Recently, the first International Trans Gender Leather (ITGL)contest took place at the Eagle bar in Atlanta, Georgia, over the weekend of September 14th during Leather Bash. In order to get some insight on this contest, I interviewed Ian (International Mr. Transgender Leather), Samantha (International Ms. Transgender Leather) and Wayne Brawner (Producer of International Transgender Leather).
Ian and Samantha, What prompted you to run for this particular title?
Ian: When I heard about the International Transgender Leather title I was excited that Wayne brought three things I am passionate about together, (which in no particular order) were: Leather, education, and Transgender issues. I saw this as a Leather title that would also focus on helping others understand the issues facing the Trans community. I viewed ITGL as providing a platform to educate and help others. How could I not support a title like that?
Samantha: Some friends brought it to my attention while considering running for it some one that I respect asked me if I "really wanted to be known as that person" and it wasn't in the most positive manner. I realized not only do I, but I am that person already and it's not a negative thing. Plus I see the ITL title, as I'm sure Ian & Wayne do, as providing an opportunity and platform to educate others on Trans issues.
Did you feel you couldn't run for a leather title that was not Trans focused? Do you feel that the Cis gendered community isn't welcoming of transfolk in non-trans oriented leather contests?
Ian: Although I don't meet the contestant criteria for every Leather contest, I also don’t feel at all like I was excluded. I have worked with and supported numerous contests across the country in a variety of capacities. I believe that each contest and each title holder contributes to the community in their own significant way.
In 2010, I competed for and won Mr. Beyond Leather, an educational title, which was not Trans focused. However, I admit that I spent much of my title year presenting and helping people understand that the Trans community faces issues that many people never consider.
Samantha: As far as is the community welcoming of Trans people in non-trans titles, I feel most are. I'm sure I don't meet the criteria of some & that's ok. That said, each title does have its own agenda and it's time the Trans segment of the Leather community has a Trans specific title. I feel it’s just that simple.
Were you disappointed that the contest didn't have more contestants? Do you feel there was any particular reason for this?
Ian: I would have liked to see more participation, but I also think many people were standing back watching to see how the contest would turn out this year–and that's not uncommon. Many times we are all guilty of waiting to see how an event will turn out before becoming involved. Now with the economy being tighter and people not having as much money for events and extras they are picking the places they will attend more carefully and are less likely to travel for a first year event.
This year Samantha and I both will be working hard to promote the title and the Leather Bash. We will be putting out information about the contest, far and wide. Hopefully next year will see a much larger attendance at the Leather Bash and for ITGL.
Samantha: Yes I was, as I'm sure Ian & Wayne were. I'm sure others who would like to be involved are just watching to see how it is received as it is a new title. That said, I think that there will be more willing to step up and run for the ITL title next year as I do believe it is a great opportunity to educate the community on Trans issues.
Both of you have experience at other contests in one way or another. Was there anything in particular about this contest that stood out to you?
Ian: ITGL was a Leather contest that was structured to give a voice to the Transgender community and our experiences. The interviews, presentations with open Q&A, speeches, and all interactions during the weekend were designed to provide the opportunity to share “our voice” and life. Because of this unique focus, throughout the weekend, the contestants had to speak, "from the heart" and draw from life experiences, many of which were emotional and difficult, in order to answer questions for the audience and judges directly. Other contests often provide a 2 minute speech sharing the contestant’s thoughts and passions; ITGL provided 36 hours of “This is your life”.
The entire weekend was pretty stellar. Everyone at the event was very supportive, accepting and open to learning more about the Trans community and my experiences. My mother, who has never been to a gay bar, Leather event, contest or anything lifestyle-related, attended and enjoyed the entire weekend. It was humbling and at the same time strengthening to have her at the Leather Bash, interacting with everyone and answering people’s questions throughout the weekend.
Samantha: Sure, I was the one being judged. With that said, all the judges are amazing and respected people within the Leather community. I will not disappoint in their choice to give me, as well as Ian, this opportunity. I'm looking forward to not just representing, but promoting the ITL title as once again I feel, as I'm sure Ian and Wayne do, it really is a great opportunity to educate the community on Trans issues. You know how they say just have fun? It's not as easy as you might think but it was a very positive experience.
Now that you have won your title, what are your plans for your title year? What goals do you have and do you hope to make an impact on the Leather community either with a Trans focus or the Leather community in general?
Ian: During my title year I hope to make an impact at the events I attend, the presentations I give and the people I meet, by sharing who I am. If I am successful as International Mr. Transgender Leather 2012, I will help increase the awareness of issues the Trans community faces, improve acceptance of the Trans community, and at the same time, continue to share all aspects of myself with the community and they will see, a proud Leatherman, a proud Transman, and hopefully, just Ian.
Samantha: As I'm going to many events, I will talk to many people whether it’s with panel discussions, presentations or just person to person as I can. Most know there is a Trans community within Leather, so yes, I hope that in sharing of myself over the next year that people will see a proud Trans Leather woman and come to see the positive impact of all the Trans people within the Leather community.
Wayne, what motivated you as a Cis gendered Leatherman to start a contest for Transfolk?
Wayne: Before I answer that, I’d like to address the terms “cis” and “trans.” According to dictionary.com, cis- is a Latin prefix meaning "on the same side [as]" or "on this side [of]." The opposite of cis is the Latin prefix trans, meaning, “across, beyond, or through.”
When applied to gender, according to Wikipedia, a cisgender individual is one whose gender identity matches their body and the gender they were assigned at birth, as well as the traditional roles and behaviors associated with that gender.
