Monday, March 24, 2008

Sidney McFadden Wins Mr. San Diego Leather


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

“There are two words in the English language that are often used, but have no meaning unless they come from the heart, and they are, ‘Thank you,’” said Sidney McFadden at the 2008 Mr. Leather San Diego contest pageant at Rich’s dance bar in Hillcrest March 15. “Thank you to this community, thank you to the judges, thank you for everyone who’s come in here today and joined us.”

Shortly thereafter, McFadden had even more to thank the judges for when he was awarded the 2008 Mr. San Diego Leather title over three other aspirants, all of whom had made strong presentations in the public-speaking portion of the contest. McFadden became San Diego’s second African-American Mr. Leather in a row, taking over the title from 2007 Mr. Leather winner Lee Butler.

Runner-up Rob Donati turned his speech into a personal confession of his past. “I began using recreational drugs in 2000. A friend of mine who wanted a relationship supplied me with them for free. As a dancer, they kept me alert and helped me get into the music. I convinced myself that I needed them. I soon realized that I was using them to escape the loneliness and failed relationships, and the fear and despair of turning HIV-positive. I had a lot of fun, and I had a lot of sex. I don’t remember with whom or when.”

Donati said he recovered on his own, “through self-discipline. I started getting high by running and working out, and the body that you see before you is the result of that.” He said he wasn’t aware of Stepping Stone San Diego, a recovery program that specifically targets the San Diego Queer community, which was one of the two financial beneficiaries of this year’s Leather Pride Events. (The Leather History Project was the other.) Donati said he wanted his story to let everyone who heard it “know that you can do it too, and I can help you, and that will strengthen my position in remaining drug-free.”

Another contestant, Gus Thompson, was less personal but touched on similar themes: drugs, sex, STD’s and the need to protect young people against their dangers. “I stand before you tonight as a Leatherman very concerned about the young people in our community between 19 and 25, who are increasingly becoming infected with HIV, hepatitis and STD’s,” he said. “What is their future going to be? We know what the past was like, but they don’t. They didn’t live it; we did. … Join with me, and let’s start a trend towards a brighter future, because it is in the young that our history will be prolonged.”

The fourth Mr. San Diego Leather candidate, “Mr. Mike” Little, addressed concerns over the Internet. Acknowledging that, “Used with thought and consideration, the Internet can be one of the most productive tools we have for bringing people together and disseminating information in our community,” Little said, “The Internet is also one of the most destructive and dangerous tools to our community.”

It soon became clear that Little wasn’t talking about the usual concerns people in sex-defined communities have about Internet cruising — the possibility of meeting rapists, sexual predators or people with STD’s — but the effect the Internet is having on people’s willingness or interest in getting together physically at events like the Mr. Leather contest. “Bars and venues are struggling,” Little said. “Contests like this are seeing fewer and fewer contestants, before smaller and smaller audiences.”

According to Little, the essence of community is “the meeting, the gathering, the sharing together, the spirit, the heart and the energy: that can only come about when people congregate in groups and get to know each other in person, not online. “Step away from the screen,” Little said; “ step away from the cell phone screen, the computer screen, and your television screen. If you think something can be done better in this community, get out there and do it. If you have a problem with somebody, seek them out and work it out, or get over it and move on.”