I have a favour to ask. Does anyone here have a stopwatch on them? Because I don't have a watch on me and I'm going to go for the record this evening. When any journalists here write this up I'd like them to give an accurate time. So if you're all ready?
Thanks to Brett from Chicago for the outfit
Photo credit: Dave Harris
Believe it or not I've not done an IML step-down speech before so I had a look at some of the previous IMLs to find out what they did, and some of them brought a prop out on stage. For instance, Steven Webber brought out the Texas flag, and you may be wondering what prop I've brought with me. Well, in solidarity with another European IML I've brought The Stefan Mueller Songbook.
[I held up a copy of the "book". Huge cheer from the crowd: applause, wolf whistles, the lot.]
Don't worry, he didn't give it to me. I stole it from him. Because no IML should ever be allowed to sing!
Can you believe it was a year ago that I was having my contestant interview and making some fairly outrageous claims of what I'd do if I won, safe in the knowledge that no skinny white British guy would ever go on to win IML?
I knew that it was the 25th anniversary year of the competition, and if somebody wanted to win they would have to have a large manifesto. So I said that if I won I would: give up my job, try to travel to more countries than any IML had been to before, try and cross-pollinate all the communities and share what was best about them, and I would document it all on the web.
Hmmm .. did I achieve that?
Well the first one, giving up my job, turned out to be the easy part because my employers were watching the contest on the web. As soon as I won they started processing a sabbatical for me ... and it was quite widely reported in the press that I was on sabbatical. Unfortunately it didn't quite pan out the way we intended and for the last few months I've been unemployed, so now I have to look for a new job. But that did enable me to go travelling full-time for one year. Which means that tonight I can bring you personal greetings from every city that I visited during the year.
[Cheers and applause .. up to the point where I said:]
And I'm going to do it!!!
Dave [my partner] has listened to this speech many times and every time I've listed a different number of cities, so I probably won't get them all. But here's where I've been in alphabetical order.
Now I know what you're thinking. This is going to take longer than a roll call of titleholders in a bar in San Francisco. So I'm going to ask for your assistance: when I call out a city if you're from that area you can cheer but please keep it short.
You can just see the 2004 finalists waiting in the wings to come onstage. It's going to be a long wait!
Photo credit: Dave Harris
So that's my year although I know I've missed at least one ... oh, that's right. Anyone here from CHICAGO? [Biggest cheer of any city] I think I came to Chicago almost as much as I went to London. I was here for the Pantheon Awards, Cellblock Leatherfest, Mr Chicago Leather, both IMLs ...
Part of what I said I'd do is not just go to these places but also share what was the best from each community and the projects that are happening there. I've been doing that on my website all year: www.iml2003.com - but I also want to generalise a bit and say what America can learn from Europe and what Europe can learn from America.
So what can Europe learn from America? You have a deep and wonderful leather community here, that's so well developed you have lots of events away from commercial bars and nightclubs and alcohol. For example the Leather Leadership Conference, Dungeon 801, the Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M), bike runs, play parties, bondage clubs all happening away from bars. You also have leather social groups - some cities have six leather clubs or more. And you have events with hundreds or thousands of people coming along. Part of the reason for that is because in one continent you pretty much have one shared language and one currency, so you can come together easily.
In Europe if we want to hold a leather event and attract thousands people from all over the continent we'd need a lot more than just a sign language interpreter (who, by the way, is doing a fantastic job). [Applause for the interpreter] We'd need at least eight translators just to cover the major languages like French, German, Spanish, Italian etc. and that's not including Estonian, Russian, Swedish ... we'd need so many interpreters it doesn't make huge events viable. If we have pan-European events they are basically huge parties with bars. Nice as that is, it doesn't give us the cultural depth you have here in America. But we are going to get there one day. We are going to have our European branch of the LA&M. We are going to have BDSM educational events that unite more than one country. And when that happens, we need to learn from America how you do it. I hope you'll help us.
I'm getting into my stride now...
Photo credit: Dave Harris
And what can America learn from Europe? Over there we only hold, on average, ten leather contests a year and they're feeders for IML. It's not considered "an essential part of your leather journey". If you want to be a Spanner Trustee, or teach SM, or be a volunteer, you just go and do it. In America I've lost count of the number of times I've heard that before you can do any of that stuff you have to get a leather title first. Or "You see that guy over there? He's been volunteering in our community for years but he'll never get the recognition he deserves because he doesn't have a title." That's terrible. I think we need to value people for the work that they do and not the title they hold.
A month ago I was privileged to emcee the Mr Chicago Leather contest. And I asked the organisers if we could hold a roll call of NON-titleholders. The crowd in the bar thought it was funny and a bit of a joke until the twelve people came up on stage and we realised how much volunteering those twelve people had done. I made them a symbolic representation of every volunteer that's ever gone unrecognised because they don't have a title and the crowd went wild.
The next time you're having an event, instead of having a roll call of titleholders so that they get another free round of applause - consider having a roll call of volunteers.
So that was the big stuff. Now how has the year affected me personally? I started off arrogantly assuming that I was an SM player. Part of my contestant interview was about the SM workshops I'd attended and was I a player? So I assumed that as I'd won IML I must be good at SM. Then I started coming to some of the BDSM events over here and I realised that I wasn't even on the starting block. So I spent the rest of the year playing catch-up!
[I've had to make another small edit here. Really, you should have been there.]
