If you are at all into the leather/ SM/ fetish scene than you have to attend this event at least once. If for no other reason than to say that you have done so. There is little else like it in the world. The International Mr. Leather contest is held each year in Chicago and is an absolutely huge entertainment event. The central event of the whole weekend is the contest to choose the International Mr. Leather to hold that title for the next year. As leather title pageants go, this one is the ultimate. It is also the longest running, having gotten its start way back in 1979, and has gotten bigger and better each year. Originally IML was just a clever marketing idea sprouting from the talented mind of Chuck Renslow as a means to get more folks into his bar, The Gold Coast, which was just north of the Chicago Loop. Since then the event has grown out of all recognition to the leather version of a "wet T-shirt night" contest at your local pick-up joint. Yet, that is IML's roots. That is the root of all such leather pageants.
I won't go in to the detailed history of this event for there are enough other sites out there which have done a far better job of it than I could here. Besides, I don't go to this event for its history and nor for its pageantry. I go for the men. I go for the camaraderie. I go for the fun.
IML draws thousands of folks to it. That can make for an awful lot of connections. These are leatherfolk from across the world who come to party and have fun with the other leatherfolk from across the world there to do the same. Put in the middle of such a crowd it is intensely difficult not to have fun yourself. The fun is what I count on each year that I attend.
IML 2003 marked my fifth attendance. I was at my first IML in '91, my second in '92, did my third only in '01, and my fourth in '02. I would like to have gone back sooner but poverty, a relationship, and timing got in the way. Now no longer. I've had fun each year that I've been. Some years I had more fun than others and some years I would like to have had more fun than I did, but I did have fun each year.
At IML 25 I was the best prepared for
it out of all the years I've attended. Knowing what to expect,
being better prepared for it, also allowed me to more fully enjoy the
event this time around. I again brought along my digital camera
and again wound up taking over three hundred pictures with it that
weekend. I've worked through them and posted the results here.
International Mister Leather
25. Twenty five years of this contest. That's a long
time. That's longer than almost any other leather/ SM/ fetish
organization or event has even been in existence. There are even
very few leather motorcycle clubs left that are that old or
Twenty five years. As this is a historic milestone, IML 25
promised to be a bigger deal than the big deal it normally is.
That added to its drawing power and was among the reasons I went.
I have to say though, that I really didn't get a feeling that this year
was truly different, truly bigger, or truly better. It seemed
of the same. Not that more of the same was bad, just that I was
hoping for something more than the same.
This year the event was at the Palmer House hotel, same place as back in '01. I got to Chicago on Friday afternoon and benefited from my having learned the ins and outs of the Palmer House from two years prior. In short order I was checked in, had bought my event pass (I did the whole deal) and had even found both a convenience store and a liquor store to stock up the supplies in my room. As a result of that I didn't have to spend $15 for a Denny's quality breakfast in the hotel and nor did I have to spend $5 for a Dixie cup sized drink down in the lobby either. I had my own supplies and the total cost of all them probably was less than two or three hotel drinks. A word to the wise, that.
After getting my room in order I was off to the Hotboots party over at the Cellblock. This is the third year in a row that I have attended this shindig and it was good to once again see some familiar faces at this year's event.
|There was a whole bunch of them up there, as usual. Fifty eight this time around. I took this shot to try and get #34, Joe Beach, as he is a fellow Longhair and we'd come to know each other before he ever went after a sash. I knew two other guys up there as well, Alex and Doug as well as knowing a bunch of the other titleholders from the SoCal area that I've met over the past years.|
| As part of the show Chuck Renslow made sure to
have some good entertainment. One part of that was a group of
performers who were sort of a "leather Cirque de Soliel" and were
rather fetching doing their various
tricks. There was also some singer from back during the
gay disco/ New Wave heyday who entertained the crowd singing her hits
from back then.
One difference that I noted was that my favorite coat check room was not used for check coats this year. I was somewhat surprised at that but not terribly put off by it for it still was an interesting place where you could find all sort of people - some of them rather fetching themselves.
