International Mr. Leather coverage by Steve Lenius
Tyler McCormick is not the first guy in a wheelchair to compete in the International Mr. Leather (IML) contest. And he's not the first transman (female-to-male transgender person) to compete in IML, either.
McCormick, who competed as Mr. Rio Grande Leather 2010, was awarded the International Mr. Leather 2010 title during the 32nd annual International Mr. Leather Contest and Show on Sunday evening, May 30, at the Congress Theater in Chicago. Host hotel for this year's International Mr. Leather weekend was the Hyatt Regency Chicago. It is estimated that this year's IML weekend drew over 16,000 people.
A third "first": McCormick is the first International Mr. Leather from New Mexico. McCormick is sponsored by Rio Grande Leather, New Mexico Leather Wolves and SelfServedToys.com, all of Albuquerque.
McCormick was selected as the new International Mr. Leather from a field of 52 contestants from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, South Africa, Germany, the United Kingdom and 22 states in the U.S. First runner-up was Lance Holman, Mr. San Francisco Leather 2010, and second runner-up honors went to Jack Andrew Duke, Mr. Texas Leather 2010.
This year's official IML schedule was compressed so that the first official event, the Opening Ceremonies, was on Friday evening this year instead of Thursday evening. The contestants still arrived on Thursday, however, and drew numbers to determine their order of competition. By the time of the official Opening Ceremonies on Friday evening many of the contestants had already been through their private interviews with the weekend's judges.
A Thursday-night (May 27) roast for outgoing IML 2009 Jeffrey Payne, held in the Etienne Auditorium at the Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M), served as the unofficial opener to the weekend's events. The sold-out event was a fundraiser for the LA&M, and the auditorium was packed to capacity. After being introduced by emcee Frank Nowicki, three of the evening's roasters (Randall "Bear Man" Klett, Dan Perry and RJ Chaffin), shared a few amusing stories about Jeffrey's title year. But it was a bit softball because, as Perry said, "Where do you find dirt on this man?" The evening turned hardball with the appearance of a fourth, "mystery" roaster, who turned out to be Payne's husband, David Roy. He lovingly and tenderly dished about Payne through fourteen pages of prepared remarks.
The IML Leather Market opened Friday morning at 11 AM. Despite the absence of vendors selling bareback porn, the market was filled with over 120 leather and fetish vendors, clubs and organizations. One of the hot new items in the market this year was 3D porn.
In the bootblack area of the Leather Market, five bootblacks competing for this year's International Mr. Bootblack title were kept busying shining boots nonstop. A small stage in the Leather Market area hosted a series of presentations and demonstrations throughout the weekend, including the announcement of this year's Pantheon of Leather Community Service Award nominees. The Leather Market also was open Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Friday evening's Opening Ceremonies turned out, in the opinion of many in the audience, to be too much of a good thing. The evening started with a short welcome by IML Executive Producer Chuck Renslow. The weekend's contestants were introduced, first during the traditional flag ceremony with each contestant or group of contestants carrying their state's or country's flag, and later individually. The judges were introduced. The bootblack contestants were introduced. The Leather Archives & Museum and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) made short but effective presentations. There was a step-aside ceremony for International Mr. Bootblack 2009, McG.
The Opening Ceremonies also featured "Leatherfolk Have Talent," a new addition to the IML event schedule. Emceed and curated by Walter Cunningham, this new leather-community talent contest featured performances by three singers, a comedian and a poet/spoken word artist, with the audience voting for the winner.
Finally, with the hour already running late, it was time for IML 2009 Jeffrey Payne's step-aside ceremony. While it is not uncommon for an IML titleholder's step-aside to run long, this is probably the first instance in which the time overrun was due not to the titleholder himself speaking at length (Payne spoke relatively briefly), but instead to the eight other invited speakers saying too many nice things about the outgoing titleholder. Still, at the conclusion of the step-aside, when the stage was filled with representatives of all the people, clubs and organizations that had been a part of Payne's title year, it was a good visual representation of how much support Payne had enjoyed, and how inclusive his title year had been.
The evening's (and the weekend's) emcees were Michael Brandon and Karen Crecelius. Brandon was personable and wore his hooded chainmail shirt well, and he was gentlemanly enough to let the fabulous Ms. Crecelius have all the best lines of the evening.
