PASSINGS: Si “Sly” Hands

CHICAGO — It is with a great sadness that we at Mr. International Rubber learned this morning of the sudden passing of Si “Sly” Hands, Mister International Rubber 2012. He was 33 years young. It’s hard to comprehend the vast number of people whose life he has impacted, but regardless of how they knew him or where they knew him from, we will all remember him as a passionate, generous, funny and creative man who was loved and admired by so many.

Si came to our attention in 2008 when he attended his first Mr. International Rubber weekend. Little did we know the force of nature and community pride that was about to be unleashed on the world. He developed a long lasting and deep friendship with the Chicago Rubbermen during that visit and he returned home intent on boosting the fetish scene in the UK and specifically in Manchester. He was struck by the social nature of the club in Chicago – where everyone could feel welcome, proud and confident in their gear without pressure to hook-up. Or as he put it “cheeky, friendly and drama free.”

In 2009, he started small with a new club, the “Manchester Rubbermen.” He personally hosted a few pub crawls – through both vanilla and fetish bars – so that everyone could ease into the experience of being out and about in their fetish gear at their own pace. That same year he launched Manchester Rubber Weekend, a city-wide international rubber fetish event that has grown from modest beginnings to a truly international event hosting over 600 people from around the globe each year. His friendly demeanor and welcoming attitude would help grow the club into a force in the gay village of Manchester and a benchmark for other clubs on the global fetish scene.

In 2011 he entered the first Mr. Rubber UK contest, winning the title and going on to earn the title of Mr. International Rubber 2012 when he competed in Chicago later that year. Over the course of two busy years of jet-setting travel representing those titles, he established himself as a leader on the global fetish scene. Throughout his year in the international spotlight he promoted his hometown and encouraged people from around the globe to visit and explore the fetish scene in Manchester.

When he finished his title year he focused his passion for photography and graphic design into a newly launched business, Sly Hands-Fetish Artist. Through his photography and design work, he merged his passion for fetish with his own unique dark and cinematic style of design. He worked extensively as a commercial photographer for well known fetish brands such as RECON, Mr. B, RoB & Co, and clubs like BLF to name just a few. His work was featured in numerous exhibitions including SEXhibition in Manchester, as well as solo shows in Amsterdam and Berlin. In 2015 he won the “We Fetish International Photography Prize” with his photo entitled “Got Milk”, one of many memorable works he would create featuring his friend and frequent muse Jean-Phillipe. He did event photography for fetish events around the world and loved helping individual men and women capture their own confident fetish style in photo shoots for which he was commissioned. He also frequently donated his graphic design skills to causes near to his heart. He helped numerous new rubber clubs by creating custom logos free of charge, each one incorporating a gas mask and rubber tire as found in the original Chicago Rubbermen logo, with elements unique to the club they represented. For his own club he borrowed elements from the Manchester flag for their logo design, and he did the same for numerous other clubs. He also donated his design skills to a unifying “I ♥ MCR” message that was widely shared following the attack on Manchester earlier this year. Through his art, he encouraged people to embody a physical expression of confidence both in and out of gear. One only need look to the many images posted by the members of his club via Facebook to see how he could change peoples lives for the better and find a confident sexy person hidden deep inside each person he encountered.

He continued to push himself, his community and his club to do more for others every day. Through his vision, the Manchester Rubbermen won multiple awards in a row with their strong and vibrant presence of endless rubber pride flags waving each year in the Manchester Pride Parade. He grew leadership from within to form a team of club leaders that yielded bigger and better events for Manchester and it’s fetish community each successive year. He was a driving force behind a charity art auction at his Manchester Rubber Weekend to promote other local visual artists. This year alone he and his team raised 7000 pounds for the Reach Clinic and their efforts to help those battling addiction issues in the Manchester community.

Though he did not speak of it often in fetish settings, Si was a man of deep faith. He was confident that God loved all of us regardless of orientation and that sexuality, like artistic expression, was just one of the many gifts that his creator had bestowed upon humanity. Though many of us have long credited Sidetrack as being the source of his love for show tunes, the truth is that Si developed that love during his many summers working as an international summer camp counselor at a YMCA camp in Massachusetts. He loved going to camp each year he could and seeing the kids he got to work with there. He was instrumental in their annual camp shows designing props, learning show tunes to twist in fun new ways and making sure that the next generation had positive role models in their lives.

As his passing was unexpected, funeral arrangements are not finalized at this moment. We will share them on our Facebook page as soon as they become public. In the meantime, we are aware of gatherings and celebrations of life that are being planned by his friends in cities around the globe. We will share those as we become aware of them. As an organization we will be celebrating Si’s life on various ways over the course of the year. Those efforts will be announced in the coming weeks and months. Our Rubber Memorial Ribbon will be available for use and sharing, as always, in a sign of solidarity and mutual mourning. Later tonight our website will be replaced with a memorial page featuring some of our favorite images of Si and his friends over the past few years.

All of us at MIR extend our heartfelt condolences to Si’s family, friends and colleagues around the world, especially to his partner Alex Baines, whom Si loved so deeply. As Alex stated so eloquently earlier today “Let us remember him as the fun loving, care free, joyous person he was and live a little more like that.” We certainly agree with that.

With our deepest sorrows and condolences,
William “Rubberwilli ” Schendel for
The Mr. International Rubber organization, staff and family