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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I Have a Confession to Make

I bareback. A  lot. Every time I fantasise I do it bareback. I never imagine condoms being used in my jerk-off fantasies, and  have never met any guy who does.Condoms just don't feature in my ideal imaginary sexual scenarios. In my head I break all the safe-sex rules and don't worry about it and no campaign or sanctimonious finger-wagging is ever going to change that. And I don't know any guys who act differently.

How is this different from watching bareback porn? Well, it's fantasy, it's not real - no-one else can get infected through my fantasies, but part of the logic that condemns bareback porn is the claim that watching it undermines the safe-sex message and teaches guys it's ok not to use rubbers, but in fantasies that's just what I do, I watch and take part in wild  hot fucking without condoms, yet I am still able to look after my sexual partners safely in real life.

And for some social and historical context for those who need it, let's remember that the new breed of bareback porn was invented by poz men for poz men, within our particular sub-culture in the wider gay world.

Let's be honest - Bareback porn is popular and watched because it's hot, because it comes closer to our fantasies. And this is a fact too - a lot of guys, HIV+ or HIV-,  are able to manage their porn the same way I manage my fantasies - they can get turned on by one thing and know when to use condoms in other situations. Gay men do not need the patronising message that they cannot make safe and sane sexual decisions for themselves, but must be lectured to and treated like children; we stop listening, and that is just what should not happen.

I kicked off more than I intended with my comment that supporting bareback porn at Mr Leather "didn't sit well with me." Condemning and stigmatising men who like bareback porn was not my goal. I think I understand Mark's argument - I'm not sure I agree with it, especially in that setting where it has been so explicitly and officially made unwelcome.

Comparing them to people who drive their car through a shopping mall is singularly unhelpful, inaccurate and ignorant. Adding more stigma to an already stigmatised group is not going to make them respect you or listen to you.

But there are some good reasons to hold bareback porn up to scrutiny, instead of needlessly inflaming a moral panic.

Porn is an industry, and the actors in it are often exploited and put at huge risk of all sorts of sexual diseases, not just HIV. They are often pressured into having unsafe sex, and told they won't work if they refuse. Porn from some parts of the world is basically a form of slavery. There are in fact much clearer moral grounds to condemn the porn industry in its entireity rather than  bareback porn between consenting HIV positive actors.

The gay porn industry is different from the straight one in some respects, but even there it's a dangerous place to work, as Mason Wyler found out. And even though he'd been making bareback porn, when it turned out he was positive he lost his work. Until he started working with actors who were alos poz. The argument about poz-poz unprotected sex is for another day.

This video gives a good example of the risks porn actors run, and why it is now a dangerous job to be in, especially if you're "gay for pay".

There is some strength to the argument that that watching bareback porn can lead to men imitating it and putting themselves at greater risk of infection. Monkey see, monkey do. But this has its limits - I didn't start making crystal meth after watching Breaking Bad. None of my mates have run off to join a bikie gang after watching Sons of Anarchy, although a few have shown serious lapses in dress sense since Desperate Housewives came to air. What we watch influences us, but only so far, and audiences today are accustomed to sifting reality from screen life. 

New Zealand has been able to maintain a relatively strong condom culture, when guys hook up here we tend to go for the rubber, and we do not want that culture eroded and more men infected - we're not recruiting. Yet if we are honest we know it's not uncommon for sexually active gay men to make the choice at times not to use them. Encouragement and support rather than  moralising and finger-pointing is a much better approach to take.

The thing is, I'm not a great fan of porn videos - I'm nerdy, I prefer to read my porn and make up the pictures in my head - I only keep a few films at homes to be hospitable to guests.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thank You Melbourne

Mark Stpehens from Adelaide, Mr Leather ANZ 2011
I have a new-found respect for the people who enter beauty paegents and body-building contests and that sort of thing.

It's fucking hard work! You really have to put yourself out there.

The contest is in Melbourne because it's really the heart of the leather scene in Australia now. Sydney doesn't even have a dedicated bar or venue for this group anymore.

My flight over was paid for me courtesy of the great guys at Urge, and I arrived, at 9pm on   Thursday, Melbourne time (11pm for my body-clock) met by my  friends Nick and Graeme who dropped me off at Joy FM, the  gay community radio station,  where I got to sit and wait (we did a lot of waiting...)  till the charming, hot and irrepresible Dean Beck was ready for us on his late night show Hide and Seek, along with Mr Leather South Australia and Mr Sydney Leather. It was fun, but shit I was tired, and not up to my usual sparkling best.

Friday was the shift to the competition accommodation, who didn't have my name at the desk. And then put me in the wrong room. One of the many screw-ups that went on behind the scenes. The organisation of the event is done by volunteers, but please, some more attention to detail in future guys.

Yes, I'm going to bitch a little.

Leaving contestants sitting around with no food, not even some bottles of water, for hours, unsure of what they are supposed to be doing, no idea just what we're waiting for - that was the pattern. We all noticed it and were all justifiably pissed off. Making the contestants set up the hall, fold the programmes, put up tables, put out the chairs etc, well, ok, I didn't mind that so much - it helped keep boredom at bay while we waited...and waited...and waited...with no communication from the organisers as to what was happening. On Friday night after the first judging panel half of us got sent off  to Sircuit Bar for a "Meet and Greet" but the bar had no idea who we were or that we were coming. We had to to pay for our drinks,  there was no-one there for us to meet or greet, so we headed over to the Laird who knew who we were immediately and gave us drinks and made us feel right at home. Thank you guys, you were great.

Saturday wasn't much better on the organisational front. We did get some free public speaking training, but nothing I hadn't heard or done before. And again, we spent hours sitting around with nothing to do, wondering why we were there, and again, food and drink were absent till very late in the day. Pay next year's guys a bit more attention and get better organised please.

