No Minnesota Contestant at IML XXX

Consider the noble leather contest: alive and thriving in some places, moribund in others.

It will be a blowout year in Chicago, as the International Mr. Leather (IML) contest celebrates 30 years this coming Memorial Day Weekend. As in years past, many Minnesotans will be among the crush of leather aficionados cheering for competitors from across the nation and around the world—and turning the host hotel (Chicago’s Hyatt Regency on Wacker Drive) into the world’s largest leather bar for the weekend. Details at www.imrl.com.

Unfortunately, no one representing Minnesota will be walking across the IML stage this year as a contestant. In recent years, the only functioning Minnesota leather title, and the only source for an IML contestant representing Minnesota, has been Mr. Minneapolis Eagle. This year, that contest has not been held yet.

What gives?

Minnesota has a long history of sending contestants to each year’s IML. In 1997, one of them—Mr. Minnesota Leather, Kevin Cwayna—went on to become that year’s IML.

Now, 11 years later, Minneapolis Eagle owner Ed Hopkins hasn’t been able to find enough contestants to hold this year’s Mr. Minneapolis Eagle Contest in time to send the winner to Chicago to compete at IML. It’s not for lack of trying—the first call for contestants went out around the beginning of the year.

When I talked to him, Hopkins sounded a bit bewildered and frustrated by the lack of contestants. At this point, he still wants to be able to present the contest. He told me, “I always really enjoy that evening at the bar.” He now plans to hold the contest sometime this fall.

Things are both better (nationally) and worse (locally) for the women’s leather community. The International Ms. Leather (IMsL) contest has experienced an amazing rejuvenation in the last two years. But no functioning women’s leather title has been based in Minnesota since the end of the last century.

Who cares, right? They’re just beauty contests anyway, aren’t they? Actually, no, they’re much more—although I have nothing against a nice beauty contest, either.

Leather contests have been around as long as they have because they serve several community functions. Whether in a bar in Minneapolis, or in a theater in Chicago, San Francisco, or Los Angeles, contests build community by fostering an out-of-the-ordinary shared experience. For leather-related business owners and sponsors, leather contests can be good ways to grow and strengthen their enterprises.

Obviously, each leather contest can have only one winner. But, win or lose, everyone competing experiences a significant rite of passage. For contestants, the act of competing is a declaration both to themselves and to the community that they want to be involved, and here’s what they have to offer.

Leather contests and leather titles are an important source of, and often a gateway to, community leadership. I personally have seen this happen over and over. Both locally and nationally, I can point to any number of people making things happen in their communities—and can tell you in which contest I first saw them compete.

I recently participated in a dinner-table discussion sparked by the news that the Mr. Minneapolis Eagle Contest had been postponed. Others who see the value in leather contests and titles wondered why Minnesota has so few of them, and what it would take to revive them here.

Reference was made to the Mr. Los Angeles Leather title (as shown in the 2004 documentary Mr. Leather), a citywide leather-title competition featuring the winners of nine different leather-bar titles.

Why couldn’t Minnesota set up the same kind of leather-title network? Of course, the Mr. Minneapolis Eagle title could be an integral part of such a network—but perhaps other Twin Cities bars would be interested in sponsoring a leather title. Plus, what about organizations in Duluth, Rochester, Mankato, St. Cloud, or elsewhere in the state? Winners of those contests could go on to compete for a statewide Minnesota leather title. And, while we’re at it, how about revitalizing a women’s Minnesota leather title as well?

Sounds great—almost like the way things used to be around here. The Mr. and Ms. Minnesota Leather titles once were run by the community. (This was before my time, so I only have heard stories.) In my early years in the Twin Cities leather community, there were many titles and many contests, and I have columns and photos documenting them. Then, for whatever reason or reasons, it all went away, and only the Mr. Minneapolis Eagle title was left. Now, after nine titleholders, it, too, is on hiatus—I hope only temporarily.

So, I’ll still be at IML, and I’ll still be cheering, but I won’t be able to do so for a contestant representing my state, let alone my hometown. I only can hope that someone from Minnesota who attends IML will be inspired, or will inspire someone else, to compete for the title of Mr. Minneapolis Eagle this fall.

Correction
In my column in the February 15 Lavender, I incorrectly wrote that the 2009 Leather Leadership Conference will be in Detroit. It will be in Atlanta, with Detroit hosting the conference in 2010.

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