Monday 29th May - With Robert Valin at the end of IML 2006
On Sunday 6th August the London Alternative Market raised over £700 GBP ($1300 USD) in just a few hours for the Spanner Trust. Thanks for everyone present for their generous donations. The Trust was on hand to run a stall and I was expecting to give a speech on stage. What I wasn't expecting was to be asked to replace the demo which had been booked, as the performers were ill and had to cancel at the last minute. I suggested that if they found a good rope bondage Top I'd be willing to try some escapology for them - and so I found myself being given just 10 minutes to escape in front of a large crowd. I was well on my way to getting out of the rope when the time ran out. Lots of people remarked afterwards that they are sure I would have managed it if I had been allowed to continue!
Back in May I met Robert Valin (Mr Eagle NYC 2005) in Chicago during International Mr Leather (IML) weekend. Robert is the founder and President of "Leather Invasion", which has been receiving lots of press coverage since forming in New York earlier this year. He kindly agreed to be interviewed for this column:
How did it begin?
I was at The Leather Man store on Christopher Street, New York, lamenting with friends about our trips to Mid-Atlantic Leather in Washington, DC and International Mr Leather (IML) in Chicago, which we'd attend annually. There's such a strong sense of bonding and family at these events, that going to them and seeing all our friends was, for me, like coming home at Christmas. Nothing like that existed here. I've always longed for a strong sense of family and community. That's the driving force behind this; creating family for others who yearn for it as well.
Can anyone come along?
Absolutely! The best thing about the Invasions is that it gives everyone the opportunity to socialize with others they might not get to know under "normal" circumstances. The events we choose appeal to as broad an audience as possible. We want to get different people interacting with one another, which is often quite difficult in a noisy bar or club environment.
How are you funded?
At the moment I'm funded through my wallet, though I'm fortunate to have the help of friends and family. Contributions and support are always welcome and we're working towards achieving Not-For-Profit status in the near future.
What places have you invaded so far?
In NYC we've invaded MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art), Wollman Ice Skating Rink in Central Park, IKEA, the "Warm Up" Outdoor Dance series at MoMA's P.S.1, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a leather picnic on the Christopher Street Piers, and the list continues to grow with an average of two events each month. Since we started doing Invasions back in February, many bars and clubs have started leather/ fetish nights as well, and the scene has really picked up. One of my goals with Leather Invasion is to help put NYC back on the map as a premier leather travel destination, and helping other cities do the same.
Do you have any anecdotes you can share about things that have happened as the result of an invasion?
At MoMA people thought we were part of an art installation, while others thought we were security guards (imagine that!). At IKEA, we were greeted with our own private tour guide, filmed for a documentary, and serenaded by a Mariachi band while eating Swedish meatballs in their cafeteria! It seems as if no matter where we go, we're greeted with open arms. People always smile when they see us, and want to have their photos taken with us (how often do you see 50+ men and women in full leathers in a museum, home furnishings store, or ice-skating in chaps?).
The best thing is that it's created a dialogue showing people how diverse we all really are, and yet how we're all really one. We want to demystify the preconceptions of what the general population believes leather to be, while helping educate others through our presence.
In an age where the internet is often blamed for the death of leather bars around the world, why do you think that Leather Invasion is so popular?
Though the internet is an amazingly useful tool, I believe people are becoming bored from a lack of one-on-one interpersonal interaction. They're hungry for real connection and change. We've become a culture of isolation and instant gratification where you can get anything from a book to a blow job without ever leaving your home. People loved the idea of getting out from behind their computer screens and getting off the internet instead of just "getting off" over the internet. We're helping to move leather out of the confines of their desks and dark bars and into the public light. I also think the shock value of seeing so many people in full out leather/ fetish gear in a public space has a lot to do with it. So many friendships and relationships have started through our outings. That makes me feel great!
Do you know of any Invasions in other cities? (I've heard of one in Chicago)
Yes, my friend Doug O'Keefe, along with the Chicago Leather Kennel Club, has picked up the ball there and is planning on doing more. Miami and Ft. Lauderdale in Florida have as well. I'm planning on visiting San Francisco for Folsom Street Fair in September and hopefully organizing an Invasion on Alcatraz at night. That's something I've been fantasizing about for quite some time now. How HOT would THAT be?!
If people want to set one up in their town, can they contact you for help?
It would be a dream come true for other cities to embrace these concepts, taking advantage of their own cultural resources while building community, so most definitely! I'd be honoured to help in any way I can. I can be emailed at rvalin (at) leatherinvasion.com
Good luck - let me know how you get on!
Have fun, look after yourselves and the people you play with.
International Mr Leather 2003