Now, the big event for the contest itself is the 2 minute speech in formal leather-wear (yes, we have formal leathers, I'll get to that) where we display our passion and committment, and we got extra training for that. I had a good speech, but for some reason kept freezing up in rehearsals. And they cut the microphone off at 2 minutes, so you have to time it just right or you look like a fool - I was getting scared I'd freeze when I had to be at my best, but it all came together when I needed it to though.
I am a lecturer, I'm a fairly experienced public speaker, used to talking in front of Prime Ministers, Governors-General, MPs, and big conference audiences - but this was probably the scariest gig I've done. Luckily the speeches were after the jockstrap section, I think that could have been just too difficult to carry off.

Speaking of clothes, my case weighed nearly 17kgs, so that was a few t-shirts, some undies, socks and about 15 kgs of leather. And I was seriously under-supplied with gear compared to the others.

So there was a  Jockstrap section,  that was after the Full Gear section and before the Formal Leather section.

Three changes of kit all told. For Full Gear most of us chose chaps, a jock, and a harness, gauntlets or gloves, and got interviewed on stage with some serious questions. The Jockstrap section was light-hearted and fun, and we had to dance down the red carpet for that, I splashed out on a new Nasty Pig jock for the event,  and then came the Formal Wear. Leather pants, shirt - a lot of us in a Sam Browne, some in leather ties, biker caps, looking just like you'd expect a group of gay men into leather to look.

Cliches? Nah, raunchy sexy men having fun. The leather community is a real community - it's international, inclusive, edgy, and let's just say we know how to have a good time and I have to say the six of us all up there like that looked pretty damn fine.

Overall, it felt great to take part, it felt great to be in a crowd of men like this. It took me back to New York in the early 80s when I was there and the scene I knew then, when the Mineshaft was still open and like my second home.

After the results (where they forgot to give the winner his sash - details guys ! Come on!) we had to get our gear back to the hotel, then hit the Laird again for a party. It was fun to relax, I got some really great support from some Kiwis and locals there and saw some friends I hadn't seen in ages. Now you might think a night of wild partying and sex would follow, but we were all just too tired, even the winner. As the Laird closed down, we all just wanted to get back to the hotel and chill.

I didn't win, I didn't place, but I did have fun, met some great guys in the other contestants, and my goal was to have fun, so I'm happy.

Now, out of the six of us in the contest, I know that four including myself were HIV+, and one was on PEP (the "morning after" pill that you have to take for a month if you think you might have been exposed to HIV) because his condom came off at a fuck-club two nights before the contest. He was not enjoying the PEP, felt sick, had the runs, weird dreams - and it isn't a guaranteed fix anyhow - I hope he comes through it ok.

The fact, that so many of us in this group have HIV says something about the level and style of sexual activity in the leather world. As I said in my speech, we do things other guys are scared to  fantasise about. We're serious about sexual fun and push boundaries, and we've lost a huge number of men to AIDS over the decades, a disproportionate number I'd argue.

So I was more than a bit surprised to hear the winner, Mark, a lovely guy, make a speech in support of bareback porn, and getting applause for it too. I thought we were in support of protecting our community, not encouraging members to take risks that lead to HIV. Perhaps it's an Australia/NZ difference, but it didn't sit well with me, and I don't think it will play well in Chicago at the International Mr Leather contest either.

All the complaints aside, I am really glad I did it - in spite of some slack organisation behind the scenes, it was fun. I met some great guys, made some new friends, and faced a new challenge.

Next time I want to judge!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

First, Kill a Cow...

So remember how last year I got cajoled into entering the Mr Urge Leather contest, and was Runner-Up? Well as I was leaving Wellington a few weeks ago after the excellent Outgames Human Rights Conference and Urge Black Party, I discovered that the lovely Jamie who'd won the title was unable to make the contest in Melbourne this weekend - so I am heading over the Tasman tomorrow to represent my country on the international stage.

Now, I won't be looking as good as the guy on the right, a photo that was taken in the 1950s, and that shows just how long leather has been part of the erotic world of gay men. I nicked the pic from a blog about gay leather history, and there is quite a bit of it.

Just why some of us have a thing for leather is hard to pin down. It's something I've moved in and out of over my life. It's kind of cool for me that this is in Melbourne, because it was there, way back in 1980 when I was just 18 or so, that I first got involved in this world.

And it is a world of its own really. There is something about the Leather Community that does make it a community - a strong sense of identity I guess. And you can find this group in just about any city around the world that has some sort of gay scene in it. It's not just about fucking, though that's a core part of it - and often adventurous, kinky, fetishy fucking - but not always. I've had some beautiful tender loving times with guys in leather as well as some hard-out (I won't go into details here) athletic kink.

Some people laugh and say it's just another form of drag. Yes and no. It's a deliberate choice and way of presenting yourself as hyper-masculine. Drag has an element of parody to it that the leather world doesn't, but they both play around with mainstream ideas of what it is to be a man - and that's fun - I like fucking up people's expectations. If you get it, you get it - it's one of those things.

Leather men were a key part of that big change in what it means to be gay that happened back in the 60s and 70s. Instead of everyone stereotyping homos as weak girly-boys, they presented an alternative, and the raw sexuality they embodied was disturbing to many, but they celebrated it. They were the backbone of the old 'Clone' style of that era, and carried a huge weight through the worst years of the plague. Probably most of the guys I knew from those days are gone now.

I'm nervous about it all I admit, but I'm also looking forward to it. It's going to be a challenge, it's going to be a bit stressful, but it's going to be fun as well.

Fingers crossed !