The End of It All
I thought this one to be amusing enough to note.
Most of the folks who came to the contest came there via the event shuttle buses. Those buses ran from the hotel to the contest. Usually there might be one or two buses making the normal shuttle bus shuttling from the downtown hotel up through all the leather bars in Boy's Town. For the contest, IML Productions rents out a whole bunch of tour buses and brings the whole herd of folks up from the hotel to the Congress. And then the buses stop. During the contest there is no shuttle bus service elsewhere. It's all to the contest and that's it. This means that the vast majority of guys at the contest are therefore dependent upon those buses for a cheap ride back to the hotel.
Now, Chuck Renslow is a smart guy and he wants the crowd to stay at the contest for as long as possible. So, while there are buses aplenty to handle the crowds he's made sure to not run those buses back from the contest until the contest is over. And this is where the fun comes in.
The contest is over when the new International Mister Leather is named - and it's not over even a second before that! It is, however, over the second he is named! And that is when the crowd makes its mad rush for those buses. This was the first time in a while that I stayed for the whole thing myself. I was being cheap and I figured to wait for the buses to head back. So I found myself standing in the theater as the drama heightened up on stage as they named the final three contestants. First they named the guy who came in "second runner up" - i.e. in third place - then they named the guy who came in "first runner up" - i.e. second place - and then [a drum roll please!] they named.... the new International Mister Leather... IML 2003... the winner of the twenty-fifth International Mister Leather Contest... is... and as soon as the man's name was spoken aloud the rush began! I'm not kidding.
Guys lept from their seats and burst into the aisles of the theater. Then they burst through its doors and ran out through its lobby. I was standing toward the back of the theater at this time and I saw this wave of leathermen all making a bee line straight for the doors - and for the shuttle buses outside. Buses which would now be authorized to start up and do their shuttling.
Heading back out into the lobby myself, I turned and got the photo above. I really had to laugh at this. I don't think even half the guys at the contest even bothered comprehending the name of the guy who won it as they jumped up from their seats to get to their buses. It didn't matter. All that did matter was the fact that the contest was now officially done and they'd be fools if they tarried to watch the rest of the show's closing protocols.
I know a number of folks _did_ stick around though. For one thing, the crowds clotting the shuttle bus que rendered it pointless to head out to if you weren't up front to begin with. There was also the folks who were going to take a cab no matter what and then there were the folks who had some connection to the three men left up on stage out of the original fifty eight.
That was about it for me. I made it back to the hotel in a very melancholy mood. I found the Palmer House lobby to be its usual overcrowded self and full of too many drunken pushy queens to be much fun. I decamped rather quickly that night. Julia was quite amusing when she finally did come back in. She'd gotten to ride with the Texas crew as they celebrated how they fared that evening. The limo ride after the contest was rather entertaining for all concerned. What she told me about their Dunkin' Donut stop won't bear repeating on this page but it does have something to do with new uses for donuts and their donut holes. I'll let you do the math on that one.
On Monday I bid Julia goodbye as her flight was mid-morning while mine was early evening. I then made one last jaunt through the leather market where I picked up a really cool looking leather arm wrap from a sexy man vending them from Ft. Lauderdale. I'll have pictures of this item once he sends it to me. After that I bailed from the hotel in a heartbeat. There was nothing there for me. I spent the rest of my day down at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. I went there specifically to take in their U-505 exhibit. The U-505 is one of three remaining Nazi U-boats from World War Two and they've had it since the commander of the US Navy task force, Captain Gallery, captured it during the war and then persuaded the Navy to part with it and transport it to Chicago after the fighting ended. The sub is a big thing on the outside but very, very cramped on the inside.
Finishing that up I got back to the hotel, picked up my bags from the bell captain, and hit the subway back out to O'Hare.
