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JUNE 2005

Hug a Novice

By Kirk Read

Several weeks ago, a man paid five dollars to have me handcuffed, stripped and paddled. What can I say, I'm a cheap date. In all fairness, it was for a good cause. The Knight Hawks of Virginia, a leather/levi club, was holding a lockup night to raise money for Breaking the Ice, Hampton Roads' winter pride festival. Which means that all night people pay to have delicious torments inflicted upon friends, enemies, and total strangers . . . all in the name of queer pride.

My therapist would agree that I am a glutton for punishment, so somewhere between my fourth and fortieth spanking, I got the bright idea to attend the upcoming Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather contest (MAL). My experience with leather, up until this point, had been pretty much limited to a braided Pierre Cardin belt.

Now, I must admit, I'm morally ambivalent about the leather community because of its reliance upon the slaughter of animals. So minutes after I phoned up to get my tickets to MAL, I called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and purchased a membership. Between bites of a bacon double cheeseburger, I gave the PETA woman my credit card number. Right after I gave her the expiration date, she asked if I wanted a free brochure on Vegan cooking. "Sure," I said. "I'm a novice."

The morning of my drive to D.C., I awoke at 6:30 to the German version of Nena's "99 Red Balloons." My alarm clock is a savage Master.

This was the day of my initiation. I was terrified. Never mind my anxiety nightmares about being ritually pierced and branded as a sacrificial leather virgin. My immediate quandry, the inevitable queer mantra, was "What am I gonna wear?"

I imagined a throng of men, decked out in gauntlets, chaps, and steel-toed jump boots. Enter Kirk, looking like a refugee from the J. Crew catalog. Days before, I asked my friend Phil what I could do to avoid looking like the poster child for vanilla sex. "Why don't you grow a goatee?" he suggested.

"Because that would take me exactly two and a half years," I replied.

When I arrived at MAL, the man who ripped my ticket shot me a concerned glance and muttered "Oh, boy." It was one of those hand-over-mouth moments. I strongly believe that if you can't be appropriate, you should at least be amusing.

I scanned the crowd and understood his despair. I'd worn the only piece of leather I had — a beat up brown leather jacket. The rest of the crowd, thousands strong, was in black leather. Much to my chagrin, I realized that I was already the brown sheep of this family. Wearing brown leather to a leather event is like wearing an off-white dress to your debutante ball. It just isn't done.

As I walked through the crowd you would have thought I had a sunflower growing out my butt. People stared mercilessly. I went through the brunch line, took my plate, and hid in a corner. I feverishly looked for anyone with a HUG A NOVICE t-shirt, but eventually retired to my corner.

Finally, my friend Bill showed up. "Kirk?" he said. When he caught sight of my brown jacket and boots, he said, "Why didn't you tell me? I could have helped dress you."

"Thanks, Bill. I feel much better now."

We took our seats to watch the contest, which opened with a Las Vegas-lite production number featuring the contestants in various states of undress. I was bewildered. Here were all these tough leather guys, doing choreography! It was a Star Search moment. My mind flashed briefly to Ed McMahon in bondage.

Basically, it was a big beauty pageant. There was a formal leather competition, a jockstrap competition, even Q & A. One by one, the contestants answered questions about dating, hanky codes, and civic responsibility.

A surly looking man with a dizzying Salvador Dali moustache stood next to me. I looked away, sheepishly, because he just seemed so, well, mean. Minutes later, I overheard him and another man in a heated discussion about moustache wax flavors. He favored peach.

It reminded me of the time that I had two of my best friends arrested for their surprise birthday party. A man from the Tidewater Bears, sight unseen, agreed to dress up in a full police uniform and slap cuffs on my unsuspecting friends. He looked so gruff, so teeth-grittingly brutal. When he got to my friend Rosemary's apartment, his jaw dropped. Adjusting the brim of his NYPD hat to get a better look, he gushed, "You just don't find ceilings this high anymore."

I couldn't help imagining that these men were engaged in serious conversations about Harleys and flogging techniques. But more than likely, as they watched the procession of Mr. Leather hopefuls, they were thinking, "That harness is fabulous." So maybe it wasn't as scary as it seemed. All day, these people proved to be some of the friendliest folks I'd ever met.

Predictably, the tallest, butchest guy won.

As Bill and I left, I heard a man lisp, "Taxi!" I looked his way, and a bunch of guys with motorcycle helmets piled into a cab.

As soon as Bill got to his jeep, he pulled off his boots and began to whine about the blisters he'd incurred that day. I know I'm new to this, but that's never stopped me from offering suggestions for change. What the leather community really needs, in my humble opinion, is sensible shoes.

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This article originally appeared in the author's syndicated column. It is reprinted with permission of the author.

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Copyright © 2005 Kirk Read. All rights reserved.
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