Rick Burgess has made several appearances in this column recently. He was mentioned as first runner-up in my coverage of the Mr. Minneapolis Eagle Contest in 2007. More recently, as a guest “Leather Life” columnist, he wrote about his experiences as a pledge, or provisional member, of The Atons of Minneapolis.
Now, after competing for the title a second time, Burgess is Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2009. He will be competing in this year’s International Mr. Leather (IML) Contest (IML) over Memorial Day Weekend in Chicago (the same weekend this edition of Lavender hits the streets.)
In order to get this interview into the magazine before this year’s IML Contest, I had to interview Burgess by telephone from Connecticut.
What are you doing in Connecticut?
I work for a medical device company, and we have a facility here in New England.
What do you do for the medical device company?
I’m a microbiologist.
That sounds impressive. How and why did you become a microbiologist?
Purely by accident. I went to college, got a degree in poultry science, and worked in the poultry industry for a number of years. Then, I decided I absolutely hated chickens, I hated chicken farms, and I wanted out. I had an opportunity to go to work for a medical device company in Texas, and that was my leap into the private medical device sector. Since then, I’ve worked for medical device companies as a microbiologist in Indiana and Minnesota.
Where did you get your degree in chicken farming?
Texas A&M University.
What were you doing in Texas?
I was born and raised in the Corpus Christi area. I moved away for college, and somehow never quite made it back there, and have definitely learned to appreciate the beach a lot more now that I don’t live there.
Tell me about coming out, first as GLBT, and then as leather.
I came out to basically everyone except for my family in about 2000. It was one of those situations where being from a small town in Texas was not necessarily easy, and once I moved away from my hometown, it got much easier to recreate an identity—to actually be myself, and not worry too much about suddenly losing every friend I ever had.
I came out to my family in about 2002, and it was a very odd situation. I told my mother, and she said, “Well, do you think your brother and I are stupid?” From there, if you get the PFLAG handbook of all the different stages of grieving, she went through every stage. Then, after not a horribly long time, she came to accept it. My father’s response was, “Don’t guess you’ll ever get married.”
Coming out as leather was a little later. It was after I’d moved to Minnesota, so it probably would have been about 2006. That was a little bit more precarious, I thought—hearing the horror stories of the past, of people having lost their job as a result of coming out as leather and leading a kinky lifestyle. And then, in 2007, I just finally said, “You know what? This is who I am. I don’t really care who knows, and if someone has an issue with it, then they can take that up with me.” So, I kind of completely kicked the door down at that point.
How long have you and your partner, Mark, been together?
Almost two years.
How do you two define your relationship? Fill in the blank: Mark is your—what?
Mark is my—a lot of things. I think, first and foremost, he’s my partner. He’s my best friend. And beyond that, he’s my boy.
You were in the Mr. Minneapolis Eagle Contest two years ago, before competing again this year. What was different the second time around?
Probably the biggest thing was the self-confidence that came with having been out as a leatherman for a few years, and really having gotten to know myself as a leatherman, and getting to know more of the community as well.
Are you ready for IML? Is there anything you still feel you need to do, or could you go tomorrow?
I think if I went tomorrow, I would be fairly well-prepared. I still have a few things to do, such as doing some more research on the judges. It’s a very diverse panel of judges, many of whom have experiences and interests that are different from mine. I’m just trying to figure out a little bit more about them, and trying to do that second-guessing of what kinds of questions they’re going to be asking.
Other than researching the judges, how else have you been preparing?
I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading. There are facets of the lifestyle that, for me, are still waiting to be discovered—and, you know, there’s always something new to try.
What do you expect to gain from IML as a contestant?
I think the IML experience is more than just going there to win. It’s about getting to know members of the leather family from across the globe, and, hopefully, making some lasting friendships out of it.