I'm not going back to IML. Perhaps not for some time, perhaps not ever. I had fun there this year but not the sort of fun I went there for, not the sort of fun I'd hoped to find there, and not the sort of fun I used to have at IML. There are a number of reasons for this. First off was the event hotel itself.
The Palmer House Hilton is a grand hotel. In their promotional stuff they make sure to point this out. The Palmer House is one of Chicago's oldest hotels and it is also one of its largest. The hotel certainly is big enough to house many of IML's attendees. But as an event hotel, the Palmer House simply isn't big enough to house IML. Take the Leather Market for example. The convention space available at the Palmer House was really too small for IML's Leather Market. This year, as was the case back in '01, the Leather Market was scattered across three separate rooms and two and a half floors. This really served to break it up and also made it seem cramped. At least this year the Palmer House enforced the no smoking regulations in the Leather Market area and that made it actually one of the better places in the entire hotel for a non-smoker like me.
Then there was the lobby.
The lobby of the Palmer House is piss elegant. They make much of how wonderful all the lobby's decor is and they certainly are right about that. Murals, marble, lotsa brass, shiny lights, and just a general piss elegant feeling to the place. And no chairs. In fact, in order to accommodate the IML crowd, the Palmer House removed all the furniture from their lobby. The furnishings of the lobby might well have been just as piss elegant as the lobby's decor but that's something we'll never know. Instead, with the chairs, tables, couches, and seating removed from the lobby, it turned the space into just that - a space. A big, high ceilinged empty space. A big box with piss elegant walls. That's it. It also served to kill the energy of the space. And it served to make the lobby a very uncomfortable place to be in for any length of time.
There was no place to sit down in the lobby. The only place even near the lobby where you could sit was off to its southwest side and that was pretty worthless as the escalators blocked any view of the lobby. There were some other places to sit which had a view of the lobby, those places were up on the mezzanine level and the balconies formed by the arches which surrounded the lobby. Here too though there were problems. Each of these balconies had a nice bit of architectural detailing in that centered at the bottom of the railings on each of the balconies was a shiny brass sculpture and each one had a very powerful spotlight trained on it to make it gleam. This made for a nice effect when viewed from the lobby below. Up there on the balconies though the effect was not so nice. If you tried taking one of the seats up there then that spotlight was right in your face. If you tried standing and leaning over the railing of the balcony then the glare off the sculpture was right in your eyes. Either way those balcony spots were not very comfortable and went largely unoccupied as a result.
So what we were left with was simply standing around. Standing around in a packed crowd. There were too many folks down in that lobby all trying to stand around there at the same time. This meant it was always butts to nuts and shoulder to shoulder. That can be fun, for a while, but not the whole weekend. It also meant that everyone was in everyone else's personal space. And as there was no furniture to break things up, that also meant that no matter where you were standing you were invariably in the way of someone who wanted to get from their point "a" to their point "b" and that meant you were constantly being shoved, pushed, squeezed by and cut in front of. It also destroyed any ability to cruise.
If you tried looking someone over then immediately there'd be three other guys jamming into your view. If you came upon someone of interest it also meant you were right on top of him before either of you got a chance to react. That usually meant you were right in his personal space and most guys get real defensive about that - not good for cruising.
What all this meant was that you were left with running a circuit all day. You'd get all slung up and head down to the lobby. You'd hang out there for as long as you could stand it and then head over to the Leather Market rooms. Make the round of those and then it was back to the lobby. This could be fun, for a bit but not for the entire weekend. For one thing, we're talking about leatherfolk here - and while some might call us cowhide queens no one has ever accused leatherfolk of being "people wear sensible shoes." Instead, we wear boots. Sexy, shiny, hard boots. Boots are sexy but they're not really made for standing around in for hours at a stretch. Yet, standing around was the only option the Palmer House offered.
So, the Palmer House really sucked as a place for IML.
