International Mr Leather Titleholders

Jack Thompson
IML 2019
Jack is biracial. He’s gay. He’s transgender. He’s extremely kinky, depending on what scale you use to measure such things. Jack is also utterly transparent about all that he is, to a disarming degree. His speech at the IML competition (“You are enough.”) laid bare all of his identities and became an instant viral meme. Over breakfast at his favorite diner in his newly adopted home city of Baltimore, Jack discussed coming out (as many things), sex, drugs, HIV — and his reaction to a transphobic social media post by a leather community leader that nearly eclipsed the drama of Jack’s win at IML. Here is our conversation, edited for length and clarity. Mark S. King: You spend a lot of time here, at Valentino’s Restaurant? Jack Thompson: Oh yeah, they’re open 24/7. I can have breakfast any time of the day. You’re running around already as Mr. IML. Just this weekend, you were in DC for Pride, then up to Philly, and then back here for an event at The Eagle in Baltimore. Yeah, after IML there isn’t much of a break. You run right in to Pride. And being on the east coast you can get to so many different places for events. Your husband, Geoff Millard, was 1st Runner Up for Mr. Bootblack at IML this year. His was 1st Runner Up for Mr. IML in 2017, too. He’s the first person to place in both events. I’m ignorant. I think Mr. IML is for the big dominant guys, and Mr. Bootblack is for the submissive ones. Unless you are running for a “Boy” title or a “Master” title, you can identify as anything you want. I identify as a submissive. My husband identifies as a Daddy. But a lot of people have that idea, that you compete for IML and put on that leather cap, and you are the domest dom in all of dom town. I went to IML once, more than a decade ago, but only because I was living off the remnants of my muscle boy body and I wanted to strut around in a harness. That’s 90% of the people who go to IML. Yeah, but I also never left the hotel. I stayed in my room shooting up crystal meth and having sex. For five days without sleep. I have so much shame and regret about it. Do you see much of that? Does it concern you? It’s a community problem. I’ve seen it for years, and seen friends’ lives destroyed for periods of time. And there’s people who just assume you do drugs because you go to these events. Actually, there are more and more spaces for sober people there. There’s been an explosion of trans awareness over the last few years. My trans activist friends would point out that this has been a long, hard road, though. I came out as trans when I was 15 (living in the Bay area). That was 18 years ago. And it was exploding because there were a lot of hate crimes going on. I know several trans men who were lesbians first, who thought they must be, before they realized they were trans. And gay. It’s a perfect example of the difference between gender and sexuality. I didn’t even start dating men until I met my husband. I still am attracted to women. It gets very deep very fast between us, with women. I just got out of a long relationship with a woman about a year ago.
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James Lee
ILM 2018
Mr International Leather 2018: James Lee The highlight of the festivities is undoubtedly the crowning of the new International Mr Leather. This year’s winner is James Lee of Lexington, Kentucky. Lee triumphed over 70 other contestants. They heralded from countries as far afield as Italy, Australia, Israel, France and Mexico. James Lee, Mr Kentucky Leather, now Mr International Leather 2018 James Lee, Mr Kentucky Leather 2017, now Mr International LeatheA long-time leather fan, Lee mentors LGBTQ+ youth in his home state. He has volunteered at North American Bear, Tri-State, Kentucky CoronaNon, Pride Lexington and Pride Louisville. He has also organized and promoted a variety of LGBTI and Leather events. Asked what it was like to win the title, he said: ‘It’s a stamp of approval, it’s a acknowledgement of hard-work and success. It’s knowing you have brothers and sisters around the world that accept you just the way you are and are your support system day in day out. ‘It’s knowing your community is growing and evolving, and it’s being a leader to those who are looking for encouragement and acceptance. He revealed that he had only recently overcome personal tragedy and found the strength to compete. ‘This journey has not been a walk in the park. It’s been a fiery swim through hell. Losing my partner of 9.5 years right before all of it made me want to walk away from it all … including life. ‘My Leather community, blood and chosen family made sure I would build new and strong a way to survive.’ He said that winning the title was, ‘Overwhelmingly awesome and insanely shocking and unforgettable.’
