International Mr. Leather has been called by some a journey to Mecca or a pilgrimage that all should make. I would agree with that statement. This year I was not able to attend due to other advocacy trips that I have planned for around the country. The weekend had not even begun and I was already regretting that I was unable to attend.
Yes, there are plenty of hot men in leather. There are pups, furries, ponies and everything in between. There are parties and brunches, NA meetings and cigar socials. For me, however, International Mr. Leather (IML) is like a huge family reunion. Once a year, leather men and women journey to Chicago, Illinois and for a bit they can forget about the outside world. For a bit, it is ok to completely let your guard down and be just a person in the crowd rather than someone who completely stands out. Whatever your kink, fetish, interest or desire… I promise you that at IML you are not alone.
The relationships that are formed during IML are ones that will be life-long and that you look forward to year after year. Whether it is the amazing Onyx party or the Mama’s Family Photo, there is never a dull moment to be found at International Mr. Leather. For anyone who has never been to International Mr. Leather it can be hard to conceptualize a large hotel being taken over by leather however that is exactly what happens. Starting on Wednesday leading up to IML, contestants and their handlers start to trickle in from all around the world. These delegates all have been selected by their communities to represent them in the largest leather contest in the world; as Friday arrives, so too do thousands of Leather men and women and just as quickly Chicago becomes home to the largest concentration of leather in the world.
Nope, there is nothing like walking up Michigan Avenue in a jockstrap or chaps to make you feel more liberated. The moment when you walk down to the lobby and realize that it has morphed into a dance floor for hundreds of people wearing gear that makes them comfortable, whatever that might be. Any other day of the year, a pup wearing logger boots or a Daddy decked out in high-cow leather might be a rarity in the Chicago streets however during this weekend it is the norm.
The weekend will soon come to an end and just as quickly as everyone came, they will adjourn until the next year. Numbers exchanged, Facebook friends added and people will return to their communities with a revitalized commitment to their communities and to themselves. Some might call the journey to International Mr. Leather a spiritual journey and I would agree with that statement as well.
As I watch via social media, the amazing weekend that is being had at International Mr. Leather it joys my heart to know that is my community. It makes me happy to see so many new people who are experiencing IML for the very first time. I hope that their experiences have been like mine and that they find their place in our wonder family that we call the leather community.
Aaron Laxton is an HIV activist and “Mama’s Kinky Educator.” Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlaxton. He serves on the Community Advisory Board for teh AIDS Clinical Trials Group as well as the Community Scientific Sub-Committee. He lives in St. Louis and his column runs monthly.