Community Comment: What we talk about when we talk about IML

By Rabbit Redd

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

International Mr. Leather. “That Thing we do In May”. The kinky, raunchy, fun event that draws friends across the world to reconnect, strangers to fuck, and Titleholders to compete. For many of us it defines our friendships, our activism and our Tumblr porn. For others still it defines our first moment with people like us, the first time we met our lovers, and the first time we groaned at the stupid amount of money we blew at the vendor mart. When we talk about IML we talk about the beginning and end of our internal calendar year. When we talk about IML we talk proudly about something that the rest of the world sees as paradox: sexuality that epitomizes honor, history, and freedom.

That’s us on a good day though. And anyone on a good day is usually full of shit.

It’s not that IML isn’t those things. It absolutely is. When we talk about the International Mr. Leather and the community he’s supposed to represent, we’re not lying. Even though we beat each other black and blue most of us play nice. We know that IML is (much like Hell) Other People and if you ruin things for Other People it’ll bite you in the ass but not in the way you usually enjoy. But when we talk about IML, we also talk about the worst. We talk about alienation, privilege and silence. And for the sake of integrity, we can’t ignore it when other people speak.

Ironically the first thing is the thing is “Mr.”

There really should be nothing wrong here. Male of center Queer people compete for the title. That, a sponsorship, and a strong strength of heart are all it takes to qualify. However, people take it to mean that male of center Queer people are the only ones who have any business at the event at all. Usually people who traditionally look like the title holder. The title becomes entitlement and you have a bunch of cisgender gay guys making rude comments about the amount of “vaginas” in the Congress elevator when the leather folk around them (male or not) might have vaginas. Even our International Ms. Leather, the Title Sister to the very man the judging panel is about to select, has been made to feel unwelcome. What the hell guys, our IML 2010, Tyler McCormick, was born with a vagina!

Hard truth time: Misogyny and Transphobia are not new to IML. This is not a new thing. But the fact that we’re only starting to get around to discussing in some corners is long overdue.

I’m not going to beat around the bush either, this is something even other IMLs get wrong. I had a real problem with our thirty-eighth IML’s step-down speech. It was clear that he meant well, but when he implored people to stop “attacking” others on the basis that they were “cisgender white males” and that we all shared the same title of “gay” showed a shocking amount of myopia, towards the lesbians, transfolk, bisexuals of ours. “We need to listen to our POC brothers better,” he followed up with, ironically not catching on that his POC brothers need people to understand the privilege of their whiteness in order to adequately listen. IML (much like Hell) is always paved with good intentions. And then there was applause.

When we talk about IML, we don’t talk about moments like these nearly enough. If we talk about them we get angry, and we don’t go to IML to get angry. We have a bad habit of thinking that raising our voices in anger lacks protocol or honor. But anger is a tool and none of us would be here if we weren’t a little angry. We’re angry enough to look at our desires and what society wanted those desires to choose something different. We’re angry enough to go to IML. We’re angry enough to stick together even if we’re angry at each other when our identities are erased. Anger is a tool. Don’t believe me? Try fucking angry. And if you’re angry at me at me after reading this try fucking *me* angry. No way in hell am I going to pass that up.

Things are changing and it’s hard to talk about change, especially in a culture that jealously guards its history. When Pup Tugger walked across the IML stage in heels, that was history. When Ramien Pierre won IML in 2014, becoming the third Black Leatherman to inherit the title, that was history too. When you were flogged for the first time, you were history and when you shot inside the bound man who would eventually become your sub, you two made history. You passed it down. By listening to these stories, other people changed for the better. But when we deny, belittle, erase or otherwise disenfranchise our minorities within this little minority of ours we make history, too. Pass it down. Learn from it. Because when we want to talk about International Mr Leather, we talk about each one being better than the last.