Other Friday evening events included a Rubber Meet & Greet, a Woof Camp for leather pups and their handlers, and parties celebrating gear, uniforms and San Francisco.
Saturday's daytime events included People of Color Leather Caucus, parties hosted by the Chicago Hellfire Club and the Windy City Boys Troup, and a screening of "Kink Crusaders," a new documentary about IML. There also was a celebration of the life of the late Marcus Hernandez, San Francisco's legendary leather columnist.
IML's physique prejudging event, affectionately known as "Pecs and Personality," was presented Saturday evening with Crecelius as the sole emcee. For the contestants, the object of the event was to spend their time onstage wearing as little as possible while being sexy, funny and entertaining. After the physique prejudging the hotel's various ballrooms were filled with parties and receptions celebrating bootblacks, Texas, gear, uniforms and the Onyx leather club. IML weekend attendees also could participate in one of the many Leather (Twelve-Step) Recovery meetings held throughout the weekend.
The main event of IML weekend always is the IML Contest and Show. This year the contest returned to Chicago's Congress Theater after a five-year absence; the theater was originally built as a grand movie palace and was the home of the IML Contest and Show from 1994 to 2004. Since 2004 a few things have changed: all the theater's seats have been removed, and seating is now cabaret-style on folding chairs around cocktail tables. Also new since 2004 is the ritual of being patted down (and not in a sexy way) upon entering the theater.
The theme of this year's contest, and indeed the entire weekend, was "2010: A Leather Odyssey." The show's opening video montage was a "Star Wars"-style space fantasy underscored with the entire "Mars, the Bringer of War" movement from Gustav Holst's "The Planets." At the end of the montage, the video-screen rocket that had been zooming through far-away galaxies landed gently, its cargo-bay door opened, and out walked the IML contestants for their introductions.
Following a short welcome by Chuck Renslow and the introduction of the weekend's judges, there was a video tribute to the late Marcus Hernandez, also known as "Mr. Marcus" and "Marcus the Merciless." He had been a part of every International Mr. Leather contest except the first one in 1979, and every year he had the pleasure of announcing the contest's top 20 finalists. At the conclusion of the video tribute, Marcus’ adopted leather daughter, Queen Cougar, came to the stage and carried on the family tradition by announcing this year's Top 20.
The evening’s competition then continued with the Speech and Physique judging events. The first ten finalists made speeches of 90 seconds or less, while the second ten finalists made the traditional "jock walk" around the stage while the audience cheered. Then, after the evening's intermission and some entertainment, the second ten finalists made their speeches while the first ten displayed their physiques.
Entertainment following the intermission was by Mantryx, a gay male erotic acrobatic duo. The two men started their act suspended from a chain hanging from the middle of a dome in the theater's roof, and one of the men later did some suspended mid-air rope self-bondage. The act also included a balletic Master/slave scene, some whip play, fencing with flaming batons and fire-eating and -breathing.
After each of the 20 finalists had made their speech and strutted their stuff, the judges marked their final scores and the tallymasters made their final counts. While this was happening, the winner of the "Leatherfolk Have Talent" contest was announced: poet/spoken word artist Rodney McCoy, Jr. won the $1,000 prize. Then actor/singer/songwriter (and former adult-film star) Colton Ford sang several high-energy numbers including "Show Me Love" and "Losing My Religion."
Finally, it was time for the moment everyone in the theater had been waiting for: the announcement of the evening's winners and the sashing of Tyler McCormick as the new International Mr. Leather. With that, the stage was rushed by photographers, videographers, titleholders and assorted well-wishers, and the congratulating and celebrating went on for quite some time. Following the IML Contest and Show, the Salute post-contest party took place at Chicago's famous House of Blues.
Then came Monday morning, Memorial Day, and the bittersweet sight of the leather tribe packing up, checking out of the hotel and starting to disperse. The final day of the Leather Market was active until late in the afternoon with last-minute shoppers.
And yet, the party still wasn’t over. Many attendees stayed for the grand finale, Monday night's Black and Blue Ball at Excalibur, a nightclub housed in a modern-day castle formerly occupied by the Chicago Historical Society. The event was a fitting last hurrah to an amazing weekend, and one final chance to revel in the energy of IML before heading home on Tuesday.