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Ralph Bruneau
IML 2017
Mr International Leather 2018: Ralph Bruneau
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David Bailey
IML 2016
Mr International Leather 2018: David Bailey.......Chicago, IL - David "Tigger" Bailey, Mr. New Jersey Leather 2016, was named International Mr. Leather 2016 at the 38th annual IML Competition in Chicago Sunday, May 29. Over 2,000 leather enthusiasts packed The Harris Theatre for the annual competition where Bailey became the 38th person to claim the coveted leather title. Bailey bested a field of 60 contestants from 25 states and seven countries, including the competition's first competitor from Israel. Participants were judged on stage presence and personality ("pecs and personality"), leather image, presentation skills, and physical appearance.
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Patrick Smith
IML 2015
Mr International Leather 2015: Patrick Smith - In 2015, Smith competed in a class of 6 contestants and became Eagle LA Mr. Leather. Two months later, he competed against the nine other Los Angeles-area titleholders to become Mr. Los Angeles Leather. Over the next six weeks, Smith trained for International Mr. Leather with a team including Charlie Matula and Hunter Fox, producers of the Eagle LA Mr. Leather and Mr. LA Leather contests, Mike Gerle, International Mr. Leather 2007, and Lou Romano, former Mr. Oil Can Harry’s Leather and handler to Gerle at IML. In May 2015, Smith competed among a class of 52 and won the International Mr. Leather title. International Mr. Leather Smith traveled over 106,000 miles during his title year, and was gone from Los Angeles for 37 of the 52 weekends. Smith’s stated mission as IML was to broaden the reach of the leather community beyond its core following. As part of this, he spoke at non-leather related forums including at the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, and hosted events such as the official pool party at Gay Days Anaheim. International Activism Patrick Smith in The Advocate. Coverage of Smith’s trip to Uganda in The Advocate. In September 2015, Smith traveled alone to Uganda to meet with gay rights activists, to learn about the experience of sexual minorities in African countries with repressive laws against homosexuality. He followed up his trip with visits to other countries considered hostile to sexual minorities, including Ukraine, Egypt, Morocco and Trinidad and Tobago. Upon the conclusion of his travels, Smith returned home to raise money and awareness for sexual minorities in countries in which they are persecuted. In March 2016, Smith was featured on the cover of The Fight Magazine under the headline, “They Kill Gays, Don’t They?” He received a certificate of recognition from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, for his “dedicated efforts and untiring advocacy on behalf of disadvantaged LGBT domestic and global communities.” In his IML step-down speech, Smith announced he would be continuing his international advocacy work with the Harvey Milk Foundation.
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IML 2015 Patrick Smith Contest SpeechIML 2015 Patrick Smith FacebookIML 2015 Patrick Smith TwitterPatrick Smith Step Down Speech
Ramien Pierre
IML 2014
Ramien Pierre, International Mr. Leather 2014[/caption] Growing up gay isn’t easy Growing up in leather is even harder We’ve come a long way But we have a lot further to go. Whether in leather or lace Whether in white collar or blue We need to talk to each other To try to understand each other To work together To strengthen the bonds we have already fashioned If we use our god-given gifts: Our intellects to know what is right Our wills to do what is right with compassion and love We better ourselves And the world around us. As International Mr. Leather I hope to bring all minorities together In the brotherhood we share Those words aren’t mine. They are the words of Ron Moore, and he said them in 1984 as his contestant speech for IML. Ron Moore was the first black man to win the IML title. Let me give you the history of black IMLs. Don’t worry. It won’t take long Ron Moore was came to IML in 1984 as Mr. Leather Colorado. The second black man to receive the title was Dee Cannon who came to IML in 1991 as Mr. CC of Palm Springs. Then there’s me. That’s it. History lesson over. Ron made his transition from this Earth in 1997. Dee’s whereabouts are unknown. And that is why on Tuesday I am petitioning for federal protection as endangered species. I want to ensure that future generations of perverts will be able to enjoy me via educational field trips to my holding compound — the Tom of Finland House. Because Black IML Lives Matter. IMLs in general need your support. As titleholders we are by definition delicate and