While I was reading the current issue of THE LEATHER JOURNAL, I noticed how many contests around the country have resorted to "appointing" their title-holders this year, due to a lack of contestants. Lord knows, this is a problem we're familiar with here in Kansas City and the surrounding region, too. Our local "Mr Bootleggers" winner has walked away from the "Mr. Bootleggers" title and moved, leaving nobody to represent Kansas City this year at IML; just down the road, the Mr. Midwest contest in St. Louis has declared itself "on hiatus." We've seen other contests around here before where nobody has stepped forward to compete, or where we've had single contestants.
So I decided to ask a number of a local title holders and leather folk for their responses to the question, "Are Leather Contests Relevant Anymore?" What do they really contribute to the leather community? To the broader gay community? Is there any point to them these days? Or have they just become quaint artifacts of another Leather age, important once, but not so much now. At one time, they were considered training grounds for Leather Leadership, but is that still really true? I invited their responses on these questions.
And I got stone silence. Nothing, Nada, zilch. From a recent Mr. Oklahoma titleholder - silence. From another Mr. Oklahoma - silence. From a Heart of America Leather boy - silence. And surprisingly from a good friend, a Mr. Dixie Belle titleholder -more silence. Even the organizers and promoters of our last local leather competition - silence.
Apparently, I'd touched some kind of "third rail" for leather discussion. Still, I pressed ahead, posting the question on several national blogsites. "Are Leather Contests Still Relevant? I got back a pair of answers. From the Leather Posts LPTribes.com website came this response from SirMike:
"Hi, I.Wanted to respond to you. I think they can be relevant if the title holder works in for the community to improve it in some fashion or even bring people together for just some fun. The issue as I see it is that it's too important to pick the "right" looking person that is going to win at IML. I have seen too many men 'picked and groomed' for the contest that have no right to stand in front of the community and lead them. I have also seen this year, my boy taking the title here in San Diego. He will use the title to continue the work he has been doing in this community for the past 2 and half years since we moved here. I hope he makes a difference in peoples life's even a small amount. One nice thing that is done here is that the title holders can not run for another title until after there year of service is complete. This at least keeps them from running for a national/intl title until after serving the community.
Then, from Lifeout.com, I received a response from a former Mr Missouri Leather 2001. This MML winner has gone on this year to be appointed Mr Central Plains Leather. He had an interesting response:
"I competed and won 1st runner up for Mr Ozark Leather 2001 then went on to win Mr Missouri Leather 2001. I competed in IML 2001. I have been part of the Leather comunity for 18 years and worked my way up to the status I hold.The districts were restructed for Leather Sir and boy contest. Because of my past involment I was approached and asked to accept the appointment of Central Leather Plains Sir 2009. I accepted because of the promoter being in a pinch. With this appointment comes great responsibility. This is something I have continued to remind the other appointees of the Central Plain Leather title family. We must prove our status and we plan on doing so. I do not believe that it is a lack of contestants but the redistricting of the areas that have caused the increase in appointees. I am proud to represent the Central Plains Leather community and plan on going to San Francisco and proving worthy of the appointment."
These were good responses, and I was glad to have them. Otherwise this would be a very thin blog. But still I didn't quite feel they answered the question. That fell to Joey Kraley, a good a d thoughtful friend. Although he has since dropped out of the leather community, Joey took the 1993-94 Mr Great Plains Drummer Leather Man title. I'm proud to say that I have a piece of his leather, passed on from him, and I wear it proudly. Joey Kraley put it this way.
"Leather contests are as relevant as the titleholder wishes to make them. This has always been the case. It has been my observation that successful titleholders breed successful titleholders( I mean this metaphorically although my experience with this literally would be a steamy story). A titleholder that makes a positive and visible impact seems to help draw out contestants. In smaller communities garnering contestants will always be difficult. There will always be a limited pool of people willing or able to be very public representatives of the lifestyle. I see no problem with appointment of a titleholder; contest judges and community organizers have been able to do this in some instances with excellent results. Its takes a ridiculous amount of ego to think people will want to listen to you drone on about the rights of kink and to prance around on stage in a leather jockstrap. The sash circuit remains a good way to channel the egos of our young (and not so) into a productive altruistic arena."
I'm still not quite sure how to answer my own question. I've taken first runner-up positions at two previous competitions, a local event and a regional. After a six-year lapse, I let myself be talked into another this past fall, but had to withdraw in mid-contest. A large part of me still very much believes in the contest system. I think my friend Joey probably put it best: the contests are whatever the contestants and winners make of them. I'm left wondering, however, if we make less of them now than we used to.