Compare this to last year's venue, the Hyatt. The lobby in that hotel was vastly better for IML. It was bigger, it was multilevel, it was more spread out, they kept all their furniture in it, and there were plenty of places to sit down and watch everyone else. Hell, even the Hyatt's Leather Market has places where you could sit down and watch the crowd roll by! I had a lot more fun at the Hyatt than I did at the Palmer House in either year I've been to the Palmer.
The physical layout of the place wasn't the whole of it. It did count for a lot and went a long way why I had so much more fun at the Hyatt last year than at either year IML was at the Palmer House. But that's not the whole of it.
IML is all about quick and easy connections between the attendees. You've got a whole herd of leathermen there who are all slung up in their finest fetish attire and are all primed for play. As everyone and everything is all right there it makes following through on those quick connections very easy. It's just a brief elevator ride up to your room or to his and then you can boink all you want - and then be back down in the lobby fast enough for another round! That's how it's supposed to be and that's what IML has always been about. That's also what I'm used to IML being about for me. It certainly was that way the first two years I went to it.
But those first two years were back in the early 90's and now it's a decade later and a lot else has changed. IML is still much the same but the folks who attend it have changed. I know I've changed too. Looking out at the crowd of leathermen at IML I see that they have changed as well.
Back in '91 and '92 Safe Sex was IT. There was nothing else but Safe Sex. Well, the leather community has become as different a place with that as has the gay community at large. What used to be a mantra that was all but shouted from the rooftops now is something hardly mentioned. Or when it is spoken of now, it is done so as a hollow ritual spoken with empty words. Back in '92 the only treatment for AIDS was AZT (you remember that? When's the last time you heard someone mention that as a "treatment" option?) Back then when someone said Safe Sex you heard the capitalization in their words. It meant something. Now, safe sex is an option. It is something that is up to "the personal responsibility of the individuals involved."
I thought it ironic that Chuck Renslow would open his contest this year by speaking of barebacking and saying it was; "Uncommitted fucking without a condom is stupid -- period." Yet at IML's Leather Market there wasn't a single vendor who was selling porn videos there who wasn't carrying at least one barebacking title in their selections. In fact, one of the vendors at the Leather Market was a porn video production company which specializes in making barebacking videos.
So it was hardly surprising that when I looked out at all those big, buff, heavily muscled leathermen at IML what I saw looking back at me were the faces of many a POZ man. It wasn't like that a decade ago. It is like that now. For a HIV Negative guy like me, especially now that I'm in my forties, I can no longer accept that risk. Perhaps that risk was at the same level ten years ago but it just wasn't as visibly obvious. Now it is though and I find that stops me cold when it comes to making any more of those quick and casual connections for which IML is all about.
I can no longer rationalize the risks such quick and casual sex entails - even when its Safe Sex. And since IML is all about those quick and casual hookups, I now see I can't rationalize being there anymore. I'm not happy about that, in fact I got downright depressed over it while on the bus back from the contest. All this being so, I don't see any reason for me to return to IML any time soon. I can't make the connections there like I used to and that is all that IML has been for me.
I wish it were otherwise but it's not.
So, IML 25 ended on a rather melancholy note for me. I did have fun, I did meet some pretty neat folks there, I did catch up with some of my friends there, and it was worthwhile for me to go this one last time. Doing so provided me with the confirmation that IML is no longer a place for me. I'm not the same guy I was ten years ago when I could enjoy being on my knees at the Manhole with three guys taking turns filling my mouth. I'm still just as passionate and still just as intense but I can no longer rationalize the risk that being so casual with my health entails. In that light, IML 25 was a good way to wrap it all up. An expensive way, but a good way.
I was in a pretty depressed mood coming back from the contest. In the weeks since I've done a lot of thinking about what I experienced at IML and what I've experienced within the leather community in general. This has been building for some time as I've noted changes in the community I used to call my home. It is my home no longer. I see nothing there for me anymore. The men in that community have changed in ways I no longer find anything in common with. The negligence, the fatalism, and the self-destructive hedonism at any cost are not things which drew me to the leather community to start with. I've more to say about all this, so much so in fact that I've put it up on its own Changes page. Please, have a look and then let me know what you think of the changes I see.