precious flowers. I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of support this year. I have the best partner/boyfriend/barber — Kudjo Tankhead Onyx Brown … or whatever his Facebook name is today. I’ve had the support of the best bar in the world — the DC Eagle. The DC Eagle is back, and though the construction isn’t complete, the Deathstar is fully operational. I’ve had the support of my clubs. I’m an Associate Member of La Garou, a club for leather transmen. They throw a great CampOUT run in July where you are 100% guaranteed NOT to be bitten by spiders. I’m also member of ONYX and I want to give them a shout out. I’m sure they are in the house, out there in the inky shadows. Who am I kidding? As a fraternity for leathermen of color they ARE the inky shadows. I’ve had the support of an amazing sash family. Scout MY International Mr. Bootlback. Grumpy or no, you are mine and I love you. Patty Patty — an IMsL so nice they named her twice. And Dara who apparently had better things to do this weekend. And I couldn’t have done this year without the IML staff and volunteers. These folks have all be looking after me all year, and it’s been my privilege to hold this title for a year and return it in as good as condition as I found it. Truly, it’s been a privilege. Privilege has been getting a bad reputation recently. And as the sum total of all IML blackness on this planet I want to say something about it. I first learned about privilege when I read Dr. Peggy McIntosh’s essay “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. It’s a piece she wrote in 1988 where she talked about the unearned privileges she had as an American, white woman. In the late ’90s I had the opportunity to work with Dr. McIntosh on a project and she told me why privilege often gets a bad reputation. She said that for most of us, our first awareness of privilege is an unpleasant experience. Either we realize we have it and someone else doesn’t and as a result we feel guilty. Or we realize that we don’t have it and someone else does so we feel resentful and frustrated. Another person who worked on that same project was Lorene Cary who wrote the book “Black Ice” about her experience as a working class kid attending a prestigious East Coast boarding school — something that she and I have in common. Lorene told me that yes, there is no privilege without responsibility, but that the first responsibility of people with privilege is to enjoy their privilege. To enjoy it. And that’s what I did this title year. I’ve been enjoying my IML privilege. I’ve used it to travel across this country and across three continents. I’ve used it to learn important cultural international phrases. I can say “thank you” in Italian. I can say “on your knees” in German. And I can say, “I will perform sexual favors for baked goods” in French. Because I have a sweet tooth. All that is privilege. And all of that has been my job as IML. Enjoying that IML privilege hasn’t always been easy, because I’m an introvert, and we work differently than extroverts. Extroverts get their energy from interacting with people, and being in the crowd, and going to events. If my life is an example, then introverts we introverts get our energy from a combination of alone time, Netflix bingeing, comfort food, coffee and tequila. There are other differences. If you have a 10-minute conversation with an extrovert and you don’t know what’s important to them, then you haven’t been listening. If you have a 10-minute conversation with an introvert and you don’t know what’s important to them, then you haven’t been asking the right questions. And I’m talking about questions that come from a genuine curiosity. Not like the questions we tend to ask which are just statements in disguise. You know, like: * Do you really think that’s a good idea? * Do these pants make my crotch look big? * Does this hanky smell like chloroform to you? Joey McDonald got me with that one…. four times… because I’m pretty. I love good questions. One of the questions I’ve gotten number of times this year was about my contestant speech last year. People liked it but what sure what I was really trying to say. It’s hard to be clear and poignant and meaningful in 90-seconds. And they wanted to know if my whole “you are a enough” theme had some meat to it, or was it just something I pulled out of the ether while watching Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday (YOU are enough! And YOU are enough! Everybody is E-NOUGH!). So I’ll break it down for you. You sir [point to someone in the audience]. You look at me and you might say: wow that Ramien really has his shit together. He’s got a job, a boyfriend, a title. He seems reasonable, cultured, and smart. He’s easy on the eyes. I can see why the judges selected him and if I were closer I might not only see