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Gael Leung Chong Wo
Gael Leung Chong Wo
I am a 40 years old architect, who was elected as Mister Leather Belgium in march 2020. The pandemic started one week after the election, so I had to find a way to work on my project #WeAreFetish” that focusses on the inclusion of all people within the Fetish scene. I started a website and a Facebook group that promotes Diversity in all its forms and from different backgrounds. As son of a half-Chinese/maurician father and Belgian mother, I always had to fight for a spot in society. I recently turned #WeAreFetish into a non-profit-organization that will help in providing more publicity and funds to minorities towards acceptance.
Cancelled due to Covid
Cancelled due to Covid
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.
The New Face of Leather Hopes To Make Things A Whole Lot Friendlier
Mr. Kentucky 2017 James Lee (center) named International Mr. Leather 2018 with first runner up Mr Leather Belgium 2017 Sandro Cossero (left) and second runner up Mr. Friendly SF 2018 Stephan Ferris (right). Photo courtesy of IML
As the new International Mr. Leather, the Kentucky kinkster already has some plans for the scene. BY MIKELLE STREETJUNE 01 2018 12:32 PM EDT
A year ago, James Lee was having a pretty bad time at International Mr. Leather. As with every Memorial Day weekend for the past four decades, leatherfolk had descended on the city of Chicago for what continues to be one of the largest and most important leather events in the world. Lee, then Mr. Crossings Leather 2017 of Kentucky, was fresh off a break up with a partner of nine and a half years and in town for his first-ever IML. “It was the most horrible experience I ever had,” Lee told OUT in an interview this week. “I had just broke up with my partner and I saw him there with his Sir, a guy that we both had thought was attractive. It felt like he left me to be with someone else and I had to see them there the entire weekend.”
“So I was dreading IML this year,” he continued. “But low and behold, I end up becoming International Mr. Leather.” The title makes Lee the highest ranking holder in the leather world, on a year that’s particularly important for the competition.
This year was the 40th anniversary of IML. What started originally as a photoshoot organized by Chuck Renslow, an iconic leatherman, eventually morphed into the Mr. Gold Coast contest named after the leather bar he owned. The success of that contest saw it outgrow that bar, and thus its name, becoming IML.ADVERTISING
For 38 years Renslow was intimately involved in the contest, placing the sash on its winners and giving his “State of Leather” addresses every year from the IML podium. Last year, for the first time, he was not at the event as he was sick making Ralph Bruneau, IML 39, the first to ever be announced by someone other than Renslow. A month later he passed, a street in Chicago later being named after him as a testament to his influence and impact, making Lee the first titleholder in a post-Renslow leatherworld.
“I never got to meet Chuck face-to-face but the biggest thing for me this weekend that really hit hard is that you can do something so small [like a photoshoot] and it can turn out to be one of the most impactful things most of us value about our community,” Lee said.
Kentucky-based leatherman James Lee competing at IML 40 in Chicago. Photo courtesy of IML, Inc.
Lee got his start in the leather community back in 2012 though he says he’s been a kinkster all of his life. “When I was in middle school and high school I was always into being in the locker rooms with the jocks and doing odd things like smelling jocks and wrestling naked,” he said. “I thought it was all great and didn’t know at the time that those things were kinks and fetishes.”
But after an encounter with two daddies in Louisville, Kentucky he was exposed to his first leather bar: the now-shuttered Barracks. Dressed in chains and a jockstrap he was able to see “all of these great crazy people living their erotic fantasies in public.” The experience spurred Lee’s curiosity which would see him educate himself on the community and join it wholeheartedly.
On March 22, 2017, Lee ran for and won Mr. Crossings Leather 2017, his local bar title with plans on beefing up the local leather happenings. The win wouldn’t be his first title as back in 2011 he was Mr. Gay Houston USofA in the male entertainer version of the Miss Gay USofA drag pageant circuit. But this new leather title would set him on a track that would find him running for and winning Mr. Kentucky Leather 2017 before going up against 70 other men for the international slot. IML 40 would boost the largest competing class in the event’s history.
“I ran for [Mr. Kentucky Leather] as a thank you,” Lee, who is also a coach and a choreographer, explained. “It was a thank you to the community who helped me after my break up and told me I needed to continue to share with the world. I wanted to share with the world that through this community, you’ll always have a family.” That thank you has morphed into a year-long reign that will see the lifelong performer traveling across Europe and the Americas representing his leather family.
