Friday, June 10, 2011

California LeatherSIR/Leatherboy Contest in San Diego June 18

Also Features Puppies, Bootblacks; Emphasizes Sex Over Politics


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTO, left to right: Chris Owen, Mike Russell

It might seem counterintuitive to hear the owners of one Leather community contest criticize another as “politically driven,” but it happened when Zenger’s sought out Mike Russell and Chris Owen, co-owners of the California LeatherSIR/Leatherboy contest, for an interview. Their contest, which honors not only LeatherSIR’s and Leatherboys but puppies and bootblacks as well, takes place Saturday, June 18 at Queen Bee’s Recreation Center, 3925 Ohio Street in North Park. The doors open at 6, the contest starts at 7, and Russell and Owen promise a wild, no-holds-barred event that will live up to their reputation as the “Bad Boys of Leather.”

“We would say men who enter this contest are very … ” said Russell.

“ … sexually aroused, as opposed to looking pretty or political,” added Owen.

“I wouldn’t say more aroused, but they wear their sexual energy on their sleeve,” said Russell. “It’s visible.”

“This is a contest that promotes flagging,” explained Owen. Flagging, as Owen explained it, means wearing colored handkerchiefs, keychains or piping on one’s pants to signal one’s preferred sexual practices. (The term has other meanings — including actual cheerleader-style flag displays — but that’s the one Owen meant.) Flagging is actually frowned on at International Mr. Leather (IML), the big worldwide Leather festival held every year in Chicago, and at many of the feeder events that send contestants to IML — but it’s encouraged at California LeatherSIR/Leatherboy.

“IML is more politically drawn,” said Russell. “This is more sexually drawn, more sexually charged.” He explained that, as at other Leather contests, the contestants will sit for an interview with the judges, then perform a fantasy scene and make a speech to the audience during the event. The fantasies are built around a single, heavily sexualized theme; at last year’s contest in Palm Springs it was movies, and the two years before that it was locker rooms.

One difference between LeatherSIR/Leatherboy and other contests, though, is that the organizers and the judges want to hear the contestants talk about who they are as people — not about the political or social issues of concern to them. “We ask that the speeches have no politics or fundraising pitches, even though the winners will do fundraising as part of their titleholding responsibilities,” said Owen. “We want people to be honest about their sexual lives.”

Another difference is that they’re not only holding competitions for SIR and boy titles, but for community bootblacks and puppies. Russell explained the difficulty of judging such a wide range of categories. “Bootblacks are judged more on their technique,” Russell said. “They have a flair, a love of leather, and sometimes a foot fetish. They’re extremely well versed in Leather care, and they date back to the military when we all wore boots. Now it’s advanced to care of chaps, vests and leather pants.” (For more information on the bootblack tradition and its importance in the Leather community, see the Zenger’s interview with Curtis Dickson,

As for puppies, they’re fast becoming one of the most popular fetish communities — at least if the turnout of contestants for LeatherSIR/Leatherboy is any indication. At press time, there were two entrants for LeatherSIR, two for Leatherboy, one for community bootblack — and four confirmed, plus a fifth possible, for the puppy contest. “We’ve been advertising that we’re going to have puppies, because the puppies don’t advertise themselves,” Russell explained.

According to Owen, the LeatherSIR/Leatherboy contest had puppies until 2004, and now that they’re becoming more popular this year IML launched a “Puppy Zone Play Space,” at which they contacted at least one of their potential puppy contestants. The hard-core “human dog” version of the puppy lifestyle has been described in Michael Daniels’ books Woof! and Grrr! and is visible on the Web site, but according to Russell there are as many kinds of human puppies as there are … well, breeds of biological dogs.

“There are stray puppies, show puppies, companion puppies, junkyard dogs,” Russell said. “Some wear masks, some don’t. Some walk on all fours, some don’t.” It’s perhaps fitting, given how eloquently Daniels described the sheer difficulty of maintaining the full-out version of human dog-dom in a body that isn’t designed to walk on all fours, feed itself from bowls on the floor or have a tail (some human dogs wear butt plugs with “furry” extensions to serve as tails), that instead of a sexual fantasy the action component for the puppy contestants will be what Russell calls a “stamina contest.”

