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“I think it’s about who he is on the inside and whether or not he has the ability to speak from his heart, whether that brings tears or laughter. That’s what is real,” offers Storm, holder of the American Leather Woman 2004 title, and one of this year’s Mr. MAL judges.
“I actually like to watch the contestants in their natural environment,” Storm continues. “I know, I know — how natural is the pressure of competing for MAL, or any contest for that matter? I like to see the contestant interacting with his or her friends and the general public. That alone tells me a lot about a person. This person will be an ambassador for our leather community, a representative not only of themselves, but of me and every individual in the leather community. They should be easy-going and approachable.”
Mr. MAL 2004, Jim “Tug” Taylor, also uses the word “ambassador.” Like Storm, he says that when he takes his spot as an MAL judge this weekend he’ll be looking for someone with some charisma and personality to represent the community. He emphasizes that those traits are more important now than ever.
“Because of the political climate, we’re looking for someone who can be a community activist as well as a figurehead,” Taylor says. “You really need somebody who has the maturity and the ability to handle the tough questions. The people in these titles are going to have to have a certain amount of political savvy. We’re going to be facing a tougher time because of the right-wing influence right now.”
While political savvy can always come in handy, Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and first-time MAL judge, assures contestants that he’s not looking for political powerhouses.
“I’ll be looking at the contestants’ answers to questions about community involvement, how they would use their title to advance equal-rights issues in and out of the leather community,” says Foreman. “I think it needs to be someone who can speak up for the community. I don’t think that requires prior political experience or involvement.”
What will definitely be needed is preparation, advises JosÃ© Gutierrez, International Leather Boy 2002. Gutierrez estimates he’s judged roughly 40 leather competitions, though this will be his first time judging MAL.
“Practice your speech, clean your leather,” Gutierrez implores. “It’s very important to prepare for your contest. This is a competition. Sometimes people don’t prepare….We know when a contestant is not ready for the title.”
Gutierrez, who says he owns more than 20 pairs of boots, says his advice holds for the Mid-Atlantic Leather Boot Black competition as well. Competitors for this title will be judged throughout the weekend by all MAL attendees, as they provide boot-blacking services upon request. Gutierrez says the ideal bootblack will need a great personality as well as technique. And they should probably be fairly attentive if they see Gutierrez and one of his many pairs of boots headed their way. He warns bootblacks that he plans on having them all shined this weekend.
|Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend 2005 Features|