It is customary for each IML to have a cause. Last year, Bruneau’s was “Born Perfect” a campaign to outlaw conversion therapy for minors in all 50 states. At Cleveland Leather Annual Weekend in April he announced that he had raised $10,000 for the effort and legislative victories surrounding the campaign have recently been announced with Maryland recently passing their own bill to outlaw the anti-gay therapy.
While Lee is still deciding what causes he wants to take up, he does have a legacy in mind. “No one left behind,” he said. “By that I mean I really want to figure out a way to teach the community how to reach out to people who are coming to leather bars, or contests for the first time and seeing these radical sexualities being put on display, I want to teach the community how to incorporate these new people and make them feel in included.” It’s something that he’s already been doing on the state level with the Kentucky Leather Brotherhood.
International Mr. Leather 2018 James Lee and International Mr. Bootblack 2018 Lucky Rebel. Photo courtesy of IML, Inc.
But Lee’s win is also historic. He and his sash partner International Mr. Bootblack 2018 Lucky Rebel represent the first time in the contests’ history that both positions were filled by members of ONYX. ONYX is a leather club that hopes to educate, advocate for, and represent people of color in the community. This year will also be the second year that both IML and IMBB identify as people of color, the first being in 2014 when Ramien Pierre and Scout the Bootblack won.
“You know a lot of people are saying, ‘wow, there are ONYX members that are the IML and IMBB, are they going to turn it black or are they going to turn it all people of color?” Lee said. “No! We are there so that more people step out into the community and feel represented. We are there so our leather community grows and is not stifled.”
Sounds like a pretty good legacy from where we sit.
IML - 2017
International Mr. Bootblack Celebrates 25 Years
The 2017 International Mr. Leather (IML) and International Mr. Bootblack (IMBB) contests were held concurrently Thursday, May 25 through Monday, May 29 in Chicago. Host hotel was the Congress Plaza. The contest venue was the Auditorium Theater of Roosevelt University, conveniently across the street from the host hotel.
This year’s IML contest was the 39th and included 63 contestants, the most ever. The IMBB competition celebrated its 25th anniversary with three contestants. The weekend attracted over 15,000 visitors to Chicago and generated over $15 million in tourism revenue for the city.
Contestants came from 24 U.S. states and 11 other countries: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. This was the first year for contestants from two countries, Brazil (Dom Barbudo, Mr. Leather Brasil) and Finland (Holter Finn, Mr. Fetish Finland 2016).
This also was the first year IML included a Pakistani-American contestant (Ali Mushtaq, Mr. Long Beach Leather 2016), a fact that received coverage in The New York Times. Finally, this year’s most seasoned contestant (Jon Brittain, Mr. Classic Leather 2017, age 73) also was the most seasoned contestant in 39 years of IML. Brittain was an audience favorite and was selected as one of the top 20 finalists.
Minnesota was represented by Eric “Pup Omega” Stafford, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2017, and Ryan Coit, Mr. Twin Cities Leather 2017. Coit was selected as one of the top 20 finalists. Making a surprise appearance helping to announce the top 20 finalists during Sunday’s contest was Kevin Cwayna, who was Mr. Minnesota Leather 1997 and brought the International Mr. Leather 1997 title home to Minnesota.
For the first time in 39 years, IML co-founder and executive producer Chuck Renslow was unable to be present to welcome IML attendees because he was under doctor’s orders to rest (Renslow watched the contest at home via Skype). Renslow’s traditional welcome speech at the opening ceremonies was given by former IML executive director Jon Krongaard, while Renslow’s speech during Sunday evening’s contest was delivered by Joe Cervantes, a member of Renslow’s family.
The Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M) was prominent during the weekend. At Saturday morning’s Chairman’s Reception the Centaurs MC of Washington, DC presented the LA&M with a check for $40,000, part of which will be used to establish an endowment. It was also announced that Rick Storer, LA&M executive director for 15 years, will be leaving and that Christina Court will serve as interim executive director until a new executive director is selected. The LA&M later hosted a screening of Court’s new video, By The People: 25 Years Of Community Archiving at Leather Archives & Museum, which recently won a CineKink award for Best Documentary Short.
For the first time at IML, the Titans of the Midwest presented three Kink U sessions. The first, especially for IML newbies, was a panel discussion on “What is IML, anyway?”. This was followed by a leather history presentation by Rick Storer about Tony DeBlase, creator of the leather pride flag. The final presentation was “Changing Perspectives,” another panel discussion looking at leather through the eyes of pioneering “femme” personalities, one of whom was Emerson Kellogg, Mr. Twin Cities Leather 2016.
