The First Six Months as IML39
by Ralph Bruneau, International Mister Leather 2017
I’ve travelled over 60,000 miles since becoming International Mister Leather 2017 last Memorial Day weekend. I’ve travelled from San Francisco to Nice and Berlin. I’ve hosted events, given keynotes, and judged contests. From big cities to small ones I’ve seen how our communities congregate and celebrate
Contrary to what I have heard from many, I believe our community is alive, vital, and growing. There has been much talk lately on social media about the troubles in our communities and the divisiveness within our ranks. That’s what I’ve seen on Facebook, that’s not what I’ve seen out in the bars and the world where our communities gather.
I’ve seen people in Louisiana and Texas who travel for hours to be in the company of other leather folks. I’ve talked to titleholders about their lives and the courage and risk of being out and visible in our community. I’ve talked with non-titleholders about the same things. I’ve seen hundreds of men and women celebrate our kink in Iowa, Oklahoma, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Florida, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and all over my state of California. We are coming together to drink, play, discuss, and be among our own kind.
I’ve had so many adventures and your hospitality has been much appreciated. I was presented with a nearly naked boy covered in wax and candles for me to blow out on my birthday in Michigan. I got to speak to the international titleholders at Folsom Europe in Berlin about sexual expression and erotic prohibition within our community. I’ve travelled with my brothers, judged contests with my brothers, and watched my brothers step aside with grace and make way for the class of International Mister Leather (IML) 40.
Almost everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve been able to speak about Conversion Therapy. Conversion Therapy is the deceitful therapeutic practice which teaches that gender expression and sexual orientation can and should be changed. It’s harmful and coercive and they’re doing it to our kids.
As a psychologist, I’ve been involved in the campaign to outlaw Conversion Therapy for years. I’ve been working with NCLR and the #BornPerfect campaign throughout both of my title years. I’ve sold my IML 39 run pins and auctioned off my jocks for charity. You have helped me raise thousands more dollars to help #BornPerfect continue to spread the ban on Conversion Therapy.
As I write this, we have bans in nine states, DC, the Canadian provinces of Ottawa and Manitoba, and the European country of Malta. Much has been accomplished but there is still much to do in a world which still allows a practice which has been roundly discredited by every organisation of mental health professionals.
It impacts us all, but there have been so many of you who have come to tell me your personal histories, the experiences you have had with homophobia and transphobia in the consulting rooms. I have been so moved as you have told me how you overcame this coercive practice. Whether it took place in the Middle East, the Midwest, Utah, or Florida, I have been amazed at your resilience and your hope.
We have spoken through shared tears of isolation, fear, and abandonment. We are indeed, the lucky ones. We have found our way to each other.
Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget how difficult all our journeys have been. Maybe if we remember how much damage has been inflicted on all of us by a culture hostile to our self-expression, we will be more reluctant to act out on each other in social media.
There is a new term in social psychology: cyber disinhibition. It’s the phenomenon of treating people online in a way that we would never indulge in person. Similar to the way some of us act behind the wheel of a car, it’s the depersonalisation that allows for reckless behaviour online without consideration of its consequences or impact. It’s not unlike flipping someone off when in the perceived safety and isolation of a car.
I didn’t grow up online. I came of age in the 70s in Manhattan. There were no apps or cyberspace, we had to find each other in actual places. To do that, we wore our 501s, white tees, and motorcycle jackets, we flagged with hankies or keys and we went to the Mineshaft, the tubs, or the docks. We found each other to be with each other.
It’s been great to find men and women all over the world who share my love of leather and kink and are living life out loud and free. Thank you for opening your hearts, minds, and play spaces to me. I am halfway through my term as IML 39. I’ve been in restaurants, bars, homes, play spaces, baths, and clubs. I have loved talking to you, listening to you, watching you and, yes, of course, playing with you too.
I’ve got another six months left of this IML thing and a full slate of travel in that time. I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible in the time remaining. Please, come say hi, tell me your story, that’s why I’m here. That’s the real prize of being IML – bringing my message to you and listening to yours.