Photo credit: Kinkinprint.com
I attended two major leather events in February. The first was on Saturday 19th when I co-hosted the Mr Hoist 2005 contest in London. 15 contestants went up on stage to try to win a £1000 ($1900 USD) prize. A week later I flew to Dallas, Texas, to help teach a couple of SM classes at South Plains Leatherfest. It was a very well organised event and it will take a while to process everything I learned there.
I published two web columns last year giving some advice to leather contestants and contest winners. I thought that would be all I had to say on the subject, but as we approach IML 2005 I've received some questions by email which weren't answered in either of those columns. Here are my replies so that any help or hindrance I provided is available to everyone online. They come with the usual disclaimers:
Regardless of the public face of the contest, is IML a contest in which social/ political activism matters? How many of the contestants spoke about real community issues?
From what I could see, almost all the contestants who made the top 20 in the last two years had broad experience of the leather community (not just the contest system), had identified some faults and had desires to make changes if they won the title. The IML entry forms in 2003 asked you to list your community involvement and the leather clubs you belonged to. Each top 20 contestant had organisations or causes they supported, which were often reflected in their speeches.
I want to enter IML but my experience with leather contests is very limited. I've only been to one contest in Canada, two local contests and IML six times.
Well, that's eight more contests than I had attended before entering IML! I hadn't attended a single leather contest outside of the Hoist, and that's just a bar night where you climb up on a table and heckle the crowd. There's no speech, no interview and no change of clothes. However, once I'd won the Mr Hoist I was given lots of good advice so that I was as prepared as I could be for the IML weekend.
I want to enter my local contest, which is held in a bar but they don't have a speech round. How can it be a true qualifier for IML?
If it's a bar night you'll need to be spectacularly good to hold the crowd's attention with a speech. We didn't have a speech at the Mr Hoist - just comedy questions such as "What's the best sex you've ever had?" It works much the same way: it shows who can use a microphone, tell a story, make the crowd laugh and be a good orator without killing the night stone dead.
Photo credit: Kinkinprint.com
What leather should I take to IML?
IML is NOT a fashion parade. They are looking for an ambassador for our community, not a clothes model. I only took a few key pieces of leather to IML: 1 pair of leather jeans, 1 pair of breeches, 1 pair of chaps, 1 black leather shirt for leather image, 1 coloured leather shirt for the speech round, 1 leather waistcoat, 1 leather jacket, Muir cap, Sam Browne, gloves, a black leather jockstrap and 2 pairs of boots (lace up and knee high). However, I made sure that I wore my leathers the whole week - even at the show rehearsals. It is far more important that you spend your time learning about international leather issues, sexually transmitted infections, "social" drug use, leather community history, SM education, past IML winners - and then putting what you've learned into practise with charity work, fundraising or volunteering.
Wow . . . that was just "a few key pieces"? Your answer makes me feel like this is a rich man's pursuit.
You think all those items of leather belonged to me? You just have to make them LOOK like they belong to you. Better to buy leathers second hand, or borrow leathers that have already been broken in, than buy new leathers for the contest and look like a complete beginner. The guys who had outfitted themselves with thousands of dollars of new leathers just before IML did NOT make the top 20. It was amazing to see some guys hobbling at the final because they were wearing new boots which hadn't been broken in before the contest!
I come from a small town with a limited leather community. How can I prepare for IML?
Are you online? As long as you have access to the internet you can do all the research you need for IML. Why should living in a small town stop you from forming an opinion about services for HIV+ AND HIV- people, for instance, or the argument between single sex vs. mixed sex play spaces?
Regardless of how much money is in the IML travel fund, my vacation time is limited so that I could only attend perhaps 6 to 10 events during the year. Is that all there is to IML?
Absolutely not. You could travel full time for one year (I tried) and still not scratch the surface of the international community you're meant to be representing. How good are you with email, websites, writing letters and conducting phone interviews? How about monthly columns online and in print? Sending pictures of yourself to fundraisers that you can't attend? Networking with lobbying organisations? Contacting health projects and community campaigns and offering any assistance from your home town? There's a lot more to IML than turning up at events and shaking hands, although that is a key part of the job.
I've read your website - is there anything else I can do to prepare for IML?
Photo credit: Kinkinprint.com
I've won a qualifying place at IML 2005. What sort of images should I publish online in the run up to the contest?
I'm a switch, which means I like to be top and bottom at different times. My online pictures before winning Mr Hoist reflected this. In the run up to IML someone recommended that I remove any submissive pictures from the web, "because it's harder for the community to believe that a bottom could be a leader". Having met some great boys, slaves and puppies on my travels I know that submissives can be good leaders. However, I followed the advice and I won the contest. You must do whatever your heart tells you. Having won IML I now take great delight in being myself at events and online as much as possible, however much that screws with people's expectations!
What are the drawbacks of competing at IML, then living with the title?
In my case: having constant jet lag. Giving up my salary for a year (thank you, partner David). Giving up a Harley Davidson (I must be nuts). Having to listen to criticism about every event and person in the leather community. People getting upset that they didn't get more than 3 minutes of my time (join the queue). People sending aggressive emails because of something I said or didn't say in a speech.
What is 'reasonable' accomplishment for the IML titleholder?
Follow your heart. Do as much as you can without compromising your health, your home or your partner. Realise that you don't *need* a title to accomplish anything.
I hope that helps.
International Mr Leather 2003