|Mark Stpehens from Adelaide, Mr Leather ANZ 2011|
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!