it, I might touch it and taste it too. But THIS guy that you’re seeing wasn’t named IML 2014. It was THAT guy — the Ramien who was here last year. Let me tell you about THAT guy. He’s a hot mess. That guy has stranger danger. That guy is a neurotic overachiever. That guy cries at Sally Field movies… or anytime he touches a woman. But if it wasn’t for THAT guy, THIS guy wouldn’t be here. And as human beings we tend to dismiss THAT guy and pay all of our attention to THIS guy. We tend to give all our praise to THIS guy and ignore or shame THAT guy. What I was trying to say last year is THAT guy… THAT guy was good enough to get me here to THIS guy. And if that’s true for me, then maybe it’s true for you. So love on THAT guy. Even if you don’t like THAT guy. Even if you want to change THAT guy. Love him FIRST. You gotta love him to leave him. Take that Oprah. Maybe that could be my job. To be a leather Oprah. Maybe not. But I know one thing: I know it is NOT my job to represent you. I can’t represent you. I mean look at you. No, I’m just kidding, you all look amazing… out there in the dark. Inky shadows are your color. Representing you is not my job, and I can prove it to you. Alright show of hands: * How many of you were at IML last year? * How many of you came to any part of the contest last year? * How many of you voted for me to be IML? Anyone? Anyone? [point out the people who are too drunk/confused and kept their hands up] See if you voted for me then I could be your representative. But you didn’t. That’s not how this things works. That’s not how any of this works. Representing you is not my job. But I love my job as IML. And I love this weekend. This is my second IML ever, and I plan on having a very good time. I hope you are too. This is a weekend is like a leather family reunion. It’s a time to embrace the highest-fidelity version of yourself and express it… often with on and in other people. And it’s about fun. Now earlier I said there is no privilege without responsibility, so I’m going to get serious for a minute. You know that I’m serious because I’ve asked the crew for serious lighting. Thank you crew. One of the charities I support is Rainbow Railroad. They are a registered charitable organization based in Canada, and they save LGTB lives. They find LGTB people around the world who are targets of state-enabled violence and persecution in places like Uganda, Iran, and the Caribbean. They find them. They get them to safe places in their country. And then they get them out of their countries to safe havens primarily in the US, Canada, and Netherlands. They are saving our brothers and sisters. And they need your help. We are working on a campaign to save five gay men living in Jamaica. And by living I mean that these men have been shunned by their families, and are living on the streets. They were living in a storm drain until it was blocked off by the police. We need $34K to get these men out of the country, and resettled somewhere safe where they will have the support of social services. Here’s what you can do: You can give $34K, and we’ll wrap this thing up right now. If you can’t give $34K, then you can give something smaller. Give $15. You can spread the word about this campaign, because maybe someone in your network can give $34K… or $15. You can do all or any of those things. If you want to learn more you can go to my Facebook page, or you can go to Thank you for considering this. Okay. Serious time over. I’ll tell you one last thing before I go, and it’s my big takeaway from my title year. I finally figured out what my job as IML was. Well actually someone else figured it out for me. I was at CLAW last month and someone broke it down for me exactly what my job was. I was socializing in the hotel lobby when someone said, “Ramien, I’ve been watching you your entire title year, and I wanted to let you know that you are a good example of being a good example. And that’s exactly what our community needs. Thank you and bless you.” And that was an ah-ha moment for me: “a good example of being a good example”. That’s a great job to have, right? And I was touched too. I mean it was a thoughtful and sincere compliment, and I didn’t want to just brush it off with that stereotypical titleholder smile and a “thank you so much”. I wanted to say something meaningful and heartfelt. So I took a beat and said, “Hey you… I’m over here. That’s Justin Terry-Smith you’re talking to!” Because sometimes that happens. You have to know your negroes. Get the app. Available on iTunes. My name is Ramien Pierre I live in Baltimore, MD with the best boyfriend in the world I am International Mr. Leather 2014 I am Mr. DC Eagle 2014 My preferred personal pronouns are “he”, “him” and “his” I love you all. And you are each important to me. Have a good night and and great weekend.
