Relaxing in Hawaii, June 2004
Photo credit: Dave Harris
I mentioned in my IML step-down speech that although I'm happy to travel to leather events to teach SM or emcee leather contests, I don't want to do any more contest judging. It's hard work being a judge: you have to get up early on Saturday morning for contestant interviews (not fun if you've travelled from the UK and are heavily jet lagged), you can't drink alcohol until the contest is over, and no matter what the outcome someone in the audience is going to bitch about you afterwards.
Since I don't intend to be a judge for the foreseeable future here are some notes I made during contests over the last year. These come with four large disclaimers:
MEET AND GREETS
This advice covers every occasion after the judges and contestants have been announced when they might be at the same leather gathering. The contestants need to do three things:
Although this is unlikely to be an official judged event with scorecards, the judges will still be watching you very closely.
First of all, please wear some leather to your contestant interviews. I have lost count of the number of contestants who turned up in boots, jeans and a white t-shirt saying: "I was told to wear something comfortable" or even worse: "I was told to be myself"! This is a job interview for the position of leather titleholder. When has a job interview ever been relaxing? Treat this interview as if it's another "leather image" round. It makes it very difficult to ask contestants questions about the leather they're wearing if they're not wearing any.
Other tips to make a good impression:
One of the worst things you can do in your interview is say something that the judges know not to be true. For instance, claiming to be a member of a leather club when you're not (or worse, claiming to be a member of a leather club which doesn't exist), saying you don't have the support of your local community when actually they threw an event for you and you didn't show up, or claiming to have won a contest when someone else won.
Other things NOT to say in a leather contest interview:
Photo credit: Dave Harris
At IML this round is called "Pecs and Personality" putting even more emphasis on charisma over muscularity.
Have good posture. Put your shoulders back. Smile. Look like you're enjoying being on stage. Have bright, alert eyes. Play to the crowd and make sure you give a beaming smile to the judges and photographers. Be confident.
The following can help your appearance: a good haircut, contact lenses rather than glasses, a tan, a little bit of baby oil rubbed over bare skin, some sport or fitness regime.
The basic leather outfit for a physique round is a leather jockstrap (or black leather shorts) and black leather boots. Make sure the jockstrap fits and is not too tight or too loose. The boots should be polished and complement your legs. If your socks are visible they should be masculine and go with your boots. You can wear a few black leather accessories (for example wrist cuffs or half harness) if you want but avoid fancy dress, rubber, Lycra/ Spandex or chain mail. The more you wear the more it looks as if you have something to hide.
There is a difference between bouncy and camp. Try not to dance to the music, wiggle your hips, sashay across the stage, curtsy or flap your hands. WARNING: some bodybuilding poses can make you look stupid.
I'm not a big fan of this round. I've only faced it once as a contestant - at IML 2003 - and in the whole of my year as IML I wasn't asked again about kitchen utensils! I've had to write many "humorous" questions as a judge. In my opinion, it doesn't really matter what you say as long as you are confident, funny, and don't offend the judges with your answer. It also helps to adjust the microphone stand to the right height for you, and have some stage presence.
If you are worried that you won't be able to think of a funny answer, try preparing short anecdotes in response to the following three questions: "What's the wildest sex you've ever had?", "What's the most embarrassing sex you've ever had?" and "Have you ever had any sex-related injuries?". You should be able to work at least one of those anecdotes into your answer. I'm sure if you start your reply with "That reminds me of the time when my boyfriend was trying to insert a pineapple into my arse, my mum walked in and she had to take me to the emergency room ..." the audience will be laughing so hard they won't care what the question was.
This is the opposite of the physique round. That was about wearing as little leather as possible. This round is about full body coverage: leather cap, shirt, Sam Browne, gloves, jeans or breeches, knee high boots - put it all on! I gave an exception for submissives who had their own formal uniform, (for example collar, vest, shorts and boots).
I gave more marks to people whose outfit wouldn't offend a traditional or "Old Guard" member of the community.
I dropped marks for people who looked like they were on their way to a circuit party (bare chest, half harness and arm bands), or whose leather looked like it didn't belong on them (too baggy, too tight or too new). This is only my opinion: I also dropped a lot of marks to people who were wearing items of rubber, Lycra/ Spandex, denim, neoprene etc. The round is called LEATHER image. One of the reasons why our community started wearing leather was that it was durable enough to protect you while riding a motorbike and lasted long enough to be passed down from one generation to the next, gathering symbolic value along the way. I favoured contestants who seemed to understand those traditions.
Here I gave marks for presentation and content. I'll deal with presentation first:
'ME' speeches tend to be delivered by people new to the community and are all about what the contestant has learned so far. For instance: "I dedicate this speech to my great mentor and friend who taught me so much ...", "The leather community is a wonderful place and I belong here ...", "This is what being a Sir (or boy) means to me ...", "I'm so glad to be here, this is such a great experience ...", "Please pick me because I have so much to offer ...", "I am a leatherman because ...", "Let me tell you about my journey ..."
'COMMUNITY' speeches tend to be delivered by leatherfolk who've been around long enough to realise that we have some problems, for example crystal meth use, the rise in barebacking and HIV transmission, pansexuality vs. single sex playspaces, ageism, lack of good SM education or the need for more mentoring.
I normally gave more marks to someone who identified a problem within our community than someone who just talked about themselves. However, I gave even more marks to someone who identified a problem and outlined a solution. For instance: "... and as a community we need to do X, Y and Z to combat this problem." That's what being a titleholder is all about. Someone who points out problems with no solutions is only doing half the job.
Photo credit: Dave Harris
If you didn't place as highly as you had hoped please email the judges and ask (politely) if they have any feedback for you. Be wary about criticism from your friends or members of the local community, there is no way they can know what was going on inside the minds of the judges. And if you do get a response from a judge, don't then engage him or her in endless further discussion. It's not compulsory to answer such questions and a couple of bad post-mortem experiences will be enough to make them clam up for ever.
There's more advice for contestants in The Leather Contest Guide by Guy Baldwin, published by Daedalus Publishing company (ISBN 1-881943-08-9). However, this was published in 1993 so some of the information (for instance on airport security) is now out of date.
International Mr Leather 2003