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San Francisco, CA –- Sometimes I question why we do the things we do. In relation to the leather/Sm community I most often question why we do title contests. You'd think I'd question why we engage in the type of play we do, but no. I'm intellectually satisfied by my understanding of those motivations. What I question is the return on the investment we make in titles and title contests.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit my involvement in the title circuit is extensive. That involvement stems back only six years to 2002 when I competed for and won Washington State Mr Leather, but has expanded quickly. I now serve on the board of the Washington State Mr|Ms Leather Organization (WSMLO) and produce that contest in addition to serving on the board of Generic Leather Productions of Washington which produces the Northwest Leather Sir/boy and Community Bootblack contest. I have emceed, auctioneered, presented, performed and judged at various local, regional and international title contest events around the country.
I know it sounds like I'm pretty committed to these events but I will be the first to admit they can be quite ridiculous... well maybe not the first. I know producing any one of these contests is a tremendous endeavor requiring the efforts of many volunteers. I wonder about the impact these events have on those that attend and compete; not to mention why the results of these contests can at times elevate individuals that make such pathetic title holders. I ask myself if these are a better approach or alternative to every aspect of the process. I can't help but ask if all this effort provides any value add to the community we are trying to serve.
As I attend the International Leather Sir/boy and International Community Bootblack (ILSb & ICBB) contest in the auspicious position of serving as a judge for the competition I am reminded of all these questions and taken back to the time I stood on the other side of the long table before a similar panel of judges.
After the death of my military/Sm family in southern California, I moved to Seattle. Approaching and breaking into the scene back then was no easy task. I was reluctant to form any close bonds after losing so many and know I wasn't the only one that felt that way in the early '90s. The fact I was a skinny, little twink with a cocky attitude, impulsive nature and residual anger management issues didn't help much either.
Then I went away for a while. By the time I got back out and into the scene again five years later, few viewed me as little more than some circuit boy. It took entering a leather title contest to connect with the people I could trust enough to expand my Sm experience. Running for and serving as Washington State Mr Leather in 2002 was the catalyst that gave me the chance to grow into my current role as an activist in our community. For better or worse, it thrust me into a leadership role, but also exposed me to leaders that set the example to emulate.
Now I'm not suggesting that my experience is common. Of all those who enter a title contest only one emerges with that title and the impact of the experience will be as unique as each individual's efforts. Regardless of the outcome, every contestant that steps up can find personal growth through the experience and a sense of accomplishment by taking the challenge. For those with a social agenda, the time on stage and the possibility of a title year can provide an excellent platform. For those with leadership potential, it can open up resources to help mentor and groom that potential.
I'll add that many of these benefits are not limited to contestants and title holders. Contests and the activities associated with these events provide ample opportunities for the members of our community to come together. Whether a spectator or volunteer the bonds that can be created at these events can last a lifetime.
Are title contests the only means to theses ends? No, there are regional events like CLAW and leather/Sm runs like Inferno and Boot Camp that draw players from around the world in a spirit of camaraderie. In many ways I find these non-contest events preferable to those involving sashes, but there is still something of value to titles. We have a long tradition of leadership and community activism associated with leather titles. From local and regional contests through international titles, the organizations and individuals involved have worked to elevate social consciousness on issues affecting our communities like AIDS and drug addiction. They have sponsored and presented opportunities to expand our BDSM skills and knowledge. They've raised funds for non-profits serving those of us most in need. They have helped us morn our dead and cultivate new generations of leaders. They are a source of history and cohesion.
I am confident that these traditions will continue with the current International Leather Sir/boy and Community Bootblack title holders (pictured right). Please join me in congratulating and welcoming International Leatherboy 2008, Bill Hoeppner from Florida; International LeatherSIR 2008, Raul Mendez from Florida; and International Community Bootblack 2008, Black-Jack Pearce of Toronto, Canada. When I was asked to judge the ILSb & ICBB competition I came to the panel with one goal, to witness real players emerge with the titles. I didn't care if they were novice or experienced players so long as they were honest and responsible players. There is no doubt in my mind that these three men meet that criterion. Mark Frazier, Randal Kinnear and their crew did an amazing job producing this year's competition and I am very pleased by both the move to San Francisco and the renewed focus on making these, the players' titles. I also want to thank Titan Media for stepping up as a sponsor for the contest. I'm proud to be associated with a studio that actually invests back into the community.