We’re seeing a unique time in leather history at the moment, where many “first” titleholders are being born.
When I go to conventions and meet other Mx. titleholders, I’ll ask if they’re the first one. Many times, the answer is yes.
The “first” titleholders that we revere of the past, like first International Ms. Leather Judy Tallwing McCarthey and first International Mr. Bootblack David Morgan, are no longer in the past.
So what does it mean to be the first? What are the pressures and responsibilities? What makes it exciting?
I asked other titleholders who, like me, are the first Mx. titleholders in their region. These are their responses.
“I felt so much pressure to be the first one to run around this state with a nonbinary leather title, to continue to the international level and keep the wheel rolling, so to speak, while also navigating that my job at the time was bartending, which isn’t sufficient being a title holder who has to travel on the money-making days.
I felt a self-inflicted pressure to not enjoy my year but set up the one who I would pass this on to for success and joy during their year – which self-reflects on the people pleaser inside. Now almost 4 years later, I feel like a wuzzie [note from the editor: a ‘wuzzie’ is a titleholder from a previous year] with the sash still. It hangs on my wall, some days hauntingly, others with pride.
When I won my title in October of 2019, I felt like it was a new pathway for me to blaze. But since holding my title, it lost its glamor (the whole idea of holding a title): a lot of realizations that the shit I’ve done, the ‘pathway’ I’ve walked since winning, would have been the same path I’d take without the title. I also feel that I was one of the only people my producers knew at the time to run for the title its first year, so it was more for them to get their title established, but like … icky, if that translates. Or, maybe I’m just being a bit jaded by my local leather community.
On the other hand, it felt like I was stepping into it naturally after putting in work behind the scenes in my local scene since joining in 2016. It’s a mixed bag of emotions surrounding my title: from having my title year stolen by COVID, to being incarcerated, struggling to survive when our government was giving crumbs and my siblings were/are dying in the streets.”
“It was amazing for me. I was lucky to have super supportive producers that did everything to help me be successful. As it stands at the moment, my title may not move forward. One of my producers passed away, and the other hasn’t been able to move forward with it.
I love the idea of titles moving to one title and the holder choosing Mr., Ms. or Mx. I think it gives a lot of opportunity to those of us that identify on the nonbinary spectrum to run and hold titles.
Probably the biggest pressure I feel is from those in the Mx. community not being respectful of my pronouns. I primarily use she/her. It is such a personal choice for each individual, and others shouldn’t judge if someone’s pronoun choice is not the same as their own. I have experienced some pretty nasty attitudes about my choices. That being said I also understand that representation is very important but not more than personal preference.”
“For me, it’s really exciting. I had been asked several times to think about running for Ms. titles because, even though I am nonbinary, I present as a femme and people see that as ‘woman-lite.’ I always have wanted to serve my community in this way, but struggled with how to navigate that, as it didn’t feel authentic or ethical to run for a Ms. title when that isn’t who I am.
When Michigan Leather Pride put forth the Mx. title, I was so thrilled to be able to compete and represent my community as my full authentic self, which is one facet of what leather is about. It also coincided nicely with me getting tenure; I am a professor who does sexuality research, and with the protections of tenure, I am also able to be open and out about my title in both personal and professional spaces, though given the ongoing pandemic and my immunocompromised status, it is a more complicated title year than I had hoped, with the dropping of masking and pandemic precautions in Leather spaces. It’s hard to be as engaged and visible as I would like in a world that has chosen to leave our disabled and immunocompromised siblings behind in its goal for ‘moving on,’ yet that was part of my platform: how can we be more inclusive of all identities, and especially disabled folks.
One of the other challenges I face is that again, many people want to me run for a higher leather title after my title year is done, yet there is not a regional or national Mx. title at this time. While many folks have pointed out that IMsLBB is open to people of all genders, once again, I would not feel authentic or ethical in running for a Ms. title, as that doesn’t represent who I am. I hope that in the next year or two, there continues to be forward momentum in creating regional and national Mx. title contests, so that all of us can compete as who we truly are. I am so excited to see the number of new Mx. titles, and the truly beautiful display of diverse identities representing us.”
“The honor of being the first Mx. for Gay Portland and being the first Mx. of The Imperial Sovereign Rose Court meant to me that we were acknowledging nonbinary people into our titles. I have been doing titles, performing in clubs since 2015, and back then there was always this sense of, ‘You have to be either male or female; you can’t be both.’ I hope that the Mx. titles can be empowering to people who are nonbinary.
