Getting into Leather, 1993: Tales Around the Holiday Fire

The holidays are a time for gathering around a warm, glowing fire, and telling stories—not just holiday stories, but also family stories, stories of times gone by.

So, gather around whatever fire you currently are near, be it a roaring fireplace, or the glow of 56 candles in the dungeon just waiting for a hot-wax scene, and let your humble columnist tell you of some of his experiences in leather before he became your humble columnist—in 1993, when he was as fresh, and as green, as your Christmas tree.

When I came out as a gay man in 1974, the idea of leathersex intrigued me. In the ensuing years, I thumbed through the leather magazines at Shinder’s, but I never went so far as actually to buy any. Over the years, though, the sense of intrigue only got stronger, and by 1993, I was ready at least to explore the idea of being a leatherman.

I bought my first piece of leather, a black biker vest, on a Saturday afternoon in August, and wore it that evening to a concert performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide at Orchestra Hall. (Leather and show tunes—some things haven’t changed after all these years.)

The leather community I started hanging out with consisted primarily of gay men. There was a community of lesbian leatherwomen, too, and the community issue of the time was getting the men and women to feel comfortable with each other—socially and politically. Occasionally, I saw straight-but-not-narrow heterosexual individuals or couples at leather events, and they were certainly welcome. But at that time, the local pansexual leather community was still several years in the future.

Much of the community’s life was centered around the Gay 90’s and its various bar areas. The evening hangout was the Men’s Room bar, but events such as fund-raisers and contests often were held in other parts of the club, such as the Dance Annex or the upstairs Casablanca Show Lounge (the precursor of the present La Femme Show Lounge).

The first Atons Leather/Levi Dinner I ever attended was a banquet on a Saturday evening in September in the Men’s Room. I went with a friend, and we showed up early. (I never have been early to a Leather/Levi dinner since.) We were met at the door by our host for the evening, a gentleman in black leather pants, a white formal dress shirt, and wide black leather wristbands. He was very gracious, and made us feel welcome. How could one resist such charm? One couldn’t.

The first leather contest I remember seeing was the 1993 Minnesota Leather Encounter (MLE) weekend, which included contests for the 1994 Mr. Minnesota Leather and Ms. Minnesota Leather titles (which were awarded to Raymond LeBrun and Nikie Boswell, respectively). The ticket package for the weekend, which cost all of $30, included a Thursday evening kickoff at the Saloon; a Friday evening meet-and-greet at the Gay 90’s Men’s Room; a Saturday Fantasy Afternoon followed by dinner and cocktails in the Gay 90’s Dance Annex; and the contest and show Saturday evening in the Gay 90’s Casablanca Show Lounge.

Several notable guests came from out of town for the weekend: International Mr. Leather 1992, Lenny Broberg (who later became Officer Broberg of the San Francisco Police Department); Amy Marie Meek, International Ms. Leather 1993 (who went on to become Amy Marie Meek-DeJarlais, and to produce the International Ms. Leather contest for many years); and Kay Hallanger, International Ms. Leather 1991.

It all ended with a Sunday afternoon brunch at the Town House in St. Paul (then called Town House Country). One of my most indelible memories of that weekend: seeing Broberg at the brunch after a Minnesota welcome ceremony, dressed in a hard hat and blaze-orange vest (because Minnesota always has a lot of road construction), with a frozen walleye (or was it a carp?) fastened to his chest with good ol’ Minnesota duct tape. I thought he handled it all rather well.

After experiencing that contest weekend, I was inspired (with prodding and encouragement from friends) to compete in my first leather contest. I was one of six or seven contestants in the Mr. Gay 90’s Leather contest, which was part of the bar’s annual Halloween festivities.

Wearing boots, Levi 501s, and my leather vest, I was excited about my (literal) moment in the (literal) spotlight until the contestant before me, who turned out to be a budding porn star and the evening’s winner, got up on the platform, and doused himself with silver body paint. How does one follow an act like that? One doesn’t—one is just careful not to slip on the still-wet body paint on the platform.

Ah, memories. Sometime, I’ll have to tell you about 1994. In the meantime, I hope your holidays, whatever and however you celebrate, are magical.

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