As we enter a new decade we ask ourselves if our flagship events & Fetish tentpoles are fit for purpose and if the ‘Old Guard’ & ‘New Guard’ of the fetish world are heading in opposite directions and at war over the very direction of our kink and communities.
Tradition is one of the most important pillars of our fetish community. Knowing where we come from and remembering our battles and the trailblazing characters that from Tom Of Finland to Chuck Renslow have structured our very existence. As we enter the 5th decade of title contests it is these which have come to hold many of our bigger events together, given a reason to get guys off their phones and computers and out into the wide horny fetish World, structure much of our fetish calendar/community and create our history and mark its changes into fetish diversification. Leather being the senior fetish is entrenched in this and has laid the way for rubber, bears, bootblacks and more recently puppies, skinheads, superhero’s, Miss, etc who in effect follow the tried and tested format with their own intriguing modern twists. With attendance at the big title events at an all time high, plus a record number of titles around the globe each year breaking into new territories the title contest has never been healthier and more popular.
2 OUR TITLE REPRESENTATIVES
The main reason for a contest is to produce a new title holder to represent his local and wider community and with many battles still to fight from Trans issues to Uganda/Chechnya etc we need our spokesmen as much as ever. Contests often originally simply picked the fittest guy but that was long ago and nowadays a title holder has to have a presence, do great community work, be a good speaker and the contests are geared to find the most suitable candidate in effect we have all become a little less Shallow as Lady Gaga would have it. Critics often complain that contests are not entertaining enough but they are missing the point as they exist to find our community leaders and spokesmen if you want 2 hours of entertainment then stick to reality TV, SNL or Dancing with The Stars but what good does that do the fetish world and all it’s ongoing issues. Title holders are our shop window, they lead our Parades, do interviews and are at the forefront of huge amounts of charity fundraising. Our press and online media listen to them and their voices and they can gain Oxygen for our causes that others cannot therefore having the right guy in that sash is incredibly important. These contests have been tailored in granite over 41 years to find the right men and we have found countless fetish superstars so why change the format and bedrock just for the Millennial’s with a 5 minute MTV/Instagram attention span and a desire to change everything just for the sake of it?
3 CONTESTS THE SOURCE FOR GOOD
The good that title contests do for our community is immeasurable and comes in many forms. Many bar nights tell us that their biggest earning nights of the year are their title contests and attendance by their title holder and visiting one’s can and do boost events in those bars and the bigger regional events hugely raising money for great causes and helping keep our venues and fetish calendar afloat. At the other end of the scale many title holders become our biggest activists, fundraisers event organisers etc especially after their step down. It often seems to spark a light in many guys who blossom and explode and their deeds/writings/campaigns have changed our fetish world for the better and lead to many of our hard fought freedoms and fantastic fetish diversity across a hundred new tribes not to mention our rights and legal wins. Title holders are our leaders, front men and often the best of us….of course a lot of these things are done by great guys not from the title system but anyone arguing against contests and the original pageant style with the sole purpose of finding the right guy or claiming their are two many contests, they are too political or it is a circle jerk session are onto a looser battling 4 decades of fact based proof otherwise.
4 FETISH POLITICS
The content of contests have changed tremendously and in other ways they have much of the same structure as those of the 80’s. Also nowadays their are as many different style of contest some lasting days, others having talent rounds, gear changes, previous lengthy off venue interviews etc. It seems that each tribe takes the best of the format and adds what is necessary for their own World. Leather has a lot of tradition – Sam Brown must be on the right way, cap removed whilst speaking, mix with other fabrics not good etc whereas Rubber is often more colourful and bespoke. Puppy contests and bootblack ones have changed almost annually but always to make the event better and with the sole purpose of finding the best man or woman to wear the sash for a year. Tradition is good and diversification is good, change is great but it has to be the right change and for a reason. The basic ‘beauty pageant’ format works with its jock rounds, its full coverage rounds, spot questions and the intensive stuff kept for the private judges interviews. The judges are not professional they always come from among us and are always different so guys that shout ‘politics’ usually have no basis for their accusations other than access to a keyboard and probably equally believe the World is flat and Neil Armstrong never walked on the moon.
