Being IML - March 2004

John sitting on his Harley Davidson at the Leather Archives and Museum, February 2004
Sitting on my Harley Davidson at last, Feb '04.

Before competing at IML I hadn't attended any large leather events in the United States. My only exposure to leather identities were the few names I'd heard in Europe for submissives (boy, bottom, sub or slave) or Dominants (Sir/ Master/ Top/ Dom). I'd also only heard these names used during role play or between couples in a D/s relationship. So you can imagine my bewilderment when I started touring leather events in America and read biographies in the programme like the fictional one that follows:

'Lord Master Daddy Emperor' is a 32 year old m/f prodomme, butch, bisexual, polyamourous switch and sadistic Sir who plays pansexually, and combines deep Old Guard traditions with New Guard values, Avant Guard cooking and Right Guard deodorant. He has been training boys in the BDSM Leather Fetish Kink lifestyle since the womb; first by practising knots with his umbilical cord and then creating a dungeon space in his crib. He is a member of the NLA, CHC, GMSMA, DMV and IMTU*. He has two boys, a slave, a slavette, a Gorean slave, a puppy, a lover, three boyfriends in training, a mentor, a wife, an ex-wife, three collared submissives, and his boys each have a slave and a puppy. He is currently single.

(* IMTU = I Made This Up)

Suddenly I was greeted by people who used scene names I'd not heard before, such as slavette, grrl, boi, pup, puppy, Daddy, Mama and Goddess. Some people had BDSM personas, perhaps more than one depending on what subject they were teaching, or used titles that I associated with the opposite gender (e.g. female "Daddies" and "Sirs"). Some arrived with an entourage of boys, girls, acolytes, slaves and ex-slaves that they were in the process of training. I had no idea how to fit in to the hierarchy: is IML higher than a boy but less than a Sir? Whom do I call Master? Can I get away with just being "John from London"?

The more questions I asked the more complicated it got. It doesn't help that the titles are used in many different ways, for instance:

Not only are leather identities a source of confusion, they are also a source of conflict when two people meet who use titles in different ways. I was at one event where a Top asked a boy to call him "Sir" but the boy replied "With respect, I am a boy but you are not my Sir". The Top then replied, "You want me to keep calling you boy but you're not allowed to call me Sir?!"

Other examples of potential conflict include:

It's almost impossible trying to navigate the BDSM community and remember what title people would like to be called and the way in which they would like that title to be used. I have four suggestions that might help the situation:

Photo of cat with a sash
Finally (and this has bugged me all year) why do we have people identifying as pups and puppies in our community and no CATS or KITTENS? After all, cats have personalities too. They are aloof, superior, only come to you when they want to be petted or fed, don't guard your house or fetch things for you, act as if they own the place ... then I realised that our community is FULL of kitty play - they're leather contest titleholders!!!

Have fun, and look after yourselves and the people you play with.

John Pendal
International Mr Leather 2003

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