Wow! These four guys here are awesome to look at. Gorgeous and sexy as hell in their birthday suits, they're made all the more so by their beautiful hides. This is all way over the top and very much "show leather" but, hey, it's IML! [06/03: I've since discovered that at least one of these guys is a current porn star. This might explain the oh-so-jaded look they're all giving when yet another leatherman asked to take their photo! You'd think that porn stars would enjoy having their photos taken as it would enhance their sales. I guess not!]
The lobby of the hotel was full
of this sort of stuff, morning, noon, and night. Big, sexy,
muscular, intense, beautiful leathermen. THIS is why I go to
IML. I could give a rat's ass about the pageantry or the drama
going on with the contest. In fact, at this year's contest I
didn't even stay there all the way through it. The only reason I
went to it in the first place was because there wasn't anything else
going on during the contest except the contest. That and I also
had some plans to repeat a little bit of scandalous nastiness I did at
last year's contest. Once I'd done that, I didn't see any point
hanging around. So I left. I'd already gotten enough
pictures there, done what I wanted, and felt the lobby back at the
- a lobby still filled with guys like these for men above here -
beckoning me. Besides, in leaving when I did, I managed to miss
last year's IML give a step down speech which lasted for fifty seven
minutes (57) during which he actually started singing! That might
have been fine but the guy apparently can't hold a tune to save his
life! Don't get me wrong, I like pain - when it is done right -
but having to sit through something like that would've been
excruciatingly too much even for this cadet! No, I go to IML for
the men and not the contest. So, enough about the sash queens -
let's get to the men!
The Leather Market
My oh my! The things you could find in the Leather Market!
This basket above belongs to one very sexy man from Florida.
Aside from his having a handsome face, a winning smile, an awfully sexy
body, and killer basket, he also had on a nice pair of low-cut stretch
jeans. In fact, it was a lot of fun seeing just how much those
jeans would stretch. You see, the trick is to rub on them in just
the right way and in just the right place. Seems his jeans could
stretch quite a bit. Or perhaps it was what was in them that was
causing the stretching. Hmm....
The Hyatt Regency Chicago
The Donut Shop
Ending my IML adventure at this LA landmark was a fun way to wind up the weekend. I had a lot of fun at IML this year, more fun than last year and I had fun there too. I was more prepared, knew more of what to expect, and was therefore more at ease to take it all in. I enjoyed myself enough to know I'll be back next year too. Next year will be IML 25 so it's bound to be a blow out and I want to be sure to be there if for nothing else than the bragging rights in my old age...
I was there. For the first time in nine years, but I was there. I had fun at IML which is why I went after all. No point in shelling out all that money just to not have fun!
As I said, this was my first time in nine years. I went to my first IML back in '91 and my second in '92 and then that was it. Well, now I had no excuse so I made my plans.
Every Memorial Day Weekend this contest takes place in Chicago. It attracts thousands - literally thousands - of leathermen from across the globe. Many of them attend every contest event and are there for all that the pageantry is worth. Many others are there for the cruising and the sex. A lot of those guys don't even leave the hotel for the weekend. Some are lucky enough to hardly leave their rooms they are so "busy." A lot of the other guys fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
Another reason a lot of the guys go to IML is the leather vendors. The best of these craftsman turn up each year to sell their wares. Not only are their creations fantastic but so to are some of the deals they sell them for. A number of guys do all their year's leather shopping at IML. This used to mystify me since I knew that, at least as far as apparel went, it made a lot more sense to have it custom made as then it would fit better than off the rack and the price difference really wasn't all that much when you compared the better fit. Then someone clued me in about tailoring.
You can buy for a killer deal that awesome looking pair of chaps that doesn't fit too well off the rack at IML and then take them home to your local leathermaker to tailor to your body for less than a custom pair would cost. A method to the madness.
