Me, Lance, and Joel
This weekend I had the honor of serving as head judge for the Mr. Texas Leather title contest in Dallas. The winner of this contest goes on to compete at International Mr. Leather in May, and, as I am sure you all know, Texas has had the honor of bringing home winners for the last two years: Jeffrey Payne won IML 2009, and Jack Duke brought home the second runner up title last year. These tremendous honors were well deserved by both men. So when I asked Dan (the contest producer and owner of Eagle Leather by Dan) what he wanted me to look for in this year’s titleholder, he looked at me and said “We’re hitting the podium again. That’s what I’m looking for.” (no pressure, right?)
The five men who competed were all absolutely fantastic – it was a joy to get to know them, to watch them come together and form the bonds of brotherhood that will continue for the rest of their lives, and to watch them bring forth their unique skills and perspectives in front of us. I could not have asked for a better group of contestants and I think I speak for all the judges when I say that ours was a difficult job. Congratulations to Roger Triche, Mr. Texas Leather 2011, and to all the men who competed so admirably.
Having attended IML last year as Jeffrey’s interpreter, I had the chance to observe the contestants and their contest experience in a way that most people don’t get to see. Although my professional code of ethics prevents me from talking about what I saw and heard during the contest, it does create a sense for me of what the contest might be like for the person we send to compete from Texas.
I love judging leather contests – I’m not sure why, since it’s a lot of work, takes a lot of time, and usually requires me to not get drunk (boo) and to get out of bed early (double boo), but for some reason I love the process of identifying and supporting people who will represent us and who will do the work that is required to improve our community and serve as the momentum for forward progress. The interviews and speeches are my favorite part of the contest because that’s when I get to talk to contestants about their individual perspectives and then hear them speak to a large group of people. The ability to engage in personal dialogue about tough topics and the ability to inspire and motivate an audience are the two most powerful tools a titleholder has. When I judge, that’s what I want to see.
If you ask anyone who’s ever judged with me, or who even really knows me at all, they’re gonna tell you that there are three main areas I want to talk to contestants about. First, I want to hear them talk about diversity variables. This can include topics such as sexual orientation, gender identity, play preference, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and age – all of these are “hot topics” in the community, so you can bet that if I’m interviewing you I expect you to be able to speak intelligently about these things. And, to be honest, I’m not looking to see if your opinion is the same as mine – I want to see if you can engage in the conversation thoughtfully and respectfully, and if you can back up your statements with sound reasoning.
Another area I find particularly relevant is education. I want to know what kinds of educational opportunities are available in your community, what you do to help teach people the skills necessary to live Leather (not limited to play skills, people!), and what your vision is for your own educational journey. Above all, I believe a titleholder is an educator, and when I am judging I want to see if you can do that effectively. I would LOVE to see a contest with an education component, where the contestants must give a short educational presentation.
The third area that I find particularly relevant for contestants (especially in men’s contests) is women’s leather history. I’ve always felt strongly about women’s history in our community, but it wasn’t until I witnessed the work of Lamalani (IMSL 2009) and Jeffrey (IML 2009) during their title year. They combined forces to bring the men’s and women’s community together in a way that has never happened before, and the results of that work have been amazing. With that said, their title years are over – it is on the shoulders of incoming titleholders to carry on that work year after year. In any socio-cultural divide, progress and connection requires members of both groups to step out and stand together, and that’s what they did. So when I look at potential titleholders, my bar is set a bit higher than it was before I saw their work.
This weekend at the contest I asked the contestants if they knew who Cynthia Slater was. I know that was kinda out of left field for them, but I figured if any of them had done research on what I might ask, they surely would have heard that I am passionate about leather women (in more ways than one, wink wink). Honestly, I would have been pleasantly surprised if I had gotten an accurate answer — they were stumped, as were some of the other judges in the room. That’s okay in and of itself – I can’t imagine anyone could have predicted what name I would pull out, but the point I was trying to make was that understanding the contributions women have made to this community is more important than knowing the names of women. It is not enough for you to tell me who the first IMSL was, or who the current IMSL is – can you tell me what they’ve done? Because if you will take the time to learn about that, you may find that the culture and community you call home has been shaped and cultivated so much by the brave and powerful women who’ve been a part of it since the beginning.
Start with Cynthia Slater. The short answer is that she co-founded the Society of Janus, which was one of the first organized BDSM groups in America. She’s also one of the first women to be invited into gay men’s play spaces such as the Catacombs, making her a trailblazer in community unity (<—see that? can’t have community without unity). But she did a lot more. A whole lot more. Go read about her.
Yes, Judy Tallwing-McCarthy was the first IMSL. But what did she do? I promise she didn’t get that title and then go home and eat bonbons. In fact, she’s been a mover and a shaker ever since – go learn about her. Do you know about Samois and the work they did to keep pornography legal (yep, even gay men’s porn!)? Do you know who the Blood Sisters were? I could go on and on…
As long as there has been an organized and autonomous leather community, women have been involved; in fact, women are a major reason why the leather community is as strong and vibrant as it is now. That’s why I ask those questions and that’s why I think any man who holds a title should be able to talk about it.
So, if you’re gonna ask me to judge, that’s what I’m going to look for: dialogue about diversity, education, and leather history. All leather history, not just men’s. And if you’re gonna compete, please know who Cynthia Slater was. Please?