CHICAGO — This past weekend, Mr. International Rubber (MIR) played host to what is likely the first formal meetup for People of Color to be part of an official event schedule and not hosted by a club.
About 25 people gathered in the third-floor lobby of the Center on Halstead, during MIR Weekend. While African-Americans did make up the largest part of the group, people from the Afro-Caribbean, Asian, Native American and Latinx communities were also present. Those present spoke about their experiences as people of color both as LGBTQ and kinky people.
“What got it started was that Tyesha Best had a panel at [Cleveland Leather Annual Weekend] about people of color have done in the leather community,” said MIR staffer and Chicago-area educator Issa Arden. “And she asked several of us to come and speak.” It was semiformal and people spoke about their experiences in working in the communities, their roles and the opportunities, or lake thereof, to participate. They also talked about those who came before and their mentors.
“A lot of us started talking about what else can we do,” Issa said. Preston “Wex” So, MIR 20 suggested having a meetup at MIR and asked Mr. Midwest Rubber 2016 Pup Icarus to get involved and the three started to reach out to their circles to gauge interested and create the event. Issa said she was asked if white people could come. “Yes, but it needs to continue to center us.” All three of them are very active at the local, regional and international levels, but they wanted to be sure the meetup was focused on people of color.
“This was a good-sized, informal meetup, especially for the first time,” she said.
“It’s definitely gonna happen again next year,” Preston said.
The trio doesn’t know if meetups will happen at other major events. Issa said when it was brought up to MIR producer Rubberwilli, it was added to the weekend calendar as an official event with no hesitation. “I hope some of the other groups might be willing to do that,” she said. “We have been having informal bi meetup at other events and there certainly hasn’t been anyone saying ‘Oh, is there anything we can do to make this more official?’ “ They are hopeful, but all three are deeply involved with MIR which gave them an in.
“I think this is the beginning of what I see as a big change in how we see the participation of people of color at these sorts of events,” Preston said. “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to who have said ‘I don’t go to these events anymore because I don’t feel welcome.’ So many of my Asian friends have said ‘I will never again show up to another event because I’ve experienced so much racism.’ ” Preston himself had experienced racism in his year as MIR at events such as MAL and CLAW. Icarus had incidents during his time as Midwest Rubber.
“Having a space where we can come together and talk about them together is incredibly therapeutic, it’s incredibly rewarding,” Preston added.
Those present talked not only about their own experiences in the kink communities, including some incidents that had already happened that weekend. There was also discussion not only on supporting each other, but making a point to support and speak up for those dealing with challenges based on their gender or age.
Going forward, they do hope to be able to reach out to other events and have similar meet ups there.