Leather Life: Rubber, Leather and Bootblacks in November

Genuine leather boots close up. Lots of fashionable shoes close up. High boots in black leather.
Genuine leather boots close up. Lots of fashionable shoes close up. High boots in black leather.

Photo by Bigstock/fortton

I am beginning to allow myself to feel hopeful for the future. A little bit, anyway.

News item: The International Mr. Leather/International Mr. Bootblack (IML/IMBB) weekend has been scheduled to take place November 11-14, 2021, in Chicago.

Further news item: IML/IMBB’s scheduled time slot is the week after the 25th Mr. International Rubber (MIR) contest weekend, Silver Jubilee edition—which will be held Nov. 5-7, 2021, also in Chicago. (Anyone up for two consecutive fetish weekends in November in Chicago?)

More news items: There’s a new administration in Washington, D.C., that seems to be taking the pandemic, and plans to end it, seriously. Vaccines against the coronavirus have been approved and are being rolled out, albeit slowly.

Courtesy of International Mr. Leather

So I am feeling something I have not felt for what seems like a long, long time: cautious optimism. Furthermore, after having written column after column about getting through the pandemic I have a chance, at long last, to write a column that looks forward to a time when the pandemic will possibly have subsided.

IML and IMBB are usually held during Memorial Day weekend in May. But the IML/IMBB event, like so many other things, did not happen at all in 2020. And planning the event for Memorial Day weekend doesn’t seem like a good idea in 2021, either.

On the IML/IMBB website (imrl.com), a video announcement of the event’s November date for 2021 notes that there is no guarantee that public health authorities will allow either large events or international travel to resume by Memorial Day (the ability to travel internationally is important—note that all three of these contests have the word “International” in their names).

The IML/IMBB announcement summarizes the situation: “Our hopes of being back together in May as a tribe have once again been blindsided by uncertainty.”

Courtesy of Mister International Rubber

Maybe by November enough people will have been vaccinated, and herd immunity will have kicked in, and the coronavirus will no longer be such a health threat—in which case, let the parties begin (or perhaps resume).

Even though no local or regional contests have been held since the beginning of the pandemic, I would not think there should be a problem getting contestants for these contests. The contestants who could not compete in 2020 would finally be able to do so now.

On the other hand, how many of us will feel safe enough to come out of our COVID-19 bunkers? Will enough of us feel safe enough to break our isolation, travel to Chicago and show up? Remember that early in the pandemic it was decreed that restaurants and bars could open up again. But many people still stayed away because they didn’t feel safe. Might that happen again with events like these?

I can see people reacting to the easing of the pandemic in one of two ways. Some might say, “I am so starved for human contact, I can’t wait to be part of a crowd again!” Other people might have the opposite reaction: “I don’t know—it’s supposed to be safe now, but is it really? I’m still not sure about this.”

Courtesy of International Mr. Bootblack

Major events like pandemics can leave long-term scars on those who have gone through them. I am told that some people who went through the Great Depression in the 1930s were skittish for the rest of their lives about putting money in a bank. Likewise, even if the authorities declare by next November that herd immunity has been achieved, the coronavirus is no longer circulating, and it is again safe to attend large group events—will I be willing to trust that this is really true? Will I go to IML but feel uneasy all weekend?

I would love to support these events. I would love to be at a large fetish event again— but not if it’s going to kill me. We have already seen the folly of large, maskless, non-distanced rallies and other super-spreader gatherings at the height of the pandemic, and what happened in their wake.

To their credit, the organizers of IML/IMBB state in their video: “We cannot wait to see our tribe in person again. However, your safety and peace of mind remain our first priority.”

In the end, it may not come down to whether the event planners are able to make the decision on whether or not to go ahead and present the event. The City of Chicago and State of Illinois might make the organizer’s decision for them if public health authorities deem such large gatherings would not yet be safe, even in November.

So we wait and see—and we hope. Collectively and individually, we make our plans and hope that when the time comes we can put our plans into action.

I have my room in Chicago reserved for November. Will I be able to use it? Will I feel safe enough to use it? I hope so.

One last thought: A tip of my leather hat to everyone involved in planning these events and making them happen. The planners of these events are certainly not in an easy position right now. At this point, preparing for large events that might not happen requires huge leaps of faith and trust. I sincerely hope these leaps pay off—the community will be better off if they do. If or when they happen, events like these will be part of the healing our community needs after the draconian restrictions the pandemic has imposed.

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