A few weeks ago I flew to America to host the Mr Chicago Leather contest at Touché for a sixth consecutive year. It's a fun bar and the standard of contestants is always very high. This year the theme was "Celebrating the Misters", and we invited some of the men who've won Mr Chicago Leather to explain the community work they've been involved in since winning their title. Their efforts include raising money for people living with HIV, helping to educate potential contestants about the contest system, and fighting for equal rights in law for same-sex couples. This year's winner has a lot to live up to.
I'm fascinated by the unique things our leather community has created, proving that we are a distinct entity with our own culture. One area of particular interest for me is that of "collared relationships". There are as many different kinds of collared relationships as there are people in them: some people are married to their collared partner, whereas others keep a strict separation between romantic and SM relationships. Some people find they can only maintain one collared relationship at a time, others have more than one 'Sir' or a family of collared submissives. Some people wear a collar part-time, others have a formal written contract drawn up or a permanent mark added to their body. Some people think collared relationships provide "opportunities for obedience" ... and some of us think obedience is best attempted by other people.
In the absence of a committee setting worldwide standards for our community (thank goodness) each of us is left to find our own path. But sometimes hearing other people's stories can be helpful, so here are replies from six volunteers who answered the question: "What does being collared mean to you?" I gave no guidelines for the answers and allowed each contributor to take their response in whichever direction they desired.
"When Tony collared me, I actually was fairly unclear on exactly what it all meant. While I am very much an experienced BDSM player, I never saw myself ever being in a D/s relationship. But with Tony it was all different. I immediately knew I wanted to be his boy, despite the fact that I had no idea of what I was getting into. I only knew that I trusted him completely and that I had this almost primal need to commit myself to his service as intensely as I could. Our relationship is a long distance one, and the collar I wear is one of my few constant physical connections I have with him. When we are together he changes the locks from one I have a key to, to one I don't. When we part, switching back to where I can unlock the collar is always a very sad moment for me. While I only take the collar off when I absolutely must (like TSA checkpoints), there is still a huge emotional difference between a lock I may control and one only he can. At first I thought being collared would grant a certain level of protection - but there are painfully few guys on the scene that show proper respect for the collar. From a social perspective it is a symbol whose meaning seems lost on most people, even in the leather community. But on a personal level, it is an important constant reminder of my devotion to him, and of the continuity in our community - the collar I now wear was Tony's when he was a boy."
Derek da Silva, 41, Chicago
Mr Chicago Leather 2009
"Whenever anyone asks me what it means to be collared, one memory instantly leaps to mind. Immediately after our collaring ceremony in Feb '07, the friend who presided over the ceremony gave Sir the key for my eternity bracelet and the key for the padlock on my leather collar with the words 'these, and her, belong to you'. For me this sums up what it is to be collared in the most simple of ways. It is a commitment, my pledge to serve Him to the best of my ability, to be totally honest and open with Him at all times, to make Him as happy as I physically can; and His pledge to look after me, protect me, and nurture me. For us it was a very deep and significant commitment - the ceremony itself was like a wedding, with vows and readings. That feeling of being owned, totally and utterly, is there with me 24/7, and nothing compares to the secure, warm feeling I get from that knowledge."
redflame, 22, United Kingdom
"i was collared to Master Barry of Chicago from September 2001 until His death on April 1, 2005. i was Master Barry's bootblack, and wore His collar and lock at all times. It gave me an enormous sense of peace, security, and sexual pleasure to be His property. Master Barry had a boy#1, who also wore His collar and lock. boy#1 was Master Barry's primary relationship. i was His secondary relationship. When Master Barry collared me, i spoke privately with boy#1 and promised that i would do nothing that would damage his relationship with Master Barry. boy#1 and i remain close to this day, and consider ourselves to be family. None of the three of us lived together. Master Barry lived in the Chicago suburbs, boy#1 lives in the city of Chicago, and i'm in Toronto - in a different country. There was no contract or prewritten time line. There were a few understandings that we had. For example, Master Barry owned black the bootblack. He did not own my alter ego, Ian the Top. With His permission, Ian the Top went out to play occasionally. Those three and a half years were extraordinarily rewarding. I miss Master Barry terribly."
black, 62, Toronto, Canada
Another form of service: six Mr Chicago Leathers together - (L to R) Sir Joee Arteaga (2004), Jeff Willougby (2005), Rob Czar (2006), (2009), Freddie Marshall (2008) and Chuck Windemuth (1991)
"In my view being collared means a formal acknowledgement and commitment, by both my Master and me, to willingly journey down a path of obedience together. My Master commits to provide personal growth and connection through opportunities for obedience while I commit to follow through with obedience and, in doing so, provide growth and connection for my Master as well."
slave pug, 42, Upland, California
"Leather, chain and steel collars are all very well but the one that it is the most important to me is the mental one that i have at all times, given to me through love, adoration, worship and desire for my Sir. It never rusts, rots or tarnishes but darkly shines and has a reassuring weight for both of us."
ska, 36, Hampshire, United Kingdom
"Being collared gives me a sense of belonging and acceptance from my dominant or, in my current case, my partner. Whilst not having a collar may give you the freedom to explore and be wild, the safety and security I find in it gives me inner strength. The knowledge that someone cared and loved me enough to put it on me to show the world that s/he has possession of this person and you had better not mess with them. It also gives me a sense of protection. Knowing that my dominant will not let anything happen to me that is in their power to prevent or protect me against. I would say my collar is part of my soul and being."
boy ed, 44, Dallas, Texas
Have fun, look after yourselves and the people you play with.
International Mr Leather 2003