For that I have to thank some incredible Dominants that I've met over the year. There are too many to list them all but I would like to pick a few names to thank them for taking this little scared guy and giving him his first experiences in things beyond what we do in the UK. That would be Sebastian, Scott, Mitch, Jeff, Joe, Chuck ... You'll notice these people don't go by titles such as Master, Lord, Emperor, Daddy - because they let their skills speak for themselves. Besides which, when they come crashing into your room to do a take down and catch you by surprise there's not a lot of time for protocol!
[At this point I looked above me and to the sides of the stage]
You know, now would be a good time to catch me unawares so I'm getting nervous.
[I looked up again]
Yes, one of them does abseil.
[The audience fell silent. Tumbleweed rolled past me onstage. I couldn't work out why that joke had died. At the end of the speech I left the stage and all the stage crew asked "What the hell is abseiling?" I didn't realise that in America it's called "rappeling". Apologies to everyone who was confused.]
It's not just the Dominants this year who have taught me. I've learned an enormous amount from the submissives I've met as well. There is nothing more beautiful in our community than a well trained submissive. Especially when they come up to you, present themselves on one knee, one hand behind their back, and they say "I see you haven't had a chance to go to the bar for a few hours, so I took the liberty of buying you a drink!"
Again the list of submissives I've met is too long, but I would like to nominate some as examples. That would be slave pug, boy ric, boy ed and boy dan. You have taught me this year that submissives have just as much power to change things in our community and to be leaders as the Dominants. You've also taught me that you don't need to be gay, or male, or have a masculine sensibility to have the heart of a leatherman - and for that I thank you.
Joined onstage by Tammie Nelson, IMsL 2003
Photo credit: Dave Harris
There's somebody else who has impressed me greatly this year. She has followed a travel schedule just as gruelling as mine, even when the airline has lost her luggage or she's turned up on crutches. She is the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom's Volunteer Co-ordinator. She is the President of NLA Indianapolis. She is Great Lakes Ms Leather Pride 2002 and the current International Ms Leather! Please welcome TAMMIE NELSON!
[Tammie hobbled onstage on crutches. Big hugs, photos, applause.]
You can tell that we're a married couple because we're seen everywhere together and we never have sex!
Tammie: "Not that I didn't try! ... I don't have very long tonight because John actually told me that if I talked too long he'd shove me off the stage! He wants his time tonight and he's deserved it. I want to thank you John for being my brother, my friend, my role model, my inspiration and the best IML that I have ever known."
"I'm very upset to be losing my husband tonight but I know that I'm getting a new one at the end of this contest, and he's got big shoes to fill. You've been so much help and support to me this year that I thank you, and I love you."
[At this point I was getting choked up, so I did a very British thing and insulted her]
Thank you, now get off the stage!
[Tammie hobbled off]
I've only got a minute or so left so a few quick thank yous. I promise it won't be like the Oscars:
Okay, I'd better wrap this up. A lot of people have asked what I'm going to be doing when I'm not the current IML any more. (I'll always be an IML, just not the current one.) So I'm still going to help with fundraisers, I will still attend events. I'm not so keen on being a judge any more if that's okay with you. I don't mind being an emcee though, because you get to drink, you get to sleep in on Saturday mornings and you get to vent onstage!
I'm also passionate about supporting SM events and SM education. So if you're having an event and you need some help let me know and I'll see what I can do.
I'm also going to keep campaigning for the Spanner Trust. In the UK it's currently illegal to cause or receive any injuries for sexual pleasure which are more than "transient or trifling", which makes many SM activities illegal, and the Spanner Trust is campaigning to change the law. (For more information read my column about the Trust's work.) On the May 18th I became a trustee of the Spanner Trust. Well, they offered me a job which was hard work with no pay and I thought: "I can do that!"
I am going to finish now because tonight is not about me, it's about the next guy. I would love to stand here and tell you about the Revise F65 Project in Norway, about Vagevuur in the Netherlands, about Magnet in the heart of San Francisco. I would love to tell you more about the work of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, about the Leather Leadership Conference, about all the good things that are going on round the world. But I've had all year to talk about that, and I will carry on doing so through my website: www.iml2003.com
I started this speech by saying that I wanted to break a record. I didn't tell you which record it was. It was "the speech delivered in the best British accent". I hope you feel that I succeeded in that record and that I also represented you honourably for the last twelve months.
International Mr Leather 2003
Copyright © John Pendal 2004. All Rights Reserved.
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Seven weeks later Tammie Nelson stepped down at IMsL 2004 in Omaha. I wasn't able to attend, so I asked Jason Hendrix (IML 2004) to read out the following message:
I'm sorry that I couldn't be with you today, especially after you turned up in a wheelchair to MY step-down!
Out of all the people I've met in the last year, YOU have impressed and inspired me the most. You have followed a travel schedule as punishing as mine despite chronic knee pain and an airline losing your luggage. You've turned up on crutches or made a five hour journey after a full day's work just to honour a promise, and never once have I heard you complain.
On the other hand, I know that you've heard me complain! You've allowed me to let off steam on more than one occasion, and you've always listened without judgement and kept my confidence. Once, you even made sure that the rules of an event were changed so that a situation which had upset me would not occur again.
I would just like Jason to tell the story of how you and I first met. You were a nervous contestant at IMsL and I was enjoying dinner with Jon K. You approached our table and introduced yourself to Jon, looked at me ... and then asked Jon if I was his boy!!!
Jon made me stand up and turn around so that you could see my IML vest. You turned a lovely shade of red.
I can't begin to tell everyone how impressed I am by your actions. You can cover every wall and window of a venue with PPF fund posters faster than anyone I know. You are an outstanding IMsL and I wish I could be here in person to tell you that. Though I don't think anyone will mind that your new husband is reading this out instead, because he's much more handsome than me.
Love from your very good friend,
John from London.