Cinekink: Kink Crusaders

A few quick notices, my dearies:

1) Have you read about the “Naked Therapist” yet? You should. Fascinating stuff. I hope to write a few of my own thoughts on this one in the next few days. In all of my “free time.”

2) Charlie Sheen is the most entertaining/worrying thing ever.

3) You should definitely read Danny Wylde’s interview with Ashley Blue/Orianna Small on Trve West Coast Fiction. VERY interesting read, and again, I hope to have the time in the next few days to form a response. Intriguing/terrifying/interesting fodder for thought.

And now, to the main event! Last night’s first screening at Cinekink!

The first full-length film screening of this week’s festival was last night’s world premier of Kink Crusaders, a documentary film directed by Michael Skiff. To put it succinctly, I (along with the rest of the large crowd) was enraptured by it. You know how every now and again you hear a song, read a book, or see a movie that points out to you just how little you really know about the world around you? That inspires you to start thinking about a whole universe you hardly knew existed? That, whether you asked for it or not, opens up a door you never thought to open yourself and shows you the room beyond, which is so fascinating that you can’t step back out even if you try? That’s Kink Crusaders, at least for me.

I’ve been aware of Leather Man competitions for some time now; I spent a year in Chicago and saw some of the hype around the annual International Mister Leather competition there that summer, and I was familiar with some of the city’s leather bars. Hell, I’m familiar with some of New York’s dwindling number of leather bars, too. I’m a regular at porn conventions, where one often sees small contingents of every fetish group, from furries to BBW worshipers to foot fetishists to leather folks. I know some people who are very deep into S&M, puppy play, bondage, and so on. It’s part and parcel of writing about sex all the time. And I’m happy to say that I am getting, every day, more comfortable with all of these groups–with kink in general. I’ve never been a particularly judgmental person, but neither have I gotten to a place where I could say I understood many of them or was particularly curious. To each his own, let sleeping dogs lie, and all that.

But Kink Crusaders cracked open the slight curiosity I’d had about the leather (and, by extension, the rest of the comprehensive fetish) world and revealed to me that I’d just not been paying attention to how damn curious I was. What is it, I’d caught myself thinking from time to time,about leather, particularly, that gets leather enthusiasts to excited? I mean, sure, leather’s great, but… what’s the big deal? I’d told myself I was comfortable to just leave that question unanswered. And I am now rapturously happy that Michael Skiff and his crew decided to answer my question for me, in detail I might have never gone into on my own.

The answer–well, the very general answer–is that it’s not the leather that binds together this large, welcoming, surprisingly friendly and truly incredibly inclusive community. It’s kink. It’s fetishism. It’s the understanding that these things are not understood by the larger world and that the “freaks” out there who love them must band together for support and celebration of what separates them. It’s not leather, it’s family. In the same way that comic and sci-fi conventions provide a haven for those who just don’t feel this world offers enough understanding or opportunities for geeking out in Firefly outfits, that the Internet has given cat enthusiasts a sense of belonging, that even porn industry geeks like myself find some kind of release in being surrounded by other porn experts and fans at conventions, so the Mr. Leather competitions of the world offer a cradle, a community, where gas masks, butchers’ aprons, whips, chains, piercings, tattoos, hair, bondage, dog collars, and gimp outfits are appreciated and celebrated instead of being gasped at. Leather Men of the world bonded together in the late sixties and early seventies in early competitions not to beat each other in Speedo-wearing contests or to show off their mustaches (although, from the footage in Kink Crusaders, I must say that those mustaches should have had their own competitions), but to feel at home for once. The leather community started out as a haven for gay men who bonded over leather, and the family is still predominantly gay, on both sides of the chromosome aisle, but as any group of underdogs with excellent physiques starting out is bound to do, the community has expanded. And that’s one of the most amazing parts of this story.

The International Mr. Leather convention in Chicago now hosts men, women, and transgender people from a plethora of races, countries, and sexual identities. Kink Crusaders introduced us last night to a Venezuelan competitor on a mission to see the Hispanic community more represented in leather contests, and vice versa, to see more Hispanic people find a comfort zone where homosexuality and fetishism is acceptable. His name was Mikel Gerle, and, incidentally, he won the title of International Mr. Leather 2008. We met a Vietnam veteran who competed for the 2008 title, who was HIV positive and was representing the brothers he lost to the virus after their return from war. We met a shibari specialist–the only Asian in the contest that year. We met a straight man from the Midwest whose wife had introduced him to leather and who had never looked back. We met a wheelchair-dependent man from Ottawa who made it into the final 20. We even met, briefly, the 2010 winner of the coveted title, a weelchair-dependent female-t0-male transsexual. Can you imagine any other context in which you could say that a handicapped F2M won anything? I can’t.

There are a lot of things I could say about Kink Crusaders. I could tell you about Chuck Renslow, the founder of the competition and arguably of all leather competitions the world over, who was at the screening last night. I could tell you about the 6’6″ gay kid with a mohawk who told the camera that Tusla, Oklahoma, is a very tolerant city. I could tell you about how riveted to the screen I was as this whole new world was unveiled to me for nearly ninety minutes. I could tell you that I don’t think I fidgeted once. I could even tell you that I have every intention of attending some leather conventions in the area when I get the opportunity to get to know more of these fascinating people and to find out, firsthand, just how much I have in common with them. But none of those things are the point here. The point is that I want all of you to have the same experience, and as soon as possible. I want you all to find a way to see this movie, as soon as humanly possible. Go to the website. Go to a Leather Man competition. Open up your world and your heart; I was reminded last night just how richly rewarding that can be.

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