Metro Weekly

Kinky Camaraderie: A Report from MAL 2015

This year's Mid-Atlantic Leather may have been the largest yet, eagerly embracing newcomers and veterans alike

Over 3,000 people attended Mid-Atlantic Leather, held last weekend at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill. “It was definitely one of our largest, if not the largest,” says Patrick Grady, chair of the event, which originated 41 years ago.

The second largest leather and fetish event in the U.S., MAL has grown even in the five years since it moved to the Hyatt. Certainly, it’s an eye-opening experience for any newcomer, as well as for those veterans, such as Mauro Walden-Montoya, Mr. MAL 1996, who haven’t been to MAL since the move. Walden-Montoya and his husband flew in from Albuquerque, N.M., arriving late Friday evening.

“Just watching his face as we walked in was priceless,” Walden-Montoya says of his husband, who was attending his first big leather event. “Like a kid in a candy store mixed with a shocked nun — the emotions across his face were hilarious. You just look down and there’s this sea of black leather and naked butts and beautiful men with no shirts.” Soon enough he got a kick out of another sight: His husband wandering the hotel in a jockstrap, “which he never thought he’d do in his life.”

Jerry Overby was another first-time attendee relishing in the kind of freedom MAL allows, even encourages. “It was pretty dreamy, a complete eye-opener,” says the young Virginia native, who had no previous experience with leather or kink but opted to go after a friend invited him to join. “I lost a lot of my shyness. I would have never been caught dead in public in my underwear, or even without a shirt on.” At this year’s MAL, Overby walked around wearing just a harness and a jock. “It was a super-friendly environment. Everyone was so chill. There was no judgment at all.”

The weekend “was a huge success,” Grady says. “Lots of happy people and good energy everywhere. There were no problems, no issues at the hotel.” In fact, the hotel’s new general manager, who was on site all weekend, called Grady on Monday morning “to thank us and to thank our guests for coming. The hotel received lots of compliments from our guests.”

All events, official and unofficial, were busy and bustling. And 14 former Mr. MALs were in attendance to celebrate the 30th annual Mr. MAL Contest on Sunday, where David Gerard won the title — and David Gerard won as first runner-up. (Yes, the top two of five contestants were both named David Gerard — though are not related.) Ahren Hollis, Mr. Pittsburgh Leather Fetish 2015, was the second runner-up. The first runner-up is a young man from Mr. Maryland Leather, while the winner, Mr. Connecticut Leather 2015, went by the name “Daddy Dave” during the competition to help distinguish the two. “It really is an honor to be picked as Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather,” says Gerard, who had not been to MAL previously and has only recently started becoming more active in the leather community after decades on the perimeter in “the kink and play side of it.”

Says Gerard: “I had just come to a place in my personal journey where I really felt I was ready to put myself out there and be more in the center of the community.”

At MAL, Gerard got to meet some of his future competitors for the leather community’s biggest title and event, Chicago’s International Mr. Leather, held over Memorial Day. (Organizers of IML 2015 announced the competition’s nine judges at a press conference during MAL — a group that will include Ramien Pierre, who is the reigning Mr. IML and Mr. DC Eagle, and Patrick Grady, who, in a surprise twist, wasn’t told he had been selected until the press conference. “I’ve been on a high ever since,” Grady says.) Rob Kreisinger Denk, Mr. Iowa Leather 2015, is one of Gerard’s IML competitors who was at MAL, and his personal experiences somewhat echo Gerard’s. Despite decades of being part of the leather community, Kreisinger Denk had only gone to smaller club events or play parties prior to this year. He had such an amazing time attending his first MAL with his husband, he said: “I’m sorry I put off doing it for so long.

“It was just an incredible experience to meet like-minded people hanging out for a weekend. Dressing however you wanted to, feeling you could be who you always wanted to be but were afraid to because all these vanilla people would point and laugh…. You get to be your true self without judgment.”

Richard Ziese, Oklahoma Mr. Leather 2015, was another International Mr. Leather 2015 contestant in attendance at MAL, his second in a row. And like so many others, Ziese has every intention of making MAL an annual pilgrimage. “The Centaurs do such a wonderful job putting on this event,” he says. “It just keeps getting better and better…. Hopefully I can get more of my local brothers and sisters to attend next year with me. It’s the first big leather event of the year, an amazing event to kick off the year with.”

Former Virginia resident John Pates, who now lives in Dallas, agrees, having gone to every MAL since he was first introduced to it in 2012. He’s also visited several other leather events of varying sizes, “[but] the vibe at MAL I like so much more. People are very social. Just hanging in the lobby area, you can talk to people for hours…. I’ve never heard anyone having a bad time at MAL.”

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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