The month of May is a special time in Chicago, as we count down the days, hours and minutes to the Holiest of Holy Weeks in our Leather tribe – IML weekend. Local clubs and bars are busy getting their plans ready, volunteers are lining up their play plans with their shifts, vendors are busy selling gear and clothing due to those last minute “Holy crap, this doesn’t fit anymore” moments. The local Mr. Chicago Leather send-off party and the Saturday “Packet Stuffing” work days are traditionally when IML begins for Chicagoans, as we get ready to welcome our leather family back home to the Second City for a First Class experience.
I have been attending IML almost regularly since 1995, when I nervously walked into the Leather Market as a newly-out kinkling, shocked at the porn and the outward displays of male and female sexuality. I had never seen such a gathering or experienced the press of half naked men in leather as we walked through the market. I have to admit that for the first few years, I attended only the Leather Market and some of the outlying parties that sprang up in the kink world. Then, at IML 2002, I was invited to join a group going to the Cellblock – it was a leatherwoman + partner party – and I was initiated into the energy that comes with IML. The leathermen and women who were there at that party were sexy as hell – cruising hard and letting it all out. I was hooked on IML magic from that point forward. With the exception of missing one year, from that point forward, I have attended every IML and drank from that stream of pure sexual, leather energy that surrounds the city. (And that one year, I stayed home and had sex all weekend, so I was in IML spirit and tradition!)
As I’ve gotten more and more involved in the titleholding and educational part of the leather community, I’ve come to see the IML contest from a very different perspective. I hear people say “We don’t need contests” and “We don’t need titleholders” or “titleholders aren’t our leaders” and I get that, but I also have seen what happens at IML. Those contestants, and those titleholders who come to IML as volunteers, or just as participants, they come away from the gathering changed. The IML classes take home that energy, those bonds, those connections and those memories forged in a whirlwind weekend. It’s those lasting bonds/energy that help bring us together. One IML contestant going back to their community may touch only a handful of people, but then he’s paying that energy forward. He’s carrying those bonds to his community, and then that brings maybe a few folks back to Chicago. And then they form bonds. For the non-competing titleholders, it’s a chance to form bonds and connections as well. Volunteers do the same, serving the gathered tribe, working together.
These threads woven between contestants, volunteers and attendees is a good part of the fabric of the leather community – the same fabric made at Folsom, at MAL, at IMsL, at events and contests and gatherings across the world.
This weekend, having the privilege of being a volunteer for the LA&M and of watching my friends and family be a part of the production crew, or as contestants in the IML/IMBB contest, it reaffirmed my belief that IML and events like it represent a wonderful opportunity for us to see the leather community thrive. Anyone who says “Leather is dead” needs to come to IML. They will walk away with a vastly different outlook. In the past 19 years, I have seen things change, there are more puppies (WOOF!) and more colorful and interesting uses of cow-hide, but that energy, that sexual, leather energy, it still flows and it still energizes.
And I am grateful to have been allowed to be part of that.
Hope you had a wonderful time at IML36. We’ll see you in Chicago again next year.