LeatherSIR/Leatherboy is a contest with a checkered history. It originally began as Mr. Drummer, a project of Drummer, the pioneering Queer Leather magazine published in Los Angeles and San Francisco from 1975 to 1999. Drummer was eventually sold to “some German guys,” Russell recalled, who took the contest back to Germany with them and eventually it expired.

The contest ultimately came back to America — and to San Diego for the first time — in September 2002, when it was put on by Graylin Thornton and Chris Meister of Grey Rose Productions. (Graylin currently co-owns the Mr. Leather San Diego contest, the San Diego feeder to IML.) That year the contest was not only held in San Diego but won by a San Diegan, Dale Breunig. The next year it was also won by a San Diegan: Mike Russell.

“At first it used to be split up into two regions in California, Northern and Southern,” Russell said, “but a couple of years ago, in 2009, it was combined for the entire state of California. So this is a statewide contest that feeds into the international contest in San Francisco Dore (pronounced ‘dory’) Alley weekend.” That event takes place July 28-31 at the Holiday Inn Golden Gate, and their Web site,, is already taking reservations for it.

Russell and Owen took over the contest at the end of 2009 and staged their first one last year in Palm Springs. But they wanted not only to move it to San Diego, where both live, but keep it here personally. They’ve lined up an impressive group of judges for it, including Anthony Rollar, Mr. San Diego Leather 2010 who just scored a stunning second runner-up title at this year’s IML.

Their head judge is former Mr. San Diego Leather Tom Dickerson, and the other judges include Lance Holman, former IML runner-up from San Francisco; former Ms. San Diego Leather Karen Yew; Mr. Sacramento Leather Rick Russell; and 2010 International Community Bootblack Red Warrior. “We wanted the panel to look like California,” he said. The M.C. will be popular local entertainer Roxy Bleu, and the program will feature the acclaimed Malashock Dance Company and yet another contest winner: Glitz Glam from the So You Think You Can Drag event at Lipps.

Their list of sponsors is, if anything, even more impressive than their list of judges. They include Treasure Island Media, ID Lube, Gun Oil, San Diego Eagle, Eagle Los Angeles, Dick Wadd Media, Rough Pig, Pleasures & Treasures, The Crypt (both the Park Boulevard and North Park locations in San Diego as well as the one in Long Beach), Mo’s, Baja Betty’s, Gossip Grill, Leather Masters of Dallas, Nasty Pig,, Leather Stock, Stompers’ Boots, Chaps Inn in Palm Springs, the Gay Rodeo, Redwing and the event venue, Queen Bee’s itself. Dennis Wymbs of Eros Galleries will offer some of his stunning Leather-themed art for sale, and there will also be a silent auction of Leather gear and toys.

One departure from Leather tradition in this year’s contest, Russell explained, is “we don’t have a host hotel” — due largely to the nation’s continued economic woes. Instead of paying for hotel space, Russell said, “we sent out an e-mail asking people to put up our contestants, judges and people coming to town. We got a great response that’s amazing.” Russell said this is a sign of the respect San Diego’s Leather community is winning in the rest of the country. “Dave Rhodes of The Leather Journal sees the San Diego Leather community as more closely knit than anywhere else,” Russell boasted. “He even referred to it as ‘old-school San Francisco.’”

Like most Leather contests, the big event itself is merely the centerpiece of a weekend’s worth of activities. On Friday, June 17, there will be a private reception for the contestants, judges and other event staff. Then at 10 that night there’ll be a public meet ’n’ greet event at the San Diego Eagle, 3040 North Park Way. On June 19, the Sunday after the contest, there’ll be an afternoon (4 p.m.) cigar event at Redwing, 4012 30th Street in North Park. Tickets for the contest are $15 in advance, available at Pleasures & Treasures, the Crypt on Park or the San Diego Eagle. For more information, visit the event’s Web site at