Community Comment: In Defense of Titles and Contests

The statements and thoughts below are truly my own. Just another voice in the dialogue of our community. –  Jason Zahlen

I will start this out by saying that I am a self-avowed title groupie. I love hanging around titleholders and the energy they bring. Contest weekends are major event weekends for me, and I’m easily found at them helping out and volunteering one way or another. I don’t flag silver lamé, but I come close.

Community Comment is an occasional column written by community members on various topics of living a leather, bear and kink lifestyle.

Consequently, I feel that a balancing voice should be inserted into the current community discussion that appears to be questioning the value and relevance of titleholders these days. I see value in titleholders and the title circuit for many segments of the leather/kink/fetish community.

Some thoughts on Titleholders:

First and foremost, not all titleholders are leaders. Conversely, not all leaders in the community have titles. I think that the community does need to remember this – there’s not a one-to-one correlation. Titleholders should be front men (and women), though. They are at best eloquent spokespeople for us and, at a minimum, pleasant and approachable figureheads. I will freely admit that I’ve seen some phenomenal people use their titles in a great leadership capacity. It’s been enjoyable to watch individuals use won positions to truly step in and contribute to their respective personal interests and communities. I’ve also seen titleholders I wouldn’t trust to lead me across the street: easy on the eyes but sorely lacking in personality and intelligence.

The fact is, though, that the opportunity to be in the spotlight has given every one of these men and women a voice and a chance to give their time and energy back to the community. At least for a year.

Some thoughts on Contests:

Contests vary quite a bit by region and producer, but the one thing they do quite well is bring people together. Because it’s an “event,” people who normally don’t partake regularly in the community will often come out and observe. The events are entertainment as well as a chance to spotlight those people brave enough to step forward for the right to represent. Contests serve the immediate needs of the community by giving an outlet for engagement as much as they help celebrate and choose a representative.

Most of the criticism of titles I’ve heard has come from the West Coast. A wealth of contests and titles truly exist there. Given there are typically six contests that feed into Mr. SF Leather and ten that feed into Mr. LA Leather – every year – I can see how contest fatigue can quickly set in. Yet, if you look at other places in the country – especially my own MidWest region – one finds that the one or maybe two local contests end up being MAJOR events during the year. If someone wants to represent their community at one of the international contests such as IML, MIR, or ILS/b this is their only chance to step forward and compete. And I’ve seen great people run at these contests, not win, and go on to contribute a lot. It’s not an everyday event that interrupts a Saturday night at the local bar, it’s a major undertaking for these contestants that often see months of preparation.

I credit former titleholders who’ve represented well and producers who have developed good contestants for making even the act of running for one of these local titles something worthwhile and individually valuable. Through these efforts, I’ve seen local communities grow and even start to look beyond the contest event. One of the criticisms I’ve heard of contests is that they take too many resources away from other efforts that could serve the community better, but, with people heading to the Internet instead of central gathering points (i.e. bars), there are fewer and fewer opportunities to get us all together in one place. Good contest weekends draw people out and allow for connections. I’m seeing more education, more communication, and more instigation of further efforts to bring people together – all happening because of the contest events. Maybe strongly developed leather centers such as SF and LA (my personal view) can look beyond the contest event to other ways of serving the community, but reconnecting the community is what’s often needed in smaller cities and areas – as well as bringing in fresh blood. Contests and titleholders do just that.

Yes, there are issues, politics, egos, and all the other ills that come with bringing large groups of people together in a community. It happens. Being aware of this potential is key to making contest event weekends and the resulting titleholders successful. But the resulting benefits to the community as a whole are worth the effort.

So, while some people might be tired of the contests and how resources are allocated within the community, I’ll continue to support the contests and the titleholders they generate. I see the events as connecting us and giving us the opportunity to go further. Let’s have fun during these weekends and take the next steps together.

Jason Zahlen is the current President of the Titans of the Midwest, an Associate member of the Chicago Hellfire Club, and the patriarch of his own small but vibrant leather family.  He’s volunteered for many contests, and is a current staff member for IML.  He is known for his philosophical ruminations about the leather community and has been accused of ‘thinking way too much’ about things.