Over Memorial Day Weekend, I attended International Mr. Leather in Chicago. For those who have never attended, think of it as the “Miss America” of leather contests, plus a huge leather trade show, plus the world’s largest leather bar. Thousands of leathermen (and hundreds of leatherwomen) from all over the world descend on Chicago for this long weekend of leather pride and debauchery.
In my opinion, this is the leather community’s opportunity to strut and show our best side to the rest of the world. It’s a chance to wear our finest leathers (rubber, uniforms, etc.), network with like-minded men and women from all over, and prove ourselves to be the community we call ourselves. Unfortunately, every community has some bad eggs. Some leatherfolk take an event like IML as a chance to act out, to freak the mundanes, and to push the fact that we really aren’t any better than anyone else.
Most prominent is simply the fact that the host hotel completely fills with people in for this weekend event. (If there is anyone else staying there, the hotel is foolish, as neither the leather folk nor the other guests really want to be around each other that weekend.) Because we occupy the entire hotel, giving them 100% occupancy and spending a lot of money on the overpriced beer they sell at the special bar they set up for the weekend (and frequenting the hotel restaurants, and so forth), some of the IML attendees take advantage of the situation. They are demanding of the hotel staff, they intentionally leave their rooms messier than usual (and think what state leathermen can leave their sheets and towels and such in), and they are just generally rude.
This year, dining at a steakhouse at the hotel, I observed the patrons of the restaurant: about 80% IML attendees, but also a fair number of general public outsiders. This is a classic interface, not just between us and the staff but between us and the general public. “No shirt, no shoes, no service” is there for a purpose, both for health code reasons and for simple decorum. And yet, probably 10% of the leather diners were wearing just a vest or harness. The most egregious I noted was Mr. Las Vegas Leather, wearing just his title sash on his upper body. Sorry, man, but dinner at IML is not a sash event.
I wish that the manager on duty at the restaurant had refused to seat each and every one of these men who were dressed inappropriately. It would have served them (us) right and might have served as a wake-up call to our community. We are still guests at the hotel and other businesses, gentlemen, and the staff and other diners are people who deserve appropriate dignity and respect. If we push the envelope too far, we will be told to not return, no matter how much fucking money we bring in.
(Of course, these concerns aren’t just about the leather community. Written in late June, they apply just as well to behaviors at Pride parades and celebrations across the country.)
There is a line between celebrating that which makes us special and behaving inappropriately, and really, it’s a fairly thick line, easy to see. Use some restraint. I’ve got some nice leather ones you can borrow.
Updated on July 29, 2010