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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!


LorG said...

it is.......

Ken said...

I wish you had won, but I hope that, waiting time and disorganisation aside, you had a good time.

Michael's Travels said...

Ken, yes that would have been nice, but hey, overall it was a positive experience and I had fun

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed someone from Adelaide won, given we dont even have a gay bar anymore, let alone anything else worth attending. I'm disapointed to hear his speech was on BB'ing but not surprised.

Michael's Travels said...

Colin, it was more along the lines of "BB porn is ok and shouldn't be banned" (it was hard to hear the whole speech) - but the fact the Melb Leather Pride awarded him the title to me seems to show they endorse his stance, something that is contrary to what IML stands for.

m said...

Part 1

Greetings Gentleman, Mr Leather ANZ 2011, Mark Stephens.

Just a few points...

Please be aware my speech was really about censorship being counter-productive to HIV education and prevention.

Also it was about the right of HIV+ people, and HIV+ gay men more specifically to self determination and control over our OWN sexuality.

I believe banning porn which is by poz men for poz men is discriminating against positive men and our right to a sexual identity. This is exactly what the gay community has been fighting against all these years - other people telling us wheat we can and can't do in our private sex lives.

I feel it is better to be open and inclusive of the sexual spectrum rather than driving it underground.

please refer to

Many participants in IML work in hiv education and prevention - many are hiv positive.

Whether people think an individual voice is one that will win a contest is irrelevant for me to whether a person has a voice, whther what they speak is of importance and if it is something that needs to be discussed. This has nothing to do with winning and everything to do with freedom of speech. Nothing to do with people's comfort and everything to do with healthy debate even if some people would rather shy away.

The issue to ban Bareback Porn at IML was not the decision of the IML committee or reflect the climate and culture. The issue was hotly debated. The decision to ban BBporn companies was ultimately the decision of Chuck Renslow, founder of IML and the man who has the final say on these matters. While i don't agree with his decision personally, i must point out he is a genuine and caring man who's heart is in the right place and whose work and efforts are deeply rooted in a true love for the gay leather community and all who stand as part of it - even me - it was a plasure to meet him and be a part of the event.

m said...

Part 2:

To Michael: IML was just a larger version of what you have described here in this blog : )

While i did not win, or even place in the top 20 it had nothing to do with what i had to say. As long as your voice is not rooted in ignorance you will be heard and respected at iml.

What did effect my placing were similar barriers to the ones you describe. I only had 1 month to organise my travel arrangements and no support from previous participants or contestants at IML from Australia. While i believe this is partly childish politics, ultimately it backfired for the nation - because none of us placed. Arriving in a foreign country for the first time ever, being caught in a tornado, missing flights, jetlag, arriving at a hotel where my room was not even booked [the customer service at Hyatt Regency is appalling and while the staff may picket the Hyatt during IML for better working conditions - in itself insulting for someone who already belongs to a minority community - it is pointless when they just do not have the service skills to justify it.

In this respect i am so glad i let go of the idea of winning and just had a good time - because i would have been disappointed to have lost and not enjoyed myself.

Eric MrFrance was a deserving winner. He invested alot of time and planning to this end, travelling to the States well prior to the competition, acclimatising, familiarising himself with the environment, and investing time and money in attending local leather community events and fundraising drives both in Chicago and other cities.

Any potential ANZ winner in the future must be well-versed with Chicago, IML and the local culture and must invest the time and energy in advance making themselves known and supporting the local people and culture. They must be well -supported by our community. To this end as a title-holder i am committed to making the journey as smooth as possible for future contestants. Having a lead time so close to an international competition will not work for ANZ in this respect.

I do believe both IML and MLP stand for freedom of speech and diversity in the community. In this respect my victory is in no means contrary to what either organisation stands for.

And to Colin... i am also amazed i won as a South Austrlian - there is virtually no community for us and even less so for those of us into BDSM. In this respect i see any future endeavours to be modest and unsustainable over the long-term unless our events are well-supported by the eastern seaboard. My future contributions may well be made in Melbourne or Sydney where the majority of my kinky friends live.

Lots of Love and some Politics,
Hugs & Kisses,
Fists & Lashes,
Mr Leather ANZ 2011
Mark Stephens.