Thursday, June 03, 2004

Come Together

Warning: some links are not work-friendly—you may want to wait until you get home.

Last weekend, my friend Han and I decided to check out International Mr. Leather (IML). Hundreds of big, burly men from all over the world descend into Chicago for this notorious event.

It would not be unusual to see a group of men seeing the sights, shopping, in full leather regalia: motorcycle jackets, leather straps, maybe some ass-less pants. The reaction of other tourists to the latter always makes me smile: incredulity, laughter, disgust—it is pretty much the same reaction I have to the tourists’ outfits.

Unfortunately, the biggest threat to gay civilization occurred that weekend: It rained.

Due to some ditziness on our part, we did not look up the exact venue thinking that we would just follow the trail of leather-clad men. However, with the rain pouring down, there was nary a mary to follow. I had to call my brother Peter, who fortunately was also planning to attend the event and got directions.

I knew we were close when I caught a whiff of the heavy, thick, manly scent of...Chanel No. 5?!? I wonder why I am surprised.

Han and I were the only ones I could see in civilian clothes. I really felt out of place in my sneakers and t-shirt. We didn’t fit in, much like the guy with the man-boobs squeezed into a tight rubber tank top. But then I thought--waitaminute--I'm not the one with my hairy ass in full moon.

By then, I really needed to pee. I got in line for the restroom right behind a couple of guys with shaved heads and full beards. After several minutes of waiting, I wondered aloud why we hadn’t moved. The guy in front of me turned around and said, "This is the line for men who want to get peed on." And then he winked at me and said, "I’d be happy to relieve you right now..." I stammered an excuse and went in.

Inside, there was heavy cruising going on, men eyeing each other, exchanging meaningful looks. As I am already "taken", I ignored it and picked a urinal and started to pee. Unfortunately, as it sometimes happens, the relaxation of my bladder caused me to fart.

I forgot that farting is like a mating call among these folk. I am suddenly surrounded by amorous men, sniffing appreciatively.

"Smells like a spinach omelet, and um, maybe with a side of bacon," says one. I didn’t know whether to blush or give him a prize—that’s what I had for brunch. I settled for a polite nod and high-tailed it outta there.

While IML is ostensibly a convention for SM and bondage enthusiasts to get together, share ideas and techniques, in its heart, it is a beauty contest celebrating the hyper-masculine ideal. I don’t think anybody can deny there is a lot of irony and dry cleaning going on here.

The competition is fierce as contestants from around the world model their original leather creations, strutting and posing onstage. Contestants are judged rigorously and scored on their looks and their "leather presence." In between events, personal assistants help touch up hair and wipe off excess sweat; perhaps a mustachioed "seamstress" waits in the wings armed with a sewing kit or bolt cutter ready to make last minute adjustments.

And although I didn’t see the actual competition, it’s not hard to imagine the last two finalists standing next to each other, hands clasped, waiting tensely to hear the final tally. It’s not hard to imagine the runners-up crowding around the winner as the leather sash is bestowed upon the new reigning International Mr. Leather.

It’s not hard to imagine how through this event, these men have come together as a community.

Wanna play the Urinal Game?

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