It's a question he hears all the time: "Is that your real name?" Yes, in fact, Steve Ranger is his God-given name.
"I'm just grateful that my mother didn't name me Park or Forrest," laughs the 2005 Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather, who ends his year-long reign this weekend. "That could have made life so much more difficult."
As it stands, life hasn't always been easy for Ranger. Three years ago, the 41-year-old started to lose control over the right side of his body. Doctors found he had broken his neck -- he's still now sure exactly how. "I had my neck rebuilt," he says. "I was given a one-in-10 chance of coming out of the operation paralyzed. So I made a promise to myself that if I recovered, I would enter a leather contest." He went on to win the title of Rehoboth's Mr. Double L 2004, automatically gaining entry in the 2005 Mr. MAL competition.
Then, just before last year's MAL Weekend, Ranger's appendix ruptured and he underwent emergency surgery to have it removed. He opted not to withdraw from the contest.
"It was an incredibly painful time for me," he recalls. "The whole weekend was like a haze of red. I couldn't take any of my pain killers -- you can't be interviewed or walking on stages in front of an audience on Percocet." Ranger endured and went on to win the title.
The past year has been a whirlwind of public appearances for Ranger, who took his duties as a Mr. MAL above and beyond the norm. He journeyed extensively, to virtually any Leather Contest or bar that requested his presence, spending much of his own money to supplement a travel stipend provided him by the Centaur MCs, the contest's producing organization.
He remains pragmatic about his expenditure. "If you really look at this right," he says, "you're competing to be a volunteer. It's not like you're going to make money off this or get tons of free stuff."
The year has been a memorable one for Ranger, who praises the Centaur MC for their unyielding support.
"It's really been a wonderful experience for me in terms of helping other people and learning things about myself," he says. "For instance, one of the things that I was encouraged to do was interact with people outside of my comfort zone -- say, heterosexual women who are into leather. I came to the realization that I don't need to be into everyone else's fetishes. I just needed to learn that it's not my place to judge them."
The 2006 Mr. MAL Contest takes place this Sunday, Jan. 15, from 1 to 5 p.m. at Almas Temple, 1315 K St. NW. For info, visit www.leatherweekend.com.