By Tamika Thompson
Every Memorial Day Weekend, thousands of hot and sexy Leathermen, gear heads, rubber lovers, a fistful of well-dressed women, and their fans converge in Chicago for International Mr. Leather. To the uninitiated and/or virginal, I describe the event as part contest, part convention, part dysfunctional family reunion, and all adventure.
I’ve always enjoyed the company of gay men, and my vacations are no exception. Although women are decidedly in the minority at this event, a self-selecting group of leather lovers, fetishists, academics, and garden-variety sexuality educators seem to congregate every year to party with their brothers and friends.
I kicked off Friday Night with a visit to the Leather Archives and Museum for the opening of inaugural exhibit of the Women's Leather History Project, "A Room of Her Own." This exhibit showcases women's Leather history from 1970 forward. The exhibit incorporates women's photos, books, leathers, magazines, posters, t-shirts and films in an engaging display that highlights a wide range of women's experiences in Leather. I met and socialized with noted authors Midori, Lolita Wolf, and famed photographer Janet Ryan. I also took in the wonderful displays and flirted with the attendees, as I devoured fresh boot shaped cookies. The current International Ms. Leather 2011 Sara Vibes was on hand, as was International Ms. Leather 2010 Mollena, and both women looked amazing.
A centerpiece of the exhibit is the timeline of some of the significant events in the women's Leather community, which underscores the social and political context of the community's development. The exhibit also boasts a visually stunning collection of artistic representations of women in Leather, a display case full of memorabilia and an array of leather vests and sashes. Check out the museum’s website (http://www.leatherarchives.org/wlhp/) for more news if you can’t make it to Chicago to see the exhibit in person.
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I caught the IML shuttle bus back to the host hotel and stopped by the “Greet the Meat” Party, hosted by the friendly guys from the Chicago Rubbermen. The Rubber guys are generally younger, and more fun, than some of their more traditional Leather counterparts, and they threw an amazing party. I then headed over to the Gear Blast party, which had guys running around in all kinds of gear, from football players to motocross racers. Everyone was socializing with their friends, making new friends, and having a fantastic time.
Saturday started off with a lovely late gay brunch, including the epic cinnamon rolls, at Ann Sather’s in Boystown, followed by shopping in the vendor mart at the host hotel. The vendor mart is the largest annual gathering of leather and fetish retailers in the country, with more than 100 vendors in attendance. The friendly folks at Marvelous Mayhem measured me for a custom red leather corset, and I picked up some matching laces at BootWerks.
I also headed over to the Mr. S Leather booth to catch up with Skeeter Barker, the famous dyke responsible for the store’s innovative and perfectly tailored leatherwear designs. Skeeter has been with Mr. S for years, and she is a great example of a woman working alongside influential and powerful men in the leather community. She is responsible for many of the breathtaking custom outfits worn by the contestants on stage every year.
Sunday was the final part of the contest at Chicago’s brand new Harris Theatre in Millenium Park. The top 20 contestants were announced, and each man gave a 90 second speech in formal leather, and a quick strut around the stage to show off their physique one last time. Then the winner of the International Mr. Bootblack competition was announced. Jim Deuder from New York, New York took home the top honors and he will join International Ms. Bootblack 2011 kd from Portland, Maine as bootblack royalty for the year.
As the audience waited for the judges to finish scoring the contestants, a Beatles cover band entertained the crowd and everyone sang along. Finally, Frenchman Eric Guttierez, Mr. Leather Europe 2010, was named International Mr. Leather 2011, and the audience burst into thunderous applause. He will make a great companion to Sara Vibes, International Ms. Leather 2011 from New York, New York.
I can’t wait to head back to Chicago next year to see my friends in leather, and cheer on the men competing for the title of International Mr. Leather. If you’re looking for fun, adventure, and a vacation that’s far from vanilla, I’ll see you there in 2012.
Photo credit: Missy Leach