There are definitely pressures and responsibilities about being Mx. The first one that comes to mind is being the first one and your peers not knowing what to do with you or your title. It’s easy sometimes to feel used by the organization you are part of. You don’t get help with processing it all and the invisible expectations that are not communicated with you.
Another responsibility was dealing with COVID-19, and if a show was gonna continue or not, or what would happen if somebody got the virus and had to stay home. I made a mini fundraiser that failed miserably due to the fact I lost interest in continuing the fundraiser because each time I asked for help or asked people to take part in my fundraiser, I got told some excuses. It had an impact on me to the point that I thought it was no use continuing the fundraiser, but I didn’t know how to end it. But I learned for the future I want more of a team effort and more communication on my part and others.
What excites me about being the first Mx. is the fact that we are in control, we set the bar for what an Mx. can do and look like.“
“Even though I was the first, I never really had any thoughts or feelings around being the first. And I didn’t even recognize that I should have feelings around it until someone else mentioned that it was special. Shortly after I won it, Judy Tallwing McCarthey visited Dallas and had brunch with the local leather TNG group. At that brunch was when I realized it was special, and her words and encouragement for being the first and her celebrating me for it will always be an impactful memory.
You definitely become like a spokesperson for nonbinaries. I had so many conversations around language and trying to convince people that yes, they actually can use plural pronouns for a single individual. I also had conversations with people who were just beginning their Enby journey and that was so thrilling. To be their representative and a safe person to go talk to about identifying as a Mx. Those conversations gave me so much energy and validation I was able to weather having the pronoun and third/nongender conversations with binary people.”
“It means a great deal. We already know representation matters. If it weren’t for trans leatherfolk like Billy Lane and Jack Thompson, I’d still be orbiting the community wondering if there was a place for me.
When I heard there was a chance to be a leader, a figurehead, in a way that aligns with who I am fundamentally, it was the greatest gift I could’ve received from a community I was already grateful for. When trans and nonbinary leatherfolk see me out in the world in title, they see an open door they may not have known was there. I get to give the gift of affirmation and representation to trans folks in a world built largely (though not entirely) by and for cis gay men. That’s huge.
Well, I’m about to be one of the first ever AFAB nonbinary people to compete at International Mr. Leather, which is a massive amount of pressure. Jokes aside, a lot of folks forget how big of a risk it can be to storm stages and take up space being authentically oneself in a world where our identity is often criminalized, ridiculed and persecuted. To look at a place that screams “You shouldn’t be here,” and say, “Fuck that. I’m not going anywhere,” can carry with it considerable weight. You can’t shatter a glass ceiling without a hefty hammer and some shard shrapnel. Still, I carry privilege that makes it safer for me to be the one at the receiving end of that risk than other more marginalized folks, so I wield it gladly.
There’s a lot of pressure to perform well. You’ll find yourself feeling like you need to work twice as hard as the muscle daddy down the hall to prove that you deserve to be where you are. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but it often is.
I’m excited for the future of our community. I’m excited to see the ways in which we’ll meld tradition with a more progressive mindset. I think we have the potential to make an already-incredible community even more amazing, and gender-agnostic titleholders are harbingers of that positive growth.”
For me, this title means revolution. After reading all the responses from other first Mx. titleholders, it is even more clear that I am now a part of a movement much greater than myself, a growing movement in our community that recognizes the broad spectrum that gender truly is. I am a small part of this new wave that I hope washes over not just our community, but the whole nation.
As my contest handler, Sinéad, was driving me home from the contest, they looked at me and said, “You are a part of history now. People are going to have to learn your name when they run for this title.” And frankly, nothing could have been more terrifying.
I am responsible for defining the WA State Mx. Leather title. I have to set a standard for future holders of this title, while also setting them up for success.
We are very lucky in the Washington community to have a growing population of gender-nonconforming leather folks, and I’ve been handed the great responsibility of representing them. What exactly that means and what my community needs of me will be a constant learning process throughout my title year.
I cannot say so early on what this year will bring and what still needs to be done. All I can say is that I humbly promise to give this title and my community absolutely everything I’ve got.
And I hope I will make you proud, Washington.
Blue Wolfe (she/they)
Dr. Femme (they/them)
King Sundancer (they/he)
Finn Gerhardt (they/them)