What motivated me? Well, growing up in the South, as a gay and Southern and highly tattooed “half-breed” of Native American and German descent has given me a lifetime of experience with being to the right or left of center, and nowhere near the “norm”. So even though my gender identity matches the gender I was assigned at birth, in my mind, the rest of the “traditional roles and behaviors” are out the window. So I’m not so sure the term "Cisgender man" identifies me accurately either. Maybe it’s over-simplified, but I’m a simple country boy, and in my head, no matter how you slice it, I’m a helluva lot closer to being “across, beyond, and through” than I am to being "within the norm".
So now, as to what motivated me as a “cisgender” Leatherman to start a contest for Transfolk?
I’m not so sure insanity counts as a motivation, but I had owned the Mr./Ms. Ga Leather contest for several years and throughout the entire time, the topic of transgender contestants continued to come up in our planning meetings. And I know I might catch flack for this, but my first issue was with reinstating the original contestant criteria for Mr./Ms. Ga Leather—essentially that one must be a gay man or gay woman to run for the title. Those criteria just didn’t address the Trans community. We’re talking almost twenty years ago, and face it, Atlanta, as cosmopolitan as it is, still isn’t SF, LA or NYC.
So I had a dilemma: Keep my vision clear and reinstate the original criteria, which were exclusionary to transfolk, or, change the contestant criteria to include transfolk, even though it meant compromising my original vision for bringing back the title.
No doubt others would do things differently, but I wanted to stay true to my original concept for bringing back the Mr./Ms. Ga Leather contest, and yet at the same time, I didn’t want to exclude transfolk, so that’s when slave keith got the idea to have a separate contest and this was before we announced Mr. and Ms. Ga. Leather.
For us, and to those who spoke with us, it was about mutual respect, not exclusion or separation. I have worked with Trans people in my industry. They have brought their children to me because they knew I could help. I’ve lived among the transfolk for years. I’ve even had high school friends who’ve transitioned. For those that are interested, there’s a more detailed explanation on the Leather Bash page.
Once we decided to do that, my slave keith and I decided we needed to learn more about the issues facing the Trans community. So we started to talk with every transgender person we could who would listen to us in order to get feedback, to address issues, to explain our position, to learn their views. We explained our position of “vision vs. inclusion” and to my surprise and delight, most responded enthusiastically.
Of course there were naysayers, some very vocal naysayers, but there always are, but we were at a point of having to fish or cut bait. So, in spite of concerns expressed by some, we decided to go ahead with the Mr./Ms. International transgender Leather contest. And if people focus on one word, that word is: Leather.
I am not going to be “pc” here. I may not have a clue what a good representative or spokesperson for the greater transgender community might be, but I sure as hell know what I would like to see from a Leather title holder who was selected from among transgender contestants to be a representative to and for the larger Leather community. As a gay man, I stand in support of the Transgender community and want to everyone a voice within the Leather community so that we all might come to a greater understanding and appreciation of each other.
Recently there have been accusations made that some people applied to be contestants and were rejected. Can you speak to that.
Wayne: I'll be glad to address that. First of all, how many producers in their right minds, of any contest, would reject any qualified contestant–especially in the first year of the contest?
Contestants were to reply via e mail. It was alleged that I returned e-mail unopened. I'm not even sure that's possible to do, and if it is, I'm not the one who's tech savvy enough to do it. Of course these allegations don't bother to mention which e-mail it was sent to, either. And if by some remote chance the application was sent via snail mail, then I'd like to see the proof of that, like an envelope with my handwriting saying, "return to sender" or whatever. There's a big difference between being able to back up allegations and just talking trash. And let's say that's the mindset of this individual. And they did enter the contest. Well, if they didn't win, then it would be some other ridiculous accusation of collusion or who knows?
These unfounded and untrue accusations also found their way into both an article in Project Q and the Examiner article. I'm not aware of their editorial practices, but neither publication ever bothered to contact me, either for the original information or for a rebuttal, once these articles appeared. The "writer" just took bits and pieces off of a website and parsed it as if it were an interview. Oh and there's no byline on the article.
The entire accusation that I or any producer would sabotage their own contest is absurd. But of course the accusations continue, sort of like, "Gee, still beating your wife?"
But more importantly the focus should not be on the guy (or gal) sitting in the corner pissin’, bitchin’, and moanin’, but those who did show up to support this title–and that support was overwhelming.
Wayne, what do you hope to see as a result of this contest and do you believe it will have an impact on the general leather community?
Wayne: We didn't undertake this because we're short on titles. Rather the real issue at hand is that we need to have a greater understanding of the diverse people that make up the Leather community. Does that mean we always have to be in the sandbox together all the time? No, but it means when we elect to get in the same sandbox we need to show the respect we'd like to be given. Beyond that, it's the job of the titleholders to provide the necessary bridge, the education, to open lines of communication–to me, that's the only reason to start a contest for growth.
As a gay man, I'm the first to tell you that the Leather community began with gay men, mostly white gay men, and then there were a handful of women, and then a handful of gay men of color, and then some het folks, and on and on. The strength of the Leather community is in its traditions. The relevance of the Leather community may just be in its growth and expansion. To whatever degree, no matter how we parse it, we're all in this together–and if not by our own definition, then certainly by the definition of the outside world.
To see the contest grow to a truly international level, or even a Pan-American one, that's the ultimate goal behind the contest. It's about communicating. It's about learning who we are, as subsets of the Leather community, but more importantly as individuals within the Leather community. And each of us does matter in our own unique way.