There is also the fact that for a number of guys living in the smaller metro areas or out in the sticks there are simply no leathermakers near them. IML is it for those guys. This year though I didn't come to shop, I came for the men. So, I only bought a few things, nothing major. Just two T-shirts and this leather tank top.
|Aside from the cruising, the sex, and the vendors there is also the camaraderie. There really is nothing like being around hundreds and hundreds of other leathermen all at once. The lobby of the host hotel, The Palmer House, was stuffed full of leathermen standing around talking to each other and cruising. This was true at almost any hour of the day or night. For a number of guys first coming into the leather community this sort of thing is like an Epiphany. It's better than any leather contingent in a Pride March because it doesn't pass you by. Instead it stays put for a whole weekend! There are guys in that crowd who are into every imaginable fetish and kink - as well as some you haven't thought of. It really does make for a heady atmosphere even for guys who have been in the scene for many a year.|
|I brought my camera along on that trip but really didn't bother trying to take any pictures of the event while it was going on. I was lucky in that there were a whole bunch of other guys there with their digital cameras documenting the whole thing. That is how I got this picture of me in my leather vest. That vest used to belong to a good friend of mine, John Atherton, who loaned it to me when I went off to my first IML back in '91. It is one of the few things I have left of him and I'm glad to keep his memory alive in wearing it. Tony Lindsey was the man who took this picture above to the right.|
That and the "usual suspects" thrown in amongst them for flavoring and fun. This photo was taken after we had all finished eating our meals at the "San Diego Brunch" which Tony (wearing the hat in the upper right corner of the picture) had organized for all those from San Diego at IML. A nice touch that. I recognize most of these folks but now I know them even better. This was a good, fun thing to do and a nice way to rebuild the tribe.
These are some bootmen I came across while in Chicago. The second guy in from the left is the cause of it all. That is Larry Kenney. He runs a site devoted to men and their boots called Hotboots.com. The most used feature of Larry's site is the hyperboard he runs on it where guys from the world over can discuss their boot interests and fetishes. Probably the second most used feature of Larry's site is the page where he lists a number of bootmen. I am on that list. Since I got on it, traffic from Larry's site has been huge. It seems that Larry's little endeavor on the Web is now a major thing that gets an enormous amount of traffic each day. Some of that spills over onto my site. I don't mind that at all. Thank you Larry!
At IML '01 Larry called for a "meet and greet" for all the guys at IML who also frequent Hotboots. This was held in conjunction with the bootmen party put on by Tom's Men in Boots at the Cellblock on Saturday night. It was a fun gathering and that is where I met this bunch. I only knew these guys through their online handles so it was good to put faces with names. From the left are Robert,Larry, Mark, Dave, Me and Todd. We're standing by the Mr. S Leathers booth to our left as I am playing the roll of a "Life Sized Ken Doll" for some of their wares.
Larry brought along his digital
camera and took a bunch of pictures that evening. Once back in
he put them up on his site. You can check out his digital photo
album by surfing over to here. It
is also a pretty slick bit of Perl
IML '01 was worth going to if for no other reason than simply to get going. Sometimes to get going you have to just get going. So, that I did. I was rushed and I was fried before I even set foot in Chicago - and I do mean literally fried! I had wanted to get some color on me before showing my face in the lobby so I tried using the tanning bed at a friend's gym. Bad mistake. Theirs was one of those cheap Wolffe tanning beds and I wound up getting an indoor sunburn more than I got tanned! So, I arrived at the event still pink and raw. Not a good way to start a fun weekend!
Still though, I did have fun and I met a lot of good folk. My heading off to IML in '01 also got me started back on a good track and it really helped in '02 to have so many familiar faces at that year's event. Faces of the men I met at IML '01.
If you would like to know more about me, then ask me directly. Just click on my email address here:
In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed your "stay" at this site. Check back again to see what new images I have added. Until then, stay well, play hard, play safe, and have fun!
This page was last updated on: 05 May 2006