5 ATTENDANCE & ENTERTAINMENT
Nowadays so many guys attend the ‘seminars/conventions’ of our big weekends but don’t go to the contest itself. We get it these trips are often expensive and group hotel sex or a public bar are serious distractions and their is nothing wrong with that – without the basis of the contest these weekends would not happen at all though and we would all be on the Helter skelter towards an entirely Scruff and Grindr social life back in our own locations. Should these contests be more entertaining, do talent/fantasy rounds put off many great guys from entering, do audiences want to watch a number of amateur guys trying to sing Rise Like A Phoenix or dance like Michael Flatley for a vote like a low rent episode of a ‘Got Talent’ show. Do we throw away the tradition and hire in a unconnected Kathy Griffin/Graham Norton/Drag Race contestant who’s knowledge of gay fetish is about as extensive as ours on 19th Century Cricket or Astro Physics and what would that do to the ticket prices. Fetish title contests are simply that we should support them and at some point we should all compete. Everyone has an opinion of how to improve contests but not everyone is right – see Trump, Brexit, Italian Politics and the winners of X Factor.
In conclusion if it ain’t broke leave it be. Our contests are in a great place with record numbers of title holders and new boundaries in the type/race/health issues/age of winners as well as country boundaries being broken down from Japan via St Petersburg to Chile. IML is the original and biggest and in recent years the contestant numbers have broken all records repeatedly and with even greater representation from every country of the globe, so something is working just fine. Where were you when Parasite won the Oscar for Best film of 2020 for South Korea and can you imagine what effect that has on that Country and it’s culture well that is where we are with our rainbow of Title contest nowadays barriers are collapsing annually both Geographical and in individuals issues as we elect Trans winners, handicap winners etc. They are bigger and better than before and more popular and the mixture of incredible tradition with modern tweek’s makes us confident about the next decade and beyond of fetish and titles and the system.
Are title contests relevant in 2020? The old Miss Universe format of evening wear, swimsuit round, chat about World Peace, Top 3 in reverse order crowned by last years winner is from another time and era and is well past it’s sell by date. As we have reported many times lots of bar contests have as little as one contestant and he/she then lords far and wide for 12 months and beyond with a sash so big a shurper or pack animal would have issues and so no-one can miss it and in case you do a waistcoat, shoulder pin, T shirt, medal or whatever to enhance his association and probably ego that he is now a member of the leather/rubber etc Royal family. His opinions are now gold and he must have crowd funding to tour far and wide, possibly compete further, judge others or simply strut on other stages when that money could be better spent in his local community. As these contests have grown over the years the deference that has to be shown to previous title holders and their thoughts as if written on Moses’s slabs is now huge. There are so any title holders (In 2019 756 that we are aware off) and do we need so many show ponies to represent us or have we got a bit carried away with it all?
2 TOO MANY CONTESTS
The number of titles is now an epidemic which makes the Corona Virus look like a newbie. The rise of the internet matched by increased gay freedoms and visibility has lead to the welcome arrival of as many new fetish’s as there are stars in the heavens. Originally we had to look as close to the straights as we could hence the leather bikers jacket which could at best cloud our homosexuality to bigots whilst sending out the right message to our fellow horny bum bandits….so leather fetish was king. Nowadays we can dress as a Rottweiler, Labrador, Pony, Furry 6 foot tiger, footballer, wrestler, Marvel Superhero or whatever and can readily walk the streets without verbal abuse or being queer bashed hopefully…..although anyone dressed as The Green Lantern should be hit just because…. This has off course lead to as many fetish tribes as you can count and they all want to copy the leather title contest format and have their own shop window spokesmen and representatives with annual sashes. End result we have waves of title holders at all our events and prides etc fighting for stage space each one is worthy to represent his community/bar/country and tribe off course but with so many they all devalue each other and become as plentiful as wild flowers eventually disappearing into a grey mass of sashed men in every bar and event. Does everyone have to have a title nowadays and are the big ones getting more and more devalued. Surely enough is enough 1 title holder in leather for his bar/city in 1985 was a good thing but in 2021 does that bar/City really need 10 title holders one for each major gay fetish……as Eminem would say will the real title holder please stand up.