Throughout the weekend the famous IML Leather Market offered merchandise from over 50 vendors, including local favorite Twin Cities Leather.
The climax of the weekend arrived Sunday evening with the announcement of the winners of both contests. The runner-up for International Mr. Bootblack 2017 is Rhys, from Australia; the new International Mr. Bootblack 2016 is Ryan “Pawlish” Garner-Carpenter, from Cincinnati.
Second runner-up for IML 2017 is Joe King, Mr. Leather Europe, from the United Kingdom; first runner-up for IML 2017 is Geoff Millard, Mr. San Francisco Leather 2017; and the new International Mr. Leather 2017 is Ralph Bruneau, Mr. GNI Leather 2016, from Los Angeles. Bruneau has a PhD in clinical psychology and is a licensed marriage and family therapist.
IML - 2016
The 38th annual International Mr. Leather (IML) contest was held May 26–30, 2016 in Chicago. At Sunday night’s contest, held at the Harris Theater in Chicago’s Millennium Park, David “Tigger” Bailey, Mr. New Jersey Leather 2016, was awarded the International Mr. Leather 2016 title.
First runner-up honors went to Todd Harris, Mr. Chicago Leather 2016; second runner-up honors went to Adam “Pup Vino” Henderson, Mr. Midwest Leather 2015.
The International Mr. Bootblack contest was held concurrently with the International Mr. Leather contest, and the new International Mr. Bootblack is Erick Joseph, Alaska State Bootblack 2015, from Anchorage, Alaska.
This year marked the 23rd time I have attended the IML weekend, never having missed a year since my first IML in 1994. Considering that six of the first seven IMLs I attended used the Congress Plaza as the host hotel, and considering that the contest is again being headquartered at the Congress Plaza, it would stand to reason that as I walked through the hotel, and especially the Leather Market, I was having flashbacks and memories of years past.
For example, at the top of the escalator on the third floor was a corner space that was empty this year. But when I saw the space I remembered that many years ago it was filled with industrial-strength dungeon furniture made by two entrepreneurs from Minneapolis, and I remembered watching them having fun as they demonstrated it.
And in the room that this year held a T-shirt vendor, I remembered the year a friend was in that room staffing a booth for a Chicago organization called MAFIA (no, not organized crime; MAFIA stands for “Mid-America Fists in Action”). Ah, memories!
Now, of course, the major Minnesota presence in the Leather Market was the huge Twin Cities Leather booth, which had a room of its own and actually covered 12 booth spaces.
There were many other notable Minnesota presences this year at IML. On Thursday evening, a roast of the outgoing IML, Patrick Smith, and outgoing International Mr. Bootblack, Bamm-Bamm, was held at the Leather Archives & Museum. For the first time, two of the roasters were from Minnesota: Ren Rushold, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2015, and Steven Patton, Mr. Twin Cities Leather 2015. This year’s roast was probably the most wicked, vicious, and politically incorrect ever. It was delightful.
Then, from Friday night’s contestant introduction, to Saturday night’s “Pecs and Personality” physique prejudging event, to Sunday evening’s contest, many other Minnesotans helped keep the weekend going. Probably the most visible and celebrated were the two IML contestants representing Minnesota: L. Russell Waisanen, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2016, and Emerson Kellogg, Mr. Twin Cities Leather 2016.
Another contestant with Minnesota connections was Rob Anderson, Mr. Iowa Leather 2016, a former Twin Cities resident and member of the Atons of Minneapolis. Also highly visible throughout the weekend was Derek Harley, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2012, one of nine IML 2016 contest judges.
(Speaking of memories, four of the judges, including Harley, have previously been IML contestants and I had photographed all four of them as they competed.)
Other Minnesotans at IML included volunteers in many areas, including transportation logistics and social media photography. And then there were the many Minnesotans who came to Chicago simply to enjoy the weekend and cheer for their favorite contestants.
Some gay leathermen keep track of IML statistics the way some people keep track of baseball statistics. A few examples: this year there were 59 contestants, making this the largest contestant group since 2002. The contestants came from 7 countries (including, for the first time, Israel) and 25 states. David Bailey is the first IML titleholder to come from New Jersey. And contestants from Chicago, where the contest is held, have never before been among the top three finishers of the contest, leading to the idea of a “Chicago curse.” This year that curse was broken: both the first and second runners-up were from the Chicago area.
Early Life and Education
Smith was born on March 14, 1986 in Winnipeg, Canada. He is the only child of Judy Eastman, a real estate appraiser, and David Smith, a real estate broker. Smith graduated from Kelvin High School in 2004.
Smith enrolled at the University of Manitoba following high school, where he earned his Bachelor of Science. Upon leaving school, he moved to Ottawa, Ontario and accepted a job in federal politics as Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister. He later accepted a job as Director of Strategic Planning for the provincial Conservative party in his home town.
At age 25, Smith moved to Los Angeles to pursue his MBA at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, where he met his husband Michael. He graduated in 2013 on the Dean’s List of Honor Students.
In the Leather Community
While a regular at leather community events such as the Folsom Street Fair since 2012, Smith did not consider running for a leather title until he was urged by a friend in 2015.
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.
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.
In May of 2016, Smith was the subject of a Buzzfeed documentary about leather contests. The video was viewed more than 500,000 times within the first week of its release.
The Leatherpedia Project
In April 2017, Smith launched the Leatherpedia Project, which is aimed at digitally memorializing the leather community in an encyclopedic format.
Career and Personal Life
Smith is Director of Business Development for Marvel Entertainment, where he has been employed since 2013. He lives in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles with his husband Michael Malenitza.
Awards and Honors
Certificate of Recognition – Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (2016)
Harvey Milk Civil Rights Award – The San Diego Nicky Awards (2017)
Marcus Hernandez Leather Leadership Award (2016)
IML - 2014
Left to right: IML first runner-up Steve Dupont; International Mr. Leather 2014 Ramien Pierre; International Mr. Bootblack 2014 Scout; and IML second runner-up Cody Troy. Photo by Steve Lenius
The 36th edition of the International Mr. Leather (IML) contest weekend was held May 22-26, 2014, in Chicago. This was the 21st time your humble columnist has attended. In those 21 years I have seen many changes to the event. Yet the basics—masculine men in masculine attire, who also happen to be great guys with noble hearts—have remained the same. No wonder I keep coming back every year. The following is my impressionistic take on the 2014 IML weekend’s events.
It’s the unofficial kickoff to the International Mr. Leather weekend: a “roast” of Andy Cross and Oil Tan Sam, the outgoing International Mr. Leather 2013 and International Mr. Bootblack 2013 titleholders. The roast is held in the auditorium of the Leather Archives & Museum.
When the IML first and second runners-up are two of the people doing the roasting, fireworks are almost assured, and the evening does not disappoint. The knives are out and the claws are sharpened. Sacred cows are gored, secrets are betrayed, and canonical leather beliefs are blasphemed.
No one escapes unscathed—the titleholders being roasted, the people on stage doing the roasting, some people in the audience, and even a few people who weren’t even in attendance. But it’s all in good fun and all for a good cause (the event benefits the Leather Archives & Museum). Along with the bitchiness, there is an awful lot of love on that stage.
All 46 of this year’s contenders for the International Mr. Leather title are introduced at the official IML opening ceremonies. Then it’s time to party. The entire fourth floor of the hotel has been turned into Leather Central for the evening. While a silent auction benefiting the Leather Archives & Museum goes on in the hall, three ballrooms are filled with revelers at the San Francisco Party and Gear Blast. Approaching one of the ballrooms, I’m hit by blasts of both body heat and thumping sound waves.
Inside I see men in unitards, latex, leather aprons, sports gear, plush-headed cartoon costumes, kilts, harnesses, jocks, fatigues, spandex, cowboy gear, superhero suits, adult “boys” and human “pups” on leashes. The tribe is enjoying itself. I see all ages and all body types, and everyone seems to respect everyone else—it’s all good.
The music is not as loud as it has been in years past, so conversation is possible. I meet some men from Minneapolis and ask them if they have been to the Leather Market yet. They reply, “Only for necessities.”
I work my way down to the hotel lobby to see what’s going on there. The elevators are slow and infrequent and crowded with their own kind of (hot and sweaty) fun. The lobby is crowded, too. A table holds printed promotional flyers for vendors and events, but the table is half the size it has been in years past—perhaps more promotion is being done online? Next to the table is a cardboard box the size of a 55-gallon drum, and it is half-filled with condoms. (Tomorrow I will see two men refilling the box to the brim.)
Saturday, Leather Market
I run into a gentleman who is attending IML for the first time, and he is blown away by the size of the Leather Market. “I was expecting maybe a dozen vendors set up in the lobby,” he says. Instead he found a Leather Market filling two hotel ballrooms on the fifth and seventh floors of the host hotel (with an express escalator between the two floors). The Market is filled with 120 vendors selling all manner of leather and fetish goods. There is the expected (leather apparel, boots, paddles) and the unexpected (impressive iron dungeon beds and slings made from truck tires). The Leather Market welcomes 6,000 visitors each day it is open.
History is made as IML founder and Executive Producer Chuck Renslow officiates at the first legal same-sex wedding ever held at IML.
This year’s IML Contest and Show is held at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Chicago’s Millennium Park. The 46 contestants are introduced and then, based on preliminary judging, the top 20 finalists are announced. Each of the finalists shows his serious side by making a 90-second speech while dressed in formal leather. Each contestant also shows his playful side by getting a chance to own the stage and seduce the audience while wearing as little leather as possible.
While the judges’ scores are being tallied, the IML audience is entertained by—a string quartet? Yes, but the group, Well Strung, is not just any string quartet. Dressed in leather and displaying impressive physiques, these four classically trained musicians sing four-part boy-band harmonies while accompanying themselves on two violins, a cello, and a viola. The audience absolutely loves them—I even hear many audience members singing along.
At last, the winners are announced. Second runner-up is Cody Troy, Mr. Midwest Leather 2013; first runner-up is Steve Dupont, Mr. New England Leather 2014; and the new International Mr. Leather 2014 is Ramien Pierre, Mr. DC Eagle 2014.
In the theater lobby after the contest, and on the bus back to the hotel, I see people tapping out the news of the contest results on their jungle drums (also known as mobile phones). Once again, the tribe has a new leader for the year. Let the party continue.
IML - 2013
International Mr. Leather, Andy Cross, on common misconceptions, queer teens in Alaska and bringing the leather community closer together.
BY MARK ARIEL PHOTO BY: SYDNEY ERTHAL
INTERNATIONAL MISTER LEATHER (IML) is an international conference and contest of leathermen held annually since 1979.
Andy Cross, Mr. San Francisco Leather 2013, was named International Mr. Leather 2013 at the 35th annual IML Competition in Chicago last May.
In an interview with THE FIGHT the California native talks about coming out, getting into leather and finding family at the Powerhouse in San Francisco.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE GROWING UP AS A GAY KID IN SANTA MARIA?
Well, it wasn’t exactly the best place to grow up as a young gay guy looking for some action. Not that it was exactly the worst place by any means though. There was no outward persecution of gay people, no horrible acts of intolerance or any of that. It was just a small, boring town. The worst thing was the feeling that I had nothing in common with the rest of the people there. A lot of my friends were interested in raising cows for the county fair while I was much more interested in the cowboys. I knew of no other gay person, no role model or friend that could really understand. I remember just feeling suffocated.
WHEN DID YOU COME OUT TO YOURSELF, YOUR FAMILY, YOUR FRIENDS? WHAT WERE THEIR REACTIONS?
Like a lot of people, I suppose I always knew I was gay. I admitted it to myself around the time I graduated high school. I was dating a girl, and we messed around but I had no interest in “going all the way.” By this time I met a friend who I could confide most of my feelings to and she asked me my why I was dating this girl… and I said the first thing that popped into my head. “Because she looks like Britney Spears!” I blurted. We laugh about it to this day.
I have a pretty remarkable family and coming out to them was fairly painless. After I left Santa Maria I only really went back for big events or holidays. I had myself prepared for a big dramatic coming out with the possibility of having to leave. After I told my mother she very matter of factly said that she doesn’t care about that and never will and she loves me no matter what. I found out from a cousin later that everyone had pretty much known for quite a while and had placed bets on which holiday “it” would happen.
WHEN DID YOU REALIZE THAT YOU WERE INTO LEATHER?
My uncle came to visit us one time while I was a young boy. He rode his motorcycle and wore a black leather jacket. It was the hottest thing. That picture always stuck in my head. When I was older I discovered images by Tom of Finland and a whole world opened up. Leather to me has always been extremely masculine and sexy, and still is.
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS GAY FOLKS HAVE ABOUT THE LEATHER COMMUNITY?
I’ve been told that “leather” can be intimidating, and it definitely can be! I know! I was extremely intimidated when I first started with the leather community. Walking into a bar of large leather clad men can be a little scary for the first time. I wasn’t sure if I was dressed correctly or doing things properly or acting like an idiot. The thing that shook me out of it was overhearing a conversation between two VERY hot men about who they thought should win American Idol that year. I dawned on me that everyone there was just as gay as I was and that I was over-thinking this whole thing.
Another thing that I get a lot is that because I like leather I must also like pain. It is true that some leather folk get off on being tied up or whipped or stomped on or any other sort of painful activity, but most don’t. Let’s be honest—a little pain can be pretty erotic, but I don’t get off on causing or receiving pain. I totally understand how it can be for some, but it’s not sexy to me.
YOUR JOURNEY TO BECOMING INTERNATIONAL MR. LEATHER 2013 STARTED AT THE POWERHOUSE IN SAN FRANCISCO. CAN YOU GIVE US A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE EVENTS LEADING UP TO WINNING THE TITLE.
I first stepped foot in the Powerhouse bar in SF because I read a sex story about it when I was younger. I figured it would be everything I had imagined. Well, it wasn’t. I went in on an off night where there was probably 5 people in the whole place. The bartender told me to return on Saturday for more of a crowd, which there was. It became my hangout and was soon asked it I wanted to go-go dance. That was about 8 years ago, and I still do it.
The Powerhouse is also home of the “Bare Chest Calendar,” a fundraising calendar for “AIDS Emergency Fund.” I had seen Calendar Men at various events and always thought it would be a fun, sexy thing to do. I mean, if you’re going to volunteer you might as well do it with shirtless guys, right? That was my thought anyway. I decided to try out for the calendar and had the pleasure of being Mr. May 2012.
Because of my history with the Powerhouse and the calendar—I was encouraged to run for the Mr. Powerhouse Leather title—which feeds into the Mr. San Francisco Leather title. I ended up winning both and progressed to International Mr. Leather that takes place in Chicago. I ultimately ended up with that title as well…
The Powerhouse is definitely a family. In fact the first person to hug me backstage after I won the title was Scott, the manager of the bar and the one who first asked me to go-go dance.
WHAT ARE YOUR DUTIES AS INTERNATIONAL MR. LEATHER? HOW HAS THE EXPERIENCE BEEN FOR YOU? WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THE UPCOMING WINNER?
The only official duty as International Mr. Leather is to judge the next year’s contest. That’s it. Everything else is completely up to you. I decided after I won that I would try to travel as much as I could. When else in my life will I get this chance? Not only is it great to see different places and meet such great people but, as corny as it might sound, I believe it helps bring the leather community closer together and it also makes me feel satisfied. If I can help solve a problem someplace by telling what another community did in a similar situation or talk about my leather journey to queer teens in Alaska, I feel great about it. I’ve also been to places where no IML has ever been and seen them pull out the red carpet, literally, and essentially show off about how proud they are. Not that I think it’s all about me by any means mind you.
A mentor of mine, Patrick Mulcahey, once said in a speech that “It doesn’t matter what we come together for. It matters that we come together.” If I can somehow help facilitate that meeting by visiting places or judging contests or giving interviews I am happy to do so.
My advice for the next IML would be to brace yourself. Whether you believe it or not, you’re in for the most eventful year of your life.
IML - 2012
Early Life and Education
Woodruff was born on June 29, 1979 and grew up in a small town in Michigan on a farm. He spent his early years raising beef cattle, sheep, pigs, and a horse that he rode in local barrel racing competitions from the age of 7 through high school. Woodruff graduated from Beaverton High School, and from Central Michigan University in 2004 with a degree in Spanish, International Relations and Latin American studies.
In the Leather Community
Woodruff had his first leather experience at the Ramrod Bar in Fort Lauderdale during spring break of his senior year of college, where he won their weekly Battle of the Bulge contest.
The first organized leather event Woodruff attended was CLAW 2007. There, he met James Finley, Mr. Detroit Eagle 2008, who welcomed him and encouraged Woodruff to become a leatherman in his example.
As a Titleholder
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.
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.
Woodruff lives in Chicago with his partner and cub, Jim. He is a strong believer in polyamory. Professionally, Woodruff manages hospitality relationships for Groupon.
Awards & Honors
Mr. Wisconsin Leather Community Impact Award 2015
Nominee – Pantheon of Leather Man of the Year 2012
Nominee – Pantheon of Leather Couple of the Year 2012