather. This does not make them worthy of derision. I'm not sure exactly what a tiara and a title can do to convince people to be accepting, but I know that if the ultimate function of Mr L.A. Leather is to merely show outsiders that leather fetishists exist, he's then as potentially effective as a guy in the middle of the street saying, 'I'm here. I'm alternatively queer. Get used to it.' Nothing wrong with small-scale nobility, but it's probably not enough to prompt people start sucking each others dicks over the accomplishment.
The worst permutation of self-importance comes from Mr. L.A. Leather 2002, who's totally high and mighty about the title he's about to give up. 'This is not a beauty pageant,' he says. 'Well, it is and it isn't, if you know what I mean.'
For all the civic duty that the winner supposedly assumes, there's a distinct air of superficiality all over the pageant. But of course there is: it's a fucking pageant. The pre-pageant interview session includes questions on which judge the contestant would fuck. During the pageant, one of them is asked about testing rectal freshness. When the contestants are introduced during some round (really: it's alllllll evening wear), a list of their sexual interests is read (example: 'Chris is a top and bottom into rubber, outdoor, tit trips, group sex, P.A.'s, oil and having sex with a hot stud on a military base.'). With things so sexualized, I really don't understand how these people could go on to perform any duty other than oral sex.
Everyone seems so seduced by the importance of it all."
The above text was quoted from Rich Juzwiak, from Brooklyn, NY, but I completely understand where he's coming from!
I run the IML group on Yahoo in order to enable people to do their own thing whilst in Chicago during the IML weekend. I encourage people to push their own envelope. Take a stand. Make a difference. ...and, most importantly, have fun!
I'm amazed to see titleholders say things like: "...none of this would have come to fruition without the support I received as a titleholder as well as from the knowledge and strength I gained during my IML experience". Well, dear, before IML was as well-known as it is today, the leather community depended upon clubs to foster this sort of leadership -- and unlike IML, it was a true grass-roots effort. Leadership developed within the leather club community couldn't be "stripped away" as sashes can be!
IML is a one weekend event per year. IML (and other leather contests) tend to direct focus away from the leather community as a whole and direct it towards specific individuals. We, as a cumulative leather community, have allowed our own power to be taken away from us and have enabled a few people (who in my honest opinion, shouldn't be in charge of the leather community) to be at the top of the food chain. Some of the leather communities best leaders, such as Guy Baldwin, have been socially nurtured when they allowed themselves to be controlled by an oversight committee such as IML/MAL. IML exists pretty much to promote IML and Chuck Renslow's personal beliefs only. (Hey, that might be okay for you -- but it's not for me).
"Consider all the room nights you represent, the restaurant meals, taxi fares … the bottles of (Miller) beer. These days, International Mr. Leather represents millions of dollars in tourism revenues to the City of Chicago — and that’s why we’re here." -- Chuck Renslow, 27 May 2007
Yes, Chuck, we're in Chcago to spend money. You mention the City of Chicago, but fail to mention IML and it's benefactors. Oh, but you might say "it's not about the money?" Watch what happens if you infringe upon any of the contest's revenue or trademarks.
Real leather leadership comes from the leather clubs and organizations that allow everyone to have a say or participate, 52 weeks out of the year! The contest circuit has been devastating to the leather club community, almost as much as AIDS was in the 80s. Good thing there is the Leather Archives & Museum (also in Chicago and a semi-arm of IML) where they can preserve all the unique leather history they have successfully destroyed.
In this "wonderful new age" of manhunt.net, recon.com, bear411.com and others -- everything seems to revolve around instant gratification. Throw into the mix that the new reality-show mentality of the general American public and you have a perfect breeding ground for the contest circuit. You lose the need for the brotherhood, committment, dedication and community that once were the leather clubs and replace it with an online 'quickie' and someone in the "right" leather fashion who was coached with proper answers to say at some contest to make a judge or two happy.
"Hey, we don't need to join a club, show any commitment or do anything to improve the leather lifestyle -- it's being done for us when we give our money to IML, MAL or other contest!" (Or is it?)
I have been active in the leather community for quite some time. I've seen all sorts of threats come and go. I've seen clubs endure break-ups, AIDS, and some pretty horrible things -- but I must admit, the siren song of the contest circuit has me alarmed for the sake of our future generations.
If you want to talk about titleholders, contests and sash queens, please don't bother me.
However, if you'd like to talk about making our leather/levi/bear/biker community stronger without the need for contests, where everyone encourages leadership, regardless of appearance or their extensive wardrobe -- come sit beside me and let's chat!
Visit http://leather-links.net/xlinks or http://www.amcc76.org/ for information about local Leather/Levi/Motorcycle Clubs near you! Never forget that Leather Clubs (not Beauty Pageants) are, and have been, the true heart of the real Leather/Levi Community!