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IML 2014 Ramien Pierre Contest Speech
Andy Cross
IML 2013
Andy Cross, the current International Mr. Leather (IML) titleholder, will be in Minneapolis this weekend as one of the judges of the Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2014 contest. I recently called him in San Francisco and asked a few questions. Did you have any childhood inklings that leather might someday be an interest of yours? My first memory of leather—and it has stuck with me all these years, so it’s pretty formidable, I guess—is when my uncle, my father’s brother, came to visit us one time. He was a motorcycle guy and came in wearing chaps and a leather jacket. I wasn’t so much attracted to him as attracted to the leather. I remember, he let me wear his jacket, and I thought it was the coolest thing. I loved the smell of it. There was just something that was inherently manly and sexy about the leather for some reason. And it’s been a turn-on ever since. What went through your mind when your name was called as International Mr. Leather 2013? It was so great because I wasn’t expecting it at all. And I think the thing that meant the most to me was that there were a lot of San Francisco people in the audience, some of the guys who had helped me prepare. How has your title year been so far? It’s been busy, but it’s been fantastic. It’s definitely been the ride of my life. I’ve met so many people and seen so many cool things. One of the most rewarding things is that I’ve had the opportunity to visit communities and tell them what other communities do. For instance, one of my very first trips was to Des Moines, and they have a really large young leather community there—which is fantastic! Then I go to another community, and in talking to them they say that they don’t have the young leather community. I have the opportunity to spread the fire, so to speak, and say Des Moines does this, and it attracted all these young people. And I get to visit cool places. I was in Alaska a few weeks ago. I’m going to Europe in a few months. I was in Texas a few days ago. And I’m going to Los Angeles on Thursday. And you’re coming to Minneapolis to be one of the judges for this year’s Mr. Minneapolis Eagle Contest. I am. I’m looking forward to it. What other contests have you judged as IML? I’ve judged Mr. Michigan Leather, and I just judged the Mr. Third Coast Leather contest in Houston. Next week I judge the Mr. Regiment Leather contest in L.A. I have a lot of contests coming up in November, and also in January and February. As you judge the Mr. Minneapolis Eagle contest, what will you be looking for? I’ll be looking for someone that I want to talk to. Especially in an interview, I’m not necessarily looking at the content of their answers or what their opinions on certain things are, because everyone has their own opinions. I’m looking to see if they’re genuinely a nice guy, and if I approached them in a bar or at a party, would I want to talk to them? Would I want to hear what the leather community is like in Minneapolis if they were telling me? That’s really the most important thing that I look for. What do you want to accomplish during your title year? That was actually one of my questions during the IML interview. The question actually was, fast-forward a year and you’re IML—what would you want to be remembered for? And my answer was kind of what I already said, being a conduit of information between regions or communities. I mean, that’s how we grow as a community, and that’s how we change, and I think growing and changing is essential. Have you thought about what you want to do after your title year is over? Sleep in at least for one weekend! But other than that, like I said before, I’m having the ride of my life, and I love it right now. So I guess I’ll have to cross that bridge when it comes.
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Woody Woodruff
IML 2012
Woodruff ran for and won his first title in 2010 – Mr. Campit Cub. In 2011 he became Mr. Liberty Leather and in 2012 he became Mr. Michigan Leather, which feeds into the International Mr. Leather contest. In 2012, Woodruff competed for and won the International Mr. Leather title. During his title year, he traveled over 78,000 miles to 50 events in six countries. He had the pleasure being asked to sing at many of these, as he is an experienced vocalist. Current Activity Woodruff has continued his involvement in the leather community by emceeing, producing and singing at various contests. He is the host of the annual IML contestant roundtable at CLAW. Woodruff is a member of the Michigan Band of Brothers, the Chicago Band of Brothers, and Titans of the Midwest. He also works within organizations as an educator on a wide array of topics such as BSDM, alternative relationships, and HIV Awareness.