3 FETISH POLITICS
Politics is rife through the title community. Often it comes from an understandable place where organisers use venues, sponsors find contestants, winners from the circle they know other times it is much more dodgy. Many contests have fan votes (sometimes entirely) which often results in the winner being the most local guy, the one that lives nearest the bar, has slept with the most guys or simply the best looking as opposed to the best candidate to represent the Community going forward. We know off so may title winners that enjoyed the accolade of the night and then did absolutely nothing for the remaining year. We were doing a feature on the closure of The Hoist Leather Bar a couple of years ago and contacted important people associated with it and the response from the last ever ‘Mr Hoist’ was he only went into the bar once for the contest and had no opinion on its closure whatsoever or any other gay issue….that contest was entirely fan voted. One of the new terms that has risen in the last decade is ‘Waste Of A Perfectly Good Sash’ and we all know examples of that. Attendance at contests is often used as a measure of their importance and need to move with the times, change etc but this is difficult to measure as now events attract guys from all fetish types who may not be interested in another tribes physical contest – a leatherman at MIR may prefer to stay in the host hotel partying likewise a puppy at IML may choose to do the same. Furthermore online hook-up sites have been keeping guys away from bars for a decade now and surely this applies to a contest part of a weekend also – IMBB or 500 guys on Scruff all withing 400 metres….?
4 IMPROVE THE SHOWS FOR THE AUDIENCE
The contests should be more entertaining rather than endless announcements of past winners, visiting title holders and extensive reading of judges Bio’s not to mention the endless clique in jokes and blowing smoke up the right peoples asses unless it is Lenny Broberg or Joe King’s asses which are a truly works of fetish art. The guys on ‘The Circuit’ of that particular fetish all off which know each other and often cannot wait to get each other onto the stage or into the spotlight have a wonderful time but what is in it for the audience? It often means that contests are extended to a similar length say of a Martin Scorcsese movie and virtually every contest is the same structure. Rubber, Puppy and European contests have talent and fantasy rounds which the audience loves the downside is that it often gives no clue to the judges as to the best winner – they may know who is the best singer or juggler but who will work for their local or wider community may require sticking a finger in the air to see which way the wind blows as far as the judges are concerned. Should drag queens or semi-pro hosts be in control of the event to keep the audience enthralled and make them want to continue buying tickets and leave their fuck parties for a few hours and what about getting the local or national acts back….remember when we had Andy Bell from Erasure, Alec Mapa, Ultra Nate, Beatle Tribute Acts etc performing at our contests. The trouble is that things pull in the opposite direction with entertainment for the audience and younger kinksters coming up in an era of Drag Race and music/films/TV of choice on tap 24/7 pulling against the traditions, history and desire to pick a great community leader based on last centuries universally recognised pageant structure.
5 CONTROVERSY IS RIFE
Controversy now seems to stalk title contests fueled by societal change and everyone having an opinion on everything via social media. If a Trans/Black/HIV/Straight/Young/Female/Handicapped/Blind/Deaf etc (insert accordingly wins) then out come the critics and just as much often over enthusiastic defense usually making the story bigger than quelling it as so many people don’t realise that trolls and critics want and live off responses and people biting back. Associations from Ireland, Spain, UK, Germany, right across the States and every Country inbetween are at each others throats over titles and title ownerships. Guys compete increasingly outside of their title year in higher contests and then their is the rise of ‘The Mr Fetish Titles’ which seem the way forward but how do you judge a pup against a sportswear guy against a Bootblack etc and then how do they fit into the decades old structures of the International and European title contests. This stems from there being virtually no rules or established agreed system although every contest has something tbh they are all bespoke and often bent to breaking point at the edges. It was fine when we just had one fetish tribe in Leather but those days have gone and are not coming back…which is a good thing as guys have easier and cheaper ways of entry to fetish and more choice but this cannot fit into the rigid skeleton structure of the 1979 ‘Gold Coast’ Pageant type off contest clinged too as if their life depended on it by too many of the Title organisers big and small. Change like Winter is coming so get embrace it.
The Terms’Old Guard’ and ‘New Guard’ are as controversial as anything in the fetish world with endless books and articles written about it which we cannot go into here. Suffice to say The Traditional Title Contest pageant style of last Centuries leather world is the mainstay of The Old Guard structure and it’s History is fiercely protected and the battleground of choice for both sides is currently Facebook….but change or become irrelevant surely. New kinksters are younger have different interests want to exhibit their own style, quirks and colour, different materials are everywhere and it’s great. Changing from the classical Tom Of Finland/Marlon Brando/Cruising Movie/Early IML with phenomenal due deference to all is so necessary and its the contests which hold the key and also it could be said are holding the same door shut back in the 70’s….so what if the Sam Brown is over the wrong shoulder or the guy is wearing Red, Blue or Yellow purely because he likes the colour etc?. The best traditions are remembered and respected but are not the Holy Bible of gay fetish and things especially contests should adapt, then they will survive, grow and bloom across the next decade.
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