Friday 28th January - the Mr Chicago Leather "Meet & Greet" at Touché
Photo credit: Chuck Goes
On Friday 27th January I flew to Chicago to MC the Mr Chicago Leather Contest at Touché for the third year in a row. This year we had eight contestants from very varied backgrounds. The contest promoters made sure that everyone involved in the contest felt extremely looked after. Special thanks go to Michael, our sign language interpreter for the weekend, from the Chicago Hearing Society. He managed to keep up with all my ad-libs and audience participation and did a fantastic job.
January is also the month when the next group of IML judges are announced. I don't think it would be appropriate to interview one of the upcoming judges, so instead I contacted one of last year's team: Daniel Dumont. As well as being a good friend, Daniel is also President of MSC Belgium, a leather club which has seen its membership rise by 70% over the last three years. As with all community-minded people Daniel is extremely busy, but he still managed to find the time to say a few words:
My favourite IML memories are of the camaraderie that grew up between the judges, and the connections that were made between guys there.
Please can you explain what MSC Belgium is, for anyone who doesn't know?
MSC stands for "Motor Sports Club" and MSC Belgium's origins in the early 1970s were as a gay motorbike club. Today, the club has broadened its aims to organise fetish/ social events for gay and bisexual men in Belgium. The club creates solidarity between its members (and would-be members) by giving them opportunities to meet away from the commercial gay scene and to offer support (financial and moral) to members and others with HIV.
How many members does MSC Belgium have, and what area does your membership cover?
At the end of 2005, the club had 88 members, 80% of whom live in Belgium. The rest are based in neighbouring countries (France, Luxembourg, Germany, UK, etc.) and we even have two US-based members, one in San Francisco and one in Atlanta.
What are the club's membership requirements?
Members must be gay or bisexual men aged over 18 who can respect the club's strict dress code (leather, rubber and uniforms) at club events. At our members' request, we insist on our strict dresscode at all club events, even dinners at downtown restaurants.
Some of our members have motorbikes, and the club hosts regular bike runs in the warmer months of the year, as well as sending participants to the annual ECMC bike run.
How often do you meet?
We have a long-standing monthly meeting in Brussels' gay leather bar on the first Friday of each month. This year, we have also been invited to join in a monthly "Leathermen meet Leatherbears" evening on the last Sunday of each month. It's hairy and hot!
March 2004 - John and Daniel at Blegny-Trembleur Mine & Museum
Photo credit: Dave Harris
The day-to-day running of the club is in the hands of the club council: there is an annual general meeting where members can ask questions and examine the club accounts. We like to make sure that all the members of the club will participate in the life of the club, so we have a trial period for applicant members where we invite them to attend a few club events so the members can get to know them. Then, if they are formally sponsored by two council members, they can become full members.
At a time when most leather clubs are losing members why do you think MSC Belgium has remained popular?
My personal belief is that the purpose of MSC Belgium is to organise fetish events that will attract like-minded guys. I'm pretty sure that our strict dresscode attracts more guys than it deters, and, as we are not a business, we can enforce a stricter dresscode than any commercial bar or club. Most of our local "leather" bars and clubs have relaxed their dresscodes to maximise their profits, and this means there is a considerable number of guys who are a bit disillusioned with the commercial scene and so are attracted to our club's events. Over the last three years, our membership has grown and grown, so we must be doing something right!
MSC Belgium has invited three similar clubs from other European countries to join you for a "Germanish weekend" in Liege from 31 March - 2 April this year. I went to your "Italian weekend" in Liege in March 2004 (click here for my diary) and had a lot of fun. What's happening this year?
This year, our guest clubs are LMC Vienna (Austria), Nürnberger Leder Club (Germany) and Loge 70 Zurich (Switzerland). We chose the title "Germanish" ("somewhat German") for the weekend to recognise that they are all German-speaking without necessarily being German.
Most guys arrive on Friday afternoon and we take them out in small groups to eat and do some sight-seeing in the historic old city before the welcome party at "The Chap's", Liège's leather club. After a late breakfast the next morning, we've hired a coach to go and visit a couple of local breweries: one run by Benedictine monks and one a modern microbrewery. Then it's back to the hotel for a rest before a gala dinner in full fetish gear at one of the city's most well-known restaurants. Then the main party at "The Chap's", which usually finishes as dawn is breaking. We round things off with a brunch on Sunday before saying goodbye to our guests and collapsing into a heap!
Our special guests this year include the current IML, Michael Egdes, and Thomas Schoch (Mr Fetish Switzerland 2004 and second runner up at IML 2004). Also there will be Roberto Menichetti (Mr Leather Europe 2004 and IML 2005 finalist), Christian Roger (Mr Leather Europe 2005) and Philippe Lépine (Mr Fetish Switzerland 2006), who are all members of MSC Belgium.
May 2005 - Daniel addressing the contestants backstage at IML
Photo credit: Dave Harris
What else does MSC Belgium have planned for 2006?
Just before the Germanish weekend we've been invited to visit our guests Nürnberger Leder Club in Germany, then some of our biker members will be leading the Belgian Lesbian & Gay Pride march in Brussels in May.
Then, for the first time, we will have two club members as IML contestants in Chicago in May. You'll be able to spot the MSC Belgium delegation at IML by their brand-new club uniforms.
Later in the summer we have our traditional club barbecue where would-be members and recently-elected members are introduced to the members over an outdoor dinner. In the autumn, our delegates will head for Oslo in Norway for this year's ECMC meeting, and we'll round off the year with our traditional Slave Market in aid of the club's HIV Solidarity Fund.
Finally, John as a titbit of breaking news for you, I'm very pleased to announce that there will be a Mr Leather Bear Belgium 2006 contest!
I like the sound of that. Best wishes for all your club's events.
Thanks, John. For updates on our activities throughout the year please go to www.mscbelgium.be
Have fun, look after yourselves and the people you play with.
International Mr Leather 2003