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Eric Guttierez
IML 2011
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Tyler McCormick
IML 2010
Tyler McCormick is not the first guy in a wheelchair to compete in the International Mr. Leather (IML) contest. And he’s not the first transman (female-to-male transgender person) to compete in IML, either. He is, however, the first guy in either of these categories to be selected as the International Mr. Leather titleholder. McCormick, who competed as Mr. Rio Grande Leather 2010, was awarded the International Mr. Leather 2010 title during the 32nd annual International Mr. Leather Contest and Show on Sunday evening, May 30, at the Congress Theater in Chicago. Host hotel for this year’s International Mr. Leather weekend was the Hyatt Regency Chicago. It is estimated that this year’s IML weekend drew over 16,000 people. A third “first”: McCormick is the first International Mr. Leather from New Mexico. McCormick is sponsored by Rio Grande Leather, New Mexico Leather Wolves and, all of Albuquerque. IML_2010_Contest_055 McCormick was selected as the new International Mr. Leather from a field of 52 contestants from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, South Africa, Germany, the United Kingdom and 22 states in the U.S. First runner-up was Lance Holman, Mr. San Francisco Leather 2010, and second runner-up honors went to Jack Andrew Duke, Mr. Texas Leather 2010. This year’s official IML schedule was compressed so that the first official event, the Opening Ceremonies, was on Friday evening this year instead of Thursday evening. The contestants still arrived on Thursday, however, and drew numbers to determine their order of competition. By the time of the official Opening Ceremonies on Friday evening many of the contestants had already been through their private interviews with the weekend’s judges. Check out the complete contestant list here. OfficialIMLPhoto1 A Thursday-night (May 27) roast for outgoing IML 2009 Jeffrey Payne, held in the Etienne Auditorium at the Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M), served as the unofficial opener to the weekend’s events. The sold-out event was a fundraiser for the LA&M, and the auditorium was packed to capacity. After being introduced by emcee Frank Nowicki, three of the evening’s roasters (Randall “Bear Man” Klett, Dan Perry and RJ Chaffin), shared a few amusing stories about Jeffrey’s title year. But it was a bit softball because, as Perry said, “Where do you find dirt on this man?” The evening turned hardball with the appearance of a fourth, “mystery” roaster, who turned out to be Payne’s husband, David Roy. He lovingly and tenderly dished about Payne through fourteen pages of prepared remarks. The IML Leather Market opened Friday morning at 11 AM. Despite the absence of vendors selling bareback porn, the market was filled with over 120 leather and fetish vendors, clubs and organizations. One of the hot new items in the market this year was 3D porn. In the bootblack area of the Leather Market, five bootblacks competing for this year’s International Mr. Bootblack title were kept busying shining boots nonstop. A small stage in the Leather Market area hosted a series of presentations and demonstrations throughout the weekend, including the announcement of this year’s Pantheon of Leather Community Service Award nominees. The Leather Market also was open Saturday, Sunday and Monday. IML_2010_Contest_058 Friday evening’s Opening Ceremonies turned out, in the opinion of many in the audience, to be too much of a good thing. The evening started with a short welcome by IML Executive Producer Chuck Renslow. The weekend’s contestants were introduced, first during the traditional flag ceremony with each contestant or group of contestants carrying their state’s or country’s flag, and later individually. The judges were introduced. The bootblack contestants were introduced. The Leather Archives & Museum and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) made short but effective presentations. There was a step-aside ceremony for International Mr. Bootblack 2009, McG. Jump to pics of the Opening Ceremonies IML_Opening_Ceremonies_070 The Opening Ceremonies also featured “Leatherfolk Have Talent,” a new addition to the IML event schedule. Emceed and curated by Walter Cunningham, this new leather-community talent contest featured performances by three singers, a comedian and a poet/spoken word artist, with the audience voting for the winner. Finally, with the hour already running late, it was time for IML 2009 Jeffrey Payne’s step-aside ceremony. While it is not uncommon for an IML titleholder’s step-aside to run long, this is probably the first instance in which the time overrun was due not to the titleholder himself speaking at length (Payne spoke relatively briefly), but instead to the eight other invited speakers saying too many nice things about the outgoing titleholder. Still, at the conclusion of the step-aside, when the stage was filled with representatives of all the people, clubs and organizations that had been a part of Payne’s title year, it was a good visual representation of how much support Payne had enjoyed, and how inclusive his title year had been. IML_Opening_Ceremonies_004 The evening’s (and the weekend’s) emcees were Michael Brandon and Karen Crecelius. Brandon was personable and wore his hooded chainmail shirt well, and he was gentlemanly enough to let the fabulous