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Leather events suffer decline of entries

Where are the competitors?

OTTAWA—It has become a growing cause for concern in leather communities across North America – the lack of contestants for competitions. Sure, lots of people like to come out and play, but with major international competitions drawing only three or four contestants at a time, something is obviously amiss.

Ottawa isn’t much different, with our comp- etitions such as Mister Leather Ottawa (MLO) and the Mister Ontario Olympus Leather. As with other competitions, there are sometimes only three contestants in men’s events – and a mere one or two in women’s.

“The organised leather community is very small,” says Pat Croteau, in charge of communications and promotion for MLO. “The branding of the contests outside of that community isn’t very well known.”

The small pool of people supplying contestants is one factor. But it doesn’t explain the trend toward smaller contests. But a cultural shift within the gay men’s community may. Today there’s less emphasis on bars and more on private play parties and the online community. As well, the word leather has become a euphemism within the community at large for a wide variety of kinks and fetishes such as rubber or uniforms – and that has yet to be reflected in the rules of contests.

With the old leather groups splitting off into sub-groups with their own competitions – like rubber -there is sense that traditional leather competitions may not provide what people are looking for. Current titles don’t appeal to some people’s particular tastes.

“We have a fixed audience becoming diluted by more competitions,” Croteau says.

Cost is another barrier to competition – for both outfits and travel. Competing in the States is also problematic for many. Aside from political reluctance, many are afraid of showing up at Customs with two suitcases full of leather, whips and chains.

On the whole, however, Croteau sees one big issue with the declining numbers. “There are a lot of misperceptions of what the competitions are and what the title is,” he says. “They seem to go to one of two extremes – some people think this is some kind of beauty pageant for people into leather, or people think this is a humongous job where you will be working 365 days a year.”

Alex Wisniowski, the organizer of Ottawa Leather Fest, also sees a continent-wide trend. Across the board, there have been complaints from contestants who get poor treatment from promoters, who are given no access to their promised travel funds, and who are left with a lack of mentoring.

One of the biggest problems, however, is the lack of promotion at all levels, starting at feeder competitions run by leather bars, he says.

“For bar titles, the bar has to be a promoter,” Wisniowski says. “CP this year is a good case in point – was it well promoted? I didn’t see much advertisement outside of CP for it. They ended up with three contestants by hard means, because that was the minimum they wanted.”

And while both leathermen consider apathy in the community an issue, Wisniowski sees one simple remedy. “I think the leather community in Ottawa needs to get out more.”