Another IML down. I’ve actually started to lose count of how many I have attended. I started to cover IML when this site was called the Midwest Ursine and focused on the bear community. Except for 2009 (where I was completely burned out and stepped back from the leather community) and 2010 (when I was living 300 miles away and still not publishing), I have been to every IML contest since 2002.
It’s started to hit me that I’ve actually seen a lot of history happen over the course of the past 12 years of working in the leather media. I’ve seen the rise of rubber, the explosion of pups, the inclusion of the hetero side of kink and the visibility of transgender persons. Part of it reminds me of my age, as I start to press 40 really hard. I still don’t feel like I’m almost 40… usually. But another just shows me how much has changed, and how much I honestly love it.
When I started covering leather, I was a twentysomething baby perv. I was a new kid, not knowing what I was into and what the community was like. I knew of a few clubs in Chicago, IML and GLLA. And that was it. Now, there’s so much more in the region that was either just out of my sight or hadn’t even been thought of.
I’ve always thought that the Great Lakes and Midwest were great regions. It’s my home and there’s always been something about the culture that I’ve liked. To a large degree, there’s always been an attitude of “Do what you like, just don’t scare the horses.” But this year, I saw the first signs of a truly visible and noticeable regional identity for leather and kink.
Out of 46 contestants, 12 were from our region. And seven of those made it in to the top 20. I had heard about how a lot of the local titleholders had been travelling throughout the region in support of other titles. But as the top 20 were announced, I saw how those guys truly supported each other. When anyone from the region from was called, the reaction from their regional brothers was amazing. They reacted as if they had won themselves. In the past, the other contestants are always supportive, giving quick hugs and handshakes, smiling and all that. This was different. The best example was at the very beginning. Cody Troy, Midwest Leather, had been the first person called up. The third was Drew Riebhoff, Iowa Leather. There was no simple hug and smile. Cody was almost dancing and Drew practically jumped into Cody’s arms as he joined him on the stage. It was a moment of pure celebration and love that I had not seen in all my years of covering the contest. And I saw how the rest of the regional guys were reacting. They celebrated as a group, no matter who got called. There was a unity among them that was touching. It actually gave me goosebumps.
I’ve been saying for a while now how much potential there is in this region. I’d seen what was happening in cities like Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Louisville and Des Moines. I’d seen the reaction when Master Mike and slave angie of Chicago won International Master/slave. I saw how Jennifer of Iowa and Lynn of Indiana supported each other at IMsL. But this was the most visible evidence of that potential becoming reality. New York and the East Coast may be the trendsetters and San Francisco and the West Coast may be the focus of the current national community. However, any of our local communities in the “flyover” states can be compared to them and come out looking damn good. We may not have the population of the coasts and, except for Chicago, not have the same extreme depth of leather history, but the passion and drive sets us apart. This year, we showed the world what we could do and who we are. It was glorious.
And we’re just getting started. Groups like Titans of the Midwest are helping weaving more of those connections from cities as distant as Detroit and St. Louis. GLLA and CLAW are becoming two of the most important national events. There is a growth in people teaching and learning in cities as large as Chicago and as small as Lafayette, Indiana. I got invites to three events in three different states. Our region is becoming more united even as our local communities keep their own identities and traditions.
I couldn’t be prouder of how all of our contestants did at IML. No matter how any of you placed, you have represented your local communities and the Midwest in the best possible way. And I don’t want you guys to stop. You have helped give visibility and form to what is happening here. I’m looking forward to seeing you build on it.
We have amazing people in this region. Yes, we have our problems and disagreements. There are divisions among us, some longstanding. But what we can do and what we have done already is wonderful. It fills me with joy to see it happen and to see the community I knew could be become more and more visible. And I hope I can be there and help as it grows stronger.