Ms. Crecelius have all the best lines of the evening. Other Friday evening events included a Rubber Meet & Greet, a Woof Camp for leather pups and their handlers, and parties celebrating gear, uniforms and San Francisco. Saturday’s daytime events included People of Color Leather Caucus, parties hosted by the Chicago Hellfire Club and the Windy City Boys Troup, and a screening of “Kink Crusaders,” a new documentary about IML. There also was a celebration of the life of the late Marcus Hernandez, San Francisco’s legendary leather columnist. IML_Pecs_Personalities_045 IML’s physique prejudging event, affectionately known as “Pecs and Personality,” was presented Saturday evening with Crecelius as the sole emcee. For the contestants, the object of the event was to spend their time onstage wearing as little as possible while being sexy, funny and entertaining. After the physique prejudging the hotel’s various ballrooms were filled with parties and receptions celebrating bootblacks, Texas, gear, uniforms and the Onyx leather club. IML weekend attendees also could participate in one of the many Leather (Twelve-Step) Recovery meetings held throughout the weekend. See all the Pecs and Personalities pics here. IML_2010_Contest_022 The main event of IML weekend always is the IML Contest and Show. This year the contest returned to Chicago’s Congress Theater after a five-year absence; the theater was originally built as a grand movie palace and was the home of the IML Contest and Show from 1994 to 2004. Since 2004 a few things have changed: all the theater’s seats have been removed, and seating is now cabaret-style on folding chairs around cocktail tables. Also new since 2004 is the ritual of being patted down (and not in a sexy way) upon entering the theater. The theme of this year’s contest, and indeed the entire weekend, was “2010: A Leather Odyssey.” The show’s opening video montage was a “Star Wars”-style space fantasy underscored with the entire “Mars, the Bringer of War” movement from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.” At the end of the montage, the video-screen rocket that had been zooming through far-away galaxies landed gently, its cargo-bay door opened, and out walked the IML contestants for their introductions. IML_2010_Contest_062 Following a short welcome by Chuck Renslow and the introduction of the weekend’s judges, there was a video tribute to the late Marcus Hernandez, also known as “Mr. Marcus” and “Marcus the Merciless.” He had been a part of every International Mr. Leather contest except the first one in 1979, and every year he had the pleasure of announcing the contest’s top 20 finalists. At the conclusion of the video tribute, Marcus’ adopted leather daughter, Queen Cougar, came to the stage and carried on the family tradition by announcing this year’s Top 20. IML_2010_Contest_121 Next on the program was the announcement of the new International Mr. Bootblack: Tim Starkey, from Boston, Mass. The evening’s competition then continued with the Speech and Physique judging events. The first ten finalists made speeches of 90 seconds or less, while the second ten finalists made the traditional “jock walk” around the stage while the audience cheered. Then, after the evening’s intermission and some entertainment, the second ten finalists made their speeches while the first ten displayed their physiques. IML_2010_Contest_177 Entertainment following the intermission was by Mantryx, a gay male erotic acrobatic duo. The two men started their act suspended from a chain hanging from the middle of a dome in the theater’s roof, and one of the men later did some suspended mid-air rope self-bondage. The act also included a balletic Master/slave scene, some whip play, fencing with flaming batons and fire-eating and -breathing. After each of the 20 finalists had made their speech and strutted their stuff, the judges marked their final scores and the tallymasters made their final counts. While this was happening, the winner of the “Leatherfolk Have Talent” contest was announced: poet/spoken word artist Rodney McCoy, Jr. won the $1,000 prize. Then actor/singer/songwriter (and former adult-film star) Colton Ford sang several high-energy numbers including “Show Me Love” and “Losing My Religion.” Finally, it was time for the moment everyone in the theater had been waiting for: the announcement of the evening’s winners and the sashing of Tyler McCormick as the new International Mr. Leather. With that, the stage was rushed by photographers, videographers, titleholders and assorted well-wishers, and the congratulating and celebrating went on for quite some time. Following the IML Contest and Show, the Salute post-contest party took place at Chicago’s famous House of Blues. All the contest pics are here. IML_2010_Contest_006 Then came Monday morning, Memorial Day, and the bittersweet sight of the leather tribe packing up, checking out of the hotel and starting to disperse. The final day of the Leather Market was active until late in the afternoon with last-minute shoppers. And yet, the party still wasn’t over. Many attendees stayed for the grand finale, Monday night’s Black and Blue Ball at Excalibur, a nightclub housed in a modern-day castle formerly occupied by the Chicago Historical Society. The event was a fitting last hurrah to an amazing weekend, and one final chance to revel in the energy of IML before heading home on Tuesday. 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