On the agenda tonight was the roast of International Mr. Leather 2010, Tyler McCormick. I have yet to meet Mr. McCormick. (I know, I know, he's a judge, and I should be BFF's with all the judges at this point. *sigh* I should just leave now.) But, he's part of the reason that I'm here. I haven't paid much attention to leather contests of any stripe previously. They just seemed a wee bit un-serious to me. But when the news reached me about the outcome of International Leather 2010, I literally stood up and cheered. He is unconventional in a number of respects. Not to take anything away from him, but let's just say he didn't win based on his good looks alone. It was, perhaps, sort of a Glee Moment. And speaking as someone who has never been one of the Cool Kids, and who has always felt himself to be something of an oddball, the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend last year was a great day for oddballs and misfits everywhere. Plus, I was in ACT UP in my formative years, and if you start waving the flag of equality and inclusion, I'll be right there with you at the barricades.
The roast was held at the Leather Archives & Museum. I had never been there before on my previous trips to Chicago, and I'll own some snarky cynicism on my part for keeping me away. I divide the history of the leather community into two parts: there's the part that came before me, and then there's the (not insubstantial) part that I lived through. As to the part that came before me, I'm always suspect of tales of the misty golden hallowed past. Most of the time, they're told by someone with an agenda, and going to far down that road makes you a reactionary. The shorthand is often, "Things used to be great! But then you damn kids came along and it all went to hell."
And then there's the part that I lived through. The first time I went to a leather bar was in 1988. There were no Old Guard Mentors there to take the measure of me, school me in the great traditions, and make me earn my leathers. At that time, they were either caring for their dying friends or were stricken themselves. I had to make the path by walking, and although that was frustrating and confusing in some respects, in others it was glorious.
And I remember what that time was like. And I remember the assimilationist debates of the early Nineties, when it was argued that the price of gaining civil rights was to exclude drag queens and leatherfolk. And I remember the whole Next Generation phenomenon, with that DIY spirit that came with it. And I remember the advent of the internet and the toll taken on all those leather bars I loved. So when Rihanna and Britney Spears sing about whips and chains at the Billboard Music Awards, I'm aware at how much is simultaneously gained and lost by that development.
Well, I was wrong about the Leather Archives & Museum. But there's the thing I forgot about, the glue that holds it all together. In all the old photographs of bike runs and contests and club gatherings, there are all those faces, grinning ear-to-ear. It's all about joy, pure and unmitigated joy. It's the joy of finally finding your place in the world, and the joy of knowing that you are among friends.
The